A Personal History of the British Records Business #16 part 1

The Hound is delighted to post, for our readers delectation,  the first instalment by EMI’s very own David Hughes MBE A Personal History of the British Record Business.

Wayne Bickerton – #16 – part 1  

First posted on vinyl memories December 10, 2015

I really needed a strong nudge to resume these unpublished interviews after such good intentions ….The death of Wayne Bickerton was the biggest nudge I could have received.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

Wayne Bickerton

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.

(According to Wikipedia-The Northeast blackout of 1965 was a significant disruption in the supply of electricity on Tuesday, November 9, 1965, affecting parts of Ontario in Canada and Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Vermont in the United States. Over 30 million people and 80,000 square miles (207,000 km2) were left without electricity for up to 13 hours.)

Was Decca your first port of call, and were there still House Producers?

Yes.

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.

Text ©David Hughes 2016, photographs sourced by Google for illustration purposes only.

About David Hughes Mini Biography 

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.

In 2014  David Hughes was appointed MBE for services to the UK music industry and charities the EMI Music Sound Foundation & EMI Archive Trust.

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Inventor of Stereo Sound Alan Dower Blumlein to be Honoured with Posthumous Grammy®

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.

Alan Dower Blumlein (1903-1942) photo courtesy of THE EMI Group Archive Trust

Alan Dower Blumlein (1903-1942) photo courtesy of The EMI Group Archive Trust

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.

Found out more about the work of Alan Dower Blumlein on the EMI Archive Trust Blog.

Watch and listen to Alan Dower Blumlein’s early stereo sound recordings

‘Trains at Hayes Station’ – Universal Music Group YouTube Channel

‘Walking and Talking’ – Abbey Road Studios YouTube Channel

Mystery Object of the week #13 Answer

A hearty Christmas congratulations to Catherine Crump and Rob de Bie who correctly identified last weeks’ mystery object – The Ivor 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.

The Ivor Novello Award 1988 presented to EMI for 'Mistletow and Wine' - Courtesy of the EMI Group Archive Trust Collection.

The Ivor Novello Award 1988 presented to EMI for ‘Mistletow and Wine’ – Courtesy of the EMI Group Archive Trust Collection.

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.  

EMI are taking a trip down memory lane at Hayes Old Vinyl Factory

EMI are inviting former employees at the Old Vinyl Factory in Hayes, to come back and share their memories of the iconic site.

The factory was a major employer for the town and produced records by some of the world’s best-known artists, including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Cliff Richard.

The reunion will take place on Wednesday, February 3, from 10am-1pm and is hosted by the EMI Archive Trust in conjunction with the BBC for their People’s History of Pop project.

Back in the day: The Old Vinyl Factory in Hayes

 

 

 

If you would like to come along, send your RSVP details to 7Wonder, the production company working with BBC on the People’s History of Pop project, at: phop@7wonder.co.uk or telephone 0203 701 7615.

Read the full article by NE  www.getwestlondon.co.uk 25th January 2016

Rare Recordings – From The EMI Vaults

Miss Christabel Pankhurst – Speech on Suffrage for Women

Christabel Pankhurst, a leading Suffragette, was one of the primary strategists of the campaign for women’s right to vote in the first decades of the twentieth century. Christabel was jailed in 1907 and 1909 and was dubbed the ‘Queen of the Mob’ by the media, as described in this contemporary press release.

Miss Christabel Pankhurst
One of the leading figures in the militant movement organised to gain the suffrage for women, Miss Pankhurst was a joint founder and leader with her mother (Mrs. Pankhurst) of the Women’s Social and Political Union, which from 1910 to 1914 carried out a series of violent demonstrations of various kinds, which included the destruction of property, and even assaults upon persons. Miss Pankhurst was frequently arrested, imprisoned and liberated, under the famous “Cat and Mouse” Act, which was passed to deal with militant suffragist and it was during this time the “hunger strike” in prison was introduced by the suffragist. Since the gaining of suffrage by women, Miss Pankhurst has led the Women’s Party, which is devoted to social progress. This record was made a few hours after her release from Holloway prison, after one of her many terms of imprisonment.

Speech on Suffrage for Women
Date recorded (78) 1909
No 01016 Size 12 Label Black (single-sided)

Courtesy of The EMI Group Archive Trust

Many Happy Returns

The Hound is please to present some more metaphorical memories from our resident philosopher Wayne Shevlin.

Many Happy Returns

I may not know much, but I know what I like. And – like most people – I only like what I know. But, how do we discover, and thus get to know the music we like?

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Along the many roads of the music industry I have travelled, I spent quite a few years working in what became one of NYC’s largest record and audio equipment stores – let’s call it R&J Music Universe.  When I joined, R&J was a small hi-fi store. The record department was in the basement  with another small basement around the corner serving as the warehouse, which is where I worked.  One day J, the manager, approached me with a “new job opportunity”.   Record returns.  The Returns Authorisation or RA Manager – as I decided to refer to myself – is essentially the garbage man of the record business.  RA was not exactly the most glamorous of music biz jobs and one that endeared you to absolutely no one – particularly the record salesman who avoided you like the vampire you were, since whatever you returned was deducted from his commission.

HMV Oxford Street late 1950's

HMV Oxford Street late 1950’s

My introduction to this glorious career consisted of being escorted to a small room behind the sales counter from which spilled (literally) many thousands of allegedly defective phonograph records. I say allegedly because most were not actually defective.  They had been returned as defective by customers dissatisfied with the music who hoped to exchange them for something else.  Such devious tactics would only lead to disappointment, since R&J policy was “exchange for same only“.  These many thousands of DFs – as we called them in the RA trade – were the legacy of the previous RA man having quit many months earlier without anyone noticing or bothering to replace him.  How they didn’t notice the tide of records sloshing out of that room I’ll never know but it was now my job to clean up the mess.

RA was not a mentally demanding job and, on the face of it, promised to be stupefyingly tedious.  It consisted of sorting, listing, packing and shipping the thousands of DF records.  Sorting was by distributor, then by label and finally by catalogue number.  Once sorted, you counted the records and filled in the quantity for each catalogue number on the appropriate form – assuming there was a form.  The big league companies like WEA, CBS and EMI had forms, but smaller “labels” – particularly jazz and disco – were frequently one-man-bands who showed up in a van, dropped off a box of records and were paid in cash.  They didn’t have forms.  But that didn’t matter since many were never seen again anyway, and thus there was no one to return the DFs to – with or without a form.  If the miserable wretch did appear again – because he had a new record – the technique was for me to ambush him just as he was about to be paid, dump the DFs on him and deduct the value from the cash he received.  You can see why the RA man was feared and loathed.

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But for the big league labels the process was more mundane.  Having sorted and listed the DFs to be returned, you boxed them up, organised a freight pickup, loaded the truck and had them shipped across the country, back to whence they came.  Eventually a credit note would arrive.  Ultimately, I developed a system (a prelude to my current career) to efficiently organise the overall process.

Working in that initial cramped havoc was almost impossible as there was no room to stand let alone sort, or list, or box.  Nonetheless, eventually I did finally clear out that room.  But suddenly, R&J acquired a much larger building – previously an archive – providing vast amounts of space not only for the store, but the warehouse and even the humble RA man.  And it was here that I suddenly found myself in a huge room, all by myself, with rack upon rack of every conceivable record, a job that required practically no mental input and a kick-ass stereo. Well, what would you do with that?

I’ll tell you what I did. I listened. I did my mindless job and I listened to everything. Every conceivable record imaginable: classical, jazz, rock, metal, pop, folk, avant-guard, OPERA…even disco… A veritable cornucopia: the popular, the obscure, the ephemeral, the degenerate, the unpalatable, the weird. It was here that I conquered my Pink Floyd phobia and made friends with Wish You Were Here, floated on the transcendental audio-yoga of Brian Eno’s Music For Airports, studied the techniques of the pro pop writers like Carol King and Billy Joel,  was flabbergasted by the Temple City Kazoo Orchestra’s version of Whole Lotta Love (you have to hear it to believe it),  bopped with Coltrane, swang with Sinatra, looked sharp with Joe Jackson, punked, proged, baroque n’ rolled and eventually even discovered that some disco didn’t suck (there, I said it).

It was there, in R&J’s RA room that I disposed of my musical bigotry, preconceptions and attitude and truly understood what Miles Davis meant when he said “it’s either good or bad, the rest is just style” – though I can find no evidence that Miles Davis actually ever said that.  In any event, if he didn’t say it, I think he should have said it, and anyhow, I’m saying it and it was in that RA room that I learned it:  how to appreciate the inherent quality of a piece of music even if I didn’t like the style.  Even disco.

Most people discover music through radio, TV, friends & family or perhaps a chance hearing in a shop or club. These media channels enforce musical myopia since so much of what is offered has been filtered and targeted based on taste or a commercial agenda with a predetermined bias toward a particular listening audience.  How unfair.  How limiting.  What made my RA wall so special was that the only criteria for what was available there was that it was reasonably current and someone had bought it and either liked it enough to require an unblemished copy or really didn’t like it enough to try and exchange it for something else.

If everyone were presented with such a wall of music:  with strange sleeves beckoning you to discover what lies within, with plenty of time to explore, experiment and take chances and listen, free from prejudices and attitudes, without an agenda – how much broader would most people’s taste be? Quite a bit broader, I suspect.  Perhaps the internet will provide a virtual RA wall where people can easily discover more of what they like.  But the key to my RA wall was not just that it had a diverse variety of records, but that my job required me to make contact with each one – since they had to be sorted, listed and counted.   Musical discovery was made almost unavoidable.  And I got paid while doing it.

Decca Studio

Decca Studio

The DFs I listened to were all records people actually bought.  But there were also records that weren’t bought.  These were called overstock, and I was responsible for those too.  Overstock reflects a side of the record business where cynicism, greed, stupidity and failure meet in the place where taste and money collide.  But that story is for another day.

Friday Mystery Object of the week #9 Answer

And the answer is… The Lumiere Gramophone (HMV Model 460). Well done to those of you who answered correctly!

lumiere watermark

The Lumiere Gramophones were a great novelty of 1924, making a highly successful debut at the Piccadilly Hotel, London, on Wednesday 22nd October an esteemed audience.The HMV Model 460 was introduced in early 1925, and is unique by virtue of its Lumiere pleated diaphragm instead of a conventional horn. This enabled the tone arm and sound box to be eliminated and in theory would have been cheaper to make (the price tag didn’t reflect this). The sound produced was less directional than a horn, but as the diaphragm was fragile and easily damaged, the 460 was removed from the catalogue after about a year. The cabinets were then used for the Model 461 which used a conventional internal horn and soundbox. It originally cost £22 in Oak, and £25 in mahogany.

Friday Mystery Object of the week #8 Answer

And the answer is… The Peter Pan Clock Gramophone. Well done to those of you who answered correctly!

clock watermark

The Peter Pan Clock Gramophone was a relatively simple ‘talking clock’ from mid-1920’s onwards. By winding both the clock and gramophone motor, setting the desired alarm time and placing the needle on the record, the record would play when triggered by the alarm. The alarm itself was patented and sold in France, but had a Swiss motor and diaphragm.

Recording pioneers- Part 8, William Conrad Gaisberg

 

“We realised how many different degrees of smells there are in the world”

-William Gaisberg’s observation of Hyderabad, India

Name:              William Conrad Gaisberg

Born:               26th June 1877

Resident:        Born in Washington DC, USA

Occupation:   Recording engineer, managing director & head of London Recording Department

Loves:            Travelling, opera, pushing the boundaries of music and his brother (Fred)

William Gaisberg

In 1894, Fred Gaisberg came to work at Emile Berliner’s laboratory in Washington D.C. Shortly afterwards he was joined by his school friend William Sinkler Darby and also by his younger brother William [Gaisberg], who had previously worked for a period of time as a recording engineer with the Berliner Gram-O-Phone Company in Canada. It was during this period in America where Berliner imparted his knowledge of the secrets of disc record-making to these young men.  Within a few years the three of them moved to Europe, where, as recording engineers, they became the most important figures in The Gramophone Company’s staff.

William Gaisberg vatican

    -Recording in the Vatican, Recording in the Vatican, April 1902. Left to right: William Michaelis, the castrato Alessandro Moreschi and William Gaisberg

William Gaisberg’s enthusiasm and enterprising nature led him to take over many of his brother’s duties, which included managing and leading the third recording tour of India. The third tour began at Calcutta in 1906, and then proceeded onto Lucknow, Delhi, Lahore, Hyderabad and Madras.

Despite the Gramophone Company’s dominant position and success in the talking machine and disc record trade in Asia, It could not rest on its laurels of achievement, as American recording companies such as The Columbia Phonograph Company began making great advances. This motivated William to record artists of a higher repute and achieve a product of a much higher quality.

Gaisberg sought to record vocalists associated within the theatrical circuit, which resulted in him making the first recordings of Miss Janki Bai of Allahabad. He also placed emphasis on recordings of Gauhar Jaan, whose status had grown significantly, earning the reputation as a ‘Gramophone celebrity’.

In 1910 at the age of 33, William became manager of the Recording department, where he provided a vital link between the head office and its overseas territories.

In October 1918, a month before the Armistice was signed, The Gramophone Company became involved in a project to record the sound of the war. The reasoning behind the venture was that if there were to be no more war, then for the benefit of posterity, it was important to record and document the sounds of battle.

The Company elected to send William to the Western Front. It was in the French city of Lille that he recorded The Royal Garrison Artillery firing off a gas barrage. By the time the recording was completed, the war was over. Gaisberg had been slightly gassed during the expedition, and fell victim to the flu pandemic and tragically died a month later in November 1918.

Documentary – Recording the Kings Speech

Tune in tomorrow early 03:32 GMT or stay up late 23:32 GMT for BBC WORLD SERVICE documentary – Delivering the King’s Speech! This programme explores the fascinating history of royalty releasing records, and incorporates rare material from the EMI Archives and an interview with EMI historian Tony Locantro.

Image for Delivering the King's Speech

Marking the 75th anniversary of King George VI’s declaration of war against Germany, Louise Minchin relates the untold story of how the King’s Speech reached the entire world.

Inspired by the discovery of the original pressing of the speech in the EMI Archives – mounted in goatskin leather and signed by the King himself – Louise uncovers how the King’s words reached the furthest corners of the British Empire. Starting with the fascinating history of royalty releasing records, and incorporating rare material from the EMI Archives and interview with EMI historian Tony Locantro.

Delivering The King’s Speech delves into the earliest days of the BBC Empire Service (later to become the BBC World Service) to find out how the King’s message was sent across the globe and how it enabled the Empire Service to win the fight against the anti-British propaganda broadcast by the Germans.

If you’re neither an early bird nor a night owl you can also tune in throughout the day!

8:05 GMT – 14:32 GMT – 19:05 GMT

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p025gvd5

A TBI Media Production for BBC World Service.