1.3 Port Out

Good morning, you’re through to James in Customer Services. Can I confirm I’m speaking to the principal cardholder?

I always hated talking on the phone. Hated it. Hated suddenly shifting a gear to be thrust into a conversation, with no mental preparation at all. Hated the way I couldn’t sit back and let other people speak. Hated most of all the prospect of an unknown caller on the other end of the line, who I would not be able to see, who I wou ld not be able to adjust to, who would therefore meet a version of me unprepared to go out into public, a version of me I suspected was in some way unavoidably ridiculous, and in a way I could not comprehend. I hated my voice, its reediness, the way it suddenly shifted at times, the annoying barking laugh, and the more stressful the situation, the worse it got.

So naturally, I didn’t want a job where I had to be talking on the phone all day. But it seemed that was the only thing going. In 2004 Brighton had a dotted line of employment agencies stretching from the station down to the sea. I was qualified to do nothing except teach English as a second language and write for a city magazine, and after a dispiriting day visiting each of these agencies, I found that these were not the kind of jobs they had. The only offer I had was to work on the phones, for a bank. “I don’t want to work in telesales,” I said. “Don’t worry,” said the woman at Office Angels, “this is customer services.” Later I would spin this remark into a cast-iron guarantee, from an uncontactable person, that I would not be involved in sales. It was the kind of half-truth I would increasingly need to cling on to.

Days later I started “work” in the building I would curse for the next ten months, a tasteful four-floor yellow-brick thing close to all the tourist hotspots and independent boutiques I would no longer be visiting. Getting into the place was a challenge that morning as it would be every morning, with the need to show or scan my pass three times, and a metal detector to step through, but I was still a couple of weeks away from being trusted with any personal data.

At the end of the second floor was a small glass-fronted classroom, where I was to join a week’s lectures with the other fifteen people who had reached this particular moment in their lives. The man next to me was an Olympic archer and had formerly run a “gastropub”, he lasted a month or so. On the other side was a stoner girl, who seemed every day to have been reluctantly dragged out of bed, she was also gone in a couple of months. A couple of seats along was a British-Iraqi girl who liked Alanis Morissette and Kevin Smith films, I remember these details as she was the only one of the fifteen left when I quit ten months later. She’d been the only one for quite a while.

Our job that first week was to watch a series of training videos. My fellow trainee customer service agents moaned about this, but being paid £6.50 an hour to watch videos, however dull and repetitive, was easily the most pleasant period I had in my time there. One of the trainees still managed to get fired by the end of the week though – he said he would not work Christmas Eve, and ten minutes later was being escorted from the building. Fortunately I had already arranged with the agency to have two weeks off around Christmas, or that would likely have been me.

My boss for those first months was Andrew, a tall gay man in his early 30s with ginger hair. He was painstakingly patient and understanding, and every day I could see the joy draining from his soul. A few months after he suddenly quit, I bumped into him at a gig and he looked like a weight had been lifted from him. He also had some things to say about the management there but even two decades later I should probably leave those unrepeated.

After the first week we were released onto the main floor, an open-plan office with large tables divided into quarters with six-inch barriers. At the end of the floor was a small “kitchen” with a ladies toilet off the corridor outside. Men’s was either up or down a floor, which wouldn’t have been an issue if they weren’t always being closed, or if I had more than 25 minutes and 12 seconds of break per day. The job was dull, but the task of talking to the public soon moved down a notch in my head so that I had already forgotten which ID questions I asked them by the time the call had ended. Once a day or so I would tune out of the call and realise for a few seconds that there were a hundred people around me all talking, a cacophony of human chat, like in a nightclub when the music goes off.

It probably doesn’t need to be said that nobody likes calling a credit card customer services line, that’s a given. These were still the early days of automated menus, and the first thing everyone had to do was key in their sixteen-digit credit card number. If they could get that right, there were automated security questions. It didn’t matter if these were right or wrong, in any case the caller would be held in a queue for about ten minutes listening to a playlist containing Shania Twain’s “Party For Two,” Geri Halliwell’s version of “It’s Raining Men” and nothing else. I suppose the goal here may have been to annoy the customers enough that they decided to call back at a less busy time.

Eventually you would get through to me, I would say “Good morning, you’re through to James in Customer Services, can I just confirm that you’re the principal cardholder.” A good proportion of callers did not know what a principal cardholder was, but thankfully most of them would just say “yes” anyway. Then I would ask security questions. Yes, they had already been through security questions on the automated service, yes it didn’t seem fair to do it twice, no I didn’t know why they had to do it twice, no I couldn’t just skip it. Almost nobody failed security anyway, the questions were very simple. One of the few exceptions was a man who interrupted me and barked his full details down the line – “My name is Mr Yonez, my date of birth is, my mother’s maiden name is….” – all were correct, but besides any breach of protocol his surname was spelled “Jones” – I put him on hold and transferred the call to the fraud department.

The functions we were allowed to carry out were minimal – telling people their balance, increasing credit limits, arranging for blocked payments to go through (almost always because they were using the card abroad), setting up direct debits. If a customer was in arrears, they would be automatically redirected to collections, which was in a call centre in India. This meant that we were generally not taking the difficult calls. Every week or so there would be a problem which couldn’t be solved in a few minutes, and it would be relatively fun to try to solve it, a break at least from just another call coming in. On one of these occasions calling round different departments for half an hour led to a breakthrough, and the delighted customer said “you’ve done me a favour, so now I’m doing one for you. There’s a horse running in the Grand National tomorrow called Lord Atterbury, put a few pounds on him, should be about 40 to 1 right now, just because he hasn’t raced recently, but I’ve seen him and he’s going to surprise everyone. Go and put a few pounds on.” I went straight to the betting shop after work and put £10 on Lord Atterbury at 35 to 1. By the next day he was down to 25 to 1, and when the race started was right up in amongst the leaders right up until he fell at the first fence. Another succesful call resulted in a lonely old lady asking me out for a drink in a nearby hotel, I respectfully declined, but do wonder how she knew which city I was in.

A couple of months into my career in the call-centre I was moved into a different team and found myself with some people I hadn’t seen since training. Mere kids of 19 years old, working for a bit of extra money in their gap years. Very respectable and a little conservative. I didn’t know there were young people like that any more. I knew I was in trouble when one asked if I had slept at all in the last week. As it happened, I hadn’t had a great deal of sleep, I’d been earning as much as I could by taking every double or triple paid shift I could, and had failed to go to bed at the required 10pm every night, but I was still surprised that he felt like he needed to tell me so, he seemed like such a fundamentally inoffensive person. He treated me as a curio of interest rather than another human being doing the same job.

Him- “How old are you then?”
Me- “Twenty-five. Why?”
Him- “We had a bet.”
Me- “What did you say?”
Him- “Thirty-one. I won. Everyone else guessed you were older”

Oh god. I spent the next few weeks furiously relaxing, sleeping, eating vegetables and drinking the bitter bottles of wheatgrass juice I’d been told would improve my health. Whether any of this worked was doubtful, but the double and triple pay overtime was soon cancelled, so I managed to get into a decent sleep pattern again, for a change, and took up swimming at lunchtimes.

Me: “Good Morning. You’re through to James in customer services. Can I just confirm that you’re the principal cardholder?”
Old Man: “Er… no. Listen.”
Me: “Ok.”
Old Man: “I tried to call you yesterday but couldn’t get through. I listen to Radio 4 all the time and I heard someone talking about the word ‘posh’ yesterday and wondered if you knew how it came into being.”
Me: “You mean ‘Port Out Starboard Home’?”
Old Man: “Yes, because when they were sailing to India the richer passengers would be able to book out these sides and stay in the shade the whole way.”
Me: “Yes, I did hear about that. Interesting fact.”
Old Man: “Yes. Just thought you might like to know.”
Me: “Yes. Thanks for bringing it up. I’ll take a note of it.”
Old Man: “Ok. Well, thank you very much. Bye-bye.”
Me: “Bye.”

So was working at the call-centre bad for my heath? It certainly wasn’t good for my mental health. A day of apologising to angry customers for policies and systems I also had no great love for certainly stopped me being afraid of talking on the phone, but it also drained all motivation to speak to another human being. I didn’t talk to anyone at the Temp’s Lunch at the job agency on Fridays. I didn’t speak to anyone at home when I came home from work. My housemates soon learned that I just sat in front of the TV in the evening in a near-catatonic trance, then went to bed just as they were going out for the night. On a few occasions I dreamed about the two beeps that meant a call was coming through and would wake suddenly, sit bolt-upright and say “good morning, you’re through to James in customer services, can I just confirm that you’re the principal cardholder?” Friday’s shift finished at 7pm and Saturday’s started at 7am, so going out on a Friday was impossible. On one memorable Friday the housemates, despite my mumbled protestations, actually held an impromtu house party. I was very much used to sleeping through the sound of thumping bass and chatter, so was asleep by 10, but was woken around midnight when they sent a girl I didn’t know to my room. I just wasn’t any fun. Before Brighton I’d been in Prague for two years and had become a different person. Who was I here? Why could I never get on with English people? It was more of a mystery than ever, and this job was not helping at all.

I had never had a credit card before I started work at the bank, and I immediately swore I would never get one. Every day I would be drawn to articles about desperate people in debt, and wonder how many of the horror stories were our customers. “We” charged exorbitant fees for missed payments which stacked up, “we” charged fees for cash withdrawals which sat on customer accounts accruing high interest until everything else was paid off. I was allowed to give refunds for fees, but only if the customers explicitly asked, so had to constantly go into a pantomime of “is there anything I can do for you? As a gesture of good will?” and hope they got the message. On rare occasions I didn’t want to give a refund – one very angry man said that he was a millionaire and we should value his custom enough to never charge him fees, but after half an hour of being talked at in the way I imagine he usually berates waiters, I was in no mood to offer him anything, and didn’t bother with the pantomime. He said he wanted to close his account, and I obliged.

He wasn’t the worst customer I encountered, that would probably be the teenager who called just to tell me I had a “stupid gay voice” – to which I had to be scrupulously polite, then take a ten minute break to furiously drink a machine coffee and try to calm down. Later that day a Glaswegian woman called up and tried to talk to me from a phonebox while another woman stood outside in the rain trying to get in and screaming at her that she’d been on the phone for half an hour. It quickly developed into a fight, the receiver being tugged between the two of them, until eventually the call was just cut off.

I spoke to a couple of minor celebrities while I was there – a terrible right wing journalist who was disappointingly meticulously polite, and a record producer I admired, who was tetchy. Lots of customers were tetchy, so this was to be expected. Every time a call came through I would get a beep in my ear and a box on the screen saying ‘incoming call breakout’. I then had one second before the call was connected, and had to get my brain into gear to say either ‘good morning’ or ‘good afternoon’. Now this takes about 4 seconds or so, just the way the human brain works I suppose, so the customer had about three seconds of dead air. Not too much to worry about, you would think? But about 10% decided they’d been cut off and started saying “Hello?!” before I could talk. It never got things off to a good start.

Some callers would try to get information about their spouse’s credit card, because they were listed as an “additional cardholder” and, once told that this wasn’t allowed, would refuse to hang up. Some would bark their security information at me, invalidating the entire ID process, and forcing me to redirect them to another agent to go through the process again. Some customers were angry that they were being sent something called “credit card cheques” – I could never work out why these people were angry about this, but it really seemed to matter to them. I generally tried to be as friendly and as helpful as possible, but at times when I worked too much and slept too little, these sort of customers would test me. One described me as “a little brusque” – another talked about her situation for so long that I forgot what I was doing and started asking her security questions again halfway through the call. She asked if she could speak to somebody else, I said yes.

Of course I could not ever criticise the company, the closest line I could take was from Francis Urqhart in House of Cards: “you might think so, but I couldn’t possibly comment” – which at least a few customers managed to get. Thankfully most callers managed to direct their justified anger at the bank rather than me personally – one said “no offense to you, James, but may ***** *** card services rot in hell!” and hung up, I hope that made him feel a bit better. On one occasion the last call before the weekend was from a woman who had been left by her husband with two disabled kids and horrific debts. She was sobbing down the phone to me for a quarter of an hour.

Six months into the job, my login expired. It was fairly unusual for someone to still be working there after six months, apparently. In a review meeting where I’d been played a few of my calls – apparently they were fine but I should “work on my enthusiasm if I wanted a long-term career in the call-centre” – I’d been informed that I was doing notably well as far as one key performance indicator was concerned – wrap-up time. This was the time spent offline typing up notes after a call was finished. Partially my record here was to do with typing during the call, but I also often kept a customer on hold for 30 seconds or so while I typed up their notes. This hadn’t been explicitly banned, but only as far as I could tell because whoever designed the KPIs simply hadn’t thought of it. So as an experienced member of staff with a particular skill and no working login, I was suddenly promoted to staff trainer, on a temporary basis. The ten trainees on the phones were all girls and all a few years younger than me. One in particular kept calling me over to chat, which was fine with me, until she decided to introduce me to her hilarious new obsession, which was the Crazy Frog. I kept my distance from then on, and the ten girls disappeared across the centre, as did I. The password had been renewed, and my unofficial promotion was finished.

The news when I first arrived at the bank was that “we” had recently been selling something called Payment Protection Insurance, and “we” were supposed to be removing it from accounts on request now. Late in my time at the call-centre I received a call from a customer who had a lot of opinions about the management of the bank, and knew the names of the board. I’m not sure why he felt he needed to tell me about them, but the main thing he wanted me to know was that there would be a massive scandal about the mis-selling of Payment Protection Insurance and the bank would lose a great deal of money.

Thankfully I avoided that particular scandal, but there were a few things which were certainly wrong. One customer phoned up to ask why his card wasn’t working and had to inform him that the notes on the account said that he had died three months prior. Another customer actually told me he’d received a letter informing him that his card was being cancelled as he had died – from the tone of his voice I could tell that he wasn’t 100% sure that this wasn’t the case.

When signing up for the job I had received a promise that I would not be working in telesales, it was a vague promise from an employment agency worker but I wielded it as if it were as a cast-iron guarantee written into my contract by the CEO. But then one day there was something to sell. The bank was introducing a new credit card, an Amex to go with their Visa and Mastercard options. We were to introduce this to our customers at the end of each call, as long as they looked like they could afford it. I did not agree, but there seemed to be little point in spelling this out, I just never offered it to anyone. Over the following month, however, the pressure to ‘sell’ rose steadily and insidiously. First the ‘incentives’ were introduced – sell ten cards, get a bottle of Baccardi Breezer, and so on. My team leader, a middle-aged MBA type, had a basket full of the things. It was at this point that he noticed I wasn’t getting any “accepts” and started putting the form on my desk every day, saying encouraging things like “I hope you get ten accepts today” and “It would be great if you got ten accepts today!” I didn’t say anything, just hoped that he would get the message that I wasn’t happy and stop badgering me.

Then the tactics changed again. One Tuesday afternoon I was called into a one-on-one meeting with a higher-up who had come all the way from the Southend office, who had apparently been getting “loads of accepts” – his attempt to ingratiate me consisted of a list of why Southend was better than Brighton. I’d never been to Southend, and wasn’t particularly keen on Brighton, largely due to this job, but it still seemed like an odd opening gambit. In Brighton at least he would have been able to get a better-tailored suit. Then he showed me four pictures of a plane – on a runway, taxiing along, taking off and then soaring through the sky. He explained that currently the team in Brighton were on the ground, ready to take off, but we wanted to be in the air, soaring over the world of accepts below. We had to act as the customers’ wealth account manager and ‘go that final inch’ to ‘get that sale’. I nodded and gave my best attempt at a smile. To close he pulled out a ballpoint pen from his pocket and asked me to write down the reason I didn’t want to buy it from him on a post-it note. I wrote that I already have enough pens. Then I was allowed to go back to my seat.

In August the team leader went on holiday and a younger woman was given temporary control of the team. She seemed nice, friendly but a little shy, and when she introduced herself and asked if I had any questions I took the opportunity to explain that I was promised I wouldn’t work in sales, and was not comfortable with selling. She seemed to be fairly understanding but stayed well away from saying I could avoid offering the cards.

The next day I came into the office to be confronted with trays full of cream cakes. The temporary team leader offered me one, then when I had it in my hand and had taken a bite said “Ok, that’s your reward for getting five accepts today”
I said “What if I don’t get five accepts.”
She said “Well, you’d have to return the reward”
“What, bring it back up from my stomach?”
“No, you’d have to buy another one to replace it.”
So I put the cream cake by my desk and watched it congeal and go stale all day. I was determined to show myself to be the most stubborn person in the office. Then as the day dragged on I started to think how stupid I must look with a cream cake in front of me. Nobody really cared about whether I’d eaten it or not. Was I turning into some kind of ridiculous pompous twat? Why didn’t I just sell some cards and have done with it?
But then I realised they had got one step ahead of me with their personnel psychology. I was meant to feel ridiculous so I could go along with their scheme. Paranoid, perhaps, but with a good deal of justification. I did not want to sell credit cards. I hated credit cards. I wished all “our” customers would have them paid up and get rid of them instead of killing themselves with debt.

As I left that day I put the remains of the cake back on the team-leader’s desk. I’d planned to give her my notice at the same time, but she had already gone home, so it had to wait for the next day. She was not surprised, people gave in their notice every day.

My remaining month was fairly uneventful, right up until my last Thursday, when 48 of us were called into the meeting room on our floor to receive an unscheduled talk from the general manager of the callcentre, a man we were all apparently seeing for the first time. He had news to tell us and it wasn’t exactly good. First he showed everyone a series of powerpoint slides demonstrating that we had a problem with call volumes between 5pm and 8pm due to half the staff going home at 5. There was nothing to disagree with there, though the fact did stand that the person responsible for planning all the shift changes in June was in fact him. So, what was the solution? “We” could hire more staff, but that would be too expensive, “we” could get people on part time, but that would also be too expensive or “we” could change the shift patterns yet again for those on “flexicontracts.” What this amounted to was 48 people being told they could either work 12pm-10pm 4 days a week (including some weekends) or, if that wasn’t to their satisfaction, just leave.

This was not popular. It was entirely clear to everyone in that room that the bank rated the well-being of their staff below the normal priority issues of customers, money and regulations and way below the all-consuming religion of the company, “targets”. The target in question this time was the average call queuing time. It had to go down and if sacking half of the competent staff who’d been through 2 months of training was the easiest and cheapest way to do it then so be it. All praise the lord of targets, he must be obeyed. One woman started crying, other people were drafting resignation letters as they walked back to their desks. I just wished everyone had had the guts to stage a walkout. They should’ve done, no doubt about that, but that’s how crap jobs work, on some level you accept that you don’t have any rights, or only the right to resign if you don’t like how things work.

Still, none of this applied to me. Neither did the one-to-one training session I had on my next-to-last day, but I wasn’t complaining about that. The end was in sight, and tasting sweet. I had planned to just slip out of there, but my team leader got wind of it and got the team of ten off the phones for five minutes to present me with a card. I wasn’t expecting this, and was surprised to be quite touched by it. Because they weren’t bad, not the other agents, who were in the same boat as me, not the temporary team leader, not even the real team leader, whose heart was clearly not into forcing me to sell credit cards. We were all just stuck in this nightmare, and I had somehow managed to escape.

Written and recorded by James M Errington, 2023. Voice of confused old man who thought he was calling Home Truths on Radio 4 by Glenn, voice of well-meaning temporary team leader generated at play.ht, voice of annoying young call-centre agent is just me with a couple of filters. Picture of an office building sourced from Google streetview, corrected and upscaled.

Goodbye 2022, Hello 2023

Another year is at an end, unfortunately it has been quite an unproductive one for Centuries of Sound as I seem to have become bogged down in the Second World War – in case you were wondering, I consider the main culprit to be the hundreds of hours of original radio recordings which I downloaded and then had to listen to. It was also a difficult year in some other ways I would rather not go into.

Thank you especially for my supporters on Patreon all for your patience sticking around through this!

So two bits of good news.

  1. I have a plan as to how to reduce working time on mixes and should be able to get back to a one-per-month release schedule. 2023 therefore looks something like this:

10th January – 1944 part 1
6th February – D-Day Special
6th March – 1944 part 2
3rd April – 1945 part 1
1st May – 1945 part 2
5th June – 1946 part 1
3rd July – 1946 part 2
7th August – 1947 part 1
4th September – 1947 part 2
2nd October – 1948 part 1
24th October – Halloween Special
6th November – 1948 part 2
4th December – Christmas Special

Can I get back to a-year-every-month? If I can manage to make this a full-time job for myself, then yes. But no expectation for that to happen within the next 12 months.

  1. I have a new show launching next year called “Texture and Artefact”. It’s a different kind of a show to Centuries of Sound, a combination of personal stories, field recording, interviews and original music, but some of you may be interested, so I will share a couple of episodes on this feed (hope nobody minds) – I am not sure how much overlap it will have with Centuries of Sound in terms of audience, so will try not to mention it too much here unless requested otherwise.

So, see you in 2023 for all of that. In the meantime, here’s a list of the films, books, Youtube channels, podcasts and LPs I’ve consumed in 2022.

Films (watched at cinema)

Alcarràs (2022) **** (Slow, relatively low-stakes story about Catalan farming community, all the better for its scope and pace.)
Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022) ****** (The third perfect film of the 21st century, endlessly inventive, insightful into human condition, relevant on very personal level for me and my half-Chinese family)
The Souvenir Part II (2021) *** (enjoyed but also found it quite self-indulgent and felt I took nothing away at the end, probably would have enjoyed more if I’d seen part 1)
She Said (2022) **** (investigative journalism movie has very much been done before, this is more of the same but just done better)

Films (watched at cinema with kids)

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile (2022) **½ (fine, I guess.)
Minions: The Rise of Gru (2022) *** (first minions/DM film I’ve seen, perfectly acceptable)
Sonic The Hedgehog 2 (2022) * (just horrible, every shot seemed to be a misfiring ironic joke, visually repellent, kids seemed to like it)

Films (watched at home)

Carnival (1946) **
Carol (2015) ***½ (particular highlight was all the shots that look like the cover of the first Peter Gabriel album)
Chariots of Fire (1981) ***
Coronation (2020) ****½ (wasn’t what I was expecting, but visually spectacular boredom plus occasional horror is one of my favourite vibes)
Eighth Grade (2018) ****½ (such a brilliant film which captures something real and generally uncovered about being that age at this time)
Go Kart Go (1963) *** (anarchic early 60s British kids film, surprisingly dangerous race scenes)
Goodfellas ***½ (A quarter of a century after film school I can appreciate Scorcese, but I don’t care for empathising with selfish murderers, I do not share their feelings.)
Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) ****½
Lady Bird (2017) ****½ (really personal film about the shifting personas we adopt in early adulthood, characters very complex and believable, very mature work for someone so young)
Maps To The Stars (2014) **** (My favourite Cronenberg films teeter on that edge between reality and unreality so long that you begin to see both as equally illusiory, despite its flaws, this is true here.)
Match Point (2005) ***½ (a pleasant surprise)
Nowhere Special (2020) ***½ (low-key but very much not low-stakes)
Promising Young Woman (2020) ** (why didn’t I like this? everything just felt unconvincing, could not forget they were acting, also the ending is extremely glib and badly thought-through)
Rebecca (1940) ****½ (third viewing, I am increasingly convinced that Maxim is the real villain)
Rita, Sue and Bob Too (1987) **** (utter bleakness in the guise of a knockabout sex comedy, only let down by the cop-out ending)
Suspicion (1941) **½ (very much D-tier Hitchcock, but evil (OR IS HE?) Cary Crant is worth a look)
The Fabulous Dorseys (1947) ** (The Dorsey Brothers, in their mid-40s, play themselves in their mid-20s, and, musical performances aside, they shouldn’t have bothered.)
The Magnetic Monster (1953) * (Is it possible to make a horror film where the monster is an immobile piece of grey metal? Not on this evidence.)
The Martian (2015) *** (Fails basic suspension of belief, just plain stupid at times, still kind of entertaining)
The Power of The Dog **** (very well-crafted and subtle, can even accept Cumberbatch’s American accent)
Yesterday * (once again Richard Curtis takes an interesting premise and manages to wring aboulutely zero insights out of it)

Films (watched at home with kids, most have seen many times before)

Addams Family Values (1993) ****½
Beetlejuice (1988) ***½
Big (1998) ***½
eXistenZ (1999) *****
Groundhog Day (1993) *****
Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom (1984) ****
Interstellar (2014) ****
Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl (2003) **½
Shaolin Soccer (2001) **** (a big hit with both my football-loving son and my football-hating son)
Sing (2016) ***
Slumdog Millionaire (2008) ***½
Stand By Me (1986) ****½
The Jungle Book (1967) ****


PG Wodehouse – Heavy Weather (1933) **** (amazing that this and Summer Lightning take place within two weeks, such intricate, flawless plotting)
Mark Fisher – Capitalist Realism (2009) **** (still essential, wish he were around to give us an update)
David Nobbs – Pratt à Manger (2006) **½ (dregs of the Henry Pratt series, still worth reading)
Jonathan Coe – Middle England (2018) *** (diminishing returns in the Rotters Club series, some parts excellent, some parts should have been cut)
Mervyn Peake – Titus Groan (1946) ****½ (yes, I should have read this years ago, I know)
Eric Hobsbawm – Age of Extremes The Short Twentieth Century, 1914-1991 (1994) ****
Taylor Downing – 1942: Britain at the Brink (2022) ** (just not what I was looking for here)
Terry Teachout – Duke (2013) ** (some parts are excellent, unfortunately spoiled by his bizarre insistence on tutting at Ellington for not being a classical composer)
PG Wodehouse – Blandings Castle and Elsewhere (1935) **** (some of the best Blandings stories, Mr Mulliner stories are fine but not up to same standard)
Ted Gioia – The History of Jazz, Second Edition (2021) **½ (interesting as an overview of what the consensus (to be challenged) is, devoting more of the book to Winton Marsalis than all non-US Jazz is pretty inexcusable, also he is very sniffy about free jazz and has apparent contempt for hip-hop)
Alex Ross – The Rest Is Noise (2007) ***½ (very good overview of 21st century classical music, which I am still not really into after reading)
PG Wodehouse – Lord Emsworth and Others (1937) ***½ (some stories are excellent, not enough Blandings for me though)
Louis Menand – The Free World (2021) **** (excellent primer on cold war era culture and thought, have just finished this and am letting it sink in)
Edward Joffe – Hancock’s Last Stand (1998) *½ (on Tony Hancock’s last months from someone who was there, would expect any showbiz memoir to be more engaging than this)

Youtube channels

Ogmios School of Zen Motoring – https://www.youtube.com/@Ogmioszen
Geowizard – https://www.youtube.com/@GeoWizard
JustJP – https://www.youtube.com/@JustJP
Cinebinge React – https://www.youtube.com/@CineBingeReact

Podcasts (favourite episode)

A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs (Episode 146: “Good Vibrations” by The Beach Boys)
Pappy’s Flatshare Slamdown (S12 E10 “Draw The Curtains)
Revolutions (10.103 – The Final Chapter)
Rex Factor (S3.36 Margaret of Anjou: Biography)
RHLSTP with Richard Herring (RHLSTP 409 – Sally Phillips)
The Adam Buxton Podcast (Ep.180 – Jarvis Cocker)
The Alexei Sayle Podcast (21: Spycops Like Us)
The British Broadcasting Century (E57/E58 – 100 Years In 100 Minutes)
The British History Podcast (391 – The Battle of Hastings)
The Prince (E07 – Wolf Warriors)
The Trojan Horse Affair (Part 5: A Study in Scarlett)
This American Life (786: It’s A Game Show!)
Which Decade Is Top For Pops? (E03 Rockin Berries vs Rubettes vs Nick Kershaw vs The Mreal McCoy vs Geri Halliwell vs Ed Sheeran)

Last.fm Artists

1 Broadcast – 244 scrobbles
2 Art Tatum – 148
3 Miles Davis – 135
4 Bernard Herrmann – 107
5 Toby Fox – 95 (this one is my kids)
6 Astor Piazzolla – 86
7 Benny Moré Y Su Banda Gigante – 83
8 Glenn Gould – 82
9 Frank Sinatra – 74
10 Machito and His Afro-Cuban Salseros – 72
11 Charlie Parker – 61
12 Howlin’ Wolf – 57
13 Jacques Brel – 56
14 Lawrence Winters, Camilla Williams, Inez Matthews, Warren Coleman, Avon Long, J. Rosamond Johnson Chorus – 56
15 Dizzy Gillespie – 54
16 Hank Williams – 54
17 C418 – 53 (this one is my kids)
18 Masaru Satoh – 52
19 Fred Astaire – 51
20 Music of the Magindanao in the Philippines – 51
21 Yma Sumac – 51
22 Akira Ifukube – 48
23 Sarah Vaughan – 48
24 Boston Symphony Orchestra/Munch; New England Conservatory Chorus – 46
25 Elmer Bernstein – 46
26 Fats Domino – 46
27 Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant – 45
28 Duke Ellington & His Orchestra – 42
29 – Broadcast & The Focus Group – 39
30 Elvis Presley – 38

Albums (there were a lot of these – here is a selection of some of my favourites, all have music from the years 1948-1956)

Akira Ifukube – Godzilla OST
Art Blakey – A Night at Birdland
Astor Piazzolla – Ses Premiers Enregisrements
Benny More Y Su Banda Giganta – Grabaciones Completas
Bernard Hermann – The Day The Earth Stood Still OST
Bo Diddley – The Indispensible Bo Diddley, Vol.1
Four Freshmen – Four Freshmen and Five Trombones
Frank Sinatra – In The Wee Small Hours
Glenn Gould – The Goldberg Variations
J.J. Johnson with Clifford Brown – J.J. Johnson with Clifford Brown
Jackson Do Pandeiro – Sua Majestade: O Rei Do Ritmo
Jerry Byrd – Early Country & Hawaiian Steel Guitar Classics
Les Baxter – The Exotic Moods of Les Baxter
Maria Tanase – Malediction d’Amour
Mahalia Jackson – Gospels, Spirituals & Hymns
Maxima Mejia – Los Grandes Exitos de Maxima Mejia
Miles David – The Complete Blue Note Sessions
Moondog – Moondog & His Honking Geese
Peggy Lee – Black Coffee with Peggy Lee
Salum Abdallah & Cuban Marimba – Ngoma Iko Huku
Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant – Stratosphere Boogie: The Flaming Guitars of Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant
Stan Kenton – New Concepts of Artistry in Rhythm
Thelonious Monk – Genius of Modern Music Vol 1/2
Various – 1950: The Bomb In The Heart of The Century
Various – Africa at 78RPM
Various – Atlantic Rhythm & Blues 1947-1974
Various – Blowing The Fuse (Series)
Various – Dim Lights, Thick Smoke and Hillbilly Music: Country & Western Hit Parade (Series)
Various – Forgotten Guitars from Mozambique
Various – London is the Place For Me: Trinidadian Calypso in London, 1950-1956
Various – Music of the Magindanao in the Philippines
Various – OHM+: The Early Gurus of Electronic Music
Various – Township Jazz ‘n’ Jive
Various – The Complete Sun Singles
Various – The Doo Wop Box
Various – The Pig’s Big 78s
Various – Ultra-Lounge, Vol. 1: Mondo Exotica
Yma Sumac – Mambo!

Centuries of Sound on Cambridge 105 Radio – Christmas Special 2022

Time: 6pm GMT, Sunday 25th December 2022

Place: Cambridge 105 Radio

This year’s Christmas show features me as usual, presenting a selection of Christmas music from the 1920s and 1930s, joined by my son Theo to share opinions and commentary.

You can have listened to the show on 105fm in Cambridge, on DAB digital nationwide, on the Cambridge 105 website here, or on any good radio apps. Or if you want to listen at a time which is not 6pm on Christmas day, a Mixcloud player with an extended cut of the show is available below. Merry Christmas!

A Wartime Christmas 1939-1945

Merry Christmas Centuries of Sound Followers!

This is a mix of original Christmas-related records and radio broadcasts from 1939 to 1945. It’s also available as a compilation CD for supporters on Patreon here – https://www.patreon.com/posts/76151409

0:00:00 Bernard Herrmann – Snow Ride (1942)
0:00:41 Bing Crosby – White Christmas (1942)
0:03:48 Jimmy Durante – Clip from Christmas Show (1944)
0:04:20 Lionel Hampton – Gin For Christmas (1939)
0:06:48 King George VI – The Royal Christmas Message (1939)
0:07:08 Judy Garland & Mickey Rooney – Hollywood Christmas Parade (1940)
0:08:36 Claude Thornhill – Snowfall (1941)
0:11:32 Winston Churchill – The White House Christmas Tree (1941)
0:11:57 Franklin D. Roosevelt – Christmas Broadcast (1941)
0:12:14 Woody Herman & His Orchestra – Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (1942)
0:14:49 Mayor of The Town – Clip from ‘A Christmas Carol’ (1942)
0:14:53 Christmas with The Eighth Army (1942)
0:16:18 Flanagan & Allen – There’s A Boy Coming Home On Leave (1940)
0:18:52 Fibber McGee and Molly – Listening to Christmas Carols (1942)
0:19:45 Glenn Miller Orchestra – Jingle Bells (1941)
0:22:53 Amos and Andy – Clip from Annual Christmas Show (1942)
0:23:41 Heavenly Gospel Singers – When Was Jesus Born? (1941)
0:26:49 The Andrews Sisters – Sing (1943)
0:29:52 Bing Crosby with the Andrews Sisters – Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town (1943)
0:32:31 Columbia Workshop Theatre – Clip from “The Plot To Overthrow Christmas” (1944)
0:32:40 Bob Crosby – The Skaters Waltz (In Swingtime) (1939)
0:35:27 Billy Mills & The Orchestra – Jingle Bells (1944)
0:37:05 Erroll Garner with Columbia Workshop Theatre – Great Christmas (1944)
0:41:12 Jimmy Durante – Clip from Christmas Show (1944)
0:41:30 Spike Jones & His City Slickers – Jingle Bells (1944)
0:44:19 Ken Derby & The Kings Men – The Night Before Christmas (1944)
0:50:53 The Mills Brothers – I’ll Be Home For Christmas (1944)
0:53:04 King George VI – The Royal Christmas Message (1944)
0:53:22 Lead Belly – Christmas Song (1943)
0:56:01 Amos And Andy – Clip from Christmas Show With Andy As Santa (1944)
0:56:13 Fats Waller – Swingin’ Them Jingle Bells (1944)
0:58:54 NBC Studio Orchestra – Clip from Amos & Andy Christmas Show (1944)
1:00:19 Dinah Shore – I’ll Walk Alone (Through Every Christmas) (1944)
1:03:02 Life of Riley – Clip from ‘Roswell’s a Guest for Christmas’ (1944)
1:03:21 Kenny Baker, Karen Kemple and Alexander Smallens – Hail To Christmas (1944)
1:05:52 Vick’s Matinee Theatre – A Stable in Bethlehem Pennsylvania (1944)
1:06:06 Tex Ritter – Christmas Carols By The Old Corral (1945)
1:08:27 Life of Riley – Clip from ‘Roswell’s a Guest for Christmas’ (1944)
1:08:56 Judy Garland – Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (1944)

MP3 download | Patreon | Apple | Mixcloud | Spotify | Castbox | Stitcher

A Holiday Between The Wars, Christmas Records 1926-1938 (The Mix)

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This compilation of Christmas recordings spans the early years of electronic recording, the explosion of radio, sound films and newsreel, the end of the roaring thirties and the great depression.

I’m presenting this in two formats – a mix, which is on my main feed at centuriesofsound.com and as a compilation, which is only available to patrons. Join my patreon at patreon.com/centuriesofsound and get a load of bonus content like this, as well as helping this site to survive in these very difficult times.

Here is the tracklist, the same for both versions.

00:40 The Savoy Orpheans – Radio Christmas (1926)
03:46 Adolph Miles – Adeste Fideles (1926)
07:03 Chor Sw. Lucji – Pasterka (Wesola Nowine) (Christmas Eve At Church) (1927)
10:10 Richard Tauber – O Sanctissima (O Du Frohliche) (1929)
12:51 Andrej Pelak – Pospešte Sem Pastuškovia (Hasten, Shepherds) (1930)
16:00 Joe Gumin And His Orchestra – Jingle Bells (The One-Horse Open Sleigh) (1931)
19:20 Popeye The Sailor – Seasin’s Greetinks (1933)
19:26 Ozzie Nelson Orchestra – Christmas Night In Harlem (1934)
22:23 Laurel & Hardy – Clip From Babes In Toyland (1934)
22:33 Paul Whiteman Orchestra – Christmas Night In Harlem (1934)
25:55 Shirley Temple – Clip From Bright Eyes (1934)
26:55 Harry Reser And His Orchestra – Jingle Bells (1934)
29:30 Franklin Delano Roosevelt – White House Christmas Tree Lighting Clip (1935)
29:49 Bing Crosby With Victor Young And His Orchestra – Silent Night (1935)
32:49 Victor Novelty Orchestra – Christmas Eve (Fantasie) (1935)
35:50 British Movietone – Merry Christmas (1935)
36:26 The Chapel Quartet – Oh, Little Town Of Bethlehem (1936)
39:31 Hoosier Hot Shots – Jingle Bells (1936)
42:30 Edith Fellows & Jackie Moran – Clip From And So They Were Married (1936)
42:45 The Madrigal Sisters & Lehman Engel – Jingle Bells (1937)
44:27 Mae Questel (The Betty Boop Girl) – I Want You For Christmas (1937)
47:10 Michel Warlop – Christmas Swing (+ Django Reinhardt & Louis Vola) (27-12-1937)
49:58 Andy Hardy & Family – Christmas Greetings (1938)
51:22 Swing And Sway With Sammy Kaye – (Don’t Wait ’til) The Night Before Christmas (La Vispera De Navidad) (1938)
54:06 Reginald Owen – Clip From A Christmas Carol (1938)
54:47 Silly Symphonies – The Night Before Christmas (1933)

Christmas 1902-1924: Deep Magic From Before The Dawn Of Time (The Radio Show)

In this festive edition of Centuries of Sound, audio curator James Errington is joined by his son Theo to check out some Christmas records from the years 1902 to 1924. We have choirs, carols, brass bands, and of course a selection of bizarre novelty Christmas wax cylinders for your Christmas evening listening.

MP3 download | Patreon | Apple | Mixcloud | Spotify | Castbox | Stitcher

At Centuries of Sound I am making mixes for every year of recorded sound. Please come to patreon.com/centuriesofsound for downloads and a host of other bonus materials for just $5 per month. This show would not be possible without my supporters on there, so please consider signing up or sharing this with someone who may be interested.

Christmas 1902-1924: Deep Magic From Before The Dawn Of Time (The Mix)

At Centuries of Sound I am making mixes for every year of recorded sound. Please come to patreon.com/centuriesofsound for downloads and a host of other bonus materials for just $5 per month. This show would not be possible without my supporters on there, so please consider signing up or sharing this with someone who may be interested.

MP3 download | Patreon | Apple | Mixcloud | Spotify | Castbox | Stitcher

00:36 Harry E. Humphrey – Santa Claus Hides In Your Phonograph
03:53 Choir Of The Royal Court Opera With Orchestra And Church Bells, Acc. Harmonium, Bells – Silent Night, Holy Night
06:43 Gilbert Girard – Santa Claus Tells of Mother Goose Land
08:19 Band – Christmas Memories
12:17 Nebe-Quartett – O Tannenbaum
14:07 Albert Whelan – Scrooge’s Awakening
16:20 Edison Concert Band – Bells Of Christmas
20:31 Thomas Edison – Mr. Edison’s Christmas Greetings
24:41 George Hamilton Green Novelty Orchestra – Moonlight Waltz
28:12 George Islon – Christmas Eve In The Old Homestead
30:42 Edison Mixed Quartet – Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
33:43 Metropolitan Quartet – Christmas, Christmas, Blessed, Blessed Day
37:10 Bransby Williams – The Street Watchman’s Christmas
41:05 Edison Concert Band And The Edison Mixed Quartet – Ring Out The Bells For Christmas
45:16 Carol Singers – Joy To The World
47:42 Yolande Noble And Percy Clifton – Buying The Christmas Dinner
49:56 Robert Gayler – Christmas Eve- a Fantasie On Old German Christmas Carols
52:53 Manuel Romain – Christmas Time Seems Years And Years Away
54:50 Harry E. Humphrey – The Night Before Christmas
58:11 Elizabeth Spencer, Harry Anthony And James F. Harrison – Silent Night

Radio Podcast – Halloween Special #1 (1902-1926)

In this very special episode of Centuries of Sound, sound curator James Errington plays a selection of Halloween-themed recordings from the acoustic recording era, prior to 1927. Be ready for ghosts, skeletons, vampires, Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, “The Goose Bone Man” and Mr Halloween himself, Aleister Crowley

Centuries of Sound is an independent podcast without any advertising, and it’s only with the support of my patrons that the show can survive. To download full mixes, get early access to the radio podcast, and a get host of other benefits for $5 (or local equivalent) per month (and yearly payment is also now available) please come to https://patreon.com/centuriesofsound

Halloween Between The Wars – Original Recordings 1927-1938

This mix is also available as a compilation for Patreon supporters here and at Bandcamp here. I make Centuries of Sound on my own in whatever scraps of time I can find. Please help me find more scraps by supporting the project (and get a load of extra content too!)

When we think of the great depression of the 1930s, the images which may spring to mind – The Grapes of Wrath, the dustbowl songs of Woody Guthrie – are generally from the 1940s. Popular entertainment of the thirties leaned not on realism, but on escapism. This is the golden age, not only of Hollywood musicals, Fred Astaire & Ginger Rodgers, Busby Berkley routines and screwball comedy, but also of horror movies. So who better to guide us into this mix of Halloween music than Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula from 1931, released the same year as Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and James Whale’s Frankenstein, and a year before the first appearance of The Mummy. Aside from the film clips, we naturally have plenty of novelty recordings, original sound effect records, hot jazz, and to close a suite of particularly morbid blues records.

Track listing

00:00 Bela Lugosi – Clip from Dracula (1931)
00:02 Gennett Sound Effects – Rainfall and Thunder (1936)
(Clip from Frankenstein – 1931)
00:44 Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski – Toccata and Fugue in D minor (1927)
01:26 Artie Shaw And His Orchestra – Nightmare (1938)
(Clip from Dracula – 1931)
04:20 Borrah Minnevitch – The Ghost Walk (1933)
06:40 Manny Gould and Ben Harrison – Scrappy’s Ghost Story (1935)
07:51 Five Jones Boys – Mr Ghost Goes To Town (1936)
10:43 Putney Dandridge – Skeleton In The Closet (1936)
(Clip from Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf)
13:19 Prairie Ramblers – Ghost in the Graveyard (1938)
(HMV Weather Effects – Wind – 1935)
15:59 New Mayfair Dance Orchestra – The Haunted House (1931)
(Clip from The Shadow – Circle of Death – 1937)
19:32 Raymond Scott – War Dance For Wooden Indians (1937)
(Clip from The Mummy – 1932)
21:59 Truett & George – Ghost Dance (1927)
(Clip from Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – 1931)
(Clip from Mediale Musik – The Speech Of Ancient Egypt, 18th Dynasty – 1938)
24:55 Washboard Rhythm Kings – Call Of The Freaks (1931)
(Clip from Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – 1931)
27:50 Victor Arden, Phil Ohman, & their Orchestra – Dancing the Devil Away (1930)
(Clip from Reverend Johnny Blakey – Warming By The Devil’s Fire – 1928)
31:07 Fletcher Henderson – Hotter Than ‘ell (1934)
(Clip from Island of Lost Souls – 1932)
34:01 Rev. A.W. Nix – Black Diamond Express to Hell (1927)
34:41 Cab Calloway – The Nightmare (1931)
(Clip from Murders in the Zoo – 1933)
(Clip from Tomatoes Another Day – 1930)
37:27 Henry Hall BBC Dance Orchestra – Here Comes The Bogey Man (1932)
(Clip from The Old Dark House – 1932)
40:39 Bertha Idaho – Graveyard Love (1928)
(Clip from Vampyr – 1932)
44:02 Skip James – Devil Got My Woman (1931)
(Clip from Bride of Frankenstein – 1935)
47:08 Victoria Spivey – Blood Thirsty Blues (1928)
(Clip from Gennett Sound Effects – Night Noises – 1936)
(Clip from The Shadow – Circle of Death – 1937)
50:30 Josh White – Blood Red River (1933)
(Clip from The Old Dark House – 1932)
53:46 Joe Mccoy – Evil Devil Woman Blues (1934)
(HMV Weather Effects – Wind – 1935)
(Clip from The Shadow – Circle of Death – 1937)
56:59 Walter Page – Blue Devil Blues (1930)
(Clip from Gennett Sound Effects – Rainfall and Thunder – 1936)
(Clip from King Kong – 1933)

Hallowe’en Dance: Original Recordings 1902-1926

Beginning Halloween Week at Centuries of Sound, here’s a mix of Halloween-themed music and spoken word recordings from the pre-electrical era.

This mix is also available in compilation format – to supporters on Patreon, and on the Centuries of Sound Bandcamp page

00:00 Aleister Crowley- The Call Of The First And Second Aethyr (Ca. 1920)
01:21 Original Dixieland Jazz Band – Skeleton Jangle (1918)
04:14 Bert Williams – Never Mo’ (1916)
06:52 Sodero’s Band – The Vampire. Dance Characteristic (1918)
10:24 Billy Murray – I’m Afraid to Come Home in the Dark (1908)
12:36 Len Spencer – The Transformation Scene From ”Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde” (1905)
14:46 Edith Wilson and Johnny Dunn Original Jazz Hounds – Evil Blues (1923)
18:04 Edison Concert Band – Skeleton Dance (1905)
20:17 Arthur Collins – The Goose-Bone Man (1905)
22:24 Unknown Artist – Brown Wax Home Recording of Comic Ghost Stories (Ca. 1910)
24:42 Six Brown Brothers – Ghost of the Saxophone (1917)
27:20 American Symphony Orchestra – Hallowe’en Dance (1909)
29:22 New Orleans Owls – The Nightmare (1926)
32:29 Victor Military Band – Spooky Spooks (1917)
35:12 Abdal Ali – Death Lament (1902)
39:00 Al Weston & Irene Young – At The Circus (1921)
42:24 Unknown Artist – Okeh Laughing Record (1922)

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