A brief report and some photos of our event on Tuesday night at the Bell in Spitalfields. Buoyed by the success of our first two efforts at the end of last year (here and here), we decided to be a bit more ambitious by introducing a theme and involving sound clips and video, not just the microphone.
As before, the room was packed. Our theme was London Recorded Sound. Our presenters were Simon Rooks (BBC Archives), Ian Rawes (British Library) and Ross MacFarlane (Wellcome Library), all experts on the history of early London recorded sound. These three gentlemen “owned the room” with their compelling presentations. Space prevents detail, but Max Beerbohm talking about London in the 1930s was delicious; Commander Daniel recording this street sounds of Leicester Square with commentary – hilarious; the story of Thomas Edison’s sidekick, one Colonel George Gouraud, who, using the Edison phonograph, made voice recordings of the great and good in London society, including Florence Nightingale.
Arthur Sullivan immediately recognised the downside of the new invention.
I can only say that I am astonished and somewhat terrified at the result of this evening’s experiments: astonished at the wonderful power you have developed, and terrified at the thought that so much hideous and bad music may be put on record forever.
Michael Buble, anyone?
Ian Rawes brought in an actual first generation wax cylinder phonograph with cylinders and gave us a demo: impressive.
A big thank you to Matt Brown of Londonist who hosted the evening, as usual, with effortless aplomb and set a testing Speed Quiz, won by the team Bakelite Bells.
An entirely happy coincidence was that on the very day of our event, the excellent Spitalfields Life blog wrote about some diorama models of the Bell – the very pub that we were in – which had been gathering dust in the pub’s basement for many years. They are rather large, but we hoicked one upstairs to display. Landlord Glyn Roberts has been looking for a good home for them for years. The good news is that Bishopsgate Institute have stepped forward to take, restore and display them. Do check the above link – the photos are much much better than mine, below.
To discover more about London Sound at the BBC, I’ll quote directly Simon Rooks’ email:
“The www.bbc.co.uk/archive site has the widest range of published BBC archives in one place, presented in themed collections. It’s no longer updated, but everything was cleared for permanant publications so they should be staying around. I worked on one which celebrated the people whose vision and drive created what we now call the BBC Sound Archives. That’s collected in http://www.bbc.co.uk/archive/archive_pioneers/
For further listening and viewing pleasure…
releasing archives is now more concentrated in TV based collections supporting BBC4 http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/collections and for radio, big mass-release projects such as Desert Island Discs http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/features/desert-island-discs/find-a-castaway ”
Finally, I simply must recommend to you Ian Rawes’ web site: London Sound Survey. It is an astonishing labour of love which combines contemporary crowd-sourcing of London sounds with amazing content of historical recordings.
Look out for our next History in the Pub!
Update: Ross MacFarlane has sent this link to very early Edison sound recordings, including from Crystal Palace.