Tag Archives: Music

The Tall Blue Building: Happy 50th Birthday, Richmond

On 11 June 1965, Prime Minister Harold Wilson came to what is now the University of Bradford to open Main Building.  Later renamed Richmond Building, Main Building, a striking multistorey structure, quickly became the University’s most recognisable feature,  its hilltop position making it visible across the city.

Main Building, circa 1966.  (UNI B 19)

Main Building, circa 1966. (UNI B 19)

When Main Building opened, it was part of the Bradford Institute of Technology.  BIT was about to achieve the century-old dream of a University for Bradford: it received its Charter in October 1966, with Wilson as its first Chancellor.  However, the Institute had struggled with poor quality and outdated accommodation since its establishment as a College of Advanced Technology,  which hived off the higher education side of Bradford Technical College.  A University would need even more space for staff and students as well as better facilities for high level research and teaching in science and technological subjects.

Harold Wilson opening Main Building, 11 June 1965 (UNI PHw4)

Harold Wilson opening Main Building, 11 June 1965 (UNI PHw4)

BIT, unlike the College, was no longer under local authority control, but in practice it was impossible for it to act alone to solve its space crisis.  The two organisations had to work together for the benefit of the city, the Institute bringing in money and people and ideas and the authority making space and plans available.  They considered various greenfield sites for a whole new campus, including Woodhall, Tong and even Harrogate  (remember this was the 1960s when new “plate-glass” universities were taking shape outside cities).

However, it was eventually decided to expand the campus into the back streets which wrapped around the College.   Whole streets of houses were demolished (many people had to be rehoused as a result) and work on Main Building began in May 1960.  The building was commissioned by the Local Authority and designed by the City Architect, Clifford Brown, then handed over to the Institute.  The lower four floors of Main were first occupied in October 1962; other parts of the building in 1963 and 1964.

September 1964. View from top of Richmond Road, with Great Hall in foreground. Surrounding wall still under construction. Cars and vans at roadside. (UNI B10)

September 1964. View from top of Richmond Road, with Great Hall in foreground. (UNI B10)

Since the 1960s, Main/Richmond has been an important part of the University experience for students, from arrival at their first open day to their graduation ceremony.  Staff too (everyone visits Human Resources on their first day here!).  Visitors get their taxis and their parking permits at the “tall building”.   As well as many academic departments over the years, Richmond houses most central University functions plus shops and places to eat.

Artist’s impression of the proposed glazed atrium. News and views, September 2004, p. 3UniB15

Artist’s impression of the proposed glazed atrium. News and Views, September 2004, page 3 (UNI B15)

However, by the early noughties, it is fair to say that, like many 1960s buildings, Richmond was showing its age.  Many improvements to its appearance and usefulness have since been made, most noticeably the sky-blue cladding and the glassing in of underused space to create the Atrium where coffee and comfy chairs are to be had.   Alas, the fabulous modern “porch” on stilts you can see in the older photographs has gone.   I wonder if Richmond will be here in 2025 and how it will look?


Music in the Atrium at an event for the University’s 40th anniversary, 2006

PS I don’t have the date of the renaming to hand, but we know that Main Building was renamed Richmond Building after the street on which it lives.  This was in line with the University’s then policy of naming its buildings after such streets or other local heritage features.

Sources:  Much of this article is based on Robert McKinlay’s histories, which are full of detail on the architecture and planning decisions of the 1960s, and on the Main Building article in our 100 Objects exhibition.

Bright Days and Cream Teas: the Joy of Waiting

The Joy of Waiting, a new album by Manchester musician and writer Sara Lowes, features songs inspired by J.B. Priestley, and in particular his interest in time.  The titles?  “Bright Day“, “The Chapman of Rhymes” and “J.B. Priestley”!

Sara Lowes Joy of Waiting

Sara’s music is difficult to categorise – you will have to hear her for yourself – but this description from Q Magazine will give you an inkling of her style:

“A voice somewhere between Alison Goldfrapp and Joni Mitchell, and songs that veer between folk, Brill Building pop and Dexys Midnight Runners-esque soul”.

J.B. Priestley Society members get a treat at the Society’s AGM on 11 April as Sara is to be our very special guest.   Not to mention a luxury afternoon tea.  Bliss!

Check out Sara’s website to hear her songs and find out more.

Phyllis Bentley, Thomas Hardy, Sunlight Soap … new in the Society Journal

There’s plenty of good stuff in the latest issue of the J.B. Priestley Society Journal (October 2012, volume 13)

Blue plaque for J.B. Priestley at 34 Mannheim Road, Bradford.

Blue plaque for J.B. Priestley at 34 Mannheim Road, Bradford. The family didn’t move from there straight to Saltburn Place as has traditionally been thought …

  • JC Eastwood on Priestley’s family homes in Bradford – clearing up a mystery!
  • Professor Maggie Gale of Manchester University on Priestley as a “man of the theatre” – the text of her 2012 Society lecture.
  • Priestley’s bibliographer Alan Day on JB’s links with novelist Phyllis Bentley and their opinions of each other’s writings.  Alan Day also looks at a series of “short uplift articles” Priestley wrote for Lever Brothers in 1940 as part of a promotion for Sunlight Soap.  Fascinating parallels to the Postscripts!
  • Trevor Johnson writes about Priestley and Thomas Hardy, in particular the former’s use of Hardy’s poem in the Postscript about the Isle of Wight Volunteers of 16 June 1940.
  • Philip Scowcroft surveys music in Priestley’s writings.

There is also a reprint of a Priestley rarity, “The Soul of Revue”, originally published in 1925 and hitherto unknown.

The Journal isn’t available online*, but is sent in print form to all members of the Society and is available in libraries, including ours of course.

*yet, watch this space!

Postscript Sunday 6 October 1940

This Postscript has a distinctly autumnal feel.   JB and an engineer from “a well-known public corporation” (presumably the BBC, though I haven’t confirmed this) were on a long drive to the west of England one “chilly, damp” evening.

Warned by the engineer’s past experiences, they stopped early for the night to try to find a bed.   But the hotels were full of resident guests who had no particular work and had moved out of London away from the Blitz. The evening ended happily, as Priestley and his companion managed to persuade a landlord to let them have a room.  But the incident made Priestley realise that something was wrong.

The people most in need of “nice, quiet rooms in pretty places” were women and children bombed out or others suffering from shock and trauma, but there was no room for them.  Instead, the spaces were taken by “pleasant, able-bodied persons who, because of some system of private incomes or pensions and all kinds of snobbish nonsense, are condemned to yawn away their lives, forever wondering what to do between meals”.

Priestley concluded that this unfortunate situation showed that “we are at present floundering between two stools”: everyone for himself, or sharing and fairness, everyone for each other.

This Postscript is the most politically inflammatory one yet.  He is very critical of the idle rich, although fair in saying the situation is not their fault.   Priestley did not use any -ism for his suggested society, but he did use a very particular phrase when he explained that the second stool “has some lettering around it that hints that free men could combine, without losing what’s essential to their free development, to see that each gives according to his ability and receives according to his need”.

The phrase at the end is almost exactly Karl Marx’s famous “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” which appeared in the Critique of the Gotha Programme.  Of course the concept is much older: the 5th edition of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations cites 18th century French thinkers, and Priestley sets it in the Christian tradition, suggesting that it could have come from any sermon.  His family and in particular his father Jonathan came from a West Riding tradition of nonconformist, public-spirited, practical socialism, and this appears to some extent throughout Priestley’s life and works.

Cover of Voices on the Green

Cover of Voices on the Green

Priestley’s politics and religious ideas require far more room to discuss in detail.  But I would like to share a piece that I think complements this Postscript: The Swan Sings Tirralayo,  originally written for an American compilation called London Calling (New York, Harper & Bros, 1942).  I have read it only in its later publication, slightly abridged and moved into the past tense, in Voices on the Green (Michael Joseph, 1945), a collection of writing about childhood whose profits went to Saint Mary’s Hospitals for Women and Children.

In Swan, as so often in the Postscripts, Priestley started from a small experience of his own and used it to make radical conclusions palatable and familiar.  During the War, his wife Jane ran hostels in Herefordshire for bombed out women and children.  One night, when Priestley was staying at one of the hostels, three professional musicians working as “music travellers” for the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts, forerunner of the Arts Council, gave a concert.  They taught the women how to sing rounds, including one with the refrain “The Swan Sings Tirralayo”. “In a minute or two the hall was filled with singing swans … You could see a vista of birds floating on dream rivers.  One curve of women’s voices followed another.”

Priestley, who loved music, was deeply moved: “Nothing I had seen, heard, read, imagined, those many months, stirred me more deeply.  I tell you it was magic.”

The magic came out of what was actually “an experiment in communal living”, a rich man’s home requisitioned to house some of the poorest people, musicians paid by the government to entertain the people …  The moment would have been impossible pre-war, when the house would have contained a few rich people playing bridge, and their servants bored in the kitchen.  Priestley argued that the moment showed that socialism was already happening, not a fantasy, but a response to the needs of the war, and that a fairer society would not have to be drab, dull-eyed conformism.

(Incidentally, Priestley writes about the song the women sang as if it was well-known, but I have been unable to trace it.  I will add details if I find out more!  Perhaps that doesn’t matter, the mystery adds to the magic?)

Postscript Sunday 11 August 1940

In this BBC Postscript broadcast, Priestley described his recent visits to ENSA performances in munitions factories.  The Entertainments National Service Association had been set up in 1939 by theatre and film director Basil Dean to provide entertainment for the armed forces.

In the first factory Priestley visited, two thousand young women, “very natty in their coloured overalls”, pushed aside “what remained of the meat pies and fried plaice and chops they’d had for lunch” and sang “Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, how you can love!” along with the orchestra.  The second factory was “grimmer and more masculine”, full of power and noise, shotblasters dressed like “divers or perhaps creatures from Mars”; the workers laughed heartily at the concert party of comedians telling what Priestley felt were old jokes.  Priestley praised these concerts for making the hard lives of these workers more enjoyable, and went on to express his life-long belief in the value of culture.

Aircraft factory, from cover of US edition of Daylight on Saturday

Aircraft factory, from cover of US edition of Daylight on Saturday

As this piece shows, Priestley was fascinated by the new forms of social and cultural life that this war was creating so quickly, particularly in the great factories which had been hurriedly built to make the machines needed for war.  In the novel Daylight on Saturday, published in 1943, Priestley confined the action to the inside of an aircraft factory in the South Midlands, a working environment he compared to a cave, a mountain, or the bottom of the sea.  At the very end of the novel, it is Saturday and Priestley’s large cast of characters, a cross-section of the factory and of society, stream out into the open air, hope, and what feels like a new world, maybe a metaphor for the end of the war.  As Priestley himself noted in a letter to his publisher*, Daylight on Saturday offers a wartime parallel to his other great group novel about the world of work, Angel Pavement.  Both contain a rich variety of plots and perspectives, and use a work setting to bring unlikely people together and set up conflicts.

*Cited by Holger Klein in J.B. Priestley’s fiction (Lang, 2002) p.132.

Faster than sound: EJ reimagined

J.B. Priestley’s re-published classic English Journey continues to inspire.  Now psycho-geographer Iain Sinclair, explorer of London’s mysteries, has joined visual artists and musicians to reimagine this work in the “Faster than Sound” project.  The first showing will be at Aldeburgh Music on Saturday 30 January 2010.  In this article in the Daily Telegraph of 26 January, Iain Sinclair reflects on the project and his views of English Journey, which he compares to a Patrick Hamilton novel in places:  “The pervasive boredom that hangs over it, a miasma of wet coats and pipe smoke …”

Arts on campus

I went to a launch last week for the University’s of Bradford’s new Arts on Campus website. We have three vibrant centres of artistic practice: the Theatre in the Mill, the Tasmin Little Music Centre, and Gallery II.  We now have a Fellow working in each area to develop exciting new programmes.  Special Collections staff have close links with the arts team and wish them well as a new chapter for the arts at Bradford opens: the University has just announced a merger with  Leeds College of Music.