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Dance Bands in Chester & North Wales, 1930 – 1970: Revealing a Hidden HistoryDance bands in Chester and North Wales, 1930 - 1970 : Revealing a Hidden History “… the work of local amateur musicians is not just haphazard or formless, the result of individual whim or circumstance. On the contrary, a consistent - if sometimes changing - structure lies behind these surface activities. The public events … are part of an invisible but organised system through which individuals make their contribution to both the changes and the continuities of English music today.” (Finnegan, 2007) Chester (UK) in the period around World War II had a thriving live dance music scene, in which most of the music-making was done by local semi-professional musicians. Although they were busiest in the 1940s and 50s, many of the bands involved continued to operate alongside groups playing rock 'n' roll and pop, often in the same venues and sometimes at the same events, and the infrastructure which had supported the dance bands is an essential, if under-recorded, part of the history of rock 'n' roll and beat bands in the area (including the Beatles). This presentation looks at evidence from a recently-completed Ph.D. project to investigate how this local dance band scene worked, including the nature and evolution of its 'invisible but organised' underlying structure. The majority of the data was collected from private sources, with the aim of recording information which was not available in a single, academically-accessible archive. Fieldwork included over 30 recorded interviews with musicians, promoters and dancers. It also yielded more than 200 photographs and images which helped to illuminate the world of the bands, musicians and venues mentioned, and to produce a comprehensive snapshot of the local dance band scene, covering as wide a range as possible of social and musical backgrounds and experiences. Inspirations for this oral history project include The Hidden Musicians (Finnegan, 2007), Jazz Places (Becker, 2004), Rock Culture in Liverpool (Cohen, 1991), Other Voices (Brocken, 2010) and Victory Through Harmony (Baade, 2013). It is hoped that combining ideas from these and other sources with a detailed investigation of this specific local scene, as this work has done, will contribute further to a better understanding of amateur and semi-professional music-making in an urban landscape. Becker, Howard S. (2004). Jazz Places. In A. Bennett & R. A. Peterson (Eds.), Music Scenes: Local, Translocal and Virtual (pp. 17 - 27): Vanderbilt University Press. Brocken, Michael. (2010). Other voices : hidden histories of Liverpool's popular music scenes, 1930s - 1970s: Ashgate Publishing Ltd. Cohen, Sara. (1991). Rock Culture in Liverpool : Popular Music in the Making: Oxford University Press. Finnegan, Ruth H. . (2007). The Hidden Musicians: Music-Making in an English Town: Wesleyan University Press.
Jazz on the border: Jazz and dance bands in Chester and North Wales in mid-twentieth centuryThere was a high degree of overlap between western popular music and jazz in the mid- twentieth century. However, histories of jazz and histories of popular music are often puzzlingly separate, as if divided by strict borders. This article looks at some of the rea- sons for this (including those proposed by Frith (2007) and Bennett (2013). The impor- tance of musical pathways and hidden histories (Becker 2002, 2004; Finnegan 2007; Nott 2002; Rogers 2013) in the context of local music scenes is considered. The importance of taking live music scenes and provincial areas into account when discussing genre his- tories is discussed, in the context of examples from an oral history study of dance-band musicians and promoters in the Chester (UK) area. These examples help to demonstrate that boundaries between jazz and popular music are frequently less abrupt in practice than they are in theory.
Total war and its effects on the live music industry in Cheshire and North WalesGiven the profound effect which World War II had on the economy of the UK as a whole, it would be surprising if specific areas of that economy – such as live music in the provinces – were not affected as well. How did ‘total war’ affect the live music industry on a local level? Evidence I have collected for a study of musicians active in and around Chester during the period suggests that the large number of military bases in the area, combined with the effects of other wartime factors such as conscription, rationing and the need to maintain both military and civilian morale, did indeed affect the size and nature of the market for live dance music locally. For instance, the large US Air Force base at Burtonwood was a source of work for local musicians, as well as an opportunity to mix with American musicians and music fans. As well as presenting information obtained through interviews with musicians and their relatives, I will also look briefly at what happened to the musicians and the bands after the war, when economic and social conditions changed again, at the same time as advances occurred in music-related technology.