Wednesday, 6 November 2013


Last night I went out to look at some 78 rpm records that someone had told me about. They were a little different from my usual style of music but after looking at them I thought, "well I've come out on a cold wet windy night..." so I parted with a bit of cash and came home with them.

What I came home with was an (almost) boxed set of classical music - Handel's Messiah. In 38 parts, and therefore on 19 discs, this was in half a box - there was no lid on it.

I have quite a large collection of 78 rpm records. They were the original discs, replacing the old cylinder phonographs in the very early 1900s. They lasted for around 60 years in the UK, before 7 inch 45 rpm singles and albums - LPs or Long Play records - which played at 33 1/3 rpm came out in the 1950s.

This set came out in 1946, recorded by Columbia records with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent with the Huddersfield Choral Society and soloists: Isobel Baillie (soprano), Gladys Ripley (contralto), James Johnston (tenor) and Norman Walker (bass). Part 32 of the 38-part set is the famous Hallelujah Chorus. Altogether there's around 2 hours and 20 minutes worth of music.

...minus a couple of minutes! The vast majority of 78 rpm records were made with shellac. This is a substance secreted by lac bugs and deposited onto the bark of trees. It is as close to a natural plastic as you can get. Whilst 78 rpm records were usually played with a steel needle in a pick up arm weighing so much that record grooves quickly wore down, finding ones that have not been played so much makes you realise just how high a quality could be achieved. And whilst vinyl 45s were sold on the basis that they were "almost unbreakable", I always think that 78s from the 1950s era when both formats were made are likely to be in better condition than the vinyl. Vinyl scratches easily but does not break easily. Shellac was the opposite. Sitting on one by mistake was the end of a 78 rpm record. But the scratches they have are down to the weight of old gramophone pickups. Played on modern machines they can sound wonderful.

I have records from all eras, from early music hall acts as above...

...through the thirties, forties and fifties... some rock 'n' roll greats. For quite a long time now, I've been playing and digitising them onto my hard drive and i-pod. Some of the older stuff you can't get on CD at all. As I've been recording the music I've been scanning the labels, so we'll have a look at some every now and then as I dig out some of the stories and personalities behind some well remembered and some long forgotten songs and tunes. Don't say I didn't warn you...

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