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Folklore: BBC collecting project 88 years on

Jim Carroll 23 Feb 18 - 07:01 AM
Jim Carroll 23 Feb 18 - 07:02 AM
Vic Smith 23 Feb 18 - 10:06 AM
Will Fly 23 Feb 18 - 11:14 AM
Will Fly 23 Feb 18 - 11:15 AM
GUEST,CJB 23 Feb 18 - 12:27 PM
Tradsinger 25 Feb 18 - 03:52 AM
Vic Smith 25 Feb 18 - 06:14 AM
Jim Carroll 25 Feb 18 - 06:42 AM
Vic Smith 25 Feb 18 - 07:27 AM
GUEST,CJB 25 Feb 18 - 07:42 AM
GUEST 25 Feb 18 - 07:44 AM
Vic Smith 25 Feb 18 - 08:13 AM
Jim Carroll 25 Feb 18 - 08:22 AM
Vic Smith 25 Feb 18 - 09:17 AM
Jim Carroll 25 Feb 18 - 10:07 AM
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Subject: Folklore: BBC collecting project 88 years on
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 23 Feb 18 - 07:01 AM

It is now 68 years since the launch of the BBC Folk Music collecting project - high time for a re-assessment maybe?
This is the introduction to the BBC annotated index, which goes some way to explaining how it started and what its aims were
Jim Carroll

Recordings Of Folk Music And Folklore; Great Britain And Ireland; BBC Sound Archives
Introduction
This Catalogue covers the BBC Sound Archives collection of recorded folk music of Great Britain and Ireland and also recordings in the related fields of folk tale, traditional custom and belief.
Although a certain number of these recordings have been made by the BBC in the course of collecting material for programmes general?ly, the majority - and this applies especially to those in Sections 1-6: (Songs and Instrumental Music) - have been collected for the   BBC under a scheme which was organised by the BBC Sound Archives in 1952-6, following two pilot schemes carried out in 1947 and 1949 by the late Brian George, then Head of Department. Under the scheme in the 1950's, a deliberate attempt was made by the BBC to seek out and record as much as possible of what remained of our    folk music heritage in the various parts of the country. Two full-time collectors were engaged on this work: Seamus Ennis (who had. had many years' experience with the Irish Folklore Commission in Dublin) and Peter Kennedy (who was seconded to the BBC by the   English Folk Dance and Song Society). Other collectors were co-opted from time to time for work in special areas, notably Sean O'Boyle, who worked with Peter Kennedy in Northern Ireland, Hamish Henderson, of the School of Scottish Studies, Edinburgh University, and Emrys Cleaver in Wales. Fred Macaulay, of the BBC's Gaelic Department in Glasgow, was enabled to spend some weeks' collecting in his native Island of Lewis. Bob Copper, of Rottingdean, whose own family songs were already recorded, collected for the BBC in 1955 in Sussex and Hampshire and has published an account of his adventures in Songs and Southern Breezes. Members of the BBC staff have also contributed recordings made in the course of programme preparation and in addition, the BBC has acquired recordings (with broadcasting rights for itself) from a number of private collectors.
Most of the annotation in the catalogue is based on information provided by the collectors concerned and for this we are greatly indebted to them, especially to Seamus Ennis and Peter Kennedy, the latter having given a great deal of help in the preparation of the catalogue and the subject index in its preliminary stages. We are also very grateful to Professor Seamus Delargy who, on retirement from directing the Irish Folklore Commission, kindly agreed to cast a critical eye over Section 2 (Songs in Irish Gaelic)


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Subject: RE: Folklore: BBC collecting project 88 years on
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 23 Feb 18 - 07:02 AM

****
Title should read 68 years on
Could some kind forum fairy......?
Sorry


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Subject: RE: Folklore: BBC collecting project 88 years on
From: Vic Smith
Date: 23 Feb 18 - 10:06 AM

Marie Slocombe (1912?1995) founded the BBC Sound Archive in 1936. Her keen interest in audio recordings and folk music have made her legacy important in the history of recorded sound. You can read a full and interesting biography of her in Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_Slocombe.
As far as some of the actual song collectors were involved, stories that I have heard tell that she was something of a mixed blessing. Her thoroughness as an archivist was unquestionable but some say that she was rather rigid and regarded the BBC Archives as something of a personal fiefdom. Nevertheless the article she wrote reproduced on the web at https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/1d4a/599177b5c746c17fe13878b0b03b8cd13452.pdf is, I would say, an essential introduction to anyone who would like to participate in this thread (though it is quite long). Unlike some .pdf files (and I don't know why) it seems to be possible to cut'n'paste from this article which may be useful to participators backing up their statements. Below I quote the 1st and 3rd paragraphs of the article to give a flavour of what she is informing us about:-

(Paragraph 1)
In a sense I write under false pretences because the BBC possesses no special archives devoted to folk music. For the purposes of broadcasting, the BBC began to make recordings at the end of 1931 and over the last thirty years has built up a general Sound Archives of some 30,000 accession numbers: recordings mainly selected from its own broadcast programmes, ranging from variety to grand opera, from the squeak of a door to full-length radio drama, from the noisy actuality of war commentaries to the stately sonority of Coronation ceremonies.


The BBC department responsible for the Sound Archives has always considered the recording and preservation of folk music, custom and dialect as an important part of its assignment, a point of view that has received every encouragement from the BBC management.
..
Extensive field operations were not undertaken until the advent of portable tape recorders in the 1950's. In earlier years, field recording, although increasingly carried out by the BBC for
documentary programmes, involved heavy recording vans and a technical team. This was unduly expensive and the outfit as a whole was cumbersome and unsuited to the needs of the folk music collector, who needs to make his approach with the minimum noise and fuss.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: BBC collecting project 88 years on
From: Will Fly
Date: 23 Feb 18 - 11:14 AM

I remember Marie Slocombe well from my BBC days (mid-60s to mid-70s) - a formidable lady. Also Tony Trick, who I believe becamer successor. One of the tasks of archive staff was to go out armed with Uher and other machines to make all sorts of recordings for adding to the archive.

I'm always recorded of Peter Sellers' "folk song archive" parodies, and feel sure that both he and George Martin, who produced them, had had a good listen in the Archive basement at some point!


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Subject: RE: Folklore: BBC collecting project 88 years on
From: Will Fly
Date: 23 Feb 18 - 11:15 AM

'Scuse typos above...


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Subject: RE: Folklore: BBC collecting project 88 years on
From: GUEST,CJB
Date: 23 Feb 18 - 12:27 PM

Could it be because of Peter Kennedy's shenanigans that some collectors restricted their recordings to academics only? However in this modern day and age I wonder if it would be possible for all such recordings to be made available in the public domain. Just asking.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: BBC collecting project 88 years on
From: Tradsinger
Date: 25 Feb 18 - 03:52 AM

Does the BBC still have these recordings and what are the chances of getting access?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: BBC collecting project 88 years on
From: Vic Smith
Date: 25 Feb 18 - 06:14 AM

Does the BBC still have these recordings and what are the chances of getting access?
I'm not sure what the overall situation is. I know that quite a few have been obtained for commercial release. For example, a good selection on Bon Copper's collecting in Southern Counties was released in 1977 on Songs and Southern Breezes Country Singers from Hampshire and Sussex
Various Artists Topic Records 12T317 (LP, UK,)
and much later a lot of the Voice of the People recordings by Kennedy and by Copper were originally from those BBC collecting days.
As Marie Slocome writes in the article that I linked to above, these was originally transferred from tape to 78rpm shellac in the 1950s and then later to 33 1/3 rrm vinyl LPs when that became the standard. However, at this stage a process of selection was made and not everything was transferred to the newer format. I know that this grieved Bob Copper because some of his favourites that he had recorded were not among those that were selected for transfer.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: BBC collecting project 88 years on
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 25 Feb 18 - 06:42 AM

The BBC probably does not hold the collection any more
Their original practice was to keep it (on breakable discs) and smash each one after 3 (I think) uses, replacing the missing ones regularly
Bob Thomson discovered in 1970 that they had ceased to replace them and eventually the collection became inaccessible
The VWM Library had a set on disc - I put it on reel-to-reel tapes for them in the mid 70s but the discs I was copying from were over-used and in pretty poor condition.
The National Sound Archive at the British Library has a set - not sure how accessible that is
The first major commercial use of them was the Folk Songs of Britain series - first on Caedmon, later re-issued by Topic - these were edited heavily, with verses removed from songs to make room for as many songs as possible on 10 LPs
There were rumors that Topic wanted to issue an unedited version of the set, but by then, Kennedy had taken control of them and the price he was demanding for their use was exorbitant - in the end they settled for the Voice of the People series Vic mentioned which bore no relation to the FSB series
Kennedy used them for his own Label - poor quality with no information - shoddy
The BBC's attitude to the collection was, in my opinion, disgraceful
Having embarked on this project, they lost interest in what happened to it and allowed it to be exploited shamelessly
The only time the recordings were officially used was on programmes like the comedy quiz series 'My Music' where they were presented as proof of how crap and "quaint' folk song was - a piss take
In my opinion, the best use ever made of the recordings was an analytical 10 part series presented by MacColl 'The Song Carriers' - never surpassed in 50 years (anybody who wants a copy - please ask).
We also have an important (if indifferently recorded) recording of a lecture by America, Craig Fees on the history of the project - C# House should have a better quality recording, but if anybody wants ours, they are welcome
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Folklore: BBC collecting project 88 years on
From: Vic Smith
Date: 25 Feb 18 - 07:27 AM

The BBC probably does not hold the collection any more
Certainly not in the analog form that in did at the time of time of the BBC collecting. It is easy to forget how costly in terms of space, conservation and cataloguing trying to manage a scheme as comprehensive as the BBC archives must have been in the pre-digital age. We must remember that the folk song element was only a tiny part of the archives.

The only time the recordings were officially used was on programmes like the comedy quiz series 'My Music' where they were presented as proof of how crap and "quaint' folk song was - a piss take

Well, not entirely true.
The biggest impact of any folk song series on BBC radio was As I Roved Out. It was before my time but in the extensive amount of interviewing that I have completed with singers and enthusiasts older than myself suggests that that was a major influence on the development of interest in British as well as American song as the revival developed. As well as the MacColl programmes you mention, I was one of many who was able to borrow them for broadcast. I was able to order very many of them from BH to use as illustrations in long interviews with the likes of Reg Hall, Bob Copper and Seamus Ennis on my BBC Radio Sussex programme which was networked to other local BBC stations across the south - and I can assure you that I was not mocking them. I am pretty sure that other regional programmes used them in this way also.

Malcolm Taylor used them in his series on BBC Radio 4 - so did John Howson - so did Dave Arthur. The picture is not as black as is painted in the sentence that I have quoted though there is an element of truth in it. Is there any nation on each that treats its national traditional musical heritage with as much distain as the English do?

My memory of "My Music" is not that it was a 'comedy quiz series'.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: BBC collecting project 88 years on
From: GUEST,CJB
Date: 25 Feb 18 - 07:42 AM

Two contributions from Jim Carroll are here:

The_Song_Carriers_-_Ewan_MacColl

Songs_of_the_People_-_A.L.Lloyd

Thanks Jim.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: BBC collecting project 88 years on
From: GUEST
Date: 25 Feb 18 - 07:44 AM

"... long interviews with the likes of Reg Hall, Bob Copper and Seamus Ennis on my BBC Radio Sussex programme which was networked to other local BBC stations across the south...."

And these interviews were recorded and archived?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: BBC collecting project 88 years on
From: Vic Smith
Date: 25 Feb 18 - 08:13 AM

And these interviews were recorded and archived?
Sadly not all, but they include the Reg Hall one and quite a number with those with Bob Copper. All these are currently in a long list of things that I am preparing for inclusion on the database for 'Sussex Traditions' all of which I am doing myself; local radio was not archived in the way that national radio was although the local history programe 'Time Was' used my interviews extensively when thet touched on farming, fishing etc. I did not work for the BBC only sharing the presentation and production of the folk music programme on BBC Radio Sussex for 25 years working with Jim Marshall, both as freelances. whilst in my day job as head of a residential special school did not allow me the time I would have liked to record and archive them all myself. There are numerous interviews, particularly the Seamus Ennis one that I regret not having copies of.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: BBC collecting project 88 years on
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 25 Feb 18 - 08:22 AM

Sorry Vic - I missed 's I Roved Out' out and I have no idea what went out regionally
The pathetic use the Beeb made still sands
Last year I was at a showing of Philip Donnellan's Film, The Irishman
A speaker after the showing described how Philip was forced to send copies of his BBC films abroad as he knew the Beeb would destroy them
The Irishmen - one of the best uses of folk music on a film I have ever seen, never got a public showing because the hierarchy didn't like what the navvies were saying about working in England
Donnellan's film about the Army caused questions to be asked in Parliamment
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Folklore: BBC collecting project 88 years on
From: Vic Smith
Date: 25 Feb 18 - 09:17 AM

BBC Radio 4 Extra - https://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4extra - is an internet and digital radio channel devoted exclusively to archives of all sorts and there are some programmes that are both fascinating and nostalgic. The problem is discovering what their diverse schedule has to offer. On a number of occasions I have been alerted to things that would catch my interest by eagle-eyed folkie friends and in recent times, I have been able to record three traditional song programmes introduced by Shirley Collins, Alan Lomax and David Attenborough.
Once again, I would have to say that the overall situation is not quite as bleak as Jim has again suggested..... but does traditional song and music get its fair share of broacasting time on the BBC radio? No. it doesn't.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: BBC collecting project 88 years on
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 25 Feb 18 - 10:07 AM

"Once again, I would have to say that the overall situation is not quite as bleak as Jim has again suggested.."
No?
I've just been indexing the hundreds of radio programmes I have copied down the years - the serious ones tended to reduce to a trickle about forty years ago - a few blips, but in the main, not much for three/four decades - since the BBC 'Features Department' went belly-up in fact
The BBC collecting project took five years to complete, it was paid for by taxpayers money, yet the bulk of it hasn't been heard for that long, some of it never has and it ended up in the hands of a ruthless entrepreneur - how bad can that be?
Someone (I think Malcolm Taylor) once explained the problem to me
Any programme maker has to pay the Beeb for the use of any of its archive.
They don't discriminate between the recordings of Mick Jagger and Sam Larner, so you end up paying the same astronomical price for both - so wherever the recordings are, they don't get used.
It really doesn't help to try to talk down the size of the problem in my opinion.
We're a bit spoiled here in Ireland - I can turn the radio or television on any day of the week and find excellent programmes of traditional song and music - from sessions to documentaries
THis face has played a vital part in the rise in popularity in traditional music - some of our greatest performers nowadays are in their late teens and early twenties
Irish traditional music has been guaranteed a future
Hands on hearts - can the same be said of England and Scotland ?
Jim Caaarroll


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