Memories of EMI – Brian Kehew at Abbey Road Studios

Thanks again to the lovely folks from the EMI Archive Trust for sharing another great piece. They recently met up with the legend Brian Kehew (Co-Author of the Recording the Beatles book) for their Memories of EMI Campaign.

In this short video he shares how they found one of the key pieces of technology used on many Beatles recordings and the software model that followed that discovery.

If you are interested in taking part in this campaign you can contact the EMI Archive Trust: info@emiarchivetrust.org.

Music: “Everybody’s trying to be my baby” by Carl Perkins

Photo credits:
Abbey Road Studios and Equipment. Photographer: A.C.K Ware Ltd, 1930s – 40s. Copyright: EMI Music Ltd
Altec Compressor and “Recording the Beatles” book cover with permission from Brian Kehew and Kevin Ryan

 

 

 

 

 

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No, its not Peter Sellers….it’s the man who recorded Rolling Stones, The Who & The Eagles

This is Dick Swettenham and, unlikely as it perhaps appears, he contributed to the sound of many of the greatest rock and pop recordings ever made.

He also helped invent the recording equipment industry. Until the late 1960’s studios largely made their own core equipment; it was only in that decade that the number of studios in the market reached sufficient numbers to warrant manufacturers entering the market to supply desks etc. to the market in general.

As Dick himself wrote on the Helios website: “Up until the 1960s the studios of major record companies and broadcasters designed and built their own sound mixing consoles in-house, with full-time staff in design labs and workshops. Only a few companies such as Marconi in the UK, RCA in America, Philips and Telefunken in Europe offered standard product, mostly very conservative in design and aimed mainly at radio stations. Development work at Olympic Sound Studios in London – where I was technical director, having come from Abbey Road – advanced on the same do-it-yourself lines as other big studios, with its own workshop, catering for the increasingly sophisticated requirements of popular music recording and effects processing.”

Dick built desks that worked in Olympic Studios during it’s glory years from the mid-1960’s to the late-1970’s and recorded some of the high water marks of the rock genre including key records by The Rolling Stones, The Who and The Eagles. Here is one of the desks from 1965.

He then set up a company to manufacture desks and sell to other recording studios. He called the company and the desks “Helios” (the ancient Greek god of the sun). Helios were sold around the world and particularly to Chris Blackwell’s Island company (one pictured below) for whom Dick also worked. He also made a Helios desk for The Beatles short-lived Apple studios. One of the beatiful Island desks is here:

Here is another picture of Dick from the 1960’s:

Although Dick has sadly passed away, you can still buy Helios products here, and the desks remain used and coveted around the world.

You can see Dick Swettenham in action in Olympic Studios in 1966. He is working the tape machine at 4 minutes 53 seconds. (the section of the film featuring the then recently opened Olympic Studios begins at 4:48)

Memoirs of a Musical Dog – Edison to The Beatles

As part of their Omnibus series, The BBC made a documentary about the history of recording in the late 1980’s which was called Memoirs of a Musical Dog. It aired on Friday May 27, 1988. It’s very good and thanks to the power of youtube, you can see it here:

Part One Early years of Edison and Berliner and Johnson including the origin of Nipper and His Masters Voice:

Part Two Fred Gaisberg recording Caruso recalled by his later assistant David Bicknell and Len Petts demonstrating a recording horn:

Part Three Electrical recording, Abbey Road, Menuhin remembering Elgar:

Part Four Gramophone accessories, Gracie Fields at the Hayes record factory, 1930’s picture discs, making 78 discs, recording messages home from the war:

Part Five The LP record, the 45 single, jukeboxes, The Beatles:

You would never guess this logo was designed in the 1980's

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.

Apple sues Amazon over App stores. History goes round and round..like a record.

Apple, who for years was in dispute with The Beatles’ Apple Corps over name and logo usage, is now taking the lead and suing Amazon for use of the term ‘App Store’ according to the Daily Telegraph.  It’s a problem that over the years has upset the likes of Hoover, Biro and………….The Gramophone Company.

Thomas Edison’s original phonograph was a 3″ diameter cylinder designed to enable businessmen to dictate letters which their secretaries would then transfer to paper using the also newly invented typewriter. Emile Berliner, a German who emigrated to America in 1870 and whose technological genius turned Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone from a concept into commercial reality, saw the potential in Edison’s machine, but realised that a cylinder was useless for duplication and sound quality. So he took the idea, replaced the cylinder with a flat disc and called it the Gramophone.

Berliner, in inventing the word ‘gramophone’ to describe his new machine, provided his company with a unique trademark and company name. “The Gramophone Company” was until 1910, exclusive user of the word ‘gramophone’ to describe its machine and records. It vigorously protected its patent of the word in the British courts, as the wonderfully titled ‘Talking Machine News’ noted

“Gramophone is not a generic term. Gramophone & Typewriter Ltd intend for the protection of the public to institute proceedings against any person applying the word ‘gramophone’ to any Talking Machine, Talking Machine Record or Talking Machine needle sold or offered for sale, not the manufacture of the Company.”

And so they did, until in July 1910, the Company’s latest attempt to continue registration of the word failed. In a long statement Justice Parker ends:

”Popularly, gramophone was coming to denote a disc machine, and phonograph a cylinder machine. The word ‘graphophone’ was never widely used….(There is) no reason for allowing one trader to register and secure a monopoly in what already is the name of the article…..I have come to the conclusion therefore that the application to register the word ‘gramophone’ ought not to be allowed to proceed.”

The same issue of ‘Talking Machine News’ immediately featured advertisements from rival companies and retailers using the word “gramophone” to describe any flat disc or flat disc machine.

However, chance was to play its hand once again. The Gramophone Company regsitered the His Masters Voice name and logo in response to losing control of “gramaphone” and so by losing rights to one word, they gained rights to a dog!

The History of Recorded Music trailer. Is this going to be the Forest Gump of documentaries?

The History of Recorded Music is a major documentary series that has had a long and eventful gestation and has been “in post production” for some time; a description which can cover a multiple of sins from a stage in the production process through to the shelving of a project for whatever reason. It aims to tell the story of both the evolution of technology and the industry. I was involved a little bit on a couple of occasions and I got to see what a complicated process it is to make this kind of television series especially as it required many many rights clearances. I also know just how much hard work – and money – a number of people have put into the project. I wish them luck in completing the series.
I do have a concern after watching the trailer (below) which I would like the producers to consider as they complete the work. The trailer presents the history of recorded music to be an almost entirely American story. I appreciate that trailers are made for specific audiences, but this one shows no interviews with people from outside the US, I spotted one clip of a UK act (The Beatles) and an Irish act (U2) and a couple of UK acts (Led Zeppelin, Radiohead) mentioned by the talking heads. And that’s it. 95%++ US only. It even says that Edison invented recording, a fact disputed by the story of the Phonautograph covered on this very site this very week! The USA did play the prominent part in the history of recorded sound, but there is a big world out there beyond their national borders and a lot of interesting and significant stories in the history of recorded music; from Gaisberg to Blumlein to George Martin to Sex Pistols to Kraftwerk to Techno Music to Classical Music (which drove a lot of recording technology innovation) to mention just a few Euro-centric tales. I hope the documentary finds time to include some of them. My biggest frustration with Forest Gump is that the music back drop chosen to represent the 60’s and 70’s included very little if any non-American music. It irritates me so much that I can’t watch the movie because of its one-eyed approach. I hope the documentary itself when it gets completed does not repeat that mistake.