THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

5 posts from April 2020

27 April 2020

Recording of the week: Women in the wine trade

This week's selection comes from Camille Johnston, Oral History Assistant Archivist.

At the start of her career Helen Thomson (b. 1933) received some sound advice from a fellow ‘woman in the wine trade’. The wine world was dominated by men, and Thomson could name only two women among her peers: Pat Green, Director and co-founder of French Wine Farmers, and Mrs Roberts, widow of a Director of Williams, Standring.

In this clip Thomson describes her lasting impression of Mrs Roberts ‘…my impression, she was nearly six feet tall, but perhaps I exaggerate…’ and the guidance she passed on. Mrs Roberts plainly instructed Thomson on the hypocrisy of men in wine. How they would come to the tasting room in suits smelling like cigarettes and dry-cleaning fluid, and then complain that a woman’s face powder and perfume were interfering with the tasting. Mrs Roberts’s solution was a compromise of sorts. She would order custom-made, fragrance free powder at Selfridges – with green undertones to counteract flushed cheeks – to wear in the tasting room. This would stop the men from complaining. She wouldn’t, however, give up her Chanel No. 5.

Wine corks
Wine corks, clubvino / CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

Advice for women entering the wine trade C1088/25

When I started I think there were really two other women who were around in the wine trade. Now I wouldn’t really quite have counted myself in their league, because I was the shorthand typist/secretary, but there was a woman called Pat Green who worked for a firm called French Wine Farmers. She’d been a British- a BEA air hostess and used to sometimes fly to Bordeaux and got to know people there and then helped set up French Wine Farmers in London. And there was a woman called Mrs Roberts who was the widow of a director of a distinguished old firm – old and old-fashioned – wine firm called Williams, Standring, who were in Duke Street, Grosvenor Square. She was a great example, I met her through Tommy Layton at tastings that we had at Williams, Standring. And the second or third time I met her she was, my impression, she was nearly six feet tall, but perhaps I exaggerate. She always dressed in red, she had wonderful white hair and always wore bright red lipstick, and she was quite roundish in shape. She did in fact look like a pillar box. And she took me on one side after we’d met two or three times and she said, ‘My dear, I hear that you have serious intentions of going into, of actually remaining in the wine trade’. And I said, ‘Yes, Mrs Roberts, I do hope to’. And she said, ‘Well, let me give you a few pieces of advice. Now, you know how awful the men are, they’re always complaining that when we come into a tasting room we bring in perfume and scent and face powder and that sort of thing. Completely ignoring the fact that of course they have only just stubbed out their cigarettes or knocked out their pipes only a moment earlier and indeed they’ve probably shoved their pipes into the pockets of their jackets, jackets of suits which have been ill-cleaned by the dry-cleaners, smell of dry-cleaning fluid. You can smell their boot polish, you can smell their brilliantine. And they complain about us. Still, we have to play along with it, so you’d better get perfume-free face powder. So go to Selfridges, to the Charles of the Ritz counter and ask them to make up some face powder for you, put a lot of green in it so that you don’t, when you’ve been drinking you don’t flush rather pink. If you have green in your face powder it calms it down and people don’t notice it. And make sure that they make it perfume-free, say that Mrs Roberts sent you. And then the men won’t be able to complain about you at all. Of course, I always wear Chanel No. 5, but the men know this and they aim orf.’

Helen Thomson was recorded by National Life Stories for An Oral History of the Wine Society in 2004. The interviewer was Mark Bilbe. For more information about this recording search the Sound and Moving Image Catalogue for the collection reference: C1088/25.

Follow @BL_OralHistory and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

 

20 April 2020

Recording of the week: Makame Faki, legendary singer from Zanzibar

This week's selection comes from Dr Janet Topp Fargion, Lead Curator of World and Traditional Music.

Zanzibari musician, Makame Faki, affectionately known by the nickname ‘Sauti ya zege’ ('Voice of gravel'), passed away aged 77 on 18 January 2020. He was known for his exuberance, always with a big smile on his face. Of course, he was mostly known for his musical talent, as a distinctive singer, orchestra leader and violinist in the Zanzibari orchestral taarab tradition with the group Culture Musical Club. He also led musicians - as singer and violinist - in the closely related but much more fiery genre of kidumbak.

Makame Faki
Makame Faki leading a kidumbak performance at a wedding on the outskirts of Zanzibar Town. © Janet Topp Fargion, 1989

I went to Zanzibar for the first time in 1989 to do fieldwork on taarab music for my doctorate in ethnomusicology. I had the immense privilege of knowing Bwana Makame and recording him on many occasions as he led the kidumbak sessions then extremely popular at wedding celebrations throughout the backstreets of Zanzibar Town. Some 15 years later, in 2004, he appeared at the WOMAD Festival in the UK with Culture Musical Club playing both the orchestral version of taarab - joined on this occasion by the late legend Bi Kidude - and kidumbak.

Zanzibar Town panorama                                        Zanzibar Town Panorama. Janet Topp Fargion, 1989

This week’s recording(s) of the week are a tribute to Bwana Makame. The first recording is an extract from a very long kidumbak performance I made with a very excitable audience at a wedding on the outskirts of Zanzibar Town in 1989. To me this was one of the most pleasurable days of my year-long fieldwork: seated right in the middle of the circle of musicians playing violin, sanduku (tea chest bass), cherewa (coconut shakers), mkwasa (beating sticks) and singers, the recording (on a good old Sony Professional Walkman cassette recorder and a single stereo microphone) tells something of the way the audience participated and the whole event was led by Bwana Makame.

Kidumbak in Zanzibar 1989 (C724/2/52)

The second recording, made by the British Library, is the last couple of minutes of the Culture Musical Club performance at WOMAD in 2004. Before an audience of at least a couple of thousand, and after a full hour of performance, the recording demonstrates Bwana Makame’s ability to please crowds on an international stage.

Culture Musical Club at WOMAD 2004 (C203/1174)

He was a truly remarkable ambassador for the music and for Zanzibar. I shall always be grateful to him for the days and weeks he spent imparting to me his huge knowledge of, and enthusiasm for this music.

Further reading:
Zanzibar says goodbye to legendary 'King of Kidumbak', musician Makame Faki

Follow @BLSoundHeritage, @BL_WorldTrad and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

UOSH

15 April 2020

Sounds of your world

During this time where we’re cooped up at home, we’ll all be missing something. The big things go without saying. Family, friends, loved ones.

But what are the small comforts that you’re finding yourself longing for? Your commute. The bustling school gates. The triumphant thumbs-up when you find a free table in a busy pub.

While our buildings have gone quiet for now, our sound archive is still open, sharing with you recordings and stories from across our audio collections. And we’ve compiled a few sounds you might be missing, to give you a taste of what our archive has for you to explore.

Beautiful birdsong

Singing wren perched on a branch.
bearacreative/iStock/Getty Images

The merry tunes of our feathered friends follow us through all seasons. Wrens are a staple of British countryside, parks and gardens, particularly in spring. Listen to the beautiful song of a wren recorded in Culver, Devon – one of thousands of birdsongs in our collection.

Relaxing waves

Sandy beach with rocks and gentle waves.
naumoid/iStock/Getty Images

For thousands of years, humans have believed in the healing, calming powers of water. Check out this recording of rolling waves on the Isle of Mull, Scotland. You can listen to more vibrant and soothing sounds of Britain’s coastline at Sounds of our shores, the first ever coastal sound map of the UK.

Sound staycation

Hammock tied between two trees near a beach on a tropical island.
Marco Ramerini/iStock/Getty Images

Cancelled trip? Our World and Traditional Music recordings bring your holiday to your home. First up, be whisked away to an island paradise by a school choir in Suva, Fiji. Where will you go next?

It’s coming home

Raised hands in a football crowd.
ALFSnaiper/iStock/Getty Images

While the Premier League, Olympics and Wimbledon are on hold, you can still experience the atmosphere of supporting your favourite players. Feel the tension rise in the crowd with this recording of a football match in 1994 – will it be a goal?

13 April 2020

Recording of the week: Frank Bowling on learning to draw

This week's selection comes from Camille Johnston, Oral History Assistant Archivist.

Darwin_Building-Royal_College_of_Art-2013
Darwin Building, Royal College of Art in the City of Westminster, London, U.K. Chmee2 / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Frank Bowling won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art, where he enrolled to study painting in 1959. In this extract from his oral history recording for Artists’ Lives, Bowling vividly recalls learning to draw in the crowded life room among his peers David Hockney, Allen Jones and R. B. Kitaj. He describes his intense focus and control, and how it felt to make progress.

Frank Bowling: On learning to draw (C466/127)

To learn more about Frank Bowling’s career see Elena Crippa’s article on Voices of art, published to coincide with Bowling’s retrospective at Tate Britain in 2019.

Frank Bowling was recorded by National Life Stories for Artists’ Lives in sessions between 2001-2016. The interviewers were Mel Gooding and Cathy Courtney. A written summary of the full interview can be word searched on the Sound and Moving Image Catalogue. Listen to the full interview on BL Sounds.

Follow @BL_OralHistory and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

06 April 2020

Recording of the week: 'I didn’t come into the jungle to look at trees and lianas!'

This week’s selection comes from Andrea Zarza Canova, Curator of World & Traditional Music.

Cover of CD release 'Healing, Feasting and Magical Ritual. Songs & Dances from Papua New Guinea'
Cover of 'Healing, Feasting and Magical Ritual. Songs & Dances from Papua New Guinea' (TSCD918)

Former senior producer for BBC Radio 3 John Thornley made this field recording in 1987, in Kei Village, near Mount Hagen, in the Western Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea. The field recordings resulting from his three month stay in Papua New Guinea form part of the British Library Sound Archive collections. A selection from his collection was published on the Topic Records CD ‘Healing, Feasting and Magical Ritual. Songs & Dances from Papua New Guinea’ as part of the Topic World Series, done in collaboration with the World and Traditional Music section. The ‘Hunting Song of the Moge and Kopi clans’ features nine unnamed performers from Kei Village playing a song on bamboo flutes. Thornley’s liner notes about the song and players hide an interesting story inaccessible to the ear. I recommend listening first, to sink into the song’s hypnotic melody and then reading Thornley’s words about the song, which reveal a surprising layer of insight.

Hunting Song of the Moge & Kopi Clans

‘This was one of several songs that this group had arranged for bamboo flute, staggering their individual breathing so the song could be played seamlessly. This song is about a hunter who has no luck, and sings: ‘I didn’t come into the jungle to look at trees and lianas, I came to hunt for possum and birds!’ The four holes of the flute are played with the first two fingers of each hand. One player had a missing second finger on his right hand (in the area it is still a tradition to chop off one or more fingers as a sign of mourning for a close relative) so was playing with his first and third fingers.’

If you want to listen to a broader selection of recordings from the CDs published by Topic Records, you can listen to 'Topic World Series', our tenth programme for NTS Radio.

Follow @BL_WorldTrad and @soundarchive for all the latest news.