His Master's Voices

Episodes

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01Beginnings20151123

Singer Cerys Matthews and music expert Tristram Penna go back to summer 1898 when The Gramophone Company opened offices in London's Covent Garden.

This was the very first disc record company in the UK, later becoming well known as HMV and EMI, and was the London affiliate of inventor Emile Berliner's US National Gramophone Company.

The first inventory consisted of imported parts for 3,000 gramophones and 150,000 American records. It was swiftly obvious that British tastes meant local repertoire was vital, so Berliner sent his top engineer and talent man Fred Gaisberg to London. On 9 Aug - the day of the very first gramophone recording session - Fred recorded Adam Umbach, clarinettist from the Trocadero, playing Mendelssohn's Spring Song.

Close by, Rules Restaurant, London's oldest restaurant which opened in 1798, also played an important part as a place where artists and Gramophone Company staff could fraternise. Here Gaisberg heard Australian singer Syria Lamonte, leading to a legendary recording of Coming Through The Rye on the 2 September.

Fred wanted to record everything and anything that he thought might sell and the very first gramophone record catalogue contains several thousand very diverse recordings.

The early recording process may have been primitive, but many artists were persuaded to record by a pioneering spirit. By Christmas 1898 the company had sold out of all machines and records so the entire staff poured into Rules to celebrate.

We hear from Christopher Proudfoot, CLPGS chairman, academic Peter Adamson, and music manager/author Simon Napier-Bell. The early recordings are courtesy of the EMI Archive Trust.

A Sue Clark Production for BBC Radio 4.

02Laughter & Novelty20151124

Singer Cerys Matthews and music expert Tristram Penna continue their investigation into the pioneering days of the UK record industry with a programme dedicated to laughter and novelty.

The Gramophone Company's chief producer Fred Gaisberg was enthusiastic to record all sorts of sounds, not just music, and so he scoured the country for likeable talents. He taught his friend, the Music Hall entertainer Burt Shephard, The Laughing Song which was already a proven hit in America and Shephard proved a natural to put it on record for British audiences.

Artists with robust hearty voices worked best on the recording equipment they used, so we see that the technology was beginning to dictate what would be ultimately captured on disc.

Laughter doesn't recognise international borders and Gaisberg's original 1902 recording became a hit across the world. Pursuing the laughing tradition on popular records, we hear other examples where laughter on tracks has been a requisite for success - including The Laughing Policeman from the 1920s and David Bowie's The Laughing Gnome of the late '60s.

Fred's thirst for recording sounds also led him to create 'novelty records', including the Chairman of the Gramophone Company, Trevor Williams recording his party piece of farmyard animal sounds.

By the early 1900s the Gramophone was becoming a popular machine people could buy to have in their homes which gave them instant laughter, sounds and songs to entertain them.

We also hear from academic and record collector Peter Adamson, and music manager/author Simon Napier-Bell. The early recordings are courtesy of the EMI Archive Trust.

A Sue Clark production for BBC Radio 4.

03British Ethnic20151125

Singer Cerys Matthews and music expert Tristram Penna continue their investigation into the early days of the recording industry in the UK. They are in Cecil Sharp House, the home of English Folk Dance and Song Society, and are joined by Steve Roud, creator of the Roud Folk Song Index.

In the first few years of the Gramophone Company's history, they were making records of many popular songs rooted in the folk tradition including many old work songs, and producer Fred Gaisberg first travelled the British Isles in 1899 to find and record them. He began in Scotland with pipers and singers, then going to Wales to record choirs including the Rhondda Royal Glee Society, and lastly to Dublin to record the very best of the local talents.

These discs captured local folk songs and melodies but, with an ear for what might sell, Gaisberg nearly always added a piano accompaniment and gentrified them for the Gramophone's targeted genteel audience.

The portable recording equipment they needed consisted of at least six crate loads and involved an interesting mixture of zinc plate, wax and toxic chemicals as well as an electrically driven recording machine.

We end with a recording of English Music Hall artist Gus Elen and an English hit song which points to the future of the popular recording industry in the UK - pop songs leading us all the way from Gus to The Beatles.

We also hear from academic Peter Adamson and Christopher Proudfoot, CLPGS President. The early recordings are courtesy of the EMI Archive Trust.

A Sue Clark production for BBC Radio 4.

04The Theatre/emi Archive20151126

Singer Cerys Matthews and music expert Tristram Penna continue their investigation into the very earliest days of the recording industry in the UK.

Tristram with Christopher Proudfoot, CLPGS chairman, visits the EMI Archive Trust in Hayes, which houses Fred Gaisberg's own collection of over 14,000 7 inch discs dating from 1898 as well as an amazing collection of early gramophones.

Cerys and Tristram visit Wyndham's Theatre in London's West End where they meet actor Kenneth Cranham. Charles Wyndham was a famous actor/impresario who built this theatre in 1899 and a disc of Wyndham's voice reciting a poem recorded in December 1898 is played on the stage - probably the first time his voice has been heard there for over 100 years. This disc has not been previously broadcast.

As an actor himself, Wyndham had this theatre built to his own specifications so the acoustics are incredibly good - and even today actors require no amplification.

The recording process of the Gramophone Company back in 1898 had certain technological limitations and so they needed the right voices to put on disc, and famous actors of the day were an obvious choice. The people with Gramophones in their own home would be incredibly proud to have the latest speech from actors like Charles Wyndham to impress their peers. For those less fortunate who couldn't afford a Gramophone in their own home, there were Gramophone evenings in theatres across the country where they could go along and pay a shilling or so and hear the latest speeches.

It was also at this point the Victorians realised that recording famous people of the day would be good for their future legacy. The early recordings are courtesy of the EMI Archive Trust.

A Sue Clark production for BBC Radio 4.

05The First Superstars20151127

Singer Cerys Matthews and music expert Tristram Penna conclude their investigation into the very earliest days of the recording industry in the UK.

1902 was the year that changed everything for the Gramophone Company and was the real starting point for the record industry of the 20th Century. Fred Gaisberg was on his way to Rome to record the Pope when he stopped in Milan to hear an acclaimed new tenor. His name was Caruso.

He wanted Caruso to record ten songs, but he asked for a payment of £100 - an exorbitant sum. The Company Chairman telegraphed back forbidding Gaisberg to go ahead, but Fred decided that this new tenor was too good to miss. The tenor voice was uniquely well suited to early disc recording machines and one of earliest records of Caruso was the first to sell over a million copies. The success of Caruso as a recording artist led directly to bookings at the New York Met and London's Covent Garden - the first time that being a recording artist had a major impact on a singer's career.

Another popular classical singer was Nellie Melba, the Queen of Song, who negotiated and popularised the idea of a royalty being paid to the artist for each disc sold.

Over the next few decades, recording innovations and the invention of the electric microphone meant that tenor and strident voices no longer held the upper hand, as singers of both sexes could purr and be heard.

We also hear from manager Simon Napier-Bell and music journalist Peter Doggett. The early recordings are courtesy of the EMI Archive Trust.

A Sue Clark production for BBC Radio 4.