Rivalry and co-operation

We’ve seen that Alfred Clark left Berliner’s employ in favour of Edison and moved to Paris to set up a rival to the Gramophone Company in Europe. This put the two old friends, Alfred Clark and Fred Gaisberg, in direct competition for new recordings in 1899.

Clark, pictured above, proved to be a canny businessman. He contacted Trevor Williams, the Chairman of the Gramophone Company and persuaded him to pool resources rather than go head to head against each other.. The Gramophone Company would lead the recording programme. Clark would contribute towards the costs of the recording programme and in return would be able to use the recordings on the cylinders that he would sell for playing on Edison’s phonographs. The Gramophone company would be able to sell the same recordings on their own format. This co-operation seems extraordinary today but Clark was able to secure the deal and it had the consequence of putting more pressure on Fred Gaisberg to deliver more high quality recordings.

To this end, the Managing Director of the Gramophone Company, William Barry Owen, decided to step up the recording programme and send Gaisberg on what must be one of the first field recording trips – to the continent with special portable recording kit.

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The first music industry format war hots up: cylinders v discs

(This blog entry is a bit of a catch up in the story of the Gramophone Company…..)

In 1899, Alfred Clark left Emile Berliner’s employment and went back to working for Thomas Edison’s rival business which sold cylinders rather than discs. Clark, you may remember had set up the world’s first record (disc) shop in Washington at the same time that Fred Gaisberg set up the first disc-recording studio in 1897. Fred and Alfred became firm friends during that time.

Fred had moved to London to help grow The Gramophone Company in 1898, leaving Clark behind in Washington. The opportunity of working with Edison gave Clark a chance to follow Gaisberg across the Atlantic but rather than move to London, Alfred Clark took up residence in Paris at the very end of that city’s “naughty nineties”. It must have been a great posting.

As you can see from this handwritten letter by Thomas Edison, Clark was Edison’s representative in the city and his role was to market the Edison cylinders and phonographs. He was also instructed to begin a programme of recordings to rival that being made by Fred Gaisberg. This would put Gaisberg and Clark head to head as they pursued new recordings for their rival companies.

The handwritten letter was kindly shared with us by the EMI Archive Trust. If you’d like to know more about the Trust and the artefacts that they look after, why not get in touch with them, here.

Russell Hunting day #4: Patriotic recordings

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. ”

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:
 
 
 

Gaisberg in Russia: April 1st 1900

One hundred and eleven years ago today Fred Gaisberg was in the middle of his third big recording expedition. He’d travelled to continental Europe over the summer of 1899 and the British Isles over the autumn of that year and had already made hundreds of the world’s first recordings.

In spring 1900 he and his colleague William Sinkler Darby travelled to Russia to make some more recordings of local artists.  You can see them posing in newly purchased fur coats which were necessary to ward off the effects of the savage cold weather they encountered. Gaisberg is on the left.

Getting into pre-revolutionary Russia had proved a task in itself.  Their equipment was packed in 7 huge cases and Russian customs extracted a then-hefty £7 charge as duty for it’s import into the country. The country was covered in thick snow and the trip to St Petersburg took 8 days by train but they passed the time giving gramophone concerts at the different stop offs. This would have been the first time the listening people would have heard recorded music. It must have seemed like magic to them. Gaisberg remembers the impact they had:

“We would give a gramophone concert at these stops and the amusement of the natives was great to see. I really think the train tarried an extra long time so we could finish our concert.”

Once they arrived in Russia their principal method of transport was a sleigh. Gaisberg got a real kick out of travelling around on the horse drawn sleighs and volunteered to do a lot of the leg work whilst in Russia because it gave him a chance for more sleigh-rides. It was all very Dr Zhivago. Gaisberg and Darby complained constantly about the cold (which they ward off with local vodka) until 110 years ago today when they bought the bear skin coats that you can see in the photo. Gaisberg’s diary recalls intriguingly:

“Sunday 1st April, 1900. We bought our huge bear-skins. After dinner we visited our friends on Milka Prospect where we met an English chap who was nearly crazy. We cut up high.”

It sounds like quite a party….