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

16 November 2020

Recording of the week: Music and singing for the Tihar Festival in Nepal

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

Tihar (Diwali) festival celebrations in Pokhara, Nepal
"20121113-Nepal-trekking-5-Pokhara-ARZH5002E" by zhushman is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Tihar (also called Diwali) is a five day Hindu festival celebrated in Nepal. It usually takes place in the Nepali month, Kartik (end of October to November). The festival is in honour of Laksmi, the Goddess of Wealth and Good Fortune. Animals including crows, dogs, cows are also worshipped. Tihar is known as the festival of lights, as diyas (oil lamps) and festive lanterns are lit, illuminating homes and temples.

In this recording, we hear a group of campus students and staff in the small Nepali town of Gorkha Bajar, performing a Deusire song. They are singing and playing instruments including harmonium, madal and kartal. Deusire (or Deusi Re), are traditional call-and-response songs that are sung during the Tihar festival celebrations in Nepal. Traditionally, troupes of children and teenagers sing the songs and dance as they visit homes in their community, giving blessings for prosperity and collecting money, sweets and food.

Tihar git (deusire) (BL REF C1465/44)

This recording was made October 29th 1987 and is part of the Carol Tingey Collection (C1465/44). You can listen to more recordings from this collection on British Library Sounds.

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

09 November 2020

Recording of the week: If I were a blackbird

This week's selection comes from Yrja Thorsdottir, Digital Learning Content Developer for Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.

I love singing to myself at my desk as I’m working from home but you will never catch me singing anywhere someone can hear me. Pining for karaoke parties? Absolutely not! Why? I don’t have confidence in the quality of my own singing voice. I think that is the reason why this recording of Danny Brazil (1913-2003) singing ‘If I were a Blackbird’ appeals to me so much. He sings with evident pleasure and confidence even though his voice isn’t the clear tenor of his former days.

Danny Brazil sings 'If I were a blackbird' (BL REF C742/22)

Download Transcript -'If I was a blackbird' sung by Danny Brazil

Danny-Brazil

Danny Brazil (pronounced to rhyme with razzle) was born in Ireland in 1913, one of 13 siblings in a travelling family. His family moved around Ireland, working as horse dealers and living in two horse-drawn wagons for 27 years before relocating to Gloucestershire and becoming scrap iron dealers. The family was very musical; they all sang and played at least one instrument, and several, including Danny, were talented step dancers. Danny could not read so instead he developed an astonishing memory for a vast repertoire of traditional folk songs as well as some country and western songs.

During a strawberry-picking trip, Danny and his brother Harry had a disagreement. In the resulting fight, a blow to his throat caused Danny’s voice box to rupture. The damage left him with the harsh, hoarse voice you can hear in this recording. Nevertheless, Danny continued to sing for his own pleasure for the rest of his life, although he lamented the loss of paid public performance opportunities. He was anxious to work with field recordists to ensure his extensive repertoire of traditional songs was preserved.

This recording is one of several made in 1978 by folk music collector and scholar Gwilym Davies in Danny’s traveller caravan in Steverton, Gloucestershire, when Danny was 65 years old.

This recording is part of the Gwilym Davies Collection which consists of folk music field recordings made by Davies from the 1970s onward. The recordings document folk music mainly in and around Hampshire, Devon, Gloucestershire and New York state. Gwilym Davies has recently published the book 'Catch it, Bottle it and Paint it Green' which details his extensive folk music collecting activities. 

To discover more sounds from our homes and explore domestic life as you have never heard it before go to the British Library’s If Homes Had Ears website.

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

08 November 2020

An interview with Major James Howe

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

In 1996, Les Back (Professor of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London), interviewed Major James Howe, MBE (1917- 2005), a musician and bandleader who led a dance band in a German POW (prisoner of war) camp during the Second World War.

Major Howe with his band in Berlin  1943

Above: Major Howe (centre, kneeling) with his band in Berlin, 1943. Used with permission from Alan Howe (photographer unknown).

The audio recording of this interview is  now part of the British Library collection, Oral history of Jazz in Britain. It has recently been cleared for online release as part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project.

The interview brings to life a fascinating tale of creativity and survival against the odds. This blog post features selected excerpts.

James Howe in London  November 1943

Above: James Howe in London, November 1943. Used with permission from Alan Howe (photographer unknown).

James Howe was born in County Durham, UK on November 11, 1917 - exactly one year before Armistice Day. The son of a brass band conductor and miner, Howe grew up in a musical family. He and his brothers played in his father’s band, and his mother taught him the piano at the age of nine.

He left school at fifteen to become band boy in the Royal Scots Regiment. He was among the first UK soldiers to be sent abroad in 1939 when the Second World War broke out, and he served as a stretcher bearer in Belgium and then France. His duties were cut short in Le Paradis, Northern France when his regiment came under fire from German soldiers in May 1940. He was lucky to escape alive – many soldiers were killed or wounded here during the Battle of Le Paradis and the subsequent massacre.

Howe and his fellow captives were marched through France, Belgium and Holland to reach a prison camp in Lamsdorf (then in Germany but now in Poland), which is now known as Łambinowice. In the following excerpt from the interview he describes this harrowing journey.

James Howe describes his journey to Lamsdorf

Download A transcript of excerpt one

Camp life in Lamsdorf was initially very difficult for Howe and his fellow POWs. In the interview he talks about sleeping on straw, problems with lice and an insubstantial diet (a bowl of soup and five black potatoes per day). Salvation eventually came when the Red Cross started sending parcels to the camp. First food, and then materials for recreation, including books, sports equipment, and, miraculously, instruments. In this next interview excerpt Howe describes what a difference these deliveries made to camp life.

James Howe describes Red Cross deliveries to the camp

Download A transcript of excerpt two

Thanks to the arrival of instruments, and records to transcribe music from, Howe ended up conducting his very own dance band in the camp. This, and the evolution of camp entertainment, was a testament to the ingenuity of all concerned. In the camp were individuals with backgrounds in stage work, carpentry and music. They built their own camp theatre, created a ticketing system and had concert parties. Prisoners danced foxtrots and waltzes with one another, and found solace in music that reminded them of home.

In the next excerpt from the interview, Howe provides some insights into the mechanics of the camp entertainment system.

James Howe describes camp entertainment

Download A transcript of excerpt three

He also describes some touching moments of shared interests with the German guards at the camp, including one who invited him to his hut to listen to records. Another guard heard Howe playing the accordion, so brought his own violin so that the two could play together in his hut. According to Howe, the guard said:
'If Churchill and Hitler could see you and I now, there wouldn’t be any wars'.

Unusually, Howe’s POW band were even escorted to Berlin, Germany to play for fellow POWs at another camp, and in 1943, Howe, as a stretcher bearer and early arrival at the camp, was fortunate enough to be included in a repatriation agreement, which took him home to the UK via Sweden, with other similarly fortunate POWs. News of the POW band had travelled, and well-known UK band leader Billy Cotton helped to get them featured on BBC Radio.

In his interview, Howe remembers frantically telegraphing all his POW bandmates to reunite them in London for the performance. In 1944 he was sent back to France with his regiment, before finishing the war in Hamburg, Germany in 1945.

After returning home, Howe studied at the Royal Military School of Music in Twickenham, UK, and was appointed Bandmaster of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in 1949. His military band career took him all over the world, and as a band leader (later Director of Music of the Scots Guards) he travelled as far afield as the US, New Zealand, Australia and Hong Kong.

After his military career, Howe conducted the BBC Concert Orchestra, featuring on radio programmes such as Friday Night Is Music Night and Melodies For You.

Colour photo of James Howe

Above: James Howe, pictured towards the end of his life. Used with permission from Alan Howe.

Howe retired to Eastbourne, UK and channelled his musical talents into organ and conducting duties, as well as starting the massed band concerts at Croydon, UK in 1974, and organising POW reunion concerts. He continued to be actively involved with music until very late in his life (in the interview he demonstrates his skills on the cornet) and a plaque dedicated to his memory is installed at Eastbourne bandstand. After Howe passed away in 2005, his ashes were buried in the cemetery in Le Paradis, in accordance with his wishes.

02 November 2020

Recording of the week: The horrors of the long drop

This week's recording of the week comes from Emma Burman, Learning and Engagement Coordinator.

A photograph of Helena Street, Burnley, Lancashire, 1966-1974
Helena Street, Burnley, Lancashire, 1966-1974 © Heritage Images via Getty Images (1094419358)

As a 1990’s baby, I have had the pleasure of never experiencing an outdoor toilet, ‘long drop’ or ‘privy’. I have frequented many a bug filled campsite toilet but never the horror of a privy. A privy is described as a basic, outdoor toilet usually without a cover or running water. By the late 1800s, many workers’ homes in industrialised areas of Britain were built with outside toilets.

Here is a recording of six retired friends from Lancashire describing their awkward and humorous experiences of the privy growing up. It’s enough to make any millennial thank the heavens for growing up with indoor toilets! The ladies not only describe the windy, cold conditions of sitting on an outdoor toilet, but also the potential hazards of rats and even cats!

Burnley accent: A women's group debate the name of the toilet

Download trasncript for Burnley accent: A women's group debate the name of the toilet

It wasn’t until after the First World War had ended in 1918 that all new housing developments in the suburbs of London had to include an inside toilet. In fact it was well into the 20th century before indoor facilities were finally a familiar sight in houses.

However this didn’t necessarily mean the end of the outdoor toilet. Although new houses had to be built with an indoor toilet, there was nothing stopping occupants of old houses from keeping their outdoor toilet. So much so, that according to a Halifax housing survey, an estimated 40,000 homes in the UK still had an outdoor toilet in 2010.

And why not? Although the friends in this recording speak of the horrors of the privy; in today’s world, estate agents suggest a well-kept privy can take house sale prices above the local average (assuming there is an indoor WC as well!). In a modern world of outdoor BBQs and children with muddy shoes playing in gardens, an outdoor toilet could come in handy. So perhaps the days of the privy are not so outnumbered?

This recording is part of the BBC Voices project, and was recorded in 2004. The recordings are a series of guided conversations that follow a loose structure based on eliciting opinions about accents, dialects, the words we use and people's attitude to language.

Discover more sounds from our homes on the British Library’s If Homes Had Ears website.

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

30 October 2020

Going batty for Halloween

Bats have a long association with Halloween. The most obvious reason for this emerges when we look at another classic character for this time of year, the vampire. As with vampires, bats are creatures of the night, only leaving their roosts after the last rays of sunlight have faded for the day. The majority of bats are also hunters and a few species even drink the blood of other animals.

Illustration of a Vampire bat

Bats also have a lot to thank Bram Stoker for. Though earlier authors and artists had already begun drawing parallels between vampires and bats, it was Stoker’s 1897 gothic horror novel, Dracula, which cemented this association in popular culture. At several points during the novel a bat is seen flapping against a closed window, however we have to wait until Chapter 18 before Van Helsing confirms the link between animal and vampire:

'He can be as bat, as Madam Mina saw him on the window at Whitby, and as friend John saw him fly from this so house, and as my friend Quincey saw him at the window of Miss Lucy.'

A much more ancient relationship between bats and Halloween can be found within the rituals of Samhain, the Celtic pagan festival celebrated from 31 October to 1 November. Huge bonfires with cleansing and protective properties were lit to mark the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. The glow of the fire would attract nearby insects and these would be followed closely by bats looking for an easy meal. Given that the invisible boundary between the world of the living and the world of the dead was believed to be at its thinnest during Samhain, it’s easy to understand how the silent, black silhouettes of bats darting around the flames could be construed as having supernatural meaning.

Selection of bat illustrations selected from the British Library's Flickr collection

Though Halloween is full of many ghoulish and spine-tingling sounds, the calls of bats aren't one of them. The answer to this may seem obvious enough - most bats communicate and echolocate at frequencies above the human hearing range - but that doesn't mean we can't spend a little bit of time enjoying the many weird and wonderful, yet normally hidden bat sounds that still fill the night sky at this time of year. 

Common Pipistrelle echolocation & social calls. Recorded in West Sussex, England on 11 September 2014 by Phil Riddett (ref 222208) 

Greater Horseshoe Bat echolocation. Recorded in Wiltshire, England on 14 July 1985 by William Seale (ref 17018)

Noctule echolocation. Recorded in Kent, England on 26 June 1986 by Richard Ranft (ref 18530) 

Though these recordings are actually kind of cute, there are many other legitimately spooky sounds within the sound archive's wildlife collection. Screaming foxes, howling wolves, cawing crows, rumbling thunder, lashing rain and lots of other examples can be found. A number of these recordings were compiled for the 2014 Off the Map videogame competition which challenged higher education students to create videogames inspired by some of the British Library’s gothic-related collection items. Students were encouraged to incorporate these sounds into their games and this was done to great effect, particularly when it came to the second place winning entry ‘Whitby’.

All recordings are still available on the British Library’s Soundcloud account under Creative Commons licenses so do check out the Off the Map Gothic playlist. Be sure to also visit the Digital Scholarship blog to find out more about other gothic-themed events held at the library over the past few years. And if that wasn't enough, there's also an excellent album of free to reuse ghostly and macabre images available through our Flickr collection.

Over the past few weeks the UK Web Archive has been busy researching the changing popularity of terms such as Halloween and Bonfire Night. Head on over to their blog to read more about these changes and, while you’re there, why not try out some searches of your own using the big data Shine tool. Their website also has a dedicated Festivals section and now would be the perfect time to nominate some of your favourite Halloween-related UK sites.

Throughout today we’ll be sharing some special video animations, images and sounds that have a distinctly creepy vibe. So follow our Wildlife, Digital Scholarship and Web Archive Twitter accounts to see all of these. And however you choose to spend your Halloween, we hope you have a fang-tastic time!

27 October 2020

Eddie South – Dark Angel of the Violin

(Portrait_of_Eddie_South _Café_Society_(Uptown) _New_York _N.Y. _ca._Dec._1946)_(LOC)_(5435818573)

Eddie South in 1946 (The Library of Congress, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

For Black History Month in previous years I have written about classical musicians such as Dean Dixon and Cullen Maiden who had to leave the United States for Europe in order to get work as classical musicians.  This year I have been investigating the violinist Eddie South who could have had a career as a classical violinist had he been born in a different era.

Edward Otha South was born in Louisiana, Missouri in 1904. He studied at Chicago Music College with Petrovich Bessing from where he graduated in the early 1920s.  Classically trained, South could only get work in the United States as a jazz performer so during the 1920s he earnt his living performing in orchestras and groups in Chicago – with Charles Elgar’s Creole Orchestra and as first violin in Erskine Tate’s Theatre Orchestra.  In the late 1920s South formed his own group, the ‘Alabamians,’ making records for Victor for whom he continued to record in the 1930s with his ‘International Orchestra.’

In 1928 South travelled to Europe where he studied for a while at the Paris Conservatoire, and a visit to Budapest made a great impression on him.  South returned to Depression Era Chicago in 1931 and again could only get work as a jazz violinist.  Obviously drawn to Europe for its musical and work opportunities, on another trip to Paris in 1937 South recorded with Django Reinhardt and one of the most famous jazz violinists Stephane Grappelli but, although he made many recordings, he never made it into the front rank of jazz violinists like Grappelli and Joe Venuti. 

Perhaps this was because South played as much popular music as jazz and even some classical material, albeit lightly swung.  An album he made for Columbia in 1940 titled Eddie South – Dark Angel of the Violin includes the Praeludium and Allegro by Fritz Kreisler and Hejre Kati, a Hungarian melody arranged by violinist and composer Jenő Hubay (1858-1937) published as No. 4 of his Scènes de la czárda Op. 32. 

Eddie South album front cover

The influence of gypsy music that South heard in Budapest and the sweet tone of Kreisler, the greatest classical violinist of his day, can be heard in South’s recording of Hejre Kati, even though he only plays the first slow section and not the czardas. Recorded 10th June 1940, South is accompanied by David Martin on piano, Eddie Gibbs on guitar and Ernest Hill on bass.

Hejre Kati played by Eddie South

 

Disc label Columbia 35636

South continued to record, perform and make radio broadcasts many which have survived.  He died at the age of 58 in 1962.

For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical

26 October 2020

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

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.

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

19 October 2020

Recording of the week: Electricity in the kitchen

This week's selection comes from Harriet Roden, Digital Learning Content Developer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

Almost every time someone enters a new room in the UK, there’ll be a flick of a switch. To turn on a light, a plug or household appliance. From cups of tea to loads of washing, many of us rely on electricity to make our home lives comfortable.

However, the immediate nature of electricity was not always the norm in our homes. Until the mid-20th century, many homes – especially in rural areas – remained ‘off the grid’. Coal was the main source of fuel, with the coals needing to be lit in stove before any food could be cooked or water heated.

From the late 1940s a programme of rural electrification took place. This was a result of a series of acts that bought together, or nationalised the electrical supply industry in Britain.

Alan Plumpton, a commercial engineer, was employed in the 1950s to advocate for people to use electricity in their homes. In this clip he relays how he would often attend community groups in the evening to give lectures on what electricity meant, and how much it would cost homeowners.

C1495/10 Alan Plumpton on installing electricity

Download Transcript – Alan Plumpton on installing electricity in Britain's homes

This activity was often geared towards a certain audience: women. More specifically, housewives. A huge amount of work was taken to persuade them that electricity was the future. Plumpton continues to say that after he spoke about the practicalities of electricity, ‘housecraft advisors’ would then demonstrate how to bake cakes using electrical ovens, or use washing-machines.

The Electrical Association for Women (EAW) was established in 1924 who, over the following 60 years, promoted the benefits of electricity in the home. As well as publishing educational material on using certain appliances including cookers and washing machines, the EAW established a school to run courses on electrical housecraft.

 

Image of a diploma from the Electrical Association for Women
‘How it works’ leaflet for an electric cooker, and a diploma in Electrical Housecraft. © Institution of Engineering and Technology Archives

Yet this expanse of activity promoting the benefits of electricity in the home sometimes does not outweigh its cost. Fuel prices, household incomes and energy efficiency are all factors that cause households to not afford enough energy to power their homes; and according to the most recent government survey in 2017, there are 2.53 million fuel-poor households in England.

To discover more about how our homes have changed over the past 100 years, draw back the curtains and go to If Homes Had Ears.

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