Last weekend I made my first ever record – an improbable mash-up of Dylan Thomas and Steve Earle – recorded straight to vinyl via a 1950s BBC-issue ‘Record Lathe’. This means, of course, that all markontour’s dreams have now come true and I didn’t even need to leave my own neighbourhood to achieve them, courtesy of the wonderful people at 42 Pearl Road and the E17 Art Trail.
I would love to tell you the mechanical secrets of the the recording lathe and intended to do so via the beautifully written leaflet provided by Dominique and Nicholas at Number 42. This document, however, now resides down the back of a seat on a British Airways 747 travelling between London and Beijing, while I write this while bound for Copenhagen with SAS. No matter – let’s see what my middle-aged memory can dredge up.
Constructed from steel and exuding the solid mechanical reliability that is the way of 1950’s technology, the Booth of Truth’s record lathe looks a lot like a conventional record player, just chunkier. Sound is captured through a separate microphone and translated into grooves on a plastic disc, heated to malleability using a conventional desk-lamp, and scored via a needle made by one of Nicholas’ mates. Some calibration is still required as peaks in volume induce distortion, a problem I suffered when shifting from mumbling Dylan Thomas, to ‘singing’ Steve Earle. And there are lots of wires connected to various amps and pre-amps. I recall there is currently an absence of an equaliser. Oh, and the record lathe on which I got to record my first ever disc might have been made by a distant relative – one Cecil Watts.
Dominique and Nicholas have been restoring the recording lathe for some while, but the E17 Art Trail provided a first opportunity for a public road-testing. The Art Trail encourages Walthamstow residents to open their houses to engage each other in creative activity. It’s a wonderful concept, which makes me proud to live in the Stow. Thus last Sunday, I stood in queue, muching home-made biscuits and wondering what to record, while three children blasted through an Ed Sheeran song about the teenage love they have yet to experience. I settled on ‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales’ because it is my all-time favourite poem, and ‘Tom Ames Prayer’ as the one song to which I can usually remember all the words in the right order (although not on this occasion, as it turned out). Up after me was a suddenly shy three year old girl being encouraged to sing nursery rhymes by her dad. Welcome to the big time.
After concluding our songs we all watched and waited for our performances to be turned into vinyl dreams (actually the kids were released to run around in the garden, but I watched and waited). The final magic seemed to involve little more than gently wiping the disc with a damp cloth, before the needle was invited to hit the groove and…. “Out comes Mrs Protheroe and the firemen..”. Bliss.
Apparently the days’ recordings are going to be posted on YouTube and record companies will soon be signing us up. Possibly. But in the event that this turns out to be markontour’s first and last foray into recording, it was great! Big thanks to Dominique, Nicholas and the E17 Art Trail.