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Musical roots: creating a guide to family history resources in the Musicians’ Union Archive

During the summer of 2017 Henry Carden, a postgraduate Communications, Media & Culture student, carried out a research placement in the University Archives funded by the Musicians’ Union. Here he writes about his work opening up the family history resources contained within the Musicians’ Union Archive.

Marbled edges of MU membership registers (Musicians’ Union Archive)

For the past 8 weeks, I’ve been hiding away in the Musicians’ Union archives putting together a guide to family history resources as part of a graduate trainee programme entitled ‘Musical Roots’. The guide aims to provide an overview of the resources available within the Musicians’ Union archive which may be of interest to people researching their musical ancestors.

As a young-at-heart mature student, I certainly had mixed emotions at discovering that I myself have been archived:

In spite of my ‘illustrious’ musical career, my details in an old branch membership guide were the only mention. So, if my great, great, great grandson is reading this, unfortunately you’ll have to look elsewhere to locate information about my short-lived mid-2000s indie-rock career

As part of the Musical Roots project, I created a database of over 500 obituaries spanning over a hundred years, from the early days of the Amalgamated Musicians’ Union right up to the relatively recent past. It’s worth noting that quite often, tributes and reports weren’t actually described as obituaries, but they featured the kind of information which you would expect to find in an obituary. It’s also worth mentioning that the inclusion of updates about members (both in life and death) was at the beck and call of Branch Secretaries as this article from The Musicians’ Journal demonstrates:

Furthermore, I also included some retirement tributes in the database as they presented a lot of similar information to obituaries. Unfortunately, not all deceased members of the Union received obituaries (understandable given the sheer volume of members) and more often than not, obituaries were reserved for “good union men” who had played active roles in the organisation – and also for more famous members such as John Lennon.

 In addition to the obituaries document, I also created databases of photographs and membership cards which are available to consult in the University Archives. The membership cards database doesn’t include the Edinburgh and Glasgow branches as they were too numerous to document, although highlights there included a few familiar names such as Shirley Manson, Gerry Rafferty and Edwyn Collins.

Glasgow Branch membership cards (Musicians’ Union Archive)

The Musicians’ Union Archive contains a huge amount of historical information on its members and this material is of great interest to people researching their family history.

Whilst some people might have a romantic notion of discovering personal information about one of their musical ancestors, it should be noted that a lot of the resources contained are predominantly administrative. That said, if your relative was an active member of the Union or held an official role, such as Branch Secretary or member of the Executive Committee, for example, then that increases the likelihood of finding more personal information.

Unfortunately, for most members, the only things you’re likely to discover are membership numbers, addresses, the instrument they played and in some cases, their reason for leaving the Union – most likely for falling into arrears with their subscriptions. But don’t let that put you off! You never know what you might discover.

A detailed guide to the family history resources contained in the Musicians’ Union Archive is available here.

 

Musicians’ Union Archive: graduate trainee post

‘Musical roots’: Creating a guide to family history resources in the MU Archive

The University of Stirling Archives is delighted to introduce a new graduate trainee programme supported by the Musicians’ Union which will provide hands-on experience working with the union’s extensive archive, improving access to this unique research resource. This three year project will provide an annual paid archive trainee post, each placement lasting eight weeks and including a stipend of £3,000.

Since its transfer to the University of Stirling Archives in 2009 the Musicians’ Union Archive has been one of our most used collections with researchers from around the UK (and further afield) using the collection for a wide variety of research projects. The archive also receives a large amount of enquiries from members of the public engaged in family history research whose relatives were professional musicians. In 2016 a new history of the Union was published which has generated further interest in the collection (Cloonan, M. & Williamson, J., Players’ Work Time – A Social History of the Musicians’ Union, Manchester University Press).

This year’s archive trainee will open up resources for family historians contained within the union’s records. The Musicians’ Union Archive contains a huge amount of historical information on its members. This material is of great interest to people researching their family history. However these records are scattered throughout the collection with the information being of varying detail and quality. The post holder will carry out a survey of the Archive, identifying material of genealogical interest, and create a guide to the family history resources available.

The timing of the eight week placement is flexible but we expect it to be completed before the end of July 2017.

Application information:

Please send a CV and supporting statement detailing why you are interested in the post and how it would benefit your future career to karl.magee@stir.ac.uk, marking your email MU Trainee 2017.

Closing date for applications is Friday 21 April 2017

Interviews will be held on Friday 28 April 2017

For further information please contact the University Archivist, Karl Magee at 01786 466619 / karl.magee@stir.ac.uk

The Musicians’ Union Archive provides a unique perspective on the cultural history of Britain over the last 130 years through the experiences and struggles of the musicians and performers who entertained a nation.

Musicians Union – what did the branches do?

The vast majority of the Musicians Union collection has now been catalogued and added to our online catalogue. The collection includes material from Central and District offices and also material from over 65 branches of the Musicians Union spread across the whole of the United Kingdom from Aberdeen in the north, to Bournemouth in the south. As you might expect the records tell us much about the administration of the MU, its structure and operation. The campaigns around the use of recorded music, promoting live music as well as defending the terms and conditions of working musicians and supporting them in times of hardship are well documented throughout the branch records.

Minutes from Liverpool branch meeting
Minutes for Liverpool branch meeting 

For some branches we have a large number and a wide range of records. For example for Glasgow, Manchester and Liverpool we have records that reflect the size of the union in terms of individual members in those areas and the range of employment opportunities for musicians.

The minutes of committee meetings and correspondence record the concerns of the Union, for example in protecting terms and conditions of employment for musicians employed in local orchestras and in local theatres.  Liverpool minutes  MU/4/5/1/5

We have membership records that provide not only evidence of the size of the branches in terms of recorded members but also provide information which may be of interest to family historians. Membership registers include names, address, date of joining the union, instruments played and if the person had transferred from another branch or moved to another branch.  The membership records cover more than a century of MU membership from 1893 onwards.

MU Membership Register

Blackpool branch membership register

It is perhaps not surprising that the MU branches in these large cities produce many records; however some small towns also had very active branches. For example we have records from the Blackpool branch which reflect its history as a popular seaside resort with several theatres and attractions including the Tower Ballroom. The minutes of the Blackpool branch meetings and correspondence record negotiations with the Blackpool Tower Company over the terms and conditions of musicians. MU4/15/3/1

Use of recorded music at the Opera House, Blackpool.

Use of recorded music at the Opera House, Blackpool.

The impact of historical events is also present in branch records for example the Blackburn branch was involved in negotiations with the local council for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953 and the use of recorded music. MU/4/11/3/1

Letter from Blackburn branch correspondence file.

The BBC looms large in many branches especially in those branches where members are employed in the BBC orchestras. Much of the correspondence of the Glasgow branch covers negotiations with the BBC over cuts to orchestras and the resulting strikes during the 1980’s.

MU P010

MU Confr026

Photographs taken during the 1980 BBC strike.

 The strike in Bournemouth in 1950 is well documented in a Strike Day by Day Scrap book MU4/18/5/1

Day by Day scrap book of the Bournemouth strike

Day by Day scrap book of the Bournemouth strike

 

Nearer my God to Thee – The heroic musicians of the Titanic

This weekend marks the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic with a huge range of television programmes, newspaper articles, new books, events (and cruises) commemorating the disaster. Our small contribution to these commemorations is to reproduce the memorial poster of the ‘Heroic Musicians of the Titanic’ produced by the Amalgamated Musicians Union in 1912, part of the Musicians Union Archive.

Heroic musicians of the Titanic poster

Heroic musicians of the Titanic poster

The poster depicts the eight professional musicians who were employed to provide on board musical entertainment for the ships passengers (playing requests for up to 12 hours a day from a song book containing over 350 titles). As the ship sank it was reported that they continued to play, their final tune the hymn ‘Nearer my God to Thee.’ Selling over 80,000 copies in the months following the disaster the poster was one example of the extraordinary public response to the sinking of the Titanic, another musical response being a huge benefit concert at the Royal Albert Hall on 24 May 1912 which featured seven full orchestras.

The pages of the union’s journal in the months following the disaster provide detailed reports about the heroic actions of the musicians and the efforts made by the union and others to provide compensation for their families, compensation which was not forthcoming from the ship’s owners the White Star Line. The musicians were employed by an agency called Black Brothers, who supplied musicians to ocean liners, and were not technically ship’s employees. As well as being denied compensation from the White Star Line the family of the violinist John Law Hume also received a letter from Black Brothers demanding they pay the balance of the money he owed for his uniform. While reporting on the insults suffered by the families of the deceased the journal also records the huge sums of money raised by its members for its special Titanic fund, along with the various tributes made and memorials unveiled across the country to their fellow musicians.

 

2016: End-of-year review

Well, it’s that time of the year again. Time to tot up our visitor figures and enquiry databases to discover how our collections were used by researchers and find the most popular archives of 2016. For the second year running the collection which has topped our end-of-year chart is the NHS Forth Valley Archive. The collection, which includes the records of Stirling District Asylum (Bellsdyke Hospital) and the Royal Scottish National Hospital, continues to be very popular with family historians, providing a wealth of information on the patients who passed through the Victorian health-care system. In 2016 the records of these local hospitals have also increasingly been used by academics and students across a range of fascinating research projects.

The NHS Forth Valley Archive, our most popular collection for the second year running.

In 2017 the University of Stirling will celebrate its 50th anniversary having opened its doors for the first time on 18 September 1967. The interest in, and preparations for, this important anniversary have resulted in the university’s own archives taking the No. 2 spot. The University Archive holds the official history of the institution in its minute books, reports and publications. It also preserves the unofficial story of life on campus through student newspapers, memorabilia and oral history interviews with retired staff and alumni. We are looking forward to making full use of this material throughout next year’s 50th celebrations!

Our film collections remain incredibly popular with academics, researchers and students. In 2016 the personal and working papers of the director Lindsay Anderson ended the year at No. 3 in our chart. In part this was due to a renewed academic interest in his work sparked by the publication of Lindsay Anderson Revisited: Unknown Aspects of a Film Director (Palgrave MacMillan, 2016). The enduring appeal of films such as If…. and This Sporting Life also brought a number of researchers to Stirling. The collection was also a key resource for our own M Litt Film Studies students who worked on Anderson’s papers during their research placements in the archive.

Our film collections continue to be popular with researchers.

Outside the archives reading room our Hosts & Champions exhibition continued its tour around Scotland, taking material from our Commonwealth Games Scotland Archive to Stranraer, Kirkintilloch, Eastriggs and Grangemouth. Unique items from our collections were also loaned to exhibitions in places as varied as Montrose, Stirling, Paris and Udine!

We ended the year with the launch of an exciting new project to support the cataloguing and conservation of the Peter Mackay Archive, a collection relating to modern African history which was recently donated to the University of Stirling. A crowdfunding campaign has been launched on the Crowdfunder website:

http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/petermackay/

Help us to reach our target by 24 January 2017!

Those results in full:

2016:

  1. NHS Forth Valley
  2. University of Stirling
  3. Lindsay Anderson

2015:

  1. NHS Forth Valley
  2. Musicians’ Union
  3. University of Stirling

2014:

  1. Norman McLaren
  2. NHS Forth Valley
  3. Commonwealth Games Scotland

2016: coming soon…

After a brief pause for breath over the xmas holidays we’re looking forward to kicking off the new year in style with a number of exciting events to report.

 

Exhibit image crop 01

Our Hosts & Champions exhibition continues its tour around Scotland opening this month in Stranraer Museum and moving on to the Auld Kirk Museum in Kirkintilloch in March. We’re also in discussion with a number of other venues around the country and hope to extend our tour into the summer months. We’ll also be speaking about the Hosts & Champions project and the Commonwealth Games Scotland Archive at the Sport in Museums Network Conference in Nottingham on 11th February.

 

KML Blue001

Our colleagues at The Musicians’ Union: A Social History project at the University of Glasgow are holding a major conference at the Mitchell Library, Glasgow, on 14th and 15th January. The project has made great use of the Musicians’ Union Archive during their research and has put together an exhibition on the history of the union which will be on display at the Mitchell Library from the 11th – 31st January. Players Work Time, a social history of the Musicians’ Union will be published in Spring 2016.

 

SDA project 009

‘Staring at the Ceiling, Looking at the Stars’ is an exhibition of new artwork co-created by patients at Bellsdyke Hospital and the artist Sharon Quigley inspired by the stories of patients in the Stirling District Asylum. It opens in the university’s Pathfoot Building on Saturday 23rd January. To coincide with this exhibition a public talk on nineteenth century asylums, with particular reference to Stirling District Asylum, will be given by Dr Ian Hutchison on Thursday 11th February. The Stirling District Asylum Archive has now been cataloged and is available for use by researchers. Full details can be found here.

 

We’ll continue to provide updates of further projects and events throughout the year, including a trip to Paris in April for one of our ‘Treasures’…

2015: End-of-year review

As 2015 draws to a close its time to review another busy year for the University Archives and look at how our collections were used by researchers. As in previous years we’ve put together an end-of-year chart of our most popular collections by combining the information recorded in our enquiries database with the records of material consulted by visitors to our archives reading room.

The collection which topped this year’s chart has been incredibly popular since its transfer to the University Archives in 2012. No. 1 in 2013 and no. 2 in 2014 the NHS Forth Valley Archive has retaken the top spot in 2015. The bulk of the collection relates to two local hospitals, the Stirling District Asylum (Bellsdyke Hospital) and the Royal Scottish National Hospital, Larbert. There continues to be huge genealogical interest in the information contained in the records of the hospitals, alongside increasing academic interest in the research value of the material.

Stirling District Asylum Case Books

Stirling District Asylum Case Books

This summer the completion of the Wellcome Trust funded Continuity of Care project improved access to the collection through a programme of conservation and cataloguing of the Royal Scottish National Hospital Archive, with full details of the collection now available on our online archive catalogue.

Our No. 2 is a former chart topper (in 2012) its place in this year’s list showing the growing research interest in the collection. The Musicians’ Union Archive provides a comprehensive record of the organisation’s activity since it was founded as the Amalgamated Musicians’ Union in Manchester in 1893. Recent enquiries related to the collection have included topics as varied as female musicians in London during World War One, the working practices of cinema musicians in the silent era, international union relations, The Beatles, the impact of the synthesizer and miming on Top of the Pops. The collection also provides a rich resource for family historians researching their musical ancestors.

Cover of issue 22 of The Musician, December 1957

Cover of issue 22 of The Musician, December 1957

The Musicians’ Union Archive is also a key resource for two major AHRC funded projects, British Silent Cinema and the Transition to Sound (De Montfort University / University of Stirling) and The Musicians’ Union: A Social History (University of Glasgow). Some of the research carried out by these projects will be presented at the conference ‘Working in Music: The Musicians’ Union, musical labour and employment’, which will be held in Glasgow in January 2016.

As the University of Stirling heads toward its 50th anniversary in 2017 we find our own institutional archives at No. 3 in this year’s list. 2015 saw an increased interest in our own archival resources both within the university and from external researchers. The University Archive holds the official history of the institution in its minute books, reports and publications. It also preserves the unofficial story of life on campus through student newspapers, memorabilia and oral history interviews with retired staff and alumni.

Our film collections continue to be popular with researchers.

Our film collections continue to be popular with researchers.

Before we end our review of 2015 an honourable mention should go to our film-related collections. The personal and working papers of three Scottish filmmakers took fourth, fifth and sixth places on our chart (Lindsay Anderson, John Grierson and Norman McLaren). If combined these film archives would have topped the list, their continued popularity showing the wealth of material relating to the history of cinema held in our collections.

Outside the archives reading room our most seen collection was undoubtedly our Commonwealth Games Scotland Archive. Our touring Hosts & Champions exhibition, which celebrates over 80 years of Scottish participation and achievement in the Commonwealth Games, has visited a variety of venues across Scotland this year, starting its tour in Irvine in March and ending the year at Dumfries Museum. The exhibition will continue its tour in the new year visiting Stranraer in January and Kirkintilloch in March. We’ll provide further information about the Hosts & Champions touring programme and other exciting projects and events taking place in 2016 in the new year.

Those results in full:

2015:

1. NHS Forth Valley

2. Musicians’ Union

3. University of Stirling

2014:

1. Norman McLaren

2. NHS Forth Valley

3. Commonwealth Games Scotland

2013:

1. NHS Forth Valley

2. Musicians’ Union

3. Norman McLaren

Further details of previous end of year reviews can be found here.

2014: End-of-year review

Phew! Well that was 2014. It was a year in which a combination of cultural centenaries, major sporting events and academic projects resulted in a huge increase in demand for our collections (and the political events of the past twelve months also kept our colleagues in the Scottish Political Archive pretty busy!) As in previous years we’ve put together an end-of-year chart of our most popular collections in 2014 by combining the information recorded in our enquiries database with the records of visitors to our archives reading room.

Interest in our most used collection in 2014 has been growing recent years (it was our third most popular collection in 2013) and it’s quite fitting that in a year when the centenary of his birth was celebrated with a Scotland-wide series of events our No. 1 is the Norman McLaren Archive. Born in Stirling in 1914 McLaren was an award-winning filmmaker whose work has inspired generations of animators and artists. The film screenings, talks, animation workshops and events presented during the year by McLaren 2014 provided a fitting tribute to his extraordinary career. We were delighted to be able to contribute to the celebrations with our exhibition A Dream of Stirling: Norman McLaren’s Scottish Dawn at the Stirling Smith.

Exhibition poster for A Dream of Stirling: Norman McLaren's Scottish Dawn

Exhibition poster for A Dream of Stirling: Norman McLaren’s Scottish Dawn

Last year’s most popular collection continued to be one of our most-used with the NHS Forth Valley Archive taking second place in our end-of-year chart. Genealogical interest in the historical records of Stirling District Asylum has remained constant with an increase in academic interest in the material also being noted. Access to this collection will be increased in 2015 with our Wellcome Trust funded project to conserve and catalogue the archives of the Royal Scottish National Hospital opening up the records of a hospital of international importance.

A new addition to our end-of-year lists sees the archives of Commonwealth Games Scotland take third spot (or should that be the bronze). In the year of Glasgow 2014 it was inevitable that this collection that documents over eighty years of participation and achievement by Scotland in the Commonwealth Games would generate a certain degree of interest! During the Games our Hosts and Champions exhibition was on display in Glasgow, providing an historical perspective on a modern international sporting event. In 2015 we look forward to putting together a touring version of the exhibition which will be updated with a selection of material from the Glasgow 2014 Games (which we are currently collecting).

Memorabilia from Glasgow 2014 recently added to our Commonwealth Games Scotland Archive

Memorabilia from Glasgow 2014 recently added to our Commonwealth Games Scotland Archive

Those results in full:

2014:

1. Norman McLaren

2. NHS Forth Valley

3. Commonwealth Games Scotland

2013:

1. NHS Forth Valley

2. Musicians’ Union

3. Norman McLaren

2012:

1. Musicians’ Union

2. John Grierson

3. Lindsay Anderson

2011:

1. John Grierson

2. Lindsay Anderson

3. University of Stirling

When Grierson met Jason Singh

This year the wonderful Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema featured a stunning new soundtrack to John Grierson’s Drifters by Jason Singh. Accompanied by members of the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra Jason fused electronic effects, clattering beats and his own voice to create a striking contemporary response to Grierson’s 1929 documentary about North Sea fishermen. The energy and power of the film was heightened by Singh’s beat-boxing, the engines of the fishing trawlers fueled by his propulsive beats. His performance responded beautifully to the changes in tempo and tone in the film, voice and effects demonstrating the power of the waves crashing off the rocks, then quietening to reflect the underwater images of the shoals of herring sought by the trawlermen and the seagulls flying above the boats. The performance ended with a memorable recreation of the sounds of the bustling fishmarket where the trawlermen’s catch was bought and sold. After the elemental sounds of the sea and the mechanical hum of the trawlers the babble of voices brought us back to land.

An underwater scene from John Grierson's 1929 documentary Drifters.

An underwater scene from John Grierson’s 1929 documentary Drifters.

Drifters was made at a turning point in the history of cinema when silent films were beginning to be replaced by the ‘talkies’ and the use of sound in films was becoming more common. Grierson was quick to realise the potential of sound and his archive includes a printed document distributed to cinemas providing a scene-by-scene musical accompaniment to the film. The recommendations are divided into two sections. The first provides popular tunes to be played by a cinema orchestra, while the second lists gramophone recordings of classical music for cinemas without musicians. These were to be played using “non-synchronous tables” (gramophones set up to play likes today’s DJ turntables). As the fishermen prepared their nets before casting them into the sea Mendelssohn’s Fingal’s Cave Part 1 was to be played. Later in the film the threat of the gathering storm clouds was accompanied by Wagner’s Flying Dutchman Overture. Grierson was keen to utilise the technological advances of this time to enhance his pioneering documentary – Jason Singh uses 21st century techniques and equipment to breathe new life into the film for contemporary audiences.

Suggested musical accompaniment for Drifters (ref. Grierson Archive, G2.1.3)

Suggested musical accompaniment for Drifters (ref. Grierson Archive, G2.1.3)

2013: End-of-year review

As we approach the end of the year it’s time to look back and discover what have been our most popular collections in 2013. As in previous years we’ve combined the information recorded in our enquiries database with the records of visitors to our reading room to create our end of year chart. It’s all change at the top with a new No. 1 pushing last year’s chart topper, the Musicians’ Union Archive, into second place.

In 2013 our most used collection was the NHS Forth Valley Archive. This collection, which was transferred to the University Archives in 2012, contains the historical records of two local hospitals, the Stirling District Asylum (Bellsdyke Hospital) and the Royal Scottish National Institution, Larbert. Over the past year a team of student volunteers has helped to make the archives of Stirling District Asylum accessible to researchers through a programme of cleaning and cataloguing. The material has been particularly heavily used by family historians, keen to explore this previously inaccessible material.

The records of Stirling District Asylum have proven very popular with family historians in 2013.

The records of Stirling District Asylum have been well-used by family historians in 2013.

The Royal Scottish National Institution Archives were recognised by UNESCO this year, being designated a collection of national importance and added to the UK Memory of the World Register. We have also recently received funding from the Wellcome Trust for the conservation and cataloguing of the RSNI Archive. We hope to start this work in the spring of 2014 and will post further information about the project on the blog in the new year.

The Musicians’ Union Archive continues to be heavily used by researchers, particularly Glasgow University’s History of the MU project. 2013 was the 120th anniversary of the union and the MU also made great use of their archive during the year. An exhibition featuring images from the collection was put together for the union’s conference in June in Manchester (where the Amalgamated Musicians’ Union was founded in 1893) and was also displayed at the TUC conference, while articles on the history of the union featured in The Musician magazine.

A new entry in our end-of-year review at No. 3 is the Norman McLaren Archive. McLaren’s presence in the Top 3 reflects the increased interest in the life and work of the Stirling-born filmmaker in the run-up to the centenary of his birth in 2014. Our McLaren Archive has continued to grow in recent years with letters to friends and family, artwork and family photographs being added to the collection. In April 2014 a major celebration of McLaren’s career will begin in Stirling with the unveiling of a heritage plaque on his childhood home and an exhibition of material from our collection at the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum. McLaren 2014 will present an exciting programme of events across Scotland including educational workshops, film screenings and public events culminating in a celebration of his ground-breaking, award-winning films at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

The filmmaker Norman McLaren at work. 2014 will see a major celebration of his life and films in Scotland.

The filmmaker Norman McLaren at work. 2014 will see a major celebration of his life and films in Scotland.

Those results in full:

2013:

  1. NHS Forth Valley Archives
  2. Musicians’ Union
  3. Norman McLaren

2012:

  1. Musicians’ Union
  2. John Grierson
  3. Lindsay Anderson

2011:

  1. John Grierson
  2. Lindsay Anderson
  3. University of Stirling