A Personal History of the British Records Business #16 part 1

The Hound is delighted to post, for our readers delectation,  the first instalment by EMI’s very own David Hughes MBE A Personal History of the British Record Business.

Wayne Bickerton – #16 – part 1  

First posted on vinyl memories December 10, 2015

I really needed a strong nudge to resume these unpublished interviews after such good intentions ….The death of Wayne Bickerton was the biggest nudge I could have received. Wayne, a scouser and one of the gentlest and least ego-struck music business folk I ever met, was head of A&R at Polydor when I joined in the 1972 as the company’s press officer. I think we got on well – certainly we never fell out over anything – and his signing of Billy Connolly was a hard fought masterstroke. This interview dates from around 1999. – David Hughes

Wayne Bickerton

What was your first exposure to music?

I was in Liverpool groups in the late 50’s/early 60’s. I was in the first Liverpool group to come to London, (Steve Bennett &) The Syndicate. Eventually I joined a band called Lee Curtis and the Allstars.. I was bass player and vocals and for two years we were probably the most popular band in the North West, according to Merseybeat. We made records for Decca. That was my introduction to Decca Records where I ended up working when I came back from The States.

How did the group get that recording contract?

It was the Liverpool thing, the same time as The Beatles. Every A&R man was running around Liverpool trying to find the next Beatles and we ended up being signed to Decca. Peter Sullivan was our A&R guy and he came to Liverpool. It was also the first time I met (Tremeloes etc., manager) Peter Walsh. The band was managed by a guy who wasn’t going to let anyone encroach on his patch. That was the first taste I had of the record industry and I was fascinated, the studios and all the rest of it. We recorded in London, but with Pete Best we had previously recorded with Joe Meek. God knows what happened to those recordings. We were dotted around his house – someone was in the toilets – the usual thing with Joe. The band unfortunately never quite made it. Pete Best joined having left The Beatles and we then left Lee Curtis and formed a group called the Pete Best Five (actually Four!) which also recorded for Decca. We had a wonderful record called I’m Gonna Knock on Your Door which did absolutely nothing – the cover of an American record.

Wayne is third right below..and Pete’s mum was the manager!

Did being billed “Decca Recording Artists” help the bookings?

It did, yes, and we had all those little Decca handout postcard pictures, provided by the Decca press officer.

Did you have dealing with the press office?

Yes – Brian Gibson, a great guy. So I went through all that Liverpool scene, did all the things with Pete Best..we eventually ended up in America. We made the recordings that were subsequently released to hang on the coat-tails of The (Beatles) Anthology series.

They weren’t released earlier?

No, they were bootlegged extensively across the world. We were the last people to receive a royalty; in fact it’s only recently I’ve seen anything from those recordings which I have to say were highly embarrassing – they’re atrocious. We did about an album’s worth. We came back (from America) eventually, reopened the Cavern and met the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. I loved New York, one of my favourite cities. We were a Beatles link. These guys had a so-called marketing plan so we were flown across to New York with The Undertakers and played at places like The Peppermint Lounge. One day these guys stepped up; they were from the Immigration Department and said ‘OK, you’ve been here for 9-10 months as tourists, you’re going to have to deal or leave.’ The deal essentially was that they would put us down for a Green Card. ‘What does that mean’, we asked. ‘If you’re down for a Green Card you have to do things like the rest of the American people are doing, and what we’d like you to do is to volunteer to play for the troops.’ So it was ‘Good Morning Vietnam’ – I was up for it, Tony Waddington was up for it, but Pete wasn’t and neither were a couple of the guys, so we left for Canada, did a tour with Roy Orbison and then came home. I had basically become disillusioned with the band.

Were you doing all this under the auspices of a manager?

Basically through Pete Best’s mother! The problem with bands is that it’s the most undemocratic platform you can ever be involved in – your life’s not your own; other people do things and make commitments and you find yourself somewhere you don’t want to be. So I’d had enough. I decided I wanted to get on the other side of the industry. I got the taste of being a producer. (In New York) I loved being in the studio; it was a great experience, ending up on a demo session with Charlie and Inez Foxx, meeting heroes like Luther Dixon who wrote The Shirelles’ hits. James Brown’s band used it a lot, and great drummers like James Purdie. It all rubbed off and I got a taste for it.

The funniest thing that happened in New York when we were there as musicians, was when all the lights went out. We were in the studio, and of course in England it wasn’t unusual to have a power failure; in New York the lights didn’t just go off, they went down gradually and we went to emergency lighting. The Guy who owned the studio came upstairs and the and the guy who was producing the record was Bob Gallo who was the first cousin of the Bobby Gallo of mafia fame – it was that kind of set up. Someone said to the engineer ‘Christ, what have you been doing this time?’, so they went out into the hallways and opened the electrical boxes to see what the problem was. There was a huge window on 42nd Street and they looked out and all of a sudden the lights just went out, bang bang bang, all down the street, and there was total darkness. Then we were getting static through the speakers from the emergency power and within five minutes the Americans had convinced themselves they had heard the sound of approaching Russian bombers. Within minutes there were police on top of police cars to stop looting. There were people out on the streets – talk about commercial enterprise – with trays selling candles which a few minutes earlier were 5 cents and now were $5! It went on all night, the first time it had ever happened all up the coast – 1963 I think.

(According to Wikipedia-The Northeast blackout of 1965 was a significant disruption in the supply of electricity on Tuesday, November 9, 1965, affecting parts of Ontario in Canada and Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Vermont in the United States. Over 30 million people and 80,000 square miles (207,000 km2) were left without electricity for up to 13 hours.)

Was Decca your first port of call, and were there still House Producers?

Yes.

I did cabaret gigs in Liverpool for a while, which I hated, but I’d met my wife, got married and we had a small flat. My actual profession is an engineer which I hadn’t practiced since I’d left Liverpool, so I went back to being an engineer during the day, played cabaret, and sat in the toilet of the flat until 2am writing songs. Survived – God knows how – on about four hours sleep. I used to go down to London and a friend of mine, Tony Booth, used to let me sleep in his flat, so I took days off work, went down (to London) with my tapes and did the rounds. That was when I first met Dick Leahy for example when he was at Philips. I did EMI, Decca, Pye. I was offered a job at Pye and at Decca, as a producer, joining the staff and making the tea. People like Peter Sullivan had moved on because of Tom (Jones) and was on a different planet. I found out later that word had got round that Dick Rowe had hired an American producer – of course it was a scouser who had been to America! Today it’s difficult to get a job in the music business, and years later I was talking to Dick Rowe and asked him why I’d got the job – all those letters that he must have received week in and week out, He’d had too much to drink and he said ‘Well I’ll be absolutely candid with you, I thought you were a very interesting engineer. I thought about not having signed The Beatles and thought I’d give this guy a chance.’ That’s why I got the job, the Liverpool connection.

To be continued – Deram label, Sir Edward Lewis, Tony Hall and many more names along the Bickerton path.

Text ©David Hughes 2016, photographs sourced by Google for illustration purposes only.

About David Hughes Mini Biography 

In 1966, David began working for a local Kent newspaper, starting a music column alongside the more traditional elements of cub reporter life, before later joining weekly music newspaper Disc & Music Echo in 1967. He became a press officer for Polydor Records in 1972, working alongside artists such as Slade, The Jam and The Osmonds, before moving to EMI Records in 1978. There, he was general manager of the Tamla Motown label, working with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, and later with Duran Duran, Nigel Kennedy and the NOW That’s What I Call Music series

After 15 years, he moved back to public relations in 1993 becoming the company’s Vice President of Communications and External Affairs and assuming responsibility for EMI’s calendar of corporate events until retiring at the end of July 1998.

In 2014  David Hughes was appointed MBE for services to the UK music industry and charities the EMI Music Sound Foundation & EMI Archive Trust.

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Inventor of Stereo Sound Alan Dower Blumlein to be Honoured with Posthumous Grammy®

Pioneering British Engineer and Inventor of Stereo, Alan Dower Blumlein to be Posthumously Honoured with the Recording Academy® Technical Grammy® Award

The ground-breaking work of British engineer Alan Dower Blumlein, inventor of stereo sound recording, is to be posthumously honoured by The Recording Academy® with the Technical Grammy® award at a special ceremony to be held later this year.

Alan Dower Blumlein (1903-1942) photo courtesy of THE EMI Group Archive Trust

Alan Dower Blumlein (1903-1942) photo courtesy of The EMI Group Archive Trust

The news of Alan Dower Blumlein’s posthumous Grammy® received widespread interest from mainstream media outlets including Sky News, BBC Radio 4, the Daily Mail, The Telegraph and the London Evening Standard.

Born in Hampstead, London on 29th June 1903, Alan Dower Blumlein was one of the most prolific inventors of the twentieth century who transformed the worlds of audio and recording technology, television and airborne radar. In March 1929, aged 25, he joined Columbia Graphophone, one of the forerunners of EMI. During his time at Columbia and EMI he thrived as an incredibly inventive and innovative engineer, filing 128 patents in the space of 13 years.

On 14 December 1931, Blumlein filed a patent for a two-channel audio system, or stereo as we call it now. It included a “shuffling” circuit to preserve directional sound, an orthogonal “Blumlein Pair” of velocity microphones, the recording of two orthogonal channels in a single groove, stereo disc-cutting head, and hybrid transformer to mix directional signals. Blumlein brought his equipment to Abbey Road Studios in 1934 and recorded the London Philharmonic Orchestra, where he was honoured in 2015 with a commemorative plaque by the IEEE for his work in advancing technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity.

Tragically on 7th June 1942 during World War II, aged just 38, Blumlein’s life was cut short in an aircraft accident, whilst testing the H2S airborne radar system that the team he was leading had developed and which was soon deployed throughout the RAF’s fleet. Given the top secret nature of H2S his death was never officially acknowledged and so despite this major contribution to the Allied war effort, as well as his ground breaking work in sound recording and television, his accomplishments are not widely known.

Alan Dower Blumlein is one of the great unsung heroes of British science and technology in the 20th century.

The life and work of Alan Dower Blumlein is currently being developed into an as-yet untitled film project by Universal Music Group, which also supports and maintains The EMI Group Archive Trust.

Found out more about the work of Alan Dower Blumlein on the EMI Archive Trust Blog.

Watch and listen to Alan Dower Blumlein’s early stereo sound recordings

‘Trains at Hayes Station’ – Universal Music Group YouTube Channel

‘Walking and Talking’ – Abbey Road Studios YouTube Channel

Mystery Object of the week #13 Answer

A hearty Christmas congratulations to Catherine Crump and Rob de Bie who correctly identified last weeks’ mystery object – The Ivor Novello Award also known as The Ivors. Named after the Cardiff – born entertainer Ivor Novello these have been presented annually in London by the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA) since 1955.

The Ivor Novello Award 1988 presented to EMI for 'Mistletow and Wine' - Courtesy of the EMI Group Archive Trust Collection.

The Ivor Novello Award 1988 presented to EMI for ‘Mistletow and Wine’ – Courtesy of the EMI Group Archive Trust Collection.

This award was presented to EMI Records for Cliff Richard’s version of ‘Mistletoe and Wine’ which was the best selling A side for 1988 – original song written by Jeremy Paul, Leslie Stewart and Keith Strachan.

The Award itself is a solid bronze sculpture of Euterpe, the muse of lyric poetry –individually crafted by Mike Wilson.

Ivor Novello Awarded to EMI Records – 1988 for ‘Mistletow and Wine’ – Courtesy of the EMI Group Archive Trust Collection.  

Mystery Object of the week #13

This weeks ‘mystery object’ is named after the popular Cardiff born musical master and actor,  and celebrates the highest merit and success awarded to writers in the music industry. If you’ve worked out what it is we’d love to hear from you.

 

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…………...extra house points if you can work out the year, artist and Christmas song  by writer’s Jeremy Paul, Leslie Stewart and Keith Stachan who recieved this prestigious award! 

Mystery Object of the week #12 Answer

Congratulations to Rob de Bie, Rolf Christian Holth Olsen and David James who correctly identified this weeks mystery object –  Mae Starr by Universal Talking Toys Company – U.S.A, 1930.

Talking Doll - Mae Starr by Universal Talking Toys Company U.S.A - 1930 Part of the EMI Group Archive Trust Collection

Talking Doll – Mae Starr by Universal Talking Toys Company U.S.A – 1930. Part of the EMI Group Archive Trust Collection

Mae Starr was made by the Universal Talking Toys Co., and uses the Averill Manufacturing Company’s cylinder phonograph motor. The cylinder mechanism is housed in a well constructed tin-plate housing at the back of the doll. the sound is directed out of the front of the chest. A small lever starts the motor and positions the stylus on the beginning of the cylinder, whilst a crank is used on the thigh to wind the mechanism. All of the dolls that used this type of mechanism used blue, 2 3/16 inch diameter, and 1 ¼ inch long cylinders.

 Talking Doll - Mae Starr by Universal Talking Toys Company U.S.A - 1930 Part of the EMI Group Archiev Trust Collection

Talking Doll – Mae Starr by Universal Talking Toys Company U.S.A – 1930 Part of the EMI Group Archive Trust Collection

This doll has celluloid arms, legs and head. Her body is cloth and stuffed, and has the metal cylinder holder in her back and a metal lined hole in her chest where the sound comes out. On her side is a hand crank. Mae’s eyes open and with brunette human hair wig.  This particular doll stands 26 2/4 inches tall and comes with two original cylinders.

Mae Starr talking doll by Universal Talking Toys Company – Courtesy of the EMI Group Archive Trust Collection.  Film courtesy of  thegirlofmusic1– ‘Mae Starr Phonograph Doll – Nursery Rhyme: One, Two.’

Mystery Object of the week #11 Answer

Congratulations to Martyn Dowel, Rolf Christian Holth Olsen and Robert Spencer who all correctly identified this weeks mystery object  – The Auxetophone designed by the British engineer Sir Charles Parsons.   

This Auxetophone is in the 'Queen Anne' Style with a highly polished mahogany cabinet with panelled doors and cabriole legs. It has a triple-spring spiral-drive motor, 12" turntable, speed indicator, tapering tone-arm with gooseneck, auxetophone soundbox, and a mahogany grained Flaxite horn. Part of the EMI Group Archive Trust collection

This Auxetophone is in the ‘Queen Anne’ Style with a highly polished mahogany cabinet with panelled doors and cabriole legs. It has a triple-spring spiral-drive motor, 12″ turntable, speed indicator, tapering tone-arm with gooseneck, auxetophone soundbox, and a mahogany grained Flaxite horn.   Courtesy of the EMI Group Archive Trust collection

The Auxetophone was perhaps the most effective attempt, prior to the development of electrical amplification in the 1920’s, of increasing volume. Invented in 1904, it used air pressure to enhance the vibrations of a specially-designed reproducer valve. An electrically-powered blower inside the cabinet forced air through the tubing along the tone arm and through the special reproducer, enormously increasing the volume. The machine did not sell particularly well, in part due to price, and in part due to the fact that it was not well suited to home use (it was extremely loud and meant for mass public consumption).The sales literature promoted its use in “large residences,” and the market was thus largely restricted to commercial applications such as dance halls and theatres.

Amy Eliza Castles (25 July 1880 - 19 November 1951), was an Australian soprano

Austrian soprano – Amy Eliza Castles  – 1917 (1880-1951)

 

A ‘Grand Gramophone Concert’ was given at the Royal Albert Hall on 14th December 1906, about which The Daily Mail wrote; ‘ Many ladies were visibly affected when Madame Patti or rather the gramophone sang ‘Home Sweet Home’. The rendering recalled in a startling manner her singing at the same hall on the occasion of her farewell concert a few days ago….The most effective example of what the gramophone can do was demonstrated immediately after Miss Amy Castles had sung in person as her encore was a repetition of the song on the gramophone itself’.

Gramophone and Typewriter Ltd. Auxetophone – Courtesy of the EMI Group Archive Trust Collection.

Mystery Object of the week #10 Answer

Congratulations to Rolf Christian Holth Olsen who correctly identify this weeks mystery object – The Lioretograph Model 2 phonogragh – created by the Parisian watchmaker Henri Lioret in 1898.

Lioretograph Model 2 part of the EMI Group Archive Trust Collection

Lioretograph Model 2 part of the EMI Group Archive Trust Collection

This particular model – The Lioretograph Model 2 – came in a fitted case dating from 1899/1900. Lioret used his watchmaker’s knowledge to create a machine with a curious mixture of high-class clock work motors coupled with wire and cardboard for the acoustic mechanism.

On the front flap of the case are instructions for use in French, the rest of the case interior is finished in a green cloth.  A compartment to the left of the case contains cylinders housed in cardboard boxes (6 x 2m cylinders).

The reproducer is made form cardboard with spring-tension to the mica diaphragm and a series of graduated cardboard rings inside the drum-shaped body, leading to a short celluloid conical horn.

Unlike Columbia and Edison phonographs, the Lioretograph had no feedscrew, and its celluloid and brass 2 minute cylinders were held by a split taper-pin.

 Lioretograph Model 2 designed by Henri Lioret 1898 – Courtesy of the EMI Group Archive Trust Collection.