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Date: 05/12/08

Spinning Back In Time

It seems scarcely believable now, but just over forty years ago - when I was about six or seven years old - the only records we had in the house were a small and random selection of the old shellac 78rpm discs, and the only thing we had to play them on was - and I'm not lying here - a wind-up gramophone (that's phonograph to my American reader). It wasn't until my brother handed down his old 'Emisonic' that we got electrified, as it were - prior to that, 78s were all we could play because that's all the old wind-up and its thick needle could handle.

The records themselves were, as I've implied, a pretty incongruous bunch. I can't imagine that any of them were acquired new by my parents, although one or two of the later ones had belonged to my brother from the beginning of his record buying in the late 1950s.

Because of my tendency not to throw things away, I've managed to keep them all until now. This despite the fact that I've had nothing to play them on since my father's old Grundig radiogram (and that's another word you don't often see or hear nowadays!) packed up about seven or eight years ago.

Last week, though, I decided to buy myself an early Christmas present:

Photo of an Ion TTUSB50XL turntable

This is the Ion TTUSB05XL. I bought it from our local Maplin's - they've got a special offer going on it at the moment which has knocked 30 off the price. It'll come in handy for transferring my vinyl to CD-R for backup, but it'll also be a means of getting those old 78s preserved before they get beyond playability. This meant that I had to buy an extra stylus to play them, and the turntable itself doesn't play at that speed, but the Audacity software which comes with the turntable enables you to do the job after you've captured the original disc at 45 or 33.

I've started on the project already, but have had problems: a couple of the 78s are only 5½ or 6 inches in diameter and also have very small labels, so the mechanism won't allow you to get to the end of the track. The other problem is the condition of the discs I've tried so far. Let's face it, many of them are very old indeed (some over eighty years old) and had been played to death with the old steel needles. They're also absolutely bloody rammy. I'm trying the standard method I developed when having to clean up old vinyl I'd bought at record fairs (which involves lukewarm water, bath soap, a flannel and a fluffy towel), and seem to be getting somewhere with that, but there's only so much you can do with them after all this time, as you will tell from what follows.

Some of these discs are old childhood friends and, given that they must nearly all be out of copyright a long time ago, I might share the odd one with you if only to try to explain why I turned out like this.

Eclipse Records were manufactured by the Crystalate company from about 1931 to 1935, and were 8" discs which were sold in Woolworth's (odd to think that my small collection of Eclipse discs might outlast the shop which sold them) at what would later be called 'budget' prices, i.e., cheap.

Lizzie, Come In And Shut That Door by Bert Layton is one of the label's earliest releases, and I played it a lot when I was a licklun - so much so that, although I hadn't heard it for at least thirty years, I could sing along with just about all of it when I transferred it to my hard drive the other night. As I've said before, music may be the nearest we can ever come to a working time machine.

I've done my best at cleaning the disc and the file I made of it, but it's still a bit ropey, especially near the end. Click on the image to download the file.

Picture of the label of 'Lizzie, Come In And Shut That Door' by Bert Layton