The CLPGS Cylinder Recordings
Back in September 2007, the CLPGS or to give the organisation its proper title The City of London Phonograph and Gramophone Society Ltd., held its Annual General Meeting at the Lord Leycester Hotel in Warwick. As usual the weekend was filled with informative talks, social gatherings and indulgent meals, but after lunch on the second day, the weekend came to a close with a novel experience. The Society was entertained by a jazz group with Mike Durham (cornet and trumpet), Jon Penn (piano), Norman Field (clarinet and saxophones) and special guest, Tom ‘Spats’ Langham (banjo, guitar, ukulele).
What made the experience different was that cylinder recordings were made of some of the numbers and then played back to the audience. The band captured brilliantly the feel of small band jazz from the 1920s and 1930s with some fine solos. For single, unmixed takes the band showed that recordings can still be made on vintage equipment with vintage performances.
The CLPGS Quartet
Listen to the CLPGS cylinder recording of Harlem Madness (the vocalist is Spats Langham).
The success of the session encouraged the CLPGS to make a second attempt in 2008, this time with a slightly larger band. Society Chairman at the time, Richard Taylor, took up the story:
"On Sunday afternoon the audience arrived to see Duncan Miller with his large black recording horn in front of six eager jazz musicians. Dennis Armstrong (who came up from Bristol at late notice to replace Mike Durham who was unable to be with us) played trumpet. Paul Munnery was on trombone, Norman Field played clarinet and Tom ‘Spats’ Langham played banjo. Jon Penn played his electronic piano and Nick Ward was on the 1920s drum kit."
"Duncan had brought plenty of blank wax cylinders to enable him to record every tune. At The Jazz Band Ball was performed to enable the recording head and stylus to be set for the correct levels. Although Duncan had set up the band with the brass instruments to the back, the banjo was too prominent and had to be moved back, and Nick on drums had to play a little quieter. This done, all was ready to start; away went the band in good form on Tin Roof Blues. Duncan had told the audience not to applaud until he raised his hand."
"The room was full of tension for what seemed an age before we were able to clap and cheer. All was going well. ‘Spats’ played a banjo solo; two takes were required, the second moving him nearer the horn. The rest of the band returned and off they went, number after number being cut."
In all, fifteen waxes were recorded. The audience was not left out; at the end of Sensation Rag they were crowded forward toward the horn to applaud. They were also asked to shout ‘O play that thing’ at the appropriate time on Dippermouth Blues. All had an enjoyable time, and if Duncan can work his magic we may well have indestructible recordings to buy as a memento of the occasion."
The Technical Side
Duncan explains the technical aspects of making the recordings: "The machine I was using is an adapted Edison concert phonograph top works with the addition of a flywheel to give steady recording speed. The recorder is of the trunnion type used in the Edison and other studios from about 1903 onwards and the diaphragm is 33mm in diameter and of glass in this case, about 5 thousandths of an inch thick. For the session I used a 33” long flared horn. The wax and the blanks were made by me using the similar formula to the 1900s blancs and are made longer than the finished cylinder to allow for the later processing."
"We cut two-minute records as they can be played back without damage to the groove; the finer groove 4min records can be cut but we would not be able to listen to them until the records had been processed. I have just been rebuilding the electroforming equipment and plan to produce moulds from the masters."
Some of the recordings were copied to CD which sadly did not become available commercially. Sandy Brown Jazz was privileged to be sent a copy from which we were given permission to share a couple of tracks. You can listen to Harlem Madness above, and here's a slow tempo version of Sugar - the vocalist here is Mike Durham.