Obituary: Madeau Stewart
October 6, 2006
Sad to see this morning of the death of Madeau Stewart, who, with A.L. Lloyd, did more than anyone else to make the folk music (as it was then called) of other countries known in Britain. As the Telegraph writes “she took on the task of augmenting the BBC’s early music and non-British folk and indigenous music archives, a job which involved travelling around the world to collect recordings from far-flung parts and gathering in material from itinerant contributors… As an interviewer she was known for her ability to draw out the particular personality of the artist, from the operatic diva to the shy young instrumentalist.” She also rescued the Victoria and Albert’s collection of historic musical instruments which were then languishing in a sadly neglected backwater of the museum’s department of Woodwork and Furniture. I like the image of her given by the Telegraph: “In the early 1960s she spent time on the island of Inch Kenneth, the home of her half-aunt, Lady Redesdale (she was also related to the Mitfords). There she enjoyed sitting on the rocks, playing her flute while seals flocked around her.”
As one of the ‘itinerant contributors’ I owe a debt of gratitude to Madeau for making it possible for me, whilst a penniless student, to go round France recording hurdy-gurdies (then unknown in Britain, nowadays you can buy plastic ones in Tesco). She lent me from the BBC engineering department what was then cutting edge technology, a device that recorded sound on tape(!), worked off batteries and weighed half a ton. She also introduced me to a French countess who took me from Paris to the Auvergne in a 2cv which she drove as if she was on the last lap at Le Mans, showing at the same time an utter contempt for red lights and traffic police. Madeau’s skill and enthusiasm helped to convert my hair-brained scheme into an eventual programme, which she produced, along with one I did ten years later on the music of the Tuaregs, which was broadcast at a particularly quiet time on the BBC Third Programme but nevertheless made quite a stir among connoisseurs of the genre. After she left I made a fruitless proposal of a programme on pre-Columbian music to some suit who didn’t know the difference between a crumhorn and a Tibetan nose flute.