Sound and vision blog

165 posts categorized "Save our Sounds"

13 December 2021

Recording of the week: Recollections from a political activist

This week’s selection comes from Georgia Dack, Web Content Developer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

The British Library recently launched its new website Speaking Out, an online learning resource exploring the power of public speaking, protest and debate through its sound archive.

Featured in Speaking Out, is an interview with Lou Kenton (1908 – 2012), captured by Louise Brodie and Roy Gore as part of the Labour Oral History Project. Kenton was a big player in the campaign to suppress fascism and anti-Semitism in interwar Britain. As someone who knew little about the British anti-fascism movement in the 1930s, I found it fascinating to listen to Kenton’s recollection of events, and learn about his rich and intriguing life of political activism.

In the 1930s, British fascism had a short-lived rise that mirrored that of Nazi Germany, but lost momentum and died out at the beginning of the Second World War. The fascist movement was ushered in by Oswald Mosly, a Conservative-then-Labour MP who, taking inspiration from Hitler and Mussolini, formed the British Union of Fascists (BUF) in 1932. The party similarly adopted virulent anti-Semitism and exploited widespread unemployment and poverty to gain traction. Its uniformed paramilitary group, the Blackshirts, brought violence and intimidation to the BUF rallies often in held in London’s Jewish neighbourhoods.

Lou Kenton, born in Stepney to Ukrainian Jewish parents, left school at 14 to work in a paper factory, where he experienced such anti-Semitism first hand. This led him to join the Communist Party in 1929. As a printer, he also galvanised his trade union in anti-fascist work. As far-right sentiment grew, Kenton participated in two major events that helped to stifle the rise of the BUF. In the clip below Kenton talks about an attempt to disrupt a rally at the Kensington Olympia in June 1934. The Blackshirts responded to hecklers brutally, but they received a torrent of negative press as a result.

Lou Kenton on the BUF rally at Kensington Olympia

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Woman being violently arrested by police in political protestImage © Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

On 4 October 1936, Mosly had planned a march in the East End of London, an area with a distinct Jewish community. This led to the Battle of Cable Street, in which 6000 Metropolitan Police officers worked to clear a path for the BUF’s march of some 3000 people – but thousands of anti-fascists and local people outnumbered them and successfully blocked their route. Kenton was one of the people behind organising this, and during the event, he sped on his motorcycle to relay police movements to the crowds.

Lou Kenton describes the Battle of Cable Street

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Mosley called the march off, and the Public Order Act of 1937 was passed, which banned the wearing of political uniforms in public. The British Government finally banned the BUF in 1940.

Kenton continued to be a remarkably dedicated campaigner and activist for the rest of his life. In 1937, he rode his motorcycle to Spain during the civil war and joined the International Brigades (IB) as an ambulance driver on the front lines; in 2009, he was awarded Spanish citizenship for his contribution. Following the brutal Nazi massacre of the village of Lidice, Kenton joined the ‘Lidice Shall Live’ campaign and served as its chairman.

After the Second World War, he helped organise the Homes for Heroes campaign, which helped homeless veterans and their families take residence in unoccupied properties. He worked for the communist party until the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, after which he was a member of the Labour party for the rest of his life. He worked for the Financial Times as a proofreader into his 70s, but even well into retirement, Kenton supported his causes, creating commemorative pottery for trade unions.

Speaking Out has been delivered as part of Unlocking Our Sound Heritage, a UK-wide project supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, that will help save the nation’s sounds and open them up to everyone.

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29 November 2021

Recording of the Week: The musical pillars of a medieval Indian temple

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

In the British Library's sound archive collections, we have a lot of recordings of temple music – various types of song and music in dedication to any number of religions across the world, performed in a holy space.

Today’s Recording of the Week is temple music with a slight difference –music performed not only in a temple, but also on a temple.

Hampi030Some of the musical pillars of the Vittala Temple. Photo by Tom Vater’s travel companion Aroon Thaewchatturat.

The Shri Vijaya Vittala Temple sits among the breath-taking and sprawling ruins of the ancient city of Hampi, in Karnataka, India. Dedicated to Vittala, a manifestation of the god Vishnu and his avatar Krishna, the temple began construction sometime in the 15th or 16th centuries but was never finished – the city was destroyed in 1565.

The impressive temple is famous for many reasons, including a giant stone shrine in the shape of a chariot, which is pictured on the ₹50 note. It is also known for its 56 musical pillars.

Each of the temple’s eight main pillars are surrounded by seven smaller pillars. When these small pillars are struck with the hand or a wooden beater, they ring in a clear, bell-like tone. Not only that, but each pillar in a set is tuned to a different note, meaning that together they sound a scale on which music can be performed.

Vittala Temple C799/6 S1 C2 [BL REF]

The pillars are made from solid granite, with minute differences in size and shape to give them their clear and perfectly-tuned tones. Different pillars are also said to represent different instruments, some representing melody instruments such as the veena and some representing percussion such as the mridangam.

This recording – which can be found in the sound archive's catalogue, was made by Tom Vater in 1995, and it’s one of the clearest and most detailed recording of a ‘performance’ of the Vittala Temple pillars. While most other recordings demonstrate the sound of just one or two pillars, Vater’s captures the sound of several sets of notes, while insects and birds fill the soundscape behind.

The entirety of the ruined city of Hampi is a UNESCO Heritage Site, and in order to protect the temple and its pillars, it is no longer permitted to play the musical pillars. Vater’s recording gives a valuable insight into this fascinating monument of the medieval world as well as being an outstanding and intriguing document in its own right: where temple music meets 'architecturomusicology'!

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18 November 2021

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

Written by Jill McKnight, Artist-in-Residence. Jill McKnight’s commissioned work is on display at Leeds Art Gallery until 16 October 2022. Plan your visit on the Gallery’s website.

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.

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.

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.

18 October 2021

Recording of the week: Family mealtimes

This week's selection comes from Dr Madeline White, Curator of Oral History.

One way or another, food is at the heart of everyday life for almost everyone on the planet. We plan our days around it, share it with friends, watch TV shows about it, and food – or sometimes, intentional abstinence from food – is central to many religious, cultural and familial celebrations. Our relationship to food – whether it is we eat, where we eat it, or who we eat it with – is a reflection of who we are, shaped as it is by the traditions we inherit from our families, cultural expectations, our social circumstances and other aspects of our day-to-day lives.

Food on a table being served

                                                                                                                                                        Image: Anadolu Agency / Contributor via Getty Images (1212156867)

When interviewers ask people to describe what mealtimes look like for them, they are asking about more than just how people sustain themselves. In this clip, Kuli Padan interviewed in 1999 for the Millennium Memory Bank, describes a typical family mealtime in her home, and in doing so reveals much about her family dynamics and cultural heritage.

At the end she reflects on the ‘sad’ fact that the television is the focal point of her family now, and an enduring presence at her family’s mealtimes in particular.

Kuli Padan family cooking and eating [BL REF C900/17597]

Download Transcript

Listening to this clip brought to mind conversations I’ve had with my own family recently on how our mealtimes have changed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdowns. Growing up, family mealtimes at the dinner table every evening – without any technology – was one thing my parents insisted on. It was important to them that we spent that time together, catching up and sharing what we’d been up to each day.

When lockdown happened and we suddenly found ourselves spending all our time together – all working in the same space as we were living, our hobbies and social lives brought to an abrupt stop – we suddenly found ourselves short on things to talk about at mealtimes. Gradually, for the first time in my life, family mealtimes moved to in front of the TV where a programme (usually a quiz show of sorts) could take the place of conversation. I don’t lament this development in the same way Kuli Padan does, because it feels less like a loss and more like a reaction to a world that changed in ways that were beyond our control. It does raise some interesting questions about why we eat in the ways that we do and our emotional relationship to those moments in our lives, though.

Of course, these experiences are very personal and individual. The pandemic, for example, may have changed other people’s eating habits in ways vastly different to my own: perhaps working from home presented some families with an opportunity to share mealtimes that they never had before, or enabled someone to find time to learn to cook from scratch. Over time, children grow into adults and the responsibilities for cooking and feeding in the home change and shift, as do food preferences, the schedules for mealtimes, and exposure to new foods and ways of eating. Kuli Padan was interviewed in 1999; I wonder how mealtimes may have changed for her in the years since she gave her interview?

The nature of the life history approach, which informs many of the interviews in the British Library’s oral history archive, combined with the sheer size and thematic scope of the collections means our archive contains a wealth of material on people’s eating habits and their relationship to food. This particular extract is featured in If Homes Had Ears, a website which showcases the sounds of domestic life, by exploring five spaces in the home: the bedroom, living room, kitchen, bathroom and garden. Each space highlights intriguing audio clips from the diverse collections in the British Library Sound Archive, covering the timespan of recorded sound and featuring many of the rich cultures that make up the UK.

Kuli Padan was interviewed by Eka Morgan in 1999 for the Millennium Memory Bank, the largest recording project in the history of British radio. It ran from 1998-99, capturing the pulse of the century through the voices of thousands of people from all walks of life.

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

04 October 2021

Recording of the week: Dog team or engine power? Sleds and other subjects in 1940s Alaska

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

During my time working as a cataloguer on the Unlocking our Sound Heritage (UOSH) project, I have been fortunate to catalogue a diverse range of oral history collections. The majority of the interviews in these collections are several hours long, recorded across a number of tapes and over a number of days. Occasionally, you will come across a short but sweet recording like this one.

This recording is a ten minute conversation between Abraham Lincoln, an Inuit fisherman (not the 16th president of the United States) and Pete Severnay, a Norwegian sailor. It took place in the city of Kotzebue, Alaska, just above the Arctic Circle, in the winter of 1948.

Despite its short length, the recording covers quite wide ground.

We discover that Abraham has been staying with Pete, who has been travelling across North America for the past few years.

The men discuss several topics. Pete thinks that he might stay in Kotzebue, but it all depends on the fishing. He also complains about the lack of employment opportunities in the area, and that any available jobs pay too little - one dollar an hour.

Abraham has a different outlook; one dollar an hour is a perfectly reasonable wage for the locals to live on. Pete is fishing to keep himself busy, but his main interest is gold prospecting – he believes that there are large amounts of gold in the area.

Unsurprisingly, the two men discuss the weather. Pete isn’t too bothered by the cold. After all, he’s been travelling in wind and storms during his entire time in Alaska, with visibility so poor that he hasn’t been able to see his hand in front of his face at times. He has also built his own sled.

In the audio excerpt below, Abraham amusingly mistakes Pete’s sled for a table, and they start a lively discussion about dog team sleds versus engine-powered sleds.

You will be able to hear a slight hum in the background which comes from the recording device:

A discussion about sleds [BL REF C1603/01 S1]

Download Transcript - A discussion about sleds

Inuit family with MalamuteAn Inuit family with an Alaskan Malamute, c. 1915. Photograph from Wikipedia. Original source: W. E. Mason. Malamutes are the sled dogs that are mentioned by Abraham.

We know little about the background of this recording – the open reel tape travelled from Kotzebue to Anchorage, before arriving in the United Kingdom and ending up at the British Library. We also know little about the two men in conversation.

I could not find any information about Pete Severnay online, although I did find some more information about Abraham. He lived in Kotzebue with his wife, Blanche, where they raised two sons and two daughters. His birth date is listed as around 1887, so he would have been in his early sixties at the time of this recording.

The fact that we know so little about the two men and the recording is irrelevant. In fact, the anonymity adds to the overall appeal. The important thing is that the two men have come together to share their unique knowledge and experiences. They may be different in terms of age and culture, but it is clear from their words that they have respect for each other’s differences.

This recording offers a glimpse into what life was like for the inhabitants of Alaska during the time but also gives insight into the life of an outsider venturing into an isolated community. Who knows? Perhaps this conversation was the start of a friendship lasting the rest of their lives.

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

13 September 2021

Recording of the week: I nearly went bozz-eyed when I saw this!

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

After a summer in which most of us have holidayed in the UK, I’ve been fascinated on my travels to note a growing enthusiasm for commercial products that celebrate local speech and identity. Gift shops and craft stores now frequently sell souvenirs such as tea towels, T-shirts, mugs, beer etc. featuring local phrases or playful re-spellings of everyday expressions to reflect local accents – a phenomenon linguists call ‘dialect commodification’.

During a recent trip to Ashbourne, I was delighted to spot this framed poster of ‘The Derbyshire Periodic Table’. The display replicates the layout of the conventional periodic table, but chemical elements are replaced by a local expression with a correspondingly made-up symbol and atomic number. The entry I find particularly striking is located at the bottom of the red group on the left-hand side – the symbol Bz with the atomic number 73 representing boz-eyed [= ‘cross-eyed’].

Photograph of Derbyshire Periodic table

The 1950s Survey of English Dialects (SED) documented several regional variants for ‘cross-eyed’ including glee-eyed in the North East, skend in Lancashire, squint-eyed in East Anglia and the West Country and boss-eyed in the Midlands and South. This regional distribution of boss-eyed is confirmed by a contribution to the Library’s WordBank by a speaker from Barnet, Hertfordshire, who was surprised when she moved to Merseyside to discover that speakers there were unfamiliar with the term:

C1442X02420 BOSS-EYED

boss-eyed means cross-eyed … somebody who doesn’t see straight ahead …
I live in Merseyside and I find nobody in that area will understand that word

Intriguingly, although ‘boss-eyed’ was recorded frequently in the SED across the southern half of England, there were only two localities where informants supplied a pronunciation with a medial <-z-> sound – one in Lapley, Staffordshire, the other in Kniveton, Derbyshire – a village just outside Ashbourne, which is a convincing explanation for the alternative spelling in the Derbyshire Periodic Table.

entry for bozz-eyed from the Survey of English Dialects book  SED entry at CROSS-EYED showing the form bozz-eyed in Kniveton and Lapley. Survey of English Dialects Basic Material: The West Midland Counties (1969, p.600)

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

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