In the same way that, for some, a picture paints a thousand words, it’s music, that for me is the conduit that transports me to other places, other times and other lives.
Whilst cataloguing the audio recordings of the Tiger Bay Collection from the Butetown History and Arts Centre oral history project I was lucky enough to stumble across a recording of Tiger Bay local and renowned jazz guitarist Victor Parker. The occasion was Victor’s birthday sometime in the mid-seventies (although his age and the actual date have been lost somewhere along the way). On the recording Victor and his band are found whiling away the afternoon in The Quebec Hotel on Bute Street, treating the assembled drinkers, dancers, singers and swooners to a free and easy, laid back run through their repertoire of jazz standards, blues and modern folk. It’s far from an organised, structured concert, the lengthy gaps between numbers see to that, but this relaxed format allows us to eavesdrop of the chatter of the crowd. The laughter, the snippets of gossip and fragments of tales, the layers upon layers of indistinct chat all make for one of the most evocative recordings that I have encountered throughout the whole collection.
Original Shelf Mark Identifier: 101-0021-024 : Catalogue Number: UNLW023/605 in Tiger Bay ‘Lectures and Events’ collection
Granted, this didn’t give us any hard and fast information, there were no detailed descriptions, stories or recollections that we may usually look for in a valuable oral history archive, it is without doubt that any factual, reasoned debate or discussion was the last thing on the minds of the attendees. However, it did offer us something different, something that an interview or a vox-pop never could. The hour and a half of this recording captures and evokes all kinds of imagery, memory and feeling. I’m old enough to remember the 1970s, and I am also able to remember afternoons just like the one captured here (albeit in my case it would have been traditional Irish folk music in a Mancunian shebeen) – but if I close my eyes and listen, I can still feel that 70s afternoon filling my senses. The scratchy polyester itch of my shirt collar, a thick fog of cigarette smoke stinging my eyes, the acrid breath of a companion who had maybe drunk a little too much, and then that clear easing of tensions as people drank, relaxed, danced and sang along to the vibrant, seductive rhythms of the band in the corner of the room. It all seems a lifetime ago, but this recording transports me right back to those heady days in an instant.
Image: from Tiger Bay – Victor Parker YouTube
That is the beauty of oral histories, and in particular audio archives; the written word may well provide a clear, distinct understanding, a route through imagination to empathy, but recordings like this will, for many spark memories of times long gone, and bring them all back, so vividly, in an instant.
A structured interview will often be interesting, important and offer a whole range of vital information that could otherwise have been lost with the passing of time, but a recording like this, which goes such a long way to evoking imagery and prompting memory is unparalleled. To me, above and beyond any number of structured discussions, this recording tells us as much, and maybe even more about how the community in 1970s Tiger Bay filled their leisure time and let down their hair.
John McMahon, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Cataloguer
Hello everyone. I come at you today with another blog post. This time, it is about Ken Jenkins, a singer who is singing his favourite Welsh folk songs and verse. Ken originally came from Rhondda Valley, so there is a multi-cultural crossover between Wales and Canada here. The audio recording was made on July 9th 1974, nearly 50 years ago, which adds another sense of nostalgia to the piece. The audio was quite old, but that wasn’t a bad thing as the sound file gave a feel of timelessness, as if the listener was being let into a secret about Ken’s love of music. It had very nostalgic, warm vibes and the crackling of the background tape was like a fire kindling and spitting on a cold night. Ken Jenkins is introduced, and begins to sing. He has a vibrato type voice, and is really good at singing.
After a minute or so, it switches to a female singer, who has a lovely voice. The lady, whose name I didn’t catch because the audio is too quiet, but she says that she brought it over from Wales, as her brother heard it from the boys of Bangor. The second one of these finished on a high note, which was a spectacular demonstration of her singing abilities. Then, she progresses to a song she learnt in school. The array of songs she demonstrates is wonderful. She says how as she has no one to accompany her in the song, so she has to come in the melody first then the verses. She can’t remember the name of the song, but she launches into singing it anyway.
Next, she explains that she would tell the crowd in performing her next song that it came from the Eisteddfod, a festival in Wales, where there were five competitors and she was watching the performances. She re-enacts the words she heard them say, but the talking is quite quiet, so is hard to discern exactly what is being said. However, I got the sense that it was a dynamic performance and the female singer is copying them very well. She talks about a choir in Canada that came from a small village in Wood River, that would get into the Welsh spirit, and they would have a free supper at the end of the day to celebrate. They would sing for another 2 and a half hours after the supper and talks about how other groups learned Welsh songs via English words at first. She remembers signing at the Welsh church and goes into detail about the multi-cultural society that is put in place in Canada. In this society, some of the people dressed up in Welsh costumes to sing a 10-minute song within a choir. At the end of the song, a group of 11 children joined the choir, for the grand finale, and sung ‘It’s A Small World After All.’ Each ethnic group was asked to do one line of the chorus in Welsh. She talks about how there was a display of Welsh crafts in the auditorium, as well as Welsh food and other cultural items of significance. She mentions the Welsh cakes she makes, that could survive an international food fair, which she passed the recipe onto her friend, who in turn made them for said international food fair. On the packets of currants they used, they put on the original lady’s recipe for Welsh cakes, which is a really nice touch and honours the female singer.
I really liked the fact that there were snippets of different songs from both of them, and that they both still had their roots coming through as well as their accents from Wales, which shows that they are still connected to Wales even in Canada. This reminds me of one of the previous blog posts I did. A lovely cyclical end to this post. I hope you have enjoyed reading this, because I have enjoyed writing and listening to these audios. See you in the next one.
Alice Tucker, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Volunteer
The recent Covid lockdowns and self-isolation have left many of us to re-evaluate how we work on a day to day basis, needing to work from home I was lucky enough to become involved with the ‘Unlocking Our Sound Heritage’ (UOSH) project at the National Library of Wales.
The British Library led project is a UK-wide exercise that aims to preserve, digitise, and provide public access to a large part of the nation’s sound heritage, with my involvement focusing on the oral histories of Tiger Bay collected by the Butetown History and Arts Centre during the 1980s and 90s.
Whenever I discuss my work at the Library with people unfamiliar with our archives, their perception is often that our collections are focused on primarily academic, staid and quite dry material. The Tiger Bay oral histories definitively prove that idea wrong by giving a voice to the ‘ordinary’ people of a Welsh community that has developed over time to become perhaps one of the most interesting and unique communities in Wales.
The Tiger Bay oral history collection viewed as a whole offers much more than just a snapshot of a community throughout the twentieth century. Through first-hand accounts of residents, we learn how the area developed through migration and immigration to become what is regarded as one of the most multi-cultural and ethnically diverse in the United Kingdom, continually showing the social dynamics of different migrant communities melding to become one, whilst at the same time striving to retain their own distinct identity. Tied together through ongoing sociological and anthropological threads within the discussions the main thing that shines through is the individuality, the identity and the pride of the locals whose histories are recorded.
Subject areas covered by the collection are wonderfully diverse, and the recollections and reminiscences of the day to day lives of the interviewees document clearly a period in history that saw dramatic changes within society. Alongside stories from the Cardiff Docks, of the sea-farers and shipping industry, we hear discussed in exacting detail the impact of wartime on the area, evacuees tell of their time in the Welsh Valleys, whilst those left behind in The Bay speak vividly of air raids, with heartfelt tales of family and friends lost at sea or in bombing raids. We hear how the domestic role of women changed dramatically with wartime opportunities in munitions factories, and perhaps more importantly, how they never looked back once the war was over. More recent times are covered with the redevelopment of Tiger Bay as it became the place that we know today, the unease and reluctance of many to accept sweeping changes and re-structuring of the community and a way of life in the place that they call home is laid bare at public meetings and in discussion groups.
Everything is there, the gossip and chatter as locals reminisce, laugh and cry together, the music and the song as the sea-farers give us shanties and Victor Parker lights up the Quebec Hotel with his jazz standards, the pride and the passion, the anger and the fight as the Cardiff Three recount their story of wrongful conviction. This is the life of a community laid out in its entirety, the good times, and the bad.
There are many things that make a nation, the history, and the geography both play a major role, but what really gives a nation an identity is the people, all of the people. Yes, our academics, our poets and authors, our politicians and protesters, our musicians and our sports stars, they all bring awareness and leadership; but the beating heart of a nation is the people whose lives are inextricably entwined with the place on a day to day basis. These are the people who have openly, freely spoken up on these recordings, their life stories showing us where they came from, where they are now and where they are going. An absolute inspiration.
John McMahon, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Cataloguer
The evolution of recording owes everything to Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931), who invented the phonograph in December 1877. The concept of wax cylinders as the best medium to reproduce sound on disc came about through healthy competition between Alexander Graham Bell and Edison, who eventually pipped Bell to the patent post by releasing his 1888 ‘Perfected Phonograph’.
Although the phonograph’s initial use was either archival or for transcription, the turn of the 20th century opened a market for musical recordings with the advent of moulded cylinders, and hymns enjoyed a heyday at this time.
Sleuthing through some of these recordings was engaging, although the audio quality is understandably poor having been digitised by the Sound Archive from the original wax cylinders with all their imperfections. While the collection description identifies the type of music and the method of recording, there is no information about when these cylinders were recorded, by or for whom. Subsequent information provided in the recordings’ introductions brought some of the picture to light with snippets gleaned from between crackles of wax.
The collection consists of 4 sound files; the original wax cylinders have not been catalogued at National Library of Wales yet. Those cylinders may have more details written on them, identifying performers and dates, but in their absence, the fun of this exercise was in listening and then identifying the hymns before researching the poets and composers, as follows:
Hymn 1: “I am praying for you”, sung by two people with small orchestral accompaniment – mostly obscured by crackling. The announcer is unidentified and the names of the singers partially obscured although the tenor is clearly named Anthony. There is a reference to Hereford, either as place or patronym, but it was impossible to work out the name or the gender of the second singer. Although Hereford suggests the recording was made in the UK, the announcer is clearly American.
This is a Methodist hymn written by Samuel O’Malley Cluff (1860) and set to a tune by Ira David Sankey (1874).
Reverend Cluff was born in Dublin in 1837. He attended Trinity College and became an Anglican minister, pastoring at various locations in Ireland. In 1884, he became the leader of the Plymouth Brethren after which he married Anne Blake Edge, had four children and wrote over 1000 hymn texts and songs, composing many of the melodies as well. Ira Sankey came across “I am praying for you” while holding crusades in Scotland. Inspired by its words about prayer, he composed music for it and it became popular during subsequent crusades. The author credit was given in Sankey’s 1878 publication of Sacred Song & Solos as ‘S. O’M. Clough’.
Although the full hymn has four verses, this recording features only the first verse with a repeated refrain.
I have a Saviour, He’s pleading in glory,
A dear, loving Saviour, though earth-friends be few;
And now He is watching in tenderness o’er me,
But O, that my Saviour were your Saviour, too!
For you I am praying,
For you I am praying,
For you I am praying,
I’m praying for you.
Hymn 2: “Pass me not, O Gentle Saviour” – with this second recording, the announcer gives us a bit more information about the singers, who are the same as in the first recording. It is likely this is a husband-and-wife duo, Anthony & Ann Hereford of Hereford Records, but there is still no geographical location with which to find out more about them. It is also likely that the announcer is Thomas Edison himself because he has a distinctive voice, which can be compared with other online sources; whether Edison was recording in the UK, or if the Herefords were based in the USA is still unclear.
This hymn text was written by Fanny Crosby, who published her poems under an incredible number of pseudonyms, both male and female. Frances Jane Crosby was born in New York state in 1820 and was blinded during an illness at 6 weeks old. She subsequently received an excellent education from the New York Institute of the Blind. This was where she started writing hymn texts for her teacher of music, Dr Geoffrey Root. Between 1864 and her death in 1915, Fanny wrote over 8000 texts, making her the most prolific hymn writer in the English language. The hymn tune was composed by William Howard Doane – prolific composer, American industrialist and philanthropist who supported the work of evangelical campaigns, including those headed by Ira D Sankey, mentioned earlier.
Although another four-verse hymn, the Herefords have chosen to record verses one and four with repeated refrains and an instrumental interlude between verses. There is a charming outro featuring brass and percussion.
1 Pass me not, O gentle Saviour
Hear my humble cry,
While on others Thou art calling
Do not pass me by.
Hear my humble cry;
While on others Thou art calling,
Do no pass me by.
4 Thou the Spring of all my comfort,
More than life to me,
Whom have I on earth beside Thee?
Whom in heav’n by Thee [Refrain]
Hymn 3: “Jesus, Lover of my Soul”, sung by tenor, Mr William McGillis. Unfortunately, his geographical location is obscured completely. The announcer’s voice is American, but different to Thomas Edison, so this cylinder may have been recorded by someone else working in the industry, or on Edison’s behalf.
The text for the hymn was written by Charles Wesley in 1740, published in a collection of Hymns and Sacred Poems. The eighteenth child of Anglican cleric and poet Samuel Wesley, Charles was the younger brother of Methodist founder John Wesley, and contributed the cornerstone of the Methodist hymnody; in fact, of the 770 hymns published in the Wesleyan Hymn Book, 623 were written by Charles, although this represents only 10% of his total output.
Recognised as one of Wesley’s finest hymns – also one of the earliest – it is thought to echo two life experiences of this so-called ‘Bard of Methodism’. The first was the arrival of a small songbird pursued by a hawk who flew through an open window and into Wesley’s arms as he was pondering spiritual difficulties: “let me to Thy bosom fly”; the second might relate to a faith-shattering tempest experienced by John and Charles while sailing on a missionary trip to the colony of Georgia in 1735. The brothers were impressed by a group of fellow passengers from Moravia who sang hymns throughout a raging storm. Wesley’s verses mention waters rolling, a “tempest” and the “storm of life”. But while the Moravians possessed the certainty of Salvation through their faith, John Wesley later confessed that they “had gone to Georgia to convert the people there, finding they themselves had need to be converted.”
This hymn was originally titled “In Temptation” and is a plea for sanctuary for all who are tempted, undeserving or requiring cleansing from sin because there is no other refuge. The tune used for this recording is now known as Celebration 167 in the Baptist Hymnal (2008). It was originally known as Martyn 18.104.22.168.D (reflecting the meter of the hymn) and was composed by Simeon Butler Marsh, who taught music to hundreds of adults and children in career spanning both New York State church and school system over the course of 30 years. McGillis sings verses one and three, with the accompaniment of a brass band.
1 Jesus, lover of my soul
Let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high:
Hide me, O my Saviour, hide,
Till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide;
O receive my soul at last.
3 Thou, O Christ, art all I want;
More than all in Thee I find:
Raise the fallen, cheer the faint,
Heal the sick and lead the blind:
Just and holy is Thy name,
I am all unrighteousness;
False and full of sin I am,
Thou art full of truth and grace.
Hymn 4: “Stand up, stand up, for Jesus” – this recording is so badly damaged (possibly due to previous use of the wax cylinder for other recordings) that it was almost impossible to identify the hymn or its tune. However, one clear line led to a text written by George Duffield in 1858, and once the full words were on screen, it was possible to hear enough of the rest to confirm the hymn as above. From there the tune was identified as one known as “Morning Light” written by George J Webb on a voyage from England to the USA in 1837.
Reverend Dr George Duffield (son of a Presbyterian Minister) was born in Pennsylvania in 1818 and followed in his father’s footsteps. When Duffield wrote “Stand Up”, he was a pastor in Philadelphia, but had been pastor of a parish in New Jersey where Webb was living, so the two may have met. According to an entry in Lyra sacra Americana (Cleveland, 1868, p. 298):
“I caught its inspiration from the dying words of that noble young clergyman, Rev. Dudley Atkins Tyng, rector of the Epiphany Church, Philadelphia, who died about 1854. His last words were, ‘Tell them to stand up for Jesus: now let us sing a hymn.’ As he had been much persecuted in those pro-slavery days for his persistent course in pleading the cause of the oppressed, it was thought that these words had a peculiar significance in his mind; as if he had said, ‘Stand up for Jesus in the person of the downtrodden slave.’ (Luke v. 18.)”
After Duffield gave the manuscript to his Sunday School Superintendent, it was first published as a small children’s handbill, where it became known as ‘Soldiers of the Cross’.
As far as can be made out from the timing and meter, the recording is of the first two verses, but both the identity of the singer and the announcer are completely obscured by damage. The singer has a high voice, and although it is impossible to say whether they are female or boy soprano, if a guess at their name were allowed, the candidates would be either Iris or Idris Edwards. The announcer, likewise, sounds more British than American, so this wax cylinder might have been one of the first to be recorded in the UK – after all, the first Phonograph & Gramophone Society was established in 1911 in West London, with many forming over the next decade with Thomas Edison as their patron.
Stand up, stand up for Jesus
ye soldiers of the cross;
lift high his royal banner,
it must not suffer loss:
from vict’ry unto vict’ry
his army he shall lead,
’til ev’ry foe is vanquished,
and Christ is Lord indeed.
Stand up, stand up for Jesus,
the trumpet call obey;
forth to the mighty conflict
in this his glorious day:
ye that are men now serve him
against unnumbered foes;
let courage rise with danger,
and strength to strength oppose.
For those who wish to know more about the phonograph, there are many sources available in the library catalogue, including cylinder histories and personal histories of Edison and Bell, published by the City of London Phonograph and Gramaphone society; Ma Rainey’s phonograph – featured in an article looking at the legacy of black embodiment within the visual-sonic tradition; technical manuals for those who own or are restoring phonographic equipment; and phonographs and popular memory, a look at gathering oral history in America.
If it is agreed that the announcer of the first two cylinders held in this collection is Thomas Edison, and in keeping with other cylinders available to listen online of a similar religious nature, then it is probably safe to assume that these four recordings date from around 1908. By 1912, shortly after the UK caught up to the wax cylinder phenomenon, Edison was selling his commercial disc phonograph, and recording technology continued on its evolutionary path to the digital world we inhabit today.
This audio clip began with the first meeting of the Cardiff Business Club for the season. The unidentified male speaker gives a short introduction as to why they were there and gives an overview of the importance of rugby and community. He talks about the launch a few weeks earlier at Cardiff Bay, and how happy he was that so many new people were coming to see what they were all about. Lots of new members, Vice President and corporate members. I was not lost, even though I was straight into the clip with no context, and it captured my attention from the outset.
Towards the beginning of the clip, this quote stuck with me: ‘A great cross section of Welsh businesses, members of the Welsh government, people from sports, education, media and all kinds of fields of Welsh life’ – this is a poignant quote that shows how deeply the Rugby Society is entrenched in the community side of things. The man talks about how it is so important to attract people from all walks of life together. It shows that community is not just the people closest to you, but comes from the places you would least expect.
The speaker is at the top of the world of rugby, whilst the Rugby World Cup was occurring during the time of this recording, 2015. He mentions how productivity of Welsh spirit and patriotism has increased in businesses around the Wales matches, which in turn boosts morale. Cardiff embraced the spirit of the rugby tournament, which further promotes a sense of Welsh pride. He then introduces the new sponsor of the club, Catherine Finn, who takes the mic to talk a bit before introducing the speaker for the event. She took over from Matthew Hammond as the member of the PWC (Price Water House Coopers) for Wales and the West Country.
She refers to a slide in the room, where she talks about Brett Gosper, who went from an amateur rugby player in the days before rugby became a professional sports career, to a professional player who drove for the commercial success of rugby. This commercial success is tied to the World Cup and to Wales as a home nation, too.
Then, Brett Gosper takes over. He takes up the majority of the audio recording, documenting the objectives of World Rugby, and the opportunities offered by events such as the World Cup and the Olympic Games. He continues, talking about the success of rugby in the entertainment sector, particularly in the uptake of the sport by women and children in a male dominated sport. He expands on Catherine’s earlier point about rugby’s growth in commercial markets and the ambition to inspire new audiences. Advertisement via social media greatly helped the campaign for the Rugby Union, particularly around the Olympics, and he spent a while expanding on that point. He continued, going into detail about how it was important that rugby had a long-term investment strategy, through digital and social engagement. Then, he expanded on how player welfare is extremely important in rugby moving from being a game regulator, as Gosper calls it, to a game promoter.
After that, the floor opens up to a Q&A session – the topics include investment to accession states of the EU in terms of rugby, which was very interesting to learn about, comparisons between football and rugby federations, i.e. World Rugby and FIFA, and engagement of rugby with the world. He also gave advice to in regards to their children’s sport of choice, as any sport a child wants to pursue is always important. He finished off with answering a question about bringing the flair back into the game.
There was a vote of thanks, and that was the conclusion of the clip. It was a thoroughly enjoyable listening experience and I felt like I was there in the atmosphere of being in an event like that. Especially since the world has been deprived of social events during the pandemic, it was really nice to hear the laughter, the background clinking of glasses and general noises of events such as the one that was happening with this Rugby Union. I can just imagine all the people included in their formal wear, having fun whilst also maintaining and creating new contacts.
This was a lovely second listening and I hope I have done this clip justice. I am enjoying writing these blogs posts, so stick around for the next one, and I will see you soon.
Alice Tucker, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage volunteer
The hills and uplands of Ceredigion keep us busy and happy as peaceful havens to walk and cycle but they didn’t used to be this empty. The stories of the ‘lost’ communities inhabiting our mountain uplands have been documented in a very special way: A wealth of ‘Story of the Forest’ sound archives are housed at the National Library in Aberystwyth.
Interviews with community members made in the early nineties reveal what life used to be like in the uplands. After a couple of minutes of listening, the whole world of a surprisingly recent bygone age of our ‘wild west’ starts coming to life. The interviews unveil a history of the mountain communities who farmed the wild uplands before they were planted with forestry and paved with roads. Many farms moved or were left empty when the uplands were planted after World War II and after the cripplingly harsh winter of 1947. The remnants of these crofts, farms, pens and ‘corrals’ can be seen as ruins around Strata Florida and Teifi Pools; on the Abergwesyn pass and the Cwm Elan mountain road. The busy, resilient and hard working mountain communities who inhabited them are still represented throughout the upland towns and villages.
We hear of Dai Jones, the last horseback postman, delivering a weekly round for the General Post Office into the late 1950s. This ‘pony express’ – ran 3 days a week. Horses were central to the hill farming existence, the ‘sheep station’ farms may seem ‘outlying’, but in fact, what appear now as isolated communities were very mobile and culturally central. Men, women and children owned hill ponies which could take them anywhere in the mountain range for the cost of some hill-grazed grass.
Accounts of dragging a forestry siren up the mountain at midnight to ‘serenade’ a bride-to-be gives a sense of both hard work and wild fun. A farmer tells of breaking horses-in double-quick in the exhausting bogland, and one forester recalls encountering the legendary Free Wales Army platoons on mountain manoeuvres.
The depth and strength of the bonds of these hill farming communities is described in their communal work – every summer there would be mass hand-shearings of up to two thousand sheep at a time, the households of the community all coming together to help each other.
Under a National Lottery Heritage grant, National Library of Wales has commissioned Mapping Land Voices, an art project that aims to encourage access to the archive through walking and drawing old mountain paths whilst listening to their relevant oral histories. These creative, remediations of the mountain legends will be geo-tagged and made in the places the voices describe. It is easy to get inspired.
Hosted by the Peoples’ Collection Wales, this new-from-old archive of shared art will be part of a searchable National Library/British Library database, indexing the original sound archives through a twenty-first century community response.
The Mapping Land Voices project works on a first-come, first-served basis: to sign up click here
To access the sound archive, all it takes is a reader’s ticket to the National Library. You can research which archives are relevant to your local woodlands, and hear stories which are guaranteed to transport you back in time. Visit the Library
Firstly, I want to thank the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Project for giving me the opportunity to listen to and give my opinions on this sound recording and all future ones. I believe this is an integral part of retaining Welsh history and culture for future generations and I am honoured to be able to help out with this wonderful work.
Starting out, I am impressed with the sound quality of this recording, considering it is from 18th July 1974. I listened to the recording with headphones and there wasn’t any form of crackling or feedback, which proved to me that the interviewer cared about getting an authentic listening experience for the listener. It felt as if I was in the room with Lydia. As for my listening experience, it was my first time listening to such a recording and I was pleasantly surprised. There were really personal feels to the song, as if we were in an intimate setting. The gentle, soft timbre of Mrs Watkins’ voice was soothing and it really made me feel at ease listening to it.
It was interesting to hear that Mrs Lydia Watkins, from Ontario, Canada, was originally from Merthyr Tydfil. She has retained her Welsh childhood memory of the songs she sang, which proves how connected she is to her Welsh identity. There is also a sense that she can have a dual identity – she can be both Canadian and Welsh, with neither part of them cancelling out the other. Both can co-exist in the same space for her, and both can be honoured just as much as the other. In light of this, it was intriguing to hear her clear, lilting Welsh dialect as she sang. The songs she sang were Anwylaf Lecyn Byd imi yw Cymru fechan lon (My favourite place in the world is Wales), Tra Bo Dau (While There’s Two) and Y Gelynen (The Holly). Her decision to sing them in Welsh shows how she has further kept hold of her Welsh heritage and roots, even though she was situated at the time of the recording in Ontario. It’s a wonderful melding together of cultures, and connects future generations of Welsh children to the cultural songs of Wales.
She talks of a music teacher giving voice training to one of her pupils, who threw up his hands in despair and said an interesting statement: ‘you sing in the cracks.’ The cracks indicate the gaps, the small fissures in a larger structure, where things are easily lost and forgotten about. Singing in the cracks, therefore, heavily implies that the teacher’s voice is so powerful and important that they manage to penetrate the cracks of the world, yet still be impactful. It was a brilliant statement and really made me think about the idea of being able to extend a voice into the places we don’t think they can go. It reminds me that the cracks are still places, even if we don’t value them, and that they will always be filled with sound if we remember to include them. Singing, then, never leaves anyone out in being able to reach the cracks. It’s kind of poetic, no?
Another quote stuck with me: ‘singing, and sitting beside someone you thought could sing anyway.’ The idea of community was established, and the trickle of laughter that accompanied it before Mrs Watkins launched into song again make it personable, relatable. The rest of the clip was her continuing to sing the songs I mentioned above, and it was a nice reprieve from the hustle and bustle of life. A quiet moment to reflect, to bask in the beauty of Welsh folk songs carried over from childhood, and even though I didn’t understand the full meaning behind the words, I still felt included as an English speaker. They spoke to me in the universal language of music. It was wonderful.
Overall, I loved listening to the audio and I highly recommend everyone else does so too. You will feel nostalgic for the memories these songs bring, especially if you have grown up or are familiar with these songs. I am looking forward to seeing what else I can discover about Wales’ traditions and histories.
Until next time, dear readers.
Alice Tucker, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Volunteer
This is the final blog post from our group of Aberystwyth University MA students studying Archives and Record Management who have been working alongside the National Library of Wales as part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project to catalogue recordings from the Heritage and Cultural Exchange archive in Butetown, Cardiff.
The most recent recording I catalogued was a talk by a local artist Jack Sullivan (1925-2002) who worked as a police officer in the Tiger Bay area from 1948 to 1955, as a British Transport Policeman. Jack walked the beat, often at night, patrolling Cardiff docklands. As he strolled through the city streets, he made some 800 sketches of the people and places he saw.
The tape consists of Jack Sullivan describing his painting from his time in Kenya where he worked as a police officer. The paintings focus mainly on tribal women in traditional dress and jewellery. Jack Sullivan provides several stories of his experiences of policing in Kenya and stories around the paintings including several bloody tales of tribal warfare, cattle raiders and even tales of peoples’ belief in witchcraft. Listening to the recording makes you envious of the exciting life he has led and the people and places he has seen (a feeling that was heightened given the current restriction we are living under!). This is a feeling I have experienced listening to a lot of the recordings and has led me to the conclusion that everyone has a story to tell.
Reflecting on the other series of recordings we have catalogued one thing I was struck by was the timing of these interviews. To me the recordings, especially the 1987 interviews tell a story which is common to many places in the UK in the twentieth century: the move from an industrial society to a post-industrial society. The people interviewed experienced the docks in its’ ‘heyday’ when Coal from the Valleys made it one of the busiest docks in the world and have witnessed its decline and, at the time of the interviews, the redevelopment of the docks. This is a story that is mirrored across the UK in the twentieth century, the move from an industrial to post-industrial society and a similar story would emerge around the Liverpool and London dock both of which have undergone huge redevelopment and regeneration projects in the latter half of the twentieth century.
Also hugely significant is that these recordings are an invaluable resource when it comes to studying race relations in Britain in the twentieth century. A topic which is hugely relevant in the kind of debates we are having as a country; these tapes tell the story of the experiences of one of Britain’s earliest multi-ethnic communities and are therefore a great resource as we move towards an ever more diverse society.
This project took place with the pandemic as a backdrop which has posed many challenges, most of them logistical. However, the digital nature of the material we catalogued made it well-suited in a pandemic when our group was split from the Isle of Man to Kent and had to work largely remotely. For the first part of the project, we conducted our meeting on Microsoft Teams which was not ideal but on reflection 10 to 15 years ago such technology wouldn’t have been sophisticated enough to allow us to proceed. Once we had all returned to Aberystwyth and could meet in person, we found that the meeting ran much more efficiently, not to mention more enjoyably.
From a personal standpoint this project has been a very useful learning experience. I had fairly limited practical experience of cataloguing before. I had some cataloguing experience from previous work experience, but I was unfamiliar with concepts such as standardization and interoperability (the ability of computer systems or software to exchange and make use of information) before starting my course. It is, of course, very important for metadata to be precise and consistent and I feel that you can learn a lot from the process of creating it and having your peers check your work. The ongoing process of review was very beneficial as it turned what could be a solitary exercise into a collaborative learning experience. I also feel that I have learnt more about the most sensitive aspects of cataloguing. Having to listen to each recording whilst considering how the release of any information could affect identifiable data subjects brought home to me the responsibility of the role. Overall, I feel that the project has left me better placed to search for work in the sector and has given me positive practical experience to talk about in any job interviews.
Finally, as this is our last blog post, I would like to take this opportunity to thank The National Library of Wales for giving us the opportunity to be involved in this project and for providing us with ongoing support and feedback.
Michael Holland, MA Archives and Record Management Student, Aberystwyth University
Alongside the welcome reopening of the National Library of Wales, the post-Easter period has witnessed a return to in-person teaching at Aberystwyth University. Our group of MA students studying Archives and Records Management (Department of Information Studies) who have been cataloguing sound recordings from ‘Tiger Bay- Heritage and Cultural Exchange’ collection as part of the nationwide Unlocking Our Sound Heritage initiative have therefore made a happy transition from virtual to face-to-face meetings.
We have recently been cataloguing a series of sound recordings consisting of interviews with residents from Butetown, Cardiff about their lives during the Second World War. The interviews were conducted during the early 2000s and include accounts of family life, schooling and work in Butetown and beyond, including memories of wartime service. Some of the themes addressed are familiar touchstones in the national collective memory of wartime Britain such as air raids, rationing, and Victory in Europe (‘VE’) Day celebrations. Yet the memories described are also individually rooted in the local community. Thus, among stories about rationing are memories of the food brought home by local sailors and shared among neighbours. Accounts of the relationships forged between residents in the unique and diverse local community are intermixed with those of the discrimination which they faced even during wartime.
The collection highlights the value of not only oral histories, but community-based oral histories in particular. You can hear about the same events told by neighbours and members of the same family which reveal how shared experiences are variously remembered. In other instances, such as interviews with siblings about their experiences of bombing raids, the detailed descriptions given are remarkable in their similarity and suggest that they are perhaps memories that have been retold many times in years since. As mentioned in our previous posts, these recordings form part of a wider collection which was founded by residents who interviewed each other about their shared local heritage. The recordings, and the reflections on wartime which they contain, therefore represent a dialogue as much as individual perspectives.
In addition to the fascinating content of the recordings, our team have been occupied with decisions about how they should be catalogued. When library cataloguers classify books, they will describe key bibliographic information about its features, such as the author, title, publication date and shelfmark. We call this information ‘metadata’ because it is data which describes other data (i.e. data about the book, which is itself data!). This information will be included in a catalogue record which will help library staff and users find and access the materials. For sound recordings, the catalogue record may include different metadata elements, such as the identity of the ‘performers’, the language(s) spoken, and notes on sound quality. A further example of the metadata fields we populate is the subject matter of the recordings. This is an important field as it indicates to users what the sound recording is about. Crucially, subject matter classifications will also influence the ability for users to search for and discover the items in an online catalogue, as they are one of the elements used to populate search results.
Classification of subject matter is not open-ended though. Cataloguers are generally restricted to the use of a particular set of pre-determined labels or words (“controlled vocabularies”) included in a particular cataloguing standard. A cataloguing standard provides guidance on the metadata to be included in a catalogue record and how that metadata should be described and formatted. Yet the available options can still be quite extensive and require careful thought. For example, if you were to classify a recording of an oral history about an individual’s childhood experiences of air raids in Butetown, what labels might you apply? Would you think of it as an account about air raids during the Second World War specifically? You might perhaps draw topical associations to ‘civil defence’ and the ‘Blitz’, or more regionally to the ‘Tiger Bay’ area. More broadly still, you might categorise the account as one of ‘childhood’, ‘community’, or ‘family life’. These are approximations of just a handful of the available subject classifications for the British Library’s Sound and Moving Image (SAMI) catalogue of which the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage recordings form a part. Our work has therefore required us to think carefully about which labels best represent the content of the recordings, and to look beyond our subjective interpretations to imagine their utility and interest for a broad range of listeners and researchers.
As part of our wider coursework, our team have begun to create an archive catalogue of the sound recordings to demonstrate how they could be incorporated into an archival finding aid. Somewhat similarly to a library catalogue, a finding aid helps people locate a specific item, group of items or collection within an archive. Yet, because archivists use different cataloguing standards from those used by librarians, different controlled vocabularies may apply. Our team are using the ‘Dublin Core’ standard which outlines fifteen elements of metadata to be included in any descriptions used to create a finding aid. The Dublin Core standard advocates use of the ‘Library of Congress Subject Headings’ to classify subject-matter, which is an authoritative thesaurus of subject headings maintained by the Library of Congress. As the headings available may be different from those used in the SAMI catalogue, cataloguing may therefore involve reconceptualising the content of the recordings where the available options do not neatly overlap. With this experience comes an appreciation of the everyday quandaries faced by both librarians and archivists and the ‘two hats’ worn by those working across multiple metadata standards.
Throughout our project our team has benefitted from the guidance of staff members of the National Library of Wales who have shared their expertise about cataloguing in accordance with the MARC encoding standard, which ensures our entries will be machine-readable and capable of reproduction both in the Library’s own catalogues and those of other libraries. They have taught us about the rights and sensitivities issues which may impact on users being allowed access to the material. We have also recently learned about the process of digitisation for sound recordings and preservation issues relating to audio recordings held in both physical and digital formats. The knowledge which we have gained through our collaboration with the National Library of Wales will therefore support us not only in the completion of our project but throughout our hopeful future archival careers.
It was with regret that the committee organising the National Eisteddfod for 2021 had to make the decision to postpone the competition for a second year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The full title of the sound clip highlighted in this blog is “Why Should We Not Sing in War?”
We are currently waging war with the virus through vaccines, social distancing, and lockdowns; there have been many casualties of this war and the Eisteddfod is one of many organisations to have been affected by it adversely as well.
The festival, with a history tracing back to 1176, is a celebration of Welsh language and culture, which has been held during the first week of August since 1861, apart from 1914, when the outbreak of World War 1 caused it to be postponed for a year.
In 1916, the new Secretary of State for the War, David Lloyd George made an impassioned reply to a letter published in the Times, criticising the decision to hold the Eisteddfod during wartime. He made his speech at the opening of the Aberystwyth National Eisteddfod that August, and even though the festival cannot take place this year, we can take his words as a reminder that while adversity strikes again, as it has done many times over the course of Welsh history, its people will carry on singing.
Although the speech was made in 1916, the sound file held by the National Library of Wales was made in the BBC studios on 15 February 1934, when Lloyd George was President of the London Welsh Trust. It was digitised by the Unlocking our Sound Heritage (UOSH) project.
By this point in his life, Lloyd George had been marginalised from British Politics, but his original oration was given just months before he was invited to form a government in December 1916, holding office until 1922, as the first and only Welshman to become Prime Minister of Great Britain.
Lloyd George was born in Manchester but was raised at his mother’s family home in Llanystumdwy, near Cricieth. He maintained lifelong ties to this area, being made Earl of Dwyfor in 1944, the year before his death at age 82. He is buried on the banks of Afon Dwyfor in Llanystumdwy.
He was a passionate advocate for Welsh politics and rights, and an eloquent speaker, which is obvious through this sound file. Beginning with the hiss and crackle of the 78rpm recording, Lloyd George leads with a question to his critics: “Why should we not sing during the war… why especially should we not sing at this stage of the war?” He explains that Britain is greater than ever, so although war means suffering and sorrow, the country should be like the nightingale, giving its song in the darkness and so triumphing over pain.
This reference to Hans Christian Andersen’s fable of the Chinese emperor and a nightingale whose song so moves Death that the emperor’s life is spared, was (as a musical side note) the subject of a 1914 opera by Igor Stravinsky, “La Rossignol”. Perhaps Lloyd George was familiar with the opera or perhaps he had liked reading fairy tales to his children, but in his estimation, although nightingales are not known on the Welsh side of the Severn, “…we can provide better. There is a bird in our villages that can beat the best of them. He’s called Y Cymro.”
Like the nightingale that sings in the night, the Welsh sing in the night and during the day, in joy and sorrow, at work and at play, in prosperity and through adversity, in sunshine and storm, during times of peace – and so why should they not sing during the war?
A transcription of the audio file can be found at the end of the blog.
Lloyd George continues, referencing the turbulent history of Wales and its ability to maintain cultural identity throughout: “Hundreds of wars have swept over these hills, but the heart of Wales has never been silenced by one of them.”
In this day and age, the Eisteddfod cannot be completely silenced, even by a virus. Modern technology allows for the Eisteddfod AmGen to take place on various online platforms and social media with a strong competitive element. This freedom is like the end of the legend of the nightingale, in which a strong future is negotiated to ensure that the bird lives in its true environment so that it can continue to thrive and be heard.
At the heart of Lloyd George’s speech is a surety that we will make it through this present adversity and together we can stay in tune.
By Rasma Bertz, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Volunteer
Transcription: Why should we not sing?
He sings in joy he sings also in sorrow.
He sings in prosperity he sings also in adversity.
He sings at play he sings also at work.
He sings in the sunshine he sings in the storm.
He sings in the day time he sings also in the night.
He sings in peace; why should he not sing in war?
A blog about the work and collections of the National Library of Wales.
Due to the more personal nature of blogs it is the Library's policy to publish postings in the original language only. An equal number of blog posts are published in both Welsh and English, but they are not the same postings. For a translation of the blog readers may wish to try facilities such as Google Translate.