Fred and his brother William travel to Milan in 1902 with the aim of convincing opera superstar Enrico Caruso to record for them. However Caruso is busy and non-committal, so the men seek out other forms of sound to record while they wait for an answer. Aiming high, they approach the Pope to ask if he’d be up for recording something (as you would). The pontiff declines but invites them to record the Sistine Chapel Choir in the Vatican instead. And so, by lucky happenstance and perhaps unwittingly, the brothers find themselves capturing the extraordinary voice of Alessandro Moreschi, one of the last castratos ever to sing before a ban on the practice comes into force…
What is a castrato? And what should they sound like?
After the mixed success of the recording trip to Russia in 1900, it is a curious decision of Fred’s to return to the country the following year. But back he goes – twice – with a point to prove. Still waiting for that elusive breakthrough, The Gramophone Company has diversified into typewriters and Fred’s not happy. He needs good music, fast. He records opera stars and fine musicians before making one of the more curious decisions of his career. Finding himself dumped by letter by his London-based girlfriend, Fred heads inland to record music from the Russian steppes. He becomes obsessed with Tatar music, a decision that he comes to rue once he hears what the genre actually has to offer.
A Russian recording
From zinc to wax: how recording materials have changed over time
Today we publish the first of two episodes following Fred on recording expeditions to Russia. In early 1900, with their bosses dissatisfied with what they’ve recorded to date, Fred and his colleague William Sinkler Darby are under pressure to find fascinating sounds. Their agents in St Petersburg, charged with finding singers and musicians, are useless and corrupt so Fred and Sinkler go it alone. They scour the city’s streets and theatres by sleigh, recording what they can. But their new-fangled gramophone invention piques the interest of the court of Tsar Nicholas II, and the men are summoned to his palace. Will they succeed in capturing the voice of the most famous man in Russia? And will they survive an equipment-related disaster that strikes on their way home?
In the early days of recorded sound, no one can quite figure out the purpose of gramophones. Are they serious bits of kit for replicating music or are they toys? Should gramophone discs play music or comedy or something else entirely? One man trying to work out this conundrum is an American actor called Russell Hunting. An eccentric hustler, Hunting invents an Irish comedy character called Michael Casey. He also puts out a series of lewd and obscene records populated by characters telling titillating stories, which become big in coin-slot booths in amusement arcades. But Hunting’s most meaningful contribution to the history of recorded sound comes when he travels to London in 1899 and makes a ‘descriptive record’ about the Boer War with Fred. The record, called The Departure of the Troopship, is a serious mini-drama and ranks as the first piece of recorded propaganda which, according to reports, “brought tears to the eyes of thousands”. The Departure of the Troopship suggests that despite Hunting’s more outrageous leanings he’s something of an accidental innovator.
London, April 1, 2020 —The Sound of the Hound today announced the launch of a new historical podcast series sharing the adventures, stories and lives of the entrepreneurs, artists and eccentrics who invented the music industry and brought recorded music to the masses at the tail end of the nineteenth century.
The series is presented by music industry veteran Dave Holley, who ran the world-famous Abbey Road Studios, now CEO of Wise Music Group, and music aficionado James Hall, an author and music writer for The Daily Telegraph, whose camaraderie and humour brings the era to life, as they share the origin story of recorded sound.
Focusing on the exploits of one man in particular — Fred Gaisberg of The Gramophone Company, a precursor to EMI — the podcast features music and tales of derring-do from an era when “capturing sound” was eyed with suspicion. But we all know how it ended. Today we can listen to any song ever written at the touch of a button on a smartphone. And it was 21-year-old Gaisberg and his friends who helped make this possible when they opened a grimy backstreet studio in London’s Covent Garden in 1898. Their equipment may have been rudimentary to modern eyes (and without electricity), but their taste for adventure and steely ambition was limitless.
From Gaisberg travelling to Italy to record the last castrato or opera singer Enrico Caruso, to the inside story of the UK’s first female recording artist, to Gaisberg and his colleague William Sinker Darby attempting to record the Tsar in Russia, the series is bursting with vivid tales. Gaisberg was essentially the world’s first A&R man and more; a Victorian amalgam of Steve Jobs, Indiana Jones and Simon Cowell. His company, The Gramophone Company, became EMI. Just 33 years after opening his studio in Covent Garden, Gaisberg helped EMI open Abbey Road. So, you can draw a direct line between him and The Beatles. His importance to the music industry is impossible to overstate. The series is peppered with extracts from Gaisberg’s own diaries, anchoring Holley and Hall’s storytelling and discussions in historical fact.
The first series of The Sound of the Hound ends with an interview with legendary Nick Drake and Pink Floyd producer Joe Boyd, who talks about his fascinating career and tells Holley and Hall how music production techniques have changed over the decades.
The Sound of the Hound is available on Spotify, Acast, Apple Music and all good podcast platforms. Each episode focuses on a different song or recording session from this extraordinary era, the first ten years of recorded music.
The podcast is made with the backing of the EMI Archive Trust, one of the foremost sound and technology archives. The Trust holds Gaisberg and Darby’s diaries, as well as myriad photographs and other documents from the era. They are custodians of the world’s most complete collection of over 305,000 rare shellacs, as well as 16,500 7” discs made from 1895 onwards and 67,000 metal master stampers. Rare artefacts include Captain Scott’s gramophone retrieved from his South Pole expedition of 1910, and the papers, workings and patents from the inventor of stereo recording and television pioneer, Alan Dower Blumlein. The Trust is wholly supported by Universal Music Group (UMG).
And why is it called The Sound of the Hound? Because we decided to name it after Nipper, the dog in the HMV logo. We enjoyed making it. We hope you enjoy listening. www.soundofthehound.com
In honour of all those who lost their lives in the First World War.
Actual record taken on the front line, France, near Lille – 9th October 1918.
• Recording: Gas shell bombardment
• Royal Garrison Artillery
• Record: HMV 09308
• Company: The Gramophone Company
• Location: Lille, near France
• Date of recording: 9th October 1918
• Recorded by: William Gaisberg
• Type of disc: 12-inch single sided HMV
• Produced in Hayes, Middlesex, England
Note: Label dated November 1918, possible date of release?
I really needed a strong nudge to resume these unpublished interviews after such good intentions ….The death of Wayne Bickerton was the biggest nudge I could have received. Wayne, a scouser and one of the gentlest and least ego-struck music business folk I ever met, was head of A&R at Polydor when I joined in the 1972 as the company’s press officer. I think we got on well – certainly we never fell out over anything – and his signing of Billy Connolly was a hard fought masterstroke. This interview dates from around 1999. – David Hughes
What was your first exposure to music?
I was in Liverpool groups in the late 50’s/early 60’s. I was in the first Liverpool group to come to London, (Steve Bennett &) The Syndicate. Eventually I joined a band called Lee Curtis and the Allstars.. I was bass player and vocals and for two years we were probably the most popular band in the North West, according to Merseybeat. We made records for Decca. That was my introduction to Decca Records where I ended up working when I came back from The States.
How did the group get that recording contract?
It was the Liverpool thing, the same time as The Beatles. Every A&R man was running around Liverpool trying to find the next Beatles and we ended up being signed to Decca. Peter Sullivan was our A&R guy and he came to Liverpool. It was also the first time I met (Tremeloes etc., manager) Peter Walsh. The band was managed by a guy who wasn’t going to let anyone encroach on his patch. That was the first taste I had of the record industry and I was fascinated, the studios and all the rest of it. We recorded in London, but with Pete Best we had previously recorded with Joe Meek. God knows what happened to those recordings. We were dotted around his house – someone was in the toilets – the usual thing with Joe. The band unfortunately never quite made it. Pete Best joined having left The Beatles and we then left Lee Curtis and formed a group called the Pete Best Five (actually Four!) which also recorded for Decca. We had a wonderful record called I’m Gonna Knock on Your Door which did absolutely nothing – the cover of an American record.
Wayne is third right below..and Pete’s mum was the manager!
Did being billed “Decca Recording Artists” help the bookings?
It did, yes, and we had all those little Decca handout postcard pictures, provided by the Decca press officer.
Did you have dealing with the press office?
Yes – Brian Gibson, a great guy. So I went through all that Liverpool scene, did all the things with Pete Best..we eventually ended up in America. We made the recordings that were subsequently released to hang on the coat-tails of The (Beatles) Anthology series.
They weren’t released earlier?
No, they were bootlegged extensively across the world. We were the last people to receive a royalty; in fact it’s only recently I’ve seen anything from those recordings which I have to say were highly embarrassing – they’re atrocious. We did about an album’s worth. We came back (from America) eventually, reopened the Cavern and met the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. I loved New York, one of my favourite cities. We were a Beatles link. These guys had a so-called marketing plan so we were flown across to New York with The Undertakers and played at places like The Peppermint Lounge. One day these guys stepped up; they were from the Immigration Department and said ‘OK, you’ve been here for 9-10 months as tourists, you’re going to have to deal or leave.’ The deal essentially was that they would put us down for a Green Card. ‘What does that mean’, we asked. ‘If you’re down for a Green Card you have to do things like the rest of the American people are doing, and what we’d like you to do is to volunteer to play for the troops.’ So it was ‘Good Morning Vietnam’ – I was up for it, Tony Waddington was up for it, but Pete wasn’t and neither were a couple of the guys, so we left for Canada, did a tour with Roy Orbison and then came home. I had basically become disillusioned with the band.
Were you doing all this under the auspices of a manager?
Basically through Pete Best’s mother! The problem with bands is that it’s the most undemocratic platform you can ever be involved in – your life’s not your own; other people do things and make commitments and you find yourself somewhere you don’t want to be. So I’d had enough. I decided I wanted to get on the other side of the industry. I got the taste of being a producer. (In New York) I loved being in the studio; it was a great experience, ending up on a demo session with Charlie and Inez Foxx, meeting heroes like Luther Dixon who wrote The Shirelles’ hits. James Brown’s band used it a lot, and great drummers like James Purdie. It all rubbed off and I got a taste for it.
The funniest thing that happened in New York when we were there as musicians, was when all the lights went out. We were in the studio, and of course in England it wasn’t unusual to have a power failure; in New York the lights didn’t just go off, they went down gradually and we went to emergency lighting. The Guy who owned the studio came upstairs and the and the guy who was producing the record was Bob Gallo who was the first cousin of the Bobby Gallo of mafia fame – it was that kind of set up. Someone said to the engineer ‘Christ, what have you been doing this time?’, so they went out into the hallways and opened the electrical boxes to see what the problem was. There was a huge window on 42nd Street and they looked out and all of a sudden the lights just went out, bang bang bang, all down the street, and there was total darkness. Then we were getting static through the speakers from the emergency power and within five minutes the Americans had convinced themselves they had heard the sound of approaching Russian bombers. Within minutes there were police on top of police cars to stop looting. There were people out on the streets – talk about commercial enterprise – with trays selling candles which a few minutes earlier were 5 cents and now were $5! It went on all night, the first time it had ever happened all up the coast – 1963 I think.
Was Decca your first port of call, and were there still House Producers?
I did cabaret gigs in Liverpool for a while, which I hated, but I’d met my wife, got married and we had a small flat. My actual profession is an engineer which I hadn’t practiced since I’d left Liverpool, so I went back to being an engineer during the day, played cabaret, and sat in the toilet of the flat until 2am writing songs. Survived – God knows how – on about four hours sleep. I used to go down to London and a friend of mine, Tony Booth, used to let me sleep in his flat, so I took days off work, went down (to London) with my tapes and did the rounds. That was when I first met Dick Leahy for example when he was at Philips. I did EMI, Decca, Pye. I was offered a job at Pye and at Decca, as a producer, joining the staff and making the tea. People like Peter Sullivan had moved on because of Tom (Jones) and was on a different planet. I found out later that word had got round that Dick Rowe had hired an American producer – of course it was a scouser who had been to America! Today it’s difficult to get a job in the music business, and years later I was talking to Dick Rowe and asked him why I’d got the job – all those letters that he must have received week in and week out, He’d had too much to drink and he said ‘Well I’ll be absolutely candid with you, I thought you were a very interesting engineer. I thought about not having signed The Beatles and thought I’d give this guy a chance.’ That’s why I got the job, the Liverpool connection.
To be continued – Deram label, Sir Edward Lewis, Tony Hall and many more names along the Bickerton path.
In 1966, David began working for a local Kent newspaper, starting a music column alongside the more traditional elements of cub reporter life, before later joining weekly music newspaper Disc & Music Echo in 1967. He became a press officer for Polydor Records in 1972, working alongside artists such as Slade, The Jam and The Osmonds, before moving to EMI Records in 1978. There, he was general manager of the Tamla Motown label, working with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, and later with Duran Duran, Nigel Kennedy and the NOW That’s What I Call Music series
After 15 years, he moved back to public relations in 1993 becoming the company’s Vice President of Communications and External Affairs and assuming responsibility for EMI’s calendar of corporate events until retiring at the end of July 1998.
Pioneering British Engineer and Inventor of Stereo, Alan Dower Blumlein to be Posthumously Honoured with the Recording Academy® Technical Grammy® Award
The ground-breaking work of British engineer Alan Dower Blumlein, inventor of stereo sound recording, is to be posthumously honoured by The Recording Academy® with the Technical Grammy® award at a special ceremony to be held later this year.
The news of Alan Dower Blumlein’s posthumous Grammy® received widespread interest from mainstream media outlets including Sky News, BBC Radio 4, the Daily Mail, The Telegraph and the London Evening Standard.
Born in Hampstead, London on 29th June 1903, Alan Dower Blumlein was one of the most prolific inventors of the twentieth century who transformed the worlds of audio and recording technology, television and airborne radar. In March 1929, aged 25, he joined Columbia Graphophone, one of the forerunners of EMI. During his time at Columbia and EMI he thrived as an incredibly inventive and innovative engineer, filing 128 patents in the space of 13 years.
On 14 December 1931, Blumlein filed a patent for a two-channel audio system, or stereo as we call it now. It included a “shuffling” circuit to preserve directional sound, an orthogonal “Blumlein Pair” of velocity microphones, the recording of two orthogonal channels in a single groove, stereo disc-cutting head, and hybrid transformer to mix directional signals. Blumlein brought his equipment to Abbey Road Studios in 1934 and recorded the London Philharmonic Orchestra, where he was honoured in 2015 with a commemorative plaque by the IEEE for his work in advancing technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity.
Tragically on 7th June 1942 during World War II, aged just 38, Blumlein’s life was cut short in an aircraft accident, whilst testing the H2S airborne radar system that the team he was leading had developed and which was soon deployed throughout the RAF’s fleet. Given the top secret nature of H2S his death was never officially acknowledged and so despite this major contribution to the Allied war effort, as well as his ground breaking work in sound recording and television, his accomplishments are not widely known.
Alan Dower Blumlein is one of the great unsung heroes of British science and technology in the 20th century.
The life and work of Alan Dower Blumlein is currently being developed into an as-yet untitled film project by Universal Music Group, which also supports and maintains The EMI Group Archive Trust.
A hearty Christmas congratulations to Catherine Crump and Rob de Bie who correctly identified last weeks’ mystery object – TheIvor Novello Award also known as The Ivors. Named after the Cardiff – born entertainer Ivor Novello these have been presented annually in London by the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors(BASCA) since 1955.
This award was presented to EMI Records for Cliff Richard’s version of ‘Mistletoe and Wine’ which was the best selling A side for 1988 – original song written by Jeremy Paul, Leslie Stewart and Keith Strachan.
The Award itself is a solid bronze sculpture of Euterpe, the muse of lyric poetry –individually crafted by Mike Wilson.
Ivor Novello Awarded to EMI Records – 1988 for ‘Mistletow and Wine’ – Courtesy of the EMI Group Archive Trust Collection.