HMV 363 Oxford Street

This was the Daddio of record shops. HMV 363 Oxford Street, London in the late 1950’s:

The shop plays a part in The Beatles story. HMV, which was then part of EMI, had a small recording studio that members of the public could record songs for their sweethearts. In February 1962 Brian Epstein was in London doing the rounds of the London record companies trying (unsuccessfully) to get a record deal for the boys. He stopped at HMV Records at 363 Oxford Street to get some acetate discs made from the (unsuccessful) reel-to-reel Decca demo. The disc-cutter was Jim Foy who mentioned the group to publisher Sid Colman who in turn mentioned them to George Martin at E.M.I.’s studios in Abbey Road NW8. George gave The Beatles a recording test some months later and the rest is history.

People also bought music there!

You can browse more wonderful photos from HMV in the 1960’s here

The original HMV shop burnt down in 1937 to be rebuilt and reopened 2 years later on 8th May 1939. Sir Thomas Beecham, the famous conductor, opened the store. Here is his speech and photos of the fire.

The original shop was opened in 1921 by Sir Edward Elgar (who also opened Abbey Road Studios ten years later)

The shop closed down on April 2000. A certain George Martin was there to send it on its way with a Blue Plaque.

We’ve been adding some new photos to our Recording Studios section: Dylan, Ziggy, U2, Joe Meek, Floyd

Hover your cursor over the Recording Studios item on the menu strip (above) and choose a Studio to go to. Currently showing Joe Meek in 1961, Bob Dylan in Columbia Records Studio A in 1963, Abbey Road Studio 3 in 1973 at the time of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of The Moon, Trident Studios, where David Bowie recorded Ziggy Stardust, in the 1970’s and Olympic Studios in 2008 with U2 recording the last session before the studios sadly close.

London’s first recording studios

In an earlier blog entry we touched upon (EMI predecessor) The Gramophone Company’s first recording studio which was located two doors up from Rules Restaurant at 31 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden. This would have been the very first recording studio in London, pre-dating Abbey Road Studios by 33 years!

Those kind people at the EMI Archive Trust have dug out a photo of the studio as it looked upon opening in 1898.

London's first recording studio

The lady sitting at the studio piano is Amy Williams who was the Recording Department secretary and also accompanied the vocalists. This role is the equivalent of a modern day A&R assistant getting to play on all the label’s records! You can see that the piano is raised so that its sound can be captured in the (one and only one!) recording horn which itself would be adjusted to the height of a singer’s mouth.

I’m not sure who the man is that is standing behind the recording horn. It’s not Gaisberg as he does not have a the trademark Gaisberg moustache. Fred is most likely behind the camera as he was a keen photographer.

You can see that the room is not particularly uplifting. Fred described it thus: “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.”

31 Maiden Lane was then being used as a hotel (The Coburn Hotel) which was clearly run down when The Gramophone Company took over its basement to use as a recording studio. Its now being used a pizza restaurant called Fire and Stone.

31 Maiden Lane - now Fire & Stone

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.

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.

The invention of the modern music star in a hotel bedroom in Milan

Caruso making a gramophone recording: a self caricature, 1902

Fred Gaisberg was one of the men who invented the recording industry. In 1893 he worked in the States as the assistant to Emile Berliner, who had just invented the gramophone disc, and then Gaisberg went on to open and run the world’s first recording studio. In 1898 Gaisberg moved to London to make the first European gramophone recordings. He had a great career going on to become a shareholder and senior executive at The Gramophone Company, that turned into EMI, where he personally sketched out the design for Abbey Road Studios, but his first love was the discovering and recording of world class artists. One of the first artists he recorded was Enrico Caruso who went on to become the world’s first recording superstar.

Gaisberg had what he called “portable”recording equipment that he took with him on his journeys around the world to record local artists. It was not really that portable as it took six crates to ship it with him but Gaisberg nevertheless used it to make some of the most significant recordings at the very dawn of the recording business.

In 1902 he was in Milan and after hearing a young Caruso singing at La Scala was determined to record the singer. Caruso, like many of the great stars of the day was reluctant to be recorded and demanded a huge fee of 100 pounds for ten songs (which was the standard Gramophone Company contract in those days). Gaisberg telegrammed his record company for permission to press ahead with the record, but quickly received back the negative response “FEE EXORBITANT FORBID YOU TO RECORD”. Believing Caruso to be an extremely special talent and backing his judgement to the hilt, Fred chose to ignore the order and underwrote the payment to Caruso out of his own pocket.

In the middle of the day on April 11th Caruso arrived at the Grande Hotel “dressed like a dandy, twirling a cane.” He was taken up to the room where Gaisberg had set up the recording equipment but the singer initially appeared impatient to get the job over as quickly as possible to earn his 100 pounds and proceed to lunch.

Once the young singer began to sing, however, he threw himself fully into the recording process. The songs were, according to Fred himself, “all about 2 and a half minutes long and one after another, as fast as we could put the waxes on the machine, Caruso poured the fresh gold of that beautiful voice on to them.”

As a souvenir of the occassion, Caruso who was a decent cartoonist, drew the picture of himself recording for Gaisberg that is at the top of this article. He even included his version of Barraud’s Dog and Trumpet picture which was a Gramophone Company logo. Caruso pocketed his 100 pound payment and left Gaisberg in the hotel room with the post euphoric realisation that The Gramophone Company would need to sell an unheard of 2,000 copies to recoup the cost of the 100 pound fee. At this time very very few people had gramophones and so the market for discs was tiny. This is the first of the recordings that Fred had paid for:

The ten sides of Caruso did become a huge success both for the Gramophone Company, who made a profit of 15,000 pounds on the recordings (which meant that had sold in excess of 300,000 copies; the first true world wide hit records!), and for Caruso who became famous and much sought after all over the world, these recordings acting as viral marketing for the Caruso brand.

He became hugely successful and made many more recordings; 290 in total, most for the American company that became RCA Victor. He sang to great and lucrative acclaim at all the major concert halls and great opera houses of the world, made a couple of (ironically silent, of course) movies and was the featured of the first ever public radio broadcast in America in 1910.

Fred Gaisberg had recognised a special talent in Caruso and by recording it and making it available to be listened to throughout the world, he helped move the gramophone business to a popular tipping point as people bought gramophones to be able to hear Caruso’s sensational voice and in doing so gave recording stars access to a level of worldwide audience that had been hitherto impossible to reach. Fred had in fact helped to create the blueprint for the modern music star.

 

The real star of The King’s Speech

A major new film opens today, January 7th 2011, in the UK. The King’s Speech is tipped to win a gong or two in the upcoming awards season; possibly even Best Picture at The Oscars. It tells the story of King George VI who suffered from a debilitating speech impediment all his life and the efforts of an eccentric speech therapist, Lionel Logue, to help him overcome his severe stammer so that he can address his people as they stand alone against the all conquering Nazi’s in World War Two.

We are pleased that one of the assets of the EMI Group Archive Trust was used in the film. Our friends at Abbey Road Studios recorded the film score and they borrowed this microphone for use during the recording.

This microphone was specially made for H.M. King George VI by EMI. It is a Reisz type microphone. The silver cone microphone rests on a desk style stand. The front of the microphone is decorated with a silver rose, leek, thistle and shamrock symbolising the countries which make up Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In the middle of the microphone there is a his gilt cypher, whilst on top there is a gilt coat of arms. The microphone also comes with two accompnaying silver plauqes giving details of the occasions on which it was used. It was first used for the opening of the Maritime Museum at Greenwich on the 27th April 1937. it was last used on July 22nd 1938 for the unveiling of an Austrailian memorial at Villiers Bretonneux in France.

The technical details of the microphone are as follows: KGVl is a moving coil permanent magnet microphone based on the EMI PM 201. It has a 15 ohm coil and gives a good output of half a volt. It is attached to a chromium plated stand. On the top of the chromium ‘headlamp style’ body, is the Royal Coat of Arms. The front of the mic has an unique silver grill bearing the King’s insignia in silver gilt and the makers mark of G.& S.Co.Ltd. (Goldsmiths & Silversmiths Co. Ltd.). It is part of our collection of significant vintage microphones.

Here is the trailer to the film: