Melissa Todd: Recording lives with Roger Allen and Kaspaar

Roger Allen

When I trundle my way round the care homes, singing loudly for forgiving or deaf old ladies, I find many of them are keen to tell me their life stories, but always apologetic for it. They rattle through their assorted jobs, travels, marriages, and always end with “anyway, sorry dear, you get on, you don’t want to hear all this.” But actually, most of the time, I really do.

I love other people’s stories. I write better than I talk; embroil me in conversation and you’ll find all I can really contribute is a ready pair of ears. I am a listener. Probably that’s why I was initially embroiled in Roger Allen’s Kaspaar recordings. I love encouraging people to talk about themselves.

Recording voices allows us to chart a piece of social history. No chance of fake news when it’s people’s own voices being recorded, the doings, interests and talents of ordinary folk, going about their daily business. We tend not to sit down to hear our family’s stories anymore: we’re all constantly busy instead, scrolling between memes, running between work and chores.

An oral legacy is invaluable because the words chosen in casual conversation, the accent, the dialect, are as intriguing as the content, as much part of the narrative. And nothing is more instantly compelling than the human voice.

The indomitable Roger Allen is committed to collecting as many local voices as possible, and sends me out to meet some extraordinary people and make them spill their hearts. I spoke to my mum first. Now, I thought I knew my mum’s story pretty well, dance prodigy, Royal Ballet pupil, sang and danced her way round the world, but it turned out I barely knew the half of it. She spent six months as a backing dancer for Ray Charles, for heaven’s sake! Why would you never mention that? Or that in between dance gigs she somehow wound up assisting a trampolinist with his vaudeville routine?

But in truth it’s the tiny details that mean most. She told me about scrabbling for pennies to buy ballet shoes: smashing the ice from the basin on winters’ mornings before she could wash: the girls who fainted at every rehearsal, to be stepped over perfunctorily by the hardier dancers.

These are the elements that colour a life. Since interviewing my mum I’ve met actors, writers (including our very own Matthew Munson! What a fine chap), musicians, politicians, campaigners, and a master dredger, which was challenging, because until I was ten minutes into the interview I’d no idea what that meant.

If you have a story you want told and recorded, something your grandchildren can treasure or cringe at down the years, do get in touch. Come talk to me. I’m all ears.

Have a listen to; find Melissa’s interviews here

1 Comment

  1. What a wonderful piece! Thank you Melissa for prompting people to think about their legacies, and helping to give people a sense of their forebears and some understanding of their place in their family. How I wish I had done this with my parents – when I cleared their house I found so many items and notes that hinted at things they had done about which I knew nothing.

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