Joe Batten’s Book: The Story of Sound Recording

SOTH would like to thank our latest contributor Michael Lloyd-Davies for his insightful review on the memoirs of Joe Batten – pioneer recording manager.   

By Michael Lloyd-Davies

 

 In his foreward to Joe Batten’s memoirs, Joe is described by Sir Compton McKenzie as “that other great recorder” bracketed with Freddy Gaisberg. Joe Batten’s story is perhaps wider in its horizons. The core of the book is the excitement of pioneer recording from wax-cylinder to L.P., in which mechanical hazards and progress are described as an explorer could write of his adventures.

The period before the First World War saw sound recording grow from being a novelty toy to become an industry full of innovation and eventually accepted as a serious medium and art form by both artists and the public.

Joe was one of the pioneers who began as a pianist accompanying vocalists in recording rooms as early studios were known, to become the artistic manager for Edison Bell, and later, the Columbia Graphophone Company which merged in 1931 with The Gramophone Company to form Electric and Musical Industries Ltd (EMI).

At EMI he formed the Special Recording Department which was located at new studios at Abbey Road. This venture began making sponsored shows for the Commercial Radio companies which were springing up in the mid 1930’s. The department was almost immediately shut down at the outset of the Second World War but re-opened to make recordings for the troops through ENSA up to 1945.

In the last five years of his 50 year career in the music industry, Joe made some notable recordings including two historical events, the silver wedding of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth and the wedding of H.R.H. Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh.

Inevitably Joe Batten amassed a vast number of friends and memories in the musical concert and light opera fields and it is fitting that the book (out of print since the first edition in 1956) should close with select memories of the life and times at The Savage Club, London’s last bohemian rendezvous where Joe Batten concluded his life as he began it – accompanist to those spontaneous musical evenings which from the West End to the East were once such a feature of London Life.

Joe retired in 1950 but died five years later before his memoirs were published.

Joe Batten’s Book: The Story of Sound Recording is now available via Kindle Book Store: www. https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B007Q1U4RA

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HIS MASTER’S GRAMOPHONE, part 4

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)

HIS MASTER’S GRAMOPHONE, part 3

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!

HIS MASTER’S GRAMOPHONE, part 2

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.

HIS MASTER’S GRAMOPHONE

  

PART 1

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?

Our First Plug!

 

This is very exciting. We’ve been asked to spread the news about a new book. Our first plug! 

And we are very pleased to say that the book in question is rather lovely; it’s  a lavishly-illustrated, information-packed hardback book printed on high quality silk paper with colour digital photographs, comprehensive descriptions, technical details, original purchase prices, production dates & quantities, etc etc  all about….

   It’s authors, Brian Oakley and Christopher Proudfoot, are good friends of the EMI Archive. In fact Christopher, in a previous life at Christies, helped to value much of the wonderful collection held at Hayes. This book, privately published, measures an impressive 30cmx22cm and contains over 250 pages of colour photographs and text on – as it says on the cover – ‘the acoustic instruments sold by The Gramophone Company in Great Britain 1897 – 1960”. In addition to sourcing information from old catalogues and using their own collections, Brian and Christopher spent several days at Hayes last year painstakingly photographing vital machines that were unavailable elsewhere.

 The Chairman of the EMI Archive Trust, David Hughes, has written the forward and he urges anyone interested in the origins of the music industry, to buy a copy. You can purchase a copy directly from the authors by contacting them: Brian (brian.e.oakley@btinternet.com) or Christopher (cproudfoot@firenet.uk.net) direct.

 Here’s a sample page to whet the appetite: 

It’s beautifully designed and reminds us of Kehew & Ryan’s brilliant “Recording The Beatles”

In the rush to publish this plug and offer a flavour of its contents, we have taken the liberty of photographing the cover/inside page. We’d just like to confirm that the quality of the whole book is much higher than our pictures suggest.