Sound and vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library

Introduction

Discover more about the British Library's 6 million sound recordings and the access we provide to thousands of moving images. Comments and feedback are welcomed. Read more

18 November 2021

Introducing the Collections in Dialogue commission with Leeds Art Gallery and the British Library

Written by Jill McKnight, Artist-in-Residence.

I am an artist based in Leeds working across sculpture, writing, installation, drawing and print and I’ve been selected as the artist in residency for Collections in Dialogue, a co-commission project by the British Library and Leeds Art Gallery. The project brief particularly interested me because it focused on cultural identity which is one of my central artistic concerns, particularly the representation of working-class people in Northern England and lesser-heard voices that would otherwise be lost or overlooked. This opportunity has been incredibly timely, enabling me to develop these interests through researching the Library’s and Leeds Art Gallery’s digitised collections. My research will culminate in an exhibition of new artwork at Leeds Art Gallery next year.

I am exploring specific areas of the two collections; World & Traditional Music and Accents and Dialects collections in the British Library’s sound archive and Works on Paper at Leeds Art Gallery. As both collections are vast – 6.5 million recordings in the sound archive, and over 10,000 works on paper – I established key themes to direct my research. As an artist working in the city, I chose to explore how people in the Leeds region have represented themselves and others in the two collections. Where there are gaps in representation in one collection, particularly of people traditionally underrepresented in the arts, I plan to bring them into conversation with representations in the other collection through my work.

Following meetings with British Library Curators Jonnie Robinson and Andrea Zarza and the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage team, I have been searching the Library’s Sound & Moving Image Catalogue to identify relevant recordings.

The Opie Collection of Children’s Games & Songs fascinates me because rhymes passed down by word of mouth tell collective stories about society. Rowland Kellet was a folklorist born in Leeds, who I learned about from this collection. Kellet collected children’s games, songs and jingles from across the UK, including variations of the same song in different parts of Leeds. Although many different versions of folk songs exist, each version is unique to the performer. These communal songs share a relationship with work songs and folk songs, which connect with Leeds’ industrial history.

Kellett comments on the timelessness of these songs in his interview with Iona Opie, saying, ‘There is no life, there’s no deaths of these songs. To me they are eternal. You can’t kill them because, because if you try to kill it you bring a different variant of it.’ I have been fortunate to view some of Kellet’s paper archives held at Leeds Central Library, and will be listening to folk songs performed by Kellet, recently catalogued as part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project.

Leeds is a city that has thrived due to the diversity of its population. In recordings like 'Conversation in Leeds about accent, dialect and attitudes to language', part of BBC Voices, six interviewees from Moortown, Leeds, talk about their own accents, Yorkshire dialect and the Punjabi language – one interviewee recognises both regions as being rooted in common industrial identities, saying, ‘you could say they were twin cities basically, twin states Yorkshire and Punjab.’

In 'Leeds - Millennium Memory Bank' six teenagers from South Leeds talk about being proud of working-class, with one explaining, ‘Even when my dad gives me pocket money I don’t like it, because you know like I ending washing up for him or something, because I like earning money because then I know I’ve worked for it.’ This same work ethic in 1999 connects with lines from folk song The Maid’s Lament, performed by Mrs Johnstone and recorded in 1967, by Fred Hamer.

Excerpt of The Maid's Lament sung by Mrs Johnstone [BL REF C433/7]

At Leeds Art Gallery, I chose to focus on the works on paper collection due to its range – from sketches to finished compositions; watercolours to photography; large quantity and conservation considerations that have meant some works have never been on display.

Works of art on paper spread out across a wooden table.            Selection of works on paper that I viewed in person at Leeds Art Gallery © Jill McKnight

I met with Assistant Curator Laura Claveria to discuss key words and themes, including working-class culture, women, children and Leeds-related artists, from which Laura sent an initial longlist of relevant works from the collection. From this, I made a shortlist to view in person. It was fantastic to see the works up close, where intricacies and details conveying the hand of the artist often jump out more directly than in digital form.

Artist sitting at a wooden table consulting paper files and writing with pencil in notebook.                 Researching Edna Lumb’s artist file archive at Leeds Art Gallery © Jill McKnight

So far I have discovered a number of artists unknown to me, including Edna Lumb (1931-1992) and Effie Hummerston (1891-1982). Both artists were born and studied in Leeds and went on to capture some of the area’s male-dominated industrial landscapes in their paintings. Edna Lumb’s work achieved national recognition during her lifetime. This is reflected in the large amount of material in Lumb’s artist file. However, critics noted that it was the scientific community, rather than artistic, who more frequently celebrated the work due to its realist depiction of industrial technology.

Painting of Tingley Gas Works in the distant horizon above green fields.                Edna Lumb, Tingley Gas Works, oil on canvas, 1964. © Leeds Museums & Galleries.

Another fascinating part of the collection are works on paper by seven artists that were ideas for a mural scheme for Leeds Town Hall, a commission in 1920 led by Michael Sadler, which was also intended as a commemorative response to the First World War. Artists selected were local and national including Percy Hague Jowett, Jacob Kramer and Albert Rutherston. The mural designs took into account the architecture of the Town Hall, with features such as doorways represented by blank spaces. The majority of the works feature industrial or pastoral scenes of Leeds, including woollen mills, the canal and Kirkstall Abbey. Perhaps this is how the artists thought the people of Leeds would want their city represented, however the designs were heavily criticised and the murals were never realised, providing an insight into the politics of that time.

My first few weeks of research have unearthed an abundance of stories, which I am now responding to through initial sketches and writing of my own. This will further direct my ongoing research and inform my final proposal at the start of next year for the exhibition in spring.

Collections in Dialogue

Collections in Dialogue is a new artist co-commission project between Leeds Art Gallery and the British Library.

It is formed around the commissioning an artist based in the North of England to work with collections at both institutions as a catalyst to produce new work that creates a dialogue between them. Following a recruitment process, the commission was awarded to Jill McKnight in summer 2021. The work Jill creates will be exhibited at Leeds Art Gallery from March – October 2022 with some digital elements shown online.

Collections in Dialogue is part of the British Library’s growing culture programme in Leeds and the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH) project.

15 November 2021

Recording of the week: Graham Stuart Thomas on bringing historic flowers back to life

This week's selection comes from Chloe Lafferty, Remote Volunteer for the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project.

As autumn slowly unfurls, with colder mornings and falling leaves, it is comforting to think of sunshine and new life. ‘Down to Earth: An Oral History of British Horticulture’ documents the lives and careers of twentieth century gardeners, landscape architects, and other horticultural experts in a series of long life story interviews and was conducted by Louise Brodie between 2001 and 2009, in the UK. Audio recordings of these interviews have recently been digitised as part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Project, and in the following excerpt, horticulturist Graham Stuart Thomas (1909-2003) discusses his life-long interest in historic roses with Louise Brodie. The interview took place in 2001.

Graham Stuart Thomas talks about roses C1029/03/04 [BL REF]

Graham Stuart Thomas began collecting roses early in his career as a nurseryman, motivated ‘to bring forth these lovely things from retirement’. Many of these varieties had become rare by the mid 20th century, as they were less commercially viable than modern roses. The culmination of Thomas’ work now forms the 'National Collection of pre-1900 roses', cared for by the National Trust at Mottisfont Abbey in Hampshire, U.K.

A painted engraving of a roseRosa centifolia foliacea, a painted engraving of a rose by Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759–1840).

However, this national collection of traditional flowers has some surprising links to revolutionary France.

This 2001 interview with Thomas demonstrates the connections between his own research and the botanical prints of Belgian artist Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759-1840). Redouté’s prints are as detailed as photographs, but were painted over two hundred years ago, when the artist was patronised by Marie-Antoinette, and subsequently Napoleon’s wife Josephine. As Thomas describes in the following excerpt from his interview, Redouté’s work helped to document the roses growing in Josephine’s garden at Malmaison. He has been termed the ‘Raphael’ of flowers. 

Thomas talks about a historic collection of roses C1029/3/4 [BL REF]

In the mid 20th century Redouté’s prints were expensive and largely inaccessible. In order to research traditional rose varieties, Thomas needed to consult old volumes held in library collections; the British Library holds copies of much of Redouté’s work.

Since then, many of these prints have been digitised and are widely available online, which would have saved Thomas significant amounts of time and effort!

painting of students at botanical drawing school in 17th century FranceJulie Ribault, Pierre-Joseph Redoute's school of botanical drawing in the Salle Buffon in the Jardin des Plantes, 1830.

These interviews demonstrate how Redouté’s prints influenced Graham Stuart Thomas’ rose collection, and their legacy survives in a living garden. Although most roses bloom in early summer, some of Thomas’ historic examples make an appearance in autumn, and are still there even though the leaves are beginning to fall.

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08 November 2021

Recording of the week: James Baldwin at the Cambridge Union

By Steve Cleary, Lead Curator, Literary and Creative Recordings.

The British Library launches a new web resource this week. It is called 'Speaking Out', and it seeks to explore the spoken word in its most forceful guise: that of the public address.  Through historical archive recordings, together with new essays, we aim to shine a light on the art and power of public speaking in all its forms.

Today's 'Recording of the Week' showcases a landmark speech by the US writer James Baldwin.

On 18 February 1965 Baldwin was invited to speak at the Cambridge University Union. The motion was 'The American Dream is at the Expense of the American Negro'. His opposite number in the debate was the conservative writer and broadcaster William F. Buckley Jr., a supporter of the racial segregation that existed in the Southern states.

The debate was a significant moment in the story of the US civil rights struggle. Baldwin's speech specifically is among the most celebrated in the history of the Cambridge Union. David Leeming's 1994 biography of Baldwin tells us it received a standing ovation and carried the post-debate vote, receiving 544 votes, as against 184 for Buckley.

Photo of James Baldwin - copyright Getty Images

James Baldwin. Photo copyright © Getty Images. 

Listen to James Baldwin

Audio copyright © James Baldwin Estate

Download Transcript

Founded in 1815, the Cambridge Union Society is the oldest debating society in the world. Speakers are drawn from all walks of public life and include politicians, peers, scientists, journalists, celebrities, experts of all kinds, and student debaters. 

In the summer of 2007, following successful negotiations with the Cambridge Union Society, the collected recordings of more than 600 of the Society's weekly debates were transferred to the care of the British Library. The Society was concerned to find a new permanent home for the collection, lacking the facilities on their own premises for archival storage of the material or the provision of regular public or student access to it.

The period covered is 1963-1999. Although the bulk of the collection is made up of TDK D90 audio cassettes dating from 1983 onwards, there are also many open reel tapes dating from the earlier period (such as the James Baldwin tape, pictured below). 

Photo of James Baldwin tape box

All the recordings are available to listen to at the British Library but you will need to apply for a Reader Pass if you don't already have one.

05 November 2021

Ken Essex - A long life with music

Ken Essex with violaKen Essex (courtesy of Liz Golding)

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

The violist Ken Essex has died aged 101.  Millions unwittingly heard him playing the music to the television series ‘Fawlty Towers’ and it is inevitable that obituaries have highlighted his recording of the Beatles song ‘Yesterday’ on which he was part of the string quartet, but these were a very small part of Ken's incredibly illustrious career as a musician.

In 2015 I interview Ken about his life and work.  At the age of 94 he collected me from the station in his car, drove me to his home and talked for two hours in great detail without the aid of notes of any kind.

Ken was born in Hinckley, Leicestershire in 1920.  He studied the violin and viola with various local teachers and won some local competitions.  In those days, as soon as children were able to work, they were responsible for contributing to the family income.

Early Days

He then had the opportunity to audition for a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

Dale

Benjamin Dale (1885-1943) was the first in a long line of important musicians that Ken played with.

His father could only afford to pay for one term at the Royal Academy of Music, but during his time there Ken was awarded many grants and bursaries to continue for a full course of tuition.

After service during the Second World War Ken joined the London Philharmonic Orchestra.  At his first rehearsal he played Stravinsky’s Petrushka under Ernest Ansermet.

Ansermet

Ansermet also directed the first production at Glyndebourne after the War - Benjamin Britten’s new opera written for Kathleen Ferrier, ‘The Rape of Lucretia’.  Ken was allowed to break his contract with the LPO to do this job.

Another great conductor Ken worked under during his first few weeks with the LPO was the Italian Victor de Sabata (1892-1967).

De Sabata

One of the first recording sessions he took part in was for Decca when Eduard van Beinum (1900-1959) conducted Brahms's Symphony No. 3 at Walthamstow Town Hall in March 1946.

Van Beinum

Here is the opening of the third movement of that recording.

Brahms Symphony 3

For many years Ken was violist in the Hurwitz Quartet and part of the String Trio of Amaryllis Fleming.  He often played in the Goldsborough Orchestra, London Chamber Orchestra with Anthony Bernard, the Riddick String Orchestra and the very successful Boyd Neel String Orchestra.

In the early 1950s young artists could appear on BBC radio once they had passed an audition.  Ken relates his extraordinary first experience of being on the air.

BBC 9am broadcast

Another great conductor that Ken worked for was Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) who came to London for a television recording of his new work ‘Trouble in Tahiti.’  Ken had previously played Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante in New York whilst on tour.

Bernstein

During the late 1950s Ken joined the London Symphony Orchestra playing under Malcolm Sargent, Basil Cameron, Josef Krips and John Barbirolli.  Although he continued to play in chamber ensembles and string quartets such as the Amadeus Quartet, Aeolian Quartet, Gabrielli Quartet, Amphion Quartet, Allegri Quartet and Delmé Quartet, he decided in 1960 that, with his excellent sight reading skills, freelance and session work was preferable to being contracted to a symphony orchestra.  This was how the Beatles job happened.

The Beatles

International stars from the popular field that Ken worked with included Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby.

Crosby and Sinatra

Ken also played on hundreds of film scores from the early 1960s onwards.  Dimitri Tiomkin (1894-1979) and Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975) were two composers that came to London from the United States to conduct their scores.  Ken played on the score to 'The Guns of Navarone' and also recorded Herrmann’s Clarinet Quintet in 1974 with Robert Hill and the Ariel Quartet for Unicorn-Kanchana.

Herrmann Clarinet Quintet

One of his most fruitful collaborations was with Carl Davis.   Ken remembers recording scores for television and film productions by Davis as well as those he wrote for many of the restorations of the great films of the silent era.  

Carl Davis


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01 November 2021

Recording of the week: Preserving the Peruvian jarija

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

Last autumn, while cataloguing the Neil Stevenson Collection made in Peru in the early seventies, I gradually started to develop a mental image of Santiago de Chocorvos, a village in the central Peruvian highlands. A few weeks ago, this image was unexpectedly brought into focus by an email containing photographs and accompanying comments sent by Neil himself. It was surprisingly moving to put faces to the voices that had become so familiar.C1103 Neil Stevenson - Men ploughingMaize sowing on terraces in Peru. Men work in groups of three or four turning the earth with a foot-plough - the leaf of a lorry spring lashed to a wooden stick. They chant in rhythm to synchronise the back-breaking work. © Neil Stevenson

The collection consists of Dr Neil Stevenson’s field recordings recorded in and around the village of Santiago de Chocorvos, Huaytará, Huancavelica, Peru, between 1971 and 1972. He was there conducting research on concepts of disease and the recordings mostly document the music and traditions of the region’s various annual agricultural ceremonies and religious festivities throughout the year.

Today’s recording of the week is a jarija work chant, sung during ploughing as part of a Minga ceremony in October 1971. Minga, or Minka, from the Quechua word 'minccacuni' means 'to ask for help promising something in return'. This is a tradition of community work dating back to the Incas. The Minga recorded by Stevenson is the annual maize sowing ceremony held in September and October, to coincide with the rainy season.

The terraced plots on the valley sides are ploughed and sown by a system of reciprocal labour, carried out cooperatively by the landowners. Each owner's plot is ploughed and seeded by his relatives and neighbours. The men plough in groups of three or four, using an Andean foot-plough, called a chakitaklla. The song is intoned by the captain who receives responses from his 'soldiers' [1]. The continuous rhythm of the jarija work chant, along with the chewing of kuka (Quechua for coca leaves) and ‘frequent nips of cane alcohol’ [2] enables the ploughing to carry on at a vigorous pace for several hours.

This excerpt of a jarija, recorded in 1971, is chanted by Faustino Gutiérrez, Justiniano Bautista and accompanying workers:

Jarija chant during ploughing. Minga of Maximo Soto [BL REF C110314 C2]

Meanwhile, women follow the ploughing, breaking up clods of earth with heavy sticks called maqana. They pause from time to time to stand in a group and sing a song called the yarawi into their cupped hands.Women sowing maize on terraced plot in PeruMaize sowing on terraces in Peru. Following the men's ploughing women break up the clods of earth with wooden sticks. Periodically they pause to sing a traditional call and response entreating the fertility of the seeds. © Neil Stevenson

When the ploughing is completed, the workers gather in the corner of a terrace for a maize seed ceremony, during which the women sing the yarawi de semilla (semilla means seed in Spanish). This is followed by a fertility rite, involving the exchanging of flowers. As Stevenson puts it, ‘from this point on there is a general air of licentiousness about the proceedings’ [3]. The men then dig furrows to the rhythm of a slower jarija chant and the women sow the seed.

The work is completed by nightfall and, after further rites, the workers carry the plot owner ‘perched on top of a platform made from crossed foot ploughs’[4] back to his home where they enjoy a large meal of traditional dishes, including one example of each food that the earth provides [5]. After the meal, there is a party involving a singing and dancing competition called the jachua, recordings of which are also in Stevenson’s collection. The songs and joking continue well into the night.

In a letter to the BBC Sound Archive written in 1974, Stevenson indicated that these are rare and ‘probably unique’ recordings of the Minga tradition at this time: ‘the ceremony was previously widely celebrated in this form in Peru but is now found only in a very few places and the complete form, as I have recorded, has not been discovered anywhere else.’ [6]

The ceremony has in fact continued to this day in Santiago de Chocorvos, as this video demonstrates. In this other YouTube video, made by the organisation ‘Quechuata Rimay’, Juan Huachin gives further insight into the tradition. Juan and the interviewer demonstrate a jarija chant at 8 minutes 06 seconds.

Stevenson’s recordings inspired my contribution to the British Library Sound Archive’s NTS radio programme on work songs from around the world. The hour-long selection includes the jarija work chant featured in this post, followed by the equally haunting, yet energetic women’s yarawi song. Like in this modern recording of the ceremony (at 2 minutes 02 seconds), we can hear the men’s jarija in the background whilst the women sing.

Should Dr Neil Stevenson see any of these videos, I can’t help wondering if he might recognise some of the families from fifty years ago. Thank you Neil, for the wonderful recordings, photographs and insights.

Further reading and listening:

[1] Neil I. Stevenson. Andean Village Technology: An Introduction to a Collection of Manufactured Articles from Santiago de Chocorvos, Peru. Oxford: Pitt Rivers Museum, 1974.

[2] Neil Stevenson. Music from Highland Peru. BBC Radio 3, 1974. [BL REF C1103/29 S1 C1]

[3] Ibid.

[4] Neil I. Stevenson. Andean Village Technology: An Introduction to a Collection of Manufactured Articles from Santiago de Chocorvos, Peru. Oxford: Pitt Rivers Museum, 1974.

[5] Neil Stevenson. Music from Highland Peru. BBC Radio 3, 1974. [BL REF C1103/29 S1 C1]

[6] Neil Stevenson. Letter to Jillian M. White, BBC Sound Archive. 25 July 1974.

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28 October 2021

Black History Month – Carlisle and Wellmon

Photo of Carlisle and WellmonCarlisle and Wellmon (BL shelfmark 1SS0009976)

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

For Black History Month this year, I was delighted to find early recordings of two African American musicians made in London.  The piano duo team of Carlisle and Wellmon made recordings for Columbia over one hundred years ago in November 1912.

Born in North Carolina in 1883, Harry Wellmon was already established in London as a song composer while still in his early twenties in 1906.  He had previously worked at the Harlem River Casino in New York City but, as with many African American performers, found far more job opportunities in Britain and Europe.  In London, from his premises at 47 Oxford Street he wrote songs for famous music hall stars of the day including Victoria Monks. 

Sheet music of I never lose my temperBL shelfmark H.3988.r.(43)

Wellmon returned to the United States in 1909 for a year but was back in England where a son was born on the south coast in Southsea in November 1911 the mother being Lilian Riley, a confectioner’s assistant.  He formed the piano duo Carlisle and Wellmon around 1910 and must have been popular as they recorded for Columbia in November 1912.  However, Wellmon had many pursuits, primarily as a composer and music publisher, and the duo made their last appearance at the Lewisham Hippodrome in December 1915 while Wellmon continued as a solo performer the following week.  In the early 1920s he appeared in Paris, Vienna, Budapest, Prague, Bratislava and Zagreb, Bombay, the Netherlands and South America.  He appears to have returned to the United States in 1935.

George Horace Carlisle was born in Minnesota, also in 1883, and had previously toured Britain with another performer as Carlisle and Baker.  It is claimed that he was a pupil of the great piano teacher Theodore Leschetizky (1830-1915) in Vienna - whose pupils include Paderewski and Ignaz Friedman - but Carlisle's name does not appear in Leschetizky’s personal lists of pupils or his diaries. 

Leschetizky did have a few African American students.  One was Raymond Augustus Lawson (1875-1959) who was educated at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee from where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree.  He then studied at the Hartford Conservatory of Music graduating in 1900.  Whilst in Germany he met Ossip Gabrilowitsch (Leschetizky pupil and son in law of Mark Twain) who in the summer of 1911 introduced Lawson to Leschetizky.  After playing for the great master, Leschetizky declared, ‘I know that Americans are great technicians, but Mr Lawson is a poet.’  As was often the way, Leschetizky heard a pianist once, then passed them to one of his assistants for instruction, and this may have happened to George Carlisle.  He seems to have stayed in England and died during a piano audition at the Royal Oak Hotel in Ramsgate in 1963, an obituary claiming he was born in Bermuda and in his sixties: he was actually 80 years of age.

Carlisle and Wellmon made six sides for Columbia in 1912, all of their own compositions, most of which were published between 1910 and 1913.  Four are of their own songs – 'Kiss me Right', 'Go ‘Way Meddlesome Moon', 'A Prescription for Love' and 'Why Do You Wait for Tomorrow?' 

Sheet music of Go way meddlesome moonBL shelfmark H.3990.c.(6)

The remaining two sides are piano only - Chip-Chip Two Step and March, and an arrangement of the Sextette from Lucia di Lammermoor by Donizetti – ‘in Ragtime.’  This disc was issued as Columbia 2054 in 1912 but re-issued on their cheaper Regal label in February 1914 and remained in the catalogue until August 1918.

Label of Regal disc Lucia SextetteRegal Label (BL shelfmark 9CS0000242)

The performance is only in ragtime for the last half of the recording.  The first part is in ‘classical’ style and the switch to ragtime is not such a jolt as one might expect due to the fact that it is played in a strict ragtime style – not too fast, with a firm and controlled rhythm.  With the ragtime revival of the 1970s we learnt that Scott Joplin did not want his rags played fast and directed the player so at the beginning of his scores.  Few solo piano disc recordings of ragtime survive from the era and a recording of Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag played by the United States Marine Band from 1909 is taken at a swift tempo.  Carlisle and Wellmon’s performance has elements of Joplin's direction and even though played at a crowd-pleasing tempo with dazzling contrary motion chromatic scales, there are underlying elements of the strict ragtime style from ten years before.

Sextette from Lucia mp3

Thanks to James Methuen Campbell for the Leschetizky information.

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The Pinnacle Club: 100 years of women climbing and mountaineering

A 1921 photo of 8 women standing on a mountainThe first Pinnacle Club meet, Idwal Slabs, 1921. L-R: Emily (Pat) Kelly, Dorothy Evans, Mrs O Johnson, Harriet Turner, B Lella Michaelson, Cicely Rathbone, Constance Stanley, Blanche Eden-Smith. Credit: GS Bower

The Pinnacle Club is a national women’s climbing club founded 100 years ago, the inspiration of Emily (Pat) Kelly. Forty-three women supported its initiation, many of whom came together on 26 March 1921 at the Pen y Gwryd Hotel in North Wales to establish the Club ethos as follows: ‘The objectives of the Club are to foster the independent development of rock climbing amongst women, and to bring together those who are interested in these pursuits by organising Meets [sic] and other such means of communications as may from time to time be deemed advisable.’ (PC Handbook 1921 p2.) In 1989 the objectives were extended to include mountaineering.

Soon after its formation, and in keeping with its Welsh origins, the Club acquired Cwm Dyli, an old cottage in the heart of Snowdonia. Usually referred to as ‘the Hut', this was rapidly converted to accommodate groups and became the ‘home’ of the Club. In the 1980s the Club was able to buy the hut and then invested in modernising it.

A black and white photo of six women standing outside a Welsh cottageThe opening of the hut, including Evelyn Lowe, Mary Lear, Daloni Seth-Hughes, Jennet Seth-Hughes, Marjorie Wood, Penelope Seth-Hughes. Courtesy: Pinnacle Club.

Jean Drummond on finding the hut (C1876/24)

Download Jean Drummond on finding the hut (C1876-24) Transcript

To commemorate its centenary year, and with support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Pinnacle Club has recorded oral history interviews with 24 past and present members. These have all now been archived at the British Library and can be found by searching C1876 at the Sound and Moving Image Catalogue. The club has also digitised over 1500 images and several films related to its history, and extracts from these can be seen on the Pinnacle Club Centenary Website.

The oral histories were recorded over a period of eight months in 2020 between Covid-19 lockdowns. The recordings were conducted by seven members of the Pinnacle Club; in gardens, in well-ventilated rooms and, when face-to-face was not possible, remotely using Squadcast.

Participants include women who were among the climbing pioneers of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, as well as younger women who are active today. Their ages range from 96 (Gwen Moffat, C1876/23) to 26 (Milena von und zur Muhlen, C1876/04). The wider membership of the club was asked to suggest suitable women for inclusion in the project. As a result, the participants came from England, Scotland, Wales and Europe, from a variety of social backgrounds and with a wide range of experiences and mountaineering achievements. Together their stories illustrate the place of women in the outdoors and in so doing help redress the balance of a male narrative in the history of climbing.

The interviewers themselves, some of whom were also interviewees, although inexperienced in the processes of recording oral histories, were quickly committed to the task and felt privileged and honoured to be witness to the extraordinary stories they heard. Despite the challenges of the technical demands of equipment and technique, they were left with a real admiration for the women they interviewed and a strong belief that these stories deserve to be shared with a much wider audience.

When the Pinnacle Club was founded, climbing clubs of the day were mainly single sex. The first mountaineering club for women, The Ladies' Alpine Club was founded in London in 1907 and it merged with the Alpine Club in 1975. Only the Pinnacle Club and the Ladies Scottish Climbing Club, founded in 1908, remain women only clubs in the UK. In the early 1900s joining one of these clubs was the only way in which women could find like-minded female climbing partners and climb unhindered by the stereotypes of the day. Even in the 1940s and 50s, when the oldest of our interviewees started their climbing career, opportunities for, and expectations of, women were restricted. Many spoke in their oral histories of being frustrated by the limitations of girls’ education at the time, and low expectations of women’s athletic performance. Alongside higher education, travel and outdoor activity were seen to offer greater independence. Climbing was a very male dominated activity, but clubs like the Pinnacle Club allowed women to take on leadership roles.

A recurring theme throughout the oral history interviews is this experience of climbing with other women. Many members found this to be empowering and confidence building, and spoke about being encouraged and supported to climb at standards above and beyond their expectations. This seems particularly evident on international meets. It is no surprise that this led to the development of close bonds through shared, often life risking, experiences. The commitment, tolerance and trust required to be part of an effective climbing partnership can be a solid basis for friendship.

Stella Adams on joining the Pinnacle Club (C1876/21)

Download Stella Adams on joining the Pinnacle Club (C1876-21) Transcript

Although in the minority among the climbing community and in many cases their presence overlooked, women have contributed significant achievements in mountaineering and rock climbing around the world. A number of these achievements are recorded in the Pinnacle Club Journals (1924 – present), and they are now further documented in the oral history recordings.

Rhona Lampard on climbing Gasherbrum II (C1876/05)

Download Rhona Lampard on climbing Gasherbrum II (C1876-05) Transcript

Dorothy Pilley, a founding member of the Pinnacle Club and an outstanding climber of her time, said in her book Climbing Days that the formation of the club was 'a long conspiracy prompted by the feeling many of us shared, that a rock climbing club for women by women would give us a better chance of climbing independently of men, both as to leadership and general mountaineering.' For 100 years the Pinnacle Club has continued to thrive with these same objectives and now this history is preserved at the British Library. The oral histories provide an insight into the history of the Pinnacle Club, into the role of women in the development of climbing and mountaineering and into the ongoing need for a women-only space where climbers can gain the confidence and independence to continue the Club’s proud traditions.

Blog by Pinnacle Club Oral History Team

The oral history collection 'The Pinnacle Club: 100 years of women climbing and mountaineering' can be found by searching C1876 at the Sound and Moving Image Catalogue

22 October 2021

The wanderings of Blackbud: Preserving Blackbud’s Glastonbury demo

Written by Kirsten Newell, Data Protection & Rights Clearance Officer.

Last year, UOSH was lucky enough to interview the Subways  about their 2004 win at the Glastonbury Festival New Bands competition. You can read more about the history of the Emerging Talent Competition in this blog post on the collection, which marked the 50th anniversary of the 'Pilton Pop, Blues and Folk Festival', on 19 September 2020.

Now, a year later, and 17 years after their win, we have been able to put panellist Wes White’s questions to Joe Taylor, frontman of the joint 2004 ‘New Bands’ winner, Blackbud.

White sat on the jury to determine finalists for the Emerging Talent Competition from 2004 to 2007, having been heavily involved in the process through his mother, Hilary, who worked in the Festival Office. Recalling Blackbud, Wes held that the group had a ‘very different, languorous approach’ from the Subways, ‘with epic, mind-blowing jams’. While there was only one slot available on the ‘Other Stage’, Wes maintained that ‘Blackbud were an amazing band and some of our panel would cite them among their favourite ever bands to this day’.

Blackbud performing live outdoors in Glastonbury town

Above: Blackbud performing in Glastonbury town – image taken from CC images.

Wes White: Do you remember sending Blackbud’s demo into the competition?

Joe Taylor: No, since it would have been sent in by our manager Grant Newton at the time. He was Adam 's dad (Adam was the bassist), and looking back on it, he took the management very seriously and we were fortunate to have his support and efforts back then.

WW: As a Somerset band, had you been able to perform at Glastonbury before? Had all of you been in the audience in previous years?

JT: I know I was at Glastonbury Festival as a child, and although I don’t remember much, It does feel like a dream. Probably most of my time was spent in the children’s area because I remember trampolines and a helter skelter slide. I was also in the audience several times as a teenager, and also when we played, but I couldn’t say for sure which years. I remember some amazing moments most of which were off the main stages and in the more obscure places. I remember Amy Winehouse and Bonnie Raitt on the Jazz world stage, seeing Brian Wilson, Aphex Twin at the Glade, I remember being there in the mud, and one year feeling big relief that I didn’t go when there happened to be a huge storm!

Listen to Blackbud’s ‘Wandering Song’

[British Library ref. C1238/4548 BD3]

WW: What do you remember about the night of the competition finals, at Pilton Working Men’s Club? Did it seem special then, or was it just another gig at the time?

JT: In that time, I think we were gigging a lot and beginning to travel further away from our home base, so I seem to remember it was nice to play somewhere fairly local. I also remember a bit of tension, there being other bands that we had to directly compete against but also feeling confident that we were just going to play a very short set, and have the most fun possible. Perhaps by coincidence, Jeff Buckley was playing as a background music before we went up on stage. I think it added to the meaning of the performance for me as I was really inspired by his music at the time.

WW: Some of the contest’s winners and finalists have only ever played Glastonbury once - but Blackbud went on to numerous bookings at the Festival in the following years. Do you have a favourite memory from among those performances?

JT: The most memorable must have been the actual ‘Other Stage’ performance that was cancelled due to a sudden downpour, and we decided to play an acoustic set down by the side of the stage for the few fans that were waiting in the rain for us to come out! We just started jamming on acoustic in the rain and people gathered around, I remember the feeling of just enjoying that moment so much even though we didn’t get to play on the actual stage…

WW: Is there anything you would change?

JT: Not sure… change something in the past? I suppose there have been moments I would have liked to change, or be somewhere else, but actually everything that happens makes us who we are today and I wouldn’t want to change anything.

WW: In the wake of the competition, there was a great deal of record company interest in the band. Did it seem that Glastonbury and the competition success helped in bringing the band to the labels’ attention?

JT: Yes probably... it was a combination of things that got labels interested, firstly we were dedicated musicians, and really enjoyed playing together, and we were investing our time and energy into the band, working really hard developing our sound, gigging in pubs and clubs, small fairs and all kinds of places, while writing material and rehearsing, recording home demos and building a fanbase, so there may have been some interest already happening, but I think the Glastonbury Festival competition was a catalyst in terms of attracting industry people to the band and what happened was that several labels were trying to develop a relationship and sign us which was an incredible situation.

Listen to Blackbud’s ‘158’

[British Library ref. C1238/4548 BD1]

WW: Blackbud announced an ‘indefinite hiatus’ in 2009. What are you up to musically now, and are you still in touch with the other group members, Adam and Sam?

JT: The thing with Blackbud during our time signed to Independiente, was that the whole industry was rapidly changing (and still is) and we happened to be one of the last bands to get a major development deal. It was an amazing experience, and it came to a natural end as the sale of music also declined. The important thing for me is that I was always a student of music, and kind of in love with the guitar. So when the opportunity came to take some time off from Blackbud, I began to explore and grow in different ways, leading to 4 years living and studying flamenco in Seville. I composed and produced for my wife (singer Mor Karbasi), and we travelled all over the world with this project which we built together, playing with many great musicians along the way. Now I am based in Israel, working in the Jerusalem East West orchestra and a flamenco guitarist, and doing sessions with many groups as a freelance musician. I have a home studio where I record and produce, and I release the music I make as a solo artist, under my own name. I have been in touch with Sam and Adam in the last years, and it was always really great. Even though we live different parts of the world, we would still have a connection if we were to jam together. Sam played with some well-known artists as a session drummer and now works at Amnesty International, which is really admirable, and Adam also plays with artists in the Bristol area and recently became a father, which is something I can relate to!

WW: The band is still fondly remembered by passionate fans. Is there any sign of an end to that hiatus on the horizon?

JT: Haha...I suppose the last question hints to this answer. We live in different parts of the world. To be honest I would love to do a reunion and have suggested it to Adam and Sam when I had plans to come back to the UK but it didn’t happen yet. I hope my solo music also appeals to those fans and satisfies their curiosity in the meantime.

WW: How do you feel about that early demo being archived in the British Library?

JT: I feel it’s a real honour!

Many thanks to Wes for giving his questions, and to Joe for agreeing to be interviewed. Blackbud’s demo will be available to stream next year on UOSH’s upcoming website.