Sound and vision blog

385 posts categorized "Recording of the week"

21 November 2022

Recording of the week: An RAF airman

This week’s post is by Steve Cleary, Lead Curator, Literary and Creative Recordings.

Black and white portrait photo of C D Gurney in uniform

The gentleman pictured above is Charles Gurney.

Earlier this year, in September, I was contacted by his son, John Gurney, who asked me if we would be interested in a unique ‘Voices of the Forces’ disc made by his father.

This was recorded at some point during World War II, possibly in Bombay (now Mumbai). John’s father was a Royal Air Force (RAF) airman.

John had kept the disc safe for many years but had never heard it played.

More information about the ‘Voices of the Forces’ scheme is given in a previous blog post on the subject, from October 2019.

As you may be able to tell from the picture below, the record was not in great condition, however our audio engineer Karl Jenkins was able to get a fairly intelligible - if crackly - result.

We were pleased to be able to supply a CD copy to John. The original disc will now be added to the Library’s collection, along with some photos and Charles Gurney’s RAF Service and Release book.

Voices of the Forces disc

Voices of the Forces envelope

Listen to Voices of the Forces disc

Download Voices of the Forces disc transcript

When listening, bear in mind that the recording time on a disc like this was limited. The discs are only 5” in diameter and play at 78 rpm. The speaker, who would usually be new to the recording process, would have to ‘beat the clock’ to get everything in.

We have a handful of these discs in the sound archive but are always on the lookout for more. They provide a fascinating link to the past.

 

With thanks to John Gurney and British Library Audio Engineer Karl Jenkins.

14 November 2022

Recording of the week: The window seat

This week’s post comes from Giulia Baldorilli, Sound and Vision Reference Specialist.

Photo of scenery from train window by Giulia Baldorilli

Above: Photo from train window taken by Giulia Baldorilli

Living in London, as I do, means commuting to work every day, and I find the quality of my daily commute really affects my mood and well-being.

It’s my belief that you need to entertain yourself when commuting. Taking the underground in London always fascinates me. The variety of faces and colours is what keeps my mind busy even during rush hour when the tube is packed.  People are a good source for stories and day-dreaming. I tend to imagine where the person in front of me might be from, what their plan is for that evening, or for the next year.

In the interview excerpt below from the National Life Stories project, the artist Ian Breakwell talks about why he prefers taking public transport. He discusses how it allows us do all the things we want to do, many of which are not possible with other forms of transport.

Listen to interview with Ian Breakwell

Download Ian Breakwell interview transcript

His last point about viewing landscape through a train window resonates with me in particular. As I and many in the UK return to working on-site most days of the week, the commute makes its gradual shift back into our daily routine. I like being a passenger. It is a chance to enjoy the landscape outside the window and lose myself in an unexpected inner conversation, or reverie.

This interview is available in full as part of a collection on the British Library Sounds website

07 November 2022

Recording of the week: The Vicinus Music Hall Interviews

This week’s post is by Victoria Hogarth, Data Protection and Rights Clearance Officer for Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.

The Vicinus Music Hall Interviews, digitised as part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project, are a treasure trove for music hall enthusiasts. Martha Vicinus, an American scholar of English literature and Women’s studies (now at the University of Michigan), visited a number of retirement homes for music hall and variety artists during the 1970s. She interviewed a range of artists, all of whom were active during the golden age of the music hall circa 1910 to 1950.

As well as the good times, the interviewees also touch on more difficult experiences. Many were part of The Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA), set up to provide entertainment for British armed forces personnel during World War II.

The excerpts I’ve chosen for this recording of the week describe Don Ross’ experiences managing a travelling circus during World War II. Don was an artist turned promoter and producer who enjoyed a long career in music hall and variety.

Black and white photo portrait of Don Ross

Above: Portrait of Don Ross. Photographer unknown, published in the Guardian on 30 June, 1971.

I chose these clips because they provide an alternative wartime experience. Many of our oral history collections document the effects of the war on everyday life, but we don’t often hear about the effects on the entertainment business, and certainly not the circus! 

In the first clip, Don describes a particularly heavy bombardment that took place in Norwich during the circus tour. The city of Norwich was very heavily bombed in April and May 1942 as part of the so-called Baedeker raids. Don recalls keeping a vigil all night next to the lion cages, speaking softly to the lions while bombs rained down.

Listen to Don Ross on calming the lions

Download Don Ross 'Calming the lions' transcript

The second clip describes the intense difficulty of getting food for the circus animals during rationing. Don recollects his efforts to source herring for sea lions, hay for elephants and oranges for monkeys.

Listen to Don Ross on feeding the animals

Download Don Ross 'Feeding the animals' transcript

It’s easy to forget the bravery of the artists providing entertainment up and down the country, often in coastal towns highly vulnerable to bombardment. Later in the interview, Don describes losing three artists when one of his shows was bombed, and recalls having to entertain audiences during air raids. These clips offer a fascinating insight into the morale-boosting efforts of the ENSA performers, as well as a vivid description of life during the blitz.

31 October 2022

Recording of the week: A new life, all over again

This week’s post comes from Myriam Fellous-Sigrist, Data Protection and Rights Clearance Officer for Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.

Photo of Arun U3A display

Above: Photo above of a U3A display table taken by George Redgrave. Sourced from Flickr under a CC BY-ND 2.0 license. Link to licence

It is never too late to learn about oral history, or any other subject. In the 1990s, dozens of members of the University of the Third Age (U3A) trained to conduct oral history interviews in collaboration with the National Sound Archive. As a result, more than 300 life stories were recorded across Sussex, Somerset and London, with and by members of local U3A branches.

Most of the compact cassettes were archived at The Keep in Brighton (collection AMS 6416). In the last few years, they were digitised and reviewed by the Unlocking our Sound Heritage project (UOSH). As part of my work for UOSH, I have had the privilege of listening to the 59 interviews preserved at the British Library (collection C516). The narrators reflect on their social background, education, lifelong learning, careers, leisure, family life, friendships, experiences of migration, World War One and World War Two, and much more. This collection also features many pioneers of U3A who explain how this UK-wide movement was created 40 years ago.

The recordings give a sense of the key social and intellectual role of the University of the Third Age in the narrators’ retirement years. One of the interviewees is Pauline Cowles, who was born in 1919 in Brighton. At the end of the interview that she gave in 1995, she described some of the activities organised by U3A Lewes and the ‘new life’ that U3A has given to her and to fellow members.

Listen to Pauline Cowles

Download Pauline Cowles interview transcript

24 October 2022

Recording of the week: Vaughan Williams Symphony No. 6 - the premiere

This week's post comes from Jonathan Summers, Curator, Classical Music Recordings.

Photo of Vaughan Williams disc

I was looking for something by which to celebrate the 150th anniversary this month of the birth of one of England’s greatest symphonic composers of the twentieth century, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). His nine symphonies span more than fifty years from the first, which he began in 1903, to the last, composed in 1956 and 1957.

More than twenty years ago the British Library sound archive acquired the collection of engineer Kenneth Leech, who began to record radio broadcasts from the mid-1930s on to lacquer discs. I was delighted to discover that Mr. Leech had recorded the opening of the Symphony No. 6 from its first performance on 21st April 1948.

Extract from the Radio Times

Adrian Boult is conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra in a Royal Philharmonic Society Concert from the Albert Hall. The sound from the unique lacquer disc is low fidelity and the beginning is clipped, but the power and impact of the music of this arresting opening is undeniable. Apparently, this is all that has survived of that first performance.

Listen to British Library disc 1LL0009106

Boult made a commercial recording of the work for EMI with the London Symphony Orchestra on the 23rd and 24th February 1949 at Abbey Road Studios, but he was pipped to the post by Leopold Stokowski who recorded it with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra for Columbia on the 21st February 1949 making it the first studio recording of the work. All of these performances are of the work before it was revised by the composer in 1950.

17 October 2022

Recording of the week: Laughing hyaenas

This week’s post comes from Cheryl Tipp, Wildlife and Environmental Sounds Curator.

Photo of a Spotted Hyaena

Above: Photo of a Spotted Hyaena by DJM Photos. From Flickr.

Although it may sound like it, the Spotted Hyaenas in this recording are not suffering from a fit of the giggles. Their laughter-like calls actually express feelings of frustration, excitement or fear rather than amusement. These sounds are usually produced by individuals during encounters with dominant members of the clan, when facing a potential predator, or when they want something they can’t have, such as access to a recent kill. Despite the scientific explanation, it’s difficult not to imagine them sharing an inside joke though.

Listen to the Spotted Hyaenas

This recording was made by Nigel Tucker at Imire Safari Ranch, Zimbabwe in April 1999 (British Library ref W1CDR0001982 BD25). It forms part of a larger collection of recordings made in the area which includes the sounds of other well-known African mammals such as lions, elephants, rhinos, wildebeest and antelopes.  

10 October 2022

Recording of the week: Never you mind!

This week's selection comes from Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English.

Chatting today to our local fishmonger (Grimsby born and bred) I was reminded of a wonderful expression, back of Doig’s, submitted by a contributor from Grimsby (b.1939) to the Library’s Evolving English WordBank.

Listen to a contribution on Hawming about back of Doig's

Download 'Hawming about' transcript

The verb hawm has been recorded in this sense in several dialects, including in Lincolnshire, since the nineteenth century. It’s defined by the English Dialect Dictionary as ‘to waste time, to be idle, to move about aimlessly, to loiter, to stand gaping and staring’. The additional reference here to back of Doig’s is particularly intriguing as it’s also captured in a BBC Voices Recording in Osgodby, Lincolnshire in 2004.

Listen to a contribution on Egging back of Doig's

Download 'Egging back of Doig's' transcript

This more detailed description suggests that back of Doig’s is a playful expression, used especially by children to parents to deflect an unwanted enquiry as to what one has been doing or where one has been. This type of playful folk idiom is extremely difficult to observe as it typically occurs in private or domestic exchanges, often in the form of stock phrases or habitual responses to everyday situations. It is therefore rarely documented in linguistic surveys or conventional dictionaries.

Front cover of Egging Back O' Doig's

Egging Back O’ Doig’s, a 1995 glossary of words and phrases from Grimsby and Cleethorpes compiled by Alan Dowling, lists several such elusive local expressions. It has entries for both egging in the sense of ‘being on an errand’ and orming (a re-spelling of hawming to reflect the local tendency to delete an initial <h> sound) in the sense of ‘lounging about in a sloppy way, messing about’. This applies especially to ‘groups of youths gathered together without purpose’. It also confirms that ‘back o’ Doig’s’ is used in response to a nosy question or as a diversionary tactic to avoid an honest answer, expressing something along the lines of ‘mind your own business’. Lastly, it also confirms that local shipbuilder, J.S. Doig, had a shipyard in Grimsby docks in the middle of the twentieth century.

References:

Wright, J. 1898-1905. English Dialect Dictionary. London: Henry Frowde.
Dowling, A. (ed.). 1995. Egging Back o' Doig's. A Glossary of Words and Expressions used in Grimsby, Cleethorpes and District. Hull: University of Hull.

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

03 October 2022

Recording of the week: have you ever heard a Billy Hooter?

This week’s post comes from Cheryl Tipp, Wildlife and Environmental Sounds Curator.

Photo of a Tawny Owl

Above: Photo of a Tawny Owl by Jon Pauling. From Pixabay.

As autumn gets underway, the characteristic hoot of the Tawny Owl (Strix aluco) will soon be heard in woodlands across Britain. It is at this time that males use their voice to establish territories in readiness for the breeding season that begins in late winter. This instantly recognisable sound has sometimes been reflected in traditional folk names. In Shropshire the Tawny Owl was commonly known as a Billy Hooter while in Cheshire the species was referred to locally as a Hill Hooter. In the north of England, the name changed again to a Jenny Howlet.

Listen to the Tawny Owl

This recording of a Tawny Owl was made by Richard Margoschis in the grounds of Woodchester Mansion in Gloucestershire, a few hours before dawn on 16 October 1979. The strident hoots of our male are set against a drizzly woodland scene. A second male can be heard responding in the background.

The British Library ref. is WS5492 C8.

If you’d like to listen to more wildlife and environmental sounds recorded after dark, check out this 60-minute mix of recordings from the collection which can be found in the NTS Radio archive.

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