Stories From “The Club” Part 6

Posted on 17th September, 2014

Stories From “The Club” Part 6

In our ongoing World Record Club - “Stories From The Club” series, John Day reveals interesting facts and tales from an era now long lost amongst digital downloads and consumable music.

WRC SLEEVES

I notice there is still the occasional query about the Club’s sleeves – and in particular the rationale for us investing so much valuable time and money in creating our own.

We could at any time have used the original sleeve art – it was always made plain by the originating companies that we were welcome to it.  It certainly would have saved us a great deal of money.  But there were good reasons for not doing so.

Firstly, we considered many of the record sleeves then current to be to a degree sub-standard (sub our standard, anyway.)  To an extent, this was because the fronts were generally smothered in type – listing the tracks, naming the solo artist, orchestra, composer, conductor and so on.  This was regarded as necessary at the retail level in order to engage the browsing customer’s attention.  We didn’t have to do that - thus there are some WRC covers with no type on the front at all, though generally there is some minimal wordage.

But the major reason was to ensure the Club imprinted itself on people’s minds as a separate and very individual entity.  It also helped diminish the perception of the Club as a remaindering operation, or a reissue vehicle for deleted material.  And we hoped that it helped to give our members a reason for pride in their ownership of our releases.

Of course, once we reached the situation where we were releasing perhaps ten or more new records a month I did ask Geoff Digby, our Art Director, if we could have a standard design for some material – such that only the color scheme would alter.  I don’t think Geoff liked the idea much, but he went along with it cheerfully enough.   Remember, our studio had a very heavy work load:  it not only designed our sleeves, but also our many brochures, monthly magazines and ads.  We employed an advertising agency, but only to handle our media bookings – everything else was written, typeset and designed in-house – and always on time.  We had our own printery, too – though it was nowhere near large enough to handle all our print requirements.  And a particularly complex sleeve might easily take days to create; unless I was prepared to sanction a doubling of the studio’s facilities and staff,  or an increase in the price of our releases, some degree of standardization had become necessary.  For the same reason, that of economy, Geoff always produced a percentage of two-color or even monochrome designs – but what designs!   And there was, after all, a percentage of full-color material, however small.

ZOOLOGICAL MOMENTS

We released Schubert’s Trout Quintet in a striking full-color cover depicting a coiled rainbow trout just below the rippled water surface.  Schubert/The “Trout” Quintet are the only words on the front, and they’re at bottom left.  All the focus is on the beautiful fish.

Geoff Digby got two massive spotted trout down from a trout farm up on the Murray, and he had tanks waiting for them.  Within seconds, one had leapt out onto the studio floor and was contorting its way around with unbelievable energy.  It took minutes (it seemed like hours) before someone managed to snare it and get it back in its tank, with a record placed on top to keep it in. 

I’m unclear who actually took the photo – but once it was clear that it was a decent shot the fate of the fish was sealed:  Geoff took one home and ate it for dinner, and I took the other.  It was delicious.

(On getting the record out from its shelf I have discovered to my dismay that the originating company is not listed – a lapse by one or another of our sleeve writers.  The Fine Arts Quartet which formed the basis of the quintet which made the recording was out of Chicago, and recorded for a number of companies, including Decca, Vanguard and Vox.  My apologies to someone!)

AND NOW REPTILES!

This is not a WRC story, but it does feature Geoff and me, and it does feature animals of a sort, so I hope I can sneak it in: in our early twenties we both worked at Colorgravure Publications, the book-publishing arm of the Melbourne Herald – Geoff as an artist in the studio and I as a copywriter and promotional person.

I forget which book it was, doubtless Wild Life Australia Illustrated – and we had the bright idea that we would convert the window of Newspaper House in Collins Street, where Herald readers could purchase their books over the counter, into a wild life display.

We enlisted the aid of David Fleay, of Healesville Sanctuary fame, and with the window converted into a sparse sort of jungle (with small pond) set off in a Holden from the Herald car pool, liberally loaded with hessian sacks, straw-filled boxes etc.

I forget precisely what David lent us:  I know there were frill-necked lizards, and Gippsland water dragons, and probably a blue-tongued lizard or two – but there were also three snakes, including one at least four feet long.  Everything was secure, of course, the boxes sealed, the sacks tied, all neatly stowed in the back.

Geoff had driven up, so I drove back.  We had gone five or so kilometers when Geoff let out a blood-curdling yell “Snake’s out!”

I could see it in the rear-vision mirror – the four foot one, raising itself into the space between our two heads.  That’s all I saw before I realized we were in the ditch beside the road  - from which we were towed by the RACV some hour or so later.   We weren’t impatient over the delay – we had plenty of things to occupy us – like tying up the hole in the sack and somehow enticing the snake back in!

All this was bad enough – but a fortnight or so later, at the end of the book offer, we had to get the reptiles back to Healesville – and my staunch and loyal friends and companions flatly refused to help me get the snakes back into their sacks.

Picture the scene:  the pavement outside Newspaper House massed with spectators, and me in the window entertaining them.  I knew nothing about snakes – beyond the fact that they were wriggly and astonishingly muscular.  I had an open sack in one hand, and a four foot snake’s throat in the other – the snake getting progressively more and more excited – and do you think I could get its tail into the sack?  My arms just weren’t long enough – try it sometime.  

HIGH SOCIETY

My partner Norman Lonsdale was very well-born and very well-connected – far more so than I realized at the time.  He was far too well brought up to flaunt it of course, and too nice a guy anyway.

The family seat was called Kingston Lisle. It was in Berkshire and was huge and had a suspended staircase by Regency architect John Nash which visitors were permitted to view once a year.  Kingston Lisle owned the village (in which the then-current Poet Laureate John Betjeman had a cottage) and the Anglican chapel was in the grounds – which comprised many hundreds of acres.

Norman’s mother was a formidable figure. She was a daughter of the Duke of Somerset, and a former Lady-in-Waiting to Queen Mary, and one of her most prized possessions (I was given to understand) was a hand-knotted carpet actually made over a period of years by the late Queen.

Norman told me that his proposal that my wife and I and three-year-old daughter should stay a weekend at Kingston Lisle had received a very frosty reception.  “Australian?  Advertising person?  And a child who’s going to piddle on my carpet?  They can be put up in the village hotel.”

Everyone came out of it with some credit in the end.  Norman’s father and Norman himself said in that case they would stay in the village pub as well – and Norman’s mother rang me a day or so later and very graciously apologized for the “misunderstanding” and we were of course most welcome – as indeed we were subsequently made to feel.

I noticed the door to a particular reception room remained closed throughout our stay, however.

THE WILDS OF SUSSEX

Quite early on in the U.K. we released children’s records – I don’t quite know why:  the market was small, and the records themselves (7” 45 r.p.m.) carried little profit margin.  But Fiona was keen on them, and Norman was keen on Fiona -  reasons enough.

Fiona informed me that Clemence Dane (born Winifred Ashton) had written some children’s material as well as many novels and plays, and that she had made an appointment to see her, and would I drive her down?

She lives in Sussex, Fiona told me.  She lives in a caravan with a female companion.  A gypsy caravan.  In a field.  I think we should take something with us – some ham, I think.

I’d never heard of Clemence Dane (she had another name, too:  she’d had a career as an actress for a while under the name of Diana Cortis) But, hey, a pleasant drive into the country?  Why not?

I picked Fiona up at her flat when the day came.  I carried out for her the ham she’d bought:  it was a whole ham, and she’d got it at Harrods; heaven knows what it cost.

We drove down to Midhurst in West Sussex (one of the most beautiful villages in England, which says a lot) and navigated the few kilometers to the meadow where Clemence Dane had her caravan.

I remember her as a rather jolly sort.  We had a good discussion, and we stayed to lunch, and I carved slices of ham to go with the salad Clemence and her friend had gathered for us.  It was all from the meadow and hedgerows they assured us; in fact, it was mostly wild parsley, thistles and stinging nettle.  But the ham was delicious.

DEALING WITH COMPETITION

There was competition in Australia when we started:  James Murdoch was running The Australian Record Club out of Sydney, using mainly American Columbia material, but it ran out of steam fairly soon.  And Festival in Melbourne also started up a club, but without outstanding success.  (James was later to join our staff as a writer and promoter of Australian contemporary recordings).

I had conversations with Festival regarding the future of their club, though I held the view that we probably already shared most of their members anyway.  Consequently I was relatively indifferent to the outcomings of our discussions, or to the ultimate fate of the club, and doubtless this showed in the terms we finally agreed:  that we would take over all their members’ accounts, secure what payments we possibly could, and pass on all revenue thus gathered to Festival – and in return Festival would pass their club membership list to us.

I thought it was a win/win agreement. But when I reported it to John Burnett and Norval Scott, the EMI members of my board, they were scandalized (mindful, I think, of their reputations in the industry) and absolutely forbad me to do it. Very odd, I thought.

Anyway, some months later John Burnett advised me that they’d reached an agreement with Festival that they would sell us their club list for $10,000.

SEEK AND YE SHALL FIND

My repertoire director Dianne Ellis was at a party and got into conversation with a guy called Bruce Woodley.  He was part of a music group and they were about to set off for the U.K. to further their career.  They’d made a couple of singles for White and Gillespie here in Australia, but had no real music contacts in the U.K.  Try World Record Club, Dianne suggested, and gave them a name to contact.

Whether that was the reason The Seekers went first to the Club rather than the major companies I cannot tell you – but certainly the first L.P.s they made were for WRC U.K. – and I dare say everyone interested in their music knows the rest of the story.

What is not so well-known is that at least in Australia they remained under contract to W&G, and we were therefore unable to release them in this country – or at least I was solemnly assured we faced legal action if we did.

So one of the hottest recorded properties in the industry of that time was denied us – great shame!

World Record Club StereoNET Discussion Thread


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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      Posted in: Hi-Fi Music Industry
      Tags: john day  world record club 

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