HIDDEN NIPPER IN NEW HMV SITE

Our regular commentator David Hughes tipped us off on this one:

Ah, hidden messages in HTML code, the hidden tracks of the internet. Various tweeters who, for some reason, can’t visit a website without checking in on the source code while they’re there, have spotted a cute little hidden addition to the code of the revamped HMV website, that went online as the flagging entertainment retailer emerged from administration last week. If Nipper can live on in the HMTL world, maybe HMV can survive in the digital era? Maybe.

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Spinning Discs – Postscript

By Wayne Shevlin

My previous blog on SOTH—Century of Spinning Plastic Discs—was an abstract musing on the nature of musical records as historical artefacts.  It was originally written a few years ago, back when the great music emporiums—HMV, Virgin and Tower—still presided imperiously over the high street.  Opening salvo of 2013: that abstract musing is turned into cold hard reality as HMV, the last surviving music-megastore, goes into administration.

HMV Shop Oxford Street Circa 1920s-1930s © EMI Group Archive Trust

HMV Shop Oxford Street Circa 1920s-1930s © EMI Group Archive Trust

There are as many explanations for HMV’s demise as there are pundits: it’s because of online piracy or online shopping or the internet in general or online taxation (or lack of it);  it’s due to competition from other media formats such as video games;  it’s supermarkets killing the catalogue market by cherry picking the top 20 and flogging it as a cheap loss-leader; it was simply bad management, they didn’t keep up with the times; it’s the X-Factor factor, that music is now just a ubiquitous commodity; it’s because the kiddies don’t care so much about music and the oldies have replaced everything their nostalgia cares about;  it’s because music is overpriced and simply aint what it used to be;  it’s because the high street is dying and HMV is just another extinction victim like Comet, Jessops and Blockbuster;  it’s because the world is going to hell in a hand carte and nobody really gives a damn anymore.

Indeed, it is all of these things and others too. No single one of them would have been sufficient to fell HMV, but collectively they were inexorable like gravity.  Nothing could have saved the HMV megastore and I am frankly surprised it lasted as long as it did.  The writing was on its poster plastered walls years ago.  On the high street, profit is a ratio of revenue to cubic space and, to those who count the beans, every cubic foot of stuff has to generate X amount of money;  and if it does not, then other stuff must take its place.  When one objectively considers the huge expanses of space in music-megastores, it is easy to see how the precipitous decline in footfall over the past years rendered the grand music emporium model unsustainable.  An early clue that something was amiss revealed itself to me a number of years ago when B and I went into the small HMV in Hampstead and actually had to ask where the CD section was now located.  No kidding, the CD section was that small.

HMV Shop Oxford Street Circa 1920s-1930s © EMI Group Archive Trust

HMV Shop Oxford Street Circa 1920s-1930s © EMI Group Archive Trust

In their heyday the music-megastores were a real experience, an adventure.  B and I looked forward to our regular Saturday trip downtown to visit them. There was a chaotic energy, a frenetic hustle-bustle from literally thousands of music hunters who packed the aisles so densely you could barely move. The entrance was a portal built of the latest chart hits which you passed through to enter the inner sanctum of Rock & Pop which positively buzzed with excitement.  Jazz and Classical were sequestered in separate rooms to provide a sanctuary for the aficionados who required a more refined ambiance, away from the raucous hubbub outside their doors. There was always something there for us, we never left empty handed and more often than not, walked out with a half dozen or more CDs.  That was at the beginning of the 21st century.  In the whole of 2012 we visited the HMV megastore only once, easily navigating the empty CD aisles and struggling to find something—anything— we actually wanted at a price we were willing to pay.

After the announcement, B and I visited the Oxford Street HMV with the explicit purpose of seeing what bargains might be had under the circumstances.  The atmosphere was grim. Customers roamed listlessly around.  The staff put a brave face on it but the sense of sadness and demoralisation was palpable.  Nonetheless, they worked as though it still mattered.  In fact, one salesman took great pains to escort me around the various sections—Rock & Pop, Blues, Rock ‘n’ Roll—in search of Johnny Winter. Here was a knowledgeable salesperson actually helping me to find what I was looking for. Just like the old days.  He was determined to prove that HMV still had that Mojo.  Sadly, the search was in vain: no Johnny Winter anywhere. HMV had failed us both and the look on his face made me feel I had tortured him with some strange form of ritual humiliation.

Far from its past grandeur the shop felt tatty and depressing.  Half the racks in the Jazz and Classical rooms were completely empty.  The main aisle leading from the entrance, once crammed with customers, now featured large cardboard boxes filled with used CDs, spines up, languishing in no particular order, presented with all the dignity of a car boot sale.  The new stock wasn’t much better.  Artist dividers were packed inches thick because there were no CDs of those artists there to separate them.  I turned down the album by Mountain selling at £19.95 because I knew I could get it, re-mastered along with 4 other Mountain albums on the Net for £11.99.  What hope did HMV ever have?  B and I felt like parasites, vultures pecking at a carcass and, in spite of the 25% sale, we walked out with nothing.

The fate of HMV—and other high street shops like it— is not the fault of external forces or sinister conspiracies. We could have an entertaining debate over a pint as to the relative impact that any particular factor had to play in this tragedy but, ultimately, I think we have only ourselves to blame.  We may cry in our beer over the loss of these cultural institutions along with the vanishing high street they enriched, but we voted with our feet—or our mouse finger—and abandoned them to their fate.  We got what we asked for: convenience.  We shall get more of it too, much more of it.  I hope we shall all enjoy the convenience we will all be getting.  As far as shopping for music is concerned, we have made our decision and traded the excitement of the music emporium for convenient shopping.  As Pink Floyd might have put it, we traded our heroes for ghosts.

HMV was the first of the great music emporiums and will soon be the last. There’s part of me that feels very sad for the younger generation who won’t experience something that I enjoyed so much. But they have other experiences they prefer, feel no loss whatsoever and will probably agree that I’m very sad.  It lasted almost a hundred years.  That was a hell of a run, actually.  However, for better or worse, both time and culture have moved on. Perhaps some day, HMV may be resurrected in some diminished form, but the days of the great music emporium are now over.  Goodbye HMV. Thanks for the excitement.

Joe Batten’s Book: The Story of Sound Recording

SOTH would like to thank our latest contributor Michael Lloyd-Davies for his insightful review on the memoirs of Joe Batten – pioneer recording manager.   

By Michael Lloyd-Davies

 

 In his foreward to Joe Batten’s memoirs, Joe is described by Sir Compton McKenzie as “that other great recorder” bracketed with Freddy Gaisberg. Joe Batten’s story is perhaps wider in its horizons. The core of the book is the excitement of pioneer recording from wax-cylinder to L.P., in which mechanical hazards and progress are described as an explorer could write of his adventures.

The period before the First World War saw sound recording grow from being a novelty toy to become an industry full of innovation and eventually accepted as a serious medium and art form by both artists and the public.

Joe was one of the pioneers who began as a pianist accompanying vocalists in recording rooms as early studios were known, to become the artistic manager for Edison Bell, and later, the Columbia Graphophone Company which merged in 1931 with The Gramophone Company to form Electric and Musical Industries Ltd (EMI).

At EMI he formed the Special Recording Department which was located at new studios at Abbey Road. This venture began making sponsored shows for the Commercial Radio companies which were springing up in the mid 1930’s. The department was almost immediately shut down at the outset of the Second World War but re-opened to make recordings for the troops through ENSA up to 1945.

In the last five years of his 50 year career in the music industry, Joe made some notable recordings including two historical events, the silver wedding of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth and the wedding of H.R.H. Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh.

Inevitably Joe Batten amassed a vast number of friends and memories in the musical concert and light opera fields and it is fitting that the book (out of print since the first edition in 1956) should close with select memories of the life and times at The Savage Club, London’s last bohemian rendezvous where Joe Batten concluded his life as he began it – accompanist to those spontaneous musical evenings which from the West End to the East were once such a feature of London Life.

Joe retired in 1950 but died five years later before his memoirs were published.

Joe Batten’s Book: The Story of Sound Recording is now available via Kindle Book Store: www. https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B007Q1U4RA

Revealed: the secrets of Captain Scott’s playlist

New album is compiled from gramophone recordings explorer took on ill-fated journey to the Antarctic

This article was written by Adam Sherwin published by The Independant,  Thursday 10 May 2012

 Huddled together inside their hut while blizzards raged outside, Captain Scott and his men found solace in the gramophone records of comical music hall hits, operettas and stirring anthems which the doomed explorer transported with him to the South Pole.

A century on, the original recordings that lifted spirits and prompted moist-eyed thoughts of home during Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated expedition are being released on Monday on an EMI album, compiled using the journals left by the expeditionaries.

When Scott embarked upon the Terra Nova expedition in 1910, he took with him two HMV “monarch” gramophones, donated by The Gramophone Company, which later became EMI, together with several hundred 78rpm discs, chosen to boost the team’s morale.

The 25 men who shared the hut played discs ranging from celebrity classical recordings to the most popular musical hall performers and hits from the latest musical shows.

One of the gramophones was kept with Scott in the Cape Evans base-camp hut, which survives in Antarctica today, with the other moved to the Northern Party’s smaller hut at Cape Adare.

Scott noted: “Meares has become enamoured of the gramophone. We find we have a splendid selection of records.”

Scott and his final four companions perished during a desperate return journey, after reaching the Pole in January 1912 only to find that a rival team led by Norwegian Roald Amundsen had beaten them to it by 33 days. But Scott’s gramophone was rescued and returned to the Gramophone Company – it is currently on display at a major exhibition about the expedition at the Natural History Museum – and the diaries kept by his team of scientists record the vital role the recordings played in lifting spirits.

A team of archive experts at Abbey Road transferred and mastered the original recordings from the EMI archive to produce the double album, released in June, called Scott’s Music Box. Some have dubbed the eclectic 48-track selection, “Captain Scott’s iPod”.

The musical tastes reflect a class divide. Tony Locantro, who compiled the sleeve notes for the CD, wrote: “The serving men of the Terra Nova generally liked the songs from the musicals, dance tunes and musical hall items, especially comic songs and sketches.

“The officers apparently preferred something more cultured like stirring ballads and operatic arias.”

Tracks range from “The Dollar Princess Two-Step” by Black Diamonds Band and “Stop Your Tickling Jock!” by Harry Lauder, to “Trafalgar March” by the Band of the Coldstream Guards and Enrico Caruso’s “Mattinata”.

EMI hopes the album will demonstrate the inspirational role music can play in people’s lives.

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/news/revealed-the-secrets-of-captain-scotts-playlist-7729182.html

If your interested in learning more about Captain Scott’s Gramophone check out EMI Group Archive Trust website http://www.emiarchivetrust.org

To see Captain Scott’s Gramophone and learn more visit  The Natural History Museum exibition ‘Scott’s Last Expedition’ 20 January – 2 September 2012 

http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit-us/whats-on/temporary-exhibitions/scott-last-expedition//index.html

HARRY LAUDER (1870–1950)

By Tony Locantro

Harry Lauder (1870–1950), the great international Scottish entertainer, was born into a poor family in Portobello, near Edinburgh, and worked in Scottish coal mines during his youth. His fellow-mineworkers enjoyed his singing and encouraged him to perform in the local halls, which led to a full-time career as a singer.

He made his London music hall debut in 1900 under the Scots persona which became his hallmark, complete with a pastiche of highland dress, broad accent and a canny eye on his money.

From 1902, Lauder recorded extensively for The Gramophone Company, initially on G&T, and by the outbreak of war in 1914 much of his repertoire was on both HMV and Zonophone. The death of his only son on the Sommein 1916 prompted him to make a record appealing for £1 million to help disabled Scottish servicemen and he gave numerous fund-raising concerts at home and abroad. After the introduction of electrical recording in 1925, Lauder remade much of his earlier repertoire for HMV, Zonophone and Victor.

Harry Lauder – Don’t Let Us Sing About War Anymore.        If you’re a SOTH subscriber following by email please go to the actual blog to get the full posting.

Thank you to our friends at the EMI Archive Trust in providing these fine images.

The bass-baritone Peter Dawson (1882–1961)

  By Tony Locantro

gat134-018-LFCourtesy of  © EMI Group Archive Trust

The bass-baritone Peter Dawson (1882–1961) came to the UK from his native Australia to study singing in 1903. His lessons with Sir Charles Santley stood him in good stead for a career that lasted almost 60 years and encompassed every kind of music, from the oratorios of Handel via Gilbert and Sullivan to rousing patriotic ballads and popular songs of the day.  He began recording in 1904 on cylinders for the Edison company, and in 1906 Fred Gaisberg signed him to an exclusive contract with the Gramophone Company. His first flat discs were on the G&T label but he was soon appearing on HMV when the dog and trumpet trademark started being used on Gramophone discs around 1909. He went on to become one of the most prolific recording artists of all time and remained exclusive to HMV for the rest of his life.

As well as his own name, he used many aliases, including Hector Grant, the pseudonym under which he performed the repertoire of Harry Lauder, not only on disc but also on the music hall stage in full Scottish gear, much to Lauder’s annoyance.

Listen to Dawson give a fine rendition of  “The Song of Australia“.   Written by English born poet Caroline Carleton in 1859 for a competition sponsored by the Gawler Institute. If you’re a SOTH subscriber following by email please go to the actual blog to get the full posting.

A stirring version of Dawson’s  Rule Britannia  is featured on the new double CD Scott’s Music Box, released on 14 May.

Paul Robeson sharing his latest hit with Nipper’s friend….

By Tony Locantro

Robeson began his recording career in July 1925 with RCA Victor in Camden. When he moved to London after playing in Show Boat at Drury Lane in 1928 he recorded extensively for HMV (actually The Gramophone Company) up to World War II. He made only the one side for British Columbia: ‘Ol’ Man River’ on 15 May 1928 as part of a series of Show Boat original cast recordings, but was legally prohibited from it being released at the time because it broke his contractual exclusivity with Victor for the recording of the same song that he had made on 1 March 1928 in New York. He later re-recorded ‘Ol’ Man River’ for HMV with Ray Noble on 12 September 1930 when the label exclusivity had expired. The original Columbia recording was not released until many years later.

Anyone Who Had A Heart…..

Watch our friends from the Vinyl Factory in Hayes press a special limited edition record of Cilla Black’s Anyone Who Had A Heart on “The One Show” Friday 16th March

Cilla Black and Paul McGann join Chris Evans and Alex Jones on the One Show sofa.

The Four Major record companies in the UK (in 1924). #1

We’ve stumbled across a wonderful book called “The Talking Machine Industry” written by Ogilvie Mitchell in 1924. It is a bit of a hack job to be frank. Mr Mitchell’s style is frothy and he gallops across a range of subjects to do with the history of recorded music at that point (i.e. less than 50 years after Edison invents the phonograph). The book is one of a series of books about Common Commodities and Industries and appears to have been partly financed by adverts from the industry in question (and in return features some product placement). Long since out of print, it’s a fascinating read. We particularly enjoyed the review of the four big UK companies of the day and will reproduce a section about each of the big four over the next few days, starting now with The Gramophone Company – the predecessor company to the modern EMI.

“In England at the present time there are four companies manufacturing the higher priced records. Of these The Gramophone Company, Ltd., undoubtedly holds the field. The history of this extensive concern has already been referred to cursorily in a previous chapter, but we would like to lay before the reader a more comprehensive chronicle of its origin and rise. Like most of the other large firms engaged in the industry The Gramophone Company began its career in America. As previously stated, Berliner was the man who gave the term “gramophone” to his invention of a disc machine, though he never claimed an exclusive right thereto. In 1896 or 1897 Berliner sold his English patent rights, including, it is said, his rights in respect of certain patented improvements, to a private firm calling itself The Gramophone Company, taking its name from the instrument. In 1899 this concern transferred its business to a company incorporated under the style of The Gramophone Company, Limited, the object of which, as defined by its Memorandum of Association, embraced, inter alia, the manufacture and sale of gramophones and phonographs and gramophone discs and phonograph cylinders. The last mentioned firm continued to sell machines and discs made under Berliner’s patent until the following year, when it parted with its business to a company with a larger capital. This new concern had about the same time acquired an interest in typewriters, and was incorporated as The Gramophone and Typewriter Company, Limited. The same year the Tainter-Bell patent expired, and the engraving method being considered superior to etching, the company abandoned the latter process and adopted the former, continuing, however, to use the name of gramophone. There was nothing wrong in that, for the essence of the Berliner system was the sinuous line of even depth and the word “gramophone“ had come to denote a disc talking machine, as opposed to the phonograph and graphophone which were at that time operated by cylinders.

The Gramophone and Typewriter Company established a branch in England almost as soon as it was inaugurated, with Mr. Barry Owen as its representative, and some time afterwards dropped the typewriter section of the business, reverting to the old title of The Gramophone Company, Ltd. They had their offices in Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, and so rapid was the growth of this British branch that a company was formed with a share capital of £600,000, the ordinary shares in the first instance being offered to the trade. Thereupon they removed to the City Road where they remained in full swing until the extensive works at Hayes, Middlesex, which were opened in 1907, were ready to receive the army of workers of every description attached to the firm. This enormous factory has been enlarged and developed since that date until it now covers twenty-three acres of ground.

Ever since the expiry of Berliner’s 1887 patent The Gramophone Company had arrogated to itself the sole right to the term “gramophone.” In its dealings with the trade it had consistently claimed monopoly rights in the word as denoting goods of its own manufacture only, and by warning circulars, legal proceedings and threats of legal proceedings, had done its best to support its exclusive claims. Other manufacturers refrained from describing their instruments as gramophones from the dread of infringing the alleged rights of the company. The gigantic bubble, however, was destined to be pricked.

In the year 1910 the company applied for power to register the term “gramophone” as applicable solely to the wares manufactured and dealt in by them. The most memorable case ever heard of in the talking machine world of this country ensued. It came before Mr. Justice Parker and lasted four days. Experts, legal and otherwise, were called, examined and cross-examined. The court was crammed with all the leading lights of the trade, who were there either as witnesses or as spectators. At length judgment was pronounced Power was refused, and the word “gramophone” became the property of anyone who had a disc machine to sell. A verbatim note of the whole proceedings was taken at the time by the Talking Machine News, and was published the morning after judgment was delivered. It was the only paper that printed the case in extenso.

In legal matters The Gramophone Company have been rather unfortunate, for previous to the case we have spoken of they lost one over the Gibson tapering tone arm in 1906. This was an invention for which they claimed sole rights. These were disputed and the action went against them. Nevertheless, if they have been unlucky in the courts it cannot be denied they have been marvellously successful in business. Before the war there were subsidiary companies in various capitals of Europe, and they were connected with the great Victor Company of America, which has now a large controlling interest in the concern. The Zonophone Company, too, has been absorbed by this firm.

During the war a portion of the huge factory at Hayes, the foundation-stone of which, by the way, was laid by Madame Tetrazzini, was given over to the manufacture of munitions. It is believed that The Gramophone Company was the first industrial concern, not normally engaged on Government contracts, to convert their plant. Within ten days of the declaration of war, the output of certain essential fuse parts was commenced. These required extraordinary accuracy and the mechanism at command of the company enabled them to make a beginning almost at once.

Of the artists exclusively engaged to make the famous “His Master’s Voice” records for the company we shall speak later, and in the chapter devoted to the “Talking Machine as a Teacher ” we shall have something to say of the firm’s efforts in that direction.”

We’ve been trying to find more information about the author but little is available. He appears to have written several pulp novels around the turn of the twentieth century and at least one song called Heroes. (Not the same song as was later recorded by David Bowie!)