The London publisher Faber and Faber has enjoyed a long association with the work of poet Philip Larkin, and has published a dozen or so of his books including poetry collections, novels, All What Jazz: A Record Library, Required Writing, and Further Requirements. It has also published books such as Selected Letters of Philip Larkin 1940-1985 edited by Anthony Thwaite, Andrew Motion's Philip Larkin: A Writer's Life, B C Bloomfield's Philip Larkin: A Bibliography 1933-1976 and Ben Brown's play Larkin with Women.
Now Faber has issued a CD - the Sunday sessions: Philip Larkin reading his poetry - which consists of Larkin's reading of 26 poems which were recorded by sound engineer and Hull colleague John Weeks on two tapes in February 1980 but which lay undiscovered for more than a quarter of a century. The recordings created a stir in newspapers including The Guardian when news broke in February 2006 of their discovery in the garage in which they were recorded (some reports wrongly stated they had been found in an attic). In March 2008 poet Paul Farley presented a BBC Radio Four programme on the tapes, in the Archive Hour slot, as previewed in the Times. Contributors to the broadcast included Larkin's biographer Andrew Motion, writer John Banville, friend Jean Hartley (who with her husband George was an early publisher of Hartley's work) and actress Jill Balcon.
Robert McCrum writes warmly of the Larkin CD in a posting entitled 'how audiobooks have changed the future' on the Guardian's books blog. Describing the CD as a "little jewel" he says that Larkin is "a revelation, almost animated, and decidedly relaxed (after a good lunch perhaps?) Gone is the middle-aaged man in the dirty mac and the pebble glasses. Instead we get an ironic boulevardier, parodying the English upper-class in 'Vers de Societe' and mimicking his landlady with saucy precision in 'Mr Bleaney'." All in all "there's nothing lugubrious or 'Larkinesque' here. He sounds much younger than his nearly 60 years."
It is a shame though that Faber has been sloppy in its production of the CD. Particularly given that Faber is publisher of Larkin's poetry it is extraordinary that it has allowed a misspelling of a title to creep into the sleeve notes. Larkin was passionate about jazz (0f a certain era), which he reviewed for the Daily Telegraph for a decade from 1961, and paid tribute to one of his favourite musicians in 'For Sidney Bechet' which the penultimate stanza of which is:
On me your voice falls as they say love should,
Like an enormous yes. My Crescent City
Is where your speech alone is understood.
Unfortunately Faber has the title of the poem as 'For Sydney Bechet'.