Many Happy Returns

The Hound is please to present some more metaphorical memories from our resident philosopher Wayne Shevlin.

Many Happy Returns

I may not know much, but I know what I like. And – like most people – I only like what I know. But, how do we discover, and thus get to know the music we like?

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Along the many roads of the music industry I have travelled, I spent quite a few years working in what became one of NYC’s largest record and audio equipment stores – let’s call it R&J Music Universe.  When I joined, R&J was a small hi-fi store. The record department was in the basement  with another small basement around the corner serving as the warehouse, which is where I worked.  One day J, the manager, approached me with a “new job opportunity”.   Record returns.  The Returns Authorisation or RA Manager – as I decided to refer to myself – is essentially the garbage man of the record business.  RA was not exactly the most glamorous of music biz jobs and one that endeared you to absolutely no one – particularly the record salesman who avoided you like the vampire you were, since whatever you returned was deducted from his commission.

HMV Oxford Street late 1950's

HMV Oxford Street late 1950’s

My introduction to this glorious career consisted of being escorted to a small room behind the sales counter from which spilled (literally) many thousands of allegedly defective phonograph records. I say allegedly because most were not actually defective.  They had been returned as defective by customers dissatisfied with the music who hoped to exchange them for something else.  Such devious tactics would only lead to disappointment, since R&J policy was “exchange for same only“.  These many thousands of DFs – as we called them in the RA trade – were the legacy of the previous RA man having quit many months earlier without anyone noticing or bothering to replace him.  How they didn’t notice the tide of records sloshing out of that room I’ll never know but it was now my job to clean up the mess.

RA was not a mentally demanding job and, on the face of it, promised to be stupefyingly tedious.  It consisted of sorting, listing, packing and shipping the thousands of DF records.  Sorting was by distributor, then by label and finally by catalogue number.  Once sorted, you counted the records and filled in the quantity for each catalogue number on the appropriate form – assuming there was a form.  The big league companies like WEA, CBS and EMI had forms, but smaller “labels” – particularly jazz and disco – were frequently one-man-bands who showed up in a van, dropped off a box of records and were paid in cash.  They didn’t have forms.  But that didn’t matter since many were never seen again anyway, and thus there was no one to return the DFs to – with or without a form.  If the miserable wretch did appear again – because he had a new record – the technique was for me to ambush him just as he was about to be paid, dump the DFs on him and deduct the value from the cash he received.  You can see why the RA man was feared and loathed.

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But for the big league labels the process was more mundane.  Having sorted and listed the DFs to be returned, you boxed them up, organised a freight pickup, loaded the truck and had them shipped across the country, back to whence they came.  Eventually a credit note would arrive.  Ultimately, I developed a system (a prelude to my current career) to efficiently organise the overall process.

Working in that initial cramped havoc was almost impossible as there was no room to stand let alone sort, or list, or box.  Nonetheless, eventually I did finally clear out that room.  But suddenly, R&J acquired a much larger building – previously an archive – providing vast amounts of space not only for the store, but the warehouse and even the humble RA man.  And it was here that I suddenly found myself in a huge room, all by myself, with rack upon rack of every conceivable record, a job that required practically no mental input and a kick-ass stereo. Well, what would you do with that?

I’ll tell you what I did. I listened. I did my mindless job and I listened to everything. Every conceivable record imaginable: classical, jazz, rock, metal, pop, folk, avant-guard, OPERA…even disco… A veritable cornucopia: the popular, the obscure, the ephemeral, the degenerate, the unpalatable, the weird. It was here that I conquered my Pink Floyd phobia and made friends with Wish You Were Here, floated on the transcendental audio-yoga of Brian Eno’s Music For Airports, studied the techniques of the pro pop writers like Carol King and Billy Joel,  was flabbergasted by the Temple City Kazoo Orchestra’s version of Whole Lotta Love (you have to hear it to believe it),  bopped with Coltrane, swang with Sinatra, looked sharp with Joe Jackson, punked, proged, baroque n’ rolled and eventually even discovered that some disco didn’t suck (there, I said it).

It was there, in R&J’s RA room that I disposed of my musical bigotry, preconceptions and attitude and truly understood what Miles Davis meant when he said “it’s either good or bad, the rest is just style” – though I can find no evidence that Miles Davis actually ever said that.  In any event, if he didn’t say it, I think he should have said it, and anyhow, I’m saying it and it was in that RA room that I learned it:  how to appreciate the inherent quality of a piece of music even if I didn’t like the style.  Even disco.

Most people discover music through radio, TV, friends & family or perhaps a chance hearing in a shop or club. These media channels enforce musical myopia since so much of what is offered has been filtered and targeted based on taste or a commercial agenda with a predetermined bias toward a particular listening audience.  How unfair.  How limiting.  What made my RA wall so special was that the only criteria for what was available there was that it was reasonably current and someone had bought it and either liked it enough to require an unblemished copy or really didn’t like it enough to try and exchange it for something else.

If everyone were presented with such a wall of music:  with strange sleeves beckoning you to discover what lies within, with plenty of time to explore, experiment and take chances and listen, free from prejudices and attitudes, without an agenda – how much broader would most people’s taste be? Quite a bit broader, I suspect.  Perhaps the internet will provide a virtual RA wall where people can easily discover more of what they like.  But the key to my RA wall was not just that it had a diverse variety of records, but that my job required me to make contact with each one – since they had to be sorted, listed and counted.   Musical discovery was made almost unavoidable.  And I got paid while doing it.

Decca Studio

Decca Studio

The DFs I listened to were all records people actually bought.  But there were also records that weren’t bought.  These were called overstock, and I was responsible for those too.  Overstock reflects a side of the record business where cynicism, greed, stupidity and failure meet in the place where taste and money collide.  But that story is for another day.

Friday Mystery Object of the week #9 Answer

And the answer is… The Lumiere Gramophone (HMV Model 460). Well done to those of you who answered correctly!

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The Lumiere Gramophones were a great novelty of 1924, making a highly successful debut at the Piccadilly Hotel, London, on Wednesday 22nd October an esteemed audience.The HMV Model 460 was introduced in early 1925, and is unique by virtue of its Lumiere pleated diaphragm instead of a conventional horn. This enabled the tone arm and sound box to be eliminated and in theory would have been cheaper to make (the price tag didn’t reflect this). The sound produced was less directional than a horn, but as the diaphragm was fragile and easily damaged, the 460 was removed from the catalogue after about a year. The cabinets were then used for the Model 461 which used a conventional internal horn and soundbox. It originally cost £22 in Oak, and £25 in mahogany.

Friday Mystery Object of the week #8 Answer

And the answer is… The Peter Pan Clock Gramophone. Well done to those of you who answered correctly!

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The Peter Pan Clock Gramophone was a relatively simple ‘talking clock’ from mid-1920’s onwards. By winding both the clock and gramophone motor, setting the desired alarm time and placing the needle on the record, the record would play when triggered by the alarm. The alarm itself was patented and sold in France, but had a Swiss motor and diaphragm.

Recording pioneers- Part 8, William Conrad Gaisberg

 

“We realised how many different degrees of smells there are in the world”

-William Gaisberg’s observation of Hyderabad, India

Name:              William Conrad Gaisberg

Born:               26th June 1877

Resident:        Born in Washington DC, USA

Occupation:   Recording engineer, managing director & head of London Recording Department

Loves:            Travelling, opera, pushing the boundaries of music and his brother (Fred)

William Gaisberg

In 1894, Fred Gaisberg came to work at Emile Berliner’s laboratory in Washington D.C. Shortly afterwards he was joined by his school friend William Sinkler Darby and also by his younger brother William [Gaisberg], who had previously worked for a period of time as a recording engineer with the Berliner Gram-O-Phone Company in Canada. It was during this period in America where Berliner imparted his knowledge of the secrets of disc record-making to these young men.  Within a few years the three of them moved to Europe, where, as recording engineers, they became the most important figures in The Gramophone Company’s staff.

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    -Recording in the Vatican, Recording in the Vatican, April 1902. Left to right: William Michaelis, the castrato Alessandro Moreschi and William Gaisberg

William Gaisberg’s enthusiasm and enterprising nature led him to take over many of his brother’s duties, which included managing and leading the third recording tour of India. The third tour began at Calcutta in 1906, and then proceeded onto Lucknow, Delhi, Lahore, Hyderabad and Madras.

Despite the Gramophone Company’s dominant position and success in the talking machine and disc record trade in Asia, It could not rest on its laurels of achievement, as American recording companies such as The Columbia Phonograph Company began making great advances. This motivated William to record artists of a higher repute and achieve a product of a much higher quality.

Gaisberg sought to record vocalists associated within the theatrical circuit, which resulted in him making the first recordings of Miss Janki Bai of Allahabad. He also placed emphasis on recordings of Gauhar Jaan, whose status had grown significantly, earning the reputation as a ‘Gramophone celebrity’.

In 1910 at the age of 33, William became manager of the Recording department, where he provided a vital link between the head office and its overseas territories.

In October 1918, a month before the Armistice was signed, The Gramophone Company became involved in a project to record the sound of the war. The reasoning behind the venture was that if there were to be no more war, then for the benefit of posterity, it was important to record and document the sounds of battle.

The Company elected to send William to the Western Front. It was in the French city of Lille that he recorded The Royal Garrison Artillery firing off a gas barrage. By the time the recording was completed, the war was over. Gaisberg had been slightly gassed during the expedition, and fell victim to the flu pandemic and tragically died a month later in November 1918.

Documentary – Recording the Kings Speech

Tune in tomorrow early 03:32 GMT or stay up late 23:32 GMT for BBC WORLD SERVICE documentary – Delivering the King’s Speech! This programme explores the fascinating history of royalty releasing records, and incorporates rare material from the EMI Archives and an interview with EMI historian Tony Locantro.

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Marking the 75th anniversary of King George VI’s declaration of war against Germany, Louise Minchin relates the untold story of how the King’s Speech reached the entire world.

Inspired by the discovery of the original pressing of the speech in the EMI Archives – mounted in goatskin leather and signed by the King himself – Louise uncovers how the King’s words reached the furthest corners of the British Empire. Starting with the fascinating history of royalty releasing records, and incorporating rare material from the EMI Archives and interview with EMI historian Tony Locantro.

Delivering The King’s Speech delves into the earliest days of the BBC Empire Service (later to become the BBC World Service) to find out how the King’s message was sent across the globe and how it enabled the Empire Service to win the fight against the anti-British propaganda broadcast by the Germans.

If you’re neither an early bird nor a night owl you can also tune in throughout the day!

8:05 GMT – 14:32 GMT – 19:05 GMT

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p025gvd5

A TBI Media Production for BBC World Service.

On this day: 7th July 1944

Seventy years today,  7th July 1944, a German V1 rocket landed on the EMI factory in Blyth Road, Hayes, as a result a concrete shelter roof collapsed, killing 34 and injuring a further eighteen.

Today we honour the men and women based at the EMI Factory and Hayes, whose contribution was essential to the British War effort, in both civilian and military roles. We particularly remember those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice on that fateful day.

A memorial to those killed in the bomb attack on EMI can be found in Cherry Tree Lane Cemetery.

Memorial at Cherry Tree Lane Cemetery, Hayes. 7th July 2014

Memorial at Cherry Tree Lane Cemetery, Hayes.
7th July 2014

 

Photographs: Courtesy of The EMI Group Archive Trust
Speech: Winston Churchill – War of the Unknown Warrior – Broadcast July 14 1940
Recording: The Gramphone Company, Hayes Middlesex – HMV C.3209
Usage Rights
All usage to be cleared by EMI Group Archive Trust

 

 

 

 

 

Special screening of ‘Memories of EMI’ Sunday 22 June

Hayes Past, Present and Future

Our friends from the EMI Archive Trust have been invited to screen a selection of material from their ‘Memories of EMI’ project,  Sunday 22 June 2014, as part of this year’s ‘Calling the Tune Film Festival’ at: The Old Vinyl Factory, Blyth Road, Hayes, Middlesex. 

After the screening Joanna Hughes, Curator for the EMI Archive Trust will be on hand to film your Memories of EMI.

12-2pm (Doors Open 11.30pm)  £Free but booking essential

A presentation from Hayes students of their projects on the history of Hayes, followed by a screening of ‘At Your Service (1962)’, a comedic short film made by Hayes Town Council in the 1960s about the services provided in the borough. The event will also feature a selection of material from The EMI Archive Trust ‘Memories of EMI’ project. GET TICKETS

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All screenings take place at: The Old Vinyl Factory, Blyth Road, Hayes, Middlesex UB3 1HA Train 20mins from Paddington to Hayes and Harlington, First Great Western Service. Bus 140, 195, 350, 696, 698, 90, E6, H98, U4, U5 to Hayes and Harlington Station. Car There is free car parking on site for all visitors with a valid ticket to the festival. Accessibility The Old Vinyl Factory is fully accessible to wheelchair users and there are disabled toilet facilities on site. Please contact a member of staff prior to your visit if you have specific access requirements.

Recording Pioneers- Part 7, William Barry Owen

 

Name:              William Barry Owen

Born:              15 April 1860

Resident:        Born in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts

Occupation:   Sent to London to raise investment funds for the Gramophone Company to expand into Europe

Loves:             Music, Musicians, Gambling, London high society parties

 

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In July 1897 William Barry Owen resigned from his post with the National Gramophone Company in the United States and sailed for Britain. He was sent by Emile Berliner, inventor of the Gramophone and flat disc to set up the company in England and find investors. When he arrived he met a young Welsh lawyer; Trevor Lloyd Williams who became his co-founder of The British Gramophone Company in 1899.

Owen was an excellent sales man, having refined his selling talents as a sales man during his law degree at Amherst College. He was also a gambler who enjoyed the high stakes of starting up new ventures and more importantly he enjoyed living the high life that could be achieved if successful and so he jumped at the potential high profits in Berliner’s new Gramophone.

Initially he threw himself into the work but found high society London to be a tough crowd to crack, the Gramophones were selling but he found it difficult to attract investors to help build the business. It was his idea to bring in the Lambert Typewriter as an insurance product in case the Gramophone flopped. However, as fate would have it, the Lambert typewriter failed to bring in much revenue and The Gramophone Company stopped production in 1904. At this point Owen seemed to loose interest in the business,  he remained on the board for two more years and then left The Gramophone Company altogether in 1906.

After resigning he left Britain and returned home to the United States where he made several unsuccessful attempts in the agricultural business. By 1910 he had spent all of his money and was riddled with debt. He spent the rest of his life living off a pension paid jointly by Victor Talking Machine and The Gramophone Company.

Top 10 Aussie Sopranos

By Roger Neil

Sound of the Hound guest blogger
Someone started a thread on the unofficial BBC Radio 3 message boards asking for nominations for the top ten sopranos.

It seemed to me that the emerging lists were filled with the usual suspects, and since I’m currently in the process (with Tony Locantro) of finishing up a 4 x CD set for Decca Australia entitled ‘From Melba to Sutherland: Australian Singers on Record’, this is the list I offered:

Melba as Rosina

Nellie Melba
Frances Alda
Elsa Stralia
Florence Austral
Margherita Grandi
Marjorie Lawrence
Sylvia Fisher
Joan Hammond
Elsie Morison
Joan Sutherland

What a team. Other nominations?

If you  have loved this article by Roger Neil you can find more articles on the Official Roger Neil blog.