THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

6 posts categorized "Black & Asian Britain"

19 July 2019

‘My Other Piano’ – the classical side of Winifred Atwell

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Winifred Atwell in the late 1950s

Winifred Atwell in the late 1950s  (1LP0248992 BL collections)

Guest blog by Edison Fellow Uchenna Ngwe who is studying Black classical musicians in Britain before 1960

Little is known about the early years of Winifred Atwell but she is thought to have been born in either 1910 or 1914. By the 1950s the Trinidad-born pianist had become a household name in Britain and Australia but has become a forgotten figure today.

Although various sources claim that Atwell arrived in London in 1946, BBC documents show that she actually appeared on at least two episodes of the radio programme Calling The West Indies in 1945, and was already living in London by this time. Her first appearance was as piano accompanist to a fellow Trinidadian, renowned singer and actor Edric Connor. In 1993, his widow, Pearl Connor, spoke to Stephen Bourne in this unedited interview about Atwell for the BBC Radio 2 programme Salutations.

Pearl Connor C1019/16

Following the 1945 broadcasts, Atwell was asked to perform on the radio on a number of occasions over the next year before her inaugural TV appearance on the BBC’s Stars in Your Eyes on the afternoon of 21st October 1946.

Radio Times 21st October 1946

Winifred Atwell made her name mainly from popular music but, as she continued to show in her stage act, she was also well-versed in standard classical repertoire. Soon after her arrival in Britain, she began taking piano lessons with Harold Craxton (1885 – 1971), a well-respected teacher at the Royal Academy of Music and sought-after accompanist. In another unedited interview for Salutations, Michael Craxton, Harold’s son, described Atwell’s visits to the family home to study with his father.

Michael Craxton C1019/16

After working with a variety of agents from early on in her career, Atwell was represented by Bernard Delfont Ltd from July 1948. Delfont was a former music-hall dancer and theatrical agent before embarking on a career as a successful theatre and leisure impresario – his brothers Lew and Leslie Grade were also theatrical agents before both becoming television executives. This collaboration proved to be very successful and Atwell was in huge demand for her TV, radio and live theatre performances. By the late 1950s she was earning the equivalent of around £4,000 per TV appearance.

Michael Craxton also refers to Atwell's work with his father on Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor. On the 28th November 1954, Atwell made her classical debut at the Royal Albert Hall performing this piece with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Stanford Robinson (1904 – 1984). A few days later on the 1st and 2nd of December, Atwell recorded the work for the Decca label with the same ensemble and conductor. These sessions were Decca’s first ever UK stereo recordings but sadly this experiment remains unpublished and the concerto was only issued in mono.

Grieg Piano Concerto

Despite her abilities and considerable public draw, assumptions made due to her race and success outside of the classical genre meant that Atwell was not taken seriously as a classical musician. However, her work mainly with pop and jazz-influenced music led to the achievement of a remarkable amount of success during her career, including two British no. 1 singles – Let’s Have Another Party (1954) and Poor People of Paris (1956). Her highest-ranking classical recording was of the 18th variation from Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsodie on a theme of Paganini, which was performed on the soundtrack of the film The Story of Three Loves by Jakob Gimpel. Atwell’s version, with Wally Stott and his Orchestra, peaked at no. 9 in the UK charts in 1954.

Atwell Rachmaninoff

Winifred Atwell LP

1LP0239366 (BL collections)

I was pleased to correct details of Atwell’s early career through my Edison Fellowship research at the BBC archives at Caversham and to be able to put this into context with the rest of my work on Black music in Britain before 1960.

For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical

17 December 2018

Recording of the week: Norman Beaton recalls Liverpool in the 60s

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Our last Recording of the Week for 2018 comes from Stephen Cleary, Lead Curator of Literary & Creative Recordings.

Actor, singer and writer Norman Beaton (1934-1994) recalls his early career steps in Liverpool, and how the production of his first play, the musical Jack of Spades, came about through a chance meeting in the Philharmonic pub.

This is a short excerpt from an interview running for one hour and twenty minutes, which is available to listen to in full at the British Library on request.

The interview was recorded at Riverside Studios, Hammersmith, London, by the British Library, 22 November 1986, at an event to celebrate the publication of Beaton’s autobiography Beaton But Unbowed

Note: this recording has some technical imperfections.

Norman Beaton (C94/92)

Photograph of Norman Beaton in 1979Norman Beaton in 1979 (image copyright: Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo; used under licence)

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

UOSH_Footer with HLF logo

03 December 2018

Recording of the week: Island Grief after Hurricane Ivan

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

British-Caribbean poet, artist and theatre maker Malika Booker reads ‘Island Grief after Hurricane Ivan’ from her 2013 collection Pepper Seed.

Recorded at the British Library in May 2013 for the Between Two Worlds: Poetry and Translation project funded by the Arts Council.

Photograph of an apartment building with three boarded-up doors graffitied with the names Ivan 2004, Katrina 2005 and Rita 2005  Photo credit: SanFranAnnie on Visual hunt / CC BY-SA

Malika Booker reads 'Island Grief after Hurricane Ivan' (C1340/92)

On 31 August 2004, a large tropical wave crossed the west coast of Africa. By 5 September - about 1150 miles east of the southern Windward Islands - it had turned into a hurricane with winds of 160 mph, reaching category 5 strength up to three times, the strongest category of the Saffir-Simpson Scale.

Hurricane Ivan mercilessly wrecked parts of Grenada, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Cuba and Mexico, before reaching the Gulf Shores of Alabama and from there continuing its uncontrollable path through multiple locations in the USA.

It took an estimated total of 123 lives between 2 and 24 September 2004.

Atlantic Ocean storms and hurricanes name lists were first created in 1953 by the US National Hurricane Center, with only female names used until 1979. Prior to 1953 hurricanes in the USA were identified by their latitude-longitude, and in the Caribbean Islands after the saint of the day in which the hurricane occurred (according to the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar).

The use of names was favoured for communication purposes. There are currently six lists of 21 names each in use. An international committee of the World Meteorological Organization is in charge of updating, maintaining, rotating and recycling the lists every six years. Any name listed can be retired, to never be used again upon request, out of respect for the people who have suffered fatalities and losses. This is what happened with Ivan after 2004, Katrina and Rita in 2005 and several other names since.

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

16 October 2018

Black History Month - The Gold Coast Police Band

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HMV disc label of JZ 282

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

For Black History month in previous years I have highlighted the career and work of classical musicians such as Dean Dixon and Cullen Maiden.  While considering people for this year’s blog, I received a donation which included a fascinating disc.  The performers are The Gold Coast Police Band.

It used to be that many organisations in the UK had bands made up of employees.  It was a wonderful way of promoting a community spirit, a striving for excellence dependent on each individual’s hard work and commitment producing an end result of combined quality.  The Metropolitan Police Force had divisional bands, then a main band of officers drawn from the divisions.  Its demise due to cuts happened around 1997 and only a choir now remains.  One of the most famous bands from a motor works is Foden’s Motor Works Band (still extant), a large collection of whose discs recorded from 1914 to 1963 I acquired for the British Library in 2003.

The Gold Coast Police Band was formed 1917 in Ghana.  The first recruits were retired army bandsmen from the West African Frontier Force who had studied at Kneller Hall, the Royal Military School of Music in Whitton.  From 1926 to 1941 the first European bandmaster, Mr G. T. March, was in charge and in 1943 his place was taken by Thomas Stenning.  Enlisted in the 7th Dragoon Guards in 1905, Stenning went to France with the 6th Dragoon Guards in August 1914 and was granted a regular commission in the Royal West Kent Regiment in 1917.  He resigned from this in order to study at Kneller Hall to be trained as an Army bandmaster.  From 1923 to 1936 Stenning was bandmaster to the 11th Hussars (Prince Albert’s Own) stationed in India.  From there he went to the Royal Military College at Sandhurst as bandmaster.  It was in 1943 that he took up his post with the Gold Coast Police Band.  The bandsmen were all locally enlisted African men whose sole qualification upon enlistment was ‘a liking for music.’ 

The Gold Coast Police Band at the police depot in Accra, GhanaThe Gold Coast Police Band at the police depot in Accra, Ghana (courtesy of Marlborough Rare Books)

The band of thirty-five African men arrived in London by air from Accra on Wednesday 7th May 1947 for a four month tour, departing the end of August.  Two days later they were rehearsing at Hounslow before setting off on the tour.  During their stay they played in many of the London parks including, Greenwich, Victoria, Hyde and Regent’s as well as Horse Guards Parade.  On 18th May the band performed at Jephson Gardens Pavilion, Leamington Spa and on the 24th May were back in London where they led the procession from the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields to the Cenotaph for the Empire Day ceremony.  A visit to Nottingham due earlier in May was postponed until the 27th from whence they travelled to Bath for a week of performances during the first week of June.  The highlight of the tour occurred on 10th June when the band played at a Buckingham Palace Presentation Party for 5,000 guests alternating with the Band of the Coldstream Guards.  Around this time a visit to Hendon was filmed by the newsreel cameras for Colonial Cinemagazine No. 9. 

Unfortunately the film is not in colour but the newspapers described the uniforms as scarlet and navy blue with white blouses.  The band wore black shorts braided with red and had matching black caps with red tassels and wore puttees on their feet.

It was in June that the band made the first of their HMV recordings in London for sale in West Africa.  The company began recording in Accra and Lagos in 1937 and these recordings were issued with the JZ prefix.  It appears that they had made one recording in West Africa for HMV which was issued as JZ 94 accompanying J. R. Roberts in songs from The Downfall of Zachariah Fee, a pantomime by Sir Arnold Hodson, Governor of the Gold Coast Colony (and previously the Falkland Islands).

On the 20th June 1947 they recorded six sides and, just before their departure on the 29th August, six more.  As these recordings were made for the West African market they were mainly of traditional songs, with some sides conducted by Sergeant Isaac Annam.  One side was recorded with a vocal trio sung in Fanti, but there is also a disc of marches and one of Rockin’ in Rhythm by Duke Ellington.  The first recording to be made was the one classical title, the Overture to Poet and Peasant by Franz von Suppé.  The instrumental playing is of a high standard, particularly the precision of the opening quietly played brass chords.

Poet and Peasant Overture

Two years later the Daily Mirror reported that compared to pre-war trade, dealers were now selling as many as three times the number of gramophones and four times the number of records in West Africa.  In big demand were the Gold Coast Police Band’s recordings of Duke Ellington’s Rockin’ in Rhythm and an African dance number, Everybody Likes Saturday Night.  

On 6th July the band broadcast on the BBC Home Service for a half hour programme and in the middle of the month travelled north where they were billeted at Crash Camp, Sandy Lane, Gosforth for performances in Newcastle.  On 16th July they lunched with the Lord Mayor of Newcastle and took afternoon tea with the Chief Constable.  A dance in their honour was given  at Albion Assembly Rooms, North Shields where a local dance band was hired to provide entertainment.  The next day, afternoon and evening performances at Exhibition Park were given before leaving for Edinburgh and an appearance at Pittencrief Park, Dunfermline on 22nd July.  The Band then headed south for a week at Warrior Square Gardens, Hastings and further performances in London and, one would hope, some time off to explore the city before their return to Accra at the end of August.

For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical

02 October 2018

Sound, stories and new perspectives: site-specific curated sound tours of the British Library

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Have you ever wandered around the British Library in St Pancras and been intrigued the art, architecture and spaces? Perhaps you’ve enjoyed an exhibition at the Library and wondered how it may have inspired other visitors? Have you ever wanted to hear more voices from the many narrators in the sound collections? Want to make the most of Black History Month 2018?

Then lucky you – we have the perfect way for you to spend 40 minutes of your time this October!

As part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project and inspired by the Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land exhibition four talented young scholars have been exploring the British Library oral history collections to highlight voices from Caribbean migrants. The sound tour guides will lead tours through the St Pancras building – playing excerpts from the sound recordings in key locations to shed new light on the architecture and artwork on display.

Kings Library - courtesy clive sherlockKing's Library, St Pancras. Photo courtesy of Clive Sherlock.

The sound tour guides; Korantema Anyimadu, Amelia Francis, Ayomide Oluyemi and Shani Page-Muir, each give a tour based on their own research – focussing on a variety of themes including – ideas of ‘home’, arrival and reception in the UK, identity and politics, community organisation and mid-20th century awareness in Britain of life in the colonial empire.

Ayomide gives an insight into just one of the clips she selected and edited, from the life story interview with Donald Hinds, (b. 1934 in Jamaica) who, after his move to Britain, became a published author reflecting on the experiences of West Indian immigrants. Ayo commented, “I found it striking in this section of the interview that some of pieces of literature Hinds found significant growing up in Jamaica were books that we see as very 'British.' He also touched upon two important Jamaican figures, Marcus Garvey and Harold Moody, who immigrated to Britain in the earlier part of the twentieth century which highlights the role pre-Windrush migrants.”

Donald Hinds reflects on his favourite literature, and the books he read whilst at school (C1149/25)

During her Sound Tour, Ayo chose to play the audio by The King's Library. She explains, “George III's collection spanning almost four centuries and many forms of writing, feels like the core of the British Library to me. It's probably the British Library's most visible text collection to the visitor and it felt appropriate to hear Donald Hinds’ voice there – as he is well known as a writer.”

Designing and leading the sound tour was a new experience for Ayo, “Although talking about history is one of my favourite things and I was very excited at the idea of getting to create my own tour, at the start I was very nervous. Feeling more confident with practice tours, being trained in how to edit sound clips and learning about oral history have been wonderful skills to gain. I'm going to miss this project when it's completed!”

After spending 40 minutes on a tour we are confident that you will see the British Library building with fresh eyes and will want to revisit the excellent exhibition and find out more about Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.

Public tours are available for tours on:
Wednesday 10 October 2018 at 18.00
Saturday 13 October 2018 at 14.00; 15.00 and 16.00
Tours last approximately 40 minutes and are free of charge:
https://www.bl.uk/events/windrush-sound-tour

Written by the BL leads on this project: Mary Stewart, Oral History Curator & Chandan Mahal, Learning Projects Manager for Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.

06 June 2018

Make yourself at home! The BBC in a multi-cultural world

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David Hendy, Professor of Media and Cultural History at the University of Sussex writes about an upcoming event at the British Library, Britain Reimagined: A New Oral History of the BBC.

The clue is in the name. The British Broadcasting Corporation. It’s a national broadcaster. When its motto proclaims that “Nation Shall Speak Peace unto Nation”, it doesn’t just mean different nations speaking to each other. It also means the nation – Britain - speaking to itself.

But who exactly gets to speak? When the BBC began in the 1920s, it all seemed straightforward – at least to that great Founding Father, John Reith. Christian, high-minded, infused with Victorian spirit of paternalism, Reith was adamant: only “the best” in thought or culture should be broadcast, “only those with a claim to be heard above their fellows” should talk at the microphone, only those with an “educated” southern English accent could be announcers, only programmes of devout Christianity could be aired on a Sunday.

Even at the time, this took little enough account of the richness of regional or working-class life. But after the Second World War - when Britain became home to thousands of immigrants from the Caribbean or Eastern Europe, and later from Kenya, Uganda, India and Pakistan – a dramatic change in attitude was surely inevitable. Like most who arrived at Tilbury on the Empire Windrush in 1948, many of the new immigrants were already British subjects: this was their Motherland. And there’d been a rich Black and immigrant presence here for centuries. Even so, for the BBC a new balancing act was required. Differences had to be acknowledged, yet new settlers needed to be integrated. Which was more important?

Una%20Marson%20in%201941%20hi000374838Una Marson during a BBC broadcast to the West Indies, 1941. Copyright: BBC.

The story of how the BBC navigated these tricky waters can be traced in vivid technicolour through the BBC’s own immensely rich archives, more and more of which are being opened-up to public view for the first time. They offer a lively gallery of programmes and pioneering individuals. Una Marson, pictured above, was born in Jamaica and joined the BBC’s staff during the Second World War. She was the first black producer on its payroll – and a pioneer in cultural programmes transmitted to the Caribbean.

Una Marson interviewing Ken "Snakehips" Johnson, 1940. Copyright: BBC.

That fragile recording of Marson interviewing the jazz band-leader Ken “Snakehips” Johnson in 1940, only a matter of months before he was killed in the London Blitz, is just one among many we’re making available online through a new project based at the University of Sussex, working in collaboration with the BBC.

At our workshop on 10 July, Britain Reimagined: A New Oral History of the BBC we’ll be listening to, watching - and talking about – Una Marson, the programmes she made, and her dramatic departure from the BBC in 1946. Through newly-released oral history recordings and programmes not seen since their first broadcast, we’ll also be encountering many other fascinating individuals who helped – and in some cases hindered – the BBC’s slow embrace of a multi-cultural world: the people behind the first TV programmes for British Asians in the 1960s, Make Yourself at Home; the creators of Open Door, a bold 1970s experiment in ‘access TV’; the broadcasters who first brought Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists to the microphone.

The story these records tell isn’t straightforward: the BBC was brave in some areas, cautious in others. Nor is the story always reliable. There are gaps in the archive – including the testimonies of listeners and viewers themselves - and questions to be answered about who gets to tell the BBC’s own history now.

MikePH2Mike Phillips, former broadcaster, 2018. Copyright: Connected Histories of the BBC.

So, we’ll also be joined live on 10 July by a special guest – and a brand-new contributor to our ‘unofficial’ oral history of the BBC: the former journalist and crime-writer Mike Phillips, pictured above, who in 1998 wrote the ground-breaking book Windrush: The Irresistible Rise of Multi-Racial Britain. We hope you can join us.