David Attenborough And The Natural History Of Folk
Wednesday 12 February
BBC RADIO 2
Attenborough is renowned for bringing spectacular nature into the nation's living rooms, but his first television series, broadcast 60 years ago, was quite different - and yet not unrelated. As a young producer, Attenborough made The Song Hunter- six programmes presented by the American folk music collector Alan Lomax (who had recorded Leadbelly and Jelly Roll Morton) - in which traditional musicians from all over Britain and Ireland sang and played.
The Song Hunter was broadcast live so no longer exists, but Reg Hall saw the programmes on the army base where he was doing his National Service. This was a life-changing experience and he went on to work with and record several of the musicians featured. Prompted by such recordings, Attenborough recalls the trials and wonders of the enterprise, like how Lomax blew the budget bringing half a dozen women from the Hebrides to perform their tweed Waulking songs.
At this time, the corporation was engaged in great endeavours - the BBC Folk Music and Dialect Recording Scheme. Peter Kennedy, Seamus Ennis, Hamish Henderson and Bob Copper were employed to gather songs, tunes, tales, customs and dialects. They travelled all over Britain and Ireland and recorded 700 people aged from six to 96. Some these turned up in The Song Hunter.
So Attenborough's career began with folk music. More than this, the way that the material was gathered - searching for, finding, waiting for and recording people in their natural environment – has much in common with the way that, to this day, natural history programmes are made.
Some of the personnel and the equipment overlapped. Peter Kennedy did pioneering work recording birdsong with the parabolic microphone he used for recording musicians. The BBC issued LPs of folksong and LPs of birdsong made by the same people, with the same gear, sharing the same office.
Attenborough, Copper and Kennedy recount these days in previously unbroadcast recordings. Chris Watson, who works with Attenborough today, considers the parallels of natural history sound recording and the collecting of music and, to Attenborough's delight, there is remarkable music by some of the people he first broadcast 60 years ago in The Song Hunter.
Presenter/ Sir David Attenborough, Producer/ Julian May for the BBC
BBC Radio 2 Publicity
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