Sound and vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library


Discover more about the British Library's 6 million sound recordings and the access we provide to thousands of moving images. Comments and feedback are welcomed. Read more

24 June 2016

Fourth of July punk special


On 4 July 2016 it will be 40 years since influential New York punk band the Ramones played their first gig in Britain, just up the road from the British Library, at the Roundhouse, Chalk Farm.

The photo above, taken by Ramones manager Danny Fields, shows lead singer Joey Ramone outside the venue.

The Roundhouse was built in 1847 by the London and North Western Railway as a turning yard for trains, although it didn't serve this purpose for long. For 90 years or so, from 1864, it was used by Gilbey's Gin as a warehouse. Then, from 1964, it became a performing arts centre, hosting new theatre work by Arnold Wesker, Peter Brook and the Living Theater, and concerts featuring underground rock bands, including, in 1968, the only UK performances by the Doors.

Which is where Danny Fields comes in....

In 1966, despite a less-than-wonderful relationship with lead singer Jim Morrison, Danny had been instrumental in the Doors' signing to Elektra Records. He went on to manage the Stooges, the Modern Lovers, and - for a brief period - Lou Reed, and negotiated record deals for the MC5 and Nico, respectively.

Notice that all these artists figure among the select group that arguably paved the way for 70s punk music in some way. Certainly, at least, they were respected by the artists and followers of the new scene.

By 1976, finger on the pulse as ever, Danny was managing the premier US punk band, the Ramones.

There is a lot more to Danny's career in music than the few points listed above, so, if you can, why not come along to the British Library Punk 1976-78 event on 4 July and hear the man himself in conversation?

It's a rare opportunity and should be a great night. We will also be presenting a special preview screening of the brand new documentary film by Brendan Toller Danny Says

Photo of Joey Ramone ¬© Danny Fields. My Ramones by Danny Fields is published by First Third Books.

17 June 2016

Galton and Simpson: earliest recordings of BAFTA Fellowship writers discovered

Tristan Brittain-Dissont writes:

As the newly appointed Archivist of the Tony Hancock Appreciation Society, I recently decided to search for material relevant to ‚Äėthe Lad‚Äô within the British Library‚Äôs Sound & Moving Image catalogue.

To my surprise, within just a few minutes I had made one of the most extraordinary discoveries in the history of radio comedy. Hidden in plain sight were details of numerous recordings of a BBC radio series from 1951 which historians have to date assumed to be lost ‚Äď a show which would not only transform Hancock‚Äôs career, but also change the course of British comedy.

Happy-Go-Lucky (HGL) was a one-hour variety show broadcast on the Light Programme, commencing in August 1951. It was a vehicle for Derek Roy, a significant star of the time, but now largely forgotten. Conceived as a ‚Äėlight-hearted blend‚Äô of comedy and music, it turned out to be a low-brow mess. By October, the writers had been fired; the producer had suffered a nervous

Derek Roy (courtesy of the Galton and Simpson Archive, by kind permission)
Derek Roy (1922-1981), star of Happy-Go-Lucky. Courtesy of the Galton and Simpson Archive

breakdown; and one of the regular sketches was so poor that the up-and-coming comic leading it was begging for his performances to be excised from broadcast. In desperation, the new producer ‚Äď BBC legend Dennis Main Wilson ‚Äď called a meeting of cast and crew. He turned to two young men, who were there only because they had recently started selling jokes to Roy for a few shillings a time. He asked them if they could write the last few shows of the series so it could limp to completion before Christmas; and they agreed.

Those two young men ‚Äď who, at this stage, could in no way be considered scriptwriters ‚Äď were Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, not long out of a TB hospital where they had first met. In taking on HGL, they began one of the most significant comedy writing collaborations we have ever seen. And if this was not significant enough, consider the following. On November 11th 1951, as Galton and Simpson sat in the stalls watching their first scripts being rehearsed at the Paris Cinema, the young comic who was so unhappy with his role in the show walked past them. ‚ÄėDid you write that?‚Äô he said. ‚ÄėVery funny.‚Äô It was Tony Hancock. This was the first time the three men had met. Between them, they would go on to create arguably the greatest radio and television sitcom of all time - Hancock‚Äôs Half Hour - and a comic character - Anthony Aloysius St. John Hancock ‚Äď that has achieved immortality. 

Simpson, Hancock and Galton (Courtesy of the Galton and Simpson Archive)
Alan Simpson (left), Tony Hancock (centre) and Ray Galton in the 1950s.

For decades, every authority on Tony, Galton, Simpson and, indeed, British comedy has insisted that no recordings of HGL had survived. Only a small proportion of BBC radio's comedy output could be archived at that time, but it has now transpired that Derek Roy wisely had many recordings of his broadcasts made privately. Following Roy's death they were deposited with the British Library in the 1990s, their full significance not initially recognised.

How, therefore, to describe the feeling I had when I started scrolling through the details of these lost shows (and, a little later, listening to them)? I can only do this best, I feel by comparison. Imagine finding a copy of The Madhouse on Castle Street, a BBC teleplay featuring a then unknown Bob Dylan. Or Humourisk, the first Marx Brothers film. Or Pilgrim on the Hill, one of three early novels by Philip K. Dick. All are considered lost and constitute the earliest known works of the artists in question. Finding the HGL recordings means we can hear, for the first time in 65 years, the first ever work written by Galton and Simpson and broadcast on the national airwaves.

Script from the Galton and Simpson Archive used by kind permission
Original script for 'Current Affairs' sketch. Courtesy of the Galton and Simpson Archive

This sketch, called Current Affairs in the Galton and Simpson Archive, formed the opening monologue of the show broadcast on 6 September 1951:

Happy-Go-Lucky - 6 September 1951

Here is an excerpt from Galton and Simpson's American Crime sketch from the episode of the following week:

Happy-Go-Lucky - 13 September 1951 

The episode of 26 November 1951 featured the scriptwriting duo's sketch Captain Henry Morgan which ends in this extract with a self-deprecating G&S joke in response to some barbs about their youthful inexperience, the pair barely in their 20s at this time:

Happy-Go-Lucky - 26 November 1951

An equally extraordinary find was an excerpt from a BBC radio series called Variety Ahoy!, broadcast in early 1952, a few weeks after the demise of HGL. Roy was the guest star and in the course of a monologue called Naval Story he tells the 'Jane Russell pontoon' gag . Incredibly, this was the first joke that Galton and Simpson ever wrote and sold. It featured in a short handwritten sketch that they had submitted to the BBC in mid-1951 to tout for work. Roy was the only performer to take interest which led to them providing jokes for 5 shillings each for his HGL appearances:

Variety Ahoy! - 22 January 1952

Sadly, Roy‚Äôs understandable concern with preserving his own performances, and the prohibitive cost of recording complete shows on acetate disc (tape recording was just emerging as a domestic medium at this time), has come at a cost to comedy historians. Since he and Tony did not perform together in the show the recordings contain nothing of the Lad other than a few mentions in the closing credits. Any disappointment in this regard, however, must be outweighed by the sheer

Happy-Go-Lucky, BBC Light Programme, 6th September 1951
Derek Roy's recording of the first recorded work of Galton and Simpson

delight in finding recordings that played such an integral part in the history of post-war British comedy and popular culture. Reflecting upon this experience, I would strongly urge people to check those long-neglected boxes in their lofts, garages and basements. For although the Library continues to discover and rescue early radio recordings today, curators nevertheless believe that a portion of the UK¬īs radio history is probably being discarded each week by people who have inherited collections, are unaware of their importance and do not know what to do with them. I have only recently discovered the soundtracks of two lost episodes of the televised version of Hancock‚Äôs Half Hour in such a collection. I am convinced that still more will come to light if collection owners take the trouble to contact local or national archives, libraries or subject specialists such as me for advice.

The Library¬īs Save Our Sounds project intends to make this process easier by establishing a network of ten regional archival hubs around the UK, each equipped and staffed to make many of these assessment, acquisition and preservation decisions locally. This will also reduce the need to transport fragile media, such as ‚Äėacetate‚Äô discs, over long distances. Whilst Hancock, Galton and Simpson¬īs work had nationwide impact and therefore rightly belongs within the collections of the national library, much regionally or locally produced content may be better understood, interpreted and contextualised within regional archives, at least until such times as its copyright status permits it to be made more widely accessible online.

News and further reading:

BBC News: Ray Galton and Alan Simpson to get Bafta Fellowship

British Library's Sound and Moving Image catalogue

Tony Hancock Appreciation Society

British Library on Twitter @soundarchive and @BLSoundHeritage

Tony Hancock Archive on Twitter: @HancockArchive

09 June 2016

Recording the past, representing the present: Indians of the Colombian Vaupés

 In January 2016 The British Library supported anthropologist and documentary filmmaker Brian Moser to take back digital copies of his Tukano recordings - British Library collection C207 Brian Moser & Donald Tayler Colombia collection which were made on an initial recording trip in the 1960's supported by the British Institute of Recorded Sound - to the Tukano peoples in the Pir√°-Paran√° region of the Amazon. 

Brian was accompanied on the trip by his son, Titus Moser, and  anthropologists Professor Stephen and Dr Christine Hugh-Jones. With both Stephen and Christine being fluent in Tukano and most of the sub-group dialects, the team hoped to observe the impact of returning these recordings. In this guest blog from the team they discuss their findings in the context of wider representation of Amazonian Indian culture and  the indigenous perspective.


 Indians at Piedra √Ďi look at a projection of ‚ÄúWar of the Gods‚ÄĚ inside the maloca. 2016

2016 is a year to reflect on the culture and history of Northwest Amazonian Indians in the face of so-called "civilization". There are two reasons why we have a unique opportunity to question how we relate to Amazonian Indian culture through our all-pervasive media of photography and sound recording.

The first is the UK release (10th June) of The Embrace of the Serpent, Ciro Guerra's Oscar-nominated film about the history of Vaup√©s Indians. This feature-film, shot by a Colombian director in the Colombian tropical forest, complements several documentaries made by foreigners over the past six decades, the whole providing both a rich compendium of documented, interpreted and imagined historical events and a social history of film-making about Indian subjects. 

The second reason is that indigenous peoples now have access to these media themselves.


Stephen, Titus and Oliverio pull the boat over the Thunder rapids on the Komeny√° River, Pir√°-Paran√° 2016    

In January this year, with British Library support, Christine and Stephen Hugh-Jones accompanied 81 year-old documentary film-maker Brian Moser and his son Titus on a trip to return Brian's recorded material to the communities living along the Pir√°-Paran√° river and to make new sound recordings. Over ten days, we visited three different communities and, in each, people gathered in their traditional longhouse to watch Brian‚Äôs films starring famous shamans and chanters, no longer alive, and themselves as children. Each community was given a book of photos, a hard drive and an iPad with copies of Brian‚Äôs audiovisual records of their culture and, eventually, will have the film Titus made of our trip and their reactions.


Ignacio, a now retired but still revered shaman and headman, looks at ‚ÄúPiraparan√°‚ÄĚ. 2016

Besides this, two Pir√°-Paran√° communities have recently acquired Internet posts. These are intended to facilitate day-to-day-communications about travel, health, education and air freight but, inevitably, this is a journey of no return into our global village with all its powerful, exciting potential and terrifying negative consequences.

Traditionally, the multi-lingual network of Vaup√©s Indian peoples lived in communal longhouses, cultivated manioc, and had a particularly rich intellectual heritage of extensive mythologies, ritual exchanges and male initiation with sacred flutes. They were already suffering the traumatic onslaughts of rubber gatherers and missionaries when the German explorer Theodore Koch-Gr√ľnberg visited them in 1903-5 and made his extraordinary collection of artefacts, early photographs and pioneering wax-cylinder recordings. 

By 1960, when Brian and Donald Tayler first visited, Pir√°-Paran√° society was a still traditional refuge area compared with the mission-dominated Indian villages beyond. In spite of modern equipment and outboard motors, the expedition ethos had not changed so very much from Koch-Gr√ľnberg‚Äôs day (see Moser and Tayler's travel book The Cocaine Eaters. London: Longmans 1965). They made a collection of artefacts for the British Museum, photographs, sound recordings (now in the British Library) and a film of Makuna Indian culture.

Tukano Pira_0467

Indian dancers perform the maraca dance to celebrate the manioc harvest festival. 1970   

Eight years later, we started anthropological fieldwork in isolated Pir√°-Paran√° longhouses. The first missionaries had just settled - Colombian Catholic Xaverians in the centre of the main river and various North American couples from Wycliffe Bible Translators on tributaries - all busy employing Indians to clear the short jungle air strips which would accelerate change in unforeseen ways. In 1970, we arranged for Brian to come back to make a film in Granada Television‚Äôs groundbreaking Disappearing World Series

In traditional "natural-history" documentaries, exotic indigenous customs would be explained by a scantily informed visitor from the western world, with every discordant sign of the White Man carefully edited out. By 1970, the anthropological methods of fieldwork and participant-observation contributed to the climate-change in which filmmakers reflected on cultural imperialism and the nature of documentary film. Brian‚Äôs 1970 War of the Gods was a very different beast to his 1960 effort. Close-up photography and subtitled speech in Indian languages drew viewers closer to Indians. Cuts between the Catholic Eucharist, Protestant hymn singing and indigenous ceremonies where hallucinogenic yag√© (ayahuasca) transports Indian chanters into the mythical world of ancestors, show the tension between the equivalence of the rituals and the inequality of the brute socio-economic power and "civilizing" ideology of the two Christian missions.

Tukano Pira_0480

Cristo, an expert chanter-dancer and Bosco, a renowned shaman, chanting origin journey of their ancestors through the night under the influence of yajé (ayahuasca). 1970

Later, we returned to the Pir√°-Paran√° to find Indian communities trading traditional coca crops to isolated cocaine labs. The nearest lab had usurped the Catholic mission airstrip! To our amazement, in a basic jungle encampment with ill-assorted vessels, sacks of chemicals and drums of aeroplane fuel, the grown son of a Colombian fortune-seeker we had known from the past was minding the project for his father. The father‚Äôs CV included policeman, rubber gatherer and jaguar hunter but now he was a cocaine-producer with an obsession about chemical purity. Brian‚Äôs documentary instincts brought him back and, against all the odds, in 1980 he managed to shoot a remarkable and risky film of the backwoods cocaine trade called A Small Family Business.

Now, 35 years on, Ciro Guerra's Embrace of the Serpent seeks to turn the tables on box-office hits like Boorman's Emerald Forest, Herzog's Fitzcarraldo or Joffe's The Mission. Instead of indigenous Amazonians appearing through the distorting lens of Western cultural assumptions, the fatal impact of colonial forces is seen through the indigenous eyes of Karamakate, the shaman, played first as a young man by Nilbio Torres, a Cubeo Indian from the Vaup√©s, and then, as an old man, by Antonio Bol√≠var from further south. A hotchpotch of loosely historical themes twist through this beautifully shot, black and white film: the sympathetic characters of real-life explorers - Koch-Gr√ľnberg and Harvard ethno-botanist Richard Evans Schultes - contrast with the excessive brutality of missionaries and rubber traders and are woven into a story of jungle hardships, tragic cultural loss, and the cultural gap between Indians and White men. Resolution of a sort comes through hallucinogenic experience - the only sequence in colour. Meanwhile, we learn that Karamakate is the last survivor of his people who has forgotten his own culture - he stands for the fate of the indigenous peoples of the Vaup√©s, what Jordan Hoffman in his 17 Feb. 2016 Guardian review calls the"unstoppable current of history".

But Vaup√©s history has not turned out like Guerra‚Äôs vision. There are some 30,000 Indians living in different states of integration into pan-Colombian culture. In War of the Gods, we see the very same Indian shaman singing hymns in shirt and trousers and then chanting about the ancestral anaconda-canoe, high on yag√© in paint and feather ornaments. This shaman stands for a more realistic and nuanced fate than Karamakate‚Äôs: one in which people integrate the new in ways we may find difficult to understand. 


 Young panpipe players making music in the evening on the upper Pir√°-Paran√°. 1960

In 2010 UNESCO added the Traditional Shamanic Knowledge of the Jaguar Shamans of Yurupari, the cultural heritage of the Bar√°, Barasana, Tatuyo, Taiwano and Makuna peoples of the Pir√°-Paran√° river to its Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. This is a tribute to the intellectual power and persistence of traditional Vaup√©s culture. One certainty is that today‚Äôs Pir√°-Paran√° Indians are eager and grateful for past recordings of their culture. Having seen this so clearly in January, we shall do what we can to save our own sound recordings for the future by adding them to the British Library collection.

Christine and Stephen Hugh-Jones

The recordings made during the 2016 trip will be added soon to the original collection  -  C207 Brian Moser and Donald Tayler Colombia collection which can be browsed online. 


Embrace of the Serpent  opens in cinemas on June 10th 2016

A copy of the Disappearing World film - War of the Gods can be viewed on-site at the British Library 


Find out more about the work of the British Libary's Sound Archive and the new Save our Sounds programme online.

Follow the British Library Sound Archive @soundarchive and the British Library's World and Traditional Music activities @BL_WorldTrad on Twitter.