Radio Scotland interview

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The Radio Scotland interview is an interview from 1997 by John Cavanagh with Delia and Drew Mulholland, interspersed with some of Delia's audio tracks and broadcast as part of BBC Radio Scotland's "Original Masters" series.

Delia was on the other end of an ISDN link in Northampton, where she lived and it can be dated from her final comment, that she was "just back from a Doctor Who convention", which would be Panopticon '98, held on the 2nd-4th October 1998.

Other than the material transcribed here from the Original Masters episode, more of the original tapes can be heard in Kara Blake's 2010 film The Delian Mode and in Stuart Maconie's 2017 Delia Derbyshire's eightieth birthday special

Transcript

Audio track: Mattachin

John:
[In] 1997 of course we take electronic music very much for granted but when that was recorded it was a completely different process and that track you've listened to just now was put together at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop back in the early 60s by Delia Derbyshire who joins us now for Radio Scotland's "Original Masters". Delia, welcome to the show
Delia:
Hello, John.
John:
It's some time since you heard that track, I guess.
Delia:
Yes, since 1968, I think. I'm tickled pink by it. It's charming, isn't it?
John:
I think it's absolutely charming and I think that what you achieved in the Radiophonic Workshop is something that maybe we should define slightly for people listening to the program who don't quite realise the processes that actually went into making that kind of music. Tell us a little bit of the background of the Workshop in those days.
Delia:
When the first boss was appointed, that was in 1958, there were two applicants with a drama background and two with a music background, and drama won. I was told in no uncertain terms that the BBC does not employ composers and so it was only by kind of infiltrating the system that I managed to do music. I think you'd call that music, wouldn't you?
John:
Oh, absolutely.
Delia:
I did try to use electronic sound wherever possible and I think some of the sounds in what you just heard were what I'd call objets trouvées: they were bits cut out of other things after editing, but if I was creating the sound, I'd cut the front off a sound and so that was the sort of thing I was using in that piece although it wasn't meant as a piece of music; it was just put together over a lunchtime.
John:
You said that these things were put together using very simple devices, simple in terms of what's available to musicians or experimentalists today but at the time these things sounded quite literally out of this world and the most famous piece that you recorded was the theme tune for the "Doctor Who" TV series. Tell me how you actually achieved that. I think it was with manipulation of some dozen or so oscillators.
Delia:
Indeed. We did have a bank of a dozen oscillators but one couldn't use them all at once. The first producer of Doctor Who, Verity Lambert, she had in her mind Les Structures Sonores. I don't know whether either of you are old enough to remember this group from Paris. Their music sounded really electronic but in fact they were all acoustic instruments.
John:
But did they use glass rods in their music-making?
Delia:
Yes, exactly. And so Verity Lambert could not possibly afford Les Structures Sonores and because the Radiophonic Workshop was a below-the-line cost, she came to the Radiophonic Workshop and the boss recommended Ron Grainer because he'd done something called "Giants of Steam" there earlier. Ron saw the original titles - as usual something like a black and white negative - and he took the timings and went away to his private beach in Portugal and wrote the score. And he came back with the score with abstract things on like "wind clouds" and "sweeps" and "swoops" and "wind bubble": all, sort of, beautiful descriptions but with a carefully worked-out rhythm and, yeah, it was very, very subtle, the way he wrote. And so I got to work and put it all together. It was a magic experience because I couldn't see from the music how it was going to sound. It was just Ron's brilliant aural imagination because when he heard the results, oh! he was really tickled pink.

Audio track: Original version of Doctor Who theme

John:
The original version of the theme from Doctor Who as composed by Ron Grainer and realised at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop by Delia Derbyshire, who's with us today for Radio Scotland's "Original Masters". Delia, the version that we actually opened today's program with extra whooshes and things which is on a CD called "Music from the Tomb of the Cybermen" on Via Satellite Records but that one, your original, is the one that has your own stamp of approval I believe.
Delia:
I'd say that. I think every time a new producer came or a new director came they wanted to tart it up, the title music, and they wanted to put an extra two bars here, put some extra feedback on the high frequencies. They kept on tarting it up out of existence. I was really very shocked at what I had to do in the course of so-called duty.
John:
Well, the next thing we're going to listen to is something put together once again by yourself, called "Blue Veils and Golden Sands". We don't actually have time to play the whole thing but we shall certainly play a bit of this, if you'd like to tell us where the inspiration for this one came from, Delia.
Delia:
This was a documentary program about the Tuareg tribe. The Tuareg tribe are nomads in the Sahara desert and I think they live by bartering, taking salt, I think it was, across the desert. In the piece, the extract you're going to hear, I tried to convey the distance of the horizon and the heat haze and then there's this very high, slow reedy sound. That indicates the strand of camels seen at a distance, wandering across the desert. That in fact was made from square waves on the valve oscillators we've just talked about, but square waves put though every filter I could possibly find to take out all the bass frequencies and so one just hears the very high frequencies. It had to be something out of this world.

Audio track: Extract from Blue Veils and Golden Sands

John:
An extract from "Blue Veils and Golden Sands" by Delia Derbyshire, and Delia's with us today on "Original Masters". Delia, the whole concept of the kind of music that you were making at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop tended to run very much counter to your formal musical training. I mean, you studied music and mathematics too, and it was a time in the British musical establishment when people weren't supposed to do that kind of thing and suddenly there you were, swimming completely against the tide, yeah?
Delia:
You should see my last birthday card. It's a lovely one from America with a whole shoal of fishes with their mouths turned down, fishes in silhouette, and one fish running, swimming the other way.
John:
That's you, is it.
Delia:
Yes, but with a smile on its face and printed on the card was "To an Independent Thinker". I think that sums me up. I did rebel against a lot of... ah hah. Yes, I did. I did all sorts of things I was told I couldn't do and yes, I think I've always been a very independent thinker but I must say that I go back to first principles when it comes to music. I go back to the Greeks and the original, well the simple harmonic series. I think that's a very healthy thing to do for anyone. In fact I'd recommend it to Drew.
John:
Drew is actually with us in the studio and we'll be talking to him in a few minutes' time, and he's the guy who's going to be involved in issuing some of Delia's music on CD for the first time but at the moment, Delia, I'd like to turn our attention onto the time when you took the radiophonic music out of the BBC and actually got involved in an album for the Island record label: the album by the, well, "band" or aggregation of players or creators or whatever you could call it, called "The Electric Storm" by White Noise.
Delia:
I think my forte is, well, apart from having an analytical mind to do electronic sound, at the opposite end I'm very good at writing extended melody for which there was not really an opening at the BBC. And so I met this guy. I was giving a lecture at Morley College in London and he came up to me afterwards. He played the double bass, the same as I did, and he was already doing tracks for the Ballet Rambert and we got together and started this album.

Audio track: Firebird

John:
"Firebird" from The White Noise with a touch of the original Russian folk tune that Stravinsky used for his Firebird Suite comin in at the end there and lovely to hear that again, on the album which came out on the Island label in 1969, but has, Delia Derbyshire, I believe been reissued in Sweden of late.
Delia:
I don't know when it's been reissued, but yes, it must get played because I do get some royalties from it.
John:
Well, some of the music you were involved in recording, I mean, as we said earlier, you've always been very much an independent spirit, but some of the music tended to be a little too challenging for radio and TV producers at the time and a good deal of the things, sadly, were rejected for their original purpose. That must have been fairly difficult to take and carry on with at that stage, yeah?
Delia:
Yes, indeed. And let me see, I think you're going to play something called "Way Out". Now let us go back to the late fifties, early sixties. Dave Brubeck had done "Take Five" and in '61 he'd done "It's a Raggy Waltz" so - that was in seven time - so I thought "Fine! I'm into the numbers game. I'll do eleven time and thirteen time", continuing the series of prime numbers. But unfortunately that style, I was told, was "too sophisticated for the BBC2 audience" and so, as I was doing it, the choreographer Vin Davis [sp?] happened to be walking down the corridor and his feet started tapping and he said "I want that!" and I said "No, you can't! I've done it for the BBC." And so he implored me to do something in the same style, in eleven time and thirteen time, for his dance group, which I did. In fact it was the Frankie Howerd and Cilla Black show it was originally done for, but it had to be scrapped from that because they did the stupid thing of putting this rather delicate music as an opener to the second act. That was their problem.
John:
That's not a particularly clever bit of sequencing, I'd imagine.
Delia:
<Laughs> No, and I didn't have a television in those days but a friend told me that by one means or another it ended up as a backing for a deodorant commercial on television which is something of course we were absolutely forbidden to do but it was nothing of my doing. It was rejected by BBC2 and there it was on the commercial.

Audio track: Way Out

John:
And a singularly appropriate title has that track: it's called "Way Out" and it was just too way out for the BBC back in the sixties, from Delia Derbyshire, but certainly not too way out for us in the nineteen nineties and the guy who was involved in putting together the "Tomb of the Cybermen" album is Drew Mulholland of Via Satellite Records and he's with us. He's been sitting patiently in the corner of the studio there. Drew, hello.
Drew:
Hi, John.
John:
This music of Delia's, which, you know, has been neglected for quite some time, it seems to almost have a whole new wave of validity in the nineteen nineties. I mean, tell me how you see Delia's music sitting with what's going on at the moment.
Drew:
I think it's one of those things that's timeless. If you're trying to paint abstract musical pictures for people, it's not a thing that goes with fashion. You know? It's always there and people, if they have an imagination, will always be tickled by it and [who's to say?] it's timeless.
John:
Well Delia, we've heard quite a few facets of your musical creativity in the programme so far. Drew has asked us to play something called "Door to Door". What can you tell us of this before we hear it?
Delia:
As far as I remember it was for a local radio programme. We had people, well, you can imagine the sort of things that local radio programmes do. They literally went from door to door. I don't know why he's attracted to that. Actually I can't remember much about it.
John:
Well, I'll tell you what we'll do in that case, is we shall play it and refresh your memory. Here we go.
Delia:
Right.

Audio track: Door To Door

John:
Short and extremely sweet. Well, I can certainly hear why Drew is attracted to that.
Delia:
(giggling) Well, I think that's ... that's really at the more trivial end of ... of what I did. Yes, isn't it jolly? Um, yes yes yes, all those door knockers and doorbells and things. I think it's quite clever. Erm... but I... it's... anyway you can hear I'm tickled pink.
John:
Drew, of course, apart from being involved in the record label you also have your own musical thing on the go called the Mount Vernon Arts Lab. We'll hear a track from them after we've finished playing Delia's music on the show. Where do you feel that this inspiration comes to you from what Delia was doing back in the sixties?
Drew:
I'd read a lot about the stuff that Delia had done without actually hearing it because it hasn't been available for years. And even reading about it and the processes and even the photographs that I've seen of the Radiophonic Workshop in the sixties, in an abstract way they were inspirational without even hearing the music. But now, hearing the music today, it's even more of a kick, you know?
John:
And I think you've plans to make more of this stuff available.
Drew:
Absolutely. We'd like to do an LP of Delia's stuff.
Delia:
A what? An LP?
Drew:
Oh yeah.
Delia:
Oh golly! I thought you were talking about a '45.
Drew:
Definitely. No. We were, but all this other stuff's appeared and it's fantastic.
Delia:
I can tell you what: I did films, I did the first electronic music fashion show.
Drew:
Oh!
Delia:
I did feature films and art films. I don't know what is up in my loft. Precious little I think; it's probably been eaten by the wasps or something, or the mice.
John:
I did actually have a letter from you, Delia, in which you said that you had a demo of one of your songs, recorded by Antony Newley. Now that's something I would love to hear.

Delia:
Yeah, well, yeah. I'd quite like to find it. He came to my little one-room flat above a flower shop in Maida Vale to hear the backing track he'd asked me to do. He said "Don't put a tune on it because I'm going to write my own tune but I would like a backing track, an electronic music backing track." And so he said "You'll probably want to put on your own tune just to make some sense of the whole thing but I'm not going to use it." But, anyway, he took it away and not only did he use it, he double-tracked it, he was thrilled to bits with it. He said, and I felt quite insulted at the time, he said "I'll soon get you out of this little place." In fact the people who'd driven him there were Joan and Jackie Collins.
John:
Well, I think you should take inspiration from this, Delia, and go up to that attic, kick out the wasps and find all these tapes.
Drew:
Absolutely.
John:
We want to hear more of this stuff.
Drew:
People have got to hear this, Delia.
John:
Well, Delia, I'm absolutely delighted to have had you on the show today and to be able to let people hear some of the stuff which, at the moment, isn't available but which is going to become so in the next few months and finally I'd very like to play, add on a track that you can tell us about called, er, I'll have a go at it and then you can tell me how it's really pronounced, Zoozie Zoozie Ooh Ooh Oooh.
Delia:
Most of the programs that I did were either in the far distant future, the far distant past or in the mind. I think this was the climax of a science fiction play called "The Prophet". It ended up with all these robots and they sang a song of praise to this bloke, presumably the prophet, and this was the song they sang. It is difficult to pronounce because it's made from backwards chanting and I think if you play it forwards it would say something like "Praise to the master, his wisdom and his reason" and I just chose the best bits and "Ziwzih Ziwzih", "his wiz, his wiz": it's that backwards. And I must say that the Oo-oo-oo is electronic! I think it was at the same time as one of the Beatles' songs, "Please please me", and so that was like, I think, er, Drew said he thought it sounded medieval. Well that was because it was like a new religion and they'd go back to square one and the perfect fifth as the greeks did. And so my oo-oo-oo's were done on the Wobbulator which was used very much, say for example in the Doctor Who music.
John:
Which is as fabulously named an instrument as it was sounding instrument I should say. Well, we're going to have a listen to Ziwzih Ziwzih OO-OO-OO now. And Delia Derbyshire, Drew Mulholland, many thanks.
Drew:
Thankyou
Delia:
(laughs)

</DL>

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