Sound and vision blog

09 November 2020

Recording of the week: If I were a blackbird

This week's selection comes from Yrja Thorsdottir, Digital Learning Content Developer for Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.

I love singing to myself at my desk as I’m working from home but you will never catch me singing anywhere someone can hear me. Pining for karaoke parties? Absolutely not! Why? I don’t have confidence in the quality of my own singing voice. I think that is the reason why this recording of Danny Brazil (1913-2003) singing ‘If I were a Blackbird’ appeals to me so much. He sings with evident pleasure and confidence even though his voice isn’t the clear tenor of his former days.

Danny Brazil sings 'If I were a blackbird' (BL REF C742/22)

Download Transcript -'If I was a blackbird' sung by Danny Brazil

Danny-Brazil

Danny Brazil (pronounced to rhyme with razzle) was born in Ireland in 1913, one of 13 siblings in a travelling family. His family moved around Ireland, working as horse dealers and living in two horse-drawn wagons for 27 years before relocating to Gloucestershire and becoming scrap iron dealers. The family was very musical; they all sang and played at least one instrument, and several, including Danny, were talented step dancers. Danny could not read so instead he developed an astonishing memory for a vast repertoire of traditional folk songs as well as some country and western songs.

During a strawberry-picking trip, Danny and his brother Harry had a disagreement. In the resulting fight, a blow to his throat caused Danny’s voice box to rupture. The damage left him with the harsh, hoarse voice you can hear in this recording. Nevertheless, Danny continued to sing for his own pleasure for the rest of his life, although he lamented the loss of paid public performance opportunities. He was anxious to work with field recordists to ensure his extensive repertoire of traditional songs was preserved.

This recording is one of several made in 1978 by folk music collector and scholar Gwilym Davies in Danny’s traveller caravan in Steverton, Gloucestershire, when Danny was 65 years old.

This recording is part of the Gwilym Davies Collection which consists of folk music field recordings made by Davies from the 1970s onward. The recordings document folk music mainly in and around Hampshire, Devon, Gloucestershire and New York state. Gwilym Davies has recently published the book 'Catch it, Bottle it and Paint it Green' which details his extensive folk music collecting activities. 

To discover more sounds from our homes and explore domestic life as you have never heard it before go to the British Library’s If Homes Had Ears website.

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