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IT ALL BEGAN IN THE BACK ROOM

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. An LP could now be cut with considerably more grooves than the old one, offering a longer recording. However, if the grooves were too close, louder passages infiltrating into each other ruined the disc. Thus a varigroove method meant that the sound level from the tape recorder was monitored prior to cutting, changing the width of the groove. However, the nearer the centre of the disc, with less land to cover, hiss got unacceptably louder.

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. A method of collecting the swarf was also fitted using a miniature vacuum cleaner. Before, if often rounded back to clog the styli - another blank ruined. Fitting both of these innovations often took lots of candle burning; involving dozens of cutting styli shrivelled with too much heat, not to mention probably sixty, or so, ruined blank acetates.

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, from which my sisters were strictly banned, although Cindy recollects (at the age of ten) watching the swarf swirling into the vacuum tube as a record was being cut, having been instructed to 'sit down, shut up and above all, don't touch anything . She also remembers my finally giving in, allowing her to make a record of 'I Saw Mummy Kissing Santa Klaus' for her mummy. So, I wasn't t such an ogre, after all?

Kenny Clare was now playing with Johnny Dankworth and after a live broadcast; both Johnny and Cleo Laine would trek out to East Ham, where mum would make them a cup of tea while they listened to a playback of their broadcast on one of my tape machines. Today's iPod generation would be astounded to learn that there were only a handful of tape recorders around in those days. Presumably the BBC was not in the business of playing back live broadcasts to mere musicians.

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.

After continually cutting the same disc over and over it is little wonder that now, many years later, I still have those songs and lyrics swirling around in my head. Modern jazz addict Alan Shillum designed beautiful sleeves for the albums, in return for jazz records. Al (later my brother-in-law) after an exciting career as a jobbing journalist rose to the heady heights of Managing Editor of the Daily Mirror. He was (and still is) a very good artist.

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.

That Christmas Eve, an avid fan named Eddie Barton (from oooop north) suddenly arrived on the doorstep with a friend who appeared to be a mute! They were totally uninvited but welcomed none-the-less. They were both tee total and we were badly stocked with lemonade. Mum also had to provide vegetarian meals for them, not easy in those days, let alone Christmas Eve

Eddie spotted an old upright piano in the front room and asked whether he could play it. Dad (always game for a knees up) willingly gave permission. Eddie sat down and started playing obscure Bartok music very loudly. At one point I think dad was considering a house ejection.

Eddie often jumped in on conversations obscurely reciting jazz criticisms that I used to make on my blurb sheets, verbatim. They kipped on the capacious sofa in the front room, surrounded by hundreds of Christmas cards, turkey left overs, lots of empty glasses and, if memory serves, two slightly intoxicated budgies. With your Mr. Memory tricks and instantaneous Bartok brilliant recital capabilities. Where are you now Eddie Barton?

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.

All night cutting sessions were the norm and many friends (including the aforementioned Dennis Sullivan and Al Shillum) would congregate there to yap and listen, even occasionally to buy. Drink or drugs (virtually unknown in those days) were NEVER involved just music music music. The profit ratio connected with the 78rpm record exchanges was quite poor, especially, after postage and the inevitable breakages, but the enterprise generated many friends and brought many fans together.

I advertised my recording services regularly in The Musical Express. My ads were always 'unusual' i.e., IS THAT A FLYING SAUCER? NO IT 'S A TED SCOTT 'S DISC BEING EXPRESSLY DELIVERED. Advertising Manager Percy Dickens foresaw the advent of commercial television years before it came and wanted to set me up in a Soho studio recording jingles and suchlike. Regretfully I never went down that road.

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) - it nearly always transpired that the more amateur the performer, the more records they would order. The seemingly prestigious job of recording the Oscar Rabin band so they could hear their performance was almost always pro bono work. 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.

After a harrowing session in an east London pub recording a tacky Dixieland band and then replaying it all the following morning with the band present was too much for me. On top of that dad kept asking for tracks to be replayed because he 'really liked it ' - I had 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.
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TedSuitFinalDiscCut.jpg

Kenny Clare
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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