Stories From “The Club” Part 1
One perennial problem in the early days of World Record Club was the acquisition of repertoire.
The very beginning
One perennial problem in the early days of World Record Club was the acquisition of repertoire. My original concept was that WRC should be an industry club – that it would be the vehicle into which all the U.K. record companies might unload their deleted material for reissue by an entirely independent purely mail-order club - at a markedly lower price.
Decca Records at that time had reason to be grateful to the Lonsdales because the merchant bank Kleinwort Benson Lonsdale had provided critical financial support to Decca when needed. My partner Norman Lonsdale had no difficulty therefore in obtaining an interview with Ted (later Sir Edward) Lewis and the two of us set off for Decca with high optimism.
Alas, Lewis shot down my concept with barely concealed derision. None of the U.K. companies, he declared, would even begin to consider such an arrangement. Indeed, they would combine to obstruct and if possible destroy the Club before it got a foothold. In any case, he declared, even if we somehow got repertoire, no U.K. record company would press records for us. And so on; and so on.
Despite his opposition, Lewis gave us nearly three hours of his time – almost unheard of! And then, right at the end, whether inadvertently or deliberately, he told us how to get WRC off the ground.
You can get classical material from Europe, he told us, and hinted at sources; you could get it from the U.S. You might even find some small bespoke record press somewhere in the U.K. But you’ll never make a go of it (leaning forward somewhat threateningly) because we won’t let you!
Norman and I were both 28 years young, ignorant and doubtless stupid – but neither of us liked to be told that. Norman located a small company run by brothers Morris and Jacques Levy which recorded school speech nights and graduation ceremonies and even weddings and then sold acetate recordings to proud mothers and fathers. For a deposit of ten thousand pounds they agreed to create masters and mothers and stampers and press for us. He went to Europe and located minor record companies. Meantime Fiona Bentley, our third director, was studying the techniques of creating cover versions of current pop hits. I set to work writing the brochures and promotional letters and advertisements and so on. It was sheer madness, but we hadn’t the sense to realize it.
The great Russian label Melodiya was for a time uncontracted by any U.K. company, and Norman and I set our sights on it. We’d been operating for several years before we finally got an interview with the Russian Cultural Attache. The embassy was in Highgate, London, and set in extravagant grounds. We weren’t allowed to drive in, but it was no problem to take the long sweeping walk up the driveway edged by immaculate lawns and majestic trees. It was quite some minutes, however, before we registered the fact that all the many gardeners we saw on that hot summer afternoon sweeping or raking or pruning wore heavy greatcoats coming to their ankles. Concealing what? Your guess is as good as mine!
We didn’t get the Melodiya catalogue (though I got it many years later for WRC Australia). But at the end of our meeting the Cultural Attache bemoaned the fact that getting records in Russia was very difficult and his personal collection as a consequence was very small. I trust the parcel of records he received from us the following day fulfilled his expectations!
All bets are off
As a matter of policy if nothing else, I tried as much as possible to greet and entertain artists from labels we represented upon their tours of Australia. A favourite visitor was Sir Malcolm Sargent whom I always lunched at the Florentino in Melbourne. Sir Malcolm was an immaculate figure, always wearing a red carnation in his buttonhole and always ready to tell or hear a yarn.
On this occasion we were nearing the coffee stage at the Florentino when the chat turned to Mozart. “Ah,” said Sir Malcolm “every one of his 41 piano concertos might be termed a masterpiece.”
“Um – “ I said (somewhat diffidently as you can imagine) “ – I think he only wrote 27 or thereabouts. There were 41 symphonies.”
“Quite mistaken, dear boy.”
“Wanna bet?” (I think I shouldn’t have had that third glass of red).
The upshot was we stopped short of blows and I bet Sir Malcolm a box of his favourite cigars.
He was wrong, of course, but I sent a box of cigars to his hotel in any case; it’s called public relations.
Echos of the war
For obvious reasons I was very keen to get the Deutsche-Grammophon label – regarded in those years as the very pinnacle of classical music recordings. Year after year I would journey to Hamburg to meet with the CEO of DGG and time after time travel on to my next appointment disappointed.
The CEO at that time was a rather saturnine though perfectly pleasant character who’d been commander of a U-Boat during the war – and the war (in the late sixties or thereabouts) was still very fresh in many German minds. When – after six years or so – we finally reached an agreement, he leant across his desk, hand extended, and said softly “You see, Mr. Day, we Germans are not so bad after all.”
I don’t remember what I said. I hope I managed something. He then went on to emphasise that DGG would insist that we retain their label and sleeve. I managed to remonstrate feebly; inwardly I was of course delighted. How could anyone doubt the quality of our catalogue when it included the iconic DGG in its original livery!
We celebrated the agreement with lunch at a large chateau-like restaurant in a nearby forest. The menu was set in antique German script which was totally indecipherable. There were five DGG executives and me and I thought I’d play a winning card. “I’d like to order a typical German dish” I said.
What I didn’t realize (I’ve never claimed to be clever) is that it was a restaurant famous for its French cuisine. When lunch was served, all the DGG guys had the most delicious-looking dishes set before them. I got some sort of thick sausage and sauerkraut, and serve me right ...
About the Author
John Day was co-founder of the World Record Club, formally incorporated in London, England in 1956, and later responsible for WRC Australia. The club endured in Australia for less than 30 years, but with the rise of other musical media became no longer relevant. Day has many memories (and stories) of these early days of the commercial music industry and shares them with StereoNET.
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