Alan Bunting takes us behind the scenes of the Guild ‘Golden Age of Light Music’ CDs
The story behind an important series of Light Music CDs
THE GOLDEN AGE OF LIGHT MUSIC
Revealed by ALAN BUNTING
By the time you read this Guild Music’s Golden Age Of Light Music series will be celebrating its second birthday and number 23 volumes containing no fewer than 537 historic recordings, most of which have never been on CD before. Until now these treasures were the exclusive domain of the privileged few lucky enough to own the original 78s (and in a few cases, LPs and 45s) and, of course, the means to play them.
David Ades and I are jointly responsible for the series and we are often asked how we go about producing them, so this is an attempt to take you ‘behind the scenes’ and provide some answers.
In November 2003 Kaikoo Lalkaka of Guild Music in Switzerland approached David about the possibilities of producing a series of vintage light music CDs that would appeal to enthusiasts around the world. Guild already had a very successful series of Historical Classical CD re-issues as well as an extensive catalogue of modern recordings, ranging from choral and organ music to jazz, and thought that some re-issues of light music from the past would sit well alongside these. Naturally David reacted to the suggestion with enthusiasm and, as we had recently collaborated on some similar CDs for Living Era, suggested to Guild that I should come on board to do the restoration and re-mastering. This was agreed and a target of March 2004 was set for the first three issues.
Working with Guild has been a very pleasurable experience because David and I have total control over the content and sound of each CD. At the outset we agreed on some parameters for the series. Each CD would be themed and would be multi-artist, although we later broke this rule when, at Guild’s suggestion, we produced the two Mantovani compilations. We also decreed that there would not be any vocals and that an "orchestra" would always have a string section, although discerning listeners will discover that we have also broken this rule on a couple of occasions. It was originally envisaged that the series would be totally orchestral but one day Kaikoo casually mentioned that he rather fancied a CD featuring bands. Once we were over the shock, and despite some initial reservations, we realised that there was much light music specially written for brass and military ensembles. The outcome of our research was "Bandstand In The Park", one of the most enjoyable and interesting CDs in the collection.
The most important rule we imposed on ourselves was that every CD would comprise mainly recordings which were appearing on CD for the first time with, to the best of our knowledge, never more than five previously issued tracks on any volume. Bearing in mind the modest selling price we felt that, even if a prospective buyer already had all of the duplicate tracks (very unlikely), they would still be getting 20 to 25 new tracks for around 8 pounds which represents very good value. In fact, we have so far managed to exceed our target on every CD with several volumes having no duplicate tracks at all.
We had one correspondent who challenged this but it turned out that he thought we were claiming none of the music had been on CD before! For us, one of the pleasures of producing this series has been tracking down alternative versions of favourite pieces, often in better performances than the best selling version – good examples of this are the Orchestre Raymonde’s Decca recordings of "The Horseguards – Whitehall" and "Runaway Rocking Horse". Naturally, there will be no duplication of recordings within the series itself.
The duplicate tracks rule also caused problems with "Mantovani By Special Request Volume 2" when we discovered that another company was about to issue all of his 1951 to 1955 tracks as a 4 CD set. Although we had already chosen and re-mastered 12 of these we decided to avoid any duplication and changed Volume 2 to be exclusively "pre-Charmaine" recordings. We now think that it’s a better compilation because of this, although we know that some purchasers were disappointed to find that there were no longer any "cascading strings" – but now they know why!
The other rules have also caused the odd problem. The most unexpected one was when I had carefully edited out a (not very good) vocal selection from one of the tracks on "Theatre And Cinema Orchestras Volume 1" only for David to receive a letter from someone who had bought the CD especially for this recording. Naturally he was very disappointed to discover that the vocals weren’t there but he was delighted to receive, with our compliments, a specially "put back together" version on CD-R, a level of service one is unlikely to receive from the major record companies!
Now on to the "how it’s done" bit. Once we have decided on a theme, usually chosen from a list made up by David (although I have been known to contribute the odd one) David produces a list of potential titles, most of which he has in his collection. He sends it to me, together with what recordings he has and I will add a few suggestions, some of which I will have. Thus we generally end up with a list of up to 40 proposals, some of which we now have to find. This is where our network of collector friends around the world comes in. Most are members of the Society and are so numerous that it is impossible to name them all here – but their names appear in the booklets of the Guild CDs to which they have contributed and their help is invaluable. Between them I estimate that they own several hundred thousand 78s and, so far, we have always managed to track down everything we have set our hearts on for inclusion. Some titles are the result of requests from RFS members and others, often accompanied by the offer of loan of the recording.
As shipping fragile 78s around the world is a risky business, much of the material is dubbed by the owner and comes to me on either CD or MiniDisc. Many people express surprise when they hear this, but all those involved have very good record playing equipment and are capable of making good transfers. MiniDisc is probably the least understood and most under rated recording medium ever, and many Hi-Fi fanatics are amazed to hear that a large number of the tracks on each CD are sent to me on this medium. Incidentally, I prefer transfers to be done in stereo, even though the recordings are mono – the difference in background noise between left and right channels is sometimes quite dramatic, so the options of using the least-worn side of the groove or combining them when I do the restoration can be very helpful.
At this stage I do a basic restoration of the recordings, rejecting any which are not going to meet our technical standards and send David a couple of CD-Rs from which he will make a final selection and produce a tentative running order. Once I know which tracks we are going to use I then carry on with the full audio restoration process and make a first listening copy of the CD. At this point it is still possible that some tracks may not make it because David and I have an agreement that, if I can’t get the sound of any track up to my self-imposed standards, then I have the right of veto. On the other hand, no matter how much I might dislike a track musically, provided it sounds OK, the final word is David’s. Surprisingly, I can’t think of a single occasion when we have had any disagreement over the final track selection.
We are very critical when it comes to the sound of The Golden Age. I do all of the restoration work using very high quality Sennheiser HD600 headphones fed by a Technics SU-3500 amplifier and, when I am satisfied, I listen to the results on several loudspeaker systems. First a pair of KEF 105s, then some Wharfedale Lintons and finally the £30 mini system in the kitchen. If all is well I send another listening copy off to David who listens equally critically. He usually comes back with some very diplomatically phrased suggestions that this track or that track might be improved in some way or another and so we hone and refine, some tracks passing back and forth three or four times for further appraisal and modification before we are both satisfied. It is not unknown for us to reject a track altogether at this stage and attempt to find another copy or, in extremis, substitute another piece. Perhaps I should, at this point, insert a little commercial for the Post Office. David is in Somerset, I am in Scotland but, despite the 400 plus miles separating us, we invariably get next day delivery of the large quantities of material we post to each other.
One of the problems with restoration is that, until you actually run a track through the system it is almost impossible to judge how good or bad the final result will be. The other problem is that that, as you remove the clicks, crackle and the "shash" noise from the shellac, all sorts of nasties are revealed, ranging from hum to background noises and assorted bangs and clatters made by the musicians. A classic example is the Lionel Jeffries track on GLCD 5106, which is a location recording and, in the quiet passages, people can be heard talking in the background. Many recordings also have the odd wrong note or bad bit of playing but it’s often possible to lift the same phrase from somewhere else in the recording and substitute it. The opening notes on many 78s often suffer from excessive wear – I won’t reveal how many tracks in the series have had the opening re-created by lifting the same notes from elsewhere in the piece! Many Guild tracks have been "stitched together" by using different parts of several different copies of the disc. Some recordings end very abruptly, especially on early LPs where the master tape has been viciously edited. In such cases a judicious amount of reverberation, carefully chosen to match the original sound is added to the final chord. Recordings that are judged to be too "dry" also have a small amount of overall reverberation added.
As I’m often asked what equipment and processes I use for restoration here’s a list – most readers should skip this paragraph. There’s an EMT 938 Turntable with half a dozen Shure SC35C cartridges equipped with a selection of styli (for mono and stereo LPs plus varying sizes for 78s). MiniDiscs are played on a Sony MDS-JB920, DAT tapes on a Tascam DA-30 MkII, CDs on a vintage Sony CDP-970, cassettes on a Nakamichi Dragon and tapes, depending on speed, track configuration and size are taken care of by either a Technics RS-1506 or a Sony TC-377. The outputs of these are fed via a Behringer Eurorack pro Mixer and Yamaha YDP 2006 Parametric Equaliser into the Cedar De-Click, De-Crackle and De-Clickle boxes. A Behringer Ultramatch Pro Analogue to Digital / Digital to Analogue is used to handle the feeds to the computer and monitoring. The computer uses an EM-U 1212 professional sound card and Minnetonka Software’s Fast Edit 4 for the actual recording and editing process. Further processing is done on the computer using Adobe Audition, Sony Sound Forge, Red Roaster and Sound Laundry. Reverberation when required comes from a Lexicon digital stand-alone system. The CD masters are prepared using Sony’s CD Creator and recorded on a PlexWriter Premium drive.
I have to be honest here and say that most of my restorations of 78s are probably not appreciated by the "purists". It is my belief that most people buying this series have only ever heard 78s played on a radiogram or a modern hi-fi, probably using equalisation more suited to modern LPs than vintage 78s and expect the CD version to sound the same, so this is the sound I aim for. I also attempt to create a certain uniformity between tracks so that, although a 1920s recording may come immediately after a 1950s one, the listener is not aware of a jarring difference. There are no hard and fast rules – what I do is probably best described as "messing about" with the sound until I’m happy.
While I carry on with the easy bit (not always that easy when being "assisted" by a large Bernese Mountain Dog and an even larger St. Bernard), David has the far harder task of writing the booklet notes. Finding something new to say about Haydn Wood when we are featuring him for the umpteenth time becomes more and more difficult, especially when you know that many people have every previous Golden Age CD in their collection.
David will then send me a draft of the booklet as a Microsoft Word document (without the Internet and e-mail this series would never have happened!) for me to comment on and possibly add information. We usually get through two or three drafts before David is happy.
At this stage Kaikoo at Guild has no idea what we have been cooking up for his next release other than the overall title – he’s a very trusting sort of fellow! So it’s time for me to send a listening copy off to Switzerland and for David to send the booklet information. Assuming that he likes it (and we haven’t had one rejected yet, so we must be doing something right!) Kaikoo and his wife Silvia then choose a suitable cover picture and this and the notes will be sent to designer Paul Brooks in Oxford who is responsible for the very attractive books and inlays which, with their uniform style, have contributed immensely to the success of the series.
When Paul has done his stuff, Silvia e-mails proofs of the booklets and inlays to David and myself as Adobe Acrobat files for us to check and amend if necessary. Again we may go through this process two or three times until everyone is happy.
Meanwhile Silvia, who is also Guild’s Financial Director, deals with the time consuming but essential matter of sorting out royalty payments for the composers and arrangers via SUISA (the Swiss equivalent of the British MCPS). Perhaps it should be made clear that, although composer royalties are payable on most tracks, all the recordings used in the series are more than 50 years old which means that they are, under current European law, out of copyright.
It’s now time for me to make the master CD which is used by the pressing plant to make the glass master used to produce the CDs. This is sent to Peter Reynolds Mastering in Colchester where Peter checks that all the coding I have put on the CD for timing, tracks starts, pauses etc. matches the Table Of Contents I have produced to go with it, and that it fully complies with the Red Book standards. If all is well it’s sent to the pressing plant where it meets up with the booklets and inlays that have come from a specialist printer and the finished CDs are shipped to Priory for distribution. Meanwhile David and I (and Kaikoo and Silvia!) keep our fingers crossed that someone is going to buy them and enjoy them.
Footnote by David Ades: I would just like to add two points to Alan’s ‘history’ of the Guild Light Music CDs. Firstly mention must be made of the fact that it was Paul Brooks (of Design & Print, Oxford) who mentioned my name to Kaikoo Lalkaka when he was considering a new series of CDs concentrating on light music. I had previously worked with Paul on CD booklets, so he was aware of my interest in this area of the music scene. Secondly I cannot find enough words to praise and thank Alan Bunting for his expertise in making these old recordings sound so good. More than that, Alan has been invaluable in making many helpful suggestions regarding repertoire, and he has also been responsible for tracking down some elusive tracks. Without his enthusiasm and unfailing support, my job would be so much more difficult, and it is not an exaggeration to say that some of the CDs we have released so far would never have seen the light of day. I am indeed very fortunate to be able to rely upon so many kind and generous people who have all helped to make the Guild ‘Golden Age of Light Music’ series such an important part of today’s light music scene.
From ‘Journal Into Melody’ March 2006