Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Keep It In The Family...

I come from quite a musical family, particularly on my Fathers side... There were 3 singers out of my pop, his 4 brothers and 1 sister, and between the six of them, they could play just about any instrument going... including the bagpipes!! That accolade goes to his sister, Winifred, who was the drum major of the Dagenham Girl Pipers in the 50s and 60s! These were the days when the DGP's were a big international act. She toured the world with them and shared the stage with some big names of the time... but that's probably a blog post in itself...

My dads youngest brothers, twins Micky and Donald, showed quite some promise, and in the late 50's early 60's were likened to a British Everly Brothers. They toured under the name 'The Essex Brothers' and were regular favourites on the Granada Cinema circuit, where they would often play to 1000+ audiences. They even made a record at one point, but I have no idea exactly what or when.
They finished as a duo in the 60's, but both continued to perform as solo acts in pubs and clubs for the rest of their lives... I have a vivid recollection of seeing them perform together at a big family reunion in the early 70's. Sadly, despite being the youngest of the family, they both died relatively early... Donald aged 54, and Micky aged 65.

Now here's the weird bit. I've been half drafting a post on the Everly Brothers for quite some time... an act to whom there is much more than history (or endless regurgitated 'greatest hits' collection) would have you believe. In it I was going to mention the above about my uncles, and in preparation, I recently asked my dad if there were any surviving recordings of them. Unfortunately the answer was no, and nobody even has a copy of the record any more.

Fast forward to the weekend just gone. My dads sister-in-law is currently in the process of moving, having lived in the same house for over 40 years. A venture into the loft to clear it out unearthed.... yes, you guessed it, two 'reel-to-reel' tapes labelled 'Mick + Don'. There's no further information than that, so they could contain anything. They are on the smaller 'CD-sizeish' reels rather than the larger master tape ones, so the likelihood is they contain some home recordings that they made themselves. Nonetheless, for my dad and his remaining siblings, the possibility of being able to hear their brothers sing again is very exciting... although having endured 40 odd summers and winters in a loft, they are also resigned to the fact that perhaps there will be nothing left on the tapes. But whatever the outcome, they are desperate to find out exactly what they do (or don't) contain.

Which leads me to my question... How the hell do I play them??! Even more crucial, how can I get them converted to CD? Any ideas gratefully received!


Anonymous said...

it would be tempting to try and find someone with an old Revox or similar reel to reel m/c. However, given the sentimental value of the tapes I'd be inclined to search thru Yellow Pages or on the web for some specialist copying company. Alternatively look up somebody with some contacts in the recording business. Hope we'll be hearing how you got on in another post.

office pest said...

Piley I have emailed you some gen.

Anonymous said...

I hope this works out, what a piece of family history!

Wil Harrison.com

Piley said...

Anon - thanks for the ideas, they make good sense.. Will be sure you update on any news!

OP - Thanks VERY much for the info and contacts you supplied, that could be a real possibility. Very good of you to hunt that lot out for me. Will let you know.

Thanks Wil, yes it has been quite a surprise for my Dad and remaining uncles... something I guess nobody was ever expecting either, not after all this time. Be interesting to see what happens, I'll let you know Sir!


Kolley Kibber said...

Oh my word, what an amazing story. Just the fact that your Auntie was a lead Dangenham Girl Piper is enough...they always used to perform at the Dagenham Town Show every summer (in between the running battles between the skinheads and Hell's Angels), and I was so in awe of them.

I hope you get these tapes converted. It's a wonderful chapter already and there must be more to come. I just hope your uncles' domestic lives didn't get as messy as Phil and Don's did.

Keep us posted.

Mondo said...

Amazing - there should be some specialist Audio Visual shops or services that may be able to convert these tapes for you. If you do manage to get them copied you've got to blog them.

Nice guitars too - Hofner were the company that produced Macca's iconic violin bass used in the early fabs days..

Remember I told you about my uncle who had a single out in the sixties? Here if you fancy a peep..

Anonymous said...

Nice story. I'm betting that it will cost to get these converted to CD. I've heard that some tapes have to be baked after sitting for so long. You definately need expert help here, which will cost i reckon. Be interesting to hear if you get it sorted.


Furtheron said...

Blimey - there must be someone out there. My brother in law met a bloke through a business thing once that could copy cine film to DVD and surprised me with a film of my sisters wedding one day - with my dear dad on it before his death.

Col said...

Yes no worries, it'll cost you no more than a takeaway curry for four. Use a specialist studio that has vintage kit and they will handle the tapes with due care and attention. One you get them done I can't wait to hear them!

Cocktails said...

I have absolutely nothing of interest to add to this other than FANTASTIC - get them up here when you've got the tapes transferred! Especially if they are 'the British Everly Brothers'. I love the Everlys!

NoIdea said...

Hi ya, my cousin Michelle just pointed me to this link.

I'm not sure we have ever met (maybe once at my Dads) but I'm your cousin and that's my Dad holding the Guitar.

You may know my Mum and Dad split up when I was young, but mum always mentioned a record that Dad and Micky made.

I have a feeling she may have a copy. I will ask and let you know.

In the meantime, speak with Michelle and get my email. It would be great to get in touch and I would just love to here whats on the tapes.

Also, you will no doubt be interested in this tribute link to Winnie.


Piley said...

ISBW - I think a blogpost on my Auntie is probably well overdue... As the shock comment from my long lost cousin points out, there is actually a tribute to her online here. Couple of great early photos on there too! Will be sure to update you on tape progress.

PM - Yes, have had a word with a professional company in London, and things are looking promising. Had a feeling you might pick up on the guitar!, thanks for the info, didn't realise that about Macca. That's a fab story about your uncle by the way!

Carl - you are not wrong mate. I've been learning fast! incredible that this time last week I was still unaware of the existence of these tapes, now I'm becoming an expert! Getting the tapes 'baked' does indeed sound like a necessity. Apparently the oxide on the tape is likely to 'fall off' on playing the tapes, as they have sat around for so many years. I now understand that before playing any old reel to reel tapes, they have to be baked, as this procedure "reactivates the binder, making tapes playable as new" (can you tell I lifted that bit from a helpful email??!!). I've been told you can 'risk it', but if the oxide falls off in the process, then the tapes will be unrepairable and rendered useless. Sounds like a risk too great to take at this point. Have found somewhere that will do it tho, so not a real showstopper. Believe it or not, this company says they bake them for FOUR DAYS!

Further - completely. They are out there, it's just finding someone reputable. The place I was speaking to in the week were recently tasked with restoring an recently discovered Beatle acetate, so I'm guessing they know their stuff!

Col - bloody hell, spookily you are pretty bang on there! Been quoted for 'baking' and transfer\clean up £50 per hour. But that's per hour of transferred data. If it takes them 7 hours to retrieve it and clean it up it's still £50. Not too disastrous is it?

Cocktails - thank you! Long way to go yet, but IF (and it is an 'if' at the mo) there is anything retrievable I'll be sure to blog it!

Marko - bloody hell! The power of the internet eh?! Welcome aboard, great to hear from you!

Keep me posted re the record, be great if you have a copy.

Will get your email via Michelle, but in the meantime you can get my email addy via the blog, there's a link somewhere on the right hand side.

Will of course let you know the progress with the tapes, the above should give you a flavour of what I've found out in the last few days!

Finally, I've been delighted to hear just how many members of my family have been finding out about this post! Thanks everyone for your e-mails and kind words, good to hear from you all. It's also instigated a rummage in the archives for a few family members and I've been loaned some more photos and bits and bobs to use in a future update.

Best wishes,


E F RICE said...

As discussed thought I would put my observation in writing ! Great story, I always remember first meeting you and listening to records round your gaff and often your Dad would be singing in a room with a very respectable crooner voice, not surprised to hear there is a history in the family. On the first picture you posted I was convinced that was your Dad on the right.

The question is WTF happened to your singing voice ? I only had the pleasure of hearing it outside the Pink Toothbrush Rayleigh after a murderous session on the Mad Dog 20/20 and cans of 'Breaker'. Your voice that night was a cross between Hilda Ogden and Arthur Mullard !!! Perhaps you could give us a sample on your Podcast to put to bed this scandalous comment !

Seriously hope all goes well with the tapes and perhaps even more importantly, getting in touch with your cousin and swapping stories and memories.

Nazz Nomad said...

how wonderful! good luck with the restoration... those things are priceless!

I am personally hoping that no one in my family finds those "art" films I starred in when I was a starving young student. The ones with the donkey could prove harmful to my political career!

rockmother said...

Wow - brilliant story Pilester. It may well be worth contacting Abbey Road Studios. They still have a lot of original equipment there that they still use. Failing that - I am sure they can point you in the right direction as they are dealing with all sorts of archive all the time for transfer. Can't wait to hear the outcome.

Piley said...

Thanks EF... yes my old man is known to 'have a go'... won a few singing cometitions in his time n'all believe it or not! My voice??! Hmmm, I'm just waiting for a thrash metal revival...

Nazz - thanks... hey i think i've seen those films of yours! ;-)

RM - Things are moving on this, will be sure to give you an update.