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The Real Accent Project: England Travel Blogs

North: Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds & Newcastle

Liverpool was the very first city on our ‘England’ app travels and an easy train journey from our London homes. Buoyed up by our American experiences, we were confident of finding appropriate people to record. Setting up appointments before we left just hadn’t worked out so the plan was to visit some city pubs and get chatting to the locals.

We found the ‘right’ pub only an hour after jumping off the train. By ‘right’, I mean a place where the locals were keen to talk. Gavin struck up a conversation with Jamie almost immediately. His accent was exactly what we were looking for plus he had an amazing story to tell. Jamie had lived in Liverpool his whole life, except for eighteen months spent in a Costa Rican jail for drug running. He was now working to turn his life around. We set up an appointment for the following afternoon and he promised to bring his sister, Kelly, as well.

The next morning we appeared on BBC Radio Merseyside to talk about our app project. I’d already been on BBC Radio London but this was our first radio experience together. The initial question threw us slightly ('What exactly is an app?') but then we were able to relax. Most importantly, vast numbers of people phoned in who were keen to record with us.

Full of adrenalin after the show we made our way back to the hotel to meet Jamie and his girlfriend, Beth, who’d come along as a curious observer. Jamie’s was a fairly long session: he was a non-stop talker and had a lot to tell us. Soon after, his older sister, Kelly, arrived and, after testing out her accent, we decided to record her too. The results from both Jamie and Kelly are riveting, which you can hear on our app.

For our third speaker, we decided to contact each and every radio caller. This took some time on our return to London but the strategy paid off because we found Michelle, who manages a team of Criminal Justice Substance Misuse Workers for a drugs charity. Her Scouse accent is a little lighter, a little softer than Jamie and Kelly’s accent, providing a perfect balance. Therefore, we made a second trip to Liverpool just to record Michelle: an enjoyable session with lots of laughs.

Greater Manchester
Technically, we didn’t stay in Manchester (city) on our first trip there. Instead, we spent most of our time in Salford, partly because we’d set up recording sessions there and partly because we had a BBC Radio Manchester appearance in Media City, which is situated in Salford.

It was an early start: the breakfast show had decided to focus, exclusively, on the Manchester accent because of our appearance. However, although we arrived at the appointed time, we were made to wait…and wait…and wait. The problem was that most of Manchester wanted to call in and talk ‘accents’ on air, which meant we could only be squeezed into the very end of the show. Fabulous that the topic inspired so many listeners: annoying that we had to get up incredibly early and then just hang around.

In the afternoon (a little bleary eyed) we headed off to record Steve, who runs a pub in Salford. We’d set up the appointment before we left through a friend of his whom I’d worked with on a show. After meeting some of the regular drinkers, we recorded Steve in his Aunt’s flat above the pub. In the early evening, we recorded Michael, Steve’s friend, who comes from Rochdale. Like Salford, Rochdale is part of the metropolitan county of Manchester.

Steve and Michael were wonderful recording subjects but we were still short of a female Manchester City voice. This meant organising yet another trip so we could record Rachel, who works as an administrator at Manchester Metropolitan University. A friend of mine, who runs the School of Theatre there, recommended Rachel (and her accent). Luckily, we were able to record at the university and just needed to manage ‘takes’ in between student noise down the corridors.

Leeds was always going to be a little easier in our hunt for native speakers. Gavin was born and raised there so we were spoilt for choice with his family and friends.

Our first recordings were with Doreen and Denis (Gavin’s Aunt/Uncle) and Denise (his cousin). It was a lively and long session over many cups of tea (you can hear the clink of cups and saucers if you listen hard enough). In the late afternoon, we headed off on a local bus to a lovely village near Boston Spa to record Paula, and, in the evening we were back in East Leeds with Tony and Kelly (Gavin’s friends). I don’t think we’ve ever recorded so many people in the one day. In fact, we didn’t finish until midnight, completely knackered and starving. Plus, my jaw actually ached from laughing so much over Kelly’s dry Yorkshire humour (or perhaps the ache was from supressing laughter so that it didn’t end up on the app).

In the end, we collected so much material from Leeds that we simply couldn’t use all of it on the app: there just wasn’t enough room for Doreen and Paula. Such a shame.

Newcastle upon Tyne / Gateshead
Like Liverpool, we hadn’t been able to set up recording appointments in Newcastle before travelling. So, like Liverpool, we made our way to a city pub where we soon struck up a conversation with Lyndsay and Edd. Lyndsay’s accent was light and lovely while Edd’s was a little rougher round the edges: a perfect contrast. A few pints later and we’d set up a meeting for the following day. However, we still needed a third recording subject. Initially, we approached two policemen walking their beat: no luck. Then we struck gold with a couple of parking attendants, who put the call out to their colleagues. I think our humble app request did the rounds of a number of parking enforcement offices. In no time at all we had calls flooding in from the family and friends of those who worked in the parking industry, which is how we found Jamie and Geoff from Gateshead.

The next day we had four recording sessions, all at our hotel, which kept the staff chatting amicably about Geordie accents every time we went to reception to meet a new person. Lyndsay and Edd were brilliant subjects. The only problem was that Edd had a nasty case of laryngitis, which compromised his upper range of speaking notes. Geordie has a wonderful rollercoaster ride of a tune so we really needed those upper notes. We recorded him anyway in the hope that we could use some of it on the app; however, when we listened to the sound files back in London, it just hadn’t worked. So sorry, Edd.

Soon after we recorded Jamie, who was born in Sunderland but moved to Gateshead when he was two years old. He was a little nervous and started out by putting on a ‘posh’ accent and it took us some time to chat through to his ‘real’ accent. Once we were there, the session was a breeze. After that was Geoff, also from Gateshead, with a stronger and more traditional Geordie sound. The session was a long one because Geoff had so many fabulous stories to tell us, including about his grandmother who went on the Jarrow march to London in the 1930s (demanding one job per person for the North-East) and the time he took part in a naked Spencer Tunick group photo shoot on Quayside.

Final Thoughts

A diverse range of experiences on our travels through the North of England: posh radio studios to dodgy city pubs. Huge thanks to our fantastic recording subjects who gave up their time so willingly: Jamie, Kelly, Michelle, Steve, Michael, Rachel, Doreen, Denis, Denise, Paula, Tony, Kelly, Lyndsay, Edd, Jamie and Geoff. However, we couldn’t have found them without the help of: BBC Radio Merseyside, BBC Radio Manchester, Paul-Michael Jones (dancer/actor), David Shirley (School of Theatre, Manchester Metropolitan University), Gavin’s Mum and the parking attendants of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, whose names we don’t remember. Thank you all.