In 1898, the recording industry was a handful of years old and based almost entirely in America when one of the big Stateside players, The United States Gramophone Company, owned by Emile Berliner, decided to move into Europe to challenge the
thee year old French Pathe Company who was the biggest European recording company at the time.
They sent an American, William Barry Owen, over to London to bring together a syndicate of local investors to finance the expansion. Owen was a natural entrepreneur and gambler as Fred Gaisberg remembers:
“He was an opportunist and a bold gambler…You would always find him in the stiffest game of poker in the drawing room..and his eyes would bulge as he laid a full house of the table. He brought to London an infectious enthusiasm and energetic leadership which I believe was quite new to the conservative English city man of that day.”
Owen connected with Trevor Williams who was a Lincoln’s Inn solicitor who was enthusiastic about the possibilities of the new technology and raised $5,000 from friends and family to acquire the European rights to Berliner’s Gramophone.
Gramophones were to continue to be manufactured in the US and imported to Europe. The new investors insisted, however, that recordings of European popular artists were essential to the company’s success on the continent.
The new company, called simply The Gramophone Company, held its first meeting in April 1898. Owen became Managing Director and Williams was made Chairman. As with most start up businesses, the management were motivated by the fact that they had invested their own money in the company. They decided to order 3.000 gramophone machines and 150,000 records from the States to start the business and requested an American recording expert to be sent over to help them develop the European recording programme.
Emile Berliner chose 25 year old Fred Gaisberg to come over to England to set up the recording department which he did in the basement of The Coburn Hotel 31 Maiden Lane in the late summer of 1898.
More photos of this birthplace of the British recording industry have been unearthed by the EMI Archives staff.
This next, new, picture shows the same room but from a reverse perspective. It looks like Amy Williams and the mysterious young man from the first picture are seated on the right hand side of the picture and that could be Fred Gaisberg on the left. There is a strange looking multi-horned contraption to the right of the picture and we are not sure whether that is a recording or playback device:
And the exterior of the Coburn Hotel at 31 Maiden Lane that leased its basement to The Gramophone Company looked like this. Its difficult to make out the two people in the doorway but they could well be Fred Gaisberg and a colleague:
Clearly the studio was ready! Next stop….find some artists.