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

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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.     


 

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.

Recording Pioneers- Part 1

Emile Berliner 1851 – 1921

“The key to victory is never-ending application”

-Emile Berliner

Name: Emile Berliner

Born: 20 May 1851

Resident: Born in Hanover in Germany, immigrated to the United States as a young man of only 19 in 1870

Occupation: Recording sound mastermind

Loves: His wife and family, inventing, campaigning for better health standards and shellac discs

Emile Berliner

Emile Berliner

Berliner applied himself to the science of sound and recording. On November 8 1887 he patented a successful system of sound recording. Berliner was the first inventor to make recordings on flat disks or records. Previously recordings were made onto cylinders. With Berliner’s new system a spiral groove with sound information was etched into the flat record.

Around the time of his invention Berliner met a young man called Fred Gaisberg. With a keen interest in the newly developing phonograph industry Gaisberg paid a visit to Berliner’s laboratory in Washington DC where he watched Berliner record Billy Golden onto a flat disc and then listened to the playback.

When Gaisberg first heard one of Berliner’s recordings he noted

“I was spell bound by the beautiful round tone of the flat gramophone disc”

-Fred Gaisberg

The superior sound and ease of mass reproducing recordings lead Berliner to set up the Gramophone Company in the United States. He later sent the young Fred Gaisberg to London to set up a recording studio to exploit the European market.

Emile Berliner & Hanover Factory - Germany Copyright: EMI Group Archive Trust

Emile Berliner & Hanover Factory – Germany
Copyright: EMI Group Archive Trust

Berliner has been described as an eccentric inventor and scientist but the intricacies of the business world never came naturally to him. The success of the Gramophone Company was due to his careful choice in business savvy partners, such as Gaisberg, who made the contacts and sales that pushed the company to be an industry leader. Gaisberg commented in his journals

“For many years Berliner was the only one of many people I knew connected with the gramophone who was genuinely musical and possessed a cultured taste.”

-Fred Gaisberg

For his achievements in the recording field Berliner was awarded the prestigious John Scott and Elliott Cresson medals by the Franklin institute. He remained a true scientist throughout his career. Both in public health by promoting the pasteurisation of milk thus reducing the rates of childhood infectious diseases and in the field of physics where he continued making developments in acoustic tiles, aeronautics and microphone technology.

Recording pianists, gypsies and tenors…in Leipzig, Budapest and Vienna

Fred Gaisberg and side-kick William Sinkler Darby were sent from London to the Continent to make more recordings for the Gramophone Company in 1899. The new Gramophone technology was in great demand and the company was struggling to keep up with it. The company had established a new disc manufacturing plant in Hanover that was producing discs for the continent. What was needed was more recordings to go on the discs. Hence Fred & William found themselves in Leipzig in May 1899. Oh, and there was also a side deal with Alfred Clark’s phonograph company to supply them with recordings for use on their rival audio technology.

They hooked up with Thomas Birnbaum, the Manager in charge of the German office of The Gramophone Company and made their first recordings in Leipzig. On Tuesday 30th May 1899, they boarded a train at Leipzig station arriving in Budapest where they began recording on the following Saturday.

This picture shows Fred (left on the pianothat is raised up to the level of the recording horn), Sinkler Darby (on the right) and Thomas Birnbaum horsing around with Marcella Lindh, a talented soprano who was based in Budapest at the time. Marcella was not Hungarian; she was American born and had performed with the John Sousa Band. This is probably where Fred knew Marcella from as he had worked with Sousa on several occasions. Lindh was a successful singer in the States, having sung at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and various social events in New York area before heading to the continent and ultimately Budapest with her Hungarian husband becoming Marcella Lindh Jellinek in the process. After her husband died, Marcella returned to America, settling in Detroit where she lived until 30 July 1966.

Gaisberg recorded over 200 sessions in Budapest. There do not seem to have been any recordings of Marcella Lindh on this trip which suggests that her visit to the studio was a social one. Many of the sessions were of gypsy style music, including some of this guy, Török Istvan:

As a whole, however, the Budapest stopover did not lead to any landmark recordings. On 15th June the recording team boarded the 8am train to Vienna.

Vienna proved to be a more successful recording venue. Gaisberg recorded a variety of musicians including yodlers and folk musicians as well as the Viennese dance orchestra of Carl Ziehrer. Ziehrer was incredibly popular in waltz-crazy Vienna at the time having returned from touring Europe and America. “Younger audiences liked his brash, highly rhythmic take on the waltz and by the end of the decade he had overtaken his old adversary, [Edward Strauss,] in popularity.”

Carl Ziehrer

The biggest success of Vienna was the recordings that Gaisberg and Sinkler Darby made of the piano virtuoso Alfred Grunfeld. Grunfeld was one of the great pianists of the era and perhaps the most prominent artist yet recorded at that point in time. Grunfeld played a stand up piano as featured in the photo of Marcella Lindh, above, rather than the grand piano he had been used to. . You can learn more about Grunfeld here, and listen to one of Gaisberg’s recordings of him:

The main problem with starting new businesses…

…is getting all the ducks in a row. The early recording business proved no different.

Emile Berliner decided to set up his European disc pressing factory in Germany rather than England in 1898. In doing so he created the German Gramophone Company – aka Deutsche Grammophon (DG).

Berliner’s European operations were therefore split in two. DG was to manufacture the discs in Hanover. The Gramophone Company (of England)‘s role was to find the artists, make the recordings and sell the resultant discs.

Whilst Fred Gaisberg set up the Maiden Lane recording studio in Covent Garden, London, his old friend from America, Joe Sanders, was establishing the disc factory in Hanover. Fred’s task was perhaps the simpler of the two and he quickly set up the studio and created a backlog of recordings that needed pressing as discs. Sanders struggled to provide a manufacturing solution as quickly. He was dependent upon the pressing machines being first made and then delivered from America. They proved slow in arriving.

In the meantime the company sold the 150,000 records that they had imported from the States. These were quickly running out. The gramophone was already proving a huge success in Europe. Generating sales was not turning out to be the problem for the new business, but they were finding it difficult to make enough discs to meet the new demand. Alfred Clark who ultimately became Managing Director remembers the early days of the business in a later article for Gramophone Magazine (here) and recalls that “from its earliest days the company made large profits”. By Xmas of its first year of business The Gramophone company had established a distribution network of more than 600 shops selling gramophones and discs, including the oldest record shop in the world; Spillers Records of Cardiff.

Joe Sanders received his manufacturing presses in the autumn of 1898 but the factory that was being built in Hanover to house them was not ready. To meet the demand for discs in the run up to Christmas of that year he erected a huge tent next door to where the manufacturing plant was being built and produced the entire European supply of discs from under a big top. Even with such constraints he was able to deliver discs within a month of the recordings being sent from London which is a quite remarkable achievement. The proper factory was completed in 1899 and you can see the presses in action within it, here:

How Deutsche Gramophone was born

We saw how Trevor Williams and William Barry Owen set up The Gramophone Company in England in 1897-8 to exploit Emile Berliner’s new gramophone technology by finding & recording artists and marketing and selling their records – as well as selling the gramophones to play them on.

Under their deal with Berliner, Williams and Owen agreed that gramophones were to be manufactured in the US and then shipped to The Gramophone Company for European distribution. Their first order was for 3,000 machines, which they would sell for £10 (equivalent of circa £910 buying power today).

The Gramophone Company’s first stock of records also came from the States. The initial order was for 150,000 American manufactured discs. Berliner and the European management decided that a European disc manufacturing facility would be needed quickly because the boat from USA was not only too expensive but too slow for the new enterprise.

Berliner decided to set up a separate company to manufacture the European discs. His brother Joseph offered to invest in the enterprise on the proviso that the pressing plant be located in Hanover, Germany, where he lived. Berliner, who was apparently wary of British Trades Unionism, agreed to the plan in 1898. The new company was called The German Gramophone Company – or, in German, Deutsche Grammophon. It would go on to become one of the greatest record companies of all time and remains today a separate label functioning within the Universal Music empire.

Berliner sent over one of his American team, his nephew Joe Sanders, to set up the plant. He’s standing second from the right in this picture of Berliner’s early US team. Berliner is seated front left.