Its never been a secret that I have always been a firm supporter of the LP. The size of the things meant that they always had the opportunity to sport fantastic artwork that sold the work long before the content did. Don’t believe me, just look at the covers spray-painted by one of my favourites, Roger Dean, for Osibisa, a band that no one had really heard of but bought their LPs based on the stunning artwork of elephants coming into land, or the photographic gems that sold Bryan Ferry’s early stuff, ‘Stranded’ springs to mind. I, as usual, digress. CDs are lots of bits of bytes so I understand and an LP relies on a continuous flowing groove. There is no comparison. To enjoy an LP you need a good system or at least a pair of decent headphones. I always craved a Bang & Olufsen setup but they have always been mega-bucks and, as it happened, having now briefly had the pleasure (and cost), weren’t all that brilliant. My early stuff (In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida) was played on a bit of a home-built job mainly derived from an upright Collaro-decked Pye radiogram given to me in the early 1960s. It lived behind my bed and I remember listening to the whirring and bleepetty bleep that was the jamming of Russian stations. Radio Luxemburg came and went as the evening drew on and the Light Programme shut down at midnight to the National Anthem. It eventually got stripped down and built into a coffin like thing constructed out of chipboard and painted black with a lid that required a block and tackle to raise. With an impressive control panel that included switches for green, red and blue bulbs the whole thing, including access to my LP collection, was controllable from bed. The Collaro deck got replaced by a rather fancy Garrard 2025TC. The Pye case it was originally in was turned into a recliner, total recycling. Enough probably said as the ceiling had a large snake’s head painted on it and the opposite wall was decorated with a volcano and flying saucer whilst around the room ran a OO gauge railway supported on boxes of BSA C11G and other projects various. Such was the bedroom of my youth! The amp is long dead but I still have the speaker which got built into a small cabinet adorned with a painting of a nuclear submarine with flowers coming out of the conning tower. Happy days.
School days saw a multitude of electrical creations that beggared belief and how I never electrocuted myself I’ve no idea. I was only saved because my girlfriend at the time was kind enough to lend me her Hacker record player which got used for discos, believe it or not. These were brilliant, far superior to the Dansette. Stereo, however, meant two amplifiers, so that is what we used, not necessarily the same. Around this time valve amps were going out which for us was great as the sound reproduction from even the cheapest was pretty good. Buy them we never did as people were binning them in favour of ‘Music Centres’. We even built a speaker powered light show machine using magazine binder rods. It was truly fantastic with sparks flying everywhere despite the over-use of condensers! It lasted a surprisingly long time but inevitably it finally short-circuited, welded the rods together, fed 240 volts back through the speaker wires, destroyed the amp and blew the Boarding House’s main fuse. Once mended, on sunny weekends, we’d chuck the speakers out the window, make up a play list and bribe a junior boy to change the records whilst we chilled out in the grounds. It was all very Woodstock.
Our first proper stereo was purchased from a bloke in the Wellhead, a fine pub in its time, and was probably an HP snatch-back. It was a very smart Phillips in stainless steel and wood. It turned out the internals were the same as those used by B&O so I was well happy. It served well and belted out stuff with commendable bass through some rather incredible ‘Super Compact Full Range EG 0417’ loudspeakers. It went on for years and only went as one by one the Perspex knobs broke up leaving only one to control everything. The speakers might still be in the attic come to think of it. I forget what replaced it, possibly a bunch of vague separates amongst which was a sturdy little SoundCity amp that we flogged on eBay for an outrageous amount last year and another thing given to me by Derek Ricketts after we fixed his lorry. It had touch controls and would electrocute you every so often with static build up so we got small children or guests to turn it up. On the plus side it did have huge speakers which we still have somewhere.
Now I’m going to fast forward a few years to the late eighties. I can’t be sure of the date but John (Abo) Allen was crewing for me and we went to the Amersham Auction Rooms where we intended to buy some half decent furniture. We didn’t get any furniture but did come away with a rather splendid cast iron fender, a Bakelite Hoover (with attachments in box!) and an enormous Dynatron Radiogram. With ‘By Appointment to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’ emblazoned inside the lid, which was fully damped, it looked truly magnificent and was knocked down to me for £12. Lurking inside the cavernous LP storage area were the original brochures and price list. It turned out to be a ‘Burlington RG52’, in mahogany, and had been supplied to a Mr A.R.Layton of Valley Road, Rickmansworth in 1967 and had cost him 192 guineas (£201.60) which equates to about £2449.44 today (2014)! Back then Dynatron’s were manufactured in Maidenhead and had come into being back in 1927 when the self-taught Hacker Brothers, aged 17 and 19, set up building very expensive radios above their dad’s shop in the town. During the war they manufactured guidance systems for the RAF and following the shortage of material after the war were bought out by Ekco. In 1959 they set up Hacker and traded until 1977. Ekco merged with Pye in 1960 and in 1967 Pye in turn was absorbed by Philips. Finally in 1981 Philips sold Dynatron to Roberts Radio and that was the end of that. How strange that my first radiogram back in the early 60s was a Pye and somewhere in between I actually owned a Hacker (sold it for restoration to a chap in Bristol a couple of years ago) and then there is the B&O Philips connection. Clearly the beauty had my name all over it and, truth be told, it was to become the start of a collection which I have now got over. We struggled it onto the pickup, lashed it down with a bit of rope, and rather unceremoniously sped down the Missenden by-pass trying to think how we would explain our purchase, whether it would work, or come that, where on earth it would go.
To say Jane wasn’t impressed is a bit of an understatement but we plugged it in, rocked all the switches and blow me down it seemed to work. There was a taint of garage about it for a few minutes and the odd whisp from burning cobwebs but once that had cleared all seemed well and I went in search of Deep Purple in Rock beings as it was my most overplayed and worn LP so if the turntable, a Garrard Model 50 Mk2, in case you needed to know, developed plough tendencies it wouldn’t matter too much. As it happened we set the volume to quite low and moved the lever over. The arm picked up and then settled back down on its rest. Bummer but not to be outdone the manual approach was adopted and, with a reassuring clunk, needle contacted vinyl, slid into the first track and we were away. The tone was certainly impressive and both speakers seemed to be working. We took the volume to the halfway mark and as ‘Into the Fire’ crashed through the house it was decided that this really was the dog’s. We took the volume to a classic 11 and it was really loud, so loud that bits were falling down the chimney. The only wall long enough to house it was in the front room so that’s where it went and where it has stayed to this day. It has performed superbly and apart from a needle or two, a new cartridge and a hasty bit of re-soldering dry joints about ten years ago it has consistently annoyed the neighbours and delighted the kids. Sadly though the past year has seen a real decline in its performance to the point that after about half an hour of reasonably loud one side tends to require tweaking the balance to keep going and the distortion on nearly sensible bass is akin to the Wild Angels Live at the Revolution. Of course this may have something to do with a puddle of wax from a melted candle that has spread across and down the front of the control panel. The time therefore had come to upgrade. Just after Christmas I set an evening to bid it farewell. The sound was powerful, the volume strong and the distortion on heavy bass nearly acceptable. It wouldn’t pull 11 though. To be honest 3 was a struggle but 3 is loud! For some odd reason I relented to Simon & Garfunkel, not very rock but a nice range of sound. So it was that the last track I played on it was Bridge over Troubled Water only because it has a really deep heavy bomb-boomph in the middle which is as moving as the final scene from the Railway Children.
It should have ended there but I couldn’t help thinking that it didn’t get a good enough send off, especially considering the last track played before the hum and click ended as it kerumphed off, and, anyway, our Pete was mortified it was going as his name was on it in his take on my Will. As the days passed the rather minted 1980s Technics system was retrieved from the office up the workshop where it had lain, still in its boxes as discovered in the local charity shop by a good friend and bought on my behalf for £20 a few years ago. It was actually really fantastic but the drive belt had perished to the point of no return so some attention was needed. A new belt and needle (for good measure) was found in a fine shop in Hereford and arrived the following day. The sound was nice and clear and really very, very loud as well but seemed to lack the charm of the mighty Dynatron. The upside for the neighbours (and Jane) was a jack for my a pair of proper Captain Scarlet Dynatron cans that take you to outer space. So as I boiled my brain listening to ‘Thunderbuck Ram’ I started to have second thoughts about retiring the Dynatron then, after a dose of ‘Starship Trooper’, and the realisation that I probably had enough spares kicking about to rebuild it I changed me mind.
I was immediately a lot happier. Pints were drunk and sensible conversations had in The Swan about what best to do. The Garrard deck may have been high end in the mid-sixties when it was built but spares are hard to find and the auto-cue and return had truly packed up despite several temporary successes at repairing it, likewise it was now running an American cartridge and needle that put the arm’s balance on the limit. The speakers were definitely past their best, I dread to think how weak the edges are after years of serious loudness, bass up and treble down not helping. Mind you some say the older a speaker gets the better it is! The amp, a Transpower SRX 24, is not well either but I suspect it’s a mix of the candle wax, more dry joints and the pots needing a good clean. After much deliberation, more ESB and following some input from our Barry, who is a keen Hi-Fi man it turns out, a pretty well immaculate Dual turntable was found on eBay. I haven’t really decided on the speakers yet but they have to fit into the existing frames. Possibly a pair of Celestions or maybe some early Wharfedales to keep the spirit. I’ve got a spare pair of Dynatron ones from another Stereogram I bought for a fiver on eBay some years ago so we’ll test them out and maybe put some others in there at 90º, the case is solid enough. Now there’s the thing, I have a spare amp, it’s a Transpower SRX 26. To be honest it doesn’t work but it is slightly later than the one in it and, with a clean up, maybe better. When I bought it the volume was all to cock and one of the output fuses had blown so we didn’t do anything to it. It does have a jack for my headphones though. In the coming months then we will set to and recreate my old friend and once more the Queen will smile.
Last week, for some odd reason, I drove down Valley Road just to see where it first lived. The place is full of telephone number priced piles and four door Maseratis. Almost all the houses have been toshed over and are now mansions apart from the former Mr Layton’s which remains an untouched and delightful period chalet style bungalow fresh from the time of Metro-Land. So this coming weekend (after England beats Wales in the Six Nations) she’ll have her last firing for a while. I think we’ll have a fine smattering of prog rock and champagne to finish on this time, possibly ending with ‘Into the Fire’ as it was the first track played on it! Then again Led Zeppelin ‘Going to America’ or ‘Nantucket Sleighride’ may be more appropriate. Mind you I’ve always had a soft spot for Joni Mitchell’s ‘Free Man in Paris’ then there is Bakerloo, Pete Brown’s Piblokto and Qatermass. Do you know, perhaps I’ll plonk on ‘Timeless Arcadian Skies’. Blimey its going to be a long night, I hope the neighbours are away.