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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Captain Scott’s Desert Island Discs. A flavour of what were the happening sounds in Antarctica 100 years ago

This article was written by and published on theartsdesk 11 April 2012

 
The gramophone on which Scott and his men listened to music hall and opera at the bottom of the world
 

Centenaries are sizeable business in 2012. It just so happens that the Olympics are coming to the United Kingdom for the third time in a year which finds us thinking very hard about if being British still means the same thing as it did 100 years when two momentous calamities singed themselves into the national psyche: the Titanic sank, and Captain Scott and his four companions never made it back from the South Pole.

Adam Sweeting has already reported on the deluge of Titanica fanning across the television schedules from National Geographic docs to Drownton. The Scott industry is spreading itself more widely across the year. As well as three exhibitions – at the Natural History Museum, the Queen’s Gallery and the National Museum of Wales – you can also enjoy a musical flavour of what it was like to be a the bottom of the world with the Terra Nova expedition by investing in a new double-disc CD. On it is a selection of scratchy recordings Scott and co took south with them to remind them of home in the long polar night. In fact they had a library of hundreds of tunes to listen to, and the choice can do no more than suggest the range of musical tastes catered for, from Enrico Caruso to Nellie Melba, from Harry Lauder to Weber’s Concertino for horn. Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” was on hand to gird the loins as the men prepared to strap themselves into man-hauling harnesses. For many of the jauntier tunes some of the chaps will dressed up in drag and danced along.

The records were donated to the expedition by The Gramophone Company (nowadays known as EMI), along with two splendid old gramophones, one of which is on display at the Natural History Museum’s current exhibition. The main track listing concludes with “God Save the King”. Two additional tracks include Ernest Shackleton taking about his own unsuccessful attempt on the Pole three years earlier. There is a piquant irony to its inclusion. Scott and Shackleton had history, and were not friends, although that did not stop Scott using Shackleton’s expedition journal as a useful pathfinder. The full track listing of Scott’s Music Box is as follows.

CD 1:

  1. The Black Diamonds Band – Dollar Princess Two Step
  2. The Dollar Princess Operatic Party – Opening Chorus (The Dollar Princess)
  3. George Grossmith Jr – Yip-I-Addy-I-Ay (Our Miss Gibbs)
  4. Margaret Cooper – Love is meant to make us glad (Merrie England)
  5. R. Kennerley Rumford – Four Jolly Sailormen (The Princess of Kensington)
  6. Huntley & Carroll – The Golf Scene (Three Little Maids)
  7. Yvette Guilbert – I want yer ma honey
  8. Band of HM Coldstream Guards – Trafalgar March
  9. Walter Miller – We all walked into the shop
  10. Florrie Forde – Oh! Oh! Antonio!
  11. George Robey – The Prehistoric Man
  12. Harry Lauder – Stop your tickling, Jock!
  13. Harry Tate – Motoring
  14. Gus Elen – Wait till the work comes round
  15. Olly Oakley – Anona Two-Step
  16. John Coates – Take a pair of sparkling eyes (The Gondoliers)
  17. Eleanor Jones Hudson – The sun whose rays are all ablaze (The Mikado)
  18. The Sullivan Operatic Party – When Britain really ruled the waves (Iolanthe)
  19. HM Band of the Royal Artillery – The Blue Danube Waltz
  20. Stanley Kirkby – The Trumpeter
  21. Harry Dearth – A Sergeant of the Line
  22. Clara Butt & R. Kennerley Rumford – Night Hymn at Sea
  23. Edward Lloyd – The Holy City
  24. Elizabeth Dews – O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion (Messiah)
  25. A Church Choir – Hark, the Herald Angels Sing

CD 2

  1. Geraldine Farrar – Un bel dì vedremo (Madama Butterfly)
  2. Enrico Caruso – Recitar!…Vesti la giubba (Pagliacci)
  3. Nellie Melba – Waltz Song (Roméo et Juliette)
  4. Titta Ruffo – Largo al factotum (Il barbiere di Siviglia)
  5. Luisa Tetrazzini – Ombra leggera (Dinorah)
  6. Maurice Renaud – Serenade (Don Giovanni)
  7. Mattia Battistini · Emilia Corsi – Là ci darem la mano (Don Giovanni)
  8. Jan Kubelík – Chanson bohème (Carmen)
  9. Enrico Caruso – Mattinata
  10. Nellie Melba – Nymphes et sylvains
  11. Evan Williams – I’ll sing thee songs of Araby
  12. Edward Lloyd – Come into the garden, Maud
  13. Charles Draper – Weber: Concertino
  14. La Scala Theatre Orchestra – The Ride of the Valkyries (Die Walküre)
  15. Joseph Szigeti – Bach: Prelude (Partita No.3)
  16. Wilhelm Backhaus – The Harmonious Blacksmith
  17. Peter Dawson – Rule Britannia
  18. Ernest Pike – The Light of the World
  19. Robert Radford – Honour and Arms (Samson)
  20. Clara Butt – Abide with me
  21. Band of H. M. Coldstream Guards – God Save the King

BONUS TRACKS

  1. Major Sir Ernest Shackleton – The Dash for the South Pole
  2. Stanley Kirkby – ’Tis a story that shall live forever
  • Scott’s Music Box is released on 14 May

http://www.theartsdesk.com/classical-music/captain-scotts-desert-island-discs

If your interested in learning more about Captain Scott’s Gramophone check out EMI Group Archive Trust website.

http://www.emiarchivetrust.org/detail.aspx

 

HIS MASTER’S GRAMOPHONE, part 5

Today we publish the fifth and final in our series of extracts from this fine new book, with kind permission from its creators Christopher Proudfoot and Brian Oakley.

While the gramophone horn was a wonderful piece of design and construction and served its purpose well during the early years, when it came to portability it was pretty cumbersome. As one of the key marketing points of this invention was the ability to take it on picnics, to parties, and indeed to the First World War trenches, and even to the Antarctic with Captain Scott, sooner or later the Gramophone Company scientists would come up with a hornless model, if you’ll pardon the phrase!

This is the probably politically incorrectly named Pigmy Grand.

It has to be confessed that this machine was created in April 1909 to compete with portable machines coming into Britain from Europe, and despite the scorn poured on it by Eldridge Johnson, designer of the first gramophones to be brought to England from American by William Barry Owen, who pronounced it ‘a bum outfit’, it ended its life selling nearly 2,500 by September 1911.

This is the single spring model, made of satinwood with the internal horn behind the trendy treble and bass clef brass grill.

It sold for £5.10s (£5.50) or £7 with carrying case – the first truly portable record player!

If your interested in purchasing this fine edition please contact Brian Oakley at brian.e.oakley@btinternet.com     The cost of the book is £45.00 plus postage/packing quoted on request once country of destination known.

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.

Setting up a record company: #1 Get the technology right

When William Barry Owen and Trevor Williams shook hands to establish the UK’s first record company, The Gramophone Company, in 1897 they sent for Fred Gaisberg, an American “recording expert” to come over to England to help them by setting up the recording department and the UK’s first recording studios in Maiden Lane.

Fred’s involvement in the American parent company, The United States Gramophone Company, went back much longer – to its very inception. We plan to tell the story of how that record company came into being in seven blog entries over the next seven days….

You might remember from an earlier blog entry that Fred had been working for Thomas Edison’s Columbia Phonograph Company before meeting the eccentric inventor, Emile Berliner. Berliner had worked out how to record on flat discs that were a marked improvement on the cylinders being used by Edison. He called his playback device the gramophone. Fred asked Berliner for a job when he felt he was was ready to take the new invention to market.

Later in 1893 Fred recalls that he “received a postcard asking me to come and see him [Berliner]. In great anticipation I called at his house. he informed me that in recent months his laboratory experiments had culminated in the production of a recording and reproducing process sufficiently advanced to place on the market. He also confided to me that three of his relatives and friends had formed a small syndicate to exploit his gramophone. With the limited funds he wanted to make a small programme of songs and music for demonstration purposes in order to raise capital for promoting a company. He told me I was just the person he was looking for….My value to Berliner rested in the fact that I could collect quickly a variety of effective talent to make these demonstration records.”

Fred of course said yes to Berliner’s offer and they switched into business start up mode. Over the next six days we plan to highlight some of the key moments in the setting up of what would become the record business. All the great recordings from Sinatra to The Beatles to Lady Gaga can be traced back to the events of the next few years. 1893 to 1897 saw the invention of recording sound become a business.

“No place for a woman in a recording studio”. Delia Derbyshire denied by Decca invents (soundtrack to) time travel.

There are not that many prominent women in the history of recorded sound. Indeed there are not that many women working in recording studios even today. Boffins and creatives have tended to have the odd Y chromosone or two. The recording studio can be like a gang hut. A step from Lord of the Flies in one direction and a hop and a skip from a soldering iron in the other. Not a place for a lady then….at least that was what the head of Decca Recording Studios in London thought in the late 1950’s. When recording enthusiast Delia Derbyshire applied for a job, she was told unequivocably that Decca did not employ women in their recording studios. (An executive from Decca Records would also famously turn down The Beatles a couple of years later as they thought guitar bands were on the way out…..)

Like The Beatles, Delia was not one to be put off easily. She landed herself a job at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in 1962 and went on to create some of the most experimental music of the 1960’s and in doing so turned the recording studio itself into a star. The workshop is best known for having created the most famous theme music on British TV, Doctor Who. But there was way more to its story and that of Delia Derbyshire, one of its central characters.

In 1966, she founded a music entity/pop group called Unit Delta Plus with fellow Radiophonic Workshop member Brian Hodgson and EMS founder Peter Zinovieff. This organisation pre-dated the British Electrical Foundation by 15 years and Kraftwerk by 4 years and was a vehicle to create and promote electronic music. They played at The Million Volt Light and Sound Rave at which The Beatles’ “Carnival of Light” had its only public performance in 1967. Delia also helped set up the Kaleidophon studio in Camden Town with Hodson and fellow electronic musician David Vorhaus. The studio produced electronic music for various London theatres and, in 1968, the three founders made an album as the band White Noise.

Here is part one of an excellent radio documentary about Delia with appropriate images (you can find the other parts on youtube)

And here is a fascinating snippet of Delia playing the tape machines:

And finally here is Electric Storm by White Noise.

Emile Berliner cuts the first discs: Tvinkle, tvinkle, little star, how I vunder vot you are

Emile Berliner may have been the most talented of all the great inventors playing with the new audio technology during the second half of the 19th century. He was born in Germany 160 years ago today, May 20th 1851, and moved to the states when he was 19.

Berliner is probably most famous in the recording business for having invented both the Gramophone and the flat disc – what most people would call “a record” but he also invented technologies that drove forward telephony, telegrams, aviation, helicopters and public sanitation to name a few.

Fred Gaisberg first met Berliner in 1894. Fred was working for Thomas Edison at the time but it looked as though Edison’s Phonograph was likely to fail as the stenographers of Washington turned Luddite. The phonograph played back music that had been recorded upon wax cylinders. Gaisberg was just turned twenty at this point. He’d heard about another guy in the city of Washington who was doing interesting things with sound recording and called in to see him. That man was Emile Berliner.

Gaisberg made the visit with a friend called Billy Golden who was a comedian that Fred had recorded for Edison.

A face even his mother found hard to love.....

Fred recalled that they “found Emile Berliner in his small labatory on New York Avenue…Berliner certainly did make me smile. Dressed in a monkish frock, he paced up and down the small studio buzzing on a diaphragm.

“Hello, hello!” he recited in a guttural broken English. Tvinkle, tvinkle, little star, how I vunder vot you are.”

Berliner placed a muzzle over Golden’s mouth and connected this up by a rubber hose to a diaphragm. I was at the piano….Berliner said “Are you ready?” and upon our answering “Yes” he began to crank like a barrel-organ and said “go”.

The song finished, Berliner stopped cranking. He took from the machine a bright zinc disc and plunged it into an acid bath for a few minutes. Then taking it out of the acid, he washed and cleaned the disc. Placing it on a reproducing machine also operated by hand like a coffee grinder, he played back the resulting record from the etched groove.

To our astonished ears came Billy Golden’s voice. Berliner proudly explined to us just how his method was superior to the phonograph. He said that in his process the recording stylus vibrated laterally on a flat surface, thus always encountering an even resistance and this accounted for the more natural tone.

Acquainted as I was with the tinny unnatural reproduction of the cylinder-playing phonographs, I was spell bound by the beautiful round tone of the flat gramophone disc. Before I departed that day, I exacted a promise from Berliner that he would let me work for him when his machine was ready for development.

Gaisberg was working for Berliner with a few months.

This is a great film about Berliner and the Gramophone that we found on youtube. Did you make it? Get in touch!