Tag Archives: Oxford Music Online

Interesting times (2)

December 2016 version of Sgt Pepper cover, by Chris Barker There’s an ancient Chinese curse or proverb: “May you live in interesting times…”

Well, there isn’t actually (it dates all the way back to the politician Austen Chamberlain in 1936) but I think we can all agree that 2016 has been… interesting!
Most of us would probably wish that 2017 is a little less so.

While Westminster Libraries can’t promise world peace or political stability, we can promise you some interesting anniversaries and the resources for interested people to carry out further research.


The year kicks off in January with the 75th anniversary of Desert Island Discs, which was first broadcast on 29 January 1942. It continues to this day with guests (rather tweely known as ‘castaways’) being asked to discuss the eight pieces of music they would take to a desert island. Later on, guests were allowed to choose a book and a luxury too. The first castaway was the ‘comedian, lightning club manipulator, violinist and comedy trick cyclist’, Vic Oliver. Oliver was not only a major star on the radio but also the son-in-law of Winston Churchill (something Churchill wasn’t too thrilled about, though Oliver never traded on the relationship). Though this episode doesn’t survive in the BBC archives, many hundreds of others do and  are available to listen online or download as podcasts. The earliest surviving episode has the actress Margaret Lockwood as a guest and other castaways include seven prime ministers, dozens of Oscar winners, a bunch of Olympic medallists, a few Royals and several criminals.


19 February brings the 300th anniversary of the birth of the actor, playwright and theatre manager David Garrick. Though he was a native of Lichfield (and former pupil of another Lichfield resident-turned-London-devotee, Samuel Johnson) by the age of 23, Garrick was acclaimed as the greatest actor on the English stage. He was a noted playwright but most famous for his Shakespearean roles – though he was not averse to ‘improving’ on the text – his adaptations included a Hamlet without the funeral of Ophelia and the need for the gravediggers, a ‘King Lear’ without the Fool and a Cordelia who lives on, an interpolated dying speech for Macbeth and a scene between the two lovers in the tomb before they die in ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Be honest – who wouldn’t want to see those? He ran the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane for nearly 30 years and he is now commemorated by a theatre and a pub (with Charing Cross Library neatly sandwiched in between).


1717 wasn’t just a significant year in the history of ‘legitimate’ theatre. 2 March that year saw the first performance (at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane)  of The Loves of Mars and Venus by John Weaver, generally regarded as the  first ballet performed in Britain. While there had been English masques and French ballets before this, Weaver was the first person to tell a story through the medium of dance without the need for songs or dialogue. Weaver was the son of the dancing master at Shrewsbury School (public school curricula must have been rather different in the 1600s).

Mrs Hester BoothIn 1703 he had staged (at Drury Lane) a performance called The Tavern Bilkers, usually regarded as the first English pantomime (he described it as “the first entertainment that appeared on the English Stage, where the Representation and Story was carried on by Dancing Action and Motion only”) but it was The Loves of Mars and Venus (the choreography of which survives) which established Weaver as the major figure in English dance until the twentieth century. Venus was played by Hester Santlow (shown dressed as a harlequin), one of the leading ballerinas of the day, who created many roles for Weaver.


Readers of a certain age will remember adverts for Memorex tapes (other brands are available) in which a singer shattered a glass with a high note and the trick was repeated when the tape was played back. Depending on exactly how certain your age is, you may have identified the singer as the great Ella Fitzgerald whose centenary is commemorated on 25 April 2017.

Growing up in a poor district of New York and orphaned in her early teens, Ella spent time in a reformatory but soon escaped and began to enter show business via talent competitions and amateur nights, becoming an established band singer. At the age of 21 she recorded a version of the children’s nursery rhyme A Tisket A Tasket which went on to sell over a million copies. She went on to become one of the greatest of all jazz singers, developing her own idiosyncratic style of ‘scat singing’. All through her career she fought prejudice, refusing to accept any discrimination in hotels and concert venues even when such treatment was  standard in the Southern USA.

You can listen to some of her greatest recordings via the Naxos Music Library and learn more about her career in Oxford Music Online (log in to each with your Westminster library card number).


May Day has long been a festival associated with dancing and celebration and more recently with political demonstrations. But 1 May 1517 has become known as Evil May Day. Tensions between native Londoners and foreigners lead one John Lincoln to persuade Dr Bell, the vicar of St Mary’s, Spitalfields to preach against incomers and to call upon “Englishmen to cherish and defend themselves, and to hurt and grieve aliens for the common weal.”. Even though the Under-Sherriff of London (none other than Sir Thomas More)  patrolled the streets, a riot broke out when they tried to arrest an apprentice for breaking the curfew. Soon afterwards, a crowd of young men began to attack foreigners and burn their houses. The rioting continued throughout May Day – fortunately, while some houses were burned down there were no fatalities. More than a thousand soldiers were needed to put down the riot. Lincoln and the other leaders were executed, but most were spared at the instigation of Cardinal Wolsey, who according to Edward Hall

‘fell on his knees and begged the king to show compassion while the prisoners themselves called out “Mercy, Mercy!” Eventually the king relented and granted them pardon. At which point they cast off their halters and “jumped for joy”.’

Sadly this was not the last outburst of anti-foreign feeling in London’s history but such incidents are thankfully rare.


Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK RowlingA happier event took place on 30 June 1997 with the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling.  It’s hard to remember a time when we didn’t all wish we’d received our letter to Hogwarts instead of going to a boring Muggle school.

But we all know about Harry so let’s move on.


To 12 July and first documented ride, in 1817, of the ‘dandy horse’ or ‘running machine’ or, to you and me, a bicycle without chains or pedals. This was the first means of transport to make use of the two-wheel principle and the creator was Baron Karl Drais , perhaps the most successful inventor you’ve never heard of, and he managed an impressive 10 miles in an hour. While it looks pretty clunky by today’s standards, Drais was inspired by the Year without a Summer of 1816 when crops failed and there weren’t enough oats to feed horses.

Dandy horse

Readers of Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances may remember thar Jessamy in Frederica was very proud of his skill with the ‘pedestrian curricle’. The Observer newspaper was enthralled by the invention of  ‘the velocipede or swift walker’ claiming in 1819 that, on a descent, ‘it equalled a horse at full-speed’ and suggesting that

‘on the  pavements of the Metropolis it might be impelled with great velocity, but this is forbidden. One conviction, under Mr Taylor’s Paving Act, took place on Tuesday. The individual was fined 2/-.’

When he wasn’t inventing bicycles Karl Drais was making an early typewriter, a haybox cooker and a meat grinder.

And on 27 July 1967, we note the 50th anniversary of the decriminalistion of homosexuality.  This will be celebrated with many events throughout the year such as this one at Benjamin Britten’s home and others at various National Trust properties.


Most of us can probably remember what we were doing on 31 August 1997 when we heard of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales and she will be on many people’s minds as the 20th anniversary of this event approaches.

A slightly more auspicious event took place on 17 August 1917, when the two war poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon met at the Craiglockhart War Hospital, an event written about by Pat Barker in her novel Regeneration, as well as Stephen Macdonald’s play Not about Heroes. Owen wrote two of his most beloved poems – Dulce Et Decorum Est and Anthem for Doomed Youth while he was in hospital (he also edited The Hydra, the patients’ magazine) and was tragically killed the following year at the very end of the war. Sassoon survived the war and wrote about his hospital experiences in the autobiographical novel Sherston’s Progress. You can read more about the lives of Owen, Sassoon and the other war poets in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log in with your library card).

Wilfred Owen 


Another literary anniversary is upon us on 21 September, when we note the publication of one of the bestselling fantasy books of all time – The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien, about a small, shy creature who becomes involved in a quest for a dragon’s hoard. It was offered first to the publisher Stanley Unwin who asked his 10 year old son Raynor to review it for him,

Bilbo Baggins was a Hobbit who lived in his Hobbit hole and never went for adventures, at last Gandalf the wizard and his Dwarves persuaded him to go. He had a very exiting (sic) time fighting goblins and wargs. At last they get to the lonely mountain; Smaug, the dragon who guards it is killed and after a terrific battle with the goblins he returned home – rich!

This book, with the help of maps, does not need any illustrations it is good and should appeal to all children between the ages of 5 and 9.”

The Hobbit by JRR TolkienThe book was an instant success thanks to glowing newspaper reviews (The Manchester Guardian wrote ‘The quest of the dragon’s treasure  – rightfully the dwarves treasure – makes an exciting epic of travel, magical adventures, and – working up to a devastating climax, war. Not a story for pacifist children. Or is it?’) and has never been out of print. While embarking on the sequel, The Lord of the Rings, is a pretty daunting task, The Hobbit is still funny and exciting and highly recommended to that clichéd group – children of all ages.


The audience at Warner’s Theatre in New York on 6 October 1927 knew they were going to see an exciting new movie, but none of them could have predicted that motion pictures would never be the same again. The Jazz Singer was the first feature film with synchronised singing – no dialogue had been planned but the star, Al Jolson, couldn’t resist adlibbing on set and his ‘Wait a minute, you ain’t heard nothing yet’ (in fact, his stage catchphrase) has electrified audiences ever since.

The film was a huge hit making over $2,000,000 (having cost only $400,000) and Jolson became an international star. The movies didn’t look back and within three years, silent film was a thing of the past.

The Jazz singer posterTo be honest, seen now, the film (about a Jewish boy who defies his father to sing jazz) is slow, sentimental and creaky, and the less said about Al Jolson’s penchant for blackface the better, but it’s worth checking out his performance to see the sort of charisma that sold out Broadway theatres for 20 years.

You can also see how fan magazines reported it at the time by checking out the Lantern site – a fantastic archive of Hollywood magazines that will keep film buffs busy for days…


As of 2015 there were 5640 female clergy in the Church of England (with 14,820 men) and it’s predicted that women will make up 43% of the clergy by 2035. Yet the General Synod only voted to allow women priests (against fierce opposition from conservatives) on 25 November 1992. Now they are central to the life of the Church of England  and most of their opponents have been won over. Some of this can, of course, be attributed to The Vicar of Dibley with Dawn French as the eponymous lady priest, but they’re now so much part of the landscape that even Ambridge, home of the Archers has had a woman vicar.


3 December will be the 50th anniversary of the first heart transplant operationperformed by the South African surgeon Christian Barnard. The first patient, Lewis Washkansky, died 18 days after the operation (though he was  able to walk and talk after the transplant). The second patient to receive a heart was a baby who sadly didn’t survive the operation, but the third patient, Philip Blaiberg lived for another nineteen months. Six months later, in May 1968, the first British heart transplant took place at the National Heart Hospital in  Westmoreland Street, Marylebone. Now about 3,500 heart transplants take place each year and 50% of patients live for at least 10 years. So while none of us want one, it’s good to know they’re available.

Christiaan Barnard

You can find out more about these events and many more in our 24/7 library and of course the in the libraries themselves. Happy 2017!



Interesting times (1)

As 2016 draws to a close, we have probably all read our fill of celebrity obituaries. Many of us will also have seen other, more local or personal losses. While the argument rages on about whether this was indeed an unusual year or just appeared to be so, we’re likely to have found ourselves thinking or wondering about some of the people whose deaths have been reported in the news – people we’ve heard of, people we’ve not (but feel we should have), and people whose summarised lives turn out to be a whole lot more interesting and varied than we originally thought.

If you want to find out more about a person and their life, use the library. Below, librarian Owen uses Fidel Castro as an example to show the amazing resources Westminster Libraries members have at their fingertips for researching history and biography, but you could apply the same principles to find out more about any of the people below, lost in 2016:

Owen writes:

We recently saw the death of former Cuban leader and revolutionary Fidel Castro. He was seen in death – as he was in life – as someone to celebrate and support, but also someone to despise and oppose, a great leader or a terrible dictator. We can look at how his death was met in newspaper stories, obituaries and images from around the UK (eg: through NewsBank) and around the world (eg: through Library Press Display which includes some newspapers from Florida).

However, your delve into newspaper articles does not have to end there. Why not look back further? Newsbank goes back a good 30 years for a start. But go back further still and you will find yet more. Have a look in The Times Digital Archive; you will find it interesting to see how events in Castro’s life unfolded eg: 1956 saw a failed revolt (the final revolution came in 1958/59). Ironically, considering some of the celebrations recently in Florida we see that on 12 November 1958 people were caught attempting to send Fidel Castro arms to support the uprising.

Don’t stop there though, have a look as well in the Guardian and Observer archive and continue on to the missile crisis (1962 – you can search by date on all databases). In 1968 it begins its article Ten years of Fidel Castro with

‘It’s hard to believe that Fidel Castro’s regime has now been in power for ten years.’

All this can be found via our Online Resources: Newspapers section accessible in any Westminster Library and from home with a Westminster Library card. The newspapers are a great way to get started, but – depending on the person’s field of activity and nationality – take a look too at the Quick Reference, Art & Design (especially Oxford Art), Biography or Music & Performing Arts (especially Oxford Music Online) sections. You never know what you might find!


We will remember them

This week, Westminster City Council marked Armed Forces Week. On Monday a special flag was raised on the roof of City Hall on Victoria Street, on Tuesday the Military Covenant was signed…

Armed Forces exhibition June 2013

Having recently been awarded funding to stage a series of music workshops to commemorate the anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, what better way for Westminster Music Library to start their project than by presenting an exhibition of some of our resources in City Hall during Armed Forces Week?

But what, you may ask, has music got to do with the armed forces, and in particular the First World War?

Most of us know that there were lots of popular songs written during this period – the First World War was a singing war, soldiers used songs to bond and to alleviate the stress and fears encountered at the front. They shared songs with each other at base camps, while marching, and on the front lines, songs such as It’s a long way to Tipperary, and Keep the home fires burning.*

Armed Forces exhibition June 2013

What many of us don’t realise is that a number of British composers played an active role during the First World War. Some of them were killed in action, and all of them were deeply affected by the horrors of war, a fact which was often reflected in the music they wrote.

Westminster Music Library wants to celebrate those “unsung heroes” and draw attention to their music. The exhibition gives a glimpse into a few of these composers [all following links are to Oxford Music Online – log in with your Westminster Library card number to gain access]:

George Butterworth who was awarded the Military Cross for his efforts in the army in the First World War and was killed by sniper fire in the Battle of the Somme, Edward Elgar, horrified at the prospect of the carnage, joined the Hampstead Volunteer Reserve of the army, Arthur Bliss who was with the 13th Battalion Royal Fusiliers, followed by service with the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, wounded on the Somme in 1916 and gassed at Cambrai in 1918, Vaughan Williams served throughout as an artillery officer, Ivor Gurney –  the composer and poet – served with the Gloucestershire Regiment, he survived but spent the rest of his life in mental hospitals… there are many more.

We salute these men, just as Westminster acknowledges the crucial role played by the members of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces; they are an integral part of Britain.

*Search our Song Index to locate the music to these and many other WW1 songs held at Westminster Music Library.

Email Westminster Music Library musiclibrary@westminster.gov.uk to find out more about our music workshops, supported using public funding by Arts Council England (due to start in September 2013 and ending in a summer school in August 2014).


Onwards to 2013

Another year has come and (almost) gone, and what a splendid year it was – scarcely a month went by without a major anniversary. If it wasn’t Dickens, it was Captain Scott and if doomed explorers weren’t your scene, there were doomed Titanic passengers to read about. So let’s have a look forward to what we will be commemorating in 2013…

Titles by Jane Austen28 January sees the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride And Prejudice. If your knowledge of the book is confined to seeing Colin Firth in a wet shirt, then you’re in for a real treat. It’s much funnier and more knowing about human nature than any novel has any right to be. And if you have read it, why not try one of the many, many spin-offs and sequels, some by very famous writers indeed. You can find all of Jane Austen’s books in Westminster Libraries as well as many biographies and volumes of criticism.

Giant molecules: from nylon to nanotubes, by WB Gratzer   24 February gives us an opportunity to celebrate the 75th birthday of nylon. The first commercial product made with nylon was not, as one might expect, stockings but a toothbrush. Previously, toothbrushes had been made with animal bristles so it’s a cause for celebration for pigs and badgers too. You can find out more about looking after your teeth on our Health page, including finding your nearest dentist via NHS Direct. For everything you could possibly want to know about nylon, have a look at the excellent HowStuffWorks via the Science Gateway page.

Books about David Livingstone19 March brings us the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone. You can read  about his life in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log in with your Westminster Library card). It’s hard not to be impressed by the determination of young David who at the age of 10 worked for 12 hours a day in a Clydeside factory and studied for 2 hours every night at the village school, where he developed a lifelong interest in geology and herbal medicine.
One of the favourite heroes of the Victorians, Livingstone’s achievements in exploration (though he failed to locate the source of the Nile), anti-slavery work and promoting Christianity were considerable and, unlike many Victorian heroes, no scandals have been unearthed posthumously. Check out the Themes section of the ODNB for other Imperial Lives, some rather less attractive than Livingstone.

SupermanOn 18 April comics fans everywhere will be celebrating the 75th birthday of Superman and waiting patiently for the summer release of the latest movie retelling of the story: Man of Steel. You can find plenty of the graphic novels and films in Westminster libraries but even if cartoons aren’t your scene, you might want to try Michael Chabon’s masterpiece The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, a fictional look at the lives of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the original Superman artists.

StravinskyHigh culture will be celebrated on 29 May when it is the centenary of the first performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Riots at the ballet are, fortunately, quite rare, but the police had to be called, so outraged were the audience at the unusual  movements of the dancers and musical harmony (or lack of it). Log into Oxford Music Online to find out more about the piece and listen to it at Naxos Music Online (though if you think you won’t be able to refrain from throwing the furniture about, we’d rather you listened at home!)

Books about the SuffragettesMore controversy will be commemorated on 8 June, the centenary of the death of Emily Davison, the brave Suffragette who disrupted the Derby in 1913 and was tragically killed. You can read more about her life in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and watch the British Pathe newsreel of the event.

The BeanoRather more cheerfully, on 30 July, we wish a Happy 75th Birthday to The Beano, greatest of all comics and home of Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx, Rodger the Dodger, Billy Whizz, the Bash Street Kids, Lord Snooty and many another childhood favourite. How many of these can you remember?

The Great Train Robbery8 August sees the 50th anniversary of the Great Train Robbery, not perhaps an event  to celebrate but certainly one that looms very large in the British public consciousness. The are no shortage of books on the subject as well as a number of films. You can see how newspapers at time reported the story by logging in to their online archives (The Times initially reported the theft as totalling £500,000 but it is now thought to have been nearer £2.6 million)

Books about Jesse Owens12 September brings the centenary of the birth of the great Jesse Owens, the outstanding athlete of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, whose achievement in setting three world records and tying a fourth at an athletics meet in 1935 is unlikely to be bettered any time soon. You can read contemporary newpaper accounts of  his winning four gold medals at the Berlin Olympics and even see the events themselves in archive footage on YouTube.

One on every corner- Westminster pubs26 October sees the 150th anniversary of the formation of the Football Association, supposedly formed at a meeting in the Freemason’s Arms in Long Acre,  Covent Garden. Prior to that, different clubs, schools and colleges used their own rules which presumably led to some amusing complications when they played each other. Eleven London clubs and schools sent representatives to the meeting though, ironically, many of them now play rugby union. If you want to take up football yourself, why not check out some of the listings on the Sports page of the Gateway to websites. Or maybe you’re more of a pub person – Westminster Archives have published a splendid history of West End pubs called One on Every Corner.

Doctor Who books23 November is already marked as the key event in the Treasure Hunt Towers 2013 diary: the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of Doctor Who. We don’t know yet what producer Steven Moffat has planned  – look at the BBC Dr Who site for the latest info, but also check our newspaper archives to  look back at its past history: The Times’ Toyshop Roundabout (22/11/65) suggested that the must-have Christmas toy for boys was the Anti-Dalek Neuron Exterminator, though it reported with some disappointment that another anti-Dalek weapon, the Fluid Neutralizer was just ‘our old friend the water-pistol’.

Crossword booksEverything will be a bit of an anti-climax after that excitement but, on 21 December, cruciverbalists everywhere will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first ever ‘wordcross’ puzzle being published in the New York World, created by a British journalist called Arthur Wynne (you can try it here). The first crossword in a British paper was published in the Sunday Express on 2 November 1924 with cryptic crosswords following soon after (though the Americans didn’t take to them until they were introduced to the New York Magazine by composer Stephen Sondheim in 1968).
Why not have a browse among some of the language resources on the Westminster site? Check the Oxford English Dictionary to find out where the word ‘cruciverbalist’ comes from and check Oxford Dictionaries Pro for help with grammar and punctuation as well as some more word puzzles. And if you go to Naxos Music Library, you can listen to some Sondheim while you solve The Guardian’s latest teaser.

There may be some other anniversaries coming up (we’ll all be very familiar with the works of Benjamin Britten by the end of the year) but I’m sure they won’t be as much fun as these…


Removing barriers

Stephen HawkingToday, 3 December, is the ‘International Day Of Persons with Disabilities‘, a slightly clunky title for a day that the United Nations has been observing since 1992.

This year’s theme is ‘Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all’.  15% of the world’s population have some form of disability and it’s a group any of us could join at any moment.

At Treasure Hunt Towers we were big fans of the Paralympics and were truly in awe of some of the swimmers who were missing limbs, the blind footballers and the wheelchair boccia players. So we thought we’d devote this Web Treasure Hunt to a few people with disabilities who have become world-famous in their own spheres.

Children's books by Stephen and Lucy HawkingIt makes sense to start with the extraordinary physicist Stephen Hawking, who launched the Paralympics Opening Ceremony with the words

“Ever since the dawn of civilisation, people have craved an understanding of the underlying order of the world – why it is as it is and why it exists at all.”

Hawking was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 1963 and was given two years to live, but celebrated his 70th birthday earlier this year, having gone on, post-diagnosis, to Cambridge to become a brilliant researcher and then Professor. He is also a prolific author – check out one of his books and prepare to have your mind blown!

Books by Jorge Luis BorgesJorge Luis Borges, Argentinian short-story writer, philosopher and director of the Biblioteca Nacional (National Library) found his eyesight failing in this thirties and was completely blind by his fifties. However he continued to write books and screenplays and deliver lectures, helped by his mother who acted as his secretary since he never mastered Braille.

You can find many of his works in Westminster Libraries – his short stories, with their themes of mirrors, libraries, dreams and labyrinths pioneered the genre of magical realism.  For more information, have a look at Contemporary Authors (you will need your Westminster Library card to log in).

Sarah BernhardtIn the late nineteenth century, Sarah Bernhardt was simply the most famous actor in the world. Nicknamed ‘The Divine Sarah’, after training at the renowned Comedie-Francaise she then toured Europe and the USA, even going to Cuba. She was renowned as the greatest tragic actress of her time, playing both male and female roles. She was also a pioneer of silent films and even appeared in a 1900 film of a scene from Hamlet with sound. You can see clips from some of her films on Youtube.

In 1905, she was performing in the dramatic version of La Tosca (adapted for opera by Puccini) in Rio Di Janeiro when she stumbled after leaping from the balcony in the final scene. She never fully recovered and, in 1915, her right leg was completely amputated. However, this didn’t stop her acting  – she played many of her most famous roles, including Cleopatra, Judas and Queen Elizabeth after her injury.

You can check out some biographies of Sarah in Westminster Libraries. If you’re interested in her theatrical successes, have a look at the John Johnson Collection where you can find facsimiles programmes of some of her plays including Hamlet at the Royal Adelphi Theatre and Lena at the Royal Lyceum Theatre (now home to The Lion King).

Naxos Music Library - log in with your Westminster library cardEveryone knows Beethoven lost his hearing, but he wasn’t the only composer with this condition. Bedrich Smetana was perhaps the greatest of nineteenth century Czech composers and wrote much of his most notable music, including the cycle of symphonic tone poems Ma Vlast (‘My Country’), after he had become completely deaf. You can listen to his complete works online at the Naxos Music Library, including his much-revived opera The Bartered Bride. If you want to find out more about his life and works, have a look at Oxford Music Online.

Itzhak Perlman, certainly one of the finest post-war violinists, is happily still alive and performing despite contracting polio at the age of four. He made a good recovery but has subsequently used crutches or a mobility scooter and sits while performing. He has  played the violin all round the world in venues ranging from Barack Obama’s inauguration to Sesame Street. Check out some of his performances on CD from Westminster Libraries or listen online via Naxos Music Library.

The WELDIS database contains loads of useful information for elderly and/or disabled people in WestminsterRemember, if you are disabled or caring for someone with a disability, Westminster Libraries have a range of services that can make life easier, from a Home Library Service for those who cannot get to a library to a range of specialist services and equipment. You can also check WELDIS, a very useful online directory of services, groups and information for older people and those with a disability or long-term illness.


Are you experienced?

Jimi Hendrix“Purple haze all in my brain
Lately things just don’t seem the same
Actin’ funny, but I don’t know why
‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky”

As all lovers of popular music will know, 27 November 2012 is – or would have been – the 70th birthday of James Marshall Hendrix, better known as Jimi.

He sadly isn’t around to celebrate it as he died in London on 18 September 1970. Forty-two years after his death, to many he is still, quite simply, the greatest guitarist of all time.

The basic details of Hendrix’ life can be found in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and, to be honest, it’s the usual rock star story of army, music, drugs and a tragically early death. What really matters is the music, played with his unique  upside-down style (Hendrix was left-handed and played a right-handed guitar upside-down). You can find plenty of CDs of his work in stock in Westminster Libraries as well as  biographies and musical criticism. For an in-depth critique online as well as a comprehensive discography, videography and bibliography, check out the Encylopaedia of Popular Music, part of Oxford Music Online and for some more serious criticism, have a look at African American Music Reference, from the Alexander Street Press.

For some contemporary accounts of his life, you can check out some of our archive of newspapers and magazines. His tragic death was reported on the front page of the Daily Mirror. Ironically the first time he was mentioned in The Times was in a report of the death of  the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein, as a concert he was giving  was cancelled as a mark of respect. Only three years later, his own obituary was published in the same paper:

“In contrast to the violence and seeming anarchy of his music, Hendrix was a gentle, peaceful man whose only real concern was music. His final public appearance was when he sat in with War, an American band, at Ronnie Scott’s club in London last Wednesday, and it was typical of the man that it was he who felt honoured by being allowed to play.”

Hendrix spent much of his short career in London and anyone who wants to get closer to the man might wish to visit the Handel House Museum in Brook Street, Mayfair. For several months in 1968, Hendrix lived next door – he was thrilled to discover the Handel connection. His flat is now used as the offices of the museum. And when you’ve seen where he lived, you’ll be able to see his most famous gig on the big screen as Hendrix 70 : Live at Woodstock  is released in cinemas around the country.


Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus


Or Happy St David’s Day as we say in English. It’s a mere 137 miles from Victoria Coach Station to Cardiff according to How Far is it Between?, a handy little site to be found on the Travel and Tourism section of the Westminster Libraries Gateway and only two hours from Paddington by train so let’s spend a few minutes considering the our neighbour on Wales’ special day.

First, who was St David? Frankly, nobody has the faintest idea but that hasn’t stopped J. Wyn Evans  writing a long article about his cult for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (see the Biographies section of the Gateway). For those with short attention-spans (and that wouldn’t be any of us, obviously), it can be summarised by the first sentence – “Patron saint of Wales and founder of St David’s, is known from written sources dating from no earlier than the eighth century and an inscription which may be of the seventh.”

Moving on, let’s get the leeks and daffodils over with before we tackle more interesting matters. According to the National Museum of Wales

 ‘Both the sixth-century poet Taliesin and the thirteenth-century Red Book of Hergest extol the virtues of the leek, which, if eaten, encouraged good health and happiness. Small wonder, therefore, that a national respect grew around this plant, which was worn by the Welsh in the Battle of Crecy, and by 1536, when Henry VIII gave a leek to his daughter on 1 March, was already associated with St David’s Day. It is possible that the green and white family colours adopted by the Tudors were taken from their liking for the leek.

‘In comparison with the ancient Welsh associations of the leek, the daffodil has only recently assumed a position of national importance. An increasingly popular flower during the 19th century, especially among women, its status was elevated by the Welsh-born prime minister David Lloyd George, who wore it on St David’s Day and used it in ceremonies in 1911 to mark the investiture of the Prince of Wales at Caernarfon.’

The proper Welsh connections of these excellent plants seem fairly tenuous so let’s move on to matters genuinely Cymric.  The Welsh have always  been known for their love of music and the excellent  Oxford Music Online, found in the Music section of the Gateway, has several fascinating articles about the history of Welsh music as well as biographies (with discographies) of individual performers such as Bryn Terfel, Tom Jones  and of course, the incomparable Dame Shirley Bassey. If your tastes are a little more folkie, the Naxos Music Library can offer such delights as Celtic Folk from Wales (in Welsh). Plus Dylan Thomas reading his own poetry.

Acting is another artistic talent the Welsh have excelled in. The small town of Port Talbot, an hour’s drive from Cardiff has produced three world class thespians – Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins and Michael Sheen. But the most notable artistic contribution is, of course, the revival of Doctor Who, helmed by Swansea’s  own Russell T Davies . Since 2005 Wales has been invaded approximately 347 times, (the first time, the threat was thwarted by our old friend Charles Dickens)  usually defended only by the motley crew of Torchwood. Check out the complete history of the series at its official site.

If this inspired to visit the Principality, why not check out the Transport   and Tourism section again? Using the excellent Transportdirect, you can plot your route there, either by car or by public transport. While Westminster Libraries has an excellent collection of travel books, it’s useful to know that you can find the full text of the Rough Guide to Wales (and other British guides) in KnowUK, one of our Exclusive Resources. And of course you wouldn’t want to visit Wales without knowing a bit of the lingo so, if your worked your way through all the Welsh language courses that the library lends out, it’s time to give Learning Nexus’s new language programmers  a go.

However you choose to celebrate St David’s Day, whether with leek soup, buying daffodils, listening to Tom Jones or watching Torchwood save the world by squabbling and being a bit rubbish, mwynhau!