THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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130 posts categorized "Save our Sounds"

18 January 2021

Recording of the week: Dawn in a Gondwana Rainforest

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

The Gondwana Rainforests of Australia are renowned for their lush landscapes and rich biodiversity. Stretching from Queensland to New South Wales, this collection of rainforests represents 180 million years of our planet’s natural history. It’s here that both ancient and more recently evolved species coexist, each having carved out their own special niche in this World Heritage Area.

Lamington National Park is just one of the Gondwana Rainforests. Running along the Lamington Plateau, an elevated range of valleys and uplands with volcanic origins, this natural wonder is known for its stunning waterfalls, prehistoric terrain and high proportion of rare species.

Dawn in Lamington National Park  Queensland
Dawn in Lamington National Park, Queensland (Photo credit: JohnGGM, CC BY-SA)

Lamington is not just a feast for the eyes however; its soundscape is just as lush as its landscape. In September 1986, wildlife sound recordist David Lumsdaine visited the park and recorded what many consider to be the sonic highlight of the day – the dawn chorus.

Lamington Plateau dawn atmosphere

Recorded in Queensland, Australia on 11 September 1986 by David Lumsdaine (BL ref 151390)

This 4 minute excerpt is a vibrant mix of songs and calls from a wide variety of early morning songsters. From the whip-crack song of Eastern Whipbirds and the yodelling of Pied Currawongs to the hurried rhythms of White-browed Scrubwrens, this recording is just bursting with life.

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

11 January 2021

Recording of the week: The voice of Robert Browning (1812-1889)

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

Portrait of Robert Browning
Above: British Library digitised image from The Poetical Works of Robert Browning (1888).

Robert Browning was an English poet and playwright born in Camberwell, London.

Like his wife Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861), whose great success as a poet exceeded his, at least in her lifetime, he was one of the most popular poets of the Victorian era.

This cylinder recording of Robert Browning is the earliest recording of a major British literary figure that we know of.

It was made at a dinner party given by Browning's friend, the artist Rudolf Lehmann on 7 April 1889, on a phonograph brought to the party by Thomas Edison’s representative in Europe, Colonel Gouraud.

Here is Browning attempting to read his poem ‘How they Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix’.

Unfortunately, he runs into a bit of trouble trying to remember how it goes, but all is resolved in good-humoured fashion.

Listen to the voice of Robert Browning

Download Robert Browning transcript

Browning was then in the last year of his life. He was to die that December.

It is not unusual nowadays for a recording of the deceased to be played at a memorial event honouring a poet or a writer. Recording technology is now more than 140 years old. It no longer brings with it the shock of the new.

In 1890, however, when this recording was replayed at an event held on the first anniversary of Browning’s funeral, it was by no means common to hear a voice from ‘beyond the grave’.

It was all too much for Browning's sister Sarianna, who called it 'an indecent séance', and wrote to a friend:

Poor Robert's dead voice to be made interesting amusement! God
forgive them all. I find it difficult.

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

04 January 2021

Recording of the week: Happy New Year!

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This week's selection comes from Andrea Zarza Canova, Curator of World and Traditional Music.

Centre label of African Acoustic Vol.1 - Guitar Songs From Tanzania  Zambia & Zaire
'Bonne Année' was released on the album African Acoustic Vol.1 - Guitar Songs From Tanzania, Zambia & Zaire by record label Original Music

In this recording made by John Low, three boys in their late teens perform a song called 'Bonne Année', which means Happy New Year in French, that they composed for the New Year celebrations of 1979.

Bonne Année recorded by John Low (BL C27/5 S1 C9)

Singing are Mukuna, Chola Piana and Soki Nambi, who also plays the guitar. Normally they would have played together in their electric guitar band, Orchestre Makosso (possibly named after another band that was famous in the 1970s) but on the night of the recording, they borrowed the recordist’s guitar.

John Low had been staying in Lubumbashi, the capital of Katanga, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to study the guitar music of Jean-Bosco Mwenda. While he was there, Bosco arranged for Low to go to Likasi, where Bosco was brought up, with a Cultural Officer called Tshibuyi Katina. This was to see more of the region, and record there if possible. Likasi is in the Katanga copper belt, and it was in a neighbourhood called Zone Mpanda that Low and Katina unexpectedly met the three boys.

In John Low's forthcoming book ‘Two Guitars to Katanga’, he describes this moment with beautiful clarity –

Perhaps the best things in life are always unexpected. What followed was a performance of rare beauty. Soki picked intricate and varying patterns on the guitar, full of melodic interest. The boys sang in three parts: low tenor, high tenor and falsetto. Their young voices blended perfectly and the vocal lines soared and floated unhurriedly above the more urgent, choppy rhythms of Soki’s guitar work. The relationship of the vocal parts to the guitar patterns was very complex, yet Soki played and sang effortlessly. He was supremely talented.

These teenagers would have honed their musical skills already as young boys, almost certainly by playing in banjo groups like Yumba and his friends who we’d recorded earlier on. But now they’d moved up into a different league, and were avidly absorbing the idioms of modern Congolese dance music. Their first song, the more beautiful of the two I recorded, was called Bonne Année, and had been composed for the New Year celebrations that year.

The song, in Kikongo language, was published  on the album 'African Acoustic Vol. 1 - Guitar Songs from Tanzania, Zambia and Zaire' on John Storm Roberts' record label Original Music. In fact, all the tracks on that album are field recordings made by John Low and these, and many more, are available to listen to at the British Library as part of the John Low Collection (C27).

Thanks to John Low for allowing me to feature his recording and for his generous correspondence over email, which I've paraphrased in this post.

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

17 December 2020

Oral History of Jazz in Britain: Max Jones interviews Adelaide Hall

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

In 1988, jazz author, radio host and journalist Max Jones (1917–1993) interviewed jazz singer Adelaide Hall (1901–1993) for the British Library project Oral History of Jazz in Britain (British Library ref. C122). The audio recording of this interview has recently been cleared for online release as part of our National Lottery Heritage Fund-supported Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH) project. Previous blogs about this collection focused on Kathy Stobart, Major James Howe and Champion Jack Dupree.

Adelaide Hall was born in 1901, in Brooklyn, New York, where her father, a piano teacher, introduced her to music from an early age. Hall describes an upbringing filled with musicians, instruments and music. Sadly she lost both her father and sister at a young age, and sought out work to support her mother. Her early successes in theatre enabled her to do this, and more.

In her interview with Max Jones, Hall describes three of the professional jobs that kick-started her career. The first, Shuffle Along, was a hit Broadway musical by Noble Sissie and Eubie Blake, which according to Hall, involved some dancing and a few leading parts. This was performed in New York in 1921. She later became part of an all-black revue called Chocolate Kiddies, and the group toured Europe in 1925. Some of the songs were written by Duke Ellington, with whom she would later collaborate on a career-defining recording of the song Creole Love Call in 1927. In this excerpt from the interview, she describes how this came about.

Adelaide Hall - excerpt 1

Download Adelaide Hall and Max Jones transcript - excerpt 1

The third show that helped to cement Hall’s reputation as a performer was the Blackbirds production of 1928. Based on a production staged in London in 1926, starring Florence Mills, Blackbirds was created by Lew Leslie, who planned to develop the show on Broadway. However, his main star, Mills, died in 1927, aged just 31. Adelaide Hall took her place and became one of the show’s biggest stars in 1928, along with Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson, who she is pictured with below.

Adelaide Hall and Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson

Adelaide Hall with Bill Robinson. Image from the Richmond Planet, 15 November 1930, sourced via Wikimedia Commons and licensed by CC-SA 4.0.

Blackbirds, like Chocolate Kiddies, took Hall back to Europe. This time her destination was the famous Moulin Rouge in Paris, France, where the show was a great success. She then spent much of the early 1930s on tour, both in Europe and in the U.S.A. on the RKO circuit. During this period Hall performed at the renowned Cotton Club, as well as being accompanied by a young Art Tatum on the piano, before he found fame. She recalls encouraging Tatum to accept his first big offer, in spite of knowing that she would lose a fine accompanist in the process.

Hall's accompanists also included Francis Carter and Bernard Edison, and the piano, as an object, became an important stage prop, when Hall began to request not one, but two pianos on stage when she performed.

Adelaide Hall - excerpt 2

Download Adelaide Hall and Max Jones transcript - excerpt 2

Adelaide Hall cites her husband Bert Hicks (1924-1963), a British sailor born in Trinidad and Tobago, as a major support and collaborator in her career. Together they devised clever, creative ways to present her performances, and thanks to his language skills (which included French), they were able to buy and run a club called the Big Apple (La Grosse Pomme) in France. Between 1935 and 1938 the couple made this venue into a success with visitors and locals alike. Hall was the resident star, performing a cabaret show nightly. Here she describes making a dramatic entrance, from a spiral staircase repurposed by her husband:

Adelaide Hall - excerpt 3

Download Adelaide Hall and Max Jones transcript - excerpt 3

Such was Hall's popularity, it would not have been practical to keep the club open without her, so when she decided to take up performance opportunities in the U.K., her husband came with her and they closed the club in 1938. They soon found a new home in the Old Havana Club in London, which they took over and renamed the Florida Club.

However, this new life in the UK had a turbulent start, and coincided with the start of the Second World War. The couple’s club was destroyed by a landmine in 1939, and Hall remembers an eerie premonition before the event, which earned her the nickname 'Miss Ouija Board'. Feeling somehow that something bad was about to happen, she told everyone to leave the club. Her husband Bert was in the cellar when the explosion occurred, although miraculously survived.

In spite of the war, Hall’s career continued to go from strength to strength, with recordings, performances, broadcasts and even her own radio show with the BBC. She appeared in an Oscar-winning film (The Thief of Baghdad), and later added television appearances to her credits. The interview also covers her stage performances in the 1950s, including Kiss Me Kate and Love From Judy, as well as the Duke Ellington Memorial and Eubie Blake's 99th birthday. She describes visiting Billie Holiday shortly before the talented singer’s premature death, as well as her friendship with Louis Armstrong and his then wife Lil.

At the time of the interview, conducted in 1988, Hall would have been in her eighties, and was still actively performing, with plans to record an album the following year. She describes having to take more care with health and sleep, but otherwise feeling as fit as a woman in her fifties!

The interview reveals a warm, funny and talented artist, with a great zest for life. In one of many touching moments she sings a song with friend and interviewer Max Jones and suggests they have a drink together.

I would like to thank Nick Jones for help with the rights to this collection (you can read more about Max Jones’s work on the Max Jones Archive web site), and would encourage everyone to check out Adelaide Hall's remarkable career. The British Library’s collections include other interviews, copies of Hall’s many recordings and even some recordings of live performances, as well as Iain Cameron Williams’s book Underneath a Harlem Moon: The Harlem to Paris Years of Adelaide Hall (2002). Materials about her life and work can be found in various archives, including Indiana University (U.S.), Yale University Library and Archives (U.S.) and the National Jazz Archives in the U.K.

14 December 2020

Recording of the week: Gut feelings in weather forecasting

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This week's selection comes from Camille Johnston, Oral History Assistant Archivist.

Portrait photograph of Julia Slingo
Julia Slingo at the Meteorological Office in Exeter as its Chief Scientist, 2013

In her oral history interview Professor Dame Julia Slingo describes many aspects of her life and work as a climate modeller. Her research has focused on tropical climate variability and its impact on the global climate. She started her career at the Meteorological Office, where she received training in weather forecasting – developing a ‘gut feeling’ for the weather:

Julia Slingo speaking about 'gut feelings' in weather forecasting [C1379/61] 

Could you now then describe the practical training on this Met Office course at Shinfield Park?

Yes, so every afternoon we would take the current weather patterns and what we’d learn to do was to actually plot the charts, so in those days you learnt how to plot all the symbols that describe the weather at a particular location and then you’d draw up the chart with the pressure pat – the isobars and you’d use the observations to decide where the weather fronts must be from things about what the observations were telling you. And we learnt to work out things like … the difference between what the weather’s doing at the surface and what the weather’s doing in the middle of the troposphere, it would also tell you about how weather patterns would change with time. But we – it was all very practical because at that stage none of this was computerised; there was a lot of hand drawing and – and plotting observations and thinking about – and interpreting what they mean and so we would – that was – that was what we spent the afternoons doing and then we would make our own forecasts: what we thought was going to happen to the weather patterns over the UK the following day. And it was fascinating, because what you also learn is that – is that expert judgement comes into this as well, that it’s not just purely theory, there’s actually all sorts of local knowledge comes in. And I can still remember having drawn up this beautiful chart and put a cold front in where I thought it ought to be ‘cause of what the winds were doing and all of that and I remember the tutor, the guy who was taking the class coming round and he’d say – he’d say, ‘Well Julia, why do you think the cold front’s there?’ and I’d say, ‘Oh well that’s because, you know, the winds are doing this and the pressure’s doing that,’ and blah-de-blah-de-blah. And he’d say, ‘Well I think it’s probably going to be more over here,’ and I’d say, ‘But why?’ he said, ‘Well just because I just know.’ And there was all that – there was also that – all that element of experience that comes in so this idea that, you know, when you watch the weather day after day after day you learn about … you get a gut feeling for it, which has never left me actually. So it’s – it’s not only having the theoretical base but it’s also that sort of experience and the fact that we do experience the weather from day to day which so much of physics you can’t get that sort of feeling. And, you know, now I can sort of look at a weather map or I can look at a satellite picture and I just say, I've got that feeling that it’s going to do this.

This clip features on the website Voices of Science. Further extracts from Julia Slingo’s interview are available on her interviewee page. Voices of Science tells the stories of some of the most remarkable scientific and engineering discoveries of the past century, featuring extracts from over 100 oral history interviews.

Julia Slingo was recorded by interviewer Paul Merchant in 2011 for the National Life Stories project An Oral History of British Science. Listen to the recording in full on BL Sounds.

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

07 December 2020

Recording of the week: Screaming Lord Sutch talks Cyprus, Tony Blair and an open top dome

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

If current world politics are getting you down, this recording provides a fun and fascinating glimpse into the quirky world of UK politics and pop culture. David Edward Sutch (1940-1999), better known as Screaming Lord Sutch, was an English rock musician and politician. His macabre but tongue-in-cheek rock act involved dressing up as Jack the Ripper and emerging from a coffin on stage (he didn’t always emerge – he once got trapped inside it!). His political career began when he stood against Harold Wilson in 1963, but it wasn’t until he founded the Official Monster Raving Loony Party in 1983 that he rose to widespread political fame.

Black and white photograph of Screaming Lord Sutch
Above: A young Sutch in his famous leopard-print suit and top hat

C955: Radio Napa is a British Library Pop Music collection consisting of one item: a seven minute telephone interview with Sutch recorded onto minidisc by Radio Napa, an English language radio station based in Ayia Napa, Cyprus. In the interview, Sutch talks to presenter Nathan Morley about his relationships with several prime ministers, including Harold Wilson, Ted Heath, Margaret Thatcher, and John Major (he is especially complimentary about Wilson and Major). He also explains the current agenda of the Loony Party: replacing the pound with the Loony pound and Loony million pound note, and moving the Millennium Dome to Cyprus – open top, of course!

In the short but funny excerpt below, Sutch refers to Tony Blair’s 1997 landslide election victory:

BL C955 excerpt

The interview was recorded on 9 June 1999, and is the last known interview with Sutch before his death. He committed suicide on 16 June 1999, exactly one week after this was recorded. He sounds remarkably upbeat in the recording as he reminisces about the past and discusses his future plans. He seems to have a genuine fondness for the country and people of Cyprus, and speaks with enthusiasm about his desire to perform a live gig on the island in the not too distant future. This interview provides a brief but important insight into Sutch’s personality. He comes across as passionate, kind-hearted and quick-witted. This is how he should be remembered.

The full recording has been digitised as part of the British Library’s Unlocking our Sound Heritage project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

UOSH_Footer_2019_Magenta (004)

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

23 November 2020

Recording of the Week: A chance encounter

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This week's selection comes from Sarah Coggrave, Rights Clearance Officer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

In 1978, Roger Waldron was staying at an elephant camp in Chitwan, Nepal. One night, two musicians emerged from the darkness and began to play.

Two musicians
The two unnamed musicians, photographed by Roger Waldron on 23 November 1978

Without a translator Mr. Waldron was unable to understand the meaning of the words the musicians sang. However, he was able to record three of the Nepali folk songs they performed, and later donated the resulting collection to the British Library. The recordings have recently been cleared for online access as part of Unlocking Our Sound Heritage, and in this blog, you can listen to a few highlights.

C30/1 excerpt 1

The first excerpt features a folk song in the Nepali language, performed by the two Gaine musicians singing in octaves, accompanied by the Nepali sarangi, and a rattle with metal bells. The sarangi is a stringed instrument used throughout South Asia, including by the Gaine (or Gandarbha) of central Nepal who are known for their music making and distinctive folk songs.

C30/1 excerpt 2

In this second excerpt, a different song can be heard, accompanied once again on the sarangi.

C30/1 excerpt 3

Although the sarangi is typically made of wood, with strings played using a bow, the musicians in these recordings create a range of sounds and effects to accompany their songs, including using metal bells, which in the third excerpt (above) are attached to the bow to mark the rhythm of the melody.

Most of the recordings I work with don’t come with photographs taken in situ, so it is a rare privilege to be able to see and appreciate the musicians and their work in this way. I would love to know what the songs are about, and whether they are still performed today.

I am incredibly grateful both to the musicians and to Roger Waldron for making this post possible, and for enabling us to share the performances with new audiences. You can learn more about these three recordings by reading their corresponding catalogue entries on the Sound and Moving Image catalogue.

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

20 November 2020

Nazis on trial: Nuremberg 75 years ago

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Seventy-five years ago today, on 20 November 1945, the first of the Nuremberg trials began in the German city that had been the setting for the huge Nazi rallies addressed by Adolf Hitler in the 1930s. The military tribunals, presided over by judges from Britain, the US, France and the Soviet Union, aimed to prosecute prominent members of the political, military, judicial, and economic leadership of Nazi Germany who had carried out the Holocaust and other war crimes during the Second World War.

Amongst the twenty-four defendants were Hermann Goering, Hitler’s chosen successor, Rudolf Hess, Joachim von Ribbentrop and Albert Speer. Twelve were eventually sentenced to death, seven received prison sentences, three were acquitted, and in two cases there was no decision.

Hartley Shawcross (1902-2003) was the lead British prosecutor at Nuremberg and was interviewed by Kathy Burk for National Life Stories in 1991. His opening speech in July 1946 lasted two days and in this clip he particularly remembers Hermann Goering, and offers some tips on the art of effective courtroom cross-examination.

Hartley Shawcross describes Hermann Goering (C465/05) 

Download Transcript – Hartley Shawcross describes Hermann Goering

Goering was found guilty but committed suicide the night before his scheduled execution, begging the question whether he had escaped justice.

Image of Nuremberg Trials defendants in the dock 1945Nuremberg defendants in the dock on 22 November 1945. Centre row, left to right: Hermann Goering, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Wilhelm Keitel, and Alfred Rosenberg. Back row, left to right: Karl Doenitz, Erich Raeder, Baldur von Schirach, Fritz Sauckel, and Alfred Jodl. Image courtesy of the Harvard Law School Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. United States Army Signal Corps photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Nuremberg trials were a milestone in international criminal law, whereby individuals and organisations were held accountable for terrible crimes against humanity. They paved the way to the establishment of a permanent international court, which has dealt with later instances of genocide and war crimes.

Shawcross was later Attorney General in the 1945 Attlee's Labour government and successfully prosecuted British fascist and Nazi propagandist William Joyce ('Lord Haw-Haw'), the last person to be hanged for treason in the UK.

Hartley Shawcross's oral history recording was digitised from cassette as part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project.

Blogpost by Dr Rob Perks, Lead Curator of Oral History @BL_OralHistory