Saturday, 30 November 2013

The Janet Carling 78 rpm Collection

I'm still wading up to my knees in old records! I haven't even had chance to look through the Easthope Collection - the ones I brought back from the Midlands last weekend yet. At the moment I'm working my way through a collection given to me several years ago by a work colleague who knew I loved 78 rpm records and who turned up with a Christmas Hamper box full.

The collection was mostly, though not exclusively, of jazz records from around 1940. There are some great names on the records and the condition of them is excellent. Some of them sound brand new, the quality being not far short of a "straight from the master" quality. You expect a bit of background noise from 78s - they would lose their "flavour" without it, but pops and snicks from scratches are almost totally absent.

There are several bound albums in the collection. These are fibre-backed board covers into which several records can be bound together in their original sleeves.

With 78s quite often you can find records easily enough, but getting the original cover and in pristine condition is extremely hard. Here they are all with their original covers. Some examples are absolutely mint. But... all glued together at the bottom where they fit into the album cover. So scanning them is impossible!

Paper covers are flimsy. Sometimes, as with this 1940s Parlophone sleeve, they are complete if not untouched. I've managed to stick over the tears to make it look ok. Sellotape yellows with age and shrinks so using it is not ideal and when I'm forced to use it I only ever stick it on the inside so that it won't be visible. But repairing many covers is hard because so many tears are along an edge, making internal joins a bit difficult!

As I've been playing them I've been recording them onto my computer. The free Audacity software allows me to remove any clicks and to reduce most of the background noise and the quality even from a 1930s record can be almost unbelievable.

I've just gone through one of the albums containing Duke Ellington records. He recorded for several labels during the 1930s and 40s and with several different bands and orchestras. As his fame grew he made the most of it, recording as Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra!

The sticker with the T.T markings is a tax sticker. Whilst VAT has not been with us for 50 years yet, there was Purchase Tax on most goods including records and sometimes it was as high as 100%!

And amongst some of the little surprises in the Janet Carling Collection is this disc by Beryl Davis in which she sings one of Shakespeare's soliloquies which has been set to music which at times reminds one of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grapelly's Hot Club de France sound!

The Little EGG Craft Company

The family crafters are at the Winter Gardens, Blackpool again this weekend for another craft fayre on the run up to Christmas.

This was the scene first thing this morning as Fran, Gill and Jeannie were setting up their stall. You can find them by entering off Church Street and just carry on walking in a straight line into the Horseshoe Gallery at the far end and the Little Egg Craft Company will be on your right just as you come to the curve of the room.

Gill has lots of jewellery for sale - necklaces, bracelets, bangles and brooches. She's a particularly strong range using Swarovski crystals and has a full rainbow of colours to choose from.

Fran has spent hours making bags of all sizes from shopping bags to tiny little present bags for Christmas which would just fit a small present to hang on a tree. Someone bought a whole collection of these whilst I was there this morning!

The Christmas range of bags. Also on hand is Jeannie with her hand-made cards for all occasions. If you're looking for an extra special card or want it to carry a personal message, Jeannie is happy to help.

And where does the Little EGG Craft Company name come from? Gill's family - Edward, Gill and their daughter Grace!

The craft fayre is open both today and tomorrow, Saturday/Sunday 30 November and 1 December 2013 until 5:00pm at the Winter Gardens Blackpool. If you can't get to the show in Blackpool, here is the Little EGG Craft Company Website.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Sketching Britain Part 2

A few more sketches done over the years. After I published the first article a few days ago I had a couple of emails wanting to know how I got started and could I publish some really early ones. You mean the grotty ones....? Well I started for no real reason at all other than I felt like it. And I was on holiday in Devon so had time on my hands.

This was done on that first holiday. Lines. No shading. About a quarter hour and move on quickly because that bloke over there looks as though he might come over to peek...

From the year after, this is the lock gates at Bude where the canal joins the sea. This was done on a tiny pad. At 1680 pixels screen width this will be pretty much actual size. I was joined by a young teenager and started to feel a bit embarrassed. "It's better than I could do!" he said. I started to get a bit more confidence.

Boscastle, north Cornwall. It was quiet there, I did three drawings that day. Amongst other things I learned that drawing rocks is not that easy... But this was not too bad. The Pixie House, a tiny ancient cottage with a sagging roof and a souvenir shop.

And after a couple of years I was ok with standing in public view and having a go. Even so I never spent more than half an hour and there's still not a lot of shading. Drawing trees or grass was still challenging and backgrounds just tended to be scribbled. Later I'd take scribbling to new levels, but not just yet... This is the Coastguard's Hut at Scarborough. A stone gateway with what looks like a Tudor timbered second storey. But that's another storey...

Polperro, 2001. This was done after ten years of intermittent pencil twiddling. The background shows signs of more meaningful scribble to suggest wooded background but still not anything special. There are figures in this one too - something else I found - and still find - fairly difficult to get right. The foreground is still a little lacking in detail!

Then I was asked to do something specifically about Bispham and did this of the Old England pub. Some of it is pure invention but I put hours into this. And in 2004 we started to take our holidays abroad. Something we had only done once before and most of my sketches since then have been done in foreign climes. So we'll look at some of those in the next instalment.

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Tuesday, 26 November 2013

London Nights

We've just come back from a long weekend in London. Went down on Saturday morning and drove back on Monday (yesterday).

So there's a few photos of the weekend to sort out... I took 90 but a few are blurred and some are duplicates so that will whittle down a bit. I love London at this time of year as it's a great opportunity to take photos at dusk or night.

This is Aspley House, the house of the Duke of Wellington, the general who led British troops against Napoleon, finally defeating him at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. He took this house with the fantastic address of "No.1, London" and became Prime Minister and also gave his name to the rubber boot. Later in life, after Napoleon died, he often spent an afternoon standing by the side of the tableaux of his old enemy's deathbed in Madame Tussaud's waxworks.

One of my favourite shots from the weekend is this one. Taken at the end of the afternoon just before dark, of the fairground rides in Hyde Park. There's a massive continental market there, called Winter Wonderland. Great to wander through but so crowded that just getting to a stall was hard work, never mind trying to stand far enough away to take a photo without crowds jostling against you and getting in the way.

We walked from the park past Aspley House and then along Piccadilly until we reached the Circus. The photos I took along this stretch and a quick glance at Regent Street and Oxford Street will make up this entry. Piccadilly boasts some wonderful buildings and architecture, that most of us can only hope to see from the outside! This is the entrance to the ballroom of the Park Lane Hotel.

Whilst just opposite is the Ritz. You can go for afternoon tea there if you fancy splashing out on a pot of tea, a few sarnies with the crusts cut off and some cakes. From what I've seen on the telly, you are supposed to shout at the waiters and generally act like a pompous old fart... I wouldn't last long as a member of staff but I seriously would enjoy shoving a cake into the face of some of those old duffers! I suspect they are just a small minority really. They would never have any staff otherwise!

The Burlington Arcade is a shopping arcade running north from Piccadilly. Immortalised in the song "Burlington Bertie" it exudes atmosphere. Top-hatted beadles keep an eye out for misdemeanors. You can be ejected for whistling, opening an umbrella inside the arcade or running. Mostly though, their time is taken up by giving directions and assistance.

Inside the arcade, the shops retain their original huge windows and wooden framed frontages. At Christmas it's an even better place to wander through, to marvel at the window displays and think that there's a reason for the lack of price tickets. If you need to ask... you can't afford...!

We reach Piccadilly Circus. The statue of the archer (it's not really Eros, though it's pedantic these days not to call it that) has been turned into a giant snow globe. The giant videos are mesmerising, but I can't help feeling nostalgic for the red neon of the Coca Cola sign that adorned the corner of Regent Street for so many years. There's always a crush of people around here and the sound of horns from cars or taxis that suddenly spy a hopeful or just unaware pedestrian stepping out in front of them is almost constant.

Regent Street. A look in Hamley's toy shop windows at Christmas time is almost mandatory. Come to think of it, Miss Franny makes it mandatory... We had a look. I oohed and aahed... Anyone who wants to cheer themselves up should spend a few minutes in Hamley's. Unless you are actually going to spend money (which in these days of "all parts sold separately" can be a sobering activity) then I almost defy anyone to go into Hamley's for a while and come out without a huge grin on their face!

If Regent Street was lit with depictions of the Twelve Days of Christmas, then Oxford Street had giant snow balls floating above it. We found somewhere to eat and took our time over the meal before heading back to the hotel. There's more to come. I keep saying this on the blog. Currently you are waiting for more articles on 78 rpm records and sketches. So let's just whet the appetite a bit...

On our way back up north on Monday we called off in the Midlands to buy a collection of 78 rpm records. I've still not had time to look through them - never mind play them! There are 175 of them plus a big box of postcards that the owner kindly gave to me along with the records. So, more postcard entries to come also! Whenever I feature any of these items they'll be mentioned as part of the Easthope Collection. I've recorded another 16 sides from the 78 rpm records from my parents' collection whilst writing this article - it takes time! It'll be worth it!

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Record Shops to 1960

As you'll know if you are a regular reader of this blog, I have a fondness for all sorts of music. It's mainly for pre-21st century music if I'm honest, but there's always been and probably will always be good stuff turning out. Anyway it's time for a closer look at the 78rpm era. That era takes in the first flat disc records from the turn of the 20th century through to the very early 1960s. They carried on for a few years after in other countries such as India and all points east.

Here we moved on to 7" vinyl records that spun at 45rpm - revolutions per minute. Some of the later 78s were made with vinyl. Most were made of shellac, a natural substance secreted by bugs that can be made liquid and shaped using chemicals. I have a large collection of "78s" ranging from the late 1920s right up to around 1960.

We'll have a look at some of the records and artists another time. Now I'm going to look at the shops where we bought our records through the medium of the sleeves they sold to contain them.

There were no record shops in the early days. As with the early days of computers, other related industries took on the new product. They were mostly musical instrument dealers. Record shops, dealing exclusively with recorded music rather than its more human creation, were still only barely making ground when I was a boy. We did have an electric record player though - which we still called a gramophone, though really that name means a purely mechanical device. The turntable was driven by clockwork with a coiled spring (coiled tightly enough to kill if you tried to take the machine apart) which you tightened by winding it up with a handle.

Steel needles were used - you had to use a new needle for every side (a single track) that you played. There were three grades - soft (meaning quiet volume), medium and loud. Gramophones amplified the sound through a large horn and were LOUD!!!! To quieten them down so the neighbours wouldn't bang on the walls you stuffed material down the horn. That's where the saying "Put a sock in it!" comes from... Steel needles were large. You can't play 78s with a diamond stylus used for 45s and long-play albums as it would rattle around in the groove. Instead a larger stylus must be used. Indeed there are different sizes for different periods, though I've found most 78s play ok with the single sapphire stylus I use on my record player.

Most record companies had their own paper sleeves that the records came in, but most shops sold harder wearing cardboard sleeves which advertised their business. This one advertises Songster needles and has a series of handy hints for gramaphone users with this example (Hint No.4) warning users not to move gramophones from warm to cool rooms which could break the main spring.

We'll have a look at some of the record company sleeves later too, as there's a few more shop sleeves to look at here. Cramer and Lea Ltd. of Liverpool stapled the sides of their sleeves before taping a ribbon of paper to keep the sides of the sleeve together. The tell-tale brown marks seen through the ribbon show that there are four staples - going a touch rusty... The firm also had stickers made with their business details that they stuck onto the record label. Besides records they sold pianos, televisions, radios, gramophones, (sheet) music and band instruments. This probably means brass and woodwind and stringed instruments like violins rather than guitars...

The sleeve from the Forsyth Brothers shop on Deansgate in Manchester (specialising as a piano seller) had headings and space for the new record owner to write the details of their record, a reference, artists, A and B side titles, date and the type of needle to be used to play it. This has been filled out in this case with the details of the record currently occupying the sleeve, written in ink with a nib pen with a neat hand with lots of curls and flourishes. The record is Dinah Shore and Buddy Clark singing "My One and Only Highland Fling" from 1949, which I'm sure very few of you will remember. But you may recognise the B side, which is "Baby, It's Cold Outside" that was revived a few years ago by Rod Stewart and Dolly Parton.

Not all shop-bought sleeves were more sturdy than the record companies' own sleeves. This example from Kerr and Company of Workington is little more than a paper bag, quite a lot larger than the record - though I should point out that in the early days some records were made at ten and a half inches instead of the later standard ten inches. Kerr and Company seemed to cover all bases. Aside from records they sold hobby goods and "specialist" goods, which sounds intruiging... Oh, and cycles and accessories - not such a related area to record players as it might have been in the Walkman era... (Walkmans! Now I am showing my age!!!)

But they weren't alone. By far the most common 78 rpm record sleeve is plain brown paper. Shops used to stamp them with a rubber stamp and inkpad to advertise their business. And H Marsden of Bamber Bridge near Preston was another cycle shop. Ahem! Sorry! Cycle and Radio Agent! Given that radios of the day were the size of a large piece of furniture and definitely did not work off batteries, that seems another strange thing to carry on a bike... But H Marsden were specialists at lightweight wheel building so maybe that made up for the bulky weight of a wireless (as we used to call radios).

The record is another 1949 hit - Ronnie Ronalde's "In a Monastery Garden". Although the label says "Sung by", he actually whistles his way through it, sometimes blasting out (no other way to describe it) a tune and sometimes doing birdsong impressions. I remember it used to drive my Mum nuts... On some of his records he yodels too. Not at the same time as whistling obviously...

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Sketching Britain

A small flood of sketches, from the period 1992 to 1994. I'd only taken up sketching in 1990 at the age of 46. It took so long to get over the reaction of my art teacher at school whose usual response to my work was a barely stifled laugh... These are despite him...

Blackpool, my home since 1976. A familiar view, but the detail of it at floor level has all changed now with the new promenade.

Bowness and Lake Windermere. Drawn from a photograph at home, this A4 sketch took ages to do and is probably my first detailed sketch.

Sedbergh drawn on site on an A5 sketchpad on the other hand only took around 20 minutes. We were staying for the weekend with friends at their cottage. Good memories!

Polperro in Cornwall, drawn on a very crowded harbour wall. It took me a while to get to the stage where I could stand and sketch where I knew people would come to look over my shoulder. I must be lucky - no one has sniggered...

Cheddar, deserted as it was after 5:00pm. However one family - desperately looking for something to do, see or watch, spent the entire 45 minutes of this sketch standing watching and chatting. Nice of them, but added pressure as I was dreading producing something akin to the landscape version of a stick man...

Quite an early one of Clitheroe Castle in Lancashire. A touch of laziness is shown in the lines of the ground paving in the middle distance... Guilty m'Lud...

I don't know where this is - I sketched it from a photo in a magazine simply because I liked the composition. I'm obviously not alone as it's one of the more visited images amongst my sketches at Flickr.

Similarly with this one, sketched from a magazine photo, but at least I know where it is - Porlock Wier in Somerset.

An unmistakeable location for this sketch of the Bridge House at Ambleside. This (and the next) were drawn in a hardbacked A4 book with ivory coloured pages. I liked the idea, but haven't used it a lot as I don't think I've ever gone out on a drawing/sketching expedition. Instead I sketch as and when I have the time and when I happen to be somewhere I think I can sketch and do justice to the scene. So lumping an A4 book about is not good. Usually I have an A5 sketchpad in a leather folder from a work conference (thank you Emis!) long ago and this holds my propelling pencil that I use just about exclusively. (Though the Sedbergh sketch was done with an ordinary pencil - you can tell it had a broader point!)

From the same A4 book, a sketch of Lower and Upper Slaughter in the Cotswolds. A beautiful place and well suited to pencil and paper or paints. I paint even more seldom than sketching. Lately I sketch only on holiday and a week away produces only one or two sketches usually. But who knows... I plan to retire from work within the next year and it would be nice to spend time doing what I enjoy, whether on site or at home in comfort!

Some of the sketches done abroad have appeared on these pages before but I'll collect some of them together in similar articles and perhaps have a look at the very rare paint and coloured crayon sketches too.

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Saturday, 16 November 2013

A Family Occasion

I don't often do family related stuff on here but this weekend I'm going to make an exception.

The year is 1979. Our daughter, Gillian, was two. This shows her with my wife, Fran and my Mum.

Noddy was still allowed to be seen in those days...

Showing Gill how to eat ice cream... And the reason for all this nostalgic look at when Gill was two?

Because this weekend her own gorgeous little girl, our granddaughter, Grace, turns two herself.

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...