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The Way Things Change

October 20, 2020

My early recollection of listening to recorded music was on an old wooden wind-up gramophone.

That was towards the end of the 40s. We had 78rpm shellac records like ‘’You Can’t Black Out The Moon’ (WW2), The William Tell Overture, ‘Gillie Potter Visits Southend’ (a humorous monologue), and Joe Daniels’ Jazz Band. We also had The Christmas Story: the Nativity narrated, along with a book of pictures in which you turned over the page when a bell rang. When I was older I bought ‘Bad Penny Blues’ by Humphrey Lyttleton and his band, ‘Last Train To San Fernando’ by Johny Duncan and his Bluegrass Boys, all 78rpm. These records were treasured and played a lot.

Then in my mid teens my father bought a little electric record player which would play 45 rpm singles. After that it was a Fidelity Argyll tape recorder, a cheap version of the posher Grundig tape recorders my friends had. I used to tape ‘Pick Of The Pops’.

Then into the music business, starting off recording on mono tape machines, then stereo, 4-track, 8-track, 16-track and upwards. And the mystery of Dolby noise reduction. Then hearing the first Digital multi-track in the UK, which Gerry Bron had bought for The Round House Studio: no tape hiss, so you jumped when the sound started.

Then buying one of the first Sony Walkmen abroad, bringing it home and being stared at on trains, because no one had seen one in the UK.

And valued vinyl albums being treasured for the care taken in their production, both in the recordings and the sleeve designs.

Then messing about with a Revox G36 stereo tape recorder.

Then the arrival of CD where things began to shrink, including the sleeve notes, and the music business realised they could sell everything twice.

Then getting onto the hi-fi nirvana trail, seeking the impossibly expensive system, until I realised that that way neurosis lay.

Then time out, doing other things, until coming back into the business in a quiet way, teaching myself how to record on computer, using both real and midi instruments, all the while watching what had once been valued – recorded music – become stolen, and free, and therefore undervalued.

And the democratisation of making records: every one could be a singer-songwriter and make records in their bedroom, with no gatekeeping by publishers and record companies, so more and more ‘stuff’ is churned out, with little jewels hidden inside a morass of mediocrity, and now most people don’t know any better, and the MP3, played on ear buds, becomes the new gold standard.

Peter Shaffer’s play, ‘Amadeus’, should be required reading in schools.

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