Popular and portableAlthough heavily associated with Irish, Scottish, and other Celtic folk music, the penny whistle (also known as the tin whistle) originated in Manchester, where it was invented by Robert Clarke in about 1840. The firm he founded continues to make almost identical instruments today. The penny whistle is closely related to instruments such as the recorder and flageolet, all of which are known as “fipple flutes“. The penny whistle’s easy fingering and affordable price have made it one of the most popular folk instruments in Britain.
Strings at the South PoleAlthough this is an ordinary banjo, it has an extraordinary story. This instrument was taken along on Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated Antarctic voyage of 1914. Shackleton’s ship, the Endurance became entrapped, and was eventually sunk, by ice. This banjo was played by the expedition’s meteorologist, Leonard Hussey, to buoy the spirits of the stranded explorers. Shackleton said of the instrument: “We must have that banjo. It is vital mental medicine”. After much hardship Shackleton was able to rescue his crew without a single loss of human life.
Bespoke brassThe image of the Salvation Army band playing is as much a part of Christmas as mistletoe and presents underneath the tree. The Salvation Army took its brass bands seriously; so seriously that the organisation for many years actually made its own bespoke brass instruments in its own factory, solely to meet the needs of its musicians. These examples show the quality and craftsmanship of Salvation Army band brass.
The postman's songAlthough now more typically found silently decorating the walls of country pubs, the sound of the post horn announcing the arrival of the mail coach would have once been some of the most familiar music heard in Britain. This post horn, at the Glenesk Folk Museum in northern Scotland, is particularly unusual in that its provenance is well documented; it was used as late as the 1930s on one of the very last horse-drawn mail coaches in Great Britain.
Music in battleAlthough it was made in France, this bugle played a small but poignant part in British history. It was given to an English ship captain by a French soldier during the evacuation of Le Havre in 1940, following the fall of France to the invading German army. The French soldier had used it to sound 'Retreat' and was ashamed of it.
Britain goes electricThe UK has made significant contributions to electric and electronic music. The VCS 3 was one of the first commercially available synthesisers to be small enough for practical live performance. It was much favoured by progressive rock bands at the turn of the 1970s such as King Crimson and Pink Floyd, and it continues to be used today by bands such as LCD Soundsystem, who are looking to get a “retro” sound.