THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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91 posts categorized "Digitisation"

17 December 2020

Oral History of Jazz in Britain: Max Jones interviews Adelaide Hall

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By Sarah Coggrave, Data Protection and Rights Clearance Officer, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH) Project.

In 1988, jazz author, radio host and journalist Max Jones (1917–1993) interviewed jazz singer Adelaide Hall (1901–1993) for the British Library project Oral History of Jazz in Britain (British Library ref. C122). The audio recording of this interview has recently been cleared for online release as part of our National Lottery Heritage Fund-supported Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH) project. Previous blogs about this collection focused on Kathy Stobart, Major James Howe and Champion Jack Dupree.

Adelaide Hall was born in 1901, in Brooklyn, New York, where her father, a piano teacher, introduced her to music from an early age. Hall describes an upbringing filled with musicians, instruments and music. Sadly she lost both her father and sister at a young age, and sought out work to support her mother. Her early successes in theatre enabled her to do this, and more.

In her interview with Max Jones, Hall describes three of the professional jobs that kick-started her career. The first, Shuffle Along, was a hit Broadway musical by Noble Sissie and Eubie Blake, which according to Hall, involved some dancing and a few leading parts. This was performed in New York in 1921. She later became part of an all-black revue called Chocolate Kiddies, and the group toured Europe in 1925. Some of the songs were written by Duke Ellington, with whom she would later collaborate on a career-defining recording of the song Creole Love Call in 1927. In this excerpt from the interview, she describes how this came about.

Adelaide Hall - excerpt 1

Download Adelaide Hall and Max Jones transcript - excerpt 1

The third show that helped to cement Hall’s reputation as a performer was the Blackbirds production of 1928. Based on a production staged in London in 1926, starring Florence Mills, Blackbirds was created by Lew Leslie, who planned to develop the show on Broadway. However, his main star, Mills, died in 1927, aged just 31. Adelaide Hall took her place and became one of the show’s biggest stars in 1928, along with Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson, who she is pictured with below.

Adelaide Hall and Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson

Adelaide Hall with Bill Robinson. Image from the Richmond Planet, 15 November 1930, sourced via Wikimedia Commons and licensed by CC-SA 4.0.

Blackbirds, like Chocolate Kiddies, took Hall back to Europe. This time her destination was the famous Moulin Rouge in Paris, France, where the show was a great success. She then spent much of the early 1930s on tour, both in Europe and in the U.S.A. on the RKO circuit. During this period Hall performed at the renowned Cotton Club, as well as being accompanied by a young Art Tatum on the piano, before he found fame. She recalls encouraging Tatum to accept his first big offer, in spite of knowing that she would lose a fine accompanist in the process.

Hall's accompanists also included Francis Carter and Bernard Edison, and the piano, as an object, became an important stage prop, when Hall began to request not one, but two pianos on stage when she performed.

Adelaide Hall - excerpt 2

Download Adelaide Hall and Max Jones transcript - excerpt 2

Adelaide Hall cites her husband Bert Hicks (1924-1963), a British sailor born in Trinidad and Tobago, as a major support and collaborator in her career. Together they devised clever, creative ways to present her performances, and thanks to his language skills (which included French), they were able to buy and run a club called the Big Apple (La Grosse Pomme) in France. Between 1935 and 1938 the couple made this venue into a success with visitors and locals alike. Hall was the resident star, performing a cabaret show nightly. Here she describes making a dramatic entrance, from a spiral staircase repurposed by her husband:

Adelaide Hall - excerpt 3

Download Adelaide Hall and Max Jones transcript - excerpt 3

Such was Hall's popularity, it would not have been practical to keep the club open without her, so when she decided to take up performance opportunities in the U.K., her husband came with her and they closed the club in 1938. They soon found a new home in the Old Havana Club in London, which they took over and renamed the Florida Club.

However, this new life in the UK had a turbulent start, and coincided with the start of the Second World War. The couple’s club was destroyed by a landmine in 1939, and Hall remembers an eerie premonition before the event, which earned her the nickname 'Miss Ouija Board'. Feeling somehow that something bad was about to happen, she told everyone to leave the club. Her husband Bert was in the cellar when the explosion occurred, although miraculously survived.

In spite of the war, Hall’s career continued to go from strength to strength, with recordings, performances, broadcasts and even her own radio show with the BBC. She appeared in an Oscar-winning film (The Thief of Baghdad), and later added television appearances to her credits. The interview also covers her stage performances in the 1950s, including Kiss Me Kate and Love From Judy, as well as the Duke Ellington Memorial and Eubie Blake's 99th birthday. She describes visiting Billie Holiday shortly before the talented singer’s premature death, as well as her friendship with Louis Armstrong and his then wife Lil.

At the time of the interview, conducted in 1988, Hall would have been in her eighties, and was still actively performing, with plans to record an album the following year. She describes having to take more care with health and sleep, but otherwise feeling as fit as a woman in her fifties!

The interview reveals a warm, funny and talented artist, with a great zest for life. In one of many touching moments she sings a song with friend and interviewer Max Jones and suggests they have a drink together.

I would like to thank Nick Jones for help with the rights to this collection (you can read more about Max Jones’s work on the Max Jones Archive web site), and would encourage everyone to check out Adelaide Hall's remarkable career. The British Library’s collections include other interviews, copies of Hall’s many recordings and even some recordings of live performances, as well as Iain Cameron Williams’s book Underneath a Harlem Moon: The Harlem to Paris Years of Adelaide Hall (2002). Materials about her life and work can be found in various archives, including Indiana University (U.S.), Yale University Library and Archives (U.S.) and the National Jazz Archives in the U.K.

14 December 2020

Recording of the week: Gut feelings in weather forecasting

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

Portrait photograph of Julia Slingo
Julia Slingo at the Meteorological Office in Exeter as its Chief Scientist, 2013

In her oral history interview Professor Dame Julia Slingo describes many aspects of her life and work as a climate modeller. Her research has focused on tropical climate variability and its impact on the global climate. She started her career at the Meteorological Office, where she received training in weather forecasting – developing a ‘gut feeling’ for the weather:

Julia Slingo speaking about 'gut feelings' in weather forecasting [C1379/61] 

Could you now then describe the practical training on this Met Office course at Shinfield Park?

Yes, so every afternoon we would take the current weather patterns and what we’d learn to do was to actually plot the charts, so in those days you learnt how to plot all the symbols that describe the weather at a particular location and then you’d draw up the chart with the pressure pat – the isobars and you’d use the observations to decide where the weather fronts must be from things about what the observations were telling you. And we learnt to work out things like … the difference between what the weather’s doing at the surface and what the weather’s doing in the middle of the troposphere, it would also tell you about how weather patterns would change with time. But we – it was all very practical because at that stage none of this was computerised; there was a lot of hand drawing and – and plotting observations and thinking about – and interpreting what they mean and so we would – that was – that was what we spent the afternoons doing and then we would make our own forecasts: what we thought was going to happen to the weather patterns over the UK the following day. And it was fascinating, because what you also learn is that – is that expert judgement comes into this as well, that it’s not just purely theory, there’s actually all sorts of local knowledge comes in. And I can still remember having drawn up this beautiful chart and put a cold front in where I thought it ought to be ‘cause of what the winds were doing and all of that and I remember the tutor, the guy who was taking the class coming round and he’d say – he’d say, ‘Well Julia, why do you think the cold front’s there?’ and I’d say, ‘Oh well that’s because, you know, the winds are doing this and the pressure’s doing that,’ and blah-de-blah-de-blah. And he’d say, ‘Well I think it’s probably going to be more over here,’ and I’d say, ‘But why?’ he said, ‘Well just because I just know.’ And there was all that – there was also that – all that element of experience that comes in so this idea that, you know, when you watch the weather day after day after day you learn about … you get a gut feeling for it, which has never left me actually. So it’s – it’s not only having the theoretical base but it’s also that sort of experience and the fact that we do experience the weather from day to day which so much of physics you can’t get that sort of feeling. And, you know, now I can sort of look at a weather map or I can look at a satellite picture and I just say, I've got that feeling that it’s going to do this.

This clip features on the website Voices of Science. Further extracts from Julia Slingo’s interview are available on her interviewee page. Voices of Science tells the stories of some of the most remarkable scientific and engineering discoveries of the past century, featuring extracts from over 100 oral history interviews.

Julia Slingo was recorded by interviewer Paul Merchant in 2011 for the National Life Stories project An Oral History of British Science. Listen to the recording in full on BL Sounds.

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

20 November 2020

Nazis on trial: Nuremberg 75 years ago

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Seventy-five years ago today, on 20 November 1945, the first of the Nuremberg trials began in the German city that had been the setting for the huge Nazi rallies addressed by Adolf Hitler in the 1930s. The military tribunals, presided over by judges from Britain, the US, France and the Soviet Union, aimed to prosecute prominent members of the political, military, judicial, and economic leadership of Nazi Germany who had carried out the Holocaust and other war crimes during the Second World War.

Amongst the twenty-four defendants were Hermann Goering, Hitler’s chosen successor, Rudolf Hess, Joachim von Ribbentrop and Albert Speer. Twelve were eventually sentenced to death, seven received prison sentences, three were acquitted, and in two cases there was no decision.

Hartley Shawcross (1902-2003) was the lead British prosecutor at Nuremberg and was interviewed by Kathy Burk for National Life Stories in 1991. His opening speech in July 1946 lasted two days and in this clip he particularly remembers Hermann Goering, and offers some tips on the art of effective courtroom cross-examination.

Hartley Shawcross describes Hermann Goering (C465/05) 

Download Transcript – Hartley Shawcross describes Hermann Goering

Goering was found guilty but committed suicide the night before his scheduled execution, begging the question whether he had escaped justice.

Image of Nuremberg Trials defendants in the dock 1945Nuremberg defendants in the dock on 22 November 1945. Centre row, left to right: Hermann Goering, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Wilhelm Keitel, and Alfred Rosenberg. Back row, left to right: Karl Doenitz, Erich Raeder, Baldur von Schirach, Fritz Sauckel, and Alfred Jodl. Image courtesy of the Harvard Law School Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. United States Army Signal Corps photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Nuremberg trials were a milestone in international criminal law, whereby individuals and organisations were held accountable for terrible crimes against humanity. They paved the way to the establishment of a permanent international court, which has dealt with later instances of genocide and war crimes.

Shawcross was later Attorney General in the 1945 Attlee's Labour government and successfully prosecuted British fascist and Nazi propagandist William Joyce ('Lord Haw-Haw'), the last person to be hanged for treason in the UK.

Hartley Shawcross's oral history recording was digitised from cassette as part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project.

Blogpost by Dr Rob Perks, Lead Curator of Oral History @BL_OralHistory

26 October 2020

Recording of the week: Go on then, tell me about the duppies

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

‘Go on then, tell me about the duppies...’ Made in 1976, at Princess Junior School in Moss Side, Manchester, this recording captures a group of schoolboys talking about duppies, the malevolent ghosts of Caribbean folklore, or, as the boys put it: spirits of dead people that come alive at midnight.

Princess_Road_in_Moss_Side _Manchester
Princess Road in Moss Side, Manchester, showing Princess Road Park nearby where Princess Junior School was located.

The conversation begins in an atmosphere of lively, scary fun with plenty of laughter over stories about salt cellars moving without warning and unseen presences casting shadows on the wall. Gradually, as the boys open up, they begin to confide their real feelings, talking about fears of sleeping alone and the effects of watching too many scary films. As an afterthought, and a reminder that ghost stories are sometimes preferable to reality, one of them remarks that he doesn’t like watching the news ‘because you see too many horrible things’.

So what is a duppy? As one of the boys says ‘If a duppy catch you you’ll soon find out’.

Duppies (BL REF C1829/670 S2)

Download Transcript - 'Go on then tell me about the duppies'

Made by Ian Mulley in 1976 as part of his research towards his M.A. dissertation 'Aspects of the West Indian Culture and its Survival in an Urban English Environment - Manchester', this recording is part of the Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture, which consists of sound recordings of the former Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies (IDFLS), part of the University of Leeds from October 1964 to September 1983, and dialect-related sound recordings made prior to the establishment of the Institute. The sound recordings were donated to the British Library in 2019 for digitisation as part of the Unlocking our Sound Heritage project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

UOSH_Footer_2019_Magenta (004)

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

06 October 2020

What if your home had ears?

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We have all spent much more time at home since coronavirus abruptly changed our daily lives this spring. Perhaps, like me, you’ve paid more attention to the sounds within your house - the whistle of the kettle, the clack of the keyboard, the grumble of bored children, the chirp of birds outside. I’ve also been contemplating how we occupy our domestic space: who cooks and washes up, where do children play, which creatures live in and near our home and how has this changed within our own lifetimes? For the new British Library web resource, If Homes Had Ears we have delved into the vast treasures of the Library’s Sound Archive to explore the sonic landscape of the home. Key to this resource are the voices and memories of people speaking about home life over the last 140 years. We invite you to open your ears, draw back the curtains, and listen, discuss and reflect upon what makes a home.

If Homes Had Ears is grouped into five areas found in most homes: the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, living room and the garden. There are three discursive and thought-provoking articles for each space, and the web resource features over 70 fascinating audio clips to intrigue the listener. We hope the sound clips we will be a springboard for reflection and discussion and will provoke the listener to think of their own experiences.

Homepage for If Homes Had Ears showing articles list
Homepage for If Homes Had Ears showing articles list

No web resource on the home can ever cover all types of experience, but we have worked hard to try and ensure a variety of voices and sounds from different UK regions and nations, and stories from people who have migrated to the UK. We have included examples of different social-economic situations, ethnic backgrounds, cultures, genders and time periods. The oldest recording is a 1911 edition of the popular song ‘When Father Papered the Parlour’, but we also explore the memories of a Welsh seamstress recalling her childhood in the 1880s. The most recent material was recorded in spring 2020 on memories of gardening.

I love this clip of Marjorie Atkinson describing the scullery in her family’s home in the North East of England in the 1920s:

Marjorie Atkinson describes the scullery

Download Transcript – Marjorie Atkinson on the scullery in her childhood home

What would children today make of the scullery in Marjorie’s home? In contrast, what might be the reaction of listeners from older generations to sisters Yasmin and Lana speaking in 2015 about sharing a bedroom?

Yasmin and Lana on sharing a bedroom

Download Transcript – Yasmin and Lana Coe describe sharing a bedroom

In this extract Immunologist Dr Donald Palmer recalls the front room of his family’s home in London, a space of great importance to his parents who had migrated from Jamaica in the 1960s:

Donald Palmer describes the front room

Download Transcript – Donald Palmer describes the front room

For each room we have created a short montage of audio clips, brilliantly animated by students from the London College of Communication, who have responded to these audio soundscapes creatively and with sensitivity. Here is Jachym’s animation of the sounds of the kitchen:

Download Transcript – The Kitchen

There is plenty of family friendly material (my children have been singing ‘Beans, beans good for the heart’ for weeks!), but we have not shied away from difficult topics too – as the home is not always a place of happy memories. In this extract Tricia Thorpe describes an incident when she was resident in a psychiatric unit as a teenager in the 1980s:

Tricia Thorpe describes an incident in the psychiatric unit

Download Transcript – Tricia Thorpe's experience of living in High Royds Psychiatric Hospital

There are also clips discussing menstruation, abortion, aging, family structures in the LGTBQ communities and funeral rites. Where we feature this more challenging content, this is flagged in both the introduction to the clips and the audio item descriptions, so that listeners (and their teachers or caregivers) can decide whether listening is appropriate.

This resource has been over two years in the making and is part of the 5 year Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Project funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. It has been a true collaboration led by Mary Stewart (Oral History), Holly Gilbert (Digital and Multimedia Collections), Harriet Roden and Charmaine Wong (both from the Learning Team) with invaluable input from Megan Steinberg (former Learning Assistant), Chandan Mahal (Learning Projects Manager) and latterly Yrja Thorsdottir (Learning Team). Enormous thanks to colleagues from all across the Sound Archive for content suggestions and the support of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Intellectual Property Team, Web and Learning Teams. The greatest thanks, as always, must go to the speakers, sound recordists, performers and musicians – as without them there would no sounds in our archive to unlock.

Blogpost by Mary Stewart, Curator of Oral History.

24 September 2020

Young for Eternity: Unlocking Our Sound Heritage preserves the Subways’ Glastonbury demo

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Written by Nina Webb-Bourne, Communications Intern for UOSH.

On 28 March I was supposed to be going to the O2 Forum in Kentish Town to see the Subways, an English rock band, with my sister. However, all live music was effectively cancelled as we entered into a national lockdown five days before. The evening would have been both a celebration of seeing a favourite band live, and the recent news that I had been hired by the British Library. Little did we know, I would quietly start my position as the communications intern for the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project still in lockdown, two months later.

In a happy coincidence I soon learned about the inclusion of a rare Subways demo in the Glastonbury New Bands Competition collection (C1238). In fact, the band was first to win a competition giving unsigned bands the chance to perform on stage at the festival. You can read more about the history of the Emerging Talent Competition in this blog by Karoline Engelhardt, which marked the 50th anniversary of ‘Pilton Pop, Blues and Folk Festival’ on 19 September.

SubwaysAbove: A photo of the Subways’ Charlotte Cooper and Billy Lunn playing bass and guitar on the Other Stage at Glastonbury Festival in 2004. © STUNPHOTO

For five years, unsigned bands sent in physical applications with a short biography and a demo CD containing their best tracks. The competition soon moved online, but in the brief period beforehand it generated a large number of boxes of ephemeral material related to the entries, and close to 5,000 CDs. The local library in Glastonbury was a likely candidate for storing the collection but it was neither able to process the stock or house it.

However, the organisers sought a permanent home for the collection and were able to connect with the British Library’s Popular Music department for this purpose. The Glastonbury New Bands Competition collection would go on to be identified as a valuable treasure trove of youth culture, and deemed a worthy beneficiary of UOSH’s National Lottery Heritage funded effort to preserve and provide access to some of the UK’s rarest and most at-risk sound recordings.

Listen to 1 AM

British Library ref. C1238/2540, (p) 2006 The Echo Label Limited (a BMG company)

In light of the significance of this collection and the serendipity of my working on a project involving the Subways, I was excited to be able to interview lead singer and front man Billy Lunn. Billy plays guitar for the band alongside Charlotte Cooper (co-lead, bass and backing vocals) and Josh Morgan (drums). I talked to him about the journey from being an unsigned act to traveling the world with his bandmates, and what it means to know their Glastonbury demo now resides in the UK’s national library.

In 2004, Billy Lunn was working in a hotel, collecting dirty laundry from rooms. He was also writing and recording lots of music for his band, the Subways. To pay his parents back for purchasing his 8-track mixer, he also recorded tracks for other local bands in the kitchen of his parent’s council house in Welwyn Garden City. By chance he found out about Glastonbury’s Emerging Talent Competition. Billy explains:

‘I’d mixed this other band’s tracks and handed them their finished demo. I asked where they were going to send it, offering the details of some really supportive promoters we’d come across. They said “Thanks, but we’re actually just going to send this to Michael Eavis. He’s running this unsigned bands competition, and if you win, he’ll put you on the Other Stage at Glastonbury.”

‘A month later, I received a phone call from a man called Wes White, saying he loves the songs, and that he thinks we should make our way up to Pilton to play for Michael at his working men’s club.’

White was part of the jury that helped choose the finalists for the Emerging Talent Competition from 2004-07. However, he had been involved with the festival since its earliest days. His mother, Hilary White, had worked at the Festival Office in Glastonbury town and helped to formalise the process behind the competition.

From the moment the office’s address had got out, she had fielded a barrage of speculative CDs and cassettes coming in. Initially she had listened to these demos on her own. She would pass them on to whichever stage booker she deemed appropriate, though slots were often difficult to find between the bookings for established artists. Eventually Hilary White managed to get bookers for the main stage to agree to host one unsigned band each, with the overall winner going on to play on the Other Stage.

CharlotteAbove: A photo of Charlotte Cooper facing the crowd at Glastonbury Festival, as she plays her bass guitar. © STUNPHOTO

When the conventions of the competition were confirmed, Wes White joined a panel of judges at the live finals, including Michael and Emily Eavis, Martin Elbourne (who booked the Pyramid Stage), Malcolm Haynes (Dance Village and Jazz/World Stage), BBC Radio One presenter Huw Stephens, and producer Philippa Marshfield, among others. White speaks about his time as a judge fondly:

‘We were very proud of the number of unsigned performers we found slots for across the festival, beyond just the winning artists, and of the achievements that some of “our acts” have gone on to.’

He remembers the Subways performance in Pilton. In particular he recalls ‘their energy and straightforward, no-messing approach’ which helped them to stand out. The band managed to squeeze six songs into a tight twenty-minute set. Most importantly for White, they let the music speak for itself. Billy recollects that the band were packing their instruments away when Michael Eavis strolled straight over to them to offer them the Other Stage slot.

Listen to City Pavement

British Library ref. C1238/2540, (p) 2006 The Echo Label Limited (a BMG company)

The prospect of playing live on the Other Sage at Glastonbury elicited the usual pre-gig nerves, but it did not daunt the band. They were 18 or 19 at the time, relishing the chance to make some noise, and still riding on a high from beating the competition in Pilton. They also knew they had nothing to lose. Surprisingly, the gig itself remains a hazy blur to Billy, Charlotte and Josh. Billy says:

‘I can vividly remember standing side-of-stage before showtime, and also walking into the arms of our manager after finishing the set. The gig itself was probably a little too much excitement for my consciousness to keep hold of. One day, maybe, hopefully, the show will come flooding back. Every electric second of it.’

BillyAbove: A photo of Billy Lunn twisting mid-air as he plays his guitar to the crowd on the Other Stage in 2004. ©. STUNPHOTO

Playing at Glastonbury had an immediate effect on the band. They decided to quit their jobs, having determined that winning the competition proved them they should devote their lives to making music. Following their appearance on the Other Stage, they began work booking their first UK tour. At the close of the tour they were signed by Warner Records. Their debut album, Young for Eternity, was released in July 2005.

The Subways have recently marked the 15th anniversary of Young for Eternity with a special edition release of the record and a tour rescheduled for next year. They have also recorded Rock & Roll Queen in 20 different languages for fans all over the globe. Billy reflects on the journey from his parents’ kitchen to touring and performing Young for Eternity now:

‘We’ve been asked many times over the last decade whether we’re sick of playing songs from Young for Eternity - especially Rock & Roll Queen – and our answer is always the same; never! Performing on stages all over the world is absolutely the most enjoyable part of all of this. No matter how many times we play the songs from Young for Eternity, as long as they create an atmosphere of joy and togetherness, we’ll play them with the urgency and vivacity as if it’s the first time.’

Listen to Rock & Roll Queen

British Library ref. C1238/2540, (p) 2006 The Echo Label Limited (a BMG company)

A part of this journey and a unique artefact of the band’s personal history has now been preserved and digitised by UOSH for the British Library’s sound archive. There was only ever one version of the CD made which was submitted to the Glastonbury New Bands Competition collection, (C1238/2540). It was essentially a ‘best of’ compilation of all the demos that the band had recorded up to that point.

Billy feels thankful to have taken part in the competition in the first place, and to have gone on to have the chance to support their heroes on stage at such an early age. Turning his mind to the value of the UOSH project at British Library, and our safekeeping of this sole version of their demo, he says:

‘The prospect of preserving cultural artefacts is something for which I show unending support. I am passionate about the history of rock music. I always feel unworthy of any such devotion of focus to my own works or narrative, but I ultimately feel remarkably happy that some semblance of our story is being safely preserved for those who may harbour even the vaguest of interest in it.’

Listen to I'm In Love

British Library ref. C1238/2540, (p) 2006 The Echo Label Limited (a BMG company)

JoshAbove: A photo of Josh Morgan playing the drums at Glastonbury on The Other Stage in 2004. © STUNPHOTO

Alongside Billy Lunn, Wes White, who is a librarian himself, expresses his ‘relief, delight and pride’ that this snapshot of underground music at that time is now part of the historical record. By October the collection will be fully preserved, and will be made available to the public soon.

I am grateful to Billy and Wes for agreeing to be interviewed for this piece, and Ben Hamilton-Kirby and BMG for helping us to share these recordings. Thanks to the many members of the UOSH project who have worked on this vast and fascinating collection, including but not limited to; Karoline, Kirsten, George, Lucia, Greg, Gosha, Karl and Tom.

Follow @BLSoundHeritage, @BL_PopMusic, and @soundarchive for all the latest news

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21 September 2020

Recording of the week: My family and other tapes

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This week’s selection comes from Nick Morgan, classical Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.

The British violinist Derek Collier (1927-2008) enjoyed a long and successful career as an orchestral leader, soloist, broadcaster and teacher. He recorded four commercial LPs but left a much larger legacy of broadcast and private recordings, which his daughter kindly donated to the British Library in 2011 (in 2012, Sound Archive curator Jonathan Summers wrote about them in this blog). Some months ago, I was assigned the Derek Collier collection to catalogue for Unlocking Our Sound Heritage – and I felt like Gerald Durrell, magically transported back to youthful years spent with a menagerie of soon to be extinct specimens.

Philips magnetic tape boxPhilips magnetic tape box

Philips tape boxes of the 1960s (left) and 1970s (right) from the Derek Collier Collection

Only, this isn’t Corfu and they’re not pelicans, seagulls, scorpions or tortoises – they’re tapes. One problem with tapes is that they all look a bit the same. Some have pretty boxes and some have funky spools, yes, but most don’t tell you very much about themselves. Unless, that is, you’ve spent your formative years working with them. Starting as a radio producer more than three decades ago, I learned the Tao of tape hands-on at a Studer or a Telefunken, herding take-up spools and snipping raw takes with chinagraph pencil, razor blade and splicing sticky.

So it was a nostalgia trip to be reunited with these long-lost friends thanks to Derek Collier. Collier broadcast extensively for the BBC over nearly half a century, and his collection contains all the kinds of tapes used in radio production, and more. There are rehearsal tapes, including one with the Black American conductor Dean Dixon – very short, sadly (Jonathan Summers also wrote about Dixon in this blog). There are session tapes: a sequence of pieces recorded in the studio, with false starts, mistakes, retakes and ‘patches’, from which a ‘studio manager’ (engineer) and producer spliced together the best bits – it’s rare to be able to compare unedited recordings with edited versions, but the Derek Collier Collection makes it possible. There are ‘insert’ tapes, containing just the edited music for a broadcast, to which spoken presentation was added either in a studio or live on air – the collection even includes one insert tape for a programme which was never transmitted.

There are ‘clean-feed’ tapes: sometimes, at pre-recorded broadcast concerts, a presenter was in the hall, announcing the music as if live, but a separate tape without the presenter’s voice was also recorded. There are listening copies: tapes sent to Derek Collier as a courtesy by producers. One small spool, often used for short BBC news reports and trails, has the standard BBC label I myself stuck on countless spools, standard coloured ‘leader’ I myself spliced onto countless tapes – yellow at the start and between items, red at the end – and with it a note on BBC letterhead I sent to countless contributors, listing three items Derek Collier had recorded for Steve Race’s Invitation to Music on Radio 4 but hadn’t managed to record off air.

spool of tape and letter from BBC
Complimentary BBC copy tape from the Derek Collier Collection

Talking of which, there are lots of off-air recordings – Derek Collier had a recorder at home and taped his broadcasts from the radio. But he also used it to record himself practising and rehearsing, bringing us closer to the starting point of his interpretations, before a piece was ready for the concert hall or the studio. And, as a bonus, there are examples of several of these types of tapes from his teacher Alfredo Campoli, complementing the collection donated in 1995 by Campoli’s widow.

C1475-185 frontC1475-185 back

Two items from 1966 LP DECCA ECLIPSE ECS 639, recorded by Alfredo Campoli in Japan, from the Derek Collier Collection

Derek Collier broadcast a lot of music by modern composers, so for copyright reasons it’s not possible to sample all the species in his tape zoo on this blog – but we can play an extract from a work which Collier premiered in the UK and which turns up several times in his collection. Boris Blacher’s Violin Concerto Op.28 was composed in 1948 and introduced to Britain by Collier in 1963. Among his tapes are an undated private practice recording of the solo part, an off-air tape of the premiere, and an unedited session recording from 1976, plus the edited broadcast recorded off air the following year. But from 1965, here’s the end of this exciting, vivacious Concerto in another broadcast performance by Derek Collier, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and none other than Dean Dixon:

Boris Blacher Violin Concerto Op.28 (end)

Derek Collier gave public solo recitals until shortly before his death in 2008, and he continued to record them, on cassettes, in the venues themselves, capturing the atmosphere and practices of the thriving musical life of Essex, where he’d retired. And he went on adding new types of tape, recording duplicates on different machines (for safety?), creatively copying ‘master’ cassettes to correct technical problems, recording rehearsals, and making mix-tapes of previous performances, seemingly as sample programmes for concert organizers or interpretation guides for new recital partners.

C1475-228
Compilation for 2004 programme rehearsal purposes, from the Derek Collier Collection

Making sense of this extended family of recordings has been an absorbing and rewarding task, and thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund it has been preserved for visitors to the British Library’s website and reading rooms to explore and enjoy in future.

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19 September 2020

Glastonbury New Bands Competition Collection: Unlocking the dreams of unsigned bands

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By Karoline Engelhardt, UOSH Cataloguing Intern, and Andy Linehan, Curator of Popular Music.

On this day in 1970, as chance would have it a Saturday just like today, around one and a half thousand people assembled on the green fields at the rural Worthy Farm near the village of Pilton in South West England for what was then known as the Pilton Pop, Blues & Folk Festival. The event, organised by dairy farmer Michael Eavis, was not an instant success but laid a foundation for something that over the following decades would become the leading fixture of the British live music and festival scene.

Fifty years on, the Glastonbury Festival has evolved into arguably the world’s most popular music festival. Headlining one of the main stages has become an indicator that one has made it in the industry and getting to perform at Worthy Farm is now a dream many bands pursue.

The festival has a long history of supporting a diverse range of performing artists which is evident in its infrastructure. Along with the famous Pyramid Stage dozens of smaller stages are scattered all over the festival site which provide a platform to (relatively) unknown performers to showcase their talents to a wider audience.

In the early 2000’s Glastonbury took its support of aspiring bands and musicians to another level by calling out for unsigned acts to enter a competition which offered the chance to perform on one of the festival’s main stages. The Emerging Talent Competition, launched in 2004 as the Glastonbury Festival Unsigned Performers Competition, is still part of the annual festival today.

From 2010 onwards applications were processed online but up until 2009 emerging acts had to physically compile an application bundle consisting of an entry form, giving details about the performer and their music, a biography and a demo CD containing no less than two or three of their best songs. A selected team at Glastonbury would listen to the demos, shortlist their favourites and invite the successful candidates to perform in a final at Pilton Working Men’s Club.

Demos and documents on the shelves at the Library

Above: Demos and documents of the Glastonbury New Bands Competition collection stored at the British Library Sound Archive.

From 2004 to 2009, excluding the fallow year of 2006, thousands of applications found their way to Glastonbury. CDs, documents and additional items that were often added to the applications, such as band merch or press cuttings, started to fill a growing number of boxes stored at the festival offices. They could have stayed locked behind those office doors, never to be seen or heard again, but luckily the organisers understood the potential value of what they had in their possession. In search of a permanent home for the recordings they eventually got in touch with the Sound Archive at the British Library, whose Popular Music department was thrilled to acquire the collection.

A contemporary witness of the music created at the beginning of the 21st century by unsigned bands and musicians in Britain and beyond, the Glastonbury New Bands Competition Collection (C1238) not only offers the opportunity to reflect on the current state of various music genres, but also provides a valuable representation of youth and DIY culture at the turn of the century, captured through the demo designs and song lyrics.

In the first three years of the competition contestants were offered to choose between four stages for which they wished to compete: the Dance Tent/ Dance Village, the Acoustic Stage, the World Stage/ Jazz World Stage and the New Tent/ John Peel Stage. This approach resulted in a refreshing mix of musical genres amongst the submissions. The overall winner would appear on the Other Stage, situated right behind the Pyramid Stage, following in the footsteps of established performers such as Iggy Pop, Massive Attack or the Chemical Brothers.

The Subways performing on the Other Stage at the Glastonbury Festival 2004

Above: The Subways performing on the Other Stage at the Glastonbury Festival 2004 following their win of the first competition. © STUNPHOTO

English rock band the Subways were the first to win the overall competition in 2004 and are only one example of an act that went on to establish themselves after entering. Amongst others, the collection includes some rare first attempts by Scouting for Girls, Liz Green, James Blunt, Smoke Fairies, Newton Faulkner, Wild Beasts and Ashok, a band featuring Florence Welch, subsequently of Florence + the Machine. Not all of these acts would emerge as winners or even get invited to the finals of the competition – which only confirms that determination and stamina go a long way. Many bands vanished after a few years, some never found fame but still enjoy performing together today. Other contestants found success pursuing other professions outside the music industry and this collection adds a piece to all of their biographies.

Listen to '1AM' by the Subways - the first track from the band's demo submitted to the competition in 2004

British Library ref. C1238/2540, (p) 2006 The Echo Label Limited (a BMG company).

Consisting of more than 4600 demos, the Glastonbury New Bands Competition Collection has been selected for the ambitious Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project (UOSH), which is part of the Save Our Sounds programme led by the British Library. Involving ten further hubs across the UK, UOSH aims to preserve nearly half a million unique and at-risk recordings and to make them accessible to the public. The project solely focuses on collections that have been stored on analogue recording formats. These are prone to two possible risk factors: the sound carriers are physically vulnerable; and the means to play them back are slowly becoming extinct.

Demo CD submitted by Ashok

Above: Demo submitted by Ashok featuring Florence Welch who went on to form Florence + the Machine. ‘Happy Slap’ is an early version of their debut single ‘Kiss with a Fist’.

In this particular case, CD players are still widely available and most PCs even have an inbuilt CD drive. However, the vast majority of the demos submitted to the Glastonbury competition were on CD-R. Different from mass-manufactured commercial CDs, the digital information on CD-Rs is burned into a layer of dye on the bottom side of the disc. The results of this procedure are strongly dependent on the device used for the burning process, the quality of the blank disc and the speed at which the information has been written into the dye. Furthermore, the dye simply fades away over time and exposure to daylight can speed up that process.

All of these aspects make this large collection particularly vulnerable and therefore call for a pressing need to digitise these recordings in order to eliminate the risk of losing their audio content forever. At the same time the UOSH rights clearance team is in contact with individual artists to make this collection as accessible as possible.

The Glastonbury New Bands Competition Collection will be fully preserved by the end of this month.

Key discovered in the collection

Above: Discovered amongst the collection documentation items: a contestant quite literally put the key to their dreams in the hands of the competition organisers.

Keep an eye out for Nina Webb-Bourne’s forthcoming blog, she will be sharing the story behind the winning demo submitted by the Subways to the Glastonbury Festival Unsigned Performers Competition in 2004, featuring an interview with the band’s lead singer Billy Lunn.