Club Cheoil Community

Artwork for Club Cheoil logo M836/1/5 Club Cheoil

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.

Club Cheoil flyer for gig at the Frog and Bucket, Manchester, 1995 M836/1/4 Club Cheoil

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.

‘In Safe Hands’ CD and cassette of live recording of In Safe Hands concert, held at the Library Theatre, Manchester on 21 May 1997 Club Cheoil
Extract of live recording of the ‘In Safe Hands’ concert. At the start of his set fiddle player Des Donnelly introduces and plays ‘The Second Star’ and ‘The Mason’s Apron’. (CHEOIL/27)

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.

Club Cheoil flyer for gig at Band on the Wall, Manchester 1998 M836/1/5 Club Cheoil
Brochures for Manchester Irish Festival, 1998 and 1999 featuring Club Cheoil events M836/1/5 Club Cheoil

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.

Club Cheoil flyer for the Irish Traditional Music Archive Launch event at MANCAT Arts Centre, 1998 M836/1/5 Club Cheoil
Extract of a Manchester College for Arts and Technology (MANCAT) radio broadcast. Two presenters introduce Lynne Percival, a tutor at the college’s Centre for Music and Performance Skills.  Lynne introduces a track by Michael McGoldrick, afterwards she talks about Michael and the other young musicians in Manchester. Lynne goes on to talk about the development of an archive to be housed in Central Library. She signs off by mentioning upcoming sessions in Manchester and that MANCAT Arts Centre hosts events for Club Cheoil. (CHEOIL/8)

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.

Regina Grainger talks about growing up with her musical family in Ireland. (CHEOIL/34)
Fiddle player Bernard O’Reilly talks about the tunes he brought over to Manchester from Ireland. (CHEOIL/4)
Bernard O’Reilly plays a short extract from a set of tunes. (CHEOIL/4)
Kathleen Houldsworth reminisces about her musical family and how she “grew up in the Irish tradition from birth”.  (CHEOIL/38)

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.


Heyday of cinema

I am a bit of a film fan; I subscribe to a monthly film magazine and have two loyalty cards for cinema chains in the city centre. So I was really looking forward to listening to the oral history interviews from the North West Film Archive (NWFA).

The NWFA is part of Manchester Metropolitan University Library Service. Since its inception in 1977 it has been working to collect, preserve and make available film and video made in or about the region. The NWFA also recorded oral history interviews with people who worked in the region’s film and cinema industry from projectionists and usherettes to cinema owners and film makers.

Outside the Whitehall Cinema Morecambe c1935 or 1936.  Mr Russell-Snowden is on the left and at the cinema’s front door is Maurice Nailor, the director’s son.  (67/3 Russell-Snowden © North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University)

For this blog I am solely focusing on the interviews that chart cinema history in the North West; from the days of silent films with soundtracks on discs, through to the age of the talkies. One reoccurring theme was teenage projectionists. I was amazed to learn that a number of 13 year olds were learning to operate such heavy equipment and working with nitrate film, often unsupervised! I wonder what these interviewees would make of today’s teenagers watching films on their phones?

Interviewees all talk fondly about the cinemas they worked at or attended, even those affectionately described as ‘bug huts’.

Use of Jeyes fluid in one cinema (NWFA/12 © North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University)

Hearing about the disinfectant being sprayed made me squirm in my seat! I was stunned anybody would willing go there, but then again I am now used to luxe screens with reclining seats.

At the other end of the spectrum the interviews with those who worked as page boys were quite eye opening. These boys had a wide range of cleaning duties during long shifts. One interviewee, Mr. McClelland, speaks with pride about his uniform and how he ironed sharp creases in his trousers before going on duty. He also shares a little known fact about the page boys – once they grew too big for their uniforms they were out of a job and the uniform was passed down to the next in line!

A studio portrait of Mr McClelland in his pageboy uniform.  Taken at Gales Studio, Manchester 1925. (78/1 McClelland © North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University)
Mr. McLelland describes how he got the job as page boy and his duties (NWFA/29 © North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University)
Mr. McLelland talks about the page boy uniform (NWFA/29 © North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University)

A number of the early cinemas were converted from theatres and that tradition of music hall and variety, which was initially threatened by cinema, became part of the entertainment on offer, including accompanying orchestras and different acts on during intervals.

A projectionist, Wyn Knott, shares her memories of working in a cinema in Hazel Grove, Manchester. She talks about her duties and a typical days work. A particular highlight for her was a visit by Sandy MacPherson, a well respected theatre organist resident at the Empire in Leicester Square.

Renowned organist Sandy MacPherson played in a local cinema (NWFA/27 © North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University)

A cinema manager, Renee George, talks about her father’s early cinema career. He began with a film show in a travelling fair before settling to manage cinemas in Carlisle. Using tricks from his magician’s act he would entertain audiences during the intervals in between the films and serials.

Variety acts on during intervals (NWFA/15 © North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University)

Then, as now, publicity played a big part in drawing audiences to the screen. We are all used to promotional tie ins, such as action figures, posters, sweets and drinks, even Q&As with directors or cast members. However, I’m not sure I’d have enjoyed the screening of ‘Cat Girl’ at the Coliseum in Southport? I don’t fancy sharing my popcorn with a leopard!

Mr Green and cinema staff in the doorway of Coliseum, Neville Street, Southport.  He had arranged for a leopard to be brought to the cinema to publicise the film “Cat Girl”.  1957. (91/10 Green © North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University)
Innovative marketing idea from Mr. Green! (NWFA/21 © North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University)

Another change that is starkly different today is in the schedules. During the summer months we have multiple, almost hourly showings of the latest blockbuster film throughout the day and night. However, back in the 1920s and 1930s a busy summer season was much different.

Summer season schedule (NWFA/42 © North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University)

Listening to the interviews about the more upmarket cinemas, particularly those where usherettes wore evening gowns, I found myself picturing art deco glitz and glamour. This reminded me of the film screenings in the Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool. Before and after screenings the pipe organ is played from a rising platform as the Walturdaw cinema screen also rises up from below the stage. As much as I like watching upcoming film trailers this seems a more appropriate start to a film given the beautiful architectural surroundings.  I was surprised to discover one of the reels from the NWFA collection contains music that was possibly used as a soundtrack. We are hoping to learn more about this. Please get in touch if you can identify any of the extracts below.

Cinema soundtrack 1 (NWFA/7 © North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University)
Cinema soundtrack 2 (NWFA/7 © North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University)
Cinema Soundtrack 3 (NWFA/7 © North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University)
Coliseum cinema, Neville Street, Southport. The donor, Mr Green, is standing in the doorway of the Coliseum, c1950s (91/9 Green © North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University)

Sadly, a number of the interviewees also talk about how they never went to the cinema as customers once they left the business. Perhaps because there was no magic as to how these moving images made it on to the big screen anymore?

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.

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Whit Friday memories at the Weavers Factory

Local art gallery plays Whit week memories digitised by Unlocking Our Sound Heritage

We’re really excited to announce our first public event. We have teamed up with the lovely people at the Weavers Factory to mark Whit Friday by playing some clips of local people talking about Whit celebrations a century ago.

Our first oral history collection was recorded by Alec Greenhalgh in the late 1980s. Alec lived in the Saddleworth area and he was particularly interested in older people’s memories of their childhoods in the early twentieth century.

Alec, like most good oral historians, made a point of asking his interviewees the same questions so he could get a variety of responses to any given subject. One of his standard questions was, ‘Now, what about special days in the year? Which would be the ones you always looked forward to?’

Nowadays the most common answer to this question might be Christmas, foreign holidays or birthdays – but most of Alec’s interviewees said Whit week was the highlight of their years.

Amy Lawton remembers her father’s excitement and preparations for the big day…

Amy Lawton on preparations for the big day (MANOH/34)

Albert Findlow, among many other interviewees, points out that Whitsuntide was one of the few occasions when children would get new clothes…

Albert Findlow on new clothes (MANOH/18)

For Phyllis Wagstaff the bands and their uniforms were the main attraction…

Phyllis Wagstaff on the bands in procession (MANOH/29)

One unnamed woman from Greenfield, born in 1893, remembers the sports activities and outings organised for children…

Unnamed woman on children’s sports (MANOH/02)

You can hear these and many more extracts from the collection this weekend at the Weavers Factory in Uppermill, to coincide with Simon Buckley’s We Play In Time and Whit Friday. The exhibition runs to 30 June 2019.

You can listen to these full-length oral history interviews (reference MANOH) in the archives search room at Manchester Central Library. Digitised in 2019 by Unlocking Our Sound Heritage, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The Sound of Protest

Oral histories are interviews with people talking about their memories of things that have happened in their life. They can be about particular events or about what daily life and places were like during their childhood. This can give us valuable insights into the past and help us to see history from a personal perspective.

Through the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project, a collection of oral history from the Greater Manchester area is being digitised. One of these interviews is with Benny Rothman (1911-2002), an activist who was one of the organisers of the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass in 1932. In the interview he talks about the events leading up to the mass trespass, what happened on the day itself, and the aftermath including his prison sentence.

The Kinder Scout Mass Trespass took place on the 24th April 1932. At that time, it was illegal to go walking on privately owned land and there weren’t public rights of way like there are today. After having encountered aggressive gamekeepers while out rambling, a young group of walkers decided that something should be done. Kinder Scout is the highest peak in the Peak District so it was a prime location to take a stand, and in the end around 400 people took part in the trespass. In this clip, Benny Rothman talks about the decision to have the trespass.

As one of the leaders of the trespass, Benny Rothman provides a behind-the-scenes look at what happened on the day. He describes the scene of the large crowd of trespassers in animating detail and reveals that a third of the Derbyshire police force were there to deal with them! The trespassers made it up to the top despite running into some gamekeepers and held a meeting, which Benny Rothman spoke at.

However, on the way down they were met by the police who arrested some of the walkers. These clips talk about the group setting off for the walk up Kinder Scout and the encounter with the police.

Benny Rothman was one of the six people arrested on the day. He defended himself in court but was eventually found guilty of riot and sent to prison for four months. He was only 20 years old at the time and had trouble getting a job when he came out of prison but he continued to be an activist for the rest of his life. Here, he tells a story from his prison days.

The Kinder Scout Mass Trespass kicked off a movement pushing for better access to the British countryside and contributed to a change in the law and establishing public rights of way for walkers. In 1949, the Access to the Countryside Act was passed which meant that public access to Kinder Scout was finally granted soon afterwards so today anyone can go and walk in the footsteps of the original trespassers!

This blog post was written by Naomi Hall, an MA Library and Information Management student at Manchester Metropolitan University, who is currently on a work placement with Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.

If you would like to listen to the full interview (reference MANOH/20-21), it is accessible in the search room at Manchester Central Library. Benny Rothman’s papers are held at the Working Class Movement Library in Salford.

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.

Women’s Voices in the Crowd

Vicki Caren reflects on some of the women’s voices she has catalogued so far…

I am the Cataloguing Manager for the North West Hub, based in Archives+, Central Library, Manchester. My role involves carefully documenting each collection, from looking at the physical items (reels, cassettes and MiniDiscs) before digitisation to describing the recorded content in more detail once we have digital copies.

One of the first collections we decided to work with was the BBC Radio Manchester broadcasts. This material consists of a range of documentaries, news and interviews covering popular culture, history and politics. In the mid-1970s local producers and broadcasters, Alex Greenhalgh and Eric Purnell, created Voice in the Crowd, a series of short interviews with people from all walks of life; from aged 5 to 91.

Voice in the Crowd booklet

I was keen to see how women were represented and whether their interviews would reflect the gender stereotypes of the time. To some extent they did; such as make-up girl and model. However, there are interviews with women who ran their own business (for example marriage bureaux and fish wife) and interviews with those who worked in what was seen as male dominated professions, such as the probation officer and educational psychologist. Both talk about how the job has changed over time.

I enjoyed listening to the interviews with women who were perceived as leading different lifestyles from the ‘norm’ (whatever that means) and their attraction to their chosen way of life. The pearly queen not only gives an insight into the history of the pearly culture, but also recounts their charitable donations. While the fairground woman describes her caravan and its interior decoration, along with the gold leaf and paint used on the fairground rides. Not forgetting the interviews with those who have simply followed their passion, flying in the face of popular convention; quite literally in the case of the trapeze artist. I was fascinated in hearing how a young teenage girl left home to join the circus and start aerial training.

How trapeze artist got her job (RMAN/1140 © BBC Radio Manchester)

One of my favourite interviews comes from the other end of the age spectrum. The flapper recalls the birth of this rebellious movement after WWI as a reaction against authority. These revolutionary young women sent shockwaves through society for both their looks (shorter haircuts, clothing and jewellery); as well as their behaviour, including pranks such as decorating statues in Piccadilly, London. The latter reminded me of more modern day political protests, although such behaviour is clearly not new.

Description of the birth of the flapper movement as a reaction against authority (RMAN/1198 © BBC Radio Manchester)
Flapper describes the wild behaviour of her contemporaries (RMAN/1198 © BBC Radio Manchester)
Reels, including interview with Flapper, from the BBC Radio Manchester collection

With recent commemorations of the Representation of the People Act 1918, giving some women the right to vote, I was excited to see a suffragette included in the list of interviewees. She talks about how she joined the Women’s Social and Political Union after hearing about the treatment of Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester. The interviewee describes how she became more politicised and wanted to learn more about issues surrounding the campaign of votes for women. She talks about attending street corner meetings, and meetings in Deansgate.

What made interviewee join the suffragette movement (RMAN/1133 © BBC Radio Manchester)
What the the suffragette was fighting for (RMAN/1133 © BBC Radio Manchester)

Around the same time that I was listening to and cataloguing these interviews climate change protests were taking place across central Manchester, including in St. Peter’s Square. On a number of Friday afternoons throughout March and April students would gather in the square, which is located just in front of Central Library. These rallies saw groups of young people and families gathering with homemade placards and banners urging political leaders to tackle climate change and hear their voices.

For me there was a parallel with what these students were doing and what the suffragette was describing in her interview. I was also reminded of the flapper and the groups of young women who were keen to continue working and did not want to return to their pre-war life. That spirit of rebellion, defiance and a sense of justice is as alive today as it was 100 years ago. I would like to think that the news and social media coverage of the recent climate change protests will be preserved for future generations to look back at to see the feisty, fighting spirit of their ancestors.

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.

Voices in the Crowd

BBC Radio Manchester began broadcasting almost 50 years ago and at that time it was the biggest local radio station in the country. One of their programmes in the early 1970s was called Voice in the Crowd which featured interviews with a wide variety of different people with interesting jobs, hobbies and lives. As part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project, broadcasts from this programme are being digitised so that they can be enjoyed more easily.

There are over a hundred interviews with people ranging from a witch to a pirate, a taxi driver to a nurse, a suffragette to a Hell’s Angel. Most of the recordings start and finish with the sound of a crowd of people which emphasises that the individuals being interviewed, who are generally anonymous, are part of society and that everyone has a story to tell that is worth hearing. These short interviews give a snapshot of life in the 1970s including funny stories, memories and insights into what attitudes were like in the past.

You can also get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into experiences not many people ever have. One of my favourite recordings is an interview with a man who lived at Belle Vue when there was a zoo there. He talks about how his wife liked feeding the animals and having to walk past the lion enclosure every day on his way to the office!

Jason the lion gets stuck up a tree (RMAN/1152 © BBC Radio Manchester)

Many of the people interviewed in these recordings were chosen because what they did was unusual. Some of these, like a sword-swallower, we would still think of as unusual while others, such as a vegetarian, are characteristics that are much more common now. It is particularly inspiring to listen to the voices of people who pushed boundaries in different fields and to hear them describe in their own words why they chose to do those things.

There are several themes that run through the collection around different aspects of life so you can get a proper feel for what life used to be like and the jobs people used to do. You can also find glimpses of Manchester’s past and how different areas and buildings in the city have changed. A visiting American is interviewed who spent some of his childhood in Manchester in the early 1900s and he describes how the city has changed in that time. He is very complimentary about Mancunians who show true local hospitality and give him directions when he gets lost!

An American finding his way around Manchester after many years away (RMAN/1114 © BBC Radio Manchester)

The interviews allows us to take a long view of history by seeing it through other eyes. The older people in these interviews were a generation apart from the younger ones, who are themselves a generation separate from the present. Many interviewees talk about generational differences and how the changes that have happened in their lifetime mean that younger people have different attitudes to them. Its just like how the papers today complain about millenials!

In one interview, a man from Stockport who was in his 70s talks about changes in the standard of life and the difference it makes to have an old age pension, which his grandparents never had. He also describes the the games he used to play as a child and here he talks about how children didn’t ride bicycles when he was young.

Change in learning to ride bicycles (RMAN/1126 © BBC Radio Manchester)
Original sound reel and description (RMAN/1126 © BBC Radio Manchester)

The interviewees also offer advice from their own life experiences about how to get into a similar career and whether they would recommend it, but also on more personal matters. For instance, a man who has been married for 72 years shares with us the secret of a happy marriage.

The secret of a happy marriage (RMAN/1129 © BBC Radio Manchester)

This blog post was written by Naomi Hall, an MA Library and Information Management student at Manchester Metropolitan University, who is currently on a work placement with Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.

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.