ONE OF THE features of the Great Sonic Extinction is that the disappearance of a once-widespread sound may not be noticed much until some years later.
Sometimes the realisation comes from an exception that proves the rule, like the fee-charging cash machine in your local corner shop with its dial-up modem. The duty cycle of bleak tones as the modem seeks a connection reminds you how it was years since you heard that at home.
The cries of newspaper sellers were common signifiers of the bustle of urban life but they’ve declined greatly with the advent of free papers, among other factors. So I was very intrigued when Paul Byrne approached me at the Caught By The River stage in Oympic Park in July.
Paul told me he had a curious promotional flexi disc consisting of newspaper sellers’ cries and would I like to have it? The package arrived from him last Saturday. Inside was a poster folded into sixths. On one side was printed a collage of newspaper front pages, on the reverse some text including details of where and when the recordings were made. They’re nearly all from 1989 and feature field recordings of newspaper sellers from several English towns and cities.
There were two clear flexi discs bonded onto the poster. One of the discs has a playing time of over six minutes and below you can see it on the deck waiting to be digitised with the help of a CEDAR noise reduction system and the expert attention of sound engineer Nigel Bewley, to whom thanks is also due for the photos.
There’s a particularly fine series of calls beginning around 5:18. They’re the epitome of a street seller’s cry, being forceful, resonant and hard to decipher. The second flexi is much shorter.
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Many thanks indeed to Paul for donating this wonderful find to the London Sound Survey. In lieu of putting up all the recording location details, how many newspaper titles can you make out from the recordings and what are they?