The story of digitising and listening to Scottish Traveller Duncan Williamson’s archive tapes continues…

I am huddled under my blanket on the sofa.  The fire is on, dog by my side, late night telly to keep me company.  I am full of cold – aches, shivers, headache, sore throat, temperature.  It is a good time to be weak, I have the privilege of hiding inside and recuperating, until I feel fit to stand up again.  Storm Chiara whirled through last weekend and even before she’s finished wreaking her chaos, here is Storm Dennis, adding to the flooding and devastation.

I’ve been spending my time listening to Duncan’s tapes.  I don’t know what I’m going to hear in advance… although I have photos of the tape boxes with notes from Linda, the digitised recordings have new identification numbers and I need to match them up with the notes from Linda.  So, I never know quite what I’m going to hear.   What I am listening to at the moment – and have been for some time – are not traditional stories, but Duncan talking about his own life.  He has been describing growing up, his growing independence and leaving home to travel with his brother, Sandy. Continue reading “Streaming windows and a streaming nose!”

I am sat on a rather beaten up train, each person sat near me staring into phones, tablets and laptops, plugged into the digital world.  I’m on my way home from a Digital Skills for Storytellers Sharing Day put on by Beyond the Border in Cardiff.  Digital skills and digital storytelling is a fiery topic in the storytelling world. Some storytellers dig their heels in and have as little to do with technology as possible, eschewing mobile phones and televisions; resisting the threat of any dilution of the intimate connection of live storytelling. Most have ventured as far as maintaining a website and FaceBook page.  Some intrepid few are launching themselves into the world of live streaming, Facebook events and Skype storytelling clubs.  Personally, I think it is almost impossible to put on any event without interacting online… and as I try to reduce the plastic in my life, replacing the process of laminating posters and driving to various remote notice boards with facebook events seems like the ethical way to go (even though I know there are moral issues with Facebook!).  But that barely brushes the edge of using digital tools.  The possibilities opened by technology are huge!  While I find the prospect daunting – the time eaten by technology and the array of constant new skills demanded, I’m determined that if I’m going to enter this brave new world, there’s no point unless I embrace it wholeheartedly, play with it and make use of the myriad opportunities rather than dabbling in the shallow (on every level) waters. Continue reading “Digitial Skills for Storytellers Sharing Day”

Hurrah! My tapes of Duncan have been digitised.

Stuart Robinson at the School of Scottish Studies has worked incredibly hard, baking tapes, finding the correct playing speeds and has digitised all the tapes not previously entered into the archives.  At last I can let out an inner breath that I have been holding for years: the tapes are safe.  I can let go of the secret fear that the tapes would be too old and unplayable. All the time, while writing and submitting the ACE bid and driving the tapes to Scotland, at the back of my mind a small voice was panicking – what will I do if it’s too late?!

Now I am full of relief and excitement.  My computer and phone are full of downloads of Duncan.  My ears and mind are full of Duncan’s voice.  It is the Duncan I knew – and yet at the same time, it isn’t. When I knew Duncan, I was in my teens and 20s while he was in his 60s and 70s.  Now I am in my 40s – and so is Duncan.  He is telling many of the stories for the first time… I am hearing stories I know inside out, but they are full of a raw freshness. Continue reading “Digitisation is Done!”

This autumn marks 30 years of the storytelling club, ‘Tales at the Edge’.

Until I was invited to the party on Tuesday, the significant date had completely passed me by.  I told my first story at the first meeting of the club and so this is also my 30th anniversary of telling stories!

‘Tales at the Edge’ was the first regular storyround of its type.  Obviously, people have always told stories, but it was the first in the modern model of a monthly, advertised, ‘come all ye and bring a shortish story to tell’ session.  To begin with, the rules were rather strict – no poetry, no readings, no songs or music!  But we needed those rules, we were trying to establish storytelling in its own right and without those rules it could have easily slipped into another folk club with an occasional sprinkling of stories.

The first club night at Wenlock Edge Inn was busy, packed full of well-wishers.  In those days, you needed to be 14 to be allowed into the bar, so I scraped in by a couple of months.  I was nervous.  I’d always loved traditional stories and authors like Alan Garner, C.S. Lewis and Susan Cooper.  I loved the idea of storytellers, but until I met Taffy Thomas at ‘All Folk Around the Wrekin’, I didn’t think there were any left.  Taffy introduced me to Mike Rust, the possibility of a storytelling club and a door opened.  That summer, I went to more folk festivals and spent an entire weekend at ‘Towersey Festival’, trailing round after Pat Ryan and Terry Mann, listening to every story they told. It was a story from Pat Ryan that I told that first night and Taffy Thomas came to kick off the club Continue reading “Thirty Years of Storytelling!”

Whenever I visit Linda Williamson, it feels like coming home.  She was waiting for me in Edinburgh with roast chicken, conversation and company.  We talked of my children, her children and the man who brought us together, Duncan Williamson.

I was staying with Linda for the week so that we could take the tapes to The School of Scottish Studies, to sort out between us exactly what the tapes were and to begin the process of transferring them to a digital format.

However, my first port of call was The Scottish Storytelling Centre, www.scottishstorytellingcentre.com.  This is a marvellous building – right in the middle of Edinburgh on the Royal Mile, the first purpose built modern venue for live storytelling.  It has an exhibition/workshop space, gorgeous theatre, shop and café.  It is open all day, all week (except Sundays) and provides a physical heart for the storytelling scene in Scotland.  Donald Smith, the Director, was away and I’d meet him later in the week, but he connected me with Fiona MacDougall, who also works for the Centre.  I turned up expecting a half hour chat over a cuppa – a courtesy call to talk about my project; explain how I was digitising Duncan’s tapes and to talk about how and when a sharing performance at the Centre might work.  Three hours later we were still talking!

Fiona is relatively new to the Centre.  She moved from the School of Scottish Studies to the Scottish Storytelling Centre about three months ago, bringing with her a passionate love of Scottish Traveller culture and a vast knowledge of stories, songs, family connections and history. My notebook rapidly filled up with names, possible connections, similar projects, books, documentaries, websites and discussion groups to follow up.  Positivity, knowledge and enthusiasm radiated out from Fiona.  She was full of excitement on my behalf about my impending visit to the School of Scottish Studies, still missing her ex-colleagues and sure that I would have a great time the next day with Cathlin and Stuart, sorting out the tapes and exploring all the material available within the hallowed halls. Continue reading “Copyright and Collaboration”

 

At last!  My reel-to-reel recordings of Duncan are going to be digitised!

heritage tapes 1

With all the boxes of tapes safely loaded in the boot and heading north to Scotland, I could feel echoes of that day, over 20 years ago that I’d first loaded those tapes into the car.  I’d taken Simon Heywood up to visit Duncan.  The day we were due to leave, Duncan had dragged out a load of boxes and bin liners from a cupboard.

‘Will ye tak these with ye, Amy?  They’re nae use to me.  Ye can tak them, or I’ll chuck ‘em in the skip, wi the rest o’them’

All the bin liners and saggy boxes were stuffed full of open reel tapes, years’ worth of recordings of Duncan’s stories, songs and thoughts.  We loaded then into the back of my car – and it probably did look like we were going to the skip, but we felt like we were in an Indiana Jones film, rescuing a lost treasure from oblivion.  Not that we’d had to face any great trials, traps or monsters – the worst we’d had to cope with was being woken up at 6 in the morning after a late night drinking session and smoking 5 times as many cigarettes as we normally would. And, of course, we’d left the real treasure, Duncan, behind, though he had promised to come and visit. Continue reading “Travelling with the Tapes”

Hello and welcome to my blog!

This blog will be about my mentor, Duncan Williamson, my apprenticeship with him, the legacy of material he left me and what I’m going to do with it.

Duncan Williamson was a Scottish Traveller storyteller and ballad singer.  He had a huge wealth of stories, songs, jokes, riddles and sayings collected from his family and the Scottish Traveller culture, but also from all the settled people he met as he travelled around Scotland.

For more than twenty years I have had hours and hours of reel-to-reel recordings of Duncan Williamson sat in boxes waiting for me to sort them out.  For the first ten years, Duncan was still alive, so if I had any free time, I’d always rather go and see Duncan himself rather than sort out the tapes.  For the next five years, it was too hard to listen to them. Over the last five years, I have been trying to sort out ways to digitise and archive the material on the tapes.

Eventually, I started a crowdfunding campaign to raise the money to pay for them to digitised–thank you to everyone who contributed –you are all marvellous!

Now the marvellous Arts Council England have awarded me a grant to work with the material on the tapes –listening, cataloguing and working out the best ways to pass it on. Continue reading “New project, new blog, an introduction to my year digitising Duncan Williamson’s reel to reel tapes (includes the story of The Tramp and the Boots)”

As you can see, I am currently updating my website.

I am trying to make it more user-friendly – I’m going to have a day at DASH to see how accessible I can make it.

I’m also going to be launching myself into the social media whirlwind of instagram and twitter as well as facebook.

This is a big learning curve for me – bear with me!  Feel free to laugh and try not to get frustrated.  Obviously you can still contact me all the old-fashioned ways if you get fed up trying to find information while the site is under construction.

 

I have big news! Hurrah! Are you ready?
Here’s the fanfare….
I’ve been awarded an Arts Council England bid to work with the large number of reel-to-reel tapes that I inherited from Duncan Williamson. Thank you to everyone who was involved in my crowdfunding campaign which gave me the money to digitise the tapes and the match funding for my ACE bid.
Part of the bid is to upgrade my all my technical skills – I’ll be writing a blog throughout the programme and learning how to podcast – I have some great podcasts planned talking about Duncan and his influence with Helen East, Ben Haggarty and Linda Williamson – and this website will get the sprucing up it’s needed for a long time!
So watch the space and as I set up my blog and podcast platform, I will let you know!duncan black and white