In Concert

Get a flavour of the music collections of the Library of Birmingham – quirky, practical, historical, contemporary

Enriching your musical learning — October 6, 2021

Enriching your musical learning

If you’re studying to be a musician or singer, it can be easy to focus only on your course requirements. Studying for exams, building up repertoire, or an apparent lack of time can all lead to a narrowing of your musical horizons.

The Library of Birmingham’s Music Library can help you explore further afield. With many thousands of scores, books on music, and performance sets, the Music Library is one of the largest local authority music libraries in the UK. We are now fully reopened and eager to welcome new and existing customers. Joining Birmingham Libraries is free and easy to do, and many services are free of charge.

Come with us on a short tour of the Music Library and discover what we have to offer you. Continue reading

Back to the (start of the) 80’s again — August 25, 2021

Back to the (start of the) 80’s again

A while back, we had a look at a random selection of song sheets from the early 1980s, Back to the (start of the) 80’s . In honour of Birmingham’s Gay Village and their ‘Back to the 80’s night’, here’s another, possibly even more random selection from the first half of the decade. Which songs do you know, or even remember from the first time around?

For all the Music Library mostly stopped buying single song sheets in the 1980’s, we still have an intriguing, though limited selection. Let’s start with this one:

Brian May & Queen  Save me  (publ. 1980)

Queen - Save me
Queen – Save me

The Game was Queen’s eighth studio album and is described either as ‘disco’ influenced, or when they turned towards pop rather than rock. The Wikipedia article quotes some responses to its original release. You’re left wondering whether they’re talking about the same music. Continue reading

Christmas post — December 15, 2020

Christmas post

Most of us have spent a lot of life online recently. At this time of year, I’ll look forward to getting Christmas cards through the post more than ever. It’s hard to make a display of e-cards and decorative emails – receiving the real physical thing makes such a difference. In this post, I’ll be looking at one of our Victorian songs celebrating  the postal service, and then sampling some of the Victorian Christmas cards which are part of the collections here in Birmingham.

Continue reading

‘Look here’ – songs by Leon Rosselson — August 20, 2020

‘Look here’ – songs by Leon Rosselson

For the first time in ages, I’ve had the chance to choose something from our shelves as the basis for a post. The Library of Birmingham is gradually coming back to life. While it’s been great exploring all kinds of other musical topics, what our stock has to offer remains the backbone of this blog. (Information about the current services Birmingham’s libraries offer may be found on the library catalogue page.)

As is often the case, what I’ve chosen comes from our Folk section. It’s also led me on another fascinating journey. Continue reading

Made in Birmingham 2 – new listening edition — April 22, 2020

Made in Birmingham 2 – new listening edition

If social media is to be believed, this enforced stay-at-home time should be used to broaden your horizons or learn something new, rather than just surviving. In this spirit, I decided to wander off and see what Birmingham indie rock bands old and new are out there, waiting to be discovered. Usually, the library’s stock takes me on all kinds of journeys; now, of course, I have no access. My classical music bias hangs a little heavy sometimes, so this exploration should be a breath of fresh air.

Join me in this experiment. Maybe you’ll discover someone new, or perhaps you’ll just roll your eyes at my choices. Continue reading

Shopping for music at M&S — October 15, 2019

Shopping for music at M&S

Here in the UK, Marks and Spencer has been part of the high street for well over a hundred years. Institutions have to change to survive though. Nowadays M&S is associated with food, clothing, home wares, and financial services. Back at the start of the twentieth century, the M&S Original Penny Bazaars (both market stalls and shops) sold haberdashery (small scale sewing requirements) and household items. So no food or clothing at all, and everything was a penny (1d).

[Click on an image to enlarge it.]

Another item the original shops sold was sheet music. Continue reading

Back to the (start of the) 80’s — September 14, 2019

Back to the (start of the) 80’s

Over the next couple of months, I’ll be looking at the outer temporal extremes of our song sheet collection. This time, we’ll be quite modern; next, we’ll see what hit songs looked like in the early eighteenth century.

For reasons lost in the mists of time, we stopped collecting single song sheets early in the 1980’s. Maybe because the publishers went off producing them in favour of song albums. Anyway, following an entirely unscientific trawl through some of the boxes, here’s my selection. How many can you recognise or sing bits of from first time around?

It’s 1980 (or thereabouts) – the year of John Lennon’s death. The CND protest started at Greenham Common; Alton Towers opened. A record number of people in the UK were unemployed; Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister. The TV show Yes, Minister started broadcasting.

Continue reading

Fly me to the moon! — July 17, 2019

Fly me to the moon!

I wonder how many posts and articles will bear this title over the next week or so? No surprise really, given how jaw-dropping it must have been to see humans walking on the surface of the Moon fifty years ago. I’m too young to remember it as it happened, but most people on Earth have probably seen the blurry, extraordinary footage at one time or another.

In celebration, I did a quick trawl through our songsheet collection. The moon features a lot in songs, either as itself or as moonlight. Here’s my selection. Continue reading

Summertime — June 27, 2019

Summertime

Yes, summer is here, although I couldn’t help wondering where it was hiding this morning when I came to work in torrential rain. Or maybe that’s an expected part of summer in the UK? Anyway, a quick trawl through our song sheet collections produced a slew of songs from the movies with ‘summer’ in the title.

Gershwin and Heyward  Summertime (from Porgy and Bess) (publ. 1959)

Summertime - front cover
The front cover – based on the film publicity poster

To me, Porgy and Bess is an opera. Yet looking around, I quickly learnt it was first a novel, then a stage play. Gershwin took it on as an opera, and finally there was a push to make it into a film. It had a troubled gestation. One unsuccessful bidder for the rights (Harry Cohn) wanted to perform it in blackface. The Gershwin estate was determined that the cast should be African-American but that too had its problems. The story line of drugs, sexual violence, prostitution, and murder set in early twentieth-century South Carolina was problematical. Continue reading

The Cottager’s Complaint: history in song — May 30, 2019

The Cottager’s Complaint: history in song

Single-sheet ballads (of the sort that rolled off presses all over the country) are fascinating. Over the centuries, people have written songs on all sorts of subjects – many commenting on the pressing issues of the time. They appear to be one way of getting a grievance out there, to solicit public support for a cause, or to celebrate something significant.

An earlier post, The Jolly Machine – Michael Raven and urban English folk song  looked at some local offerings through the lens of Michael Raven. This time, Roy Palmer is my guide.

Palmer  A Ballad history of England (publ. 1979)

Palmer  A ballad history of England
A different way of looking at England’s history

Our song sheet collections comprise publications aimed at a middle-class clientele, particularly so for the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They (mostly) have a composer’s name on them and usually also one of a reputable publisher. This contrasts with ballad production: the words come from the people, with no one person attributed. The tunes are those already around, and the ballad sheets were sold on the street.

Continue reading

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