Sound and vision blog

5 posts from February 2022

28 February 2022

Recording of the week: A personal jazz mystery solved

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

The album cover for High Flying by Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. The cover is red, featuring the text of the album name and artists at the top and an image of the three arists: two men wearing shirts and a woman wearing a coat and a green floral hat

I’m a jazz nut. My mental soundtrack is often filled with anonymous changes and walking bass solos. But there is one particular song that has been buzzing around my head for years and years – about a decade, in fact. That song is the version of ‘Popity Pop’, recorded by vocalese trio Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, on their album High Flying from 1961. Specifically, Jon Hendricks’ break-down at about 2 min. 16 sec.:

That break-down is so unexpected, so sweet and so touching; it’s an inspired moment and a great contrast to the frenetic energy of the rest of the song. I couldn’t help but become intrigued by it. It was obviously a quotation from another piece of music… but which one? I had no idea. I asked around, and no-one else seemed to have an idea either. Google was no help. I was certain that the answer must be out there. Where was it?

I searched on-and-off for years trying to find the source of that short snippet of tune, but to no avail. That was a long time ago, now, and I eventually gave up the chase and assumed that this would stay just out of my reach forever. Not that that stopped the tune from being permanently wedged in my head, floating into my mind’s ear every couple of weeks. I couldn’t let it go that much.

About my day job: I’m a World and Traditional Music cataloguer at the British Library, and as such, I get to listen to all sorts of wonderful recordings from all over the world, near and far. In December, I was cataloguing the Vic Ellis Collection of English accordion music, and I came across a tape of Tommy Beadle, a concertina player from Middleton-in-Teesdale, County Durham. I made my way through the 1977 recordings of English and Scottish dance tunes, and about half-way through the tape, I heard this:

Fairy Dell [BL REF C1128/1 C11]

Those first notes! Unmistakable, even after one or two seconds: I’d found it! I found the tune! I literally stood up from my desk and cheered in excitement and a decade’s worth of relief. On C1128/1 C11 was a recording of the tune that Beadle called ‘Fairy Dell’ and played with all the charm of those English village dance tunes. But (as the recordist was helpful enough to note in his documentation), it’s better known as ‘When You and I Were Young, Maggie’, an American song written by George W. Johnson and James Austin Butterfield in 1864. It turns out that the song had a vogue on both sides of the Atlantic, and even made its way into some jazz repertoires (including those of Sidney Bechet, Fats Waller and Benny Goodman) before trickling down into the consciousness of Jon Hendricks and making its way into that beautiful cameo role in Lambert, Hendricks and Ross’s ‘Popity Pop’. 

How amazing to realise the line of tradition that connects renowned jazzman Hendricks and Durham County Council road worker Beadle – and what a thrill to find that the key to unlocking my decade-long jazz mystery was hiding in the bellows of an English folk concertina in Middleton-in-Teesdale.

A special thanks to Lesley Grey and family, Vic Ellis and Mark Davies for allowing me to use Tommy Beadle’s recording in this blog.

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21 February 2022

Recording of the week: Dialect in children's play

This week's selection comes from Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English.

One of the fascinating aspects of children’s imaginative play, as celebrated on the Library’s Playtimes website, is how games and rhymes evolve and adapt to reflect time and place. Two British Library recordings of thumb war, for instance, demonstrate how dialect permeates children’s play. Folklorist Steve Roud (2010: 124) notes a reference to thumb wrestling in the USA in Time magazine in 1973 and has evidence that this duelling contest has been played by British children since the 1990s or earlier. Now sufficiently established to prompt annual men’s and women’s national and international championships, the impromptu children’s version invariably features a rhyme to accompany the duel.

Recording made at Christopher Hatton School in 2010 [BL REF C1614/136]

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It’s interesting that the researcher here (an American) initially struggles to understand the exact wording so asks the participants for clarification. Like many young Londoners, these children exhibit TH-fronting – the substitution of a <f> or <v> sound for <th> in words like thing (i.e. ‘fing’) and with (i.e. ‘wiv’) – and they use a distinctively London <u> vowel in the word thumb. Hence the researcher understandably, albeit mistakenly, interprets their pronunciation of thumb war ([fɐm wɔː] i.e. ‘fam war’) as farm war. She may even be influenced by subconscious associations with the social network role-playing game, FarmVille, which was extremely popular at the time.

By contrast, this sound recording of schoolchildren playing the same game in Sheffield shows a slightly different rhyme that’s equally revealing – again featuring a localised pronunciation:

Recording made at Monteney School in 2010 [BL REF C1614]

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The children here count from one to eight to initiate the duel and change the final declaration to prompt a thumb fight. Crucially, this only works as a rhyming couplet in the local dialect, as eight rhymes with fight [fɛɪʔ] only if both words have the vowel sound in ‘say’ rather than ‘sigh’.

Sadly I don’t know enough about the various national competitions for adults, but it would be interesting to know if a rhyme is used, and even more intriguing to discover if the rhyme varies according to where the contest is held.

Reference

Roud, S. 2010. The Lore of the Playground. London: Cornerstone Digital.

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

16 February 2022

Public libraries in the words of people who use, work in and run them

A unique new collection of oral histories has been accessioned, catalogued and archived by National Life Stories: Living Libraries: Public libraries in the words of people who use, work in and run them. Gathered during the last months of 2019 and the very early part of 2020 by Professor Shelley Trower and Dr Sarah Pyke at the University of Roehampton, this archive is the first to focus on the institution of the public library in the UK.

Drawn map of the UK with libraries highlighted and sketches of the library buildings in speech bubbles
Illustration by anne malewski | cargocollective.com/marblesatsea

The Living Libraries project collected oral histories from library workers at all levels, from security and janitorial staff to librarians to Heads of Service, as well as from library users and volunteers. We heard about the financial, material and ethical challenges that libraries and library workers have faced over the last decade, and how public libraries have continued to adapt and change to meet the diverse needs of their communities. In libraries across the country, you’ll find the very young and the very old; people searching for social connection, or for silence, or for dual-language picture books for their kids; people struggling with homelessness or money worries. Public libraries provide a warm, safe space that anyone can spend time in, for free.

In this clip, Jolyne Thomas discusses the importance of Storyhouse, in Chester, to the local community.

Jolyne Thomas on Storyhouse (C1868/21)

Download Jolyne Thomas transcript

We asked our interviewees about their first memories of libraries. What did they feel like? What did they smell like? We asked, too, what libraries are for, and what people’s hopes were for libraries of the future. The resulting 50 hours of audio ranges across childhood and young adult experiences with books and reading, career progression and non-traditional career paths, the ideal of the library as a shared, democratic space shaped by its users, and the changing role that libraries play in people’s lives as they age. These oral histories demonstrate the benefits of libraries to people’s health and wellbeing, their necessary provision of comfortable, open spaces and accurate information, and their vital contribution to a more sustainable, greener future.

Our primary intention in assembling this archive was to build up a picture of public libraries in the present day, tracing their evolution over the past 40 years, and the place they occupy in our social and emotional landscapes. Secondly, the archive is a valuable resource for other researchers. It suggests new and exciting directions for future work which might focus, for instance, on the impact of technology on libraries, the ways that civic architecture shapes behaviour and social interaction, or on cultures of work and the changing face of library careers. There is a wealth of material, too, on the impact of economic pressures, particularly over the last decade – a period in which many libraries have faced cuts or closures, or have transitioned to volunteer or ‘community-run’ models.

Victoria Henderson, from Peterborough, talks about how cuts to other public services have an impact on libraries:

Victoria Henderson on cuts to public services (C1868/07)

Download Victoria Henderson Transcript

We began interviewing for Living Libraries in late summer 2019, gathering nearly 50 interviews by the end of January 2020. To reflect on and listen back to these oral histories from the vantage point of 2022 is a dizzying experience. So much has changed. Just a few weeks after we completed our last interview, the Oral History Society recommended that all in-person interviewing be postponed.

Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, we are delighted that the Living Libraries archive is now accessible at the British Library. We would like once again to thank all those who participated in our interviews, from Falmouth Library in Cornwall, Colliers Wood Library in the London Borough of Merton, Newcastle City Library, Peterborough Central Library, and Storyhouse, in Chester, and those we spoke to from Libraries Connected, Arts Council England, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Libraries and CILIP, the national association for library and information professionals. Our hope is that the Living Libraries archive will prove a rich resource for future investigation. We would be delighted to hear from anyone who makes use of the archive, and to answer any questions about it, or the project more broadly.

To find interviews in the collection, search the Sound and Moving Image catalogue for the collection reference number C1868.

Blog by Dr Sarah Pyke, formerly Impact and Engagement Officer for the AHRC-funded Living Libraries project, University of Roehampton, which ran from 2019 to 2020. To find out more about the project, please visit livinglibraries.uk.

14 February 2022

Recording of the week: Neville Chamberlain and King George VI's broadcasts regarding Britain declaring war on Germany in 1939

This week's selection comes from Joseph McGeady, Learning Team Apprentice.

The British Library has recently launched its Speaking Out website, an online resource exploring the importance of public speaking and debating through a collection of sound recordings from the Library’s sound archive. 

Included in the Speaking Out collection are excerpts from two speeches made on the same day - 3rd September 1939. King George VI of Great Britain and his Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, made these speeches to announce the British government’s decision to declare war on Nazi Germany following the regime’s refusal to withdraw its troops from Poland by 11am on that day. Chamberlain’s announcement was broadcast at 11:15am; the King’s speech at 6pm. 

Black and white photo of King George VI addressing the nation via radioKing George VI addresses the nation. Image © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images.

King George VI speaking at the outbreak of war [BL REF C1398/0016]

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Black and white photo of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain speaking to the nation from a BBC broadcasting studioNeville Chamberlain announces the declaration of war. Image © Fox Photos / Getty Images.

Neville Chamberlain announces war with Germany, 1939 [BL REF 1CD0013823 D1 BD02]

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Radio and recording technology were clearly still nascent – there is a background of crackle throughout and none of the dynamic range and depth we take for granted in modern broadcasts and recordings. However, these limitations lend an authenticity to the sound excerpts - placing them in a distinct historical period; faithfully conveying the very formal style of British public speaking at the time; and emphasising the slow and sombre delivery tone of the speeches. The gravity of the situation and the uncertainty of the impending conflict are very apparent to the listener.

Many of us may find the prospect of public speaking quite daunting but we would not normally expect this of prominent public figures such as a King or Prime Minister. However, delivering these speeches proved difficult for both men for very different and personal reasons.

Neville Chamberlain had been a strong advocate of appeasement towards Adolf Hitler. Less than a year earlier, Chamberlain had proudly proclaimed “Peace for our time”, whilst displaying the agreement he had signed with Hitler in Munich concerning the German annexation of the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia. Hitler’s subsequent dismissal of the agreement, followed by the invasions of Czechoslovakia and Poland and the declaration of war on Germany proved to be a humiliating reversal in Chamberlain’s fortunes and would soon lead to his downfall.

For the King, announcing the declaration of war proved challenging in another way. George VI, or ‘Bertie’ to his friends and family, was born the second son of King George V and thus never expected to become King. He unwillingly ascended the throne after his brother King Edward VIII famously abdicated in December 1936 to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. The King had a bad stammer, which made public speaking very difficult for him. Having to deliver such an important national and international address would therefore have been exceptionally challenging for the reluctant monarch.

The profound air of pessimism in these broadcasts ultimately proved portentous for both figures. The Second World War would have a significant impact on the health of the Prime Minister and of the King. Neville Chamberlain would go on to resign his office in May 1940 and die from cancer before the end of the year. The stress of the war years took a heavy toll on the King and he would die in 1952, aged 56, having reigned for just under 16 years.

Speaking Out is generously supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund as part of Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.

Pink soundwave and the words 'Unlocking Our Sound Heritage', next to the National Lottery Heritage Fund logoFollow @BLSoundHeritage and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

06 February 2022

Recording of the week: When in the trees the rooks build high

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

Birds have long been viewed as predictors of weather. Their voices, flight patterns and nest building activities have been closely observed by countless generations, keen on knowing what conditions to expect for the coming year.

One such bird is the Rook (Corvus frugilegus). This member of the corvid family is mainly found in farmland and open woodland from north-western Europe to eastern Siberia. A highly social bird, rooks congregate in large, noisy groups called rookeries. They start building their nests ready for egg laying in February and it’s the position of these nests that is said to indicate what kind of summer can be expected.

The old saying goes like this:

'When in the trees the rooks build high, expect the summer to be warm and dry.'

In 2012 Alan Burbidge made the following recording of a treetop rookery on the Scottish island of Islay. The busy, noisy atmosphere was brilliantly captured by the two microphones laid out on grass near the edge of the rookery trees.

Rooks calling at a nest site. Recorded by Alan Burbidge on Islay, Scotland, 2012 (BL shelfmark WA 2012/016/004)

A photograph of a rookery high in some treesRookery (Photo by Debs-eye, CC-BY-NC-ND)

As pleasing as this little piece of folklore is, it doesn’t help very much as rooks generally like to build their nests up high anyway. If you’re able to get out walking this month, do listen out for rooks and pay attention to where they’re building their nests. But perhaps don’t start planning those summer barbeques just yet.

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