New Radio 4 series – His Master’s Voice – starts Monday 23rd November

Tune in to Radio 4 from Monday 23rd – Friday 27th November 2015 each day at 1.45 pm (except Wednesday 25th at 3.45pm) for a new series in which Tristram Penna and I examine the legacy and stories behind some of the first Gramophone records recorded in Britain from 1898-1902.

We start by going back to them summer of 1898 when The Gramophone Company opened offices at 31 Maiden Lane in London’s Covent Garden. This was the very first disc record company in the UK, later becoming well known as HMV and EMI and was the London affiliate of inventor Emile Berliner’s US National Gramophone Company. The first inventory consisted of imported parts for 3,000 gramophones & 150,000 American records.

It was swiftly obvious that British tastes meant local repertoire was vital, so Berliner sent his top engineer and talent man Fred Gaisberg to London, who until George Martin, was the most successful record producer the UK had ever known. On 9 Aug the day of the very first gramophone recording session Fred recorded Adam Umbach, clarinettist from the Trocadero, playing Mendelssohn’s ‘Spring Song’. Close by, Rules Restaurant, London’s oldest restaurant which opened in 1798 also played an important part as a place where artists and Gramophone Company staff could fraternise. Here Gaisberg heard Australian singer Syria Lamonte, which led to a legendary recording of ‘Coming Through The Rye’ on the 2 September. Fred wanted to record everything and anything that he thought might sell and the very first gramophone record catalogue contains several thousand very diverse recordings.

The early recording process may have been primitive, but many artists were persuaded to record by a pioneering spirit. By Christmas 1898 the company had sold out of all machines and records so the entire staff poured into Rules to celebrate. In the programme, you’ll hear from Christopher Proudfoot, CLPGS chairman, academic Peter Adamson, and music manager/author Simon Napier-Bell.

Don’t forget to contact me on Twitter or Facebook afterwards and let me know what you thought.