From escaping revolutionary Russia to drinking in Harlem speakeasies: Fred’s lifelong adventures with Feodor Chaliapin. New podcast episode!

In this episode we look at the epic – and we mean epic – story of Russian bass singer Feodor Chaliapin. The singer’s relationship with Fred spanned decades, continents, wars and revolutions. It is a tale about music but it is also a tale about the extraordinary power of friendship. And spats. It’s a story about spats. And potatoes. And backstage punch-ups. This episode really does have it all.

Chaliapin was a big beast of a man with one of the deepest and most expressive voices you can imagine. He was born in the same year as Fred, 1873, but on the other side of the world, in Kazan in Russia, and into poverty. He took to singing as a youngster and, shortly after his 20thbirthday, was performing at the Imperial Opera in St Petersburg. Fred first heard him in 1900 when he was in the city scouting for talent. He immediately made moves to record this “enormous young bass” singer, but Chaliapin would not respond to his overtures. Again and again Fred tried but, despite becoming friends, it wasn’t until 1910 that they signed a contract (with steep terms dictated by the Russian).

The recordings were tricky. The thin-skinned Chaliapin would only record at certain times of the day and was partial to raucous vodka-fuelled parties, which one imagines Fred only mildly resisted. A strong bond was formed. Chaliapin sung in front of the British royal family in London but not before the burly bass got involved in a backstage fist fight. He was on the cusp of global fame and untold riches when the First World War broke out. Back in Russia with his family, Chaliapin was thrust back into poverty. He was paid in potatoes and lived in rags. It took a daring and covert mission by Fred to get him out of Russia (with the help of author H.G. Wells) and smuggle him back to England. Here, Chaliapin indulged in his love for fine tailoring and shoes and, of course, singing. Sell-out crowds treated this great, bruised singer as something of a hero. He and Fred went to America (eventful, inevitably) and stayed close until Chaliapin’s death in Paris in 1938. This story has to be heard to be believed.

On board the ship to New York. Left to right: Ricard Strauss, HG Wells, Chaliapin, Elisabeth Schumann and Strauss’s son
1938 Fred and sister Carrie (left) stop for tea with Chaliapin and his wife in Paris. The last time Fred saw his old friend.
Feodor Chaliapin Junior – in Moonstruck

We are joined in this episode by Michael Volpe.

Michael Volpe

Michael Volpe first entered the opera world in 1989 and 7 years later established the now-prestigious Opera Holland Park in London. He is currently embarked on a new project to create a new kind of opera company in the South West of England as Executive Director of Iford Arts.

Volpe’s approach to opera for thirty years has been to popularise and demystify. He has a distinct penchant for late Italian rarities in the ‘stab and sob’ repertoire. He has made several successful and startling films showing the impact of opera on individuals, from teenagers in south London to Chelsea fans.   

Volpe is the author of the acclaimed autobiography, ‘Noisy at the Wrong Times’, which tells the tale of his upbringing and attendance at Woolverstone Hall, an experimental boarding school. It was named on the Sunday Times ‘100 Biographies to Love’ list.

The recordings in this episode were:

  1. Boris’s death from Boris Godunov by Modest Mussorgsky
  2. Song of the Flea by Modest Mussorgsky
  3. Persian Love Song
  4. Two Grenadiers by Robert Schumann
  5. Nightingale Song by Elizabeth Schumann (1930)

This episode was edited by Andy Hetherington.

The Sound Of The Hound is powered by EMI Archives Trust.

You can subscribe to the podcast on all good podcast platforms including Spotify  Apple and Acast.

We hope you enjoy listening as much as we’ve enjoyed recording them!

A great review of The Sound Of The Hound podcast in The Spectator magazine!

I was delighted to open the latest edition of The Spectator to find that Daisy Dunn had chosen to review an episode of The Sound Of The Hound podcast.

And I was even more delighted to see that she’d enjoyed our efforts and given it a lovely write up, describing Dave and James as “jolly good company” and our podcast as “delightfully nerdy”

Woof Woof!!

Diva Alert! New episode tells the story of how Fred Gaisberg recorded of one of opera’s greatest characters, Emma Calvé

Emma Calve 1880 as Carmen

Diva alert! In episode four, Holley and Hall tell the story of the recording of one of opera’s greatest characters, Emma Calvé. Basking in the glory of having captured the voice of the mighty Enrico Caruso in Milan (as outlined in Series One of The Sound of the Hound), Fred goes on something of a recording spree back in London. But he gets more than he bargained for with Calvé, who proves to be something of a handful.

Calvé, who is today seen as one of the greatest opera singers of the Belle Epoque era, had made her name playing the lead role in Carmen when Fred records her (indeed, her interpretation of the role is still widely used today). But Fred and his team discover that the character’s feistiness is not confined to the stage when they try to coax Calvé into their Covent Garden studio. Holley and Hall tell the tale of this complex French diva, and play some of her famous – or as Fred would no doubt have it – infamous recordings. Her dissatisfaction with one of her tracks was caught on disc, and we play it here.

We are joined in this episode for the first time by our new regular guest Michael Volpe, the founder and former general director of Opera Holland Park. Michael brilliantly dissects Calvé’s voice and gives us an insight into her career. He also tells us if, to put it bluntly, she was really any good.

Michael Volpe

Michael Volpe first entered the opera world in 1989 and 7 years later established the now-prestigious Opera Holland Park in London. He is currently embarked on a new project to create a new kind of opera company in the South West of England as Executive Director of Iford Arts.


Volpe’s approach to opera for thirty years has been to popularise and demystify. He has a distinct penchant for late Italian rarities in the ‘stab and sob’ repertoire. He has made several successful and startling films showing the impact of opera on individuals, from teenagers in south London to Chelsea fans.   

Volpe is the author of the acclaimed autobiography, ‘Noisy at the Wrong Times’, which tells the tale of his upbringing and attendance at Woolverstone Hall, an experimental boarding school. It was named on the Sunday Times ‘100 Biographies to Love’ list.

Music in this episode:

  1. Habanera from Carmen by Georges Bizet (1907)
  2. Seguidilla from Carmen by Georges Bizet (1902)

Photos of Emma:

This episode was edited by Andy Hetherington.

The Sound Of The Hound is powered by EMI Archives Trust.

You can subscribe to the podcast on all good podcast platforms including Spotify  Apple and Acast.

We hope you enjoy listening as much as we’ve enjoyed recording them!

What happens when Fred Gaisberg arrives in ancient Tokyo with his new-fangled recording equipment? Find out in today’s new episode.

Listen to Fred’s adventures in the Far East

After India, Fred goes to the Far East. But when he arrives in Tokyo in January 1903, he is rocked by some terrible family news. Stuck on the other side of the world, Fred does what he’s done countless times before: he throws himself into his job. Once the crates and crates of equipment are finally released by Japanese customs, he embarks on a recording frenzy.

In one day alone he makes some 54 records. However he isn’t a fan of the music, initially at least. It is, he said, “too horrible for words”. But as the weeks pass, he warms to it. A world of new instruments and sounds open up to him. He makes disc after disc, some of which Holley and Hall play here.

Fred throws himself into the local culture. The story of his trip to a Japanese theatre is something to behold. After Japan, Fred heads to China, Thailand, Burma and elsewhere. In this episode we recount these travels, looking at his early 20th century experiences through a 21st century prism. But if his escapades sound like little more than a sonic gap year, think again. There is a serious side to it all. In travelling to parts of the world where the gramophone is – at best – a strange curio, Fred plants the seeds of the modern music industry. And he does it with all the humour, vigour and eccentricity that we’ve come to expect from him.

Music

  1. The Imperial Palace Band – Seigaiha (1903)
  2. G.U. Hsu – The English Sound Table

Websites

Traditional Japanese instruments

This episode was edited by Andy Hetherington.

The Sound Of The Hound is powered by EMI Archives Trust.

You can subscribe to the podcast on all good podcast platforms including Spotify  Apple and Acast.

We hope you enjoy listening as much as we’ve enjoyed recording them!

Series 2, new episode: Fred heads east to India

Fred in fancy dress on board SS Coromandel

It’s late summer 1902. Fred heads to Tilbury Docks to board the steamer SS Coromandel and set sail for India. His objective? “To open up new markets, establish agencies, and acquire a catalogue of native records,” as he puts it in his diary. And what a trip it is. Accompanied by an assistant called George Dilnutt and a few others, Gaisberg engages in some of his most daring ever recordings and kick-starts the recorded music industry on the subcontinent.

The voyage itself takes weeks. On the last night, as the Coromandel lists on the mudflats of the great Hooghly River at the entrance to Calcutta (as Kolkata was then known), the boat’s guests hold a raucous fancy dress ball. As you do. But once he disembarks, Fred soon ditches the trappings of colonial life after he discovers that Brits in India might as well “be living on another planet for all the interest they took in Indian music”. They live in walled compounds, throw tea parties and play tennis, he finds. Not what he’s come to India for. So Fred goes renegade to find his own musicians.

Visiting the theatres on Calcutta’s notorious Harrison Road – the city’s equivalent of Covent Garden – he meets a wealthy businessman who invites him to a dinner party. It’s at this party where Fred encounters one of the most fascinating voices he’ll ever hear. Gauhar Jaan is a courtesan with a huge entourage and an even bigger voice. Fred is entranced. And he ends up recording her. She goes on to become one of India’s biggest stars. Using Fred’s diaries and other historical documents, Holley and Hall retell the story, playing some of Jaan’s recordings along the way.

Music included in this episode:

  1. Benodini Dassi – Khambaj (1905)
  2. Gauhar Jaan – Ras Ke Bhare Noore Nain (1902)
  3. Gauhar Jaan – Raga Jogia (1902)
  4. Gauhar Jaan – Phanki Diye Praner Pakhi (1903)

Links:

There are some pictures of SS Coromandel here & pictures of Calcutta and the Hooghly River from 100 years ago here

An error admitted:

It was indeed William Barry Owen who changed the name to The Gramophone and Typewriter Limited after deciding to diversify into typewriters.

Photos from the India trip:

This episode was edited by Andy Hetherington.

The Sound Of The Hound is powered by EMI Archives Trust.

You can subcribe to the podcast on all good podcast platforms including: Spotify  Apple and Acast.

We hope you enjoy listening as much as we’ve enjoyed recording them

New podcast series: Fred’s back and this time, he’s got a plaque. This episode is about the great unveiling with Queen’s Roger Taylor and our own James Hall.

James Hall and rock legend Roger Taylor unveil the plaque that now celebrates Fred Gaisberg’s achievements in the first recording studio at 31 Maiden Lane

Fred’s back! And he’s got a plaque! The first episode of Series Two of The Sound of the Hound covers the unveiling of a commemorative plaque on the wall of Europe’s first recording studio, opened by Fred Gaisberg in Covent Garden in 1898. The unveiling of the plaque, which is part of the Westminster Council Green Plaque scheme, followed a campaign by Sound of the Hound co-presenter James Hall.

This opening episode was recorded live at the unveiling ceremony in the building at 31 Maiden Lane on 4 December 2019. We hear an introduction by Caryn Tomlinson, the chair of the EMI Archive Trust, who backed the campaign, and a speech by James before legendary drummer Roger Taylor says a few words and pulls the chord to unveil the plaque. That’s right. Rock royalty. The previous Westminster Council commemorative plaque was unveiled on the old GCHQ building by the Queen. We went one better and got a member of Queen.

The words on the plaque are simple: “In August 1898 Fred Gaisberg and The Gramophone Company opened Europe’s first disc recording studio on this site.” But the stories in the building behind it are legion, as we hope we’re showing in this podcast series. The episode continues with co-presenter Dave Holley interviewing attendees of the ceremony with his roving microphone. Dave talks to members of the City of London Phonograph and Gramophone Society, who kindly set up a demonstration of old gramophone machines for guests. It’s the Antiques Roadshow meets Top of the Pops, and it’s fascinating stuff. Also present is animator Jim Le Fevre, who brought along a special Fred Gaisberg edition of his Phonotrope invention, designed specifically for the day. We’re thrilled that Fred’s achievement is now publicly acknowledged for all to see. We’re glad he’s hanging around.

Our special thanks go to the following:

City of London Phonograph and Gramophone Society (CLPGS) website

You will hear several voices from CLPGS including Christopher Proudfoot, Tom Stephenson and Peter Martland. The CLPGS brought along examples of gramophones from the 1890’s onwards which they displayed and demonstrated at the unveiling.

Jim Le Fevre

Jim makes amazing films. He also has invented Phonotrope, the technique of creating animation in a ‘live’ environment using the confluence of the frame rate of a live action camera and the revolutions of a constantly rotating disc, predominantly (but not exclusively) using a record player. His website has several examples of these animations. We particularly like this one he made with the Crafts Council.

Jim was kind enough to make a Phonotrope animation of Fred Gaisberg which he presented at the Plaque Unveiling and looked a little like this:

Fire & Stone pizza restaurant, Maiden Lane

Not only do they make great pizzas but they occupy 31 Maiden Lane and were kind enough to let us host the Plaque Unveiling ceremony on their premises.

More photos from the day:

The plaque arrives at 31 Maiden Lane

The gramophone display by the CLPGS:

The new plaque in situ

This episode was edited by Andy Hetherington.

The Sound Of The Hound was brought to you by the EMI Archive Trust.

You can subcribe to the podcast on all good podcast platforms including: Spotify  Apple and Acast.

We hope you enjoy listening as much as we’ve enjoyed recording them

Sound of the Hound: Series 1 Sampler

We have pulled together a sampler of some of the best bits from Series 1 of our Sound Of The Hound podcast about Fred Gaisberg and the very early days of the record business, presented by long time music exec Dave Holley & author and journalist James Hall.

In this sampler: Dave thinks signing & recording Caruso gave birth to the modern record industry. James describes how to make a castrato (not for the squeamish) and they tell the tale of how Fred and his sidekick Sinkler Darby had a misadventure with acid in a Polish hotel room.

Series 2 is coming soon.

#fredsback

If you’d like to subscribe to the podcasts they are on Spotify, Apple and most other podcast platforms. Search for “The Sound Of The Hound”

Fred Gaisberg records the Great Caruso and kickstarts the modern record business – our new podcast episode out today

It’s the spring of 1902. Italian tenor Enrico Caruso is due to sing in Covent Garden later in the year, and Fred and Will are still in Milan desperate to record him. Their plan – in what predates the now-ubiquitous music industry ‘360’ marketing deal by over 100 years – is to print the master discs onto shellac and release the records in London in time for Caruso’s Opera House appearance, thereby capitalising on his huge popularity. Fred wants to pay him £100 for ten records, but his bosses in London balk at the cost. But Fred does it anyway. It’s a huge gamble. But Fred’s risk is vindicated: his Caruso recordings kick-start the music industry in a way he could only have dreamed of. Overnight, the public are hooked. Finally, the record industry comes alive.

Links:

Enrico Caruso

https://www.operanews.com/Opera_News_Magazine/2013/7/Features/The_Great_Caruso.html

More on Caruso

https://www.myitalianfamily.com/resource-center/enrico-caruso-opera-singer-sketch-artist-collector-and-more

Caruso’s first ever recording, April 1902 – Studenti, udite

Caruso’s sketch (note the HMV logo in the background)

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img565.jpg

https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Enrico_Caruso

You can subcribe to the podcast on all good podcast platforms including: Spotify  Apple and Acast.

We hope you enjoy listening as much as we’ve enjoyed recording them

James Hall finally tells all about his book The Industry Of Human Happiness – its the new episode of The Sound Of The Hound podcast!

This episode is a little bit different. Dave interviews co-host James about his novel on the early days of recorded sound, The Industry of Human Happiness. James tells how he chanced upon the adventures of Fred Gaisberg and William Sinkler Darby in the sleeve notes of a CD that he bought outside a concert, and how they inspired him to write a fictional account of those heady days of format wars, skulduggery and breath-taking invention. James also talks about his campaign to have a commemorative plaque erected on the Maiden Lane building where the industry started (a plaque that was unveiled by Queen drummer Roger Taylor in December 2019).

Links:

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/what-to-read/beatles-crushed-beetles-gramophones-changed-world-forever/

Blog on the BPI website about the birth of the record industry

https://www.bpi.co.uk/news-analysis/the-industry-of-human-happiness-james-hall-guest-blog/

James writes in the Telegraph about his Maiden Lane commemorative plaque campaign

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/music/news/fight-honour-britains-first-recording-studio/

The Industry of Human Happiness on Amazon

https://amzn.eu/cB1mSl1

You can subscribe to the podcast on all good podcast platforms including Spotify  Apple and Acast.

We hope you enjoy listening as much as we’ve enjoyed recording them

We interview legendary record producer Joe Boyd in the finale to our first series of The Sound Of The Hound podcasts

The first series of Sound of the Hound wraps up with something a bit different: an interview with legendary Pink Floyd and Nick Drake producer Joe Boyd. Just like Fred Gaisberg, Joe is an American who moved to London in his twenties to establish an overseas office for a record company. And just like Fred, he became a recording pioneer. Immersing himself in London life, Joe founded the famous UFO club in the 1960s. He talks about the music that shaped him, tells us about the recording industry in the 1960s, gives an overview of a career that has seen him working with everyone from The Incredible String Band to REM, and shares his thoughts on modern recording technology. This episode is effectively the history of recorded sound and production techniques in a one hour-long programme. We’re possibly a bit biased, but it’s an essential listen for music fans!

Links:

Joe Boyd

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Boyd

Joe Boyd discography

Joe Boyd’s top five albums of all time

https://classicalbumsundays.com/joe-boyds-top-five-albums-of-all-time/

Joe’s website

Joe’s book: White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s

You can subcribe to the podcast on all good podcast platforms including: Spotify  Apple and Acast.

We hope you enjoy listening as much as we’ve enjoyed recording them

And if you have enjoyed Series 1, Series 2 will be coming soon.