ON MAY DAY I mooched around with Nick Hamilton, who produces the Lost Steps programs for Resonance FM. We started by heading up to Clerkenwell Green to check out the May Day rally.
There were the usual papersellers and a few trades unionists steadying their banners, but it was a large contingent of Turkish communists who made the most noise. Some banged drums, others chanted slogans, someone’s voice squawked over a PA, and here and there were intriguing snatches of droning music from some bagpipe-like instrument. But we weren’t able to find the source of the drone.
Recording marches once they’re underway isn’t that interesting, unless you’re able to occupy a spot where the marchers stream past you on both sides. This wasn’t possible, so we headed to the Lamb pub in Lamb’s Conduit Street, Holborn.
In a corner of the pub was an old Polyphon music box in a glass case. Its ten-inch-wide metal disk bore patterns of holes corresponding to two different tunes, March Militaire and Danse Parisienne. A sign next to the music box stated it could be played if you put some money in the charity collecting tin on the bar:
The occasional snaps you can hear in the recording came from the music box itself, the disk flexing and shuddering as it turned. For modern-day equivalents, have a look at these online Whitney Music Box simulations.