Sound and vision blog

533 posts categorized "Sound and vision"

23 May 2022

Recording of the week: an intriguing description of a legendary media figure

This week’s selection comes from Mary Stewart, Lead Curator of Oral History and Director of National Life Stories.

A photograph of the outside of the Victorian neo-classical mansion, Cherkley Court.Cherkley Court, home of Lord Beaverbrook and the setting for his meeting with Bob Edwards described in this audio clip. Photo by Ian Capper via Wikimedia, Creative Commons attribution CC BY-SA 2.0.

As the Library’s Breaking the News exhibition is in full swing, it seemed apt to feature a Recording of the Week from An Oral History of the British Press. Listen to this very amusing anecdote from Bob Edwards, as he recalls meeting the famous newspaper owner Lord Beaverbrook. To me this extract humanises these two prominent people, giving us an insight that I don’t think you’d find anywhere but in an oral history interview!

Bob Edwards recalls his first meeting with Lord Beaverbrook [BL REF C638/10]

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Bob Edwards (1925-2012) was a seasoned and respected journalist who worked at an array of regional and national newspapers, including time as editor of the Glasgow Evening Citizen, the Daily Express, the Sunday People and the Sunday Mirror.

Canadian-British William Maxwell Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook, (1879-1964) was a powerful newspaper proprietor, owning the Daily Express. Beaverbrook served in Churchill’s cabinet in World War Two. Can you spot the mention of Churchill in the audio clip?

Oral historian Louise Brodie recorded nearly nine hours with Bob Edwards over three sessions in 2007, to add his life story to An Oral History of the British Press. This National Life Stories project began in 1994 and was revived in 2006 thanks to support from the British Library as part of the Front Page exhibition, which was also based on the Library’s amazing news collections. Listen to this interview in full and others from the collection at British Library Sounds

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16 May 2022

Recording of the week: On climbing mountains - a woman's view

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

Woman wearing a long sleeved black shirt, trousers, and a climbing harness with gear attached, climbing an outdoor rock facePhoto by Cade Prior via Unsplash

In this oral history interview, Jean Drummond looks back at the times when she used to rock climb as part of the Pinnacle Club, a UK based club of women climbers that celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2021.

Jean Drummond describes changes to climbing [BL REF C1876/24]

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I was quite intrigued to listen to a recount of a climbing experience from a woman’s point of view.

Jean describes climbing as a social practice as well as an exercise; climbing requires a partner, and she (almost annoyingly) tells how her body doesn’t allow her to be the leading companion anymore.

Jean describes the technical components of climbing these days, starting from the climbing gear, which became more practical and easy to buy as shops to buy equipment from multiplied.

She admires the scientific aspects of this change, although there is a nostalgic nuance in the admission that it is not the sport she used to love. Perhaps the adventure side has been lost with the proliferation of climbing walls, very much a different experience of being out there, in nature.

She describes climbing nowadays as something more similar to gymnastics, while recalling memories of when she saw mountains as her friend. This summarises in one simple image the core essence of the discipline: the challenge of reaching the top, a sense of accomplishment that accompanies the final step.

On a personal note, climbing could be a metaphorical wall, a way to push our limits; it helps with being centred in the present moment, and gives a sense of reward when reaching the top.

With self-motivation, mountains can be our friends, a genuine escape from our inner fears.

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

09 May 2022

Recording of the week: From potato market to sound archive

This week's selection comes from Myriam Fellous-Sigrist, Data Protection and Rights Clearance Officer.

Fruit, vegetable and cut flower lorries are unloaded inside Covent Garden market in 1940s London. Traders seen here include W Bailey Ltd and F A Secrett Ltd of Walton-on-Thames. The empty lorry in the foreground was in use by potato merchants.

Life in Wartime, Covent Garden Market. Photo credit: Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer, via Wikimedia Commons.

Some interviews make you travel far away, but some shine a light on the history of the building where you are sitting. Tom Arblaster was born in 1930 in Walsall (West Midlands) and was interviewed as part of the Oral History of the Post Office project in 2002. After working as a butcher’s boy at 12, a carpenter’s apprentice and piano factory worker, he joined the Post Office in London. In this recording he describes his work as a young postman in the King’s Cross area in the mid-1950s. In the following extract, he paints a vivid picture of the activities around the potato market, which was located where the current British Library building now stands.

Tom Arblaster on the potato market [BL REF C1007/53]

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In this fascinating 5 hour and 36 minute long interview, preserved by the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project, Tom Arblaster talks about his life before and after the Second World War. In particular, he describes the hostility and racism that he and his wife Ingeborg faced because she was German, and the love between them that helped them through financial hardship and social isolation. He recalls the joy of being given a modern, prefab council home, even if it came at a cost of working more than a thousand extra hours at the Post Office to afford the rent. At the time of the interview, he was still working part-time in the Almeida Street post office, a couple of miles away from the British Library.

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25 April 2022

Recording of the week: Everybody has something to offer

This week’s selection comes from Jonathan Benaim, Audio Cataloguing Coordinator.

Taken from the British Library’s Oral History of Jazz in Britain collection, this recording is from an interview with guitarist Ernest Ranglin. In this particular excerpt, prompted by interviewer Val Wilmer, he reflects on the notion of competitiveness between musicians.

Ernest Ranglin on competition in jazz [BL REF C122/198-199] 

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In place of competition, Ernest Ranglin sees a collaborative process, valuing the contribution made by different players. The synergy of collaboration can be perceived in the interaction between interviewer and interviewee too. Their rapport is tangible and it makes for an expansive exchange.

International Jazz Day is celebrated on 30 April. Established by UNESCO, it advocates for the positive influence of jazz, including its capacity to cultivate peace, unity, co-operation and dialogue. The description of solidarity that Ernest Ranglin gives, and the camaraderie of the speakers, neatly illustrates that ethos.

A black and white photograph of guitarist Ernest Ranglin taken on Tottenham Court Road, London.Ernest Ranglin, Tottenham Court Road, London, 17 May 1993. Photograph by Val Wilmer.

With thanks to Val Wilmer for kind permission to use her photograph in this article.

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19 April 2022

Juliet Pannett

National Life Stories Goodison Fellow Suzanne Joinson writes about her research into the artist Juliet Pannett.

Black and white photo of Juliet Pannett holding a koalaJuliet Pannett, courtesy of Denis Pannett

As part of my National Life Stories (NLS) Goodison Fellowship, I have been delving into the oral histories of three Sussex-based artists: Ann Sutton and Barbara Mullins from Crafts Lives and Juliet Pannett from Artists’ Lives. If a biography is ‘a matter of joining holes together,’ as Carole Angier writes, then listening to the interviews often feels like experiencing the tension of the weave. The interplay of storytelling, hesitation and unfolding memory is immersive.

All three artists have had a profound impact on the cultural landscape of the South of England and beyond. Yet their reputations remain relatively marginal, although this is now changing for Ann Sutton.

In this blogpost I take the subject of Juliet Pannett, MBE, and look at how her self-defined life relates to her artistic legacy, particularly through the lens of her being regionally situated in Sussex. Whereas Ann Sutton is an avant-garde, experimental artist, and Mullins was in the vanguard of a resurgence of traditional materials and approaches, Pannett was in many ways the most ‘establishment’ of the three.

Pannett was 80 years old when Janet Grenier interviewed her in 1991 at Pannett’s home in Angmering. Her interview reveals an amusing, polished storyteller. The vowels signify a certain class and are evocative of a different era. Born in 1911 and died in 2005, she established an impressive career as a portrait artist and parliamentary painter. In her oral history interview she says with pride, ‘I could write to anyone I liked and almost everyone said yes.’ [Juliet Pannett interviewed by Janet Grenier C466/09/03, 00:03:11] The National Portrait Gallery houses 21 of her paintings and her subjects range from the Queen to Jean Cocteau. As a parliamentary artist she covered historic moments such as Churchill’s last appearance in the Commons and the Profumo affair. She was a member of The Society of Graphic Artists and Pastel Society and a fellow of The Royal Society of Arts. Later in life she ran courses in Sussex with her son, Denis, and the rose bowl Juliet Pannett Prize of the West Sussex Art Award bears her name today.

In the interview she talks frankly about establishing herself in the art world. She speaks of the complexities of combining family life with working for The London Illustrated News and of the efforts required to increase her reputation as a portrait artist. As I listen to the hesitations and digressions, as well as the anecdotes, I catch hints of an undertow of struggle in her life. A picture emerges of a genteel English family keeping up appearances despite a gambling cad of a father and a mother forced to take in paying guests.

Because the NLS interviewing methodology moves slowly and chronologically forwards, the unravelling of a ‘life story’ is extremely full. We follow Pannett’s scholarship at the Brighton School of Art. We hear of the Master, Louis Genet, and his techniques and approaches. We can almost feel the crunch of pencil sharpenings under shoes and smell white spirit in the studios. Pannett’s training was both formal and provincial. She had to complete a year of drawing before being allowed to touch a paint brush. No trips to Rome for her, and she admits that most girls in the class were filling the time before marriage. But her seriousness and ambition are evident all the way through. ‘I wanted to be a really good draughtsman,’ she says.

Most fascinating to the contemporary ear is how she established her career. Sending work to editors, pitching, being accepted in the illustration world as a female artist and her precociousness. Before finishing art school, she sent some work to The Cricketer and she then followed up with Sussex County Magazine:

‘I loved walking on the downs and sketching the old shepherds and country people and I thought well they might be interested, so I took them to show Arthur Beckett the publisher in Eastbourne and he said oh yes, good ideas we’ll have a series of Sussex types and I did thirty or forty and it was great fun, and it gave me an excuse to talk to the old shepherds.’ [Juliet Pannett interviewed by Janet Grenier C466/09/01, 00:25:55]

She tells it in a breezy fashion but receiving a professional commission at such a young age is impressive. It is possible to see how consistently hard she worked and the challenges of combining a career with family life. Her narrative shows us the continual navigation and integration of her family – her son Denis in particular, but also her sister the artist Phoebe Somers – with her working life.

The geographical locations that Pannett talks about are very local to me and so I can see the South of England through her eyes. Hove seafront, Brighton. Clambering on the beach at ‘Black Rocks’, now Brighton Marina. Years later she moved back to Sussex and bought a house in the village of Angmering. She considered herself a Sussex person and the imprint of her work can be found in the county if you look. It is in the archives of Worthing Museum, or captured in ephemera relating to prior exhibitions in Croydon Civic Hall, or in Hove Town Hall.

Black and white portrait photograph of Juliet Pannett as a young womanJuliet Pannett, courtesy of Denis Pannett

As I continue to work through the interviews, I am interested in exploring questions around why these female artists who operated outside of metropolitan hubs have slipped attention. Is it a correlation to living in the regions? I am also looking at how lives and life stories can be ‘written’ alongside oral interviews in alternative ways. The NLS interviews provide a central spine: the story in the subjects’ own words as experienced in that particular moment. Alongside that, like satellites, are catalogues and exhibition ephemera, educational and trust foundations. There are also more nebulous legacies such as the long-term impact on teaching, textbooks, and influence on generations of students or attendees at workshops. There is archival documentation of meetings and a wide matrix of cultural materials that contribute to an ongoing legacy.

Pannett died aged 94 after a lifetime as a professional artist and it is clear that most obituaries draw on the NLS interviews. The NLS ‘life-story’ oral history methodology depicts holistic histories that are fluid. The web of materials linked to Pannett’s output show us a professional working mother and a determined character person. She had much to prove, and when she was commissioned to paint a portrait of the Queen achieved a formal recognition that was important to her. The NLS interviews allow her career achievements to be examined as part of a wider picture. Most crucially, the integration of the domestic and personal life with the cultivation of a career and the creation of art.

When we look at an entire life-version, rather than individual isolated events, exhibitions, or achievements, we can see the unfolding of significant creative energy. Through a collation of memory and ephemera, my research suggests that peripheral forms of life stories – lives told in the margins of British art history – can be re-evaluated in a contemporary light, particularly within the context of a re-thinking of cultural agency and the impact of non-metropolitan areas. As we rethink our creative and cultural-geographical centres, moving outwards from cities to regions, it’s worth working in archives such as the NLS project to find a rich tapestry of stories that provide alternatives to the mainstream.

Suzanne Joinson is an award-winning writer and academic. Her novels A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar and The Photographer's Wife are published internationally by Bloomsbury. She lectures in creative writing at the University of Chichester and writes regularly for a range of publications including the New York Times, Guardian and others. She has a strong interest in oral history and the stories found in landscapes and places. Suzanne previously wrote for the Sound and Vision Blog in February 2020.

18 April 2022

Recording of the week: Easter egg secrets revealed

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

Having spent the weekend participating in Easter egg hunts and indulging in chocolate, did you ever think about how Easter eggs are made?

Creme eggPhoto by Richard Hicks via Flickr

Cadbury's manufactured their first Easter egg in the UK in 1875, and now sells more than 80 million boxed chocolate eggs each year.

Between 1995 and 1998, National Life Stories interviewed Sir Dominic Cadbury - the great grandson of Cadbury founder John Cadbury - for the project Food: from Source to Salespoint. In this extract he describes some of the processes behind the mass manufacture of chocolate eggs for the Easter season, from the reasons why Easter eggs are the only Cadbury product still packaged by hand, to the secret behind the success of the UK-favourite Cadbury Creme Egg.

Sir Dominic Cadbury on Easter eggs [BL REF C821/05]

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Sir Cadbury is right: there is something special about Easter eggs. Whether it's the colourful packaging, the excitement of hunting for them in the garden with young children, or just the opportunity to indulge unapologetically in your favourite chocolate, they bring joy to all. 

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

14 April 2022

Between the Orange Tree and the Lime

Between the Orange Tree and the Lime (2017) is a short film by artist Duncan Whitley, dedicated to the memory of flamenco singer and tabernero José Pérez Blanco, also known as Pepe Peregil. The film forms part of the Duncan Whitley Collection [BL REF C1338], which documents Seville’s Easter Week processions and is available in British Library Reading Rooms.

For two years there were no Easter processions on the streets of Seville due to the global pandemic. In this blog post, Duncan Whitley marks the renewal of the tradition with some words on his short film:

I was introduced to Pepe Peregil in 2010, thanks to friends in one of Seville’s brass bands who insisted I meet him. Peregil was one of Seville's eminent saeteros (singers of the saeta, a type of flamenco song). He was also known to many people as the affable owner of a bar called Quitapesares, located in Seville’s city centre. I interviewed Peregil in 2010 and the following year he invited me to join him in the Plaza del Museo, where he sang as the penitentiary Easter procession El Museo returned to its chapel. I recorded Peregil singing saetas at an incredibly intimate distance, so much so that I could vividly hear the sounds of his breath through my microphone.

The film Between the Orange Tree and the Lime transports viewers into the Plaza del Museo, Seville, on the night of Lunes Santo (the Monday after Palm Sunday). The film is a poetic meditation on presence and absence through flamenco song in Seville's Semana Santa. It focuses on the saeta, derived from the Latin word sagitta meaning arrow, a flamenco poem or prayer sung acapella to the effigies of Christ or the Virgin Mary as they are carried in procession during Easter Week.

The film’s title1, takes the opening lines of a saeta sung by Pepe Peregil in the Plaza del Museo, where he sang each year without fail from 1967 through to 2011: “Between the orange tree and the lime, is my Virgin of the Museum”. Peregil passed away in 2012 and so this film also captures his last public saetas.

Pepe Peregil singing a saeta

Pepe Peregil singing a saeta in the Plaza del Museo in Seville. Duncan Whitley, 2011

I have been studying the soundscapes of Seville’s Holy Week through my field recording practice since 2006. A fascination for the vernacular world of acoustic communication in Seville’s major fiesta, embracing music, voice and other mechanical sound-making eventually led me to focus on recording the saetas flamencas. At the time there weren’t many published recordings of saetas performed live in the street, beyond those recorded in Jerez de la Frontera in 1993 and published in Saetas: Cante de la Semana Santa Andaluza (BL REF 1CD0111003).

There are however many studio recordings of saetas. Many are performed by the great singers of cante jondo (a vocal style in flamenco) in the 1920's such as La Niña de los Peines, Tomás Pavón or Manuel Vallejo. The controlled environment of the recording studio preserves and magnifies the quality of the voice but what we don’t hear, is the saeta in context: the acoustics of the narrow streets, the murmurs of the public, the screaming of the swifts overhead at dusk. I became interested in the challenge of trying to capture quality sound recordings of contemporary saetas sung in their live, public and religious context: in the streets of Seville or from balconies, addressed to the images of Christ or the Virgin depicted in mourning.

Transcription and translation of the saeta:

Se hinque de Rodillas [Fall to your knees!]
La Giralda2 si hace falta [Even the Giralda finds herself obliged]
Y se vista de mantilla [And she dresses in mourning]
Cuando por su vera pasa [When the Last Breath of Seville]
La Expiración de Sevilla [Passes by her side]

The saeta featured in this extract from the film was written for Pepe Peregil by Pascual González, a singer, composer and poet mainly associated with sevillanas (a lively form of flamenco song and dance from Seville). Peregil’s son, José Juan, tells me that Peregil asked Pascual González to write him a saeta whilst they stood on a balcony in the Plaza del Museo one Lunes Santo, awaiting the arrival of the effigy of Christ of the Last Breath. Remarkably, González improvised these lyrics moments before the arrival of the procession, and stood behind Peregil reading him the lines as he sang, as there was not enough time for Peregil to memorise the words.

Following Peregil’s death in January 2012 I returned to Seville during Easter Week, with the intention of recording in the Plaza del Museo but the processions of Holy Monday were cancelled due to heavy rain. I returned to the plaza again in Easter 2013, and this time opted to wait beneath a balcony at the entrance to the square from which Pilár Velázquez Martínez, artistic name Pili del Castillo, and Peregil sang alongside each other for many years. I had recently interviewed Pili, so I knew she would sing to the effigies of El Museo but she hadn’t told me that she had specially prepared her own saeta to the Virgin of the Waters (colloquially known as the Virgin of the Museum) in dedication to her friend Pepe Peregil.

This saeta, an emotional farewell of sorts, references the absence of Peregil in the plaza:

Madre Mía de las Aguas [My Mother of the Waters]
Tienes la cara divina [Your face is divine]
Pero es tanta tu hermosura [But such is your beauty]
Que no la quiebra la pena [That sadness doesn't break it]
Ni el llanto te desfigura [Nor does crying disfigure you]

Si al llegar a tu capilla [If upon arriving at your chapel]
Notas que te falta algo [You notice that you're missing something]
No llores tú Madre Mía [Don't cry Mother of mine]
Que Peregil desde el cielo [That Peregil from the sky]
Seguro que te está cantando [Is surely singing to you]

Between the Orange Tree and the Lime was first screened in 2017 at the Whitechapel Gallery (London), at the EMASESA (Seville) with the Association of Friends of Peregil, and the Consejo de Hermandades y Cofradías de Sevilla (the governing organisation of Seville’s processional brotherhoods) in an event in honour of Pili del Castillo. Special thanks to Simon Day for working with me as camera operator 2011-2013, and to José Juan Medina for assisting with research.

 

Footnotes:

1. The 'lime' in the title refers to the white, rendered surfaces of the walls of buildings typical of Seville’s historic centre. Orange trees would be in blossom during Easter week and so the title builds a sensory evocation of the Virgin of the Museum carried into the plaza.

2. The Giralda is the iconic tower of Seville’s cathedral. The mantilla is a black lace veil, typically worn over a high comb. It is traditionally worn by women during the Easter Week processions in Andalucia, especially on Palm Sunday and Good Friday. 

11 April 2022

Recording of the week: Parsnip wine and an electric organ

This week's selection comes from Tom Bench, Data Protection Rights Clearance Officer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

This recording features Don Prior, who was interviewed for Down To Earth, an oral history project about British horticulture. Like most of the interviews in this collection, the interviewer talks Don through his childhood, his working life (as a gardener for a commercial seed producer), his family life and so on, over the course of several hours.

Unlike most interviewees however, Don also seems to have spent some time alone with the tape recorder, filling an extra cassette with memories of Impington, the Cambridgeshire village where he lived and worked all his life. With no interviewer present to guide him, he ends up telling us about every single shop on Impington high street in the 1930s, the potency of homemade parsnip wine, and the planes he saw at Oakington Aerodrome, among other things. Unusual for this collection, but still firmly in the realm of oral history.

After finishing his last story however, we get something unexpected. Don announces that, as there’s a bit of tape left over, he’s going to fill it by playing us 'some of the old tunes that we used to whistle and sing when we were boys' on his electric organ.

A close up photo of the keys of a Yamaha Electone electric organ, taken at St. Anne MonasteryPhoto by Thomas van de Vosse (appeltaart) via Flickr.

He’s previously told us that he taught himself to play this organ as a way to wind down after long days in the fields, and that he liked playing for his granddaughter. And for the rest of the tape, that is what we hear: the soft, warm tone of Don’s Yamaha Electone rising out of the tape hiss like a memory.

Don Prior plays the organ [BL REF C1029/21]

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It can be a very intimate experience listening to these interviews and hearing people tell the tape about all the things that make up a life, but this unexpected appearance of music at the end of our fifth hour with Don stands out as a particularly personal glimpse into a private world.

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

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