The John Peel Show and a teenager’s musical education

‘We’ve had almost everybody, except the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and more recently Oasis. I never really thought Oasis were much good to be honest’.
[John Peel]

The Olivetti Chronicles, by John PeelAt the risk of enraging fans everywhere, this is a sentiment / prejudice I heartily agree with (this lack of endorsement did not seem to hold back Oasis’ progress in the 1990s). Other surprising omissions from Radio 1’s Peel Sessions list were Emerson Lake and Palmer in the 70s and later U2. Bands such as The Smiths and Pulp certainly benefited from national radio exposure. A quirk of Peel’s programme was that once a band became successful he tended to ‘drop’ them from his play list, reasoning that they would be played elsewhere and so did not need the exposure – and anyway their inclusion took up broadcast time away from other performers.

Many bands did not reach the heights after exposure on his programme either as a recorded session or having their record played. In fact John Peel delighted in playing these unknown acts saying “If I didn’t play them, then who else will?”

This Saturday, 25 October, is the tenth anniversary of the death of John Peel. Like many others, my musical life has been hugely influenced by his radio programme, partly because he never stood still in his musical tastes (however much some of his audience wished for a continuation of the familiar). This was highlighted by the many protests from the pre-1976 audience who were dismayed by the programme’s shift towards punk and new wave and away from progressive rock. In hindsight this was not such a shift as even in the early 70s the sessions, heavy with synthesizer and guitar solos, would also include other musical genres so were never simply about rock.

“I know that what you really want to hear are the records you bought a couple of years ago played over and over again, but there’s not a lot of point doing that, I think”

With Spotify, SoundCloud and You Tube online sources, my teenage sons were spoilt for choice in their discovery of different musical genres, young unsigned bands and also the means to explore the musical past.

Margrave of the Marshes, by John PeelAs a teenager in the 1970s, I was restricted in my musical exploration by the contents of my local public library’s record collection and the radio: Radio 2 and 3 for jazz and folk music and the sterling efforts of John Peel whose nightly Radio 1 show literally opened up a world of music, even if it did result in some former enthusiasms being subsequently “disowned” as an embarrassing reminder of my youth (Tubular Bells springs to mind…). Unrestricted by radio playlists and current pop charts his programmes were never predictable and I continue to enjoy a number of performers and musical genres first discovered there.

To illustrate this point, here are three very different musical discoveries from listening either to recordings or from one of the 4,400 broadcast sessions during the show’s 37 year existence (an alphabetical listing of all performers on Wikipedia runs to 58 A4 pages!):

Essential Martin Carthy


Martin Carthy –  an English traditional folk singer still producing and performing interesting music.

Hatful of Hollow, by The SmithsThe Smiths – whose first session forms a major part of their compilation album ‘Hatful of Hollow’, which was a useful antidote to the glossy synthesiser / drum machine chart material of the period.

Shumba, by Thomas Mapfumo

Thomas Mapfumo – a Zimbabwean musician whose hypnotic melodies continue to hold my attention.


If you wish to find out more about John Peel, read his autobiography Margrave of the Marshes (completed after his death by his widow). John Peel also wrote a large number of articles for such periodicals as The Listener and columns in national newspapers and the music press – many of these are gathered together in The Olivetti Chronicles. He seemed to take great delight – or was pressganged into – reviewing gigs by some very non-Peel performers such as Cliff Richard, Madonna and Wham!

After his death many obituaries and tribute articles appeared in national and regional newspapers. These can be read using Westminster Libraries 24/7 subscriptions to newspapers including The Times Digital Archive, Newsbank and also UK Press Online. The Times database uses scanned pages from the original newspaper. However for the issue containing his obituary and tributes (27 October 2004) there was an original printing fault making the first column difficult to read. Use Newsbank as an alternative source for these original Times articles.

John Peel has also appeared as a recent biographical entry in the The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, another 24/7 subscription available to Westminster library members.


Miraculous Mandolins

“Our mandolin ensemble would like to perform at Westminster Music Library”

“Fantastic! Err… how many of you will there be?”

“Oh just sixteen or so…”

Well I like a challenge and we’d never hosted a mandolin ensemble before – how could I refuse? So it was that sixteen enthusiastic musicians – not just mandolins but also double bass, guitars, mandolas (aka the mandolin’s big brother), and not forgetting talented Musical Director James Young – arrived here last Thursday evening, all tuned up and raring to go.

Sure enough, fitting all our musicians and audience into one small space was a challenge, but everyone was soon settled without too much loss of elbow room.

The London Mandolin Ensemble at Westminster Music Library, October 2014

The London Mandolin Ensemble (indeed the only mandolin ensemble in London) was formed in 2012 (they have revived in name the original London Mandolin Ensemble, which first met in London in the early 1970s) by a group of enthusiastic amateur musicians who discovered a shared passion for making music on this diminutive plucked string instrument. Their goal is to maintain the tradition of an ongoing mandolin ensemble in London, and to encourage an interest in mandolin orchestras (which were hugely popular in the UK up until the 1930s), through performance, workshops and master classes.

The concert began with an arrangement of Valentine Roeser’s Sonata no. 6. Originally written for two mandolins and guitar with an added bass continuo part, Roeser is known to have worked in Paris from about 1762 – 1782. There’s a hint of Vivaldi about his style and form but with a little more kick.

This was followed by an anonymously written Partita Antiqua, new to us but famous amongst mandolin aficionados.

The first half of the concert ended with a Mandolin Concerto by Johann Adolf Hasse. Though Hasse was a prolific 18th-century composer whose works included more than 100 operas, oratorios, and sinfonias, most were destroyed in the Siege of Dresden. This surviving concerto for mandolin is an outstanding representation of his skill, brilliantly performed by The Ensemble and featuring guest soloist Travis Finch.

Suitably refreshed, we returned to two arrangements of keyboard sonatas by baroque composer Domenico Scarlatti. Something of a prolific chap, he wrote more than 600 keyboard sonatas including many not yet listed, newly discovered ones and doubtful ones, they certainly lend themselves brilliantly to the mandolin.

A leap forward in time to the twentieth century with Rêverie de Poète by  the Italian composer Giuseppe Manente, and finally, the pièce de résistance, the first movement of Palladio by Karl Jenkins. This arrangement of one of Jenkins’s most recognized works was inspired by 16th-century architect Andrea Palladio and is in the style of a concerto grosso. It certainly sounded very familiar, Musical Director James commented: “just think about buying diamonds”*

The London Mandolin Ensemble gave a captivating and very warmly received performance which ended far too soon, but the good news is they’ll be back here next February; I’m booking myself a front row seat right now.

The London Mandolin Ensemble at Westminster Music Library, October 2014


*Palladio, in varying arrangements, has served as the music for diamond merchants DeBeers TV advertising campaigns since the 1960s. Have a listen to this performance by the Het Consort:

Author Spotlight: Diana Darke Discusses Syria

Diana Darke, authorNo one could accuse author Diana Darke of leading a boring life. Born to German parents in rural Wales, Diana studied Arabic at Oxford and spent many years living and working in the Middle East in a variety of government jobs. Writing about her travels started out as a hobby but rapidly became a career as, in the last 25 years, Diana has written no less than seventeen books on Turkey and the Middle East.

In 2005, Diana bought an 18th century courtyard house in the Old Walled City of Damascus, and spent the next three years restoring it – an experience that led her back to academia and the study of Islamic Architecture.

My House in Damascus, by Diana DarkeThis beautiful house in Damascus is the focus of her latest book, as well as the history of the current conflict in Syria told from a personal perspective. The richness and diversity of Syrian society is explored, bringing a much needed human context to the subject.

As part of the Paddington Book Festival, Diana will be giving an illustrated talk on her book My House in Damascus: An Inside View of the Syrian Revolution this evening at Maida Vale Library. For all forthcoming Paddington Book Festival and other events, please take a look at our News & Events page.

Paddington Book Festival


Courttia Newland on location in Church Street

Snakeskin by Courttia Newland   Music for the off-key, by Courttia Newland   A book of blues, by Courttia Newland   Society within, by Courttia Newland

Author Courttia Newland was our special guest at Church Street Library last week.  The author of seven novels, Courttia was in familiar surroundings, having made regular visits to Church Street market and the Lisson Green estate in the 1980s.  This coincidence fitted well with his chosen theme of place and environment in his writing.

We were delighted to welcome an audience of local people including users of the Home Library Service, who were able to attend thanks to the transport and support provided by HLS staff.  The audience particularly appreciated listening to Courttia reading from his own work. One Home Library Service customer commented on Courttia’s “beautiful, clear voice” and another customer enjoyed the chance to ask him about creative writing programmes.

Courttia Newland at Church street Library, October 2014


Come on in, the door’s open

Access to Research‘Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: how to expand access to research publications’. There’s a snazzy title for a document that I’m sure all of you have pored over. Or maybe you know it better as the Finch Report. Or maybe you don’t know it at all?

To be honest, it doesn’t matter – all any of us need to know is that it’s a Jolly Good Thing because it recommended that publicly funded research should be available to the people who paid for it: the public. Us, in fact. So Proquest (who some of you may know as the publishers of Ancestry, the fantastic online genealogical resource) were signed up to provide the ‘Access to Research’ front-end, which is about as user-friendly as it’s possible to be, and various publishers were brought on board. The current “offer” is impressive – 8,000 journals, many with long back files, containing 4 million freely-available articles. And these are from top academic publishers, 17 of them and counting, including big names like Oxford University Press and Wiley.

The range of subjects is extraordinary – some of the topics are obscure (Journal of the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system, anyone?) but there is plenty of more mainstream stuff (Journal of popular film and television for example). The point is that if you need access to research, esoteric or otherwise, and don’t belong to an academic library or have an awful lot of money at your disposal, you now have it.

So how does it work? You simply visit your local library – access is available in Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham libraries, as well as many other participating library services across the UK. Log onto a library computer and, in Westminster, go to our Online Resources. The interface couldn’t be simpler. Just enter your search terms (as with Google, you can use inverted commas around the term if you want to search for an exact phrase,  so “joan crawford” will return 102 results and joan crawford 1494). You will be asked to accept the Terms and Conditions (don’t worry – you only have to do this once each session). Do have a look at them – the most important condition is that users can’t save documents electronically although they can print out one copy of each article.  Accept the T&Cs and then look at the results.

When you click on an article, it will open up in a new tab so your results list remains open. You can read most of the articles as HTML format (like a straightforward webpage) or as a PDF (probably better if you intend to print it out ).

You don’t have to do a keyword search – you can Browse All Journals, using a drop-down menu to choose a subject. Or if you choose Advanced Search you can search by Author and narrow down your results by date.

Don’t forget to return to the original search screen to make each new search. The search results pop up on the websites of the various publishers, but if you stay there and use their own search boxes, you may find that you reach areas which are not part of the scheme, and get asked to pay unnecessarily.

This is all material that has previously not been available to The Public, only to those attached to academic institutions. So we should certainly make the most of it. Happy researching!


SWr1tes: Ryan, Moustafa, Boniface and a historical walk

The front entrance to Pimlico Library

SWr1tes, the Pimlico Library Book Festival, drew to a close last week after a really successful series of author events. Some authors were primarily discussing their own work, others were offering tips and advice on getting published, the writing process and more.

“It was fantastic”
“Thoroughly enjoyable”

These were just some of the responses to William Ryan’s visit to Pimlico Library. It was a very interesting presentation where William revealed how he conducted research work in Moscow for his novels set in 1930s Russia. He also took time out to discuss his book The Bloody Meadow. We hope inspiration has set in and that we will be lending works by the Book Group members very soon!

William Ryan visits Pimlico Library for SWr1tes 2014

A slightly different kind of SWwr1tes event was a walking tour of the Pimlico area with reference to World War One, led by Chris Everett. Chris’s tour included Dolphin Square – which was the site of the Government-owned Army Clothing factory at the time – and concluded at Victoria Station where many embarked for battle. The walk was very popular with calls for more. One member said that she “enjoyed the walk immensely” and that Pimlico Library was “vibrant with a real buzz about it”. Another commented that Chris “knew his stuff” with further comments that the tour was “knowledgeable and well delivered”.

Chris Everett leads a WW1 themed walk from Pimlico Library for SWr1tes 2014

Egypt: the elusive Arab Spring, by Wafik MoustafaLater in the week, Dr Wafik Moustafa presented his book Egypt- the elusive Arab Spring. The subject was a very topical issue at the moment and this was reflected in the audience of local residents and attendees from various academic institutions. This contributed to what one member of the audience described as “a very informed discussion”. We are grateful for Dr Moustafa taking time out from his role as a doctor and as a member of Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Global Ethics to come to Pimlico Library. As one of the audience noted, an “excellent choice”.

And finally, the Festival concluded with a workshop on self-presentation by Edward St Boniface, author of The London Trilogy. He gave tips and advice to all budding authors, who were inspired by Edward’s journey to being published. There was an excellent response to the workshop with a member of the audience stating “This was a very good talk with a great speaker. Informed, polite and professional”.

Edward St Boniface visits Pimlico Library for SWr1tes 2014

We would like to thank Edward and all our authors, speakers and tutors who have contributed their time to the Festival. A big thank you to the staff of Pimlico Library for putting the events on and Random House for the donation of books for the book sale. Lastly a thank you to all the members of the public, all 162 of you who came to the events and supported the Festival.

Until we read again,

The Quiet Librarian

I believe in unicorns (and that books are magic)!

Originally posted on RBKC Libraries blog:

Last week, Kensington Central Library hosted a marvellous magical performance, by Wizards Present, of the stage adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s book “I Believe in Unicorns”

Five classes, of over 150 children and their teachers, from schools in Hammersmith and Fulham, Westminster, and Kensington and Chelsea were entranced by this fabulous story about how lives can be transformed by books, stories and of course libraries and librarians.

Roll up roll up...who wants to see something amazing?

Roll up roll up…who wants to see something amazing?

Not only was the script and the performance magical, but the props used were magical too! The children gasped as books opened up to become houses and villages, books within books, books used to represent mountains and lakes, and they concealed other surprises as the story unfurls as Tomas, with his newfound love of books, becomes instrumental in saving his burning library when his village is devastated by war.

The children and staff loved it…

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