Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Recording The Unrecorded - Has To be Done

It’s good to see that after all these years there are moves out there to preserve who we are and who we were, to hang on to our literary heritage. Some of it, at least. After decades of allowing the best readings to pass unrecorded and our great readers to move into their fractured-voiced dotage without any of their performances being kept change is afoot. Lack of record hasn’t happened to everyone, of course. There are recordings out there of some of the historical world-beaters, certainly. W B Yeats sounding like an Irish rain dancer wailing The Lake Isle of Inishfree, TS Eliot coming across as a banker, Tennyson (yes, really) charging the light brigade in his Lincolnshire drawl and Dylan Thomas using the sort of received English that might have worked well when he was making albums but would get you nowhere fast today.

Yet of the many top readings I’ve witnessed over the past four decades scarcely one was put on tape. Jackson Mac Low at No Walls. Sorley Maclean heart clutchingly supporting R S Thomas. Ted Hughes at the height of his powers at the Sherman talking about being in Wales. Henri Chopin making body sounds at the Reardon Smith. John Tripp in full diatribe mode upstairs at the Marchioness of Bute. George Macbeth in the Blue Anchor. Yevtushenko at the Conway. John James and Bill Griffiths at the Central Hotel. D M Thomas at Oriel. Seamus Heaney at the Bute Theatre. There were scores more. All now lost in the air.

It was worse at more local readings where poets could rise to fame and fall from grace without ever cutting a single track. Admittedly occasional recordists brandishing fuzzy cassette recorders would appear. They’d ask if they might leave their microphone out front. Latterly, we’ve often witnessed men (and it was usually men) using tripoded video cameras from the corners of halls. Where their collected recordings ended up I’ll never know.

Of the poetry of these lands the conventional usually got the better deal. If a University set up a specialist department (such as the one with a certain amount of flair and prescience spearheaded by Tony Curtis at Glamorgan) then when recordings were made is was the central cannon who were invited in. Glyn Jones, Harri Webb, Leslie Norris, Emyr Humphreys. The innovators, experimenters, edge pushers and the frankly and boldly new were left to manage their own rock and roll.

But out of left field now come our online saviours. The new generation archivists have a particular interest in poetry of innovation, that broad left-field of writers who spent most of the 60s, 70s and 80s out in the literary and academic cold. The British Electronic Poetry Centre at the University of Southampton has captured a range of the British hard core including Ken Edwards, Thomas A Clark, Caroline Bergvall and Frances Presley. http://www.soton.ac.uk/~bepc/ At what was once the Academi and is now Literature Wales the online writers database is slowly being populated with mp3 files of Welsh-based writers reading. Some of these come from live gigs other are by special arrangement. A thin presence right now but it’s thickening slowly. http://www.literaturewales.org/writers-of-wales/

The Archive of the Now – started by Andrea Brady at Brunel and now operating out of Queen Mary, University of London http://www.archiveofthenow.org/ - styles itself as constituting ‘a scholarly, aesthetic, social and political resource for writers and readers of innovative poetry’. Its range is wide and increasing. A glance down their extensive list of contributors revealed loads I wanted to listen to. They ranged ranging from Britain’s answer to John Ashbery, J H Prynne, to the land’s hardest working non-metropolitan innovator, Geraldine Monk. But there were also literally dozens of names new to me. Quite a few of those I’ve clicked on have been a revelation.

My contributions, online next month, are a mixture of material captured down the years at live performances, stuff made in electronic music studios plus new material, recorded standing up in my living room, giving it a good blow.

Reading to an audience of one certainly creates an austere atmosphere. The language shifts and fractures along with the bent vowels and mashed consonants were a breeze. Most of the jokes, however, fell flat. We’ll edit those out a leave the core intact. Finch, after all these years, once again Now. Check it out. It’s an honour. Put your speakers on high.


Matt Jarvis said...

Great blog as always, Peter. Your point about the urgency of preserving voices that will otherwise be lost is, well, it's absolutely to the point. Thank you for the links to where it's happening. And looking forward to hearing the Finch on mp3, of course.

Anonymous said...

Have offered to record many Poets .... but organising poets is like herding cats!! ....... hope to do so at Poetry Live the Globe Hay on Wye on 21st December (Sneaky Advert)
- David John Steer