Shadows and Reflections: the annual collection of postings where Caught by the River’s ever-reliable contributors and friends old and new take a look back on the events that have shaped the past twelve months.
I’m not usually one for looking back, but as I sit here, nursing an infection and feeling a little bit sorry for myself, it’s nice to take a bit of time to reflect on all the wonderful things I’ve been involved with during 2014. A real highlight was being asked by Jeff to chair the Rough Trade East book launch of Trevor Cox’s amazing Sonic Wonderland. This little masterpiece takes you on a whistle-stop tour of some of the most fantastic sonic treasures on planet earth. The Indiana Jones of the acoustic world, Cox swapped the whip for a microphone and the fedora for a pair of headphones and embarked on an incredible journey that took in, amongst many other things, booming sand dunes, musical roads, stalactite organs, whispering arches and, I kid you not, a Mayan pyramid that chirps like a bird. It’s a brilliant read and, having just reviewed it for the BBC science and technology magazine, I was over the moon when asked to lead the charge on this one.
Another real high point was being invited by Caught by the River friend Melissa Harrison to write a piece for the quarterly review Slightly Foxed. When a writer of such calibre approaches you to submit an essay on a subject of your choice, you can’t help but feel a little bit proud. One of the great things about Slightly Foxed is that they encourage you to share your excitement for esoteric literature; those obscure or long forgotten books that most readers will never have heard of are perfect for the review and it was my great pleasure to write a few words about one of my obsessions, wildlife sound recording pioneer Ludwig Koch. Koch championed wildlife sound recording during the 20th century, getting out into the field and experimenting with various technologies and techniques to make recording wild animals a real possibility. He brought the sounds of wildlife to the masses through his work with the BBC and became a household name to listeners in the 1940s and 50s. His autobiography, Memoirs of a Birdman is long out of print but it’s a fascinating account of one man’s passion for the sounds of the natural world. Many of Koch’s recordings, along with his manuscript archive, are preserved at the British Library and it’s really a privilege to keep his memory alive through opportunities such as the one kindly given to me by Melissa.
I couldn’t look back without mentioning this year’s brilliant Port Eliot festival. It was so wonderful. Set in the glorious Cornish countryside, Port Eliot is an absolute joy to be a part of; as you make your way down to the Caught by the River tent, set alongside the banks of the River Tiddy, you can’t help but smile as all the familiar faces come into view. I was lucky enough to chair a panel discussion on field recording and couldn’t have wished for better company with Rob St John, Ceri Levy, Trevor Cox and Chris Watson joining me on stage. The knowledge, passion, expertise and eloquence that came forth during our conversation that sunny Sunday afternoon was really something very special. I’m gutted that I can’t attend next year’s festival – I did ask my brother if he could change the date of his wedding but he wouldn’t do it, selfish git. I’ll definitely be there in spirit if not in body though.
The memories that have come flooding back while writing this piece have reminded me that it is really rather nice to stop for a minute and remember the good things. The Caught by the River gang is one hell of a family and I’m so glad to be a part of it.