Would it be nice?

January 22nd 1966. 7pm. Gold Star Recording Studios, Los Angeles. Brian Wilson and The Wrecking Crew……would it be nice?

Yes. turns out it would!

Great song. Great recording.

Photographs from long ago: #1 Paderewski.

We have been given access to a number of vintage photo’s from the EMI Archive Trust which we’ll run as a series. This is Ignacy Jan Paderewski. Quite a picture, quite a man….

Paderewski had a run of the mill career…..Born into a poor Polish family, he became a world famous pianist, married a Baroness, had a successful career composing a broad range of music including the only Polish composed opera at the New York Metropolitan Opera, bought a 2,000 acre farm in California and there made some of the earliest Californian wine, had a hit music hall song written about him (“When Paderewski plays” by “The Two Bobs” in 1916), formed the Polish Relief Fund to aid the Poles during WWI, gave a speech that inspired the Polish inhabitants of Poznań to begin a military uprising against Germany in 1918, became the second Prime Minister of Poland in 1919 and represented Poland at the Treaty of Versailles, became Polish Ambassador to League of Nations, was made an honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire, retired from politics to sell out Madison Square Gardens on his return to the concert hall, became a film star (Moonlight Sonata in 1937), returned to public life to head the Polish Government in exile in London in 1940 and following his death in 1941 was awarded a star on the Hollywood Hall Of Fame. There are many streets and buildings named after him in Poland and the USA.

Film Star

Fred Gaisberg recorded him in January 1912. I think the account of the session in Fred’s diaries gives a wonderful insight into the Great Pole and the relationship between recorder and recordee:
Paderewski…”was then at the zenith of his artistic career, with twenty brilliant, all-conquering years at the back of him. Was my awe and worship to be wondered at?
Of all the musicians I have known he was the most inaccessible and in his presence one had always to be on one’s guard…A clumsy act and he could humiliate one in the most withering way.

I remember arranging a session in our Paris studio. Without asking Paderewski’s permission, the Company’s very enterprising Paris manager had invited a journalist to be present….when the scribe, with a patronising manner, began to interview Paderewski, he sat there on the piano stool frigid and white. It slowly dawned on the company present that a most awful blunder had been committed, as Paderewski stalked majestically from the room, leaving us looking at each other in blank amazement.”

Paderewski not only cleared out of the studio but cleared out of Paris, returning to his home in Switzerland forcing Fred to follow him to recreate a recording studio in the Great Pole’s house some weeks later. It would take some of Fred’s renowned diplomacy and the absence of the French record company man to repair the relationship. But repair it he did and Paderewski and Gaisberg became great personal friends to the end of their lives. One of the lovely 1912 recordings can be heard here:

Thanks to the EMI Archive Trust for allowing us to publish the picture. You can learn more about the Trust and make contact with them to arrange a visit to their archive here.

Rules Britannia’s first recording studio green room in 1899

Rules Restaurant, Maiden Lane, London
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:
 
 
 

Maybe its Maybellene! May 1st 1955: Chuck Berry signs to Chess Records.

They didn’t hang around in the 1950’s record business. 18 year old Chuck Berry was introduced to Leonard Chess (of Chess Records fame) by Muddy Waters 61 years ago today. Chess listened to Berry’s blues/r’n’b act but was not overly impressed as r’n’b sales were dropping and Chess had his eyes and ears out for new trends. Berry played him a couple of hillbilly songs that he tended to use at “salt and pepper” concerts that had both black and white people in the audience. One of the songs was a version of an old tune called “Ida Red” and it was the idea and sound of a “hillbilly song sung by a black man” that excited Mr Chess who immediately signed Berry to his label.

Twenty days later Berry arrived at Bill Putnam’s Universal Recording Studios in Chicago which were probably the world’s best (non-classical)recording studios at the time and are the origin of the still thriving Universal Audio audio equipment business. At Chess’s request Berry updated the song to include modern pop music themes of cars and girls. Chess suggested Berry call the reworked song “Maybellene” after spotting an empty mascara box on the studio floor and misspelling the label. The band assembled as Berry’s backing group to play on the record included Willie Dixon on bass. It was to prove one of the decisive records in the birth of Rock’n’Roll.

George Martin documentary review

Thanks to the wonders of the BBC Iplayer I finally watched the Arena documentary Produced By George Martin last night. It was even better than I’d hoped for. If you are in the UK you can still just about catch it here and I’d advise you to ignore the Bank Holiday sunshine for an hour and a half to do so immediately. It went over many familiar tales that make up the George Martin story but also uncovered some things that were new to me:

1. The device of using son Giles to interview his father really worked, with Giles gently needling his father to reveal some of the steely drive that is not always apparent when you meet George (who is one of the most polite, generous and entertaining men on the planet).

Giles teased his father, in the way that only sons who get on very well with their Dad’s can do, into opening up slightly. He revealed glimpses into George’s competitive nature, his workaholism and his very obvious pique at the relatively tiny rewards that EMI offered him as a reward for the phenomenal success that he’d delivered with The Beatles and the other Parlophone acts. The hurt at John Lennon’s comments and behaviour during Let It Be was also palpable.

2. I thought I knew a lot about George’s pre-Beatles career but was delighted to find he’s recorded even more seminal recordings across a range of genres that I’d thought including The Archers theme tune. He really was a key player in inventing the modern recording industry.

3. The scenes where George talked to Paul McCartney were wonderful. The pair of them were incredibly affectionate, respectful and deferential to each other. Clearly old warriors with a lot of shared battle scars enjoying each others company as they reminisced. George remained encouraging to the younger man, gently praising Paul each time he remembered what was happening in the photos they were looking at. I wonder if there is anybody left on the planet who Paul can enjoy this sort of relationship with.  He certainly seemed to value it.

Just as this documentary focussed on George Martin’s contribution to musical history and the wonder-story that was The Beatles I’d like to see more about how Abbey Road Studios and its engineers – Ken Townsend, Ken Scott, Alan Parsons and the rest – helped George and The Beatles make their sounds. Is there anybody out there making a documentary on this? Its Abbey Road’s 80th Birthday in November – would be good timing for such a documenatry.

Warsaw, Berlin, London: Acid, Ladies and a stiff wrist (Fred Gaisberg’s diaries of 110 years ago. Continued)

After failing in his attempt to record the voice of Czar Nicholas in Russia, Fred Gaisberg and side kick William Sinkler Darby began the long journey back to London.
 
They stopped off in Warsaw where they found a “finer set of artists than we had met in St Petersburg” to record but found them more worldly wise than the Russians; “they were suspicious of us and made us pay in advance before they sang. The artists in Russia were more trusting.” He recorded Krusceniski, who was a huge European star at the time, on this trip. You can hear a recording of her from a couple of years later on this video.

On 20th April 1900 after a long day recording Gaisberg was awoken “by a terrible battering at the door” of his hotel room. “The room below was all dripping with what might be blood or something deadly and was falling on the face of the sleeping occupant” Gaisberg had a suite and used one of the rooms as a “Lab” for processing the recordings that he had been making whilst in Warsaw. Unfortunately one of the containers “filled with old acid had sprung a leak and the floor was flooded. We had the disagreeable task of sopping it up in our night-shirts and expecting the manager up every moment to pitch us out bag and baggage.” when they checked out several days later they found 14 Roubles added to their bill as “charges for repairing the room.” No further mention was made of the poor man in the room below who was doused in acid!

On 23rd April 1900 the recording partnership of Darby and Gaisberg dissolved itself for this trip. Darby headed to Vienna and Gaisberg took to Berlin where nothing much happened except he records “the acquaintance of a little French lady whose sentimental propensities robbed me of two hours sleep on the steamer” ……!!

He returned to London on the 26th April 1900 where, a couple of days later, he managed to fall of his bike and this hindered his writing up of the final part of the diaries of the 1900 trip to Russia “If the writing is unintelligible it is because I strained my wrist in tumbling from the wheel and it is very stiff.”

Obituary for Roger Beardsley

Roger Beardsley

We have learnt of the sad passing of Roger Beardsley who was a great friend of the EMI Archives and of many of us who have worked there over the years. Roger was a passionate restorer of early recordings and also one of life’s fun people. Lunch with Roger always seemed to end around tea time and was never boring! Our thoughts go out to his family.

We have found the following information on Music Preserved website which Norman Lebrecht has added to in his Slipped Disc blog.

It is with the heaviest of hearts that we report the sudden death of Roger Beardsley on 7 April. His loss will be felt keenly wherever good music and old recordings are treasured, but our condolences go first to his family. Roger was the transfer engineer responsible for remsatering all of Music Preserved’s archive of historic recordings: a mammoth task he undertook with the love, enthusiasm and expertise that made him acknowledged worldwide as foremost in a highly specialised field. His care and expertise were second to none. Roger took a leading role in the work and growth of Music Preserved. He leaves a huge legacy of music, of living experiences that would otherwise have been lost to the ravages of time, and that may now be absorbed, studied and most of all enjoyed for as long as there are ears to listen. He also leaves a wide circle of friends who counted themselves lucky indeed to enjoy the company of a warm, witty and affable man who was never short of a good joke or a sharply observed apercu.

More from Roger’s CV:

Roger Beardsley began his professional music and recording career at BBC Radio Leeds, where he was a presenter/producer of a weekly music programme (1974-1983). He then became a freelance recording engineer, producing first LP, then CD releases for a variety of organisations including the BBC, following the basic premise that too many microphones cloud the sound. As a second-generation 78 collector, Roger felt that historical re-issues were a travesty of the originals, hence changed his focus from ‘live’ recording to audio restoration. He has produced 400+ CDs to date, covering every sphere of ‘serious’ musical endeavour recorded over the last 110 years – from Vess L. Ossman in 1895 to Kiri Te Kanawa in 2005. He has received various awards for his work, including ‘Classic Record Collector’ for Bartók Quartets (Pearl, 2003) and Kathleen Ferrier and Friends (Pearl GEM0229, 2005), and a ‘Diapason d’Or’ for Gerard Souzay (Pearl, 2002).

Roger is Director of Historic Masters Ltd, which produces limited editions (in the form of direct pressings from original metal masters) of important 78 rpm material from the EMI Archive. He is also a Trustee of Historic Singers Trust, working with the EMI Archive Trust to catalogue their holdings of historic material. So far he has identified 24,000 original metal masters (1900-early 1950s) and located over 1,000 important masters thought destroyed in Germany during World War II. He has produced ‘Fonotipia Ledgers 1904-1939’ (CD-ROM, Historic Masters, 3rd ed.), a database-format discography detailing over 10,000 recordings made by this highly important Italian company.

Roger was a member of the Academic Advisory Board of CHARM and is Technical Consultant (audio restoration) to the Music Department of Kings College London. He is also a member of the Music Preserved Council, an organisation dedicated to conserving, restoring and making available unique recordings of broadcast performances from the 1930’s onwards that would otherwise have been lost.

Produced By George Martin

George Martin:The thinker

There was a recent article by David Hepworth in The Word magazine where he concluded, after listening to the recently remastered Beatles albums, that the group’s recordings – as distinct from their myth – were even more extraordinarily good than is generally recognised. The quality exceeded the (ongoing) hype. Whilst undoubtedly genius was in Abbey Road’s Studio 2 during those six intense Beatle-tastic years, it was not just the song-writers and performers who were channelling it. Revered producer George Martin’s fingers are all over the finished recordings and it’s true to say that the records could not have been made in the same way without him.

There is another chance to see into the world of George Martin when a BBC Arena documentary “Produced By George Martin” is aired on BBC2 on Bank Holiday Monday April 25th at 9pm.

As often seems to be the case when genius is flooding through a situation; much perspiration is also required to deliver on that genius. Like many a veteran of the sixties, the decade passed in a blur for George Martin but his blur was a result of supremely concentrated effort. “My workload was enormous and I had such little time,” he recalls in the documentary.

You can read a nice piece from Jon Savage in the Guardian about the new George Martin documentary here.

If you are ever irritated by those teenagers sharing an ipod’s headphones and ignoring everything around them LOOK AWAY NOW!

They were far more “sharey” in the 90’s. That’s the 1890’s, of course.

We stumbled across this photo the other day  but we don’t know much about it. It’s apparently a group of listeners trying out the new fangled phonograph on headphones, treating it like a sort of communal ipod. We think this was probably a way of promoting the new invention to a wider audience but we are not sure. So please, if you know anything more about these people and what they are up to please get in touch.

Whatever they are doing, they don’t look very happy do they? Probably listening to Joy Division or The Smiths…..

Glamorous gramophones and other early playback devices #4

 

This is the Excelda portable gramophone which is a fabulous piece. It’s one of the first playback machines designed to be portable; a proto-ipod. It was Swiss made by a company called Thorens in 1930. Thorens was formed in 1883 and originally made music boxes and, like many early, clocks. They continue to make high end audio equipment today. 

The 1930 machine is another one of the many gramophones in the EMI Archive Trust’s collection. they describe it thus:
 
“This is a Excelda portable gramophone which was marketed as a ‘pocket’ version. It was similar to folding cameras available at the time, and was often referred to as a ‘Cameraphone’. The case is tin with a brown paint crackle glaze finish. the mechanism could all be broken down into a slim case for transportation and could even play 12 inch records.”

Thank you to the EMI Archive Trust for allowing us to show these pictures. You can find out more about the EMI Archive Trust (and even arrange a time to go and visit their gramophone collection) here.

We’d love to make contact with people who have an interest in these kind of devices. Please get in touch via the comments section below.