Gaisberg’s Travels #2


The young Fred Gaisberg arrived in Liverpool and made his way to London to set up his studio. Despite the long journey and unfamiliar country Gaisberg was in high spirits and recalls

“Arriving in London at the tail end of a strawberry glut of which I took the fullest advantage.”

– Fred Gaisberg

Before any recordings could be made he needed to find the correct space for the studio and purchase all the necessary materials and chemicals. His Notebook is filled with a long list of items such as:

        A gallon of coal oil

        Jars and pitchers of earthenware and glass

        A soldering iron



        An etching tank


        Oil cloth


        Cotton cloth

        A bucket

All parts were necessary to make the discs after the recording.

The studio was based in the basement room of the dingy Old Coburn Hotel.


  Copyright courtesy of  EMI Group Archive Trust

Copyright courtesy of EMI Group Archive Trust

“Yes, grimy was the word for it. The smoking room of the Old Coburn Hotel was our improvised studio. There stood the recording machine on a high stand; from this projected a long, thin trumpet into which the artist sang. Close by on a high movable platform, was an upright piano.”

-Gaisberg’s description of the studio

Although it was grimy it was very well placed near the theatres, concert and dance halls of London’s west end, which made finding artists to record easier for the young American.

 Copyright courtesy of  EMI Group Archive Trust

Copyright courtesy of EMI Group Archive Trust

By the end of the first week of August all the necessary materials were purchased, the studio was set up and began recording.  The records were made in Hanover at Berliner’s bothers factory.  The earliest discs issued are dated


One of the first recording artists was Syria Lamonte, an Australian singer working at Rules Restaurant in Maiden Lane.


10 thoughts on “Gaisberg’s Travels #2

  1. Excellent piece on Gaisberg’s Travels No.2, especially the carefully worded reference to Syria Lamonte. But Fred is mistaken in thinking that the studio was in the basement of the ‘Coburn’ Hotel. Research shows that the name of the hotel was actually the Cockburn, but Fred was an American so he must have assumed that the spelling was COBURN because of the way the name was pronounced.

    1. I’m afraid that the ‘basement’ idea is another long-standing assumption, without a shred of evidence; it appeared only in 1973, as far as I can tell. The studio was actually in the very large (full-width) room overlooking Maiden Lane — upstairs on the FIRST FLOOR. Just consider the scale of things in the two pictures, not to mention the spacing of the very tall windows…
      The Cockburn Hotel was one of a small group of so-named hotels: when Gaisberg and Darby made records in Glasgow in September 1899, they stayed at the Cockburn Hotel (long since demolished) in Bath St.
      Pleasingly readable summaries, though, with good pictures and of course Gaisberg’s commentary!

      1. Bravo Peter Adamson! I have often wondered about the inconsistencies between the appearance in the photos of the interior of the studio – including the size of the room and the position of the large windows with the light streaming in – compared with the outside of the building and the windows of the semi-basement room or rooms as seen from the pavement in Maiden Lane. Of course the studio has to be the big first-floor room and we have to thank Peter for exploding another myth that has erroneously become attached to the story of Gaisberg’s earliest London recordings.

  2. How good to see those photos of the early recording studio, 100 years after the event (and thank goodness it was the 8th of August, so we don’t have to worry over the American versus the British order of writing a date!) But a caption for the much later photo at the bottom would be welcome. It clearly has nothing to do with Syria Lamonte!

  3. When Alan Sanders devised the documentary CD that accompanied the 10 CD set 100 YEARS OF GREAT MUSIC celebrating EMI’s Centenary in 1997, he chose the clarinetist A. A. Umbach playing Mendelssohn’s Spring Song (E 6002) as an example of a recording made on 8 August 1898. I would be very interested to see a list of all the recordings made on that day. Does the Archive Trust have such a list?

    1. According to the matrix listings compiled by Alan Sanders these are the first week’s recordings:
      Monday, 8 August, 1898.
      Mr C BURGESS
      E5016 My Pilot o’er life’s sea
      Mr CASTLE
      E5502 Under the Double Eagle, March (J F Wagner)
      Mr A A UMBACH (of the Trocadero Orchestra)
      E6000 Variations brillantes
      E6000X do
      E600l Melodie dei Puritani (Bassi)
      E6002 Spring song (Mendelssohn)

      Tuesday, 9 August, 1898.
      13 E7550 Swiss air and Variations

      Thursday, 11 August, 1898.
      Mr C BURGESS
      E5007 Let me hear you tell it over again

      Friday, 12 August, 1898.
      2 E5002 In cellar cool (Fischer)
      E5501 Honeymoon March

      Saturday, 13 August, 1898.
      2 E5000 Du, Du & Variations
      3 E5003 Our lodger is a nice young man
      E200l They’ve all gone in for ’em

      Syria Lamonte recorded on 1, 2, 7, 27 September and 3 October 1898, with Coming through the rye on 2 Sep (dated 8-2-98 on disc).
      On that same day there was also this:
      E5504 Two piano solos on one plate, A great novelty

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