Sunday, 25 October 2015

Early 78 rpm Records and Sleeves

It's been a while since I mentioned 78 rpm records, but yesterday I was moseying (I'm having a change from mooching...) around some stalls in an antiques place and found a massive pile of 78s. Some early ones caught my eye with some new (to me) labels and sleeves in amongst them.

I had a couple of records from the Imperial label in my collection but no sleeves. Most 78s after surviving in cupboards, attics or wherever for anything from 55-100 years have been in and out of so many different sleeves that it's very hard to find them in the originals. Because the sleeves were flimsy paper anyway and liable to rip easily, record shops sold stiff card sleeves with their own promotional advertising on them. Because they were a bit more robust they were popular and many 78s still to be found will be in this type of sleeve.

I wasn't really expecting great things of the record itself. It's a medley of First World War popular songs over the two sides, but to my surprise it was really well done with even a few sound effects and humour thrown in as men march and a French girl calls out to the men and gets a typical over-enthusiastic response! There's around half a dozen snatches of song on each side, many of them familiar - If You Were The Only Girl In The World, It's a Long Way To Tipperary, Pack Up Your Troubles, Keep The Home Fires Burning and more. For men away from home for a long period the home fires did not mean the one in the fireplace!

That record was one of three Imperial records. And almost unbelievably they were all examples of a different label and sleeve! Whether or not each of them are in the right sleeve I have no idea... The previous record, although of songs from the 1914-18 period was released in 1931. The sleeve shows a price of 1/6 (one shilling and 6 pence - 7.5 pence in today's money but think about 80 years of inflation...) This one sold for 1/3 so you would expect it to be earlier.

The record it holds has a lower catalogue number - 2081 has the Christ Church Cathedral Choir singing Adeste Fideles (O Come All Ye Faithful) on what I presume is the A Side with Abide With Me on the reverse. I usually make these decisions on the basis of the song recording reference which is always shown on labels. The lower number is usually the A side but it's not a hard and fast rule. In this case it's the small number at the bottom of the label. On many records it is printed upside down for some reason. Dating records can also be a bit hit and miss. For some artists you can find a full discography and for others it's a case of using online database sites. Imperial 2081 can be dated with a fair degree of certainty to 1929.

The third Imperial record is a different colour of label altogether. These seem to have been released at the same time as the red ones and could represent the subject matter (type of music) or some other reason. It could be as simple as Imperial having more than one factory pressing records for them.

This is catalogue number 2215 and features Sam Baxter (remember him? No, me neither...) singing and (oh joy!) yodelling his way through the song Hollow Hills with The Yodelling Shepherd on the reverse. Also from 1929 the record has a stamp attached to the label to show that the buyer paid the tax due on the record. The buyer has tried subsequently to remove the stamp. They did tend to spoil the appearance of the label and not all record salesmen were careful as to where they put them - they can be found obscuring the name of the song. Having seen similar stamps I can tell you that it would have had "Associated Copyrights" written around the circular design and over that would be an inked stamp showing the amount of tax paid which in 1929 would be three farthings or three quarters of an old penny - just over three tenths of one of today's pence.

Whilst a later record than the Christ Church Cathedral Choir, I'm not sure that the sleeves are in the right order. The design of the sleeve with the graphic design is more likely to have evolved from the organ pipes than the other way around.

I've mentioned Jack Hylton before on this blog. Lancaster University have a superb collection of material relating to this long-lived and hugely popular band leader. Indeed it was featured on TV the other night in a BBC programme about British Dance Bands and in it Strictly Come Dancing judge, Len Goodman, was shown looking at the music sheets of all the orchestra parts for some of his thousands of songs. I am therefore confident on saying that this record, Felix Kept On Walking was recorded on the 14th of January 1924.

A record of this age is going to have a lot of background noise. And generally the earlier the record the quieter it is recorded anyway, so that the background noise is all the more noticeable. It is impossible to get rid of it all. But with the technical wonders of the 21st century I have managed to get a really good fairly clean version of this song into an mp3 file. The other side though, Why Robinson Crusoe Got The Blues, has totally defeated me. Repeated playings from the very heavy steel needles of the 1920s and 30s (you couldn't put one on your finger and let go of the playing arm without extreme pain and probably puncturing your finger!) have obliterated most of the tonality and distorted what is left. A great shame!

Another lucky find. I previously only had one record on the Panachord label and that was in a different sleeve. It's away up in the attic - I'll have to feature that one in a future article. Panachord was a label owned by Decca and the records released on it were usually sold at a slightly cheaper price than Decca's own releases.

"The Street Singer" was the stage name of singer Arthur Tracy. His 1937 recording of Pennies From Heaven was revived for the 1981 film of that name with a present day actor miming to it (today's artists like to make this sound more difficult by calling it "lip-synching").

This is an unusual one. Most 78 rpm records are ten inches with the longer selections such as Classical music being released on twelve inch. Other sizes were issued though and this example is an eight inch record. These records lasted as long as the standard ten inch records because the label was small, allowing the needle to travel closer to the centre of the record. This explains why the centre spindle hole seems so much larger in the image. The groove was also less deep than standard records. One unfortunate side effect of shallow grooves and the needle being so close to the centre and therefore being forced to the side of the groove with greater force than usual, was to sometimes produce a whistling sound and also to wear or damage the groove more close to the label.

Thea Philips was a soprano (real name: Dorothy Jane Phillips with the more usual double-L in the surname). She emigrated to Australia in 1934 where she sang in revues and shows and later opera and then worked teaching singing as her own performing career declined. Tom Bailey is not the same Tom Bailey who was to find fame in the 1980s as a member of The Thompson Twins and it turns out his real name was Tom Barrett but I've been able to find out nothing else about him. He does, however, get the reverse side all to himself as he sings Rose Marie.

The eight inch record did not come in its own sleeve unfortunately. But it did come in a sleeve I didn't have. I don't have any records from the Dominion label either so have found this one on the Internet. I wish I did have this one though.

When Niccolo Plays the Piccolo has Piccolo Pete on the B side. Piccolo Pete was one of a whole series of performers in a (I assume) fictional orchestra and each member of the orchestra had their own song. There was Goopy Gear on piano and Gimball played the cymbal... There's probably more. I have a recording of the Bert Ambrose Orchestra called Gimball Hits The Cymbal where "...Goopy Gear plays the piano by ear, but Goopy Gear can't play by ear 'till Gimball hits the cymbal!" Similarly "...Piccolo Pete can't tweet-tweet-tweet 'till Gimball hits the cymbal!"

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