Tag Archives: vintage

MRS Authentic Jamaican Calypsos – The Mento Series and their sleeve notes.


Authentic Jamaican Calypsos & All Jamaican Calypsos – Stanley Motta’s 10″ Lp Output

In the 1950s Stanley Motta the early Jamaican record producer, released 5 x 10″ Lps, each a collection of Mento songs and instrumentals previously released only on 78rpm single. Rare and sought after they all host a collection of illuminating sleeve notes, which reflect the perceived exoticism of a Caribbean Island holiday destination to the nascent tourist and the long held traditions of Jamaica’s people in song.

They are indispensable to any collector of early Jamaican recorded music, folk music enthusiast, or lover of the Roots of Ska, Rocksteady and Reggae. Many of the lyrics, themes and songs feature in Jamaican popular culture today and once recognised one cannot ignore Mento’s influence on all styles of Jamaican music that followed because the first recorded Jamaican song was birthed on a Mento 78rpm record, one released by Stanley Motta in 1953.

Sleeve notes . . . 

Sleeve notes can tell the interested party so much about the time, the music and the people making it, that they are offered here for those of you interested in that history, but perhaps unable to get hold of the actual Lps themselves (yet).

Authentic Calypso?

Although labelled as Calypso, this is not, this is Mento, a distinct style and genre of music, related to Calypso, the form mainly of Trinidad, but that of Jamaica. In the 1950s though an audience in the USA who had fallen for the romanticism of Calypso would consume a variety of musics, providing it had the attraction of being called Calypso, hence much Mento has wrongly been attributed to this form. It’s something that annoys those that evangelise the Jamaican style, the peculiarly distinct sound of Mento.

The Series

Numbers 1-4 feature the same cover artwork in a variety of colours, the 5th edition has an entirely different cover and is actually called ‘All Jamaican Calypsos’ though it states ‘Series 5’ on the sleeve and shares catalogue and matrices with the other volumes, BUT different sleeve notes. And finally there was a collection, again with different variant artwork to the first 5 volumes and sleeve notes, released in the U.K. on London International Records. All are pictured below, and the accompanying sleeve notes transposed for volumes 1-4, then for Series 5 and finally for the London International  Record label release. It is thought that the sole London International release may have been part of a deal in exchange for pressing the other 1-4 Authentic Jamaican Calypso series and ‘All Jamaican Calypsos’ 10″ Lps for Jamaican release. Those releases all state ‘Made In England’. The London international release was only ever sold in England as far as I can find out.

Sleeve Notes Vols 1-4

CALYPSO JAMAICA

The visitor to Jamaica can never quite forget the music of the island. He finds himself haunted by the memory of the soft murmur of the trade winds, and the breaking of the blue Caribbean on white sand shores. But more haunting than ever, above the music of nature, is the music of the streets, the endless varied obligato against which the life of Jamaica is lived. It is heard in the plaintive cal of the coconut seller, whose “Jell . . . oooooohhhh … Jell . . . oooohhhh” trumpets through the streets in the cool of the morning as he offers the tangy-sweet liquid of the green nut to thirsty passers-by. There is music in the short barking call of the fishmonger who pushes his squeaky-wheeled wagon or rides his laden bicycle from the flat of the plains to the twisted roads of the hills to bring is sparkling catch–grunts, snappers, jack, cutlass — all the glistening treasure of the deep. It is in the laughter tinged gossiping of the market-place, where broad-accented countrywoman and sophisticated city-bred higher meet to share the latest scandals.

Yes, there is music everywhere in Jamaica. It pulses in the traffic of the streets, where the brazen voices of modern auto horns argue with the sharp sudden accents of the donkey driver; it is in the quiet avenues of the suburbs where modern houses sprawl on cool green grounds; it is in the teeming slums where the crowded population finds expression in laughter, and in the provocative music-story of the island.

Jamaica’s music is the mento and calypso. Calypso is the general term that is applied to the ballad song of the islands, the song that tells a story and nudges laughter or amazement as the mood chooses. This is the fiery, fast sometimes risqué song of the troubadour who finds his inspiration in everyday happenings and spins his melodies and words to both intrigue and entertain the listener. Calypso is generally associated with Trinidad, but is a generic term, common to all the Caribbean islands.

Then there is the music that is peculiarly Jamaican — the mento. This is the specific tempo of the island. The result of the meeting of Afro-Latin influences is a distinctive beat and rhythm in the music of Jamaica that identifies it to the tuned ear. To the foreigner there is little difference, but to the Jamaican, dancing his swivel-hipped measures to the reedy prodding of bamboo flute and guitar, bongo and mambo drums, to the tuned intervals of the marimba box, it is unique, a native tempo that has it’s route through the slave chants, the French quadrille, the Spanish flamenca, the English round, all the polyglot, pulsing beats of the many people who have blended their histories and lives to make the golden people of the Caribbean.

Jamaicans are proud of their music. They are proud because in the distinctive beat of their music lies all their own history. Here is the musical meeting ground of the Chinese, the English, Welsh, Irish, Scots, the Portuguese and Spanish, in fact, all the varied people who are hidden behind the designation “Jamaican.”

In this envelope you will find captured not only the music of the Jamaican, but all of the varied tempos of the Caribbean. They are performed by native musicians, often with handmade native instruments. But always they are played with the rollicking devil-may-care musicianship that comes so naturally to the West Indian. Here you have transfixed in a record, moments of pleasurable memory.
Here you have CALYPSO JAMAICA.

Sleeve Notes Vol 5

CALYPSO JAMAICA

FullSizeRender 16. . . Jamaica’s carefree people have expressed in song all of the throbbing vitality that is so much a part of their country. Their songs are humorous, gay, sometimes happy, sometimes sad, but always enjoyable. It is music with a distinctive character that marks it as unmistakably Jamaican. Its distinctiveness is a combination of the musical dialect of Jamaican speech, the unique sound of native instruments and the subtle rhythm that marks it and separates it from the music of the other West Indian islands. The musical dialect of back country Jamaicans is basically English so interwoven with colloquialisms and the burr of local accents that is is almost unintelligible to anyone not familiar with the island’s speech. It is this distinctive Jamaican accent that gives added interest to the Jamaican calypso. There is also a unique character to the music itself which derives from the hand-made instruments played by calypso troubadours. These are the bambasax, an instrument wrought from bamboo by dextrous native craftsmen, with a bit of wood from a matchbox serving as a reed; the marimba, a deep-toned bass instrument that is just a simple box with bits of metal spring called “reeds” because of their similarity to harmonica reeds, and is normally used in place of the bass fiddle; the chattering marraccas, seed-filled gourds; and a whole family of drums from tiny, tenor bongos to big-voiced congo drums. Bamboo fifes and flutes, bambolins, a violin-like instrument comprised entirely from bamboo, and such conventional instruments as guitars, saxophones, trumpets and bass fiddles add their voices to the song of Jamaica. With voice and instrument, the Jamaican calypso troubadour regales, entertains and amuses, having a wonderful time himself as he brings you . . . CALYPSO JAMAICA.

Sleeve Notes – Authentic Jamaican Calypsos – LONDON International

FullSizeRender 19The visitor to the West Indies awakes to find himself in a tropical paradise — the birds sing and speak, the waters sparkle and laugh in the dancing sunshine, the leaves rustle to the tune of it all: and all is music. The people are happy — they rise with a song and they sing all day, even as they work. The Calypso which is the fold song of the West Indies is the pièce de resistance to this wonderful setting of life and beauty. The Calypso is the crux of it all — its fascinating, pulsating beat and rhythm remain forever in the heart of the visitor stirring up vivid memories of the romance of the West Indies.

No matter where you go among these islands — Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad, Grenada, Antigua — in any one of the long chain of islands, and irrespective of the language, you will hear the Calypso. It is a common link — the link in this chain of jewelled isles.

The Calypso is a form of minstrel music. The singer, or Calypsonian, cites the chief events of the time, recounts the noble or infamous deeds, as the case may be, of some person past or present. He might sing of the latest scandal or the state o politics. On the other hand, as he frequently does, he might describe some amusing incident in the everyday life of the ordinary person or comically examine the behaviour and habits of domestic and indigenous animals. The Calypso always provokes laughter. it is witty, comic, subtle, ironic. It discusses human relationships in an intimate way, yet it is not vulgar. The spice of the Calypso lies in the ability of the Calypsonian to tell you even about the most intimate things in such veiled, juicy and allegorical language that stirs you, shocks or startles you and yet leaves you to say, “Honi soit qui mal y pense” or otherwise, “Whom the cap fits let him draw the string”.

The Calypso is not only an expression of little doings and things and of great happenings, it is in itself an expression and a manifestation of the local society and tradition and its very interesting historical background and intricate blend of peoples, For once upon a time these islands were the El Dorado of the West — the rendezvouz of the buccaneers, the chosen land of pioneers and the Empire builders and the glorious battlefields of the sea-faring powers, Spices, sugar, tobacco, cotton, cocoa made them prized jewels in the Crowns of Europe, as also did their strategic position as the gateway to the Americas. Thus it was that all manner of people settled upon these islands. The indigenous Amerindians were out-numbered, decimated, and soon practically disappeared. Labour for the plantations was drawn from Africa and India. Descendants of the latter to-day form the great bulk of the population together with large numbers of persons of mixed descent having the spicy complexions drive from fusions of Spanish, French, English, Scottish, Dutch, African, Indian, Portuguese, Chinese and may others who settled there and completely mixed themselves into one solid society. The Calypso is the common denominator of all these cultures.

The pulsating rhythm of the African “tom-tom” blends with the tempo of the Spanish “quarto” and is polished off by the lilting sing-song of the French accent. The old-time Calypsonians or “chant-wells” (note the combination of French and English) used to sing in Patois or broken French. English is now commonly used for Calypso, but with the original exciting accent and intonation. It is written in four-four time, yet very subtly the singer can get in a good many words and syllables to a bar — or very few when he chooses.

Some say, a long time ago slaves on the plantations were not allowed to gossip — so the chanted to the same rhythm as their tom-toms as hey worked. these chants became cities as hey added strange words not understandable by their masters, telling of what was going on, and, in fact gossiping about their masters and the village. When “dancing the cocoa” or cutting the sugar cane or celebrating after work, these ditties became their folk songs. the leader was the “chant-well” later known as the Calypsonian.

The Carnival in Trinidad , celebrated on the two days preceding Ash Wednesday, is a relic of the old Spanish customs. At that time there is universal frolicking, singing and dancing in the streets. All sing the Calypso. The custom has greatly fostered the art of the Calypso. Trinidad’s Carnival and her very cosmopolitan background made her the home of the Calypso. From there it spread to all the other islands — to Jamaica, Barbados, Grenada, etc. And now the world is getting to know of this sweet tantalising, minstrel music.

Summarising?

There are of course gaping holes in the tracery of the slightly amateurish musicology you see reflected in the sleeve notes, and yet some rather good early insights into the links shown in and around the Caribbean and it’s musical trade routes. For me the last set of notes on the purely U.K. only release on London International shows a mildly patronising attitude, awash with the kind of romantic notions that refused to engage with the pain of slavery, African servitude and the serfdom of other indentured ethnicities on the island. It also looks at the music therein from the angle of Calypso, and almost completely ignores the very Jamaican nature of the release, the differences between Mento and Calypso or the individuality of Jamaica.

In short all of the sleeve notes are much better than I would expect from what can be a rather blinkered and one dimensioned western approach to any and all cultural pursuits of non European ethnicity in a then 1950s world.

All the issues talk of the cultural influence of speech patterns, Patois, city hubbub and in mentioning the “chant-well” the notes are harking to the West African Griot praise singing and the very culture that helped give rise to Calypso in particular.

I’m also personally intrigued to find or see and more importantly hear a bambolin!
To my knowledge even with a large Mento collection at my listening disposal, I never have.

©MIKE MURPHY Feb 2019

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Bigmikeydread Reggae Radio – Rootsman Selection No2


Bigmikeydread Reggae Radio – Rootsman Selection No2

IMG_4755I’m hopeful that you will like the selection of Roots Reggae on this show, I was certainly happy with how it turned out, and dedicate it to Gene, who sent me a nice sound byte for the show, get in touch if you’d like to do the same, love to all.

08 Bigmikeydread Reggae Radio – Rootsman Selection No2, all taken from 7” Single. (and one Lp Track, join me while I check some nice nice Roots from Singles, niceness pure.

You can listen to the show on Mixcloud and iTunes, but here is the link to Podomatic where the main hosting for it sits. – https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/bigmikeydreadreggaeradio/episodes/2019-02-20T11_23_02-08_00

  1. Joe Higgs – Let Us Do Something – Elevation 7” Revival Single
  2. Higgs Gallery – Instrumental (Let Us Do Something) – Elevation 7” Revival Single
  3. Palmers Brothers – Step It Out Of Babylon – Hawkeye 7” Revival Single
  4. Karl Bryan – 2K Strut – Studio one Roots 2 – Soul Jazz Lp
  5. Richie Spice – Earth A Run Red (Remix) – 7” Single
  6. Eek-A-Mouse – Creation – Eek-A-Mouse Records 7” Revival Single
  7. Bigmikeydread – You’ve Got To Love Up The Good Music – Bigmikey 7” Imagination
  8. Junior Byles & Rupert Reid – Chant Down Babylon – Ja-Man 7” Revival Single
  9. Jonnie Clark (sic) – Enter Into This Gate With Praise + Some Version Side – Lord Koos 7” Single
  10. Tinga Stewart – Babylon – Heavy Beat Records 7” Single
  11. Dennis Brown – Satta Massagaa – Gorgon 7” Revival Single
  12. Big Joe – In The Ghetto – Gorgon 7” Revival Single
  13. Leroy Smart – Oh Marcus – Channel 1 Revival 7” Single
  14. Winston Francis – Let’s Go To Zion – Studio One 7” Single Repressing
  15. Cornell Campbell – Brothers Killing Brothers – Fatman Revival 7” Single
  16. Billy Boyo – Jah Jah Made Me To Be A MC – Jah Guidance 7” Single
  17. Clancy Eccles – Africa – Clandisc Revival 7” Single
  18. The Eagles – Rasta Pickney – Melrose 7” Single
  19. Errol Alphonso – Chant Jah Victory – Vivian Jackson Revival 7” Single
  20. Cecil Brown – Hands Of The Wicked – Thrillseekers 7” Single
  21. Rector Butler – Too Much Youth Inna Jailhouse – Record City 7” Single
  22. Sylford Walker – Lamb’s Bread – South East Music 7” Single
  23. Mystic Revealers – Rastaman In New York – Kariang 7” Single
  24. General Roy (U-Brown?) – African People – RG International 7” Single
  25. Kiddus I – Graduation In Zion – Dub Store Records – Revival 7” Single
  26. Eagles & Black Disciples – Warn This Nation / Creation (Version) – Wolf 7” Single
  27. Hidden trackamondo – Ian & Sylvia – Catfish Blues, from their Lp – The Best Of Ian and Sylvia.

By the way you can get all of the details on exactly what the tunes came from here on my Discogs profile, and lists, the lists under show name are exactly what were played, thusly enabling you to go get the music I’ve played for your own collection.

https://www.discogs.com/lists/08-Bigmikeydread-Reggae-Radio-Rootsman-Selection-No2/485217

Bigmikeydread Reggae Radio ep 140 – The Show With No Name


itunes pic

140 Bigmikeydread Reggae Radio – The Show With No Name

Hello all, welcome, ¡hola, hallo, Բարեւ Ձեզ, kaixo, হ্যালো, здравей, Hej & maraba, आपका स्वागत है, bem-vindo

Bigmikeydred Регги Радио рада представить еще одно шоу, чтобы подогреть музыкальные трубы, делать массаж свисток и осторожно тампоном внутренности ваших earholes с сладкими звуками Ямайки и ямайской музыки.

Количество треков будет включать в себя …

Bigmikeydred Reggae Radio is pleased to present another show to whet your musical pipes, to massage your whistle and to gently swab the innards of your earholes with the sweet sounds of Jamaica and Jamaican music.

Tracks will include…

Cimarons – Struggling Man
Sidney Rogers – Jaquelino
Wailers – Get Up Stand Up
Peter Tosh – Stepping Razor
Scotty – Riddle I This
Eddie Ford – Guess I this Riddle
Cornell Campbell – Reach Out Darling
Heptons – Love Without Feeling
Mark Professor – Oystah Card
Bigmikeydread – I Need A Car
Dodgers – Let’s Make A Whole Lotta Love
Rulers – Don’t Be A Rude Boy
Hopeton Lewis – Hardships of Life
Slim Smith – Hip Hug
Skatalites – Lunch Time
Bob Marley – One Cup Of Coffee
Skatalites – Ghost Town
Don Drummond – Street Corner
Roland Alphonso – Freedom Sound
Baba Brooks – Independance Ska

You can donate to Bigmikeydread Reggae Radio here – http://bigmikeydread.podomatic.com/ look down the right hand side and hit the Paypal button.
Your donations are the ONLY funding the show receives and are what keeps it going! – THANK YOU.

You can hook up with the show and Mikey at the Bigmikeydread Reggae Radio Facebook Group – http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_5364049933

Thanks for listening, and come back soon for the bestest in Jamaican music, chat, sillyness, then and now. – all the best – Mikey

And you can read about interesting stuf on Mikey’s Blog at – https://bigmikeydread.wordpress.com/

J.D McPherson – Signs and Signifiers + HiStyle Records Chicago


J.D McPherson – Signs and Signifiers

Rarely do I get the chance to listen to any music that isn’t in some way related to my main love, the music of Jamaica and the Caribbean, however, recently I have mostly been listening to this release. I all too infrequently spend my moolah on anything but the sweet sounds of Jamdown and yet I’d buy another copy of this cd if I had a good enough reason.

Read the Epilogue at the base of this page…!

Read on, to find out why…

Corkey is a Cat! – A short while ago a customer in the building supplies depot where I work, one Andy Corke, of Corke and Bellchamber general builders in the area of Crowborough, East Sussex, England and I engaged in another musical conversation. He, Corkey that is, what had recently been to Spain for a Rockabilly festival suggested that I check out one Bass player Jimmy Sutton, and one J.D. McPherson, Vocalist, Song Writer and Guitarist. The resultant You Tube session started early in the evening and lasted until a very late night. By the end of it I certainly knew who Jimmy Sutton was, had enjoyed the vocal stylings of J.D McPherson and I jess couldn’t get enough., yassuh, I wuz hooked!

How to honour the past, while creating newness of freshness like a blossom on the breeze….?

Histyle records, the label that produced this supreme long player prides itself in recording and releasing ‘exceptional roots music’. And with Jimmy Sutton at the helm, they will. No doubt about it.

He has equipped his Chicago based Histyle studio in state of the art Equipment. Equipment that was state of the art in the late 1950s and early 1960s that is. The studio is designed no doubt to give his recordings a sound unlikely to be equalled now, and perhaps even then. A pity for him in a way that his Long Players and other exquisite recordings have to be tuned into binary digits and pressed into little disgusting plastic coasters called cds (Yuk!). Though I understand one or two have made it to 45rpm records.

Indulgence,… no way jay

All this might to some seem like staring at your navel on a Saturday night with a bottle of weak beer and a bad show on the TV . . . but, what these guys have managed to do is create music that doesn’t suffer from an over indulgence in the past, but instead offers, not necessarily a new twist to 50s Rock n’ Roll, but something, an unknown something, something forward-looking, fresh, knowingly unheard and yet… as if you could have heard these tunes, countless times, as classics of an era long gone.

J.D.

He can sing this boy, variously sounding like an Eddie Cochran on tunes like ‘Dimes For Nickels’; and then riffing like Chuck Berry, or sounding on ‘Your love’ (All That I am Missing’) as if he might have been displaced from the 5 Royales for the crime of over exuberance, and with the merest hint of Jackie Wilson creeping in to his vocal ‘stylings’, he is multi gifted. Classic lines include from the now famous ‘North Side Girl’ – ‘I’ve got some good talk, but not enough game’ and from ‘I Can’t Complain’ – ‘I can’t complain, I stay pretty dry in the rain’. Going on to treat us to a guitar solo in the aforesaid ‘I Can’t Complain’ that he surely took a bottle of vintage 1950s drugstore pep pills in order to create? Ripping good stuff . . .

No amount of explanation can do what your ears can.

Just go get it Houndog, I’m listening to it while writing this, thinking, hell I could tell my readers who this might sound like, that it has a fine mix of rockin’ stormers, creepy ballads, and a strong hint of Tom Waits on a tune like ‘Country Boy’. There are Blues honourings, fabulously sensitive mixing, everything where it should be at the size it was always meant to be. A little distortion on the high end of the dry vocal, mixed down the middle to give the overall production that Mono ‘feel’ while at the same time keeping the spacewidth of the Stereo we associate later audio output with … and…. such sweetly recorded Brass, and Strings and what supreme arranging on the ‘extras’ and, and, and the list does and could go on.

Cosmic Daddy-O

And at the centre of it, circling around the gravitational pull of the black hole you thought was full up with enough Rockin’ good tunes to last us all another lifetime of listening, a whole heap of tunes that sound like they’ve been here forever, songs born with the universe, and every one of them, well almost every single one, a ‘Killer Diller’.

Web sites to check are:

http://www.histylerecords.com/

http://www.jdmcpherson.com/

Epilogue

So about a week after writing this blog article and sending a link to Jimmy Sutton, I get a record in the post, at first I think it’s just some eBay thing I’ve bought from the States turning up and then, I realise that Jimmy’s sent me the Lp (on vinyl) probably having read my comments here about recording to vinyl etc, as a lovely gift… what a great addition it is to not only be listening to some truly great music, but that the people behind it are so nice and friendly….. I’m still listening to the Lp a month after getting it, on frequent rotation. I can only say, you really need a copy, go and get one!

A real record collector is born?


A Maracas makes it home…

For years I have felt like I wasn’t really ‘a real’ record collector, whatever that is. I always felt in someway that my collection of music was too out of focus, visited too many musical shores and sailed onwards to others without exploring the lay of the land enough, I take it you get the musical Genre vs. Landscape metaphor… yaaaawnn…

Today all that seemed to change with the arrival of my new baby, namely –

MENTO    SHELLAC    78rpm    LORD POWER AND HIS CALYPSONIANS    MAMBO LA-LA    MARACAS RECORDINGS    M20001    13 X A
MENTO    SHELLAC    78rpm    LORD POWER AND HIS CALYPSONIANS    SPECIAL AMBER CALYPSO    MARACAS RECORDINGS    M 20001    13 X B

Mento Madness a Gladness

This is one of the rarest of all Mento recordings, to this date I know of only two other people who have a copy, Al Kaatz in America and someone who supplied the makers of the cd Boogu Yagga Gal with it for their restored digital sound and an excellent cd release here in the UK, possibly Richard Noblett. (Though if you are reading this and you have a copy, let me know, perhaps we could start the ‘Maracas Owners Club’?)

The Rare Record Guide for the UK prices this record at just £12 Mint! Perhaps whoever advises them on the going rate of such items is looking to convince the UK Record Collecting community that this is a fair price, in order that they can finally obtain a copy without paying ‘big’ money for it.

I have long admired collectors like Bob Hite of Canned Heat, Robert Crumb and Joe Bussard, but I’ve only a few 78s and until recently didn’t have anything I could play them on. I always wanted to join the old boys, the real collectors, those people who delve back past the 45rpm and the Lp into history, who own, not just recordings, but artifacts, pieces of audible archaeology that need care and love and preservation.

I had wondered years ago if I would ever see a copy of this Maracas tune, having fallen in love with the music first (Boogu Yagga Gal) and then the artwork of the label and when I saw it on eBay as a Buy It Now Item, I knew I wanted it and was prepared, probably, to buy it at whatever the quality, just to say I had it. It’s one of the earliest 78s ever produced in Jamaica and contains two absolutely storming tunes, fast tempo hardcore Mento stormers! Why no one else had seen it on eBay I have no idea, it was a miracle.

I had to spend an hour cleaning it, the seller really hadn’t done a lot for his money… but, though the tops of the grooves are very very scuffed and the record looked terrible when I received it, the actual grooves are in good condition, and once clean the deeper parts have a nice gloss, the tune plays well, and I was dancing around the room to it, ‘Special Amber’ has got some of the best blues note Banjo playing you will EVER hear!

I feel responsible for this record now, worried that it’s a fragile little child and might get broke…

I may not look happy... but I am!

Happy Days….

Dansette Days ~ The Dansette Record Player


Dansettes a potted history…

Forever associated with the bedrooms of a newly developing class of citizen in the U.K. ‘The Teenager’ the Dansette has come to represent a time and a style of living. The 1960s.

Manufactured from 1950/51 to 1970 over a Million were sold. With the advent of Stereo and the arrival of cheaper product from places like Japan the Dansette’s popularity decreased and the company ceased trading at the start of it’s third decade. One reason for this perhaps is that even at it’s peak of production the Dansette cost at the very least the weeks wages of a good middle class man’s job! Julie Lambert says that the Plus~A~Gram, the companies first model (first made in 1934), cost the equivalent of £800 in the year 1950-51. Dansettes continue to be very popular indeed amongst those wishing to play everything from 16-78rpm records, and also important to those that wish to emulate the height of modernity and style during this important era of Britain’s history, the moment when children grew up.

Format War

The popularity of the Dansette is inextricably linked with the battle between the companies RCA and Columbia for format domination in the late 1940s and 1950s. RCA wanted everyone to purchase their music on 45rpm discs, compiling their own playlist, or playing the passages from a classical piece in ordered succession. This was most definitely in the tradition of what a record album was originally, ie, a collection of discs closely themed or from a larger piece of music contained in something similar to the album the family would have kept their photographs in.

Though other formats had come and gone and long playing ‘reference discs’ had been available as far back as the 1920s Columbia wanted to sell the 33rpm Long Player, the L.P., what many would now call an ‘Album’ to the public. Though this format had a worse quality of sound it was the one that since it’s first public outing in 1948 would come to dominate. The 7″ single or 7″ E.P. just wasn’t convenient enough, though it’s deeper groove and relatively longer play time allowed for a better quality of reproduction and loudness. I believe in the end popularity of the successful format came down to the inconvenience of getting up to change the record. With Lps at least you could sit down for more than 4 minutes before getting up to change the side, or the record.

With it’s multichanger function the Dansette was an ideal machine to play singles on, an ideal machine for RCA therefore and an ideal machine for teenagers who could afford a single once in a while, but had to save up for more expensive Lps. Up to five singles could be placed on the automatic changer, giving you at least 15 minutes listening. Later on if you made certain that you used the single releases with the serrated rim around the label designed for the purpose you could be sure to get them to bind properly as they dropped; which avoided the inherent disappointment of scratching the hell out of your record collection!

Dead as a Dodo?

As the album, not as format, but more so as vehicle increased in popularity towards the end of the 1960s and particularly into the 1970s listeners were looking for a fuller aural experience, turning of course to Stereo and equipment of the ‘Hi-Fidelty’ type for that purpose. The Dansette was subsequently sidelined and it appears for once that instead of setting new fashion the company failed to keep pace with new market trends. Dansette did incorporate Radio, Stereo and line inputs / outputs into their record players, also producing  Reel to Reel player / recorders such as the Cadet (pictured left), perhaps in an effort to increase their products’ appeal. It does seem in retrospect that they were trying desperately to keep abreast of new demands. What caused the demise of the company? Were they unwilling to break away from the section of the market that they had for so long successfully inhabited, that of the portable player.

Perhaps the brand was too closely associated in the public’s mind with portability and not with the by word of the day ‘Hi-Fi’. Perhaps with the spread Stereo requires for the listener to hear it fully the static speakers fixed on the front of a portable player were never going to have a wide enough sound image. As far as I’m currently aware Dansette never produced a Stereo player with removable speakers.

Surely a listeners enjoyment of music is mainly about a physical and emotional reaction to rhythm, melody and lyric and a tinny transitor radio is perfectly capable of getting the musical message across, so therefore also, is a Dansette. One wonders then where the impetus and energy behind the company went and why they ceased to trade in the early 1970s. Perhaps Mums and Dads were getting hip enough to the new scene to let their children dig their music on the family Radiogram in the front room and no longer were children and teenagers required to be un-seen and dimly heard listening to records in their bedrooms.

Just to note ~ Hi-Fi is  a construct, a word that trys to describe a system capable of producing a high level of fidelity to the original performance and performance space, what is often refered to as presence, and yet in reality it describes nothing tangible, except perhaps (in my opinion) man’s gullibility and stupidity. Too often I’ve seen speaker cable in the back of some ‘Hi-Fi’ buffs system that is likely of a better quality than the cabling used at the recording and mastering studios where the music he’s listening to on his super expensive system was originally created. Any musician will tell you that the system of reproducing sound doesn’t have to be that great in order that those listening to music via it can interact with that music in a meaningful and engaged way. We are much more tolerant of poor sound that we are poor vision. Think of watching a movie, you are much more likely to switch off the TV if the picture gets distorted than if the sound does.

Dansette Dawn

A family called Margolin were behind the Dansette, originally an immigrant to the U.K. from Russia, Morris Margolin set up as a Cabinet Maker in London. He also imported musical instruments and so perhaps it was this general interest in music that led him to produce the  first electric record player made in the U.K. the ‘Plus-A-Gram’ in 1934. The first Radiograms had been available for a decade when Margolin combined his cabinet making skills and musical interests to produce a turntable that could be plugged into the back of some radios to utilise their speaker and amplification, in effect inventing the first ‘Hi-Fi’ separates! Up until this point Radiograms were incredibly bulky and expensive to the point of excluding anyone from ownership but the most wealthy. Margolin’s inventiveness made what was in effect a Radiogram of two parts, though still expensive by anyone’s standards the Plus-A-Gram was now at least within the reach of a growing middle class. Within six years it would be the only thing they would make in their workshop.

The development of an autochanger by BSR a British, Birmingham based company, meant that the Margolins would create and offer their first Dansette branded player, the Senior in 1950/51. It proved incredibly popular and the company developed into one with a staff of hundreds and a very healthy turnover; exploiting the market for a cheaper alternative to the large furniture based Radiogram style systems of companies like HMV, Blaupunkt and Bush. The product exceeded everyone’s expectations and the workforce had to be re-housed in a larger factory in Stanmore, Middlesex, around 1962. The roster of products continued to grow over the years, a Car Radio, Reel To Reel players and recorders, more record player models offered in a dazzling myriad of styles and options, some with Stereo and line outputs. But as solid state technology came in, the days of the valve based Dansette were numbered.

The company folded in 1970, a victim of cheap Japanese imports and changing tastes and fashions.

What to do if you’d like to revisit those Dansette days

If you like that warmer valve sound and want to experience what it is like playing and listening to music on a Dansette there are a number of things you can do to get one. However they are a sought after item, and just as they were relatively expensive in the past, they still are, even as a second hand item. You can expect to pay £200-£250 for one of the superior models in good condition, more even if it has been exceptionally well looked after and comes restored and over-hauled. You will count yourself lucky to get a mid range model, overhauled /checked and in a reasonable condition for under £100-£150. I myself recently purchased a Tempo model Dansette that has faded on the outside, but is entirely un-used as of it’s manufacture in around 1961. I consider it a small miracle to have done so for £73. Though it wasn’t overhauled, it hadn’t been played and I considered it a risk worth taking on this eBay purchase.

You of course could continue to search for one in your local jumble sales, boot fairs and even Auntie’s attic, but good luck, they are getting more and more scarce. If you do find one you will most likely want to have it looked over and fixed up if necessary by someone who knows what they’re doing. You could also get a line out wired in so you can record from your player, which is useful particularly if you collect 78rpm records. Be aware of what model you are purchasing and what speeds and formats it will support and of course if it is Mono or Stereo. There are many circuit diagrams and instructions for the models available online so if you fancy having a go fixing one up yourself, you can!

Dad’s Favourite ~ To sum up

I can’t imagine that the popularity of Dansettes will continue for ever, surely it’s only the children of those who grew up in the early 1960s who could possibly have a nostalgia for a faded old portable record player. Our Children of the Revolution listen to compressed audio on small earphones, an insular experience. The kids don’t collect singles to stack five apiece on their autochanger anymore of course; instead they move 500 tunes a time from one folder to another. There is very little real  intimacy in their experience of playing music and listening to it, this present generation has a very different and I believe lesser relationship with music, and I pity them.

Instead of sitting reading the sleeve notes to an album, or knowing that they particularly like the music that comes out on a specific record label, files are moved en mass, musicians, producers, labels are unknown and the process of purchasing, placing and playing that music is one step removed from anything at all tangible, warm, responsive and real.

Perhaps it’s high time that parents bought their teenage sons or daughters a Dansette for their bedroom again!

Mike Murphy – February 2010


Epilogue

Late February, 2010 and I’ve just received my very own Dansette Tempo, I am at this very moment listening to the 78rpm of Marie Bryant’s – ‘Water Melon’ which was backed with ‘Don’t Touch Me Nylons’, a toned down and commercial ‘version’ of ‘Don’t Touch Me Tomato’, a riblad Jamaican and Caribbean tune that has almost made it to Folk Tradition status.

The manner of construction could be adequately described as Fablon and Wallpaper over Chipboard with a dash of Mecano. The sound reproduction could be described as ‘ severely lacking tonal width’, though the results vary greatly, dependant on the quality of mastering of the records, particularly on the 78rpm records I have played on it.

The Tone dial which should give a varying Bass to Treble tone only seems to take the sound from a muddy Mid-Range to a fairly clear Treble tone. It seems to have the ability to take a short bandwidth of frequency and shift it like a sweepable EQ. Rather like a very poor version of the Tubby’esque sound produced by Osbourne Rudduck’s home-made board. It isn’t what anyone with half an ounce of sense would call true tone, as once you’ve chosen the treble tone, you have no bass in the ‘mix’ and if you were to choose Bass, the Treble is non-existant.

The overall quality of manufacture is really rather low considering the cost of purchasing one new in 1961! It’s solid enough, but there are no frills, nothing of true quality, though at least the turntable looks rugged enough. The stylus weight is adjusted by means of shortening or lengthening a spring which only acts as a lever to pull the stylus down onto the record.

So to surmise, the tone is awful, the construction embodies the worst of all that is British and a bit lack lustre, and yet….. I love it, it’s fantastic, you would love it too, it’s quirky and most importantly, it will play the two speeds of records you don’t see very often these days, 78rpm and 16rpm.

Close up of my very own Dansette Tempo

Resources

REPLACEMENT STYLUS –

78rpm replacement... but original... stylus!

Do you need a replacement stylus for your Dansette, I did and found this shop online – http://www.turntablestylus.co.uk/index.htm Hayley who runs the show there was  wonderfully helpful, sending me an example photograph of what she thought I needed to replace my 78 and 45rpm Styli, though it wasn’t right, I then sent a photo of the customised cartridge it turns out my set had, she identified the styli I needed and sent two for 33 and 45rpm play and one for 78rpm play for a total, including VAT and postage of £9. I thought this kind of service and pricing had died out in the Victorian era. Truly, give them a go.

Here’s a link to the excellent article on the history of Dansettes at http://www.dansettes.co.ukhttp://www.dansettes.co.uk/history.htm put together by Julie Lambert, who along with her boyfriend ‘John’ have collected a hill of Dansettes and other turntables of a similar ilk.

Julie appears to be the thing every man needs in his life, a woman who likes to collect, and not only collect, but collect record players, records and other toys more often associated with the male gender and his natural obsessions.

There are many people repairing Dansettes as a business, they also often have them to sell, restored. I won’t put any specific sites here for you to visit, but instead here’s a Google search for renovators – Search for Repair, Renovation.

eBay – sadly eBay is a good place for finding one, I really dislike eBay, but if you’re desperate, you might find it here – Dansettes on eBay it’s a good place to find some spares also.

Dansettes on Google

The history of recorded sound, a book called ‘Perfecting Sound Forever‘ by – Greg Milner, provides an excellent explanation of the history and development of recorded sound, from Edison’s Blue Amberol right up to iPods and MP3s. I’ll be reviewing it here at Musical Traces soon, in the meantime I can heartily recommend it.