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Early 10" jazz title World Record Club disc in original universal printed fablothene sleeve.

The World Record Club Ltd. was the name of a company in the United Kingdom which issued long-playing records and reel to reel tapes, mainly of classical music and jazz, through a membership mail-order system during the 1950s and 1960s.

In addition to titles imported from recording companies like Everest Records and Westminster Records, which it obtained on franchise, it made a series of recordings of international artists using its own engineers. Although often of great musical interest and very acceptable technical quality, these recordings do not appear in shop catalogues of the time as they were not available new through record shops. In modern times, however (when most vinyl is second-hand), they are frequently found by collectors, to whom an outline of the company's history will be valuable.

The label was taken over by EMI in 1965 but continued to be used as a sub-label for mail order, covering a wide range of musical genres, and distributing in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

Contents

Early days, c. 1955-1965

The earliest card covers were interchangeable with stick-on titles.

World Record issues were certainly in production by mid-1956. The World Record Treasures records were promoted as a series from which 'members' (membership was free) were required to select a given number of purchases per year. These were sold at lower prices than usual (21s 6d) and distributed in cheap wrappers (originally logo-printed Fablothene, and then card covers with stickers naming the selection). A monthly Club magazine (Record Review) was lauched in late 1956, featuring the existing artists and recordings and announcing future selections. The company was first based at 125 Edgware Road, London, with a display centre at 49 Edgware Road. The main UK rival in similar business was the Concert Hall label.

Membership was encouraged by such methods as using sleeve designs contributed by members (e.g. T23), and as these improved they obtained photographic services of Erich Auerbach. By 1958 there was a membership of at least 150,000. In the Promenade Concerts season of July to September 1958, World Records had a full-page advertisement (offering monthly releases at between 22s 6d and 24s 9d per disc, only one needing to be chosen per year) on the inside front cover of all the individual concert programmes, facing the actual music listing for the evening - a competitive space, placing it on equal footing with Electric Audio Reproducers, EMI Records, Decca Records, Grundig Tape Recorders, Ferguson Radiograms and Olivier Tipped Cigarettes (3s 4d for 20). (A full-priced record then cost around 40 shillings, i.e. £2 sterling, equivalent to 12 packets of cigarettes.)

Key artists at the start were conductors Hans Swarowsky and Muir Mathieson, often with the Sinfonia of London, or Viennese orchestras. The pianist Joseph Cooper's account of Rachmaninoff's second concerto was an early disappointment owing to poor balance (the piano was almost inaudible) but there were also great successes. The development of new recordings was a special interest, under the celebrated recording engineer Anthony C. Griffith (1915-2005), who became recording manager for WRC in 1958. The Brahms violin concerto (Endre Wolf, violin, Sir Anthony Collins, conductor, WRC TP30) was a 1958 landmark for them, as technical details were published on the sleeve, recorded both in stereo and mono using Ampex equipment and Neumann microphones. Griffith made recordings of Colin Davis, Leon Goossens, Arthur Bliss, Reginald Jacques, Imogen Holst, the Melos Ensemble and Aeolian Quartet.[1]

The Mozart oboe concerto (Leon Goossens, oboe; Colin Davis, conductor, T59), issued c.1961, was a big technical and artistic success, the sleeve featuring photographs of studio sessions and playbacks. The label also produced a strong hand in English music, especially in Vaughan Williams' 9th Symphony and Greensleeves and Thomas Tallis Fantasias, and in music by Elgar, conducted by Adrian Boult and George Weldon, and in works of Sir Arthur Bliss. Important solo records of Sviatoslav Richter, Jorge Bolet and Shura Cherkassky were produced, and classical singers were not neglected.

By 1958 the company's business address had changed to Parkbridge House, Little Green, Richmond, Surrey, where it remained thereafter. The 'Treasures' terminology was soon dropped, so that the title 'World Record Club' became the main label feature, written on ribbons wrapped about a globe. The WRC catalogue numbers were prefixed by the letter T (and sometimes ST to denote a stereo version, using the same number, and also TP), and ran from 1 to about 50 by 1962, to 500 by 1966 (and continued) to well over T1000. These were in red or green labels, with silver overprinting, and there was a later form in which the label edge was printed with many short radial lines so that the correct speed could be obtained by stroboscopic 'standstill' effect. There was also an OH series, with purple labels, for the WRC Opera Highlights series, often taken from interesting recordings or specially-made abridgements, and again presented in a uniform sleeve.

By this time the World Record Club was also releasing pre-recorded spool tapes of their LPs. These were mainly produced in mono half-track at 3 and 3/4 ips. The quality of the tapes was very high and the price reasonable. They appealed to enthusiasts who had tape recorders for making their own recordings, because at that time broadcast sound quality (for off-air recordings) was not very high. These tapes were released with the prefix TT. Although in mono, they are half-track, which gives a very high and gratifying signal to noise ratio. A number of 7.5 ips half track stereo tapes were also released under the WRC label, in plain white boxes with a historical sculpture in orange on the front. At least 8 were produced, one of which is of Scheherezade with Eugene Goossens.

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Recorded Music Circle

The Recorded Music Circle label carried best quality classical issues.

About the start of 1959, a series devoted mainly to chamber music was created, under a new logo with an eagle in a circle, with 'R.M.C.' above it and 'World Record Club. Recorded Music Circle' beneath. The labels were attractively printed in light blue, showing a classical scene of two musicians wearing togas beside a stone column or altar, with the text details overprinted in red. The sleevenotes of the RMC were also printed in red, and after some experiments with a more ornamental sleeve, a uniform style of red lettering on a background of simulated wood-grain became the uniform sleeve design.

Once again the series mixed in-house and franchised recordings. It included 'strong' material such as Ralph Kirkpatrick playing the Mozart K570 sonata (CM30); Rudolf Schwarz conducting Mahler's 5th Symphony (LSO - CM 39-40 (Everest)); Pierre Monteux conducting Berlioz's Romeo and Juliet (CM 57-58 (Westminster)); Robert Gerle (violin) and Robert Zeller with the Delius and Samuel Barber violin concerti (CM 59 (Westminster)), Hermann Scherchen's Mahler 7th Symphony (CM 63-64, Westminster), the Bruckner 8th of Hans Knappertsbusch (CM 71-72, Westminster), and the Richard Strauss memorial album with Clemens Krauss and Kurt List (CM 73-74, Amadeo). This small but very interesting series had not reached 100 records by 1966. The pressings and presentation of this series was always good, usually with sleeve-notes by Malcolm Rayment, Stephen Dodgson or Peter Gammond (now author of numerous musical books). One very famous recording that was released on WRC before any other label was the Finzi Dies natalis with Wilfred Brown.

EMI take control, 1965

From c.1965, when World Record Club was bought by EMI, the label lost its characteristic green or red design and acquired a completely new look, minimalist, with blocks of grey. An important early enterprise under the new management was the complete cycle of Beethoven piano concerti with Emil Gilels (piano) and George Szell (conductor). During the late 1960s a number of 'WRC versions' of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas were recorded. Anthony C. Griffith remained with the company under the new ownership, and, since there were fewer new recording projects, he and Gadsby Toni began to explore and transfer to LP parts of the historical archives of EMI, producing some of the finest transfers ever achieved. In 1971 he joined the EMI International Classical Division to work on Karajan recordings, but also expanded his work on historical transfers.[2]

Retrospect Series

It was during the mid to late 1970s that the Retrospect series came to prominence under the WRC label. These records, which were often pressed on rather thin, floppy vinyl, were dedicated to re-issues of material mostly from 78rpm records, mainly old Columbia Records material and His Master's Voice material from the 1920s to 1940s. There were several major projects, including the reissue of the early Thomas Beecham Delius Society recordings, and welcome returns such as the Albert Sammons/Henry Wood Elgar concerto recording of 1929, or the Gerhard Hüsch lieder recordings. However, the series was wide-ranging and included a large amount of show music and dance music of the 1920s and 1930s.

The record labels were a distinctive pale green with a lettered ribbon surround, and the prefix was SH. The technical quality of these transfers reflected a desire to preserve the tonal qualities of the originals even if it meant keeping a certain amount of shellac surface-noise (though at HMV Len Petts and others were assiduous in finding masters and producing vinyl pressings for dubbing).

The advent of digital recording in the 1980s, and the wane of the 1970s Art Deco revival, turned attention away from the Retrospect series, the sleeves of which were deliberately given some 'Deco' styling. At this time, for instance in the transfers of Alfred Cortot's Chopin (e.g. SH 326, 327), the original WRC recording manager Anthony Griffith was still bringing his expertise to the high-quality transfers. He retired in 1979, but continued to act as consultant, notably for the CD transfers of the Elgar Edition.[3]

Australian World Record Club

Sleeves and pressings from the 1980s show that the WRC had a special franchise in Australia. The Dvořák symphonies, for instance, with London Symphony Orchestra conducted by István Kertész, property of Decca records, were issued there exclusively by WRC. The registered office was then in Hartwell, Victoria, with others in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Perth: sleevenotes were supplied by Ray Minshull. These records have a mid blue-green label, with an 18th century image of a military trumpeter or fanfare-player in livery, as a background design to the overprinted label text.

New Zealand World Record Club

The WRC operated in New Zealand between 1960 and the early 1970s and provided a valuable service to music lovers in provincial towns, which lacked the record shops and selections available to collectors in the main centres. The Club took full-page advertisements in the New Zealand Listener magazine offering a choice of any three LPs for ten shillings to new members. Members received a magazine listing the upcoming monthly releases for that year, which had to be ordered in advance.

The magazine featured a classical music column "The Golden Road" by World Record Club editor-in-chief Harvey Blanks. This was published in book form in 1968 by Rigby in Australia and Angus and Robertson in the UK and was offered for sale through the magazine. Five years in the making, it remains a highly readable and informative handbook for classical music devotees.

The WRC had showrooms in Wellington (in Farish Street) and Auckland,with sound booths where it was possible to listen to LPs from the Club's catalogue. LPs were pressed at a factory in Lower Hutt.

Sources

  1. ^ See Obituary: Anthony C. Griffith, The Gramophone, at this link [1].
  2. ^ cf. Obituary, The Gramophone.
  3. ^ Obituary, The Gramophone.
  • Publications and recordings of World Record Club Records, 1956-1965 (London, and Richmond, Surrey).
  • Membership terms: World Record Treasures sleevenote (early matt card format), 1956-58.
  • Record Review, Magazine of the World Record Club (Monthly parts, vol 1 1956-57, etc).
  • Advertisements detailing terms, artists and current releases, Concert Programmes, 64th Season of Henry Wood Promenade Concerts (Royal Albert Hall, London July-September 1958).
  • "World Record Club News" (NZ) 1960-1970, "World Record Club Bulletin" (1970-1973). Held in National Library of New Zealand.
  • Blanks, Harvey. Golden Road: A Record-Collector's Guide to Music Appreciation. London, Angus & Robertson, 1968. ISBN 020795013X
  • Walker, Malcolm. 'Obituary: Anthony C. Griffith,' The Gramophone [2]

External links

World Records Club magazine features re Chris Barber [3] & [4]

Album Cover Art.From the studio of The World Record Club, 1958–1976 is a new book from Geoff Hocking. It includes a brief history of the WRC. [[5]]


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