A visit to the Manchester archive

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A visit to the Manchester archive is a 2009 message by Martin Guy to the Delia Derbyshire mailing list by describing his first visit to the University of Manchester to meet David Butler, listen to some of Delia's Attic Tapes and view her Attic Papers. It contains a few scraps of information from the papers.[1]


A visit to the Manchster [sic] archive

Martin Guy, Aug 30, 2009 10:56 PDT 

   A few weeks ago I gathered my dole money together and forked out
for a train ticket to Manchester.
   David Butler turns out to be a perfectly likeable chap. I arrived
at about midday, found the university campus and he invited me to
dinner in an anonymous cafe nearby, then we returned to his centre to
get down to business.
The Delia Attic Tapes consist of 267 physical tapes, which I didn't
bother viewing, and a supermarket-type box of manilla folders brim
full of her own notes, various letters, newspaper articles and sheets
of synthesizer settings for her pieces. She seems to have been very
methodical about keeping the documentation relevant to each piece in
   Most of the visit we spent sitting in a stuffy room while he played
me various pieces form the archive off his laptop, sucking the files
from a server on the local network.
He showed me a table in a word document listing the tapes, numbered
from DD001 to DD267, with notes describing their labels and presumed
contents. This is as close as they get to a catalogue of the archive,
and unfortunately it has not been made public.
   Her music for the Brighton festival is there, consisting of a
medley of other pieces, but not just a concatenation of pieces, but
wth a careful blending and "bridges" between the themes. I asked him
for a copy but he blustered about "I could into trouble". Sigh.
One of the tapes is a recording of a radio broadcast that includes a
few seconds of the lost Bermange "Evenings of Certain Lives" piece.
Unfortunately the excerpt is only a few tens of seconds and consists
mostly of untreated spoken voice.

The box of papers is staggering. It contains her original "dope
sheets" for the VCS3 which give the exact settings used to create the
sounds for various pieces. More importantly, it is a record of many
pieces of music that she worked on, which are otherwise unknown.
   Let me give a few examples that I managed to jot down while David
sat working on something else. From my scribbled notes:

25 April 1963
"To: Associated British Picture Corporation
For creating the "In a Monastery Garden" sequence of "The Cracksman".
The instrument is an Eb safe-unlocking mechanism
Hope you like it
      Delia Derbyshire"

"The Evenings of Certain Lives, broadcast on the Third Programme, 8:45
Sept 9 1965

"Amor Dei: A Vision of God"

"An ABC in Sound"

10 July 1966, her address is 46 Downshire Hill, London NW3

1 Jan 1968, re: Music for "Work is a Four-Letter word"
From: Delia Derbyshire
"It was delightful to work on but didn't cover the costs of the studio
- a paper loss of 350 pounds."

"Music for 'I measured the skies', a BBC2 biography of Johann Kepler.
Thanks from John Glenister
10 March 1970
From John Glenister to D. Briscoe: "His primitive ideas on 'The
Harmony of the Spheres' were realized with incredible sensitivity and
emotive power by Delia's music. Please pass on my sincere thanks and

8 July 1970
"The Bagman, or, 'The Imprompu of Muswell Hill' entered by the BBC for
the Italia Prize 1970

"The Dark Ages" by Bernard Kips
1 May 8:00 on the Third Programmme, to be repeated May 17.
The third part of a trilogy:
1. Home Sweet Home
2. The Lemmings

26 Aug 1970, Letter from Delia to Pierre Henry
"Noting your interest in unusual time signatures I wonder whether you
know the music of "Soft Machine", a jazz-oriented pop group who
specialise in these."
Ref: Philips 4FE 8004

Barry Bermange: 5 colours
19-23 August:
   19 August: tapes dubbed into categories
   21-23: organise music
26-30: each section treated and mixed with music
2-6 september: sections put together

Thursday September 3rd 1970
Woman's Guardian newspaper article
"She read maths at Girton where Judy Innes, the fashion writer, Andrew
Sinclair, novelist and historian and Peter Cook were at residence in

The famous photograph of the Unit Delta Plus racks of equipment is
pasted into the back of the programme of their "Concert of Electronic
Music" and is credited to Carolyn Clarke as "Part of the Studio of
Unit Delta Plus"

The Electric Storm, ILPS 9099, is reviewed (negatively!) in "Time Out
in London, Sat Sept 27 - Sat Oct 11"

"She is the only surviving daughter of a sheet-metal worker in Coventry"

David Butler seems to be a frightened man who doesn't understand the
cultural importance of the works given into his care. He spoke of how,
after the publication of the article about the "Lost tapes of the Dr
Who composer", he recieved emails from several musicians who had
created derivative works of that music, and how that had driven him
over the edge into a nervous breakdown in which he contracted shingles
and "nearly died".
As we left the room, he looked terrified, clutching his laptop to
his chest as if he feared I might snatch it off him, and as I stepped
outside into the free air, a great sadness descended onto me.
   It seems to me that this small academic is only interested in the
Delia archive as a way to get funding into his department, the malaise
of British academia since the 1990s. He talks of nothing but getting
funding and posts (an MSc and an archivist) on the strength of it but
shows no understanding of what he. following in the footsteps of Mark
Ayres, is sitting on.
An obsure Italian monk put it well in 1592: "He who finds a treasure
and does not make it manifest for the common good damages the
collective wealth".
That seems o be the status of this treasure trove of Delia's unheard
music. May history prove me wrong.