“For me it was a pinnacle in 40 years of broadcasting. I counted it a privilege and still do.” John Tams – music director
“The social documentary nature of the Radio Ballads and their attempt to honour those very experiences is precisely what folk song is all about.” Karine Polwart – musician
A brand new Radio Ballad entitled ‘The Ballad of the Miners’ Strike’ will be broadcast on BBC Radio 2 on Tuesday 2nd March, marking the 25th anniversary of the end of that bitter year-long dispute. With specially commissioned new songs from John Tams, Julie Matthews, Ray Hearne and Jez Lowe and featuring musicians such as Andy Cutting, Barry Coope, Bob Fox and Andy Seward, its transmission has been highly anticipated.
To coincide with this, Delphonic Records are proud to announce the digital reissue of all six Radio Ballads (each one an hour long) that made up the 2006 series:
THE SONG OF STEEL : the decline of Sheffield and Rotherham steel industries
THE ENEMY THAT LIVES WITHIN : modern stories of people living with HIV/AIDS
THE HORN OF THE HUNTER : both sides of the story of hunting with hounds
SWINGS AND ROUNDABOUTS : the travelling people who run Britain’s fairgrounds
THIRTY YEARS OF CONFLICT : sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland
THE BALLAD OF THE BIG SHIPS : shipyards of Tyne & Wear and Clyde
A stunning and important documentation of modern British history and culture, the 2006 Radio Ballads were a year in the making, the process beginning when producer John Leonard, tape editor Annie Grundy and interviewers Vince Hunt and Sara Parker selected six issues that had dominated the half-century since the original groundbreaking Radio Ballads of Ewan MacColl, Charles Parker (father of Sara) and Peggy Seeger were broadcast on the BBC Home Service in the late 1950’s.
The original eight documentaries had been masterpieces of radio, weaving the voices of rarely heard communities with songs written from and about the recorded experiences of the interviewees. With a similar modus operandi for the 2006 Radio Ballads, Hunt and Parker began visiting steelworks, shipyards and fairgrounds, crossed the countryside with fox and hare hunters, talked to musicians who had been caught up in the Troubles and to people living with HIV/AIDS, and gathered location atmosphere and sound effects, eventually speaking to hundreds of people
These interviews were subsequently edited into themes, with layers of recollections and memories, which were then sifted by Leonard and arranged into groupings for songs to be written. Musical director John Tams assembled a team of professional musicians drawn mostly from the current folk scene (including Karine Polwart, Julie Matthews, Jez Lowe, Ray Hearne and Ian McMillan), and they gathered at his studio to work out parts and hone the songs while Leonard edited each new stage into the overall Ballad. As this Ballad series was commissioned as part of the BBC’s Voices project, the musicians used dialect, slang and shared experience to inform their songs. Long days and weeks of studio production resulted in the six-part series originally transmitted from February to April 2006.
“The original Radio Ballads are a crossroads in radio history as pioneering broadcasts that remain forever the benchmark for any documentary maker who has a care for working lives – culture – music. Fifty years on we made the 2006 Radio Ballads. I hope we honoured the originals but moreover those ‘life-tellers’ who gave us their stories. The series is theirs. I was just a part of their storytelling. I count my blessings that I was invited to their tables. These ballads remain for others to come after. But for me and I know for the writers, musicians, recordists and everyone involved they hold a special significance. For me it was a pinnacle in 40 years of broadcasting. I counted it a privilege and still do.” John Tams – music director
“I’m a huge fan of the original Radio Ballads recordings and the quality of songwriting and innovative broadcasting that they represent, so I felt very privileged to be involved in contributing to the 2006 series. It’s a considerable responsibility to draw upon other people’s experiences and stories in any kind of writing or creative work, without getting in the way of what people are perfectly able to say for themselves in their own words. To me, the social documentary nature of the Radio Ballads and their attempt to honour those very experiences is precisely what folk song is all about and why it remains a relevant, powerful and contemporary form of expression.” Karine Polwart – musician
“The Radio Ballads are a triumph of honesty. They take memory, music, atmosphere and imagination and create a special environment where emotions told true are amplified by the music and the personal experience is the absolute focus of attention. It was a dream come true for a reporter, tracking storytellers down through word of mouth and good old fashioned legwork. My instructions were simply to keep going until I found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow: once there all I had to do was get the treasure home. Sometimes I’d be in a chicken coop on top of a hill near Huddersfield; in a tiny village near Newry; in the middle of a council estate in Sheffield or in a Glasgow hotel, with a corridor-full of burly Scottish shipbuilders queuing up to tell me their stories. Gathering the interviews for the Radio Ballads was an unbelievable year, and I think we made a radio series that sounds like no other.”
Vince Hunt – interviewer