I’ve spent a lot of time since the beginning of the year recording ballads for this website to accompany my new book. This is first in a short series of posts about what I’ve been up to.

First, I must thank Stephen Kelly for prompting me to begin this project.   While I was working at Hope before Christmas, Stephen came to speak for the Historical Association in Bolton, so I gave him a lift across from Liverpool after work.  We were chatting about all sorts of things, the book among them, and Stephen asked if there would be recordings to go with the book.  When I replied in the negative, he remarked that it was a shame, as it would be good to hear examples as well as see them. I’d always wanted to have recordings of the songs in the book, but I’d written that idea off when that aspect of it wasn’t picked up by the publishers.  Stephen pointed out that in this day and age, it wasn’t really necessary to have a CD, as I could just put them on the internet.  So I went away and started mulling it over.

The first step was to talk to my husband. He’s a graduate of the Royal Northern College of Music and, like me, a former music teacher (although he did it for a lot longer than I did).  If he could help me by sorting out the musical arrangements for guitar or piano, it would save me a lot of time – in fact, without his help I simply wouldn’t have had time to get it finished, what with the travelling and teaching I was doing too.  He also agreed to accompany the songs, and sing some of the male parts for me.

The next one was to ask Father Christmas for a more advanced digital recorder.  I already had a pocket sized one, which was pretty good, but some of the pieces in the book have four parts, so in order to record them with just the two of us, we needed to multitrack them.  Enter the Tascam DR-40.  It took us a little while to get to know it, which became considerably easier when we found its instruction book on the internet.  And Tascam, if you’re listening, something to indicate that more comprehensive instructions are available than those which come in the box wouldn’t go amiss!

Once I’d finished proofreading the book text and writing the index, my next priority was to get stuck into the recordings. We thought we started well, until we tried to put them on the computer. Then we realised that the reason playback was so quiet on the recorder was because the recording was quiet, not because the recorder couldn’t play it back any louder.  A rookie mistake, and one that cost us a couple of days’ work.  Once we’d got that sorted out, things progressed much better, although it was a bit demoralising to have to re-record several of songs we’d already done.

Another mistake was not to disconnect the phone.  We’d got more than ten minutes into one of the songs, only about 4 verses from the end, when my fiend rang.  Normally, he rings my mobile, which was on silent in another room, but that day he chose to ring the landline.  A lesson soon learned.

The recordings aren’t all perfect, but we think they give a flavour of how the songs might have sounded.  And they certainly fulfil my main aim, which was to help people to understand how they could have sounded – that’s so much easier with a recording than it is on paper.