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My First Equipment


Dad and I set-up business and within a year the backroom of our house on the Bypass in East Ham was a mass of wires and machinery. The business was going so well I up-graded to a professional disc cutting lathe. The original cutter only recorded at 78 rpm. Now, with the new lathe, I had 3-speed capability with varigroove.

After hearing a 1950 LP of The Duke Ellington Orchestra, which was the finest quality I had ever heard. (Masterpieces By Ellington ? released Columbia Records 1950 - re-released 2004 Sony - CK 87043.) I decided to write to Columbia Records in New York outlining my problem. I was stunned two months later to receive a package from their technical department advising me to use 'hot cut'. Technical details to achieve this were enclosed. It involved wrapping DC heated ultra thin SWG wire around the cutting styli enabling the needle to cut through the acetate like a hot knife through butter..

With my new set-up intact, I was recording groups, singers and amateur shows on a regular basis (and a bit of bootlegging on the side). Dad was the business brain; I was the boffin in the backroom.

One gig that came from my adverts was to record an end-of-term Sub-Lieutenants show at the Royal Naval College in Greenwich. There were forty or fifty subs of both sexes in the show which was cleverly written by Ronnie Baker and Don Styles with a heavy nautical vein. The standard of performance was quite high. For a whole day, I recorded the musical rehearsals using close microphone technique, then 'on the night' with the audience present, just footlight microphones. Later, I edited the close up stuff into the evening performance. The show was then edited down to fifty minutes allowing it to be transferred to a 12' acetate. To my astonishment we had orders from the cast and audience for over 140 LP's. I think this quantity was due to dad telling the Subs that he would post the LP out to their home address COD, so that their parents would pay (brilliant move dad). Before this order was completed, the next sub-show was ready to record. In all, six sub-shows. I was often cutting well into the early hours.

I never considered my boot legging career to be illegal or offensive. In my mind I was even providing a public service. Modern Jazz albums were totally unavailable in the UK. I had a customer base of 5-600 modern jazz fans. Christmas 1952 our front room was swamped with over 500 Christmas cards. The modern jazz blurb sheets I sent out would contain truthful warts-and-all reviews of the albums available. Later I began to accept six 78-rpm records (good condition only) in exchange for one of my jazz albums. I amassed many hundreds of 78's and opened a small record shop to dispose of them. The shop in Romford Road, Manor Park (east London) also became the disc cutting centre. All the equipment from mum and dad's house in East Ham was transferred to the shop's back room. It was here that my experimentations with hot-cut formulated.

With the record shop now well established, run by mum and dad, the bootleg side of the business was (ahem) curtailed after a not very friendly visit by a representative of Esquire Records who had just started releasing some modern jazz stuff in 1958. The amateur recording stuff was beginning to bore me slightly. Recording a singer or group who were well below par musically embarrassed me greatly.

Dad was terrific with amateurs; he would have made a great impresario. Sometimes, during a playback of something recorded the night before, I had to leave the room whilst dad extolled the (almost non-existent) virtues of the performer(s). Around that time I did a regular acetate cutting service for Radio Luxembourg. Pre-released tracks were sent to me on acetate; I would do several copies and distribute them to the Luxembourg in-house DJs. I learned that Radio Luxembourg had a vacancy for a sound assistant. I decided to take the bull by horns and join the professional world. Mum and dad still had the record shop to play with and (stupidly) I allowed all the equipment to be sold off.

Radio Luxembourg

The Final Cut Disc - Ready to Ship.

Kenny Clare

Kenny Clare, with more than a passing resemblance to Buddy Rich, plays with the Billy Cotton Band show in 1964 from BBC TV (with a surprisingly excellent band!)  I had never seen this clip before.  Thank God for YouTube!

Kenny Clare and Grisha Farfel "Swing Low Sweet Chariot"

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