This week we are planning to run a five day series of blog entries about Russell Hunting, a maverick who was involved at the start of the very start of the record business when its pioneers were searching to find the best business model to capitalise on the new sound-recording and playback technology. Hunting tried all sorts of ways to make money. One or two of them sailed close to the wind. None were boring. This is day #4 of 5 about the early years of Russell Hunting.
In the autumn of 1899, the United Kingdom was embroiled in the Boer War and the newspapers were dominated by stories from the front. Fred Gaisberg had the idea for a mini drama to be acted out in the recording studio. But Gaisberg’s friend, Russell Hunting, fresh from his attempts at comedy and semi-pormographic recordings, had a better idea:
It was, as Gaisberg later recalled, for “a descriptive record entitled “The Departure of the Troop Ship”, with crowds at the quayside, bands playing the troops up the gang-plank, bugles sounding “All ashore”, farewell cries of “Don’t forget to write”, troops singing “Home Sweet home”, which gradually receded in the distance, and the far-away mournful hoot of the steamer whistle.
The record became enormously popular and eventually historic. It brought tears to the eyes of thousands, among them those of Melba, who declared in my presence that this record influenced her to make gramophone records more than anything else. I was directly and solely responsible for acquiring “The Departure of the Troopship” for my company, and together with my good colleague Russell Hunting, its author staged the recording. ”
Chevalier’s most famous act was as a singing Cockney costermonger (or market trader; which must be the top photo) and biggest hit was My Old Dutch which was a sentimental tune about a man’s love for his wife ( its Cockney rhyming slang: Dutch = Duchess of Fife = wife). It was written in 1892 and already hugely popular when Fred Gaisberg recorded Chevalier singing it at the Maiden Lane studios in 1899. The tune was a hit both in the UK and US and went on to two spawn two films of the same name, the first starring Chevalier in 1915. His full name has to be mentioned; he was born Albert Onesime Britannicus Gwathveoyd Louis Chevalier. We are going to give Mr C 4/5 for his photo pose but will award him an extra half a mark for that collection of forenames. So, final PR score for effort in a publicity photo = 4.5/5. Great score.
If you have been affected by any of the content included in this post please dont hesitate to get in touch with The EMI Archive Trust who will be happy to talk to you about this picture and the rest of their wonderful collection.
The first London recording studios were established next door to this place. Fred Gaisberg’s early recordings in the capital were made in the Gramophone Company’s premises at 31 Maiden Lane in the Covent Garden area, Rules restaurant was then (and remains to this day) at 35 Maiden Lane. It became a central point to the fledgeling company where both artists and staff congregated to prepare for and wind down after recording sessions. Rules therefore acted as the first studio bar or green room.
Gaisberg remembered these 19th century days in his diary:
“Stout was the great standby of our artists in those days. It amazed me to see the number of empties that accumulated at the end of a sesssion. Harry Fay’s capacity was six bottles, but Ernest Pike and some of the ladies ran him a close second.
In Maiden Lane we kept open house and our good friend Mr Hyde, himself a publican, acted as runner. I had my recording machine ready to recieve at any time the interesting visitors Mr Hyde would bring in from Rule’s”
Interesting to see the opportunistic nature of the early Gaisberg operation. Presumably the arists that Mr Hyde lured up to record had already sung that evening at the nearby opera house in Covent Garden. Also, whilst Fay & Pike were among the early recording artists on The Gramophone Company label, Mr Hyde may have more long term significance as possibly the first ever studio runner. Little is known about him, but we’ll raise a virtual glass to him and all the runners without whom the history of recording would have been very different and certainly a lot drier.
Stouts all round!
And leave you with a recording by the thirsty Harry Fay: