Syria Lamonte

The Hound would like to thank Mr Tony Locantro for sending these rare images of one of the first recording artists  for the Gramophone Company, Miss Syria Lamonte.

‘Courtesy of John Culme’s Footlight Notes’.

‘Courtesy of John Culme’s Footlight Notes’.

By Tony Locantro

The Australian soprano Syria Lamonte was probably the first woman to be commercially recorded outside of the USA and history does her a great disservice by remembering her as a waitress at Rule’s Restaurant ‘with aspirations to be a singer’ as I saw quoted recently. She had already been successful in Australia in the theatre singing in operettas and giving concerts during the 1890s before coming to Europe to further her career and was apparently working at Rule’s in 1898 while seeking work in London. She eventually went on to appear successfully for several years on the music halls both in England and abroad before returning to Australia.

Syria Lamonte,  Melbourne Punch 19 October 1899

Syria Lamonte, Melbourne Punch 19 October 1899

Listen to Syria Lamonte  ‘Comin’ through the Rye‘ on  Gaisberg’s Travels #2

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.

Recorded music sales are growing exponentially. Supply can’t keep up with demand….

….in 1898!

We followed how the Gramophone Company and its German sister company had some significant teething problems with the production of discs during the first year of business in 1898.

Whilst the English company was dependent upon its discs coming from Germany it had also agreed to source its gramophones from the American manufacturing plant run by Eldridge Johnson. The American company would send over gramophone parts and the UK company would assemble the gramophones in the Maiden Lane offices before despatching to their 600 retailers.

The huge demand for gramophones stretched this supply chain to the limit during the first year of trading in 1898 particularly as the busy Christmas season approached.

Fred Gaisberg recalled: “We looked upon that first Christmas as our last opportunity to turn a debit balance into credit but our stock of machines was cleared out early in December. Shipments of parts from America were held up, and the dealers were “sitting on our doorsteps” demanding goods. When eventually the cases did arrive, a few days before Christmas, everybody from the manager down to the office boy worked into the early hours assembling the parts. With faces and hands smeared with black lead from the spring-cages, we must have been a comical sight.

Nevertheless, early on Christmas Eve our stock rooms in Maiden Lane were cleared of machines and records, so we “trooped” into Rule’s to celebrate our achievement with drinks all round.”

You can almost hear the excitement of working in a start up business…Fabulous stuff.

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: