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

Rules Britannia’s first recording studio green room in 1899

Rules Restaurant, Maiden Lane, London
The first London recording studios were established next door to this place.  Fred Gaisberg’s early recordings in the capital were made in the Gramophone Company’s premises at 31 Maiden Lane in the Covent Garden area, Rules restaurant was then (and remains to this day) at 35 Maiden Lane. It became a central point to the fledgeling company where both artists and staff congregated to prepare for and wind down after recording sessions. Rules therefore acted as the first studio bar or green room.
 
Gaisberg remembered these 19th century days in his diary:
“Stout was the great standby of our artists in those days. It amazed me to see the number of empties that accumulated at the end of a sesssion. Harry Fay’s capacity was six bottles, but Ernest Pike and some of the ladies ran him a close second.
In Maiden Lane we kept open house and our good friend Mr Hyde, himself a publican, acted as runner. I had my recording machine ready to recieve at any time the interesting visitors Mr Hyde would bring in from Rule’s” 
Interesting to see the opportunistic nature of the early Gaisberg operation. Presumably the arists that Mr Hyde lured up to record had already sung that evening at the nearby opera house in Covent Garden. Also, whilst Fay & Pike were among the early recording artists on The Gramophone Company label, Mr Hyde may have more long term significance as possibly the first ever studio runner. Little is known about him, but we’ll raise a virtual glass to him and all the runners without whom the history of recording would have been very different and certainly a lot drier.

Stouts all round!

 And leave you with a recording by the thirsty Harry Fay: