Here at the North West Hub I am focused on working with the next collection for digitisation and cataloguing. Club Cheoil contains recordings of Irish music performances and sessions across Manchester. I know little about this scene and will be relying on internet research to learn more. Fortunately there is also a box and ring binders of material to accompany the cassettes; this will also be invaluable to me when cataloguing this collection.
Club Cheoil was formed on 6 March 1991 at the then Manchester Polytechnic. This voluntary organisation was dedicated to promoting traditional Irish music and the young musicians who were part of that scene, many of whom were 2nd and 3rd generation Irish Mancunians. I have read that Manchester is home to one of the largest Irish communities in the country, with a large festival held in the city every year.
For me this whole project is a fantastic idea; a local community celebrating and supporting their talented young musicians striving to keep their musical heritage alive. As I currently volunteer with a community organisation, I was keen to see how this project developed.
After promoting a range of gigs, sessions and workshops across Manchester, the Club then worked on a project to bring together all the various groups and musicians in a recording studio for a CD, called ‘In Safe Hands’. From my own personal experience I could see how this project grew through the energy and enthusiasm of all involved. A live concert was planned as part of a BBC ‘Music Live’ event. On 21 May 1997 the musicians performed in the Library Theatre, Manchester – the basement of the building where our Hub is based! The Club Cheoil collection contains both the CD and the recording of the live event.
The ‘In Safe Hands’ project was obviously very successful and it appears that the Club Cheoil community were keen to build on this success. Around this time the Club started to investigate external funding to develop an archive, as well as building on their links with Manchester Central Library, where the archive was to be deposited. A call out was made to the wider community for donations of material, such as photographs, newspaper cuttings and publicity material.
The ring binders contain this donated material, including flyers for various sessions. Luckily, I have been able to match a number of these flyers to the recordings on cassette. I have been able to clarify what has been written on cassette inlay cards, such as locations for sessions and the names of some of the musicians involved.
I also found a flyer for an event on 14 March 1998 at MANCAT Arts Centre for the launch of the Irish traditional music archive. A couple of the cassettes have MANCAT written on them and I wondered what the connection was. I discovered that Club Cheoil co-ordinator Lynne Percival was also a tutor at MANCAT and made a short radio programme about the project.
Another aspect which Club Cheoil explored for their growing archive collection was in conducting oral history interviews with older members of the community. A number of interviewees share their memories of the musical heritage in their family; how they first learnt their instruments and played in bands, along with personal experiences of performing in sessions held across Manchester.
This rich collection contains a wealth of information which I am sure will be of interest to many people, from music fans to academics. I also feel this archive could perhaps inspire other community groups to think about preserving their own heritage and their legacy.
The Archives and Records Association (ARA) has a Community Archives and Heritage Group. This active group has a website with range of resources on making collections available; an annual conference and their annual awards celebrate innovative and creative volunteer run projects across the country. Each year an issue of the ARA’s ARC Magazine is devoted to the Community Archives and Heritage Group. The edition features articles on amazing projects that bring local histories to life, often from different perspectives and with different narratives.
I volunteer with Writing on the Wall, an arts and literature organisation committed to equality and diversity. Since 2014 I have been involved with the Great War to Race Riots project. Our group initially catalogued and digitised the archive of correspondence relating to men who were stranded in Liverpool in 1919. After some reading and research to give us a greater understanding of the content of these letters we then held a series of workshops open to the public to develop a creative response, from making poppies to poetry. After enthusiastic responses we sought ways for the project to continue. The next stage was a partnership with the Geography department at the University of Liverpool. Here we created maps showing the locations mentioned in the archive documents and even created a walking tour. The archive is now publicly available at Liverpool Record Office.
Vicki Caren, Cataloguing Manager, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage North West Hub, based in Archives+, Manchester Central Library.
You can find out more about the national Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project at the British Library’s website. Unlocking Our Sound Heritage is supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.