Radio actuality recordings

A unique collection of original BBC and other radio actuality recordings brings to life the London of the 1920s to the 1950s. These sounds were captured at street markets, fairgrounds, skittle alleys, auction houses, hopfields and elsewhere.

West End buskers 1947

THIS RECORDING IS an amalgram of four tracks making up one side of a BBC transcription disc simply entitled Street musicians (catalogue number 823856). Each features a different busker recorded in the West End: two from Leicester Square and two from Drury Lane, each recorded in November 1947. None of the musicians are named.

The first track is a stirring rendition from Drury Lane of the wildly popular The Lambeth Walk. This was originally written for the 1937 musical Me and My Girl and it appears in more BBC actuality recordings from the 1940s than any other popular song.

The other Drury Lane recording is a curiosity in which the musician plays a four-bar xylophone. This surely belongs in the category of improvised busking instruments along with one-man bands, washboards and spoons. An entertainingly sinister example of the last two can be seen and heard in Roman Polanski’s 1965 horror film Repulsion.

One of the Leicester Square recordings features a blind accordionist who sounds fairly competent. Not all accordion ‘players’ could actually play their instruments, and some simply hired them on a daily basis to make a noise and so avoid the appearance of outright begging. The other has someone playing the old music hall song She was one of the early birds on a mouth organ.

This page is dedicated to Tim Owen of the music blog Dalston Sound in gratitude for the many times he’s drawn people’s attention to the London Sound Survey.

Recording © copyright BBC. Audio digitisation and restoration by the London Sound Survey. Many thanks to BBC Worldwide for granting permission to reproduce this recording here.

West End buskers 3:24