Wednesday, 31 December 2014

120 Seconds Over Ladywell Fields: running track sound recording

My friend Richard Sanderson runs a record label, Linear Obsessional Recordings featuring 'experimental, improvised, and other music that falls through the cracks'. He recently invited people to submit tracks for a compilation album with the rules 'that the works had to be exactly two minutes long, and that at some point in the recording process a microphone should have been used'.

As he is interested in soundscapes and location recordings I decided to put a piece together based on running round the track at my local Ladywell Arena. The piece, '120 Seconds Over Ladywell Fields', is one of 87 tracks from all over the world featured on the album 'Two Minutes Left', released this week. The tracks, as Richard says, 'are as diverse as it's possible to imagine- from full, immaculately produced studio works to hissy smartphone recordings- and throughout there are things to remind you that you're listening to real people in real places - birdsong, pets, breathing, conversation, and the location recordings run from the electrobabble of a Shanghai cab ride to the near silence of night on the Argentinian Pampas, to the sounds of the pub or a football match. In between are some gloriously recorded musical vignettes by some of the most extraordinary musicians around... it seems to me to be ultimately a celebration of being human, and a celebration of friendship and collaboration'. You can download the album here.


Recording it wasn't quite so easy as imagined. I tried various ways of recording footsteps, in the end I got the best result from attaching a contact mic to one of my running shoes as I ran round, with the lead feeding up my tights to an old school portable cassette recorder. The combination of the footsteps on the track and the friction of the mic on the shoes created the castanet effect 'rhythm track'. The breathing was recorded as I ran round again with mic attached to collar of my top - this also picked up the sound of parakeets in the trees alongside the track. Finally, using Audacity, I mixed over the sound of some of Ladywell's runners from Kent Athletic Club (me included) and others taking part in the South of the Thames Cross Country race on Wimbledon Common last month - the sound extracted from some found film footage of the start of the race.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Nunhead Reservoir - a 'secret' run in South London

Well by secret, I mean you're not really supposed to be there, though for ages it has been an open secret to those living nearby that the grounds of the Nunhead Reservoir site have been readily accessible from gaps in the fencing surrounding it. It's become a place for people to walk their dogs, to admire the great views of the London skyline, or in the case of local teenagers banished from pubs by draconian security, to hang out with their friends. 

It's also been a good place for a sneaky run. It is separated from Nunhead Cemetery by the runners favourite, Brockley footpath, and from there it's been a short climb up a grass bank to the first of the two (more or less) square, flat surfaces of the grassed-over reservoir (built by the
 Southwark and Vauxhall Water Company in 1855).

You can run a lap of the bottom square, then run up the stairs on the bank separating it from the second square, and do a further lap there.  The whole circuit - round both squares and up and down the stairs is about 670m, but doing multiple laps is quite a challenging training run with the flats interspersed with the steps.

 A new, high, wire mesh fence is being installed around the site now, so the 'secret' is out (hence I guess it's no longer giving anything away to write about it). It looks like running, walking and sightseeing are off the agenda there for now - at least until the next portal miraculously appears.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

South London parkruns over Christmas and New Year

If you want to have a healthy start to Christmas before you gorge yourself, or to put your New Year fitness resolution into immediate effect on 1 January, why not join one of the free 5k parkruns happening on Christmas Day or New Years Day (in addition to the regular Saturday events). All abilities welcome.

There's a full listing at the parkrun site, but here's the ones South of the River:

Christmas Day

9:00 am start:

Brockwell Park
Hilly Fields - see report of last year
Lloyd Park (Croydon)
Wimbledon Common

9:30 am start:


10 am  start:

Peckham Rye

(while technically you could fit in two runs on Christmas Day, only one of them can be registered for your parkrun statistics)

New Year's Day

9:00 am start

Lloyd Park (Croydon)
Peckham Rye

10:00 am start

Dulwich - see report of last year
Hilly Fields
Wimbledon Common

10:30 am start

Southwark Park

(On New Year's Day, if you run twice, both runs will count officially for parkrun - two more steps towards your 50/100/250 t-shirt)

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Dexys Midnight Runners... running


Dexys Midnight Runners in their various incarnations have made some great music over the years, particularly in their early period, and their name alone should perhaps earn them a mention in the athletics music hall of fame. Well if it wasn't for the fact that said name references the popularity of dexedrine to keep people dancing at Northern Soul all-nighters - a performance-enhancing chemical we do not advocate for athletes!

In the early 1980s the band went through a phase of dressing up in boxing gear, and apparently took on a straight-edge fitness regime which included cross-country running - Kevin Rowland declaring that '"The togetherness of running along together just gets ... that fighting spirit going. We used to come into the rehearsal rooms in Birmingham still sweating from running, and there was all these other groups there and it just put us a million miles away from them"... Before gigs, the group would limber up with exercises in the dressing room, Rowland chanting phrases from James Brown's Sex Machine. Pre-show drinking was strictly forbidden' (Simon Reynolds, Rip it Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984).

The only photos of Dexys running I have found come from a July 1981 photo shoot by Fin Costello (Getty Images), with the group on the track in boxing boots in their home city of Birmingham - guessing this is the Alexander Stadium.

Proud to say I shook Kevin Rowland's hand a couple of years ago when he was DJing at How Does in Feel? at the Canterbury Arms in Brixton. Still searching for the young soul rebels.

Other musicians in motion:

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

My running T-shirts

Accumulating t-shirts goes with the territory for running doesn't it? Thought I'd document some of my mine before some of the cheaper ones fade away in the wash...

The hard-earned parkrun 50 t-shirt, presented at Hilly Fields earlier this year

London Marathon 2014 marshall t-shirt,
for helping on the bag lorries at Blackheath with Hilly Fields parkrun crew

'5k your way' at Hackney Marshes 2013
- different colour shirts for the different local Council teams taking part
('Team Southwark' for me)

5k your way, Hackney Marshes again - yes they change the team colours every year!

T-shirt from the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens - scene of 1896 Olympic Games,
and where I ran a couple of the laps of the track last week

Kent Athletic Club vest - proud to have run three races in this since joining in the summer,
plenty more coming up in the rest of the cross country season

Friday, 12 December 2014

Friday Photos (18): Athletes Protests, 1968-2014

In the past few weeks there has been a wave of protests across the United States and beyond in response to police killings, with apparent impunity, of two black men -  Eric Garner in New York and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. 

A number of prominent athletes/sports people have staged their own protests as part of this movement. 'Hands Up, Don't Shoot' has been the gesture/chant of the Ferguson protests, and last month St Louis Rams players put their hands up prior to a National Football League match.

St Louis Rams players raise their hands before NFL game
Michael Brown's last words as he was being choked by police were 'I can't breathe' and this has been the slogan of the protests that have followed the decision not to prosecute any of the police officers involved. 'I can't breathe' t-shirts have been worn by various football and basketball players including Derrick Rose (Chicago Bulls) and LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers)

Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls
In NCAA college basketball, the whole Georgetown team game wore the t-shirts during the national anthem before a match in Washington last week:

Mexico 1968

All of this recalls the most famous athletes protest of all - when Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave clenched fist salutes on the podium at the 1968 Mexico Olympics during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner. Smith had just won the Gold medal in the 200m, and Carlos the bronze. The silver medallist, Australia's Peter Norman, was also in on the protest - he too wore a patch of the anti-racist Olympic Project for Human Rights.

Moscow 2013

Last year's World Athletics Championships in Moscow took place against the planned introduction of new anti-gay laws in Russia. Swedish athletes led the protests with high jumper Emma Green Tregaro and sprinter Moa Hjelmer painting their nails in rainbow colours.

Robbie Fowler and the Dockers

In English professional football, one of the most celebrated protests took place in 1997, when Liverpool FC's Robbie Fowler displayed a t-shirt in support of striking dockers in the city shortly after scoring a goal.

Update February 2016

Not technically an athletes' protest but at the 2016 American football Superbowl, Beyonce's half time performance famously referenced the Black Panthers and Malcolm X - and immediately afterwards some of her dancers were pictured with a Justice 4 Mario Woods sign. Woods was a black man killed by San Francisco police.

Previously in Friday photo series:

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Notes on the history of Kent Athletics (1908)

This overview of athletics in Kent was included in the 'Victoria History of the County of Kent', edited by William Page (1908). This section was written by Frank Bonnett. At that time, much of what is now South East London - where I live - would have been regarded as Kent. Hence this summary includes mentions of the still very active South London running clubs, Herne Hill Harriers, Cambridge Harriers, Blackheath Harriers  (now Blackheath & Bromley Harriers) and Kent Athletic Club (my club - actually  Lewisham-based, rather than being a 'Kent county' club). The latter evidently  'won the last of the South-of-the-Thames races (1907) with a team of young and promising stayers', and are still running in the same competition more than a hundred years later.

'The historian who sets himself the task of recording the story of Kent athletics finds at once that he has to deal with a county possessing peculiarities of its own with regard to this branch of sport; indeed, in one particular respect, Kent stands almost, if not quite, in a class by itself. Other counties have their amateur and their professional side of athletics, but in Kent the latter feature predominates to a much greater extent than can be found, probably, in any other part of the kingdom. Athletic sports, promoted under the laws and regulations of  the Amateur Athletic Association (AAA), are comparatively few and far between, whereas meetings of the unregistered type are numerous in almost every part of the county.

The athlete who indulges in sport for sport's sake, which, as all must admit, is the healthiest form of recreation for mind and body that can be devised, would expect to find that in this part of England as elsewhere amateur gatherings held under the auspices of the A.A.A. were on the increase; but such unfortunately is not the case. It is to be noticed, indeed, that a number of meetings which were once of the unregistered type, and whose promoters tried the experiment of holding their sports under the aegis of the 'Three A's'  found the cost of the undertaking, including the payment of permit fees and the employment of official handicappers, far greater than they could bear, and they have long since reverted to the old order of things.

The tendency to follow this example still exists. It seems likely that in the near future many more clubs will adopt the unregistered principle, while there appears to be little likelihood of new clubs coming forward to fill the gaps caused by these secessions from the ranks of pure amateurism. One cannot but regret this state of affairs, for strictly amateur athletics should everywhere form a part of the curriculum of the youth of England.

Other meetings of the long ago in the county of Kent, though still promoted under the laws of the Amateur Athletic Association, have either become less exclusive as regards the rules which govern them, or have gradually drifted into the hands of men with good ideas of sport but possessed of broader minds on the subject of amateurism and  more democratic in their views. Belonging to this latter class of sports are those held at Belvedere, which meeting may be regarded as the successor to the old Erith and Belvedere fixture. No more popular gathering than this last within easy reach of London ever existed. In its palmy days in the early 'eighties it was loyally supported by the members of the London Athletic Club and similar bodies ; but the character of the meeting has changed considerably since then, although it is still popular...

Real athletics never flourished to any considerable extent in Kent, albeit as the county in which some important cycling contests have been decided under the auspices of the National Cyclists' Union, it has been rather famous in the past. To find anything of downright historical interest in Kentish field sports, apart from the fact that good men from other districts came to the county meetings, one has to come to the very modern times of 1887 to note that a Lewisham resident (but a Birmingham born man), J. H. Adams, carried off the 50 miles Ordinary Bicycle Championship of the N.C.U. at Birmingham. F. J. Osmond, S. F. Edge, and P. F. Wood, old cycle and tricycle champions, had their Kentish club and residential connexions, and the Crystal Palace itself has long been a home of cycle-racing. In 1892 the Heme Hill track was chosen for the N.C.U.'s chief races, and the Catford ground was used in 1896. A winner of a N.C.U. medal for the tandem championship in 1898 was F. Burnand of Catford, who partnered E. J. Callingham, a Surrey resident.

The Blackheath Harriers and Heme Hill Harriers are chiefly Kentish men, and while the former is rather an exclusive society, the latter can be said to have turned out some very useful runners within the past
decade. For instance the 15 miles amateur record holder, Fred J. Appleby, is a member of the H.H.H., and the ex-Irish mile and four miles champion, J. N. Deakin, bears the ' hoops ' of that club, as does F. H. Hulford, who has won the 4 miles A.A.A. championship. The quarter-mile champion of England in 1903, Chas. McLachlan, wore the colours of  the Heme Hill contingent, which is so well looked after by Mr. Chas. Otway (Camberwell), their honorary secretary. The Blackheath Harriers have boasted a capital half-miler in B. J. Blunden, who has held English honours at that distance, and A. Healey, a fellow member, who ran second in the hurdle race at Athens, has won several Northern Counties championships by reason of his birth qualification.

Another club, the Kent A.C., brought into prominence A. Aldridge, a stayer who won Southern, National, and International honours on the flat and across country, though he always had to play second fiddle, when they met, to the Sussex wonder, Alfred Shrubb.  In the South-of-the-Thames Cross-Country championships Kentish clubs always figure  prominently, and they won the last of the South-of-the-Thames races (1907) with a team of young and promising stayers.

Another club, the Cambridge Harriers, which to all intents and purposes is a London institution, belies its name so far as its membership is concerned, for most of its members are drawn from the county of Kent. The club was established in 1890.

Other athletic clubs within the county which hold their meetings under the laws of the Amateur Athletic Association are the Erith Harriers ; Swanley C.M. and A.C.; Cray Valley C.M. and A.C ; Sittingbourne C.C; Dover CC ; Bexley W.M.C ; and Foots Cray C.C.

In addition to the sports meetings promoted by these clubs, numerous gatherings are held annually, or at irregular intervals, in various parts of the county. Some are unregistered meetings mainly supported by amateur athletes, while others are avowedly of the professional order. Between these two kinds of meetings there is in reality a far greater difference than is recognized by the ruling body of the sport. But that Association tars both with the same brush and looks upon the unregistered meeting as disdainfully as it considers the purely professional undertaking. A hard and fast line must, however, be drawn somewhere, and severe as the regulations of the A.A.A. may appear to be in some instances, there is no doubt that their action is entirely in accordance with the best interests of those amateurs who are loyal to the provisions made by the laws of the predominant body.

Canterbury, Gravesend A.C, Northfleet Institute, Cliffe-at-Hoo, Rainham, Ramsgate, Birchington-on-Sea, Maidstone, Kent County Constabulary, Ashford United, Smeeth, Charing, Headcorn, High Halden, Chatham, Sittingbourne, Bexley Heath, and Orpington all hold sports every year - some of them in connexion with local flower shows - but it is impossible to say which of these are registered, unregistered or professional meetings, even if it were advisable to state the fact.

For a long time past, and indeed through-out the whole of its athletic career, although perhaps never more so than at the present time, Kent has been an unsettled county in the matter of its athletic principles, and the meeting that is registered to-day is more than likely to be unregistered, or even admittedly professional, tomorrow'.

I was  interested in the discussion of amateurism (covered here previously). A lot of athletics history gives the impression that at this time, running was either 'amateur' or 'professional', whereas it seems there was a big grey area in between of  'unregistered' athletics involving people who perhaps just didn't want the cost and hassle of complying with AAA regulations.