Recording Pioneers- Part 4

Trevor Lloyd Williams

 

“The money behind the music”

Name:                        Trevor Lloyd Williams         

Born:                         18 July 1859, Deudraeth Castle, Penrhynd, Merionethshire, Wales

Resident:                  London

Occupation:             Solicitor, The first major British investor and registered The Gramophone Company in the United Kingdom in 1898 with William Barry Owen

Loves:                       Classical music, Law, Travelling, Investing in new inventions from across the pond

·

Trevor Lloyd Williams Copyright courtesy of  EMI Group Archive Trust

Trevor Lloyd Williams
Copyright courtesy of EMI Group Archive Trust


In the very early days of the Gramophone Company Emile Berliner (inventor of flat discs and the gramophone) sent his partner William Barry Owen to London to generate some interest and investors in the gramophone to launch the company.  After many months of high profile engagements in London Owen wasn’t having much luck.  In a final attempt for investment he gave his young solicitor, Trevor Williams, a gramophone to take home for one evening. Williams was unimpressed by the prospects of the gramophone to begin with but was convinced on trip to New York where he met Berliner and witnessed for himself the recording industry beginning to become established in the United States.

 

 When he returned to London, Williams along with three of his friends, arranged for a bank guarantee of £5000.  This wasn’t as much as Owen and Berliner had hoped for but just enough to kick start the company.

 

William  Barry Owen Copyright courtesy of  EMI Group Archive Trust

William Barry Owen
Copyright courtesy of EMI Group Archive Trust

On February 23rd 1889 Owen and Williams registered the small, private Gramophone Company.  Trevor Williams had overall control and Owen was his general manager.  Gramophones would be assembled in London from components supplied by America.  The company made its own recordings, but the actual records would be pressed at a factory in Hanover, Germany, at a factory plant owned by Berliner’s brother.  Trevor Williams knew that the American taste in music would not be big sellers in the Victorian salons, so recording specific musicians that would be to the taste of Victorian Britain was essential.

“Williams put his foot down and insisted on selecting his own repertoire”

-William Barry Owen

The Company set up its offices at 31 Maiden Lane, just off the Strand. It was a shabby old building, part of which served as a make do hotel.  However it was close to many of London’s theatres and music halls, where London’s brightest and best singers could be found easily.  At the time Williams and Owen had no way of conducting the recording sessions for themselves, however Berliner was not prepared to share the details of his record making process with the two business men.  Instead Berliner sent his trusted young sound engineer, Fred Gaisberg, to London to start making recordings for the European market.

One of the first ever recordings was the Welsh National Anthem, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, sung by Trevor Williams’ niece, Madge Breese.

For Hound readers with access to the Welsh Language channel S4C wishing to learn more about the Welsh connection watch  S4C Darn Bach o Hanes (a little piece of History) 26 August 20.25 to 21.00                                            

Dewi Prysor looks at the Welsh connection in the history of recorded music. He learns about the Welsh roots of the music recording and publishing company  EMI, attempts to record his own voice using some early technology, and visits EMI Archive Trust to listen to the first recording in Welsh.     


 

Advertisements

Gaisberg’s Travels #2

“8-8-1898”

The young Fred Gaisberg arrived in Liverpool and made his way to London to set up his studio. Despite the long journey and unfamiliar country Gaisberg was in high spirits and recalls

“Arriving in London at the tail end of a strawberry glut of which I took the fullest advantage.”

– Fred Gaisberg

Before any recordings could be made he needed to find the correct space for the studio and purchase all the necessary materials and chemicals. His Notebook is filled with a long list of items such as:

        A gallon of coal oil

        Jars and pitchers of earthenware and glass

        A soldering iron

        Acid

        Gasoline

        An etching tank

        Scissors

        Oil cloth

        Linoleum

        Cotton cloth

        A bucket

All parts were necessary to make the discs after the recording.

The studio was based in the basement room of the dingy Old Coburn Hotel.

 

  Copyright courtesy of  EMI Group Archive Trust


Copyright courtesy of EMI Group Archive Trust

“Yes, grimy was the word for it. The smoking room of the Old Coburn Hotel was our improvised studio. There stood the recording machine on a high stand; from this projected a long, thin trumpet into which the artist sang. Close by on a high movable platform, was an upright piano.”

-Gaisberg’s description of the studio

Although it was grimy it was very well placed near the theatres, concert and dance halls of London’s west end, which made finding artists to record easier for the young American.

 Copyright courtesy of  EMI Group Archive Trust


Copyright courtesy of EMI Group Archive Trust

By the end of the first week of August all the necessary materials were purchased, the studio was set up and began recording.  The records were made in Hanover at Berliner’s bothers factory.  The earliest discs issued are dated

“8-8-98”

One of the first recording artists was Syria Lamonte, an Australian singer working at Rules Restaurant in Maiden Lane.

HIS MASTER’S GRAMOPHONE

  

PART 1

We made mention of this fine new hardback book a few months back, but feel it deserves more attention, and so, with the kind permission of its creators Christopher Proudfoot and Brian Oakley, we’re starting a series of extracts to give/remind you of the first golden era of  recorded music and the wonderfully crafted machines that allowed it to be heard.

First up is ‘The Improved Gramophone – Trade-mark, (Style No 5).

This was the machine that started the life of The Gramophone Company in Britain in 1897, the first to be sold here by Wilfred Barry Owen and his associates. While the very first machines imported from New York bore The National Gramophone Co name, subsequent imports carried the names of The Gramophone Company (until 1899), The Gramophone Company Ltd. (until the end of 1900), and The Gramophone and Typewriter Ltd (January 1901-March 1902) together with one of the first two addresses of the Company, 31 Maiden Lane or 21 City Road.

Initially retailing  at £5.10s (£5.50), cheaper models were added, retailing at 2,3 or 4 guineas (£2.10, £3.15, £4.20)

With a plain oak case housing the motor and, together with the extension arm, mounted on a baseboard and the mainspring projecting in a nickel-plated cast iron casing, the Improved Gramophone set the standard of craftsmanship and quality that was to epitomise the Gramophone Company’s output for many years.

Other versions, like this one

were made from walnut with gilt fittings, and there were even ‘Extra Fine’ models made from mahogany – all at this stage imported from New York. The witch’s hat horns were either made from tinplate or zinc and painted black, as in the first photo, or single spun from brass. While the first shipment was largely the black version, the brass model, an experiment, proved the more popular and by 1902 nickel plated and even silver plated versions were available.

To complete the purchase, wealthy customers were invited to buy a carrying case. These came in several styles, made in black enamel, brown canvas and green crocodile or tan leather. Classy eh?