Sound and vision blog

35 posts categorized "Jazz & popular music"

12 April 2017

By preserving our sound heritage now, in the future we can recreate the past

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Sound recordings freeze moments in time: music or theatrical performances, the words spoken by the famous or in everyday speech, or the sounds of our environment. When played back, they allow us to understand, to experience, to be immersed in - to relive - those moments.

Yet preserving sound recordings and making them accessible is a huge challenge, not least because sound recordings can rapidly decay and as technology marches forward, formats quickly become unplayable.

Many thousands of archived magnetic tapes urgently need digitising

The British Library’s Save Our Sounds programme received a tremendous boost when in 2015 a £9.5 million grant was earmarked by the National Lottery. After months of preparation and assessment, prioritising the most significant at-risk sounds collections around the UK and building a network of 10 collaborating institutions, our ambitious project called Unlocking Our Sound Heritage is launched today.

Unlocking Our Sound Heritage builds on the generous support of other donors and funders, meaning that the total project funding of £18.8 million is now in place. The funding enables the formation of the first ever UK-wide network of ten sound preservation centres. This network will now come together with the British Library to save almost half a million rare and unique recordings.

The funding allows the British Library to lead this major preservation and access project, sharing skills and supporting the ten centres across the UK in order to preserve their own unique and rare regional sounds and make them more accessible to the public.

The Library and its ten partners will invest in a schedule of public engagement activities, including well-being workshops, learning events for families, and tours, events and exhibitions. A vital element of the project will be a new website for listeners to explore a wide selection of recordings. This website is scheduled to go live in 2019.

Cleaning a shellac disc before digitisation in the British Library’s sound studios

Dr Sue Davies, Project Manager at the British Library commented:

“This project has been a long time in development and, over the last 18 months, we have laid good foundations for the next five years. I am excited to be part of this HLF funded project which will make a huge difference to the care of and use of audio archives across the UK. I am particularly looking forward to working with the ten institutional partners, sharing our skills and making it easier for a wide range of people to engage with recorded sound.”

Unlocking Our Sound Heritage has been made possible thanks to the generous support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Foyle Foundation, Headley Trust, the British Library Trust and the American Trust for the British Library and other kind donors.

The ten centres that will soon begin work on preserving their regional sounds are: National Museums Northern Ireland, Archives + with Manchester City Council, Norfolk Record Office, National Library of Scotland, University of Leicester, The Keep in Brighton with the University of Sussex, Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, National Library of Wales, London Metropolitan Archives, and Bristol Culture.

Richard Ranft, Head of Sound and Vision

More information: 
Save our Sounds
Unlocking our Sound Heritage press release 12/04/17
£9.5m boost from Heritage Lottery Fund for our Save our Sounds campaign
Save our Sounds: 15 years to save the UK’s sound collections

16 January 2017

Listen to and tag thousands of music tracks on Europeana's radio player

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Europeana Sounds, a project that connects digital sound archives across Europe, has just launched an interactive radio player.

Now you can enjoy listening to 200,000 music tracks, and while listening, add labels to help other listeners to find recordings.

The player and tagging are very easy to use and no sign-up is required:

  • Press the play button in the player below to hear a recording
  • Select a term in the list shown in the 'Refine the music genre' box, then press 'Add'
  • Use the buttons below the play window to pause a recording, or to jump to the next
  • You can also select Classical, Folk, or Popular music genres
  • So, listen & tag!

On Thursday, Europeana Sounds will be holding a #TagDayThursday. We want to gather as many new genre tags in Europeana Radio as possible – you can help us make this happen! A progress bar can be seen at

For more information, please see the Europeana Sounds website and the press release about the Europeana radio player

The animation below shows how to add tags:

The Europeana Sounds project is co-funded by the European Commission under the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme.

25 October 2016

Black History Month – Cullen Maiden

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Gray Chapel

Cullen Maiden in performance at Gray Chapel, Ohio Wesleyan University

Photo: Cullen Maiden collection British Library

In March 2015 I acquired for the British Library the archive of singer Cullen Maiden from his widow Christine Hall-Maiden.  In 1964 she was working in Italy as secretary to screenwriter Troy Kennedy Martin, co-creator of TV series Z-Cars and scriptwriter of The Italian Job (1969), when she met Cullen who at the time was studying with Luigi Ricci of the Rome Opera House.

Born in 1932, Cullen Maiden was an African-American who grew up in Cleveland, Ohio but at the time of his graduation he was already following many pursuits – singing in various choirs, forming his own R ‘n’ B group The Caspians, and, as well as acting on the stage, he was also trained as a boxer by Tiger Fann.  Maiden studied singing at Ohio Wesleyan University from where he received his Bachelor of Music degree and continued his studies at Juilliard School of Music in New York.  The Rockefeller Foundation Opera Voice Scholarship afforded him the opportunity to study in Munich.

In the early 1950s, while still studying at the Ohio Wesleyan University, Maiden won the vocal section of the Cleveland Music and Dance Festival.  He was invited to appear on local radio where he performed his winning selection Il Lacerato Spirito from Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra.

Simon Boccanegra

Like many artistically talented African-Americans, Maiden found he could get far more work in Europe than the United States so, in the late 1960s, he joined the Komische Oper Berlin where he gained a favourable reputation for his portrayal of Porgy in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. He also worked in Scandinavia and finally settled in London.


Cullen Maiden as Porgy in Porgy and Bess

Photo: Cullen Maiden collection British Library

During his military service he made goodwill concert tours for the American Embassy and the Army in Korea during 1957 and 1958 and sang opera concerts with the Seoul Symphony Orchestra.

Highlights of his career include a tour with the Katherine Dunnan Dance Company as a singer soloist and a tour of the US with the Harry Belafonte Folk Singers.  Cullen appeared with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and Kurt Masur and in many of the opera houses of Germany.

Here is an extract from a 1973 concert performance of I got plenty of nothing from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess with Masur and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra.

I got plenty of nothing

Cullen Maiden was also a composer, writer and poet.  He provided the score for the 1970 German documentary Strange Fruit.  In New York at the Seven Arts Art Gallery he performed with Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac and in April 1966 appeared on a BBC radio poetry programme with Seamus Heaney.  In 2008 Maiden published Soul on Fire,  a collection of his poems and writings.

09 September 2016

Sheffield dialect in pop music

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Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator for Spoken English writes:

During the recent international cricket series between England and Pakistan I was amused to hear an exchange between former England cricketers Graeme Swann and Michael Vaughan while commentating on BBC Radio 5 Live. In response to Graeme Swann’s appearance the previous week on BBC Radio 3’s Essential Classics, Michael Vaughan claimed his top five musical moments would all involve Sheffield artists like Jarvis Cocker. The understandable affection in which the Pulp lead singer is held locally (and, I sense, nationally) was underlined earlier this year when he was invited to record the travel announcements on board Sheffield trams. It probably came as an even greater surprise to visitors at the British Library to hear Jarvis’s voice over the British Library’s public address system following his live radio broadcast here at St Pancras this time last year:

The building will close in ten minutes

There’s clearly something about Sheffield that inspires such pride in local speech and ten years ago the Steel City’s other great contemporary musical icons, Arctic Monkeys, released their debut album, Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not, to widespread acclaim. Arctic MonkeysThe album title is inspired by a line from Allan Sillitoe’s portrayal of working-class life in Nottingham in the 1950s, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. Transported some forty miles north and fifty years later, Alex Turner’s lyrics explore the same theme and echo Sillitoe’s celebration of vernacular speech. The use of dialect is well-established in literature, but is curiously absent from mainstream popular music (though often central to traditional and/or folk music). Pop lyricists make liberal use of slang, but dialect is comparatively rare, so Arctic Monkey’s 2004 single, Mardy Bum, immediately stood out. The word mardy crops up regularly in Sillitoe’s novel and was also supplied by several contributors to the British Library’s WordBank from an area extending roughly from Leicestershire via Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire to South Yorkshire, including this example:

C1442X1283 MARDY

Captured in dictionaries from 1874 mardy [= ‘moody, sullen, spoilt (esp. of child)’] is characterised by the OED as ‘regional (chiefly north)’. What’s perhaps more remarkable than Turner’s use of dialect words and grammar here is that he also sings in a Sheffield accent as illustrated by the line:

remember cuddles in the kitchen yeah to get things off the ground and it was up up and away oh but it’s right hard to remember that on a day like today when you’re all argumentative and you’ve got the face on

Arctic Monkeys Mardy Bum

Turner, A. 2006. Mardy Bum. Arctic Monkeys. Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not. [CD]. UK: Domino, WIGCD 162. BL Shelfmark: 1CD0256061

His use of the intensifier right [= ‘very, really’] and his pronunciation (rhyming with ‘eight’) is typical of Sheffield dialect, but arguably extremely unusual for a commercial pop/rock singer.

The most striking and consistent use of Sheffield dialect on the album occurs in From the Ritz to the Rubble:

well last night these two bouncers and one of them’s all right the other one’s a scary one his way or no way totalitarian he’s got no time for you looking or breathing how he doesn’t want you to so step out the queue he makes examples of you and there’s nowt you can say behind they go through to the bit where you pay and you realise then that it’s finally the time to walk back past ten thousand eyes in the line and you can swap jumpers and make another move instilled in your brain you’ve got something to prove

Arctic Monkeys From the Ritz to the Rubble

Turner, A. 2006. From The Ritz To The Rubble. Arctic Monkeys. Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not. [CD]. UK: Domino, WIGCD 162. BL Shelfmark: 1CD0256061

In this opening verse, for instance, Turner rhymes totalitarian with scary one (pronounced ‘scary ’un’), reduces doesn’t to ‘dunt’ – a process, known as secondary contraction, that’s typical of negative marking in Sheffield – and sings you can swap jumpers and make (pronounced ‘meck’) another move. He also uses the northern dialect form nowt [= ‘nothing’] and, crucially, pronounces it to rhyme with ‘oat’ not ‘out’. As noted in a previous blog, research carried out in the 1950s established the northern pair owt [= ‘anything’] and nowt [= ‘nothing’] invariably rhymed with ‘oat’ in much of Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Lancashire (despite a nationwide tendency to assume it rhymes with ‘out’). This recording clearly confirms this historic local pronunciation persists in present-day Sheffield dialect.

The British Library has several wonderful recordings of Sheffield dialect created for linguistic research, but our popular music collections also represent a rich repository of vernacular speech. Sadly, Turner no longer sounds quite so Sheffield when he sings (he now lives in LA after all), but I assume Michael Vaughan would wholeheartedly approve of his promotion of all things Sheffield.

07 September 2016

One Hundred Singles

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One of the more popular features of the current Punk 1976-78 exhibition is the wall of vinyl singles. This consists of 100 records from the period chosen from the BL’s sound archive. The selection includes the obvious hits as well as obscurities and curiosities and is not intended to be a ‘best of’, rather a selection of musicians and labels that in one way or another were associated with punk.

The rationale for inclusion varies - not many people might instantly recognise the single by Metal Urbain but appreciate its inclusion when they learn it was the first release on the Rough Trade label. In a similar vein, ‘Shadow’ by the Lurkers was the first release on the Beggars Banquet record label which is now the internationally-successful Beggars Group, releasing recordings by acts as diverse as the White Stripes, the Prodigy and Adele. The selection also includes first releases on Cherry Red Records and on the Factory label.


Other releases involve people who went on to explore different musical directions – Birmingham punk band the Killjoys featured vocals by Kevin Rowland, later of Dexy’s Midnight Runners, and bassist Gil Weston who went on to play in Girlschool. Liverpool punk band Spitfire Boys featured future Frankie Goes To Hollywood member Paul Rutherford and Nipple Erectors, formed by Shanne Bradley who was subsequently a member of The Men They Couldn’t Hang, included vocalist Shane MacGowan, later of the Pogues.


There is an audio loop playing in the area but visitors can use headphone points to choose any of the 100 titles to listen to dubbed from the original vinyl. Visitors to the exhibition can often be seen counting off how many of the singles they have in their own (or recognise from their parents’) collections and arguing as to why certain records are not in the selection. Those that are not on display are available through the British Library’s Listening and Viewing Service together with hundreds of thousands of other recordings. Further details on the Sound page.

The exhibition ‘Punk 1976-78’ is at the British Library until 2 October.

29 June 2016

Punk in '76: Camden Town and the making of More On

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The British Library's free summer exhibition Punk 1976-78 features a number of fanzines from the era. Many of the creators of these fanzines subsequently developed careers in the arts or the media: Jon Savage (London's Outrage) became a writer; Shane MacGowan (Bondage) found fame with the Pogues; and Tony Moon, creator of Sideburns, with its famous graphic: 'This is a chord - this is another - this is a third ... now form a band', is now an academic at the University of Southampton.

Sarah Rapson, co-creator of More On fanzine, became an artist. She kindly shared with me her memories of those exciting times.

British Library: How old were you when you started the fanzine?

Sarah Rapson: I was 17 and still lived at home in North London. I was in the sixth form at Camden School for Girls. I hand-wrote the words and my school friend Rebecca Hale took most of the pictures, although I did take the picture of Viv Albertine in fishnets sitting on the bar at the Roxy Club (above), but probably with her camera. We developed the photos in a darkroom in Kentish Town that we accessed by signing up for the local council's photography evening classes. Rebecca called herself Crystal Clear and I gave myself various pen names, one of them being Vinyl Virgin. I think we did this so as not to be embarrassed or maybe so as not to get expelled from school. We printed the first issues on the school's copying machine.

BL: How many issues did you publish?

SR: I think there were four issues and they were all published 1976-77 - it seemed like a much longer time period! I think we made about 50 copies of the first one using the school machine and then we went to copy shops. Joe Strummer gave me £100 after he saw the first issue, so that we could make more and get them printed at a copy shop. I credit this act with sort of inspiring my whole life and he was I think a sort of angel. We sold them at the Roxy Club and the market down the World's End. Rough Trade also had them in their record store. 

BL: How did you come to meet Joe Strummer?

SR: The Clash frequented George's Cafe on Camden High Street, as we did. It was the first place past the bridge (opposite the bookstore and the place where they made the hippy sandals). George's Cafe was a real 'caff' and Camden High Street was working class but also had bohemian vibrations. In the 1960s my mother had taken me there to do the shopping because it had a fruit-and-veg market, a good butcher's, a really good Greek baker's, and also the Co-op department store where you got 'divi' coupons and bought your settee on HP. By 1976 it hadn't changed much at all and to see the Clash emerge in that environment made it a more personal situation for me.

I should also mention something about the Roundhouse. I'd gone there as a youngster too as there was this thing called 'implosion' run by hippies where they had children there too and it had delicious hippy food and a very strong smell of pot and swirling light shows, with music like Cream playing etc.  

There was always a bit of a rock'n'roll revolutionary vibe around that part of town. I know punk was seen as 'anti-hippy' but I remember hippy stuff as a kid being quite punk-like too: raw and mixed-in with life a bit.

We were already regulars at George's Cafe and we almost fainted when these very unusual charismatic boys walked in: Joe Strummer, Mick Jones and Paul Simenon. Soon after that we were at Knebworth to see the Rolling Stones - we both liked Keith Richards but it was really all very boring - and on the ground was a Melody Maker or a New Musical Express with a photo and blurb about this newly formed band, or maybe it was an ad for a concert, I don't really remember, but at once we recognized the picture as being the amazing boys from George's Cafe so we went to see them play. 


The Clash in their Camden Town rehearsal space. Photo copyright © Sheila Rock. Used with permission. Punk+ by Sheila Rock is published by First Third Books.

When we went to see the Clash play we talked to them and then immediately did this magazine. I think it was a way to express my love because I really did have a crush on Joe Strummer! I think what punk was against was the 'detached star' thing - I don't think it was against 'glamour' as there was something glamorous about it too.

We were invited to watch them rehearse and to take pictures and to interview them, and maybe this was to do with us seeing them in the cafe but they were also accessible. There was no sexism in the scenario, it was more about recognizing charisma and creativity. We were both schoolgirls but I recognize that we were artists, and I think about Patti Smith in all of this because she was an important discovery too. 

BL: What do you remember of the gigs of the period?

SR: We went out all the time, mainly to the Roxy Club in Covent Garden and we saw everyone there. I remember seeing the Sex Pistols at the Screen on the Green - that was pretty amazing. We were also friendly with the Slits.

BL: What did you do next?

SR: I went to Hornsey Art School, Rebecca went to Saint Martin's (which was the 'better' school) and then we lost touch. I went to New York and lived and worked there as an artist. About 15 years ago an artist friend in New York, who I maybe had told a bit of my life story to, asked me how I saw my own work in relation to punk and it was a revelation because I saw that actually that 'punk' aesthetic and attitude had always been there - but the thing is that the way it was described by the media and other commentators wasn't really how I'd seen it.

I returned to the UK in 2005 and now live in a house built the year John Keats was born. I mention Keats because I see it as all related: a couple of years before meeting the Clash I'd have said he was a big 'romantic' influence on me. I think my point is that punk was a romantic movement too.


If you enjoyed this blog post you may also enjoy Paul Davies's story of the Cardiff fanzine Oh Cardiff ... Up Yours!

19 May 2016

Punk before punk: 'You're gonna wake up one morning...'

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The British Library's free punk exhibition is now open in the Entrance Hall. As well as books, journals, punk fanzines, and vinyl records from the collections of the British Library, we have borrowed a number of key items from the counterculture archive collections at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU), as well as selected rare items from individuals.

Colin Fallows,  Professor of Sound and Visual Arts at LJMU, was part of a curatorial team of three that also included British Library Curator of Popular Music, Andy Linehan, and me.


The T-shirt pictured above is a key exhibit. It was created by Bernard Rhodes, Malcolm McLaren, Vivienne Westwood and Gerry Goldstein circa 1974 and sold from the shop SEX, at 430 King's Road, Chelsea.

This example is on loan from a collection at LJMU called 'The Situationist International: John McCready Archive'.

Bernard Rhodes came up with the concept, which may have taken it's cue from painter and writer Wyndham Lewis's Blast manifestos of 60 years earlier.

In the left hand column we find listed those cultural figures and phenomena not considered relevant or culturally vital (we are invited to assume):


and on the right-hand side, the good guys, like musicians Archie Shepp and John Coltrane:


This was also possibly the earliest mention of the band then known (briefly) as Kutie Jones and his Sex Pistols.

Bernard Rhodes went on to manage the Clash and was also involved at various times with Subway Sect, the Specials and Dexy's Midnight Runners.

As one of the prime instigators of the punk rock revolution of the 70s it is only fitting that Bernard should be the opening speaker for our summer of punk-related events.

If you are in London on Friday 27 May, come along and hear from the man who started it all. 

Images courtesy Liverpool John Moores University Special Collections and Archives.

Item ref.: JMS/O/000008 'The Situationist International: John McCready Archive'.

With thanks to Professor Colin Fallows.

11 December 2015

Audio-Visual Resources and The Academic Book of the Future

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In early 2015 I was fortunate enough to catch Bex Lyons giving a presentation on The Academic Book of the Future. This is a research project sponsored by the British Library and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and delivered by a research team led by Dr Samantha Rayner at UCL. The project seeks to explore the future of academic books in the context of open access publishing and digital change.


Aside from the fascinating debates about what constitutes ‘academic’, what constitutes a ‘book’, and what an ‘academic book’ might be in the current research landscape – I was struck by the potential applications of the project to the collection I am vested in at The British Library: sound.

The British Library sound archive is an extraordinary collection of over 6.5 million recordings dating back to the birth of recorded sound in the early 19th century. If you were to listen to our entire collection back to back, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with no holidays or breaks, it would take you over 140 years – plus the collection is growing daily! It is a unique research resource, comparable only to the Library of Congress sound collections in the USA. Find out more about our collection here 

Sound recordings are the closest thing to time travel that we have as a research tool. Take for instance this audio clip of JRR Tolkien visiting a tobacco shop. We are instantly transported to 1929 when the recording was made, and it is easy to feel that you are being addressed directly. The time that has passed between then and now seems to vanish. (image:

The Save Our Sounds project

Professional reel-to-reel player being maintainedMany of the British Library’s recordings are under threat of disappearing as technologies change and some formats begin to naturally decay, and in response to this challenge the Library has launched a major campaign to digitise our historic sound collections.

As well as enabling us to future-proof our collections, the Save Our Sounds campaign is a unique opportunity for us to take stock of our role as audio heritage archivists, cataloguers, librarians, and collectors. Part of this includes considering access and the ways in which our collections are used by researchers. It is here, at the crossroads of research and engagement, that linking up with The Academic Book of the Future project becomes very exciting.

At the moment, if an ‘academic text’ includes audio or visual resources these tend to be included as DVDs, CDs, and perhaps even CD-ROMs (yes, they are still floating around out there!). As the technological landscape of the world changes, the ability to access and play CDs, DVDs and most definitely CD-ROMs will become increasingly limited. From the initial survey work that has been done for the Save Our Sounds project, the main preservation concern is not that the recordings themselves are at risk of disappearing, but the obsolescence of the playback equipment.

So, how will audio-visual resources be included in academic books of the future?

In current and emerging contexts in which content is increasingly digitised and media-rich, how will the ability to incorporate audio-visual research directly into research outputs change the way in which these outputs are created, accessed, and referenced?

We hope that working with The Academic Book of the Future project to address some of these questions will offer important insights into how researchers are using sound and moving image resources, and highlight common issues and concerns across disciplines.

If you are or have used sound and/or audio-visual materials for research do please complete our short survey. The closing date is Friday 1st April.

A symposium has been arranged to discuss the findings of the survey & hear presentations by publishing houses, app developers, and researchers. The symposium will address and encourage discussing ways of working together to fully explore the potential of audio-visual components in the academic book of the future. Save the date – 23rd May 2016 at The British Library, London.

Find out more about Save our Sounds at, follow @SoundHeritage for live updates from our digitisation studio, @SoundArchive for tweets from the sound team, and use #SaveOurSounds to join the conversation on Twitter.

Steven Dryden - Sound & Vision Reference Specialist