Hateley Heath, 1987

Down in the archive bunker over the Christmas period we managed to tune in the old radiophonic device to Radio 4 and catch up with some episodes of The Listening Project. Though inspired by Storycorps in the USA, we would argue that the philosophy behind this type of project comes from the community arts field (as did the idea of video diaries). Many community arts groups recorded people’s personal stories and reflections on tape, though rarely for posterity. They were of the moment, actions from day to day for use in a performance, an exhibition, for a campaign, for a statement poster or other type of print. They did not consider themselves an ongoing museum project, nor were they trained archivists. Jubilee’s relationship with the local authority in those days was with Sandwell Adventure Playgroup Association and the Recreation and Amenities Department rather than with Museums and Archives. Though they may have been influenced by Charles Parker, Studs Terkel, or the Mass Observation movement in terms of valuing the stories of working class lives, they collected oral histories for use for projects such as ‘The Illustrated Tipton Times’ and then often reused the tapes, the C-90 cassettes recorded over and over. (In the 1960’s, even the BBC themselves recorded over video tapes for reasons of storage). The early Sony black and white video tapes that Jubilee used were catalogued, but as a medium did not last, literally crumbling over time. There were some groups who had a broad archival aim; Banner Theatre, for example, using actuality recording as part of their music performances; their archive is with Birmingham Libraries. Then there were groups like Bradford Heritage Recording Unit, which operated from 1983-1988, funded via Manpower Services Commission. When MSC finished so did the project.

This image is from a recording session with Hateley Heath Community Association. (Note the ashtray on the tabletop, obviously an essential ingredient of any music workshop.) Jubilee had worked with residents on a double screen tape side show with audio, celebrating the 30th anniversary of Kent Close Primary School, and Chris Jones later ran some recording sessions with young people in terms of vocal training and acapella singing (for a performance at a community celebration event and a Christmas event). Chris came from South Wales to work with Platypus Theatre group in the borough (members of whom much later set up Black Country Touring, still going strong today). As a ‘jobbing musician’ throughout the 1990’s he also played in several bands (one even named ‘The Peaky Blinders’) and became involved with Smethwick Music Workshop, the May Day Fireshow band and other fireshows at Moxley and Rochdale. He joined Jubilee and helped set up a recording studio at 84, High Street, West Bromwich. He then established resources with the Arts Development section of the council, which offered training and equipment to support music events in the community. As well as promoting a series of World Music events, and ‘Soundstage’ at the Sandwell Show (which profiled local talent), he ran regular youth music workshops as part of the Jubilee programme. He became increasingly interested in utilising new technology to work with less able individuals. He went on to work with a number of charities who specialised in work with disability groups and the elderly. Sadly, he is now longer with us, passing away at a relatively young age.