Sound and vision blog

358 posts categorized "Recording of the week"

21 March 2022

Recording of the week: George V in 1933

This week’s selection comes from Steve Cleary, Lead Curator, Literary and Creative Recordings.

A close up photograph of disc containing the recording of George V

As a curator in the British Library’s sound archive, members of the public often contact me about records or tapes that they might want to donate to the national collection.

Often, we will already have a copy of the item in question, and have to politely decline. Other times, we are happy to say thank you very much.

The record I am highlighting today came to us via the British Library’s Donations department, around this time last year.

In this case, it is not so much the attributes of the disc itself that made it attractive. As it happens, we already held several copies of the record. Rather, it was the unique packaging and presentation, and the very special provenance of the item, which made it an exciting acquisition.

Photograph of the George V disc presentation album

The donor, Ishbel Lochhead, is a granddaughter of Ramsay MacDonald, who was Prime Minister at the time the record was issued.

This copy of the disc was given to Ramsay MacDonald in a special personalised album, which includes, inlaid, the signature of the King.

The signature of George V

Listen to the voice of George V [BL REF 1CS0053198]

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This is just a short excerpt. Please go to our Sounds site for the full recording.

With grateful thanks to Ishbel Lochhead for this kind donation.

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14 March 2022

Recording of the week: A time for nursery rhymes

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

If you could choose to go back in time, where would you go?

A black and white photo of children looking at a fantasy illustration in a bookPhoto by Adam Winger on Unsplash.

Nursery rhymes are something we never forget over the years. They hold memories of our school games and playful times with friends. They sound familiar to us even after a long time. 

In this collection of oral history recordings, Iona Opie interviews a group of children from Capri. Being Italian, I’ve chosen an excerpt that sounds familiar, in which I recognise the words and rhymes.

Children singing recorded in Capri, Italy [BL REF C898/44]

The centrality given to children, to their voices, is the particularity of this collection: the subjects are the children themselves. Hence these recordings assume a different perspective for an oral history of nursery songs and games: the story is one told by the very protagonists. Ultimately, this creates an altogether more diverse kind of storytelling.

Simple and evocative: these compositions are designed to be easy to remember, thus they have an educational value.

Nursery rhymes are language acquisition opportunities, we master them with our peers throughout childhood, and we can recall them years later.

More information about the Iona and Peter Opie works can be found on the Playtimes website. Playtimes is part of a wider Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded project entitled Children’s Games and Songs in the New Media Age.

Follow @soundarchive for all the latest news.

08 March 2022

Recording of the Week: Filling in the gaps of the feminist movement in the 1980s – Southall Black Sisters

This week’s selection comes from Amal Malik, Community Research Intern for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

Content warning: this blog contains references to domestic violence.

This Recording of the Week for International Women’s Day looks at the work of Southall Black Sisters activist and case worker Pragna Patel.

A pink, purple and orange banner featuring outlines of five women and the words 'Hate is your weapon, courage is ours - Southall Black Sisters fighting inequality and injustice since 1979'‘Let’s put race back into equality’, designed by Shakila Taranum Maan, 2008. Banner © Southall Black Sisters.

Southall Black Sisters (SBS) formed in 1979 and is a campaigning group that was established by women from African, Caribbean, South Asian and other minority backgrounds in West London. Faced with the onslaught of violence and marches by members of The National Front in Southall, the organisation formed as an anti-racist campaign group, influenced by the Black Power groups in the US and UK. As a result, they used ‘Black’ as an umbrella political term for all minorities, ‘born out of common experiences of colonialism and imperialism’.1 SBS addressed both the gap within the wider feminist movement concerning race and the neglect of gender in anti-racist movements. A Black feminist space gave women an environment to articulate their concerns with gender-based violence in the context of their racial identities. It emerged at a pivotal moment, with the important rise of feminist consciousness from 1979. Through active organisation, including conferences and the establishment of activist groups, British society was made to hear women’s demands.

Pragna Patel was interviewed by Rachel Cohen for Sisterhood and After: the Women's Liberation Oral History Project. The interview Patel gave encouraged internal discussions about the place of SBS within the wider feminist and anti-racist movements. Patel raised important questions of how the SBS dealt with the difficulties of confronting issues of domestic violence within minority communities, whilst avoiding wider racial stereotyping. Women of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds are, statistically, disproportionately affected by domestic abuse, and Patel’s work sought to address why there was a gap in support for Black and Asian women in cases of gender-based violence.

Patel joined SBS in 1982, at a point where the group had lost steam, but also at a time when concerns of addressing domestic violence had increased due to cuts in support and welfare services.2 In an interview with Granada TV in January 1978, soon after she became Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher asserted that the population were fearful of being ‘swamped by people of a different culture’.3 Thatcher presented foreign cultures as an ‘alien’ threat to the British way of life, in rhetoric that one can argue further fuelled racial stereotyping of minority communities.4

In this clip, Patel explains how SBS emerged at a time when Black feminists were seeking to assert their identity in the activist space by discussing issues such as Black female sexuality and domestic violence. At the time, despite a growing anti-racist movement and the rise of feminist consciousness, few organisations focused on the specific challenges faced by Black and Minority Ethnic women at the intersection of those two identities.

Pragna Patel on Black feminism [BL REF C1420/18] 

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Patel discusses the first meetings of the Organisation for Women of Asian and African Descent (OWAAD) and the Brixton Black Women’s Group. Most of the literature focusing on South Asian feminist activism has looked at 'two streams of South Asian political organising in Britain'. One, class solidarities in trade union mobilisation in the face of increasing privatisation; and the other, the anti-racist mobilisation of the Asian Youth Movements (AYM). These relationships have been mainly focused on male-dominated organisations, where the cultures were 'distinctly patriarchal'.5 SBS created a safe space for women to address the issues within their community and criticised the wider state’s handling of gender-based violence. In Britain in this period ‘it was the black women that helped keep the names’ of women suffering deportation threats within the public consciousness. Patel’s interview brings in the legacy and continuing ‘living history’ of British imperialism, cemented further by hostile anti-immigration policies. SBS and OWAAD looked to battle hostile immigration policies, challenged the targeted use of the dangerous contraceptive Depo-Provera for minority communities and established trade union solidarity in a period of rising women’s employment. SBS, alongside the organisation AWAZ (‘Voice’ in Urdu), also played a major role in protesting against the virginity testing at Heathrow airport and the ‘X-raying of immigrants’.6 SBS enacted effective campaigns to challenge government policies; in 1992 they gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee’s inquiry into the one-year rule in immigration, showing how it could trap newly married women in violent relationships.7

Confronting the visceral effects of racist polices on Black and Asian women immigrants, these organisations implemented important grassroots campaigns to support their communities. In breaking the silence on domestic violence in Asian Communities, the public campaigns of SBS showed the faults in the systems that let vulnerable women slip through the cracks.

References

  1. https://www.ucl.ac.uk/racism-racialisation/transcript-conversation-pragna-patel
  2. https://www.ucl.ac.uk/racism-racialisation/transcript-conversation-pragna-patel 
  3. Sivanandan, A., and Jenny Bourne, ‘The Case for Self-Defence,’ Race & Class 58, no. 1 (2016): p. 65.
  4. Avtah Brah, ‘Women of South Asian origin in Britain: issues and concerns,’ South Asia Research 7, no.1 (1987), p. 45.
  5. Anitha Sundari, and Sukhwant Dhaliwal, ‘South Asian feminisms in Britain: Traversing gender, race, class and religion,’ Economic and Political Weekly 54, no. 17 (2019), p. 2-4.
  6. Ambalavaner Sivanandan, ‘From resistance to rebellion: Asian and Afro-Caribbean struggles in Britain,’ Race & Class 23, no. 2 (1981), p.147-8.
  7. https://southallblacksisters.org.uk/about/southall-black-sisters-timeline/

You can listen to more clips from Pragna Patel's interview and oral history interviews with other feminist activists in our two digital resources, Sisterhood and After and Women's Rights.

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

28 February 2022

Recording of the week: A personal jazz mystery solved

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

The album cover for High Flying by Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. The cover is red, featuring the text of the album name and artists at the top and an image of the three arists: two men wearing shirts and a woman wearing a coat and a green floral hat

I’m a jazz nut. My mental soundtrack is often filled with anonymous changes and walking bass solos. But there is one particular song that has been buzzing around my head for years and years – about a decade, in fact. That song is the version of ‘Popity Pop’, recorded by vocalese trio Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, on their album High Flying from 1961. Specifically, Jon Hendricks’ break-down at about 2 min. 16 sec.:

That break-down is so unexpected, so sweet and so touching; it’s an inspired moment and a great contrast to the frenetic energy of the rest of the song. I couldn’t help but become intrigued by it. It was obviously a quotation from another piece of music… but which one? I had no idea. I asked around, and no-one else seemed to have an idea either. Google was no help. I was certain that the answer must be out there. Where was it?

I searched on-and-off for years trying to find the source of that short snippet of tune, but to no avail. That was a long time ago, now, and I eventually gave up the chase and assumed that this would stay just out of my reach forever. Not that that stopped the tune from being permanently wedged in my head, floating into my mind’s ear every couple of weeks. I couldn’t let it go that much.

About my day job: I’m a World and Traditional Music cataloguer at the British Library, and as such, I get to listen to all sorts of wonderful recordings from all over the world, near and far. In December, I was cataloguing the Vic Ellis Collection of English accordion music, and I came across a tape of Tommy Beadle, a concertina player from Middleton-in-Teesdale, County Durham. I made my way through the 1977 recordings of English and Scottish dance tunes, and about half-way through the tape, I heard this:

Fairy Dell [BL REF C1128/1 C11]

Those first notes! Unmistakable, even after one or two seconds: I’d found it! I found the tune! I literally stood up from my desk and cheered in excitement and a decade’s worth of relief. On C1128/1 C11 was a recording of the tune that Beadle called ‘Fairy Dell’ and played with all the charm of those English village dance tunes. But (as the recordist was helpful enough to note in his documentation), it’s better known as ‘When You and I Were Young, Maggie’, an American song written by George W. Johnson and James Austin Butterfield in 1864. It turns out that the song had a vogue on both sides of the Atlantic, and even made its way into some jazz repertoires (including those of Sidney Bechet, Fats Waller and Benny Goodman) before trickling down into the consciousness of Jon Hendricks and making its way into that beautiful cameo role in Lambert, Hendricks and Ross’s ‘Popity Pop’. 

How amazing to realise the line of tradition that connects renowned jazzman Hendricks and Durham County Council road worker Beadle – and what a thrill to find that the key to unlocking my decade-long jazz mystery was hiding in the bellows of an English folk concertina in Middleton-in-Teesdale.

A special thanks to Lesley Grey and family, Vic Ellis and Mark Davies for allowing me to use Tommy Beadle’s recording in this blog.

UOSH footer

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

21 February 2022

Recording of the week: Dialect in children's play

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

One of the fascinating aspects of children’s imaginative play, as celebrated on the Library’s Playtimes website, is how games and rhymes evolve and adapt to reflect time and place. Two British Library recordings of thumb war, for instance, demonstrate how dialect permeates children’s play. Folklorist Steve Roud (2010: 124) notes a reference to thumb wrestling in the USA in Time magazine in 1973 and has evidence that this duelling contest has been played by British children since the 1990s or earlier. Now sufficiently established to prompt annual men’s and women’s national and international championships, the impromptu children’s version invariably features a rhyme to accompany the duel.

Recording made at Christopher Hatton School in 2010 [BL REF C1614/136]

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It’s interesting that the researcher here (an American) initially struggles to understand the exact wording so asks the participants for clarification. Like many young Londoners, these children exhibit TH-fronting – the substitution of a <f> or <v> sound for <th> in words like thing (i.e. ‘fing’) and with (i.e. ‘wiv’) – and they use a distinctively London <u> vowel in the word thumb. Hence the researcher understandably, albeit mistakenly, interprets their pronunciation of thumb war ([fɐm wɔː] i.e. ‘fam war’) as farm war. She may even be influenced by subconscious associations with the social network role-playing game, FarmVille, which was extremely popular at the time.

By contrast, this sound recording of schoolchildren playing the same game in Sheffield shows a slightly different rhyme that’s equally revealing – again featuring a localised pronunciation:

Recording made at Monteney School in 2010 [BL REF C1614]

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The children here count from one to eight to initiate the duel and change the final declaration to prompt a thumb fight. Crucially, this only works as a rhyming couplet in the local dialect, as eight rhymes with fight [fɛɪʔ] only if both words have the vowel sound in ‘say’ rather than ‘sigh’.

Sadly I don’t know enough about the various national competitions for adults, but it would be interesting to know if a rhyme is used, and even more intriguing to discover if the rhyme varies according to where the contest is held.

Reference

Roud, S. 2010. The Lore of the Playground. London: Cornerstone Digital.

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

14 February 2022

Recording of the week: Neville Chamberlain and King George VI's broadcasts regarding Britain declaring war on Germany in 1939

This week's selection comes from Joseph McGeady, Learning Team Apprentice.

The British Library has recently launched its Speaking Out website, an online resource exploring the importance of public speaking and debating through a collection of sound recordings from the Library’s sound archive. 

Included in the Speaking Out collection are excerpts from two speeches made on the same day - 3rd September 1939. King George VI of Great Britain and his Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, made these speeches to announce the British government’s decision to declare war on Nazi Germany following the regime’s refusal to withdraw its troops from Poland by 11am on that day. Chamberlain’s announcement was broadcast at 11:15am; the King’s speech at 6pm. 

Black and white photo of King George VI addressing the nation via radioKing George VI addresses the nation. Image © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images.

King George VI speaking at the outbreak of war [BL REF C1398/0016]

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Black and white photo of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain speaking to the nation from a BBC broadcasting studioNeville Chamberlain announces the declaration of war. Image © Fox Photos / Getty Images.

Neville Chamberlain announces war with Germany, 1939 [BL REF 1CD0013823 D1 BD02]

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Radio and recording technology were clearly still nascent – there is a background of crackle throughout and none of the dynamic range and depth we take for granted in modern broadcasts and recordings. However, these limitations lend an authenticity to the sound excerpts - placing them in a distinct historical period; faithfully conveying the very formal style of British public speaking at the time; and emphasising the slow and sombre delivery tone of the speeches. The gravity of the situation and the uncertainty of the impending conflict are very apparent to the listener.

Many of us may find the prospect of public speaking quite daunting but we would not normally expect this of prominent public figures such as a King or Prime Minister. However, delivering these speeches proved difficult for both men for very different and personal reasons.

Neville Chamberlain had been a strong advocate of appeasement towards Adolf Hitler. Less than a year earlier, Chamberlain had proudly proclaimed “Peace for our time”, whilst displaying the agreement he had signed with Hitler in Munich concerning the German annexation of the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia. Hitler’s subsequent dismissal of the agreement, followed by the invasions of Czechoslovakia and Poland and the declaration of war on Germany proved to be a humiliating reversal in Chamberlain’s fortunes and would soon lead to his downfall.

For the King, announcing the declaration of war proved challenging in another way. George VI, or ‘Bertie’ to his friends and family, was born the second son of King George V and thus never expected to become King. He unwillingly ascended the throne after his brother King Edward VIII famously abdicated in December 1936 to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. The King had a bad stammer, which made public speaking very difficult for him. Having to deliver such an important national and international address would therefore have been exceptionally challenging for the reluctant monarch.

The profound air of pessimism in these broadcasts ultimately proved portentous for both figures. The Second World War would have a significant impact on the health of the Prime Minister and of the King. Neville Chamberlain would go on to resign his office in May 1940 and die from cancer before the end of the year. The stress of the war years took a heavy toll on the King and he would die in 1952, aged 56, having reigned for just under 16 years.

Speaking Out is generously supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund as part of Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.

Pink soundwave and the words 'Unlocking Our Sound Heritage', next to the National Lottery Heritage Fund logoFollow @BLSoundHeritage and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

06 February 2022

Recording of the week: When in the trees the rooks build high

This week’s selection comes from Cheryl Tipp, Wildlife & Environmental Sounds Curator.

Birds have long been viewed as predictors of weather. Their voices, flight patterns and nest building activities have been closely observed by countless generations, keen on knowing what conditions to expect for the coming year.

One such bird is the Rook (Corvus frugilegus). This member of the corvid family is mainly found in farmland and open woodland from north-western Europe to eastern Siberia. A highly social bird, rooks congregate in large, noisy groups called rookeries. They start building their nests ready for egg laying in February and it’s the position of these nests that is said to indicate what kind of summer can be expected.

The old saying goes like this:

'When in the trees the rooks build high, expect the summer to be warm and dry.'

In 2012 Alan Burbidge made the following recording of a treetop rookery on the Scottish island of Islay. The busy, noisy atmosphere was brilliantly captured by the two microphones laid out on grass near the edge of the rookery trees.

Rooks calling at a nest site. Recorded by Alan Burbidge on Islay, Scotland, 2012 (BL shelfmark WA 2012/016/004)

A photograph of a rookery high in some treesRookery (Photo by Debs-eye, CC-BY-NC-ND)

As pleasing as this little piece of folklore is, it doesn’t help very much as rooks generally like to build their nests up high anyway. If you’re able to get out walking this month, do listen out for rooks and pay attention to where they’re building their nests. But perhaps don’t start planning those summer barbeques just yet.

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

31 January 2022

Recording of the week: On the meditative practice of drawing

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

Having been to live drawing classes myself over the last few months, I started to appreciate and master this art I have for long time forgotten (perhaps, neglected).

In this compilation of short extracts from life story oral history interviews recorded by National Life Stories for the Artists' Lives project, various artists talk about different aspects of the art of drawing, from the very idea behind the process to the materials used in the creative process, to the basic question: what is drawing?

Drawing requires a structure, it is a conversational relationship with the paper; but drawing is also energy. Similar to sculpture, it is an intellectual as well as physical process: the whole of the body is involved in the making.

Black brush strokes on a white backgroundPhoto by Sheldon Liu on Unsplash

Among the compilation, the most fascinating part for me is the third excerpt where Deanna Petherbridge talks of drawing as ‘an artistic equivalent of this absolute economy of means’. She recalls her experience of drawing lemon trees on a Greek island, and the materials she used. In her words, pen and ink, black and white were used to make ‘thin and controlled lines’; ultimately, they served the purpose of economy, the ‘imaginative use of the minimal’.

Deanna Petherbridge describes her drawing style [BL REF C466/152]

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Thus the material is an integral part of the practice, it shapes and defines what we create; the meaning of the artistic work is also hidden in the tools we use. Also to me this is true: charcoal is for bold quick statements, pencil to polish and adorn smaller details.

In my experience, drawing is an art that doesn’t require much thinking: the pencil explores the paper, almost resembling a meditative practice where the eyes get better at seeing, not simply looking. The challenge for me comes when trying to draw human presence – not drawing the person, but a human body in its pure form.

I ask myself, what is the minimum (perhaps the kind of minimum that Deanna talks about?) required to give my drawings a meaning, a poetic side, a touch of reality? Drawing could be an idea we have in mind: in the process of learning, the most difficult thing is to slow down.

Deanna Petherbridge was interviewed by Linda Sandino in 2002 for Artists’ Lives, an ongoing National Life Stories project which has been interviewing British artists since 1990. A selection of full interviews from the collection is available to listen to on British Library Sounds, and audio extracts are presented alongside contextualising essays on the Voices of art website.

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

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