Paul Robeson sharing his latest hit with Nipper’s friend….

By Tony Locantro

Robeson began his recording career in July 1925 with RCA Victor in Camden. When he moved to London after playing in Show Boat at Drury Lane in 1928 he recorded extensively for HMV (actually The Gramophone Company) up to World War II. He made only the one side for British Columbia: ‘Ol’ Man River’ on 15 May 1928 as part of a series of Show Boat original cast recordings, but was legally prohibited from it being released at the time because it broke his contractual exclusivity with Victor for the recording of the same song that he had made on 1 March 1928 in New York. He later re-recorded ‘Ol’ Man River’ for HMV with Ray Noble on 12 September 1930 when the label exclusivity had expired. The original Columbia recording was not released until many years later.


From functional to luxury. Within a short 3-4 years the Gramophone became the status symbol of the age, so inevitably the designers determined to take advantage of the privileged market by creating machines that were not only wonderful pieces of furniture, but also hid the rather cumbersome horn.

Enter the Sheraton Grand, the first enclosed horn gramophone. Designed to resemble a piece of 18th century furniture, only the wind handle gave it away as not being a classy cabinet, and that could presumably be removed when not in nuse. It quickly caught on with the discerning customer, over 300 having sold within the first five years of its 1906 launch. This machine was designed as a feature of any sitting or drawing room, the back panels being of the same high finish as the other three.

The ‘drawers’ were dummies, the front opening with four separate doors to reveal luxury storage space for the discs.

Made in mahogany, crossbanded in tulip or satinwood with a flat lid on coved front and side it stood nearly four feet tall, and two feet wide and deep. The open doors also revealed the internal horn, created from four tapered panels suspended below the tone arm.

Retail price £52.10s (£52.50)

Anyone Who Had A Heart…..

Watch our friends from the Vinyl Factory in Hayes press a special limited edition record of Cilla Black’s Anyone Who Had A Heart on “The One Show” Friday 16th March

Cilla Black and Paul McGann join Chris Evans and Alex Jones on the One Show sofa.


As interest in the gramophone increased, so did the ingenuity of the Gramophone Company’s technicians. Outside the limits of most people’s finances, these machines were still largely owned by the wealthy, so how to bring all this wonderful recorded music to the mass public?



The early machines and discs were incapable of filling large spaces – the only variable was the size of the horn and even that made little different to its range. The first attempt to tackle this chal lenge was the Triplephone, effectively three gramophones playing the same recording to give three times the volume (though how they managed to have each machine start at exactly the same time is now explained!)

There is one extraordinary illustration of a Crystal Palace  concert in 1904,  which featured six players, each with three horns – what on earth did that sound like?

So, in the interim, the amplifying horn was considered the best way forward, so step forward our faithful Monarch, suitably dressed for the occasion!

Here, the original base sits on a large ebonised pedestal with green moulded panels, suitably weighted with sand or some other heavy material to keep it upright. The wonderful ironwork arm is a reconstruction as virtually no original examples exist and holds a 48” horn.

Sadly, for all the effort that went into its construction, it failed to catch on. Introduced in 1903-4, The Gramophone Company’s London sales office had to report that it was ‘unable to dispose of’ the 22 in stock!


With kind permission of its creators Christopher Proudfoot and Brian Oakley we continue our series of extracts  from “His Master’s Gramophone”  …

Introducing the Single Spring Monarch Style No.11 In production from 1901-1905, this machine was specially designed to play the newly introduced 10” Concert recordings issued in 1901.

Costing £10 in 1901, the price was drastically reduced to £7.10s (£7.50) a year later, the design was classy, with a wide stepped plinth and baluster corner column. The machine is driven by a single-spring, hence its title, with a bevel drive and vertical governor. The 22” brass witch’s hat horn used a wooden tracking arm.




We made mention of this fine new hardback book a few months back, but feel it deserves more attention, and so, with the kind permission of its creators Christopher Proudfoot and Brian Oakley, we’re starting a series of extracts to give/remind you of the first golden era of  recorded music and the wonderfully crafted machines that allowed it to be heard.

First up is ‘The Improved Gramophone – Trade-mark, (Style No 5).

This was the machine that started the life of The Gramophone Company in Britain in 1897, the first to be sold here by Wilfred Barry Owen and his associates. While the very first machines imported from New York bore The National Gramophone Co name, subsequent imports carried the names of The Gramophone Company (until 1899), The Gramophone Company Ltd. (until the end of 1900), and The Gramophone and Typewriter Ltd (January 1901-March 1902) together with one of the first two addresses of the Company, 31 Maiden Lane or 21 City Road.

Initially retailing  at £5.10s (£5.50), cheaper models were added, retailing at 2,3 or 4 guineas (£2.10, £3.15, £4.20)

With a plain oak case housing the motor and, together with the extension arm, mounted on a baseboard and the mainspring projecting in a nickel-plated cast iron casing, the Improved Gramophone set the standard of craftsmanship and quality that was to epitomise the Gramophone Company’s output for many years.

Other versions, like this one

were made from walnut with gilt fittings, and there were even ‘Extra Fine’ models made from mahogany – all at this stage imported from New York. The witch’s hat horns were either made from tinplate or zinc and painted black, as in the first photo, or single spun from brass. While the first shipment was largely the black version, the brass model, an experiment, proved the more popular and by 1902 nickel plated and even silver plated versions were available.

To complete the purchase, wealthy customers were invited to buy a carrying case. These came in several styles, made in black enamel, brown canvas and green crocodile or tan leather. Classy eh?

Classical Music Sells Millions Of Records!!!

Times are tough in the recorded music business with sales revenues declining significantly and regularly this century. Times are particularly tough in the classical music part of that business with its decline outpacing the market at large.

John Culshaw and Solti (in Plimsoll’s) in the Studio working on The Ring.

We’ve been reading Norman Lebrecht’s marvellously pacey race through the history of classical recording in his book “Maestro’s, Masterpieces and Madness” and would recommend it to all people interested in the story of the record business.

At the end of the book, Lebrecht lists all the classical records that have sold over 1 million records. There are only 25 of them. The first record to do so – and clinging on to the list at #25 – is Gaisberg’s recordings of Caruso. Only ten classical recordings have shifted 3 million or more. The top 5 all time sellers are as follows

1. Wagner Ring – Solti (Decca) 1958 – 1965 18 million. Produced by Decca legend, John Culshaw, this is “a better record than Sgt Pepper” according to its fans. Here is an excerpt from a BBC documentary about the making of the records, starring Solti’s strange jerky style conducting and Culshaw’s calm comfortings. Style fact: Decca engineers (and Solti) wore white plimsolls when in the studio to avoid causing background noise.

2. The Three Tenors (Decca) 1990 14 million

3. Vivaldi: Four Seasons (Philips) 1959 9.5 million

4. The Three Tenors 2 (Warner) 1994 7.8 million

5. Canto Gregoriano 1993 5.5 million

Publicity photos of the early Gramophone stars #4:Louise Kirkby Lunn. Northern Lass.

This is the fourth in a series of publicity shots from the early years of the recording business that our friends at the EMI Archive Trust have made available to us. This photo is of Madame Kirkby-Lunn (known to her friends as Louise) who was a Mancunian contralto who lived between 1873 and 1930. This picture was taken of her in 1909 when she was recording for The Gramophone Company and playing Dalila (or Delilah as Tom Jones might have said) in Saint-Saens’ opera Samson et Dalila at Covent Garden.

Unusually for an English person, Louise spoke 4 languages and sang fluently in each. Even more unusually, for an Opera singer of the era, she retained a Northern English accent throughout her life. An interesting fact about Louise was that she performed in the very first Proms put on by Henry Wood in 1895.

As for Louise’s efforts at PR, we give her a 6 out of 10 for this photo. Although she is dressed well and shows willing – and exhibits excellent technique with the net curtains – her eyes betray her discomfort with the whole sordid affair.

This is her singing in the first decade of the twentieth century, a couple of years before the photo was taken.