Posted 15 December 2012 - 02:34 pm
Dear Ian and TEW
I am researching the history of a particular sound recording and am delighted to find such detailed information about events of nearly a hundred years ago. Chiswell Street and particularly the south end of City Road were the centre of the British gramophone industry at that time, no doubt partly because the area was the centre for the manufacture of cheap furniture.
My interest is in a ‘recording laboratory’ that was opened in Chiswell Street in February 1917 to make recordings in a non-standard format, having inherited this technique from the assets of a company that operated from 1912 to 1915 in City Road. I have long had what is now looking likely to be a test pressing from that laboratory - the only known example, as the company had decided to switch to conventional records by the time of their first published issues.
I can add two little linked anecdotes from the biography of recording pioneer Joe Batten.
Meanwhile, in the midst of all these activities I was now a
full-fledged private of the H.A.C. ; moreover, my extensive
knowledge of horses derived from witnessing feats of
horsemanship at the various London circuses had resulted in
my becoming Driver Batten of Reserve Battery, R.H.A.
Fortunately, I was able to get all the leave I required to
continue with my recording work of conducting, accompanying
and orchestrating, all this being carried out within a very
short distance of H.A.C. Headquarters. Perhaps the light-
hearted view of my Army duties was possibly due to the fact
that I had become prominent in working for the Soldiers’
Entertainment Fund, forerunner of E.N.S.A., and assisting in
shows given two or three times a week at camps widespread
over the length and breadth of England, and this certainly
kept my name off the periodical lists of drafts for overseas
posted in battery orders. I must admit that, unlike the
majority of men at that time, eager to get into the trenches
(and such is human nature, once there, as eager to get out
again), the prospect filled me with anxiety and dismay.
I had two families dependent on me, and how I was to
manage if I was drafted and reduced to little more than
my soldier’s pay I could not imagine.
The recording rooms of the British Polyphon Company
in City Road overlooked the H.A.C. parade ground. During
one of the earlier daylight raids on London, one of the first
aerial torpedoes, which later were to wreak much havoc,
came to ground immediately under what had been the
Polyphon windows. Actually it fell among six khaki-clad
soldiers, of whom I was one, huddled in a shelter dug-out.
It was a dud. Had it exploded, I hardly think that I should
be writing these rambling reminiscences now.
Only a few days after this I was conducting for a company
(whose name I have forgotten) in Chiswell Street. One of
the bombs dropped in the raid had made a shambles of the
next-door building ; the ruins could be seen from the windows
of the recording room. That morning we were to record an
Italian tenor, Roselli, in the operatic arias, : “ La Donna e
Mobile ”, “ E Lucevan le Stella ”, and “ Questa o Quella ”.
Having rehearsed, we were about to make the first title when
Roselli strolled to the window and for the first time saw
the devastation outside. Flinging his arms above his head,
he shouted in a terrified voice some odd exclamation which
sounded like “ boom !” and scuttled from the room. We
heard him clattering down the stairs, the bang of a door,
then silence. He left behind collar and tie, music, and his
fee of twelve guineas. They were never claimed.
(Joe Batten's Book, The Story of Sound Recording, Rockliff, London, 1956, pp53-54.)
As you'll imagine I too would be keen to see the album showing damage to these properties.