stanshawe - the recording label

What started the Label?

The band had made hardly any commercial recordings whatsoever for most part in the 1980's. The Sun Life Band Supporters Club was a small band of helpers led by Jane Lewis at that time. Jane had mentioned to the band's committee that a reasonable amount of money had been generated through the sale of jumpers, ties, pens, and a few commercial recordings, including the "American Circus Marches & TJ Powell Marches" - the sister recording to Dyke's 'Marches' album - produced for an American millionaire a few years earlier (*). This small reservoir of cassettes was just about to run dry and she suggested that the Supporters could fund a commercial recording. This recording was "Puttin' on the Ritz" and was produced through a small studio in Birmingham. That recording [cassette only] sold incredibly well and generated cash for the Supporters Club very quickly, so much so, that Jane returned quickly to the committee to say, "we've got the money, let's make another one!".

Now the scene moves to the Colston Hall where the band was performing the world premier of a Bristol composer's orchestral work, which required augmented brass. We supplied the additional brass and the band also did a short solo spot. The composer had paid for a local recording company to come in and record his work and the recording engineer had asked if we wanted a copy of his 'test' recording which was our solo spot - free of charge. We took it and liked the quality of his work.

The scene shifts again, this time to the bar of a hotel in Bristol, late one night after a Roy Newsome rehearsal. In the bar were Roy, the band secretary & chairman having a quiet chat and a drink. The topic ran-over a lot of things but then focused on Jane Lewis' offer of another band cassette. Roy N, "Why don't we do a CD as well?". Chairman, "Can we afford that?". Secretary, "Yip, with the additional sponsorship & concert fees plus with the Supporters Club assistance, we can do it, and I know a recording engineer that can help us do it ourselves!".

And so was born the "Stanshawe Recording Label". The band made 5 recordings on its own label where the music was chosen by the conductors & players themselves and not by any recording company - we had ultimate control.

The recordings could not have been produced without the stalwart work of players in the band: Dave Alderman for printing, Allan Wilson for artistic design & MCPS liaison, and Geoff Colmer as the Executive Producer. They all put in an awful lot of additional hours and days off work to get these recordings made and released.

What to record?

The first Stanshawe recording was "Recorded Delivery" a pretty typical mixture of concert numbers for easy listening. However, Egon Publishers, a major distributor of the band's CDs had told us of the flood of such types of recordings onto the market and how a band such as ours should be recording what others are incapable of recording. That's why we started recording more major works such as on "Le Roi d'Ys", "Images" and finally "Bourgeois".

Sleeve Design

One of the more unusual sleeve designs was for "Images". This shows a psychedelic picture of the Clifton Suspension Bridge - probably Bristol's most recognisable landmark. The photographer had taken this picture at night, where he had placed his camera tripod on the mud flats below the bridge on the banks of the river Avon. Unfortunately, unbeknown to him at the time, the tripod began to sink into the mud over the very long aperture exposure (several minutes). When the mistook picture was developed he was surprised to find a very unusual view, where the bridge's decorative lights, and therefore its outline at night, had printed over and over again, giving a marvellous effect - buy the CD and see!.

          

Recording Sessions

These were incredibly stressful. They were held over 2 intense days of striving for perfection. The band had produced the first Stanshawe recording out of St.Georges Hall, close to Bristol's Cabot Tower, but had quickly moved to the Great Hall within the Wills Building of Bristol University - it's that building pictured on the cover of our 1974 commercial recording "Spectrum" [Saydisc].

The Great Hall has one of the finest acoustics for band anywhere. The hall seats about 800 people and the walls are covered with ornate gothic wood carvings - a beautiful setting. One of things that went against this hall, which appeared to us as a problem when, in earlier years, the band had done some BBC radio 3 broadcasts from here, was that it had a very high bell tower with a 'Big Ben' sized bell, which struck every quarter hour. However, some kind Health & Safety Officers had declared the tower unsafe for peeling and repairs took many years so that no bell ever sounded during Stanshawe recordings sessions.

The recording engineer would arrive on Saturday morning at 8.00am to set his equipment up in the hall and the mixing centre was in a small room behind the hall's impressive organ. The band turned-up an hour later and the first rusty notes sounded a little time later. It generally took about an hour to obtain a reasonable sound balance - most of the sound was captured through a single stereo microphone placed about 30 yards in front of the band with some other pick-up microphones placed throughout the band.

The conductors (Roy Newsome & Bryan Hurdley) had to think long & hard about which piece and which movement/section to record in which order. This was primarily done to ensure good takes were captured quickly with minimal stress and effort. The Saturday session included a long lunch break to rest tiring chops, but there were no other breaks until the session closed around 5.30pm that day.

The engineer would then work on copying the master tapes from the day's work, as we all left for our homes for a well earned rest.

On Sunday, we started at 9.30am - a sleep in! We would work till lunchtime when we hoped that all tracks were on-board, which was not always the case, however, we kept the option of working into Sunday afternoon.

One of the hardest recordings to make was for "Bourgeois" were we performed a number of Derek's original works and excellent orchestral transcriptions. In the words of Derek himself, as he attended both days of recording, "I didn't intend for these pieces to be played all at once.". It's worth clarifying at a point why 3 euphonium players appear on the sleeve notes - Andy Hunt had played the "Devil" with us at the Nationals a few months prior but, due to work commitments, was unable to be there for the full 2 days of the recording - he did make it for the "Devil" and someone stepped in to cover for him on the other tracks.

In particular, on the "Bourgeois" CD, the recording session for Ian Bousfield's performance of the "Trombone Concerto" was tough. Ian was then principal of the LSO and his services had kindly been supplied by Yamaha-Kemble Music (UK) through our friendly contact with Gordon Higginbottom there. Ian had already performed the whole concerto with us just a few weeks earlier, live, when we had our 25th Anniversary Concert, held in Bristol's Catholic Cathedral in Clifton. Also, the band were very familiar with this work because they had performed its world premier a few years earlier at a Trombone Society event in Windsor, where the soloist was the Swedish star, Christian Lindberg .

The concerto took 4 hours to record and by the end of the session everyone's nerves were at their end. The soloist was in pursuit of a blemish-free performance from himself and the band. What a Herculean effort from us all - Ian & band! This did put us well behind schedule and all stops had to be pulled out to get all the remaining tracks recorded to a standard we were happy with.

The last piece to be recorded was "Diversions" in the early part of Sunday afternoon. Everyone was absolutely exhausted. Paul Richards, principal cornet was on his last playing job for the band and was affected by exhaustion more than most. He had to hand over the solo cornet playing for this one last piece to his bumper-up - well done to Steve Morgan for a seamless & artistic take over.

Post-Production

Once the recording sessions were over there was an intense period when the printing of sleeves and manufacture of CD's and MCA's took place. The band always tried to get the recording ready for sale 6 weeks after the recording session. This was nearly always achieved.

The recording engineer, in agreement with the band's conductor, would have selected those 'takes' that were perfect and would mark them for editing later. We predominantly used digital editing for our recordings. This involved loading the all 'takes' for a particular piece down onto a Apple Mac PC. Using special editing software the recording engineer was able to splice together the best 'takes' like a surgeon. This was not always possible, as sometimes there were slight differences in tempi or an un-heard background noise that fouled the 'take' and made it unusable.

After the first 'draft' of the editing was complete the conductors were inviting to the editing studio for 'sign-off' and a few additional changes were then made. The final 'go to print' was given by the label's producer.

Mishap? - well almost

Generally, the process of post-production when flawlessly, however, there was one particular panic that's worth telling. The recording of "Le Roi d'Ys" took place in early part of 1991, shortly after the Open win. One track was "California Legend" by the film composer Bruce Broughton (**). This is a lively piece with some very lovely touches, especially in its pleasant middle passage.

The post-production had gone well - editing etc.. The band sounded great. The final master tape was with the producer prior to its release for manufacture. The tape was so good the producer had asked for a test MCA to let others in the band hear the results early. This tape was being to listened by a horn player in the band on a Walkman. Horn player, "This sounds really good". Producer, "Not bad, eh!". Horn player, "Hang on, there's something missing".

The 'something' missing was 2 bars from the middle part of "California". Mr. Broughton wouldn't have noticed - the improper joint was musically & editing-wise perfect. The faulty master tapes were all packaged up to go and the distribution net-work was champing at the bit to get hold of this new release. After a sleepless night the producer raced around to the recording engineer to get hold of the missing bars, then after 2 hours of re-editing, to re-master and send the tapes off to the manufacturer on time. We made it on schedule, put only just.

Sales

The master tapes were sent off to the manufacturers where they were tooled, pressed, packaged, and delivered as a finished product back to the band in double-quick time.

"Le Roi d'Ys" was a particularly good seller. We normally pressed 500 CD copies which in this case were all sold in 7 weeks after release. That disc sold about 1,500 copies in the first 18 months which allowed the band to generate enough revenue to fund more recordings - self perpetuation of the label was achieved. All in all sales for the 5 releases probably ran in excess of 6,000 CD's and 2,500 MCA's with a retail value of almost 80,000. Now, relate this to the costs of production and this label made us a tidy profit.

Sales were mainly done through businesses like Egon & R.Smith & Co., but we also sold quite a few ourselves at concerts. One particular memory goes back to a large and packed hall in northern Holland. Dave Alderman was tending CD sales during the interval and there is a lasting image of him being drowned in a sea of Dutch, all waving large handfuls of bills in his face & demanding CD's in return. We actually had to stop the concert, by extending the interval from 20 to 40 minutes so as to allow everyone to buy what he or she wanted. Some of the audience, for what ever reason, wanted to buy the shirts off our backs!!!! It was really nice, though, with the band selling well over a thousand pounds worth of goods to a well-satisfied group of people.

DIY

The band can be really proud of these recordings on the 'Stanshawe Label'. To have selected the music, prepared the performance, recorded it, managed the post-production, and marketeered it all under their own steam should be commended. Also, many recognise that one or two have become classics - and quite rightly so.

Legacy

Even after the band's demise the label lives on. A posthumous release was made in 2001 of a group of rare recordings and entitled, LEGACY.


Notes:

(*) Shortly after this American gentleman's death his widow very kindly donated the master tape of the recording back to the band. The Sun Life Band Supporters Club brought the recording out on MCA only.

(**) It was nice of Bruce to take the time to write to Peter Wilson at the British Bandsman newspaper to congratulate the band on its performance of his work. No, he didn't hear the join!