The National Library of Wales is one of 10 hubs across Britain that is collaborating with the British Library on the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project. The project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, aims to protect the nation’s rare and unique sound recordings.
We are in the process of digitising, cataloguing and assessing the rights of 5,000 sound recordings from across Wales in order to protect them for future generations.
Over the next few weeks, composers will be composing new works based on some of Wales’s oral history collections. 25 artists have been commissioned to undertake this task. They will listen to a number of interviews recorded either in Wales or by people from Wales, and will use them to inspire creating a new piece of work.
During the summer the Library will unlock these works, showing how an audio archive can be used to create creative works.
The composers selected are listed below:
Ailsa Hughes a Sianed Jones: ‘Tinc y Tannau’ duo who work with historical Welsh music and poetry
Alan Chamberlain: composer who predominantly works with archival content
Angharad Davies: violinist, composer and performer and a member of several duets
Ben McManus: musician and composer with an interest in folk music and folklore
Bonello, Ruth and Hay: musical trio, featuring prominent Welsh songwriters who started performing together in 2019
Branwen Williams: musician, composer and member of several groups from Wales
David Roche: composer from Tredegar who has received over 30 academic and professional awards
Derri Joseph Lewis: musician and composer with experience of writing acoustic and electronic music
Gareth Bonello: musician and composer who uses Welsh folk songs and poetry in his work
Georgia Ruth Williams: musician and composer who is inspired by the history of Wales and folk tradition
Geraint Rhys: independent musician and award winning film-maker from Swansea
Gwen Mairi: professional harpist who sings Welsh folk songs
Gwenan Gibbard: singer and harpist specialising in folk music
Gwilym Bowen Rhys: Welsh folk singer who has developed a deep connection with the traditional songs of Wales
Gwydion Rhys: 6th form pupil at Ysgol Dyffryn Ogwen, Bethesda who composes and plays the piano
Luciano Williamson: composer about to graduate from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
Neil Rosser: hails from Morriston with over 30 years’ experience as a composer and performer
Owen Shiers: musician and composer who performs Welsh folk music
Pierce Joyce: composition student at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, hailing from Ireland
Sally Crosby: singer – song writer with a degree in Music and Creative writing
Sam Humphreys: musician who plays the guitar and is a member of the band Calan
Seth Alexander: composer who likes to combine computer instrumentation with sound recordings
Stacey Blythe: composer, musician and performer who also performs as part of various duos
Steff Rees: musician and composer who is a member of the band Bwca, and part of the ukulele Iwcadwli orchestra
Toby Hay: composer and performer with his work being inspired by history, landscape and stories
As we celebrate International Dylan Thomas Day, the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH) engineers have been digitising interviews recorded by Colin Edwards with friends and family of Dylan Thomas. The recordings were deposited to the National Library of Wales by Mary Edwards, Colin’s wife and the transcribed tapes were edited by David N Thomas and published in his books ‘Dylan Remembered, 2 vols. (Seren and NLW 2003, 2004)’.
Here, Sophie Tupholme one of the UOSH volunteers reflects on her experience of listening and cataloguing the collection.
For the past five months, I’ve had the lovely and lucky chance to help catalogue audio recordings made by Welsh journalist Colin Edwards. Across the 1960s, Edwards completed an ambitious collection of interviews with poet Dylan Thomas’s family, friends and acquaintances – altogether creating an intricate collage of accounts and reminiscences that shed unprecedented light on the poet’s life and character.
Coming from a relatively patchy understanding of Dylan Thomas’s biography, output and icon, I had the unique chance to piece together an impression of the man, his work and his relationships from intimate sources rather than from culturally accepted notions or mythologies. I learned of and enjoyed impressions of Dylan Thomas as a generous, humorous, sometimes shy but often gregarious individual, hearing these as if a friend were relaying them to me personally. Memories of Swansea’s landmarks and Grammar School collaged together gave me as vivid a picture as if I’d visited them myself; I recognized conversations with certain schoolmasters and students, I sat in the Kardomah Café on Sunday mornings, I walked the Promenade in the cool evenings. Listening to descriptions of summer holidays at Fern Hill Farm in Carmarthen, with a myriad of family, friends and locals all contributing their stories and perspectives, I felt an overall understanding of this period and locale as if I too had visited the neighbouring farms and been for a pint in the nearby villages.
What a fascinating treat – learning about an entire world, with this remarkable man at its center, through the reminiscences and shared histories of those who knew him best. Lucky for me, I now feel as if I know the man on a level above common knowledge, purely because these interviews feel like the sharing of privileged information from the memory and mouth of a friend. And even aside from content, the beautiful language used by the poets and artists in Thomas’s acquaintance (Charles Fischer, Alfred Janes, Frances Hughes and many others) when describing his ‘liveness,’ sense of humour or love of words, was enough to leave me moved and enthralled.
I was of course not alone in this journey and these discoveries. Prolific journalist and interviewer Colin Edwards led my way, guiding the conversations to specific points, querying new insights and digging for further details, and always returning the conversation to Dylan – the ‘real’ Dylan, the Dylan of family and friends’ acquaintance. Alongside discussions of Thomas’s schooldays, life in Laugharne and travels to America, other illuminating topics came to the fore, such as his impressive theatre performances, friendships with prominent figures and artists such as Edith Sitwell and Augustus John, and travels to Florence and Rome, Prague and Iran.
Getting to know Colin Edwards throughout these interviews was in itself a fascinating process, and I was thoroughly impressed with his patience, persistence and genuine interest in his subjects. I came to anticipate his favourite questions, the tone of voice used in particular situations, the points he most wanted to uncover and push for, the sorts of anecdotes he enjoyed or would find humorous, and the formality of his voice when speaking to someone especially esteemed in Thomas’s artistic circles, compared with the ease of his conversations with ‘ordinary blokes’ or long-time family friends. Accompanying Edwards on this oral history project has felt like joining an old friend while he calls upon neighbours, enjoying intimate conversations as an attentive outsider.
It was also interesting to hear the same anecdotes and responses repeated across interviews. These repetitions signalled a shared understanding of Thomas that, often times, really departed from ideas of Dylan Thomas that pervade our cultural understanding of his character and his life. Many interviewees shared stories of Thomas insisting upon repaying debts to his friends, successfully managing his drinking so that he could write unfettered and cheerfully playing with his children. Legends of his drinking, womanizing, reckless passions and unpredictability are weakened and seem outlandish compared to the tamer memories and impressions of his family and friends. Stories of his wild antics seem to have grown arms and legs as, of course, these stories sell better than those of Thomas trying to repay his debts, drinking pints rather than hard liquor and travelling to America for money to support his family and lifestyle, rather than for experiences of debauchery and freedom from homelife.
I cannot recommend this collection highly enough. Fascinating and informative, it brings together a wonderful assortment of voices and perspectives, and immediately engages the listener – whether you feel you know nearly everything or next to nothing about Dylan Thomas and his Wales. I found that the intensity of listening to so many interviews in a short stretch of time also helped me reflect on aspects beyond Thomas’s life and character, such as the most rewarding ways to conduct an interview and which points of conversation are likely to bring about the best responses. Edwards was, without a doubt, a highly skilled and professional interviewer, and this collection presents an enviable model for going about an oral history project for those who may be interested in pursuing something similar.
Having the chance to catalogue these audiotapes has been absolutely rewarding from start to finish. It’s been a pleasure contributing to our shared cultural heritage in this avenue, ultimately enabling these preserved works to be presented anew and collectively enjoyed by new and old audiences alike.
Julie Kenny and Katy Stone, volunteers for the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project reflects on their experience of cataloguing the Cardiff Business Club Collection.
As trainee archivists at Aberystwyth University, we were thrilled to be given the opportunity to participate in the ‘Unlocking Our Sound Heritage’ (UOSH) project, a UK-wide project that aims to help preserve the nation’s sounds and provide access to them for generations to come. The first collection we were tasked with cataloguing comprised of recordings of speeches given at dinners hosted by the Cardiff Business Club. This organisation promotes business inspiration and initiatives to its members, and is the leading organisation of this nature in Wales. Its patron is HRH The Prince of Wales.
The recordings covered interesting topics including: human rights; environmental impact and sustainability for businesses such as Ford, the National Grid, Mercedes Benz; healthcare systems; international interest in NICE and its future work in relation to drug development and possible clinical guideline expansion; political agendas; economic growth including inflation and the recession; the real estate market; BBC broadcasting and the charter review; the development of Wales’s biggest house builder Redrow; Margaret Thatcher’s axing of public works; the objectives of World Rugby and the opportunities offered by events such as the Rugby World Cup and the Olympic games; the effect of epidemics on businesses and the role of businesses in reducing outbreaks; Brazil’s relations with the UK; the Welsh economy; and the history and development of Cardiff Bay.
Some of the more well-known speakers include Shami Chakrabarti, Lord Tony Hall, Rt. Hon. David Cameron, Brett Gosper, and Professor Dame Sally Davies. Tributes were paid to Sir Cennydd Traherne, who was Lord Lieutenant of Glamorgan.
We found listening to these recordings raised interesting points that we hadn’t considered before. It is clear to us how they could benefit a wider audience.
All in all, the time we have spent volunteering at the National Library of Wales (NLW) has been extremely valuable. It has contributed to our studies, and enabled us to develop skills that will be useful to us in our future profession. The staff at NLW have been very welcoming and accommodating, and we would strongly recommend anyone with an interest in protecting our sound heritage to volunteer.
By MA Archives Administration students Julie Kenny and Katy Stone.
David Lloyd George was born in Manchester on the 17 January 1863 then raised in Wales, where he became one of the most famous radicals of the century. Between 1890 and 1945 he was elected Member of Parliament for Caernarfon.
Through the early years of the First World War, Lloyd George became Chancellor of the Exchequer under the leadership of Herbert Henry Asquith. In 1916 he became Secretary of State for War and later that year became the first Welsh speaking Prime Minister.
In 1916 The Times published a letter where the writer objected to the holding of the Eisteddfod during war time. In response to this article Lloyd George delivered a speech at the Aberystwyth National Eisteddfod which started:
“Why should we not sing during the war? Why especially should we not sing at this stage of the war?”
He continues to criticise the letter pointing out that Britain is still alive, not down, shattered and broken so “why should her children not sing?”
Through-out his speech Lloyd George vigorously defends the holding of the Eisteddfod during the war:
“Hundreds of wars have swept over these hills, but the harp of Wales has never yet been silenced by one of them, and I should be proud if I contributed something to keep it in tune during this war, by the holding of this Eisteddfod today.”
According to the Abergavenny Chronicle Lloyd George said, “our soldiers sing the songs of Wales in the trenches, and they hold their little Eisteddfodau behind the trenches” where he continued to read a telegram sent from the front line:
“Greetings and best wishes for success to the Eisteddfod; from Welshmen in the Field. Next Eisteddfod we shall be with you.”
On the 22 of August 1916 the newspaper ‘Y Genedl’ reported that there were over 7,000 listening to Lloyd George defending the National Eisteddfod at Aberystwyth. Newspapers reported that he remained at the festival for some time after delivering his speech and then left the town amid scenes of tremendous enthusiasm.
On the 15 February 1934 Lloyd George then recorded part of his famous ‘Why should we not sing?’ speech at the BBC studios, ready to be broadcast on the radio, for the world to hear.
Listen to a clip from the speech:
Copy of this address is kept at the National Library of Wales, and thanks to the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project has been digitised and safely stored at the British Library’s digital repository. You can listen to the recording at the Library’s Reading Room and it will soon be available online.
The National Heritage Lottery Fund’s Unlocking Our Heritage project aims to protect the UK’s unique and rare sound collections. The British Library and the 10 national hubs will digitize 160,000 audio items, catalog 470,000 recordings, and look at the rights of 100,000 items.
The National Library of Wales will digitise audio collections from Wales, in order to protect and create access to the files. These sound recordings will be used in learning and engagement activities, and will raise the profile of the UK Sound Archives collections. By the end of 2021 more people will be engaged with audio material and a new website will enable listeners to listen and explore a selection of online recordings.
Through the generosity and kindness of the Friends of the National Library of Wales we have received a donation of a listening bench which will enable us to take these digital recordings on a tour of Wales. A selection of audio clips will be played on the bench at different locations over the next few years.
The Reverend Canon Enid Morgan, Chair of the Friends of the National Library of Wales, said:
The Friends are delighted to present this lovely Audio Bench as a gift to the Library. We are proud that over the years we have been able to help the Library in a variety of ways to add and care for its collections and this project which aims to digitize Welsh audio collections in order to protect and create access to them is a key part of our history as Welsh people.
Before the bench begins its journey it can be seen here on the front lawn of the National Library. Clips of interviews and music are played by Dylan Baines, Ectogram, Malcolm Gwyon, Meibion Mwnt, Tecwyn Ifan, Blew and Plethyn. These artists were originally recorded for Radio Cymru sessions, with the majority unheard since the early 80s. “I would like to thank the Friends of the National Library of Wales for supporting this project and for their kind donation. This is a great opportunity to release clips of sound collections from Wales that would otherwise have remained hidden. There will be an opportunity for people to listen and engage with these recordings in their local communities.” Alison Smith, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Hub Project Manager (UOSH).
Here’s Oscar Seager one of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage volunteers talking about his experience working on the Drake Sound Archive Collection.
Since volunteering in the Screen and Sound department of the National Library of Wales on the Unlocking our Sound Heritage project from February of this year, I have listened to numerous different audio clips on the Drake Sound Archive. These clips, while mainly focusing on business-related topics as they took place in the Cardiff Business Club, surprised me on the variety of talks that took place.
Many clips that I have listened to were recorded in 1998. However, more recently, many clips have moved to the 21st century. The topics that were mainly covered in this period were in relation to the Euro and the concerns that people faced in uniting under a single currency in terms of trade. However, other clips covered other topics that gave an interesting insight into things that I would never have come across in my academic studies in my History course including filmmaking (which was surprisingly discussed by Richard Attenborough) or the more random discussions such as the benefits of alcohol upon the body (discussed by Dr Thomas Stuttaford). While I had a fundamental understanding of what was being discussed in any clip, to be able to listen to a professional in that line of work discuss it is of significance to me.
However, it is not simply the fact that these clips are interesting that make my involvement in the UOSH feel worthwhile but also that these tapes have no longer been set aside but are now being made available in the British Library catalogue for others to listen to, truly unlocking our sound heritage for everyone to take full advantage of! Seeing my own work appearing on the library catalogue brought about a moment of pride and accomplishment to me as I was actively contributing to a historiography and also gaining valuable experience for my MA in Archive Administration at the same.
For the last 14 weeks as part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project, the Library has welcomed 10 students from the MA Archive Administration and MSc Digital Curation courses from Aberystwyth University’s Department of Information Studies to work on one of our sound collections. We would like to thank the students for all their hard work and contribution towards the project, and to Crystal Guevara for writing this Blog about their time spent with us.
Timber, forest fires, road building, and World War II stories are just some of the subjects that are covered in a collection made up of 167 MiniDiscs, each containing interviews recorded from people who worked for or around the Forestry Commission.
As part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project, the National Library of Wales is working on preserving and making available sound recordings that tell the story of wales through oral histories. Dr. Sarah Higgins, professor at Aberystwyth University arranged for ten students in the post-graduate Archive Administration course to help the Library work on a project called the Story of the Forest.
I was one of ten students that got to work on the project and I found that my appreciation for the people who had started the work for this story grew from admiration to urgency so that more people could hear and learn from the experiences of the forest workers who transformed the landscape of rural Wales.
The majority of these recordings are in Welsh, the remainder being in English. To place you somewhere in the timeline of history we’re talking about mid-Twentieth Century Wales. Due to a high demand for timber, the Forestry Commission bought slate quarries and farms to transform those areas into plots for forestry farming. Naturally, this meant an adjustment in lifestyle and some people adjusted well to it while others longed for the way that things used to be. The people who were a part of these changes weren’t interviewed until 2002 and 2003 by a team of interviewers who were motivated to get on record the rich details of this time of transition and change.
Because the interviews were recorded on MiniDiscs, they needed to be rescued from becoming completely inaccessible, since so much of the technology around MiniDiscs has already become obsolete. So, our job as archive students was to digitise the recordings on the MiniDiscs, catalogue all of the interviews, transcribe them, and then put together an online exhibit to showcase some of these interviews along with old photographs provided by the interviewees. To get all of this done we got to work with some of the Library staff. They gave us guidance on what to do and we in turn strategized the timetable and roles and responsibilities.
Everyone on the team got to perform unique tasks and we sought to rotate everyone through all the necessary jobs to get a chance at trying different things out. Each task required a different learning process and each one was vital to make these stories publicly available.
During the digitising I was able to appreciate having technology that allowed us to continue preserving these stories. While transcribing, I got to hear first-hand the core of what we were doing. Listening to the interviews, was insightful and eye-opening. They contain stories about forestry policy, road building, nursery work, farm life, and other topics like Land Army Girls, Prisoners of War, and life post-World War II. Then, while cataloguing we strived to do things meticulously, but efficiently to create useable information that would help future users navigate through the collection.
To become more connected with the project and feel the real human connection with the interviewees and their stories, we organized a trip to Corris. Corris is one of the places mentioned often in the oral histories and only a 40-minute drive from Aberystwyth. While we were there, we could see for ourselves the different types of trees in their separate sections, covering the hills. We took pictures of our visit to include in the online exhibit and add our own perspective to continue telling the story of the forest.
It was a great journey beginning to end. As we are only aspiring archivists at the moment, we relied heavily on the knowledge of all the library staff helping us work the technology and understand the metadata standards. Alison Smith, Berian Elias, Rhodri Shore, Gruffydd Jones, and Elena Gruffudd were especially helpful. That in and of itself was a lesson applicable in how to help and educate people who are learning to use archives.
To see these oral histories start off in a cardboard box and now find them searchable on the British Library catalogue brought a great sense of accomplishment for the entire team.
17 of these stories are now available to listen to online on the People’s Collection Wales website, along with more detailed stories about the specific process of cataloguing, digitising, transcribing, and work on the exhibit.
This post is a part of the Story of Wales series, which looks at different aspects of Welsh history, and how today’s Wales remembers, and shapes it. Subscribe to the blog on the right to ensure you don’t miss any posts.
Unlocking Our Sound Heritage is an exciting UK project that’s funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and led by the British Library.
The National Library of Wales is proud to be one of the 10 Hub partners participating in the project where half a million rare and at risk sound recordings will be digitally preserved and 100,000 made available online.
From September 2018 until September 2021 the National Library of Wales will digitise, catalogue and assess rights for 5,000 sound recordings from Wales. They will include a range of subjects from oral history, lectures, dialect, poetry, radio sessions to Welsh pop and folk music.
We will preserve sound recordings that are held on obsolete medium and are under threat of physical degradation. Experts suggests we have no more than 15 years to save these sound collections before they will be lost forever.
Thanks to Unlocking Our Sound Heritage, we will be able to preserve and protect some of Wales’ sound recordings and make them publicly available. In order to fulfill this, we will be working with some of our partners in Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff, Swansea and Tredegar.
While digitising the recordings we have unearthed some lost and forgotten interviews from people talking about their childhood memories back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, their school days, family life, communities, and local dialect.
Wales is a country with a variety of customs and traditions which are an important part of our culture and history. By saving these recordings we allow future generations to hear our past and learn about our history.
Stories about local customs from the 19th Century are being told, for instance the ‘Mari Lwyd’ a medieval folk custom, with the purpose of collecting money for the poor and homeless to make up for the lack of support from the government. A tall person was nominated to lead, holding the horse’s skull, with two others behind holding the offerings collected. The Mari Lwyd was last seen in New Quay in 1887.
A description of the ‘Ceffyl Pren’ can be heard. This was a wooden horse used as a practice of social justice. The aim was to punish those who did something against the spirit of society when the law could not. The rider and horse was made of wood and straw in order to represent the guilt. A hood was worn by those who carried the effigy, to hide their identity, and a procession took place through the public areas of the town leading to the home of the culprit, and three weeks later the effigy was burnt in front of the culprit’s house.
Thomas Williams talks about the ‘gogryddion’ (sievemakers) moving into the community and used for processing wheat. He recalls a tradition where a sixpence was thrown in with the wheat, and when the coin appeared it indicated the wheat was ready. The sieves were made out of split willow and the makers were known to be Mormons.
During the three years a wealth of history, traditions and heritage will be saved and without the means to preserve these recordings the first-hand accounts could be lost forever.
If you would like more information about the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project, please contact us on: firstname.lastname@example.org
The National Library of Wales is one of the 10 Hub partners across the UK participating in the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project, which is funded by the National Heritage Lottery Fund and led by the British Library.
The British Library and the 10 Hubs will digitally preserve half a million rare and at risk sound recordings, and make 100,000 available online.
From September 2018 until September 2021 the National Library of Wales will digitise, catalogue and assess rights for 5,000 sound recordings from Wales. They will include a range of subjects from oral history, lectures, dialect to Welsh pop and folk music.
The aim is to transform access to sound collections in Wales making them available online and on site at the Library. In order to fulfil this, we will be working with some of our partners in Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff, Swansea and Tredegar.
We are looking for volunteers or students who wish to gain work experience to support the project.
We have a range of activities on offer from creating inventories, help prepare digitisation work and content research. Training will be provided.
If you have an interest in learning more about Welsh history and sound recordings, keen to learn and develop new skills why not join our warm and friendly team.
Unlocking Our Sound Heritage is a five-year project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and led by the British Library. The project is part of the ‘Save Our Sounds’ programme which aims to preserve and provide access to sound recordings across the UK. Ten Network Audio Preservation Centres have been established across the UK and will receive funding for three years to deal with the threat facing sound recordings. These institutions are:
National Museums Northern Ireland
Archives + Manchester
Norfolk Record Office
National Library of Scotland
University of Leicester
The Keep in Brighton
Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums
National Library of Wales
London Metropolitan Archives
The project will focus on digitising and preserving rare unique sound recordings, those that are under threat of physical deterioration and those at risk of being lost because the playback equipment is no longer available.
The British Library will lead the project, sharing skills and supporting hubs across the UK to preserve their own unique and rare sounds while making them available to the public.
By the end of 2021 the National Library of Wales will have digitally preserved and provide access to unique and rare recordings from our own collection and from partners’ collections across Wales.
The recordings will be used in learning and engagement activities and will raise the profile for collections for Sound Archives across the UK. By the end of 2021 more people will have engaged in sound recordings and a new website will allow listeners to listen and explore a selection of online recordings.
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.