Bluedot, Jodrell Bank Observatory, Delia Derbyshire Day – 80th Anniversary Tribute, Nebula Stage, July 8; Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia, Lovell stage, July 8 2017.
At festivals, especially big ones with lots of good stuff going on, you get used to wisps of sound from other tents and stages intruding on your experience. I’ve always loved it. Being able to hear the sound-scape is part of the joy and the atmosphere; people having fun, meets hard rock, meets electronic rave, meets ice-cream van jingles. And sometimes you get perfect storms of noise where you can hear all four things at once and none of it makes sense anymore but it’s all so good and so full and multilayered and your body starts vibrating and you just want to join in somehow with the senseless sound world. So I was very excited for Delia Derbyshire. And in my opinion it was particularly good programming, if slightly irritating for people who wanted to see all of both things, that had the Delia Derbyshire Day panel talk overlap with Hannah Peel performing her Mary Casio with Tubular Brass on the main stage.
Delia Derbyshire was a musician, found sound artist and electronic music pioneer. I think she would have appreciated her panel talk being invaded by the noises of an orchestra and noise artist telling in sound the story of star grazer. Derbyshire was the BBC’s radiophonic workshop and she arranged the original Dr Who soundtrack, she also apparently stole a green lampshade from the BBC corridor and used it for many years as a way to make a whole range of noises. Filled with water it had a deep jungle tone, scraped gently it went into the sounds of Taureg camel riders crossing the desert, dropped it was used as door an a spaceship door opening. Mark Ayres, Dick Mills and two Delia Derbyshire Day artists, Caro C and Mandy Wigby all discussed her methods, how she changed and moved with the new technologies and took the audience through some of their favourite clips of her work. There was great discussion of how she made the tracks, cutting up cassette tape and recording and rerecording sometimes her own voice singing notes.
Dick Mills who worked with her talked a little about some of the myths of their workshop was clearly still as interested in the sounds and sequences of noise as he had been in the 70s. He told stories about how they allowed their adoring public to think for years that the noise they used for the TARDIS taking off in Dr Who was a cow in labour when in fact, we were told, it was Brian Hodges mothers front door being unlocked. It was an engaging talk about someone they all obviously admired, tit bits like that she always wrote with brown ink and had terrible handwriting so it looked like a spider bleeding onto a page were dropped in. Most of the stories just made me want to ask for more: one about how Derbyshire managed to get David Attenborough to go up into his loft to get her the sound of a very rare lemur had me wondering why Sir David kept the sounds of lemurs stored in his attic as I walked over to the Lovell Stage for Hannah Peel. And how did she know? The artists on stage where clearly asking some of those questions still in their own work.
Questions got put to the side though as Hannah Peel, more sparkly than the night sky through a radio telescope, in a full sequence jumpsuit started her set. This is the first time this piece was performed at a festival and if anyone was worried that an orchestra and Peels alter-ego 86 year old Mary Casio wouldn’t fit in they were quickly comforted. Mary Casio’s story takes her from South Yorkshire via some homemade, noisy, stargazing machines to fulfil her dreams of staring up into the dark night sky. Tubular Brass proved to be fantastic landscaping behind her oscillating sounds and bright noises as the journey to Cassiopeia took off. One of the discussions in the Derbyshire talk was about how during Derbyshire’s career the lines between atmospheric music, or background sounds and music to listen to in itself were becoming more blurred. The noises as their own art or in service of a film or radio show became one of the great interests of Derbyshire and Peel’s music was clearly in conversation with much of the same interesting audible world. Happily there was no ‘narrating’ film behind Mary Casio, just an endless moving starburst set of lights and the sound here was allowed to carry itself. And to judge by the dancing at the front of the stage and all of the families and friends sitting out on the field in every direction either talking amongst themselves or listening intently everyone was surrounded by the music and being carried to another world whether or not they were paying attention to the journey. And they loved it.