“Sorry, we don’t ‘do’ nostalgia”, I told him.
I explained that we at Radio Days don’t do ‘old songs’; rather, we perform in as an authentic a manner as possible only fresh, new, up-to-the minute songs, the latest hits … except that … well … they just happen to be the latest hits of other moments in history.
And those moments may be anywhere between around 1870 (year of the Elementary Education Act, of the Married Women’s Property Act, and of the birth of Marie Lloyd, among other things) and rarely much beyond 1939 (one world war was enough for us at Radio Days, so we couldn’t face another).
There’s a difference, you see, between (big yawn) ‘playing the old songs’ and, on the other hand, (woohoo!) riding that Time Machine back to see the songs performed as if for their original audiences, as if these were performances that were being seen and heard for the first time. We call it “singing the past to life”; it’s a bit science-fictiony like Dr Who but without the Tardis, or a bit magical like Harry Potter but without the wizardy hats.
Which brings me on to that ‘learning’ word that you’ll see scattered all over these pages. Because that’s the other side of the Radio Days story. We know how evocative the music of an era can be in vividly conjuring to mind the spirit of a past age, and therefore how music can as a reference point be a valuable and enjoyable resource for discovering more and learning more about our recent history.
We bring to life the social and cultural history of the late 19th century and first half of the 20th century through our open-to-all ‘learning events’ in museums, schools, libraries, and festivals in which we recreate the lived worlds of our recent ancestors, we celebrate the living memories of our older citizens, and we provide entertaining learning opportunities for the youngest citizens.
Why ‘Radio Days’?
When looking for a title for our project we saw radio, above all, as the defining technology of the 20th century, and spanning the entire century. Since the first radio transmission we had been aware of was on 12th December 1901, we worried about the appropriateness of our name at the moment we ventured back in our workshops and performances to embrace the late 19th century. We need not have worried, since …
James Clerk Maxwell predicted the propagation of electromagnetic waves (radio waves) in 1873 and Heinrich Rudolf Hertz made the first demonstration of transmission of radio waves through free space in 1887; but many individuals—inventors, engineers, developers and businessmen constructed systems based on their own understanding of these and other phenomenon, some predating Maxwell and Hertz’ discoveries.
Based in south-west London, Radio Days collaborates with museums, libraries, local education authorities, schools and colleges, and other educational bodies in London and the South-East of England to develop and present participatory learning experiences in history, from the late Victorian era, through World War One and the inter-war years, to the end of World War Two.