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The Beginnings - Transcript

A LIFE IN SOUND – EPISODE 1 - THE BEGINNINGS

00:00

If I was to say, what part of my life would I change? I would say nothing. I would say I would do it all again. All the struggles, all the heartache, all the journey that I've been on. I would say do it again, you know.

00:23

This is Martyn Stewart with a life in sound from the listening planet.

00:36

We're gonna start at the beginning. Let's start at the very beginning. This might take us a very long time. I think what you need is some intro music. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to Amanda Hill here in the studio in sunny Oregon. We're talking to an idiot down in Florida that makes no sense whatsoever. We're gonna tell your story in all of its shades, Martyn. Have you pressed record yet? Today we said we would do the beginnings.

01:05

And I know that one of the most frequently asked questions that you get is, how did it all start? So I want you to spiral back in time to your home in Birmingham and I want you to try and explain to me how did all of this fascination with the natural world and recording begin? I suppose because it's with you I give it a lot more thought. But you know like you said I've been asked that a thousand

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times, how did you get into it? Why did you get into it? What did you get from it and all there? The obvious things what I got from it was just this wonderful connection that I couldn't get with family and friends. I had such a disruptive family that gave me an excuse to find something other than family love. You know there was there was no love

02:01

at home, I can't even remember my mum ever saying I love you. I'm going to make my mum sound really bad here. And I don't remember my dad being at home. I only ever remember arguments and they were kind of put to the back of my head. But I was lucky that I had an older brother, your uncle, Alan, who was four and a half years older than me.

02:29

and he had a love for the natural world, he was just, he sotted with it, you know, and in those days, say I was about five in 1960, and there wasn't a lot of people about, and there were more fields and more habitat, more places to go and get lost in the woods, and tall grasses and frogs and things that were all around.

02:58

Foxes visit your garden even though you're in some sort of a council estate. You still had wildlife that was, you know, you were interacting with. You could have foxes at night. You could have owls hooting from trees. So my brother, Alan, I remember a farm about a mile from the house where I was born. On opposite the farm was a pool, a little pond.

03:26

and it had reeds and bulrushes and cow slips and kinds of stuff. And in those days, you used to have jars of jam, and you kept the jars because your mom had put some sort of cereal in there or some lentils to make soup, label them up and put them in the cupboard.

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So we had tools with us all the time, so that you could go and examine, you could scoop the water in a pond, and then watch everything that's swimming around. And I think the first critter that I ever had this kind of communication with was a Daphnia. It's a little pond life, swimming around, multiple Daphnia in this thing. And then there'd be these

04:21

strange long-legged water boatman and you know and then probably a tadpole. So going back and forward to that pond was like a daily ritual. It didn't matter you know you Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday you went to school but you could go to these places after school and be there a part of it. I mean I had mates but your mates were also into the

04:51

I used to just love that. And Alan took me on a journey. He didn't mean to do that, but he took me on a journey into wildlife and I developed that kind of curiosity.

05:05

When I started to record, I was much older. But when you say much older, you mean 11? Well, yeah, I mean, the pond was about, you know, I was about five or six. Because we, I had two houses growing up. One was in this real dreadful council estate in a place called Norfield in Birmingham. And the name of the road was like doom and gloom. Bangham Pit Road. It was like, you know,

05:37

I live in a road called Bangham Pit Road. It just seemed like that's the end of the world. And I went to school for about a year in that area. And then my mom was always in trouble. She was always, the bailiffs were always after her and all kinds of stuff. You never know, when the door knocked, you had to shut up and keep quiet. You had to stay still, don't go by the window. Curtains were always drawn.

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and you'd wait for the bailiff or the collector, the debt collector or whatever to piss off. And then you could carry on playing whatever you were doing in the house. And the second house that we moved to was about six miles away across the other side of the reservoir in a place called Bartlett Green. And you could walk through the fields, through the woods.

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ran the reservoir back to the pond that we used to do, and we used to do that frequently. But then the woods became another place. So six, seven, eight, nine, 10, I was playing in the cornfields in the woods. It was the same sort of habitat that you just couldn't help falling in love with. The farmer would cut the hay every autumn, and you'd make dens and do all sorts of stuff.

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there'd be badgers and hedgehogs and I had this fascination with buzzing sounds like hoverflies and kinds of things that made funny noises, wings, wasps and whatever and I used to stick them into a jar, I used to catch them, put them in a jar and I'd punch the lid out with a hole so I could listen to the sounds of these things and later on Alan formed a rock and roll band with his

07:32

friend and I nicked his mic this one day and your dad, John, my oldest brother, he had this reel to reel tape recorder that ran on big thick batteries and I had this tape and I erased that tape multiple times, you know, recording all different things and I would develop a technique of not holding the microphone but I would put the microphone onto a branch or into the...

08:01

pivot edges and press the record button and see what I could get. And the sounds were fascinating. And then I had that thing for some years. And then when I started to want more media and I got myself a paper round. So I could, my mum had nicked 50 pence or whatever, 10 bob off me. And then whatever I could scratch together, I'd buy more media.

08:30

which was cool. And then I started to save what I'd recorded. And the times when we had no food on the table were the times where it didn't really matter. I can go in the woods. I'm not gonna be called back for tea, to have dinner or breakfast or whatever it was. So it became almost an escape from poverty and boredom.

08:59

Yeah, totally, totally. Complete escape. Paint the picture for me, Martyn, If you think of the soundscapes of your youth, tell me what sounds you can hear. There was, there was, there was your dad, John, who's like seven, nearly eight years older than me. Then there's Alan, four, four and a half years older than me. And then there was me.

09:29

And then there was Karen. So Karen was 18 months younger than me. And that was it, you know. And the household was hellish. It was just hellish. So the best place for me was always across the road. And luckily, you know, there was a green belt that went forever and ever. There was many. But where was Eric? He was gone then. He was gone. Eric.

09:56

who years later I discovered wasn't my dad. So my mom had multiple affairs with all kinds of stuff. And then I had two new sisters. As I got older, Michaela arrived. I think Michaela's about eight years younger than me. And then Liz arrived and she's about 11 years old, younger than me. And then years later I discovered there was another boy who my mom had.

10:25

I discovered when I was 51 that I had a brother called Simon who is Karen's real brother. And Eric Hill, my stepdad, demanded that she gave him up after two weeks of giving birth. So it's a fucked up family, you know. You had to have something in your life.

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You'd have a soap opera for years on end. There was always something dramatic going on, always some sort of conflict, always something. My school was about two miles away, little infant school where I started. And it took about 15 minutes to get to school. So you went down through the shops, down the road up this big hill, up to the gates of the school, and then in you go, but my mom...

11:24

wouldn't go to the post office to pick up her allowances. So Monday, she used to get a family allowance and Tuesday she got social security allowance. So every nine o'clock I had to go a mile away from the house to go and pick up her money from a guy called Fred Moss in a post office. I used to hate that bastard. He used to look at me and think, you rabble, you know.

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and I'd have these scruffy shorts on and a scruffy jumper. And I'd pick up her money and run all the way home, give it to her, run all the way to school, and get the cane every morning for being late. Used to literally whack me on my ass when I was late, and then the school would send letters to my mom to say he's always late, and I was saying, you're always getting me into trouble.

12:22

So that happened every Monday and that happened every Tuesday. I was the one who had to go to the post office. And when my mom had spent the money by the Wednesday, she was terrible at managing money. It was awful. Then I was the guy who had to go and knock on the neighbor's house for a pound, you know, and beg away. So consequently, as a kid of a poor family, I was entitled to three meals at school, but I wouldn't put my hand up for them. So every dinnertime.

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I would pretend I was going home for my dinner, and I'd walk around the woods. I'd sit in the trees, and I would listen to the animals. And that was a sanctuary. And it was something that was just really special.

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I think the first time that I saw it.

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animal getting abused was a horse, a rag and bowman from around the neighborhood, screaming out you know any old rags and stuff and of course I'd take me mum's clothes and give them so I could get a goldfish or whatever you know in a plastic bag.

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I saw this horse struggling, couldn't take it anymore, pulling the stuff and it fell to the ground and this guy's beating a horse to get up. And I cried my eyes out, couldn't believe someone could do that to an animal. And I'm going away from the first recording of course, but it's all kind of connected with the love of animals.

14:10

the environment itself. When I took that microphone and your dad's recorder with me, started recording, there were all kinds of critters and most of the critters that made a noise were like the birds. The birds were always chirping and stuff and springtime was just this majestic orchestra every morning before the sun came up. And I would go across the fields to where this big oak tree used to work.

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just at the opening of the woods and listen to this dawn chorus and the tape would only last, you know, seven or eight minutes so I didn't ever capture the full beauty of it. I knew as I was getting older that I was always going to keep this audio diary. I knew I was going to keep that. And to this day now, you know, it won't be the first recording I've ever made but I...

15:07

I have one of the Blackbird recordings I took from the Bluebell Woods that I used to go into. And did you think of it Martin as a diary? Because the thing that always amazes me is everything is so meticulously catalogued. You've written down from such a young age the day you did it, where you were, what species it was. I'm just curious about that little boy. You know, we're talking in this moment from the age of eight to about 11 years old, right, when you start really recording.

15:35

but not just the love of nature but the desire to want to capture it and record it is something quite unique. Like why sound and why the recording and why the meticulous note taking? I mean so young to start doing that so I'm really curious about why. I suppose sound was something that you could disappear with you

16:04

Every Sunday we used to have the Sunday night theatre or we had a program called The Archers or something like that. The Archers is still going on. Are they really? Oh my God. Surely they're not still alive. Surely, surely. But I used to love listening to the radio. We didn't have a telly, so sound become...

16:32

an important part of your life and it was escapism. You had somebody standing beyond a microphone pretending they were Fred Giles or whatever, and you became part of that story. And then they had sound effects. They had, you know, birds and winds and rain and cars going down the road and someone walking into a grocery shop with a bell ding above the door. And it was wonderful.

17:03

So sound intrigued me. I didn't know that I was going to keep an audio diary. Not until I was probably 20. And the reason I did that then was because obviously I had a job and I could buy better equipment. And once I bought this real beautiful Nagara recorder, I started buying tape and collecting everything I did. And then I kind of expanded out.

17:32

I went to not just the Bluebell Woods, I'd go to Frankley Beaches, or I'd do an excursion by foot, because I wasn't driving around. I'd go to Bell Broughton, or I'd go to Harvington Hall, and these were all places Alan used to take me. We would walk 25 miles as young kids through the fields, dodge the bull in the field, you know, there's cows there, and then Alan would say, I'm sure that's a bull over there.

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And when you got to the middle of the field, you knew it was a bull and you had to practice your running. So the route to Bell Broughton and to Harvington Hall was, I see it, you know, like it's yesterday. Down the hedgerow, down the side of the Bluebell Woods, across the farm, over the gate, up to Frankley Church.

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trail up to Franklin Beaches down Longhill Lane, I think it was down this huge windy road down to Bell Broughton and then through Bell Broughton down to the quarry and then from the quarry to Harvington Hall where there was this beautiful old manor house with a moat all the way around it and there was no infrastructure, you know there's no planes, I don't ever remember a plane, nobody

19:00

No, I'm just saying, there was never a leaf blower or an ATV blasting away or cell phone interference. It was pristine. It was just beautiful. So sound was escapism for me. So I think when I was about 20, when I started to collect the tapes, we didn't have computers. We didn't have any of that stuff. No other way to log stuff down except little books and journals.

19:30

There used to be these little ladybird books where you would have a ladybird icon on the top of it, just lined paper. And I'd write stuff in it. So today is raining and it's, you know, 1965. And I'm doing this, that and the other. I did one of my first essays at school about the Bluebell Woods.

19:59

when you walked into there. No, I didn't describe it as a visual. I did it as a sound. So you stepped over the brook, you heard the brook coming through and then the blackbird would be calling in, the nuthatch and the wren and the song thrush. And then if you were lucky, you would see a hawk and then scream out because, you know, it was after something. It was magical. I always hear about the bluebell woods.

20:28

and it's one of my favorite recordings. Tell me, I want five other sounds of your youth from where you lived, like home, that you can really, I know today you'll remember them as much as you did back then, but just pick five from the very beginning. Magpie. Okay, tell me about the magpie. He was, well, he was like anyone in the neighborhood, you'd go next door.

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you would um so you fit right in magpie you do you see we used to have milk floats come in every day and the milkman would deliver milk to the houses the neighborhood and then if you were rich enough you'd have a bottle of orange or some eggs and potatoes and well we didn't have any of that but i used to hide behind

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you know, when the milkman came up, I'd go and nick a bottle of milk and then hide. And they used to have those little silver tops on the thing so that you'd pop them off. And when it was cold in the morning and your milk bottle was on the doorstep, Russ would push the cream to the top and lift the lid. And I kind of looked at the magpie, the magpie would get anything that was shiny.

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And it also, it called like some cheeky cockney, you know, it was like, I've just nicked that stuff down the road, you know.

22:05

So the magpie was called the Maggie. You know, there's a Maggie over there in the field. See if it's licking something. The blackbird always, the blackbird. Blackbird was my mate. What kind of character was the blackbird? The blackbird was the friend of the poacher. I describe him as the alarmist. He's the guy who's in the woods.

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or sitting on a fence or a post. And he's the nosy git. He's the one who's looking around at everything and he's knowing what's going on. And if someone's intruding, someone's alien to that environment that it's in, you give an alarm call and it's almost like, what's he fucking doing over there, you know? And he'll...

23:03

What's he doing? And he gets closer and then he scorns it. So I say the poacher's friend, if the poacher is in the woods trying to do something that he's not supposed to do, the blackbird would alarm and notify the poacher that someone's coming into the woods. So I heard this from a guy in Spain, some years

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later about 1994 when I was living there and he was an old poacher and he told me the story about How his mate the blackbird was and I said you've got to be kidding me I used to always think the blackbird was the guy Who alerted me if someone coming in so I could hide under the bracken and he used to say I used to go You know poaching for salmon and fishing rivers and all that stuff and the and the blackie would be there

24:03

Notifying me if someone was coming. It's the best, you didn't have to install cameras, you didn't have to install tripwire or whatever, you had the Blackbird. And he used to use the Blackbird for those reasons. And I used to use the Blackbird for the reasons of my solitude was about to be broken. I didn't want someone in my woods. And...

24:31

Those days, all the kids played outside. There was no computer games, no Xboxes, not a lot of people had televisions either. So kids played in the streets, kids played in the fields, but I was always the one in the woods. And the blackbird was my mate in the woods. So the Maggie, the blackbird.

25:00

The Skylark. OK, tell me about the Skylark. Well, the Skylark was somebody, a bird that took me on a trip without drugs. Skylark, when it flew up, when it ascended, it had this fantastic song. You could hear it before you could see it. You could spend ages on your back. Look, there's the health of the Skylark. It's up there. There it is.

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you know, you see this little dot. And then when it descended, it started, and it stopped singing. So you knew it had seen its prey or whatever it was after, ready to go. Took you on a journey, imaginary, of course, and you, this little bird is doing this all the time, going up as high as possible, and then watching from above and then coming down.

25:58

And you're imagining, wow, what's that? Ooh. And when I recorded that the first time, I never kept it because it was distant sound. It was one of those sounds you could never get close to with a parabolic dish. I didn't have a parabolic dish then. You couldn't get close because it was way up in the sky. And it was just magical. And then my mom is into...

26:29

classical music. She used to have a painting on the wall called the cornfield and it was painted by John Constable. And in the painting is a little pathway where a little boy is walking sheep down and he's lying on his belly drinking water from a pond.

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in the background is church and I believe that that was frankly beaches you know and frankly church and the sky lark was featured in Vaughan Williams piece the lark ascending and i married the two together and that you know

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I probably get a bit emotional now

27:29

But I think the one thing about England itself is like cornfields and beautiful trees and skylarks in the sky. And that kind of English music that seems a bit like green sleeves and stuff, the lark ascending, if the skylark became extinct

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UK that would be my world just disappear and thank God you know it's healthy. One of the things I always loved about the Skylark is how little it is and so for this tiny little unassuming bird yes for a song so remarkable to people you wouldn't look at it you wouldn't think it was anything special you can sometimes feel invisible as a human being yet the Skylark for me was a fine example of like I'm this little and I'm brown and not very pretty really

28:28

And yet my song has been memorialised by poets and artists and... Yeah. It's amazing. It's amazing. Amazing little bird. When you talk about characters like the magpie and the blackbird and then the beauty of the skylark you'd wonder why I'd pick the house sparrow as the number four. Okay, tell me about the house sparrow.

28:57

The house sparrow was the bird that lived in the eaves of the houses. And it was just one stupid call, you know, just a chirp. And it was a drab, grey, brown bird, you know, that looked like it got a grey overcoat on all its life. And it was drab and there's a rain cloud standing over its head. But it...

29:26

Its very presence was kind of comforting. The house sparrow was always there. And the house sparrow in a dawn chorus is like taking away a cello if it's not there. And it's one of them that's always present. You know, if you go to a party and Bill's always in the party, he was in the kitchen drinking a pint.

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And you'd say, and if Bill doesn't turn up, something's wrong. You go and look. Well, that's like the sparrow. You know, the sparrow is Bill and he's in the kitchen and you know, he's going to be there. And all the colorful people that are around. I want to stand by the sparrow and talk to him because he's the guy with the stories. He's the guy who hangs around, you know, the garden.

30:20

And then when you come to gardens, I'd say the robin. The robin kind of gave me the feeling of Christmas. If you had the snowfall, we had a lot of snow in those days. We don't see the snow like we used to. We used to have actual white Christmas, very regular. And if you were in the garden, there'd be a robin, you know.

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standing on a shovel, on the handle of a spade or whatever. And its song is beautiful, but you knew it was there by its chipping as well. There was a distinctive chipping.

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and you knew the Robin was there. And with its red breast and standing against the snow, it was just like Christmas card. You know, it's there. So the Robin, you have to throw in the song Thrush as well because the song Thrush was another one of those birds that had just this song. I love the Thrushes. I, you know, the blackbirds in the Thrush family and I love those. And

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If you went to places like Bell Broughton or Harvington Hall or places like that, you'd always see the magpie, the skylark, the robin, the house sparrow, and the song thrush. You'd always see those. And if you didn't, there'd be something wrong. And remember, Mandy, those days we didn't have indicators of the problems that were going on in the planet. You know, now...

32:06

The house sparrow is suffering. That's unthinkable to me. The house sparrow is not present. And that is a barometer to what's going on around houses. Modern houses that are being built don't have those eaves anymore. And the house sparrow used to thrive because people used to have livestock around the neighborhood. And they'd feed.

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you know, grain and corn and the house borough fed on that. And when all that started to disappear and when people started to tarmac their drives, take away their gardens, the house borough deteriorated. So it became, you know, a popular bird to an unpopular bird in the space of 40. Yeah. So many of the stories over the years, but one of the ones I always loved the most and my son loves as much.

33:04

is this idea of you lying on the forest floor as a young kid and the stories that you would make. I mean, they make me laugh every single time you do it, but the stories you'd make up of the conversations that would be happening in the forest. I'm just curious around how much you led your imagination to supply when you were young. You're listening to all these sounds. And I remember the time that you told me when you suddenly realized they weren't sounds, it was a language and they were talking to each other. So I'd love you to explain.

33:32

the language that you heard in the forest as a young child. Dawn chorus was always present and a lot of people just knew it was there. They didn't take it for granted. They knew it was there and it indicated that spring was on its way and summer was coming. And all these birds would appear, birds that were coming up from migratory paths would introduce themselves as a new bird.

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And you'd wonder why they weren't present in the autumn and the winter. And these birds had disappeared back to their wintering grounds. So you, you had new birds coming in to this morning orchestra. The dawn chorus, you knew was instant. And I, I lightened it to the morning news and

34:29

all these languages going off and these birds that were coming up from the south had different accents so they all lived in a certain part of the forest and a certain niche and I used to think you know because I'd listened to these theatre things on radio I used to think this is my own theatre thing going on radio theatre so the robin would be there and robin and the blackbird

34:59

And of course the crow as well, which is just a great guy. The crow is the bird where you expect him to be wearing a cloth cap and sweeping the streets. Because the crow is the member of the clean up brigade. Anything that was dead in the road, he cleaned it up, you know, picked it up and got rid of it. So he used to have a cloth cap on. And the local birds...

35:28

be present they knew the territory they knew lived on whatever street or whatever tree or whatever hole and when something like the chaffinch came up it'd be like where have you come from then i've come from down south oh well where's that then oh well i was down in morocco and um i just came across to see what it's like over here what's it like

35:58

Alright I suppose, what do you think Dave?

36:03

It's okay as long as you understand, you know, you don't put yourself out here. We're all local here. You're an imposter. You're coming in from somewhere else. Are you looking for some sort of other bird? Are you? You know, and that conversation would go on. And then when a new bird was there, he was a new character in the plot. So the Brits are very kind of suspicious about stuff.

36:31

And I kind of thought of it as the animal world as well. But I also love that they were all working. Because most of your birds were working class in your theatre production. Well, that's my background. You know, you knew Dave the Road Sweeper, you knew Pete the Milkman, you knew Harry the Coleman, you had the Rag and Boatman, you had the Baker, you had the Butcher, you had, you know, these characters were there, were all parts of these birds. And...

37:00

I want a pound of mince today. Oh, okay, you had a pound of mince last week. You're having shepherd's pie again. You know, it's, I love being in conversations like that. I love people watching, but birds do the same thing and they have different languages. And I learned from a very young age that they had dialects and they had specific languages that they communicated to each other. It's like you've been in a room. You go,

37:30

going to a function and there's a hundred people in the room and you hear this noise everyone's talking someone says Amanda and you someone just called my name and they could be in the far corner but you're tuned to your name you're tuned to that and as soon as someone triggers that that's what happens that's what happens with birds they someone can be oh I think I could get off with her

37:58

You know, she's really nice. And then the guys, the male birds are the ones who do all the vocalizations. They're the ones who standing in the corner of the pub waiting for the birds to come in, you know, fagging or point the beer, you know, that's mine. That is, I'll go over there. You go away. I'm just, she's mine. I saw her first. It's the most incredible thing. And then of course, the older I got, the more I understood about it.

38:27

you know, in depth, not just in the UK, but in America too, and in Europe as well. And you, you found out that blackbirds had different dialects wherever they were in Europe. So a blackbird, it's like, it's like the common market, used to call it in the old days. No European market was common market. You're going to get a common market coming down. We've got that blackbird coming from France. He's coming in here.

38:57

They're going to let him come in here. He's got that fancy bloody hat that he wears, you know. It's magical. And you can lose yourself like that. I think that's how I lost myself in sound. You can't get that from vision. Martin, did nobody... So when you were younger, you know, this young kid fascinated with nature sounds, did no one in your family or your friends think, it's a bit weird, it's a bit obsessive, or, I mean...

39:25

I didn't tell anybody. You didn't tell anyone? I didn't tell anybody. You know, I had a guy at school, teacher at school, Mr. Davis, his name was, he was a science teacher and he was a birder then. And he loved birds. And I stayed after class one day and I was talking to him about birds and things. And um.

39:54

I told him that I recorded stuff and he said that's great you know and bird language is brilliant. But my school, I could every teachers night you know parents night when they came down I would have my work piled up on my desk and it would be in the same shape the next day when I went back to school because nobody used to go and see my work. Nobody you know nobody really give a crap. So I was very kind of introverted.

40:23

us very much that way. Even when I got married, you know, Deb was very supportive to a degree, but she wasn't interested. So talk to me about this. We go from your 11 when you do your first recording, very young when you're first out in the woods. What happens between your youth to becoming one of the top sound recorders in the world? There's a massive gap here. So tell me, tell me

40:51

what that track looks like, you go from doing an audio journal at 20, now you're making it more serious, how do you go from being a child who loves the sound of nature to travelling to almost every single country and amassing such a large collection of sounds? I think every time we went on holiday I wanted to go to places like Scotland or Wales or

41:20

and I wanted to go to a farmhouse that's right there. I didn't want to go to the butlins or those kind of things. I didn't want to do city. And it was always that kind of, I wonder if we go there, I could be able to record something. We used to have these big books, A to Z, motor journal books, and you could see these maps. We used to have these incredible ordinance survey maps.

41:48

I used to collect these ordinance survey maps and they used to be in detail about it. So I'd say, you know, to my first wife, Deb, shall we go to, shall we go for a couple of weeks up to Scotland? Where are we going? Oh, stay here. What's there? I mean, it's nice walks. Yeah, but what can we do? There might be a pub there or whatever. Yeah, but what is there for me to, because you're going to go and

42:17

fuck off and record, I know it. So I did that. When I started going away, anywhere I went was planned around trying to record something. But when did you turn professional? So when did it go from being a hobby? I don't think I've ever been professional. I don't think. You've worked for major organisations around the world. Yeah, but I've also done other work. You know, I...

42:46

Because I love the planet so much, it was not just sound. I wanted to know about plant life. I wanted to know the metabolism of trees and plants. So I did a horticultural course at college. It was one day a week and I worked on a golf course. And of course I recorded all the birds on the golf course. I was stuck on the 19, tape going around recording.

43:16

you know, jays and stuff. And so I learnt about plants and I learnt about what belonged in shade and what belonged in light and how something thrived in ericaceous soil and alkaline and I was fascinated with that. So you're telling me, so you never thought of it as a job, you just basically kept collecting more equipment and at least you married two people who would go on these adventures with you. They would go.

43:46

Well, Roo was incredible. Most of the stuff I did with Deb, we covered tons. You know, the Channel Islands, the South, the North, Wales, the East, the Norfolk Cross. And Martin, no one was paying you to do this. You just did it. I did it. And money was spent on tape used to be expensive. And I used to sneak shit. You know, I'd...

44:13

find a way of buying tape and then coming home wrapped up in a newspaper so she didn't see it and then if I was caught taking the cellophane off a new tape box I've still got I don't know if you can see up the top I've still got some tapes up there up here on the shelf so most other husbands would be trying to sneak other things back you're trying to sneak back tape I'm snaking tape back my my mum I kind of let

44:43

I give my mum a bit of credit in a roundabout strange way here. My mum was a demon. She was what I would call a minx in so many ways. My mum was special in all the wrong ways. When I was 16, I took your dad's van, drove around the block. He was working for the church then and he had this mini van and I said to your dad, can I drive the van around the block?

45:12

He gave me the keys and I drove it around the block and the car caught me up and I smashed into the parked car. Guy came out and he's going, oh my God, you know, you've got your insurance. And I said, no, I ain't got a driver's license. I've got insurance. And they called the police and the police come and arrested me. I was 15. They took me to the lock up and they charged me and they threw the book at me and all that sort of stuff.

45:39

And I had to say I stole the van because your dad would have been in trouble if I'd have said he let me have it because he'd have been done for aid in the betting. So I got fined an extortionate amount of expense. You know, I had to pay all the expenses back because no insurance. And he used to give me mum four quid a week out of my way. This is how you're explaining to me that grandma helped you. OK, keep going. This is a roundabout way. It's quite roundabout and roundabout way.

46:08

And then a couple of years later, she comes in the bedroom in the morning, two o'clock in the morning, she said, I've got something to tell you. And I said, can you wait till the morning, mom? And she said, no, um, the money you've been giving me, I wasn't paying your bill off. And I said, what are you talking about? They said, well, the police here to take you away. So they took me into the middle of Birmingham in a pair of pajamas.

46:36

put me in a cell with these five drunks and stuff and someone took a crap in the toilet and the train was on the outside. It was horrible. So with her guilt, when she started working in hypnotherapy, she was getting a lot of money for what she was doing. She said to me, I've never got over what I did to you. Go into town and buy a tape recorder. Cause she knew.

47:01

She knew I did tape recording. She knew I was doing bird sounds and stuff like that. I think Liz and Michaela knew it as well. We used to have a lot of fun with the tape. So I bought this beautiful tape recorder and I had to end up buying the bloody thing because she, she couldn't maintain her promise. So she pushed me into getting a really lovely deck. But you ended up paying for it yourself anyway. I ended up paying for it. But from Deb.

47:31

And then we lived in Spain and I had a bar. I had a shop in Scotland for four years. We were the local greengrocers, grocer, off-license paper shop. And I served there and I had the glens. I had, I met Gavin Maxwell's best mate. I fell in love with a place called Camus Ferner that was the film Ring of Bright Water with Bill Travis and Virginia McKenna.

48:01

and the soundscapes up there was, I was in heaven, I was, it was just magical. I took my dogs on a Wednesday and I went into the Glens and I recorded and I recorded in the woods and I recorded in the faces of mountains or rolling hills and they did and I, I would say someone said what's the definition of heaven? I would say being out somewhere in nature with a recorder and a microphone.

48:30

I've always maintained that. So when I met Rue, then we traveled all over the place and she was amazing. She was brilliant. So supportive with stuff. I've got to ask you this. So when you met Rue, at what point in the relationship did you fess up and say, I've got this weird, like... Straight away. When I was down in Australia, I was recording bugs.

49:02

I was getting at a, we went to Corumban, which is Queensland or New South Wales. I said, let's go. She said, don't you want to go down the beach? I said, no, let's go in the rainforest. So I'll be there with a little microphone and recording all this stuff. And then, you know, in those days, new technology come out, which was mini disc. And it was like, wow, this is great.

49:29

I don't have to have this tape going, I could have longer recordings. I built a parabolic dish out of a squirrel baffler. I went to a pet shop and you know, where you have seed for birds hanging down and you got this big metal dish on the top so that squirrels couldn't slip off it, trying to get to the seed. And I turned it, I drilled it, made a hole, put a mic there. And then...

49:57

recorded species, so it magnified the sound of something chirping in it. And it was again, it was another world, it was a new way of recording. And everything that I've done in my life, every recording, every sound, I've done it from trial and error. Nobody taught me, nobody said this is what you're supposed to do. What's amazing to me though, Martin, is from the age of 20 years old, till today, still today, I remember then when there was a hurricane

50:26

and you're out in the hurricane recording. I mean you still can't stop but there's something fascinating about from the age of 20 you decide to do an audio diary essentially of life around you. 19. 19. 19 years old and the people that have had to go on that journey with you like this weird little curious hobby

50:54

It's quite, and you just did it for yourself. You just completely did it for love and for yourself. Well, do you keep a diary? No, I mean, my daughter does. That's incorrect. India does, but not my son. So India keeps a diary. Yeah, this was your equivalent. Why does she keep a diary? Yeah, I guess I've just never necessarily understood the compulsion. I never thought my life was important enough to write about, whereas, but you're recording other sounds. You're recording life around you.

51:22

I'm recording something, like I said from the start, you know, I didn't turn out to do it that way. I just wanted to collect sounds and I didn't, there was no references then. There was a guy called Eric Sims who worked for the BBC and I've still got his books and they're a thumb to hell, you know. Then there was the Collins books of British European birds. I've still got those books.

51:51

and I've got these little notes inside the books. So one of the things I find also interesting is when you were collecting all of these sounds over the years where did you think they were going to go? What do you think they were going to... So I have to remind you of the day when, must be two years ago now, Martin, a year and a half ago and you and I were talking about the fact that you're not well and under your desk is your life's work on a hard drive. And I remember my panic.

52:21

of 97,000 stem files, 35,000 hours of sound just sitting under your desk in Florida and it could be wiped out with one tornado and so you've collected all of this stuff, so much of it done quietly and in silence, not just you being silent but your reputation, you didn't push yourself out there into the world that way. So at what point do you kind of look and go I've collected something that's really quite amazing, that's this

52:49

profound legacy for the natural world? Or did it just keep happening year after year? It kept happening. When Ru and I left Washington state and we decided to go and buy land and build property in Costa Rica, I never thought for one minute that humidity could damage hard drives and computer drives and decks and stuff. And I built this studio down there, which was my dream.

53:19

always wanted to do that and then it's in the middle of the jungle. Just fantastic. But when Rue and I parted, when we split up, I left my computer and my drives down in the studio thinking everything would be okay. When I went and bought this house in Florida, I went down to Costa Rica and get everything packed up that was to be taken with me. When I got back to the house here, when I fired up my drive,

53:48

which had 14 terabytes of data. All failing, the whole thing. I couldn't, I'm like, oh my God, what the hell am I gonna do? And it was in this raid drive called, the system was called a drobo system, which I believed was gonna be indestructible. I sent, I contacted a guy in California. He said that I could possibly build it, rebuild the drives.

54:18

But what you have to do is if there's 12 compartments, you have to take them out and number them so that we can put them into another raid drive and rebuild them. And then he would phone me up and say, we've got so much stuff, but I need another five grand. Then we went up to like $25,000. So I realized the importance of what it was. And then when I became ill, this beautiful niece of mine who really

54:47

nailed it home to me to say, what the fuck are you doing with all your stuff? And subconsciously I knew, but I had to be told. It's like, you know, put your fucking coat on, it's raining and I'm walking out with a t-shirt. You just have to be told sometimes otherwise. You just do it. So you're the one who's driven the importance of the drives.

55:17

You single-handed has done that. So we've got copies up in the cloud. We've got copies in drop boxes, got multiple drives back to up down here. Um, but I never, I never gave it the same thing was my journals, you know, my journals, my books in humidity down in Costa Rica, when you open a book up, sticking together the pages, there's a lot of stuff I couldn't read and a lot of books that I've lost. So when I was cataloging.

55:47

the metadata after you told me I had to put everything into order, which is a good thing. I want to, I want you to think for me and then we're going to close off today's recording. I'm going to ask you a harder question to close it off. Uh oh. If, no, no, no, not that hard, but if where you are today, so what would your, what would Martin Stewart say to that 11 year old boy today? If I was to say...

56:17

What part of my life would I change talking to myself? I would say nothing. I would say I would do it all again. All the struggles, all the heartache, all the journey that I've been on. I would say, do it again, you know. And if, if I was talking to an 11 year old person today, I would say you have to do it differently because the

56:45

The environment has swung so much and changed. I'm incredibly humbled by what I've been able to do. I've been able to do something that nobody of today could possibly have done. Yes, they can go out and record for another 30 years, but they'll tell you the story from 2023 until 2070, but it would be different. There's more challenges today than...

57:15

than what I had. So I would say to an 11 year old today, enjoy the journey and learn from it, and do it heartfelt, love it. You have to love what you're doing to be able to achieve the end result.

57:37

You've just experienced another journey on the Listening Planet podcast. Dive deeper into the world of natural sounds by connecting with us online. Visit our website or follow us on social media. Let the symphony of nature surround you wherever you go. Happy listening.

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