Birstall, 0 miles, 0 locks
Having got through Leicester without incident I was looking forward to a nice quiet day's boating up to Loughborough today. I'd got ready, got the engine running and made my flask of tea, and I was just looking at my poor wretch of a phone when it dawned on me that I had a spare—an old K800i that I'd used before I got a 1st generation iPhone last year. I figured that although the old phone was ill, the SIM was probably fine and I 'd just dug the old phone out, connected it to the computer and sync'd it up, when it went mad, bleeping and burping as a load of text messages and voice mails came through. One of these was from Brian Duffy from the Modified Toy Orchestra, to say that he was speaking at a Delia Derbyshire 'thing' in Coventry. I gave him a quick ring to find that he was just about to set off, so I accepted his offer to put me on the guest list and said I'd see him later.
Delia Derbyshire, for those of you who don't know, was a musician and composer of electronic music who worked at the BBC Radiophonic Workshops. You might be familiar with her work through the creepy sound effects and electronic music used in, for example, Dr Who. Indeed, while Ron Grainer is the composer of the Dr Who theme music, it's Delia Derbyshire's rendition of it, using tape loops and electronic oscillators amongst other things, that is what we know. Her final well-known piece of work is the score to the film "The Legend Of Hell House", which was a 1973 horror film starring Roddy McDowall. Of course I know her best as the artist who did 'Quest', also known as the "Love theme" from Wordsearch.
The journey to Coventry took ages. There's only one bus an hour from Birstall to Leicester, even though it's only 3 miles away, but fortunately a passer-by pointed out that I was on the wrong side of the road (thanks to a strategically placed roundabout) and that I'd be better off walking up to the A6, where there's a bus every 10 minutes. Of course the busses go into the bus station, which is nowhere near the train station, so there's a walk between them, then you get the Birmingham train to Nuneaton, which seems to run only once an hour, and that doesn't connect with the Coventry train, so there's another 50 minute wait. Or–long story short–after leaving Oothoon a little after 12, I arrived in Coventry at 3:45!
When I got to the venue, they had just started showing episode 2 of the Dr Who adventure "Inferno" (featuring Jon Pertwee as The Doctor), This was chock full of strange noises and electronic sounds, including fragments from Delia's composition "Blue Veils and Golden Sands". Brian hadn't given his talk yet, but nothing was going right either: they'd told him that the projector could only accept an SVGA input so he'd left his 'presentation' laptop at home and was using his older one, whose battery wouldn't keep a charge and which couldn't show movies from within Powerpoint without dropping every other second of video and losing the sound completely! Always the consummate professional he managed to give the talk anyway and wowed us by having the same model of green lampshade that Delia was so fond of (which does give an absolutely amazing sound if you hit it right). Afterwards there was a brief presentation by the chap who now lives in Delia's house, who was showing some 'Delia' artefacts such as her gas mask. There was then a section on Delia's work on White Noise and Electrosonic, although I missed some of that because I popped out to Ikea with Brian to get some coffee (Ikea being slap bang in the middle of Coventry, on floors 3-6 of a nearby office building).
We returned to hear Pram give a live performance using three generations of tape machine (reel-to-reel, 8-track and cassette) which is the kind of technology Delia used to use. This started by them coming round with a box of tape strands which the audience picked at random. These were then spliced together into loops while the audience listened to an except from a quadraphonic 8-track cartridge (done properly, with a speaker in each corner of the room). They then put the spliced tape loops onto an amazing contrivance of blocks of wood with tape spools nailed to them and finally through a reel-to-reel tape machine, while they improvised over the top. The arrangement was such that all of the improvised sounds were added to those already on the tape, building into an amazing layered soundscape. From time to time the loop would be changed and during this time they jammed against stuff recorded on cassette. I should also mention a thing that I don't even know a name for: if you imagine a cylinder about the size of a baked-bean tin, mounted on a shaft which is rotated by an electric motor. Instead of the label there are umpteen loops of magnetic tape and these are played using a ring (the kind that goes on your finger) that has a tape recorder's playback head attached to it. The musician can touch the tape head to the cylinder to play stuff back off the loops and by moving the head from one loop to another you get a different recording. It was amazing and I couldn't believe the sounds that came off of it.
The last item of the day was a showing of the film The Legend of Hell House. This was scored by Delia and such is the quality of her work that, for example, she managed to take an ordinary scene of someone standing in a corridor and make it absolutely terrifying using sound alone.
I had to leave before the end with some misguided idea that I was going to catch a train. How wrong I was. Turned out that the train had been replaced by a bus (only I didn't know that) so I missed it and had—you've guessed it—an hour wait for the next
trainbus. To pass the time I popped into the Indian restaurant opposite the station, which was heaving, but they managed to find me a table for one next to the cloakroom. After this the bus duly arrived and I set off for Nuneaton.
At Nuneaton station, I somehow got talking to young man from Ghana. He was telling me about his country and particularly the politics. He was coming to the UK next year to study in Edinburgh then I think he was going to go back and shake up the political system. Talking to him was a very pleasant way to pass the train journey and it just shows that you never know who you're going to meet.
Got back to Birstall to find that everything was okay, but the lights were looking a bit dim. Hmmm. Wonder if I'll get the engine started in the morning?
Tonight we've got a triple-bill for you: all three parts of Wordsearch, featuring the music of Delia Derbyshire! In case you're wondering, Quest (the theme music) is on her album Electrosonic.