THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

7 posts from August 2020

31 August 2020

Recording of the week: Kathy Stobart interviewed by Jen Wilson

This week's selection comes from Sarah Coggrave, Rights Clearance Officer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

In the late 1980s, Jen Wilson, pianist and founder of Jazz Heritage Wales, interviewed saxophonist and bandleader Kathy Stobart (1925 – 2014). Now part of the British Library collection Oral history of jazz in Britain (C122), the audio recording of this interview has recently been cleared for online release as part of Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.

As Data Protection and Rights Clearance Officer, my job involves contacting rights holders and their representatives, in recordings such as this one, to request permission. It’s an extraordinary opportunity to learn more about the voices in the recordings, and as in the case of the Oral history of jazz in Britain collection, discover the rich history of jazz music making in the UK.

Kathy Stobart playing the saxophone
Kathy Stobart, photographed by Derek Gabriel for Jazz Heritage Wales

Born on 1 April, 1925 in South Shields, England, Florence Kathleen Stobart was the daughter of a pianist and a police officer. In her interview she describes a musical upbringing, and a talent for memorising piano pieces. Her early performance career included singing, dancing and impersonating artists such as Gracie Fields, but it was as a saxophonist and later bandleader that she became best known.

In this excerpt from the interview she describes her induction into life as a working jazz musician.

Kathy Stobart on her early experiences playing jazz

Kathy was only a teenager when her career began, and as a musician she travelled up and down the United Kingdom even touring abroad, working with musicians such as Denis Rose, Ted Heath, Jimmy Skidmore, Art Pepper, Peanuts Hucko, Vic Lewis, Humphrey Lyttleton, just to name a few.

While investigating the rights for this recording, I corresponded with Kathy’s son Peter by email, and in these exchanges he described her life as ‘long and full of some pretty amazing events’, highlighting the WW2 years in particular. In his words:

At the beginning as a very young girl 14 I think… travelling with an all-girl cabaret band (but run by a bloke! Don Rico) down to London and round the time of the Blitz through to… returning to London, again during the war, but around 1943, to actually take a real step into the Jazz World, travelling to west-end and Soho clubs at night, playing at the Embassy Club… with the likes of Clark Gable, Glenn Miller, Bob Hope sitting in the audience…then travelling back to Ealing amongst the sometimes bombed streets etc.

Peter goes on to describe how Kathy became ‘a ‘proper’ respected working jazz musician’, who was ‘very often on the cover of Melody Maker hailed as a real star…not that Kath would ever show off about stuff like that… she wasn't like that at all.’ His emails and the interview reveal a modest and witty Kathy Stobart, as you can hear in the next excerpt, in which she matter-of-factly talks about forming her own band, something that was a rare achievement for a woman at the time.

Kathy Stobart on working as a female band leader

Kathy married Art Thompson, a fellow musician, in 1943, then later trumpeter Bert Courtley in 1951. Around the same time she was leading her own band, which included Bert, Derek Humble and Dill Jones. As Peter mentions above, being a female bandleader for an all-male band was highly unusual, and is testament to Kathy’s determination and enthusiasm to do what she loved, and do it well.

The interview provides valuable insight into Kathy Stobart’s life as a working musician, including scaling back professional work to have three children in the 1950s and 1960s - although she continued to perform and tour throughout this period.

Kathy Stobart on juggling work and children

Sadly Kathy’s husband Bert passed away in 1969, and the interview reflects on some of the more challenging aspects of the jazz world, which professional musicians such as Kathy and Bert faced.

In the 1970s, she created the Kathy Stobart Quintet, one of the original members being Harry Beckett (trumpet), who was also interviewed for the Oral history of jazz in Britain collection. During this time Kathy was also playing in Humphrey Lyttelton’s band, as well as teaching adult music classes at City Literary Institute in Holborn, London.

There isn’t really enough space in one blog to list all of her achievements (you can read more about them on her website), but it is worth mentioning that she was also a regular guest musician on BBC Radio 1’s Sounds of Jazz, a headliner at Britain's first women's jazz festival in 1982, and even taught Dame Judi Dench saxophone in preparation for a role in a TV play. She continued to perform and make guest appearances with bands until her early 80s, long after most people would be considering retirement and a well-earned rest!

Freedom Music
Cover of Jen Wilson's book Freedom Music

A trailblazer who inspired many people, Kathy was a key influence in fellow musician Jen Wilson’s life. Jen is a pianist and the founder of Jazz Heritage Wales, formerly known as the Women’s Jazz Archive, and has kindly shared her own perspective on the interview and how she met Kathy:

I first saw Kathy Stobart on stage with Humphrey Lyttelton’s Band at Swansea’s Brangwyn Hall in about 1957/8? She was not sitting on the side in a fancy frock waiting to be called to sing. She was standing in the front line blowing our socks off. I was about 13/14 and transfixed. My brother John was a drummer, but also owned a tenor sax on which I tried to play blues riffs. Now here was the real thing. I never forget that first impression.

In 1980 Ursula Masson with a MA in history, formed the Swansea Women’s History Group. Gail Allen and myself joined and we went on to tour photographic exhibitions and make video documentaries about women’s lives in Wales. In 1985 after finishing our video on Welsh women in the miner’s strike, Ursula said to me “you are a jazz musician, what is the story of jazz in Wales?” I said I didn’t know. She said “then find out.” I spent 18 months writing to archives and libraries asking for material on British women jazz musicians. I got the occasional letter saying “we don’t hold anything here”, or “if you find anything could you let us have it?” Then Swansea’s Glanmor Jazz Club booked Kathy Stobart to play with the Russ Jones house band. So I thought, if no archive or library had any stories about British women jazz musicians, I’d better start with Kathy if I want to know our history.

After the gig, I nervously approached her to ask if I could interview her. “Of course, love. Thank you for asking. Come to the B&B in the morning for a chat.” I borrowed the History Group’s Marantz broadcast quality tape recorder. That first chat took us to 1939; she had to drive off to her next gig. I transcribed it over the next week – I was a fast typist, trained at my school’s secretarial course. Enthralled and excited, I told Ursula and Gail “I think I have just started the Women’s Jazz Archive.” “About time” said Ursula.

Years later I managed to catch up again with Kathy. Mike (husband) and I drove down to Axmouth and a lovely welcome. She talked non-stop. Halfway she rushed to the kitchen to make a pile of tuna sandwiches, cake and tea. Then she gently eased us out of her house as she had to drive to London for a gig. A truly, lovely lady.

I was intrigued as to how this full-time jazz musician, married to a full-time trumpet player, could travel the UK and bring up three sons and produce that quality of music. Kathy simply said “my mum, we all need our mums.” She had to call in her mum as when Bert Courtley was instructed to look after the boys for a week, she had returned home from a tour to find a pile of soiled nappies out in the backyard.

I am enormously grateful to Peter and Jen for providing more context for the interview, and for archivist David Nathan at the National Jazz Archive, for helping with contacts for this recording and the collection.

You can read more about Kathy Stobart on her website and Jen Wilson’s also provides more information. Jazz Heritage Wales is based at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD).

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

24 August 2020

Recording of the week: Lubaina Himid and Griselda Pollock in conversation (ICA, 1988)

This week's selection comes from Dr Eva del Rey, Curator of Drama and Literature Recordings and Digital Performance.

Listen to artist Lubaina Himid in conversation with the art historian Griselda Pollock, recorded in 1988 at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), London.

The discussion focuses on the impact of feminism in visual arts in the 1970s and early 1980s. It also addresses the under-representation of black women artists in the history of feminist art practice. There is a Q&A at the end of the talk, which includes remarks by artist and writer Maud Sulter, who started the Blackwomen Creativity Project in 1982.

Detail of ‘A Fashionable Marriage’ (1986) by Lubaina Himid. Photo credit: David Perry
Detail of ‘A Fashionable Marriage’ (1986) by Lubaina Himid. Photo credit: David Perry 

Lubaina Himid ICA London 1988

Griselda Pollock introduces Framing Feminism: Art and the Women’s Movement 1970-1985. This is an anthology of essays she has co-edited with Roszika Parker, documenting feminist art practices in the UK.

The book includes press releases, newspaper articles and reviews from events and exhibitions of the time. It became a seminal text in the discipline of art history in the UK. Lubaina Himid argues that the book, and feminist art history, is white-female-dominated and lacks a meaningful inclusion of black women artists:

I don’t really know that much about publishing really, except that I find that I can’t find myself - myself meaning ourselves: black women – in books very much written by black women, saying the things that we want to say, and that chronicle our experience as we had it.

Lubaina Himid MBE, CBE, is an artist, curator, writer and Professor of Contemporary Art at the University of Central Lancashire. She trained as a theatre designer followed by an MA in Cultural History at the Royal College of Art. Her dissertation title was Young Black Artists in Britain Today (1984).

Himid won the Turner Prize in 2017 and has exhibited all over the world. Her work is in major public collections, such as Tate Britain, the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Arts Council Collection.

Since the start of her career she has both made art and curated exhibitions. She was a leading figure in the British Black Arts Movement of the 1980s and 1990s, and helped bring public attention to her generation of black women artists.

In her 2006-2007 interview for the British Library, National Life Stories project Artists’ Lives she said:

‘We wanted to shift how we as black people were seen in the world - and we were using art to do it.’

Himid works in painting, drawing, installation and printmaking. She makes art to open up conversations about race, gender, class and to ‘fill in the gaps of history’. Through her work, she reclaims the histories and contributions of black people in the history of Europe from the colonial times to the present.

‘We made art to make ourselves visible, to be part of a bigger history.’

She has created projects to challenge the representation of black people in the media and culture, such as the Guardian series. She also has reached out to institutions and archives to influence the inclusion of artists of colour in their collections.

At the time of this 1988 recording at the ICA, Himid had already curated four exhibitions of black women artists and had had two solo exhibitions.

5 Black Women at the Africa Centre (1983) Covent Garden London.
Black Woman Time Now (1983/4) Battersea Arts Centre London.
The Thin Black Line (1985) Institute of Contemporary Art London.
Unrecorded Truths (1986) The Elbow Room Gallery, Borough, London.
A Fashionable Marriage (1986) Pentonville Gallery, London (solo exhibition).
New Robes for MaShulan (1987) Rochdale Art Gallery, Lancashire, England (solo exhibition which included a collaborative work with Maud Sulter).

This recording is part of the ICA collection C95, available online on the British Library Sounds website. It contains 889 talks and discussions held at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, during the period 1982-1993, featuring leading writers, artists and filmmakers.

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

References:

Lubaina Himid (1990). Mapping: A Decade of Black Women Artists 1980-1990.
Maud Sulter 1990, Passion: Discourses On Blackwomen's Creativity, Hebden Bridge: Urban Fox Press.

Making Histories Visible. An interdisciplinary visual art research project based in the Centre for Contemporary Art (School of Art, Design and Fashion) at the University of Central Lancashire (website).

The Thin Black Line(s).Tate Britain 2011-2012 (exhibition catalogue).

Lubaina Himid (2006-2007). National Life Stories: Artists' Lives C466/249. An oral history of Lubaina Himid interviewed by Anna Dyke at the artist’s home in Preston. Available online with full transcript.

In Conversation: Lubaina Himid & Courtney J. Martin (17 Feb 2017). A talk on the occasion of Invisible Strategies, the first major survey exhibition by British artist Lubaina Himid at the Modern Art Oxford gallery (20 Jan - 30 April 2017).

Modern Art Oxford - Lubaina Himid: Invisible Strategies (2017). 3D view of the exhibition presented by Vroom 360.co.uk

19 August 2020

Walking in the archive

Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife & Environmental Sounds writes:

As you might expect, our wildlife collection is brimming with the sounds of animals communicating with each other. From songs and calls to bill snaps and tail quivers, this assortment of messages provides a rich overview of the types of conversations taking place in the natural world.

What may come as a surprise is that we don’t just collect vocalisations. Though this is a core aspect of the collection, we’re not just interested in what animals are saying. We’re also interested in what they’re doing.

A small subsection of the collection is dedicated to the sounds of animals moving through their environment. From African Buffalo wading through a river in search of food to stampeding Blue Wildebeest on migration, these recordings make you feel as if you’re part of the journey. Below are just a few examples of animals walking in the archive:

African Elephant walking through dry grass. Recorded in the Imire Safari Ranch, Zimbabwe during September 1998 by Nigel Tucker (BL ref 125581)

African Elephant walking through dry grass

Blue Wildebeest migration flow. Recorded in the Maasai Mara, Kenya on 18 August 1988 by Claude Chappuis (BL ref cc23811) 

Group of Blue Wildebeest on migration

Domestic Horse trotting on tarmac. Recorded in Yorkshire, England on 31 December 1985 by Simon T.Elliott (BL ref 29170)

Horse hooves

Semi-domestic Reindeer herd on migration. Recorded in Finnmark, Norway on 10 May 1980 by Ray Goodwin (BL ref 12509) 

Close up shot of a Reindeer

African Buffalo feeding on and walking through reeds in a muddy, shallow river. Recorded in the Imire Safari Ranch during September 1998 by Nigel Tucker (BL ref 125626)

Close up shot of an African Buffalo

It's a bit of a professional prerequisite, but wildlife sound recordists are usually absent from their recordings. Occasionally though, recordists turn the microphone on themselves, offering us a tiny sonic glimpse of their own journeys through the landscape.

Walking on shingle. Recorded in East Sussex, England on 11 August 2013 by Phil Riddett (BL ref 212343)

Small pebbles on a shingle beach

Footsteps in snow. Recorded in Kent, England on 2 February 2009 by Phil Riddett (BL ref 111375)

Footsteps in snow

For those of you interested in learning more about the sonic aspects of walking, next month's Sound Walk September is definitely something to investigate. For four weeks this global celebration of sound walks will present a varied programme of events designed to inspire and educate. More information can be found on the walk.listen.create website.

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

17 August 2020

Recording of the week: Ganapati, mythology and Koh-i-Noors: a poetry reading by Debjani Chatterjee

This week's selection comes from Catherine Smith, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

To celebrate the first official South Asian Heritage Month in the U.K., running from July 18th to August 17th, we are sharing the beautiful poetry of Debjani Chatterjee (1952-), an Indian-born British award-winning poet, children's writer, storyteller, editor and translator.

Having joined the Library earlier this year as an Audio Project Cataloguer, the first recordings I began working on were from the vast and impressive Poetry Society collection. It comprises well over 400 items, including reel-to-reel tape, DAT, Betamax and compact cassette, which are being digitised as part of the sound archive’s Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project. The Poetry Society collection includes a diverse range of poetry, prose and literary events recorded in London by the Poetry Society and the British Library, beginning in the late 60s and continuing up until the early 90s. It includes an array of wonderful poets, both famous and lesser known.

I was delighted to come across Debjani Chatterjee’s poetry whilst cataloguing her reading at a Poetry Society event held at the National Poetry Centre in April 1990. The event also featured Indian poet, Eunice De Souza. The poets conjure vivid and sensory worlds, depicting Indian and British culture, religion, mythology and wildlife, whilst skillfully addressing issues relating to feminism, identity, racism and environmentalism with wit and poignancy.

Ganesa on Parvati's lap
Ganesa on Parvati's lap. The young Ganesa, wearing a yellow ‘dhoti’ is seated in Parvati’s lap with his rat; Parvati, wearing a red ‘sari,’ sits on lotuses in a canopied throne.                                Shelfmark: Add.Or.1036. Artist/creator: Anon. Place and date of production: c.1770.              Credit: British Library.

'To the English Language' - Debjani Chatterjee (C15/428 C21)

Chatterjee was born in Delhi and grew up in India, Japan, Bangladesh, Hong Kong and Egypt, then moved to England in 1972. This poem ‘To the English Language’ cleverly portrays the perspective of an Indian immigrant making the UK their home and coming to terms with the contradictory emotions faced whilst asserting the importance of her place and voice, adeptly using the infamous ‘Koh-i-noor’ diamond as a metaphor. Chatterjee introduces the poem as “a journey to a language” and “a journey to a country”.

'Ganapati' - Debjani Chatterjee (C15/428 C25)

In Hindu mythology, Ganapati is the ‘elephant-headed god of wisdom’, also known as Ganesha or Gaṇeśa, amongst other titles. He is the son of Parvati, goddess of the mountains, and Shiva, god of destruction and the destroyer of evil. This poem is directed at Ganapati’s mother, Parvati, as depicted in the image. The poem refers to a tradition from Bengal, the home of Chatterjee’s ancestors, in which Ganapati is married to the banana tree. Chatterjee reveals earlier in the reading that she is particularly interested in elephants and she has written a large amount of prose and poems inspired by them.

'I Was That Woman' - Debjani Chatterjee (C15/428 C26)

This influential poem takes us on a journey, exploring various women, goddesses, heroines and characters from multiple countries, religions and cultures, both mythological and real. It includes Eve in the Garden of Eden, Sita, heroine of The Ramayana, Draupadi, heroine of The Mahabharata, Medusa and the Buddha’s aunt, to name just a few. I would encourage you to delve into Debjani Chatterjee’s poetry and explore the rest of the characters further. Debjani Chatterjee's website is a good starting point for understanding some of the references in the poem above.

The entirety of Debjani Chatterjee’s reading at this Poetry Society event (C15/428), along with the rest of the Poetry Society collection, will be available for on-site listening in Reading Rooms at the British Library. Other poets we recommend exploring in the C15 Poetry Society collection include Sujata Bhatt, Suniti Namjoshi, Iftikhar Arif and Saqi Farooqi. You may also be interested in the South Asian Literature Society event on C15/310.

Thank you to Debjani Chatterjee for kindly allowing us to share her poetry readings.

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

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10 August 2020

Recording of the week: Do you know what a paternoster is?

This week's recording of the week comes from Holly Gilbert, Cataloguer of Digital Multimedia Collections.

Photograph of colleagues Sharon and Jonathan

Sharon and Jonathan are colleagues who work together in the Finance department of the British Library, based in Boston Spa in Yorkshire. Sharon has been employed by the library for 42 years whereas Jonathan is the newest member of the team. They discuss their experiences of work and how expectations and attitudes have changed over time. Sharon talks about what it was like to work for the British Library in the past and describes some of the old equipment that was used, including a paternoster. She also mentions the surprising lack of health and safety regulations back then which meant that employees were actually allowed to smoke inside the library buildings, something that Jonathan can’t even imagine happening now.

Sharon and Jonathan (BL REF C1500/845)

This recording is part of The Listening Project, an audio archive of conversations recorded by the BBC and archived at the British Library. The full conversation between Sharon and Jonathan can be found on British Library Sounds.

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

04 August 2020

In celebration of owls

Today marks International Owl Awareness Day, an annual celebration created to raise awareness and spread knowledge about these fascinating birds of prey. 

There are around 200 species of owl living today. Some, such as the Elf Owl, can fit into the palm of your hand while others, such as Blakiston's Fish Owl are the size of a small child. Some birds, such as the aptly-named Snowy Owl, are adapted to life in the frozen Arctic tundra while others, such as the Burrowing Owl, prefer the heat of the desert.

Owls of North AmericaPlate featuring illustrations of 8 owl species. Taken from The Birds of North America by Jacob H. Studer (1903)

The sound archive has over 2,500 recordings of owls from all over the world. Though by no means exhaustive, this constantly growing collection has served researchers, educators and creators for over 50 years. Below are just a few examples of our favourite recordings:

Eurasian Scops Owl (Otus scops), recorded by Alan Burbidge in the Bükk Hills range of Hungary on 10 May 2003 (BL ref 145594)

Tawny Owl (Strix aluco), recorded by Richard Margoschis in Gloucestershire, England on 16 October 1979 (BL ref 09647)

Madagascar Scops Owls (Otus rutilus),  recorded by Tony Baylis in Montagne d'Ambre National Park on 30 September 1990  (BL ref 66410)

Barking Owls (Ninox connivens), recorded by David Lumsdaine in Queensland, Australia on 24 November 1997 (BL ref 152426)

If you're interested in visuals then the British Library's Flickr collection is your new best friend. Here you will find a fantastic assortment of freely available images taken from the pages of some of our 17th-19th century digitised books. There's even an entire album dedicated to owls. So head on over to the Digital Scholarship blog to read more about this collection and the different ways in which you can use these images to make some art of your own.Selection of owl images from the British Library's Flickr accountA selection of owl images from the British Library's Flickr collection 

The UK Web Archive is another excellent resource for owl-related information. The Web Archive team have been doing some domain digging and have found that the Barn Owl was consistently the most talked about British owl between 1996-2013. Visit the team's blog to find out more about this and learn how you can nominate your own favourite websites for inclusion in the UK Web Archive.

Today is a great day to learn more about owls. As well as checking out our blog posts, make sure to follow #InternationalOwlAwarenessDay on Twitter to see what else is going on around the world. We'll also be sharing some special owl GIFs which feature both sounds and images taken from our collections. These were created by our Assistant Web Archivist and will be popping up on the Wildlife, Web Archive and Digital Scholarship Twitter accounts. So do check these out too. It'll be a hoot.

03 August 2020

Recording of the week: Evening by Lake Siemianówka

This week's selection comes from Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife & Environmental Sounds.

Lakeside at dusk

Lake Siemianówka is one of the largest artificial lakes in Poland. Created by human hands in the upper stream of the Narew River, this body of water is now home to a wealth of wildlife that live on, under and around the lake.

The following recording was made at dusk during May 2001 by Ian Christopher Todd. The rapid chattering of European Tree Frogs (Hyla arborea) and the haunting calls of Fire-bellied Toads (Bombina bombina) dominate this lakeside ambience. Amphibians aren’t the only voices drifting over the water though; the ‘dripping tap’ call of a Spotted Crake (Porzana porzana) and the faint booming from a distant Eurasian Bittern (Botaurus stellaris) can also be heard.

Evening by Lake Siemianówka (BL ref 90986)

This recording is part of a much larger collection of wildlife and environmental field recordings that have been preserved as part of the Unlocking our Sound Heritage project.

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

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