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Tony Wales: A Sussex small town folk song recorder

On November 11th 2018, Sean Goddard spoke at the Folk Song Conference held at Cecil Sharp House about the folk song recording activities of Tony Wales in Sussex from 1956 to 1964.

The text below is an amended version of Sean’s text made specifically for publication on the Sussex Traditions website. It is hope that the full conference paper will be published in due course which will include the full bibliographical details. Details of availability will be added here when it is available.

Sean Goddard presenting, while Steve Roud, Vice-chair of Sussex Tradition looks on. Photo – Derek Schofield

Tony Wales was born on New Year’s Eve 1924, Tony lived almost his entire life in Horsham, and developed an interest in folk music and local history in the 1950s. Tony died in 2002.
One of Tony’s first jobs was working at Andrew’s Record store in the 1950s. Here he was able to explore his musical tastes and he especially became fond of Traditional Jazz, followed by Blues with performers such as Big Bill Broonzy and Josh White.
Tony was an Internationalist and a believer in seeing the good in people. Tony became involved with the Horsham branch of the International Friendship League and that gave him contact with people from overseas and differing cultures. The International Friendship League organised social gatherings and occasionally guests would perform their country’s own music and songs. Realising the importance of the music, in 1956 Tony purchased a portable clockwork tape recorder, a Butoba Export, to record this music.
Tony had become interested in local history, especially if it had a folkloric slant. Listening to BBC programmes such as As I Roved Out presented by Peter Kennedy that broadcasted local songs and stories, Tony learnt that people a generation or two older offered the best opportunities.

Tony considered that Horsham and the surrounding area may offer similar opportunities. Tony and his parents were members of Horsham’s Folk Dance Club as were fellow Horsham residents Charlie and Marjorie Potter.

Marjorie Potter

Charlie Potter with one of his mouth organs

Tony’s mother Minnie was a singer of songs as were Charlie and Marjorie, and they were obvious candidates for Tony to try out his initial skills as a collector. In June 1956 he collected songs from Charlie and Marjorie. These recordings were successful, and in 1957 he went further afield and recorded George Townshend at Lewes and in 1958 George Attrill at Fittleworth, while in 1960 he went over the border and recorded Louie Fuller/Saunders at Lingfield, Surrey.

Click here to hear Marjorie and Charlie singing, I’m Seventeen Come Sunday recorded by Tony Wales in 1956: – https://sussextraditions.org/record/seventeen-come-sunday-9/

In 1956, Tony with local guitarist Peter Baxter recorded the master tape for his record Sussex Folksongs and Ballads that would be issued in 1957 by New York based Folkways.

Tony Wales and Peter Baxter recording the Folkways album. Photo from Clive Bennett.

The record contained nineteen songs:-

  • Five songs he had collected from the Potter’s.
  • Three from his mother.
  • Two from 78s of Burwash singer, Albert Richardson.
  • Three he learnt as a boy.
  • The remaining seven from various publications.

Click here to see a photograph of a young Tony Wales, listen to Tony singing excerpts from Sussex Folksongs and Ballads, and how to purchase the whole album:-
https://folkways.si.edu/tony-wales/sussex-folk-songs-and-ballads/celtic-world/music/album/smithsonian

Tony admits in the sleeve notes that they were not sung in the traditional style.

Tony was aware that singers like his mother and the Potter’s had learnt songs from their families, and there were others who as part of the folk revival had learnt songs from books or via the media from the radio and records. Some like Tony had learnt in both ways. In 1958 Tony started the Horsham Songswappers folk club, the first organised folk song club in Sussex in the hope that he could bring all types together. It did work. In the next few years, regular attendees at the Songswappers included Bob Blake, George Belton and William Agate as traditional singers and musicians, while Dave Toye, Clive Bennett and Harry Mousdell represented revival singers.

 

The Beachcombers (Clive Bennett, Valerie and Terry Scarlett) performing at the Horsham Folk Festival, 1961. Photo from Clive Bennett

Tony, along with others, organised two Horsham Folk Festivals in 1961 and 1962 held in the Albion Hall that included revival and traditional singers. Tony recorded some of the singers and to ensure that good recordings would be made, Tony invested in a new tape-recorder, a Ferrograph Series 2 which was used by the BBC. Recordings of Cyril Phillips, Bob Blake, Scan Tester and George Townshend were made at the Festival and subsequently appeared on the EFDSS Songs and Music of the Sussex Weald tape issued in 1966.

Click here to listen to Cyril Phillips singing, Oi come from the country me name it is Giles recorded at the Horsham Folk Festival in 1961:-
https://sussextraditions.org/record/farmer-giles-4/

Cyril Phillips – photo from Vic Smith

Tony recorded singers within easy reach of Horsham or those that appeared at the Horsham folk festivals. On one collecting trip when he visited Tinker Smith he was accompanied by Ken Stubbs. Many of his singers were recorded by other collectors including Ken Stubbs, Mervyn Plunkett, Brian Matthews and Mike Yates.

In 1961, Tony took the role of Folk Shop Sales Manager at the English Folk Dance and Song Society, where he later became Press and Publications Officer. During his time there, Tony was responsible for the production of many EFDSS publications and their content.

We Wunt be Druv. Photo, Sean Goddard.

In the early 1970s the EFDSS under Tony’s guidance developed joint ventures with commercial publishers such as Stainer and Bell, and Chappell. The arrangement was the EFDSS would supply content while the publishers covered production and distribution costs, profits being shared.

Through this scheme, Tony was able to publish his first book in 1976, We Wunt be Druv, a mixture of songs and folklore of Sussex, much of it originating from recordings made during the 1950s and 60s. This venture was slightly different from the other books in this scheme in that the EFDSS profits would be shared equally with Tony. From 1963 through until 1978, Tony edited the magazine, English Dance and Song and a number of Sussex songs with biographical articles would appear in the magazine.

Tony would use these songs and other folkloric material in his numerous Sussex publications. Between 1976 and 2000, Tony wrote over 20 publications and edited others, but they lacked rigorous scholarship. Tony wrote for a popular audience.

Tony also home-produced publications such as The Folk Bag and Field and Furrow. Originally produced on a Gestetner Cyclograph-type machine and later on a photocopier and these he   circulated amongst his friends.

The Tapes.

I bought the collection of about 80 tapes from Tony Wales in 1991 for £40, including the Ferrograph tape recorder and microphone. Tony was downsizing as he was moving to Worthing. One stipulation of the sale was that in due course they would be made available to others. Sadly, this has taken over twenty-five years. The recordings that I have played today and many others recorded by Tony are available on the Sussex Traditions website.

Why did he sell them to me? There was a connection between Tony and my Dad, John. Although they lived 25 miles from each other, they had become friends during the 1950s with an interest in folklore and song. In the late 1970s, I went to the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library and listened to some recordings made by Tony, and when I told my Dad he said, why don’t you contact Tony and find out more. So, I did. Later, Tony ran a second-hand book business from his house, Field and Furrow, specialising in folklore and related subjects. I bought some books from him and that kept us in contact.

I suppose, he felt: “He’s a young man interested in the same type of things I am. He’ll keep the tapes safe and know what to do with them in the future.”

The Recordings.

Tony was an amateur recorder of folklore working essentially on his own and providing his own finance. The recordings were all made within easy distance of Horsham, travelling by bus or bicycle. Tony was not particularly technologically minded, sometimes resulting in poor microphone placement that makes some recordings less than ideal. At times he is slow off the mark in pressing the record button and either misses the first few words or there is a judder at the beginning. At other times, the recording is recorded at 9.5cm a second and the frequency response suffers.

These recordings were made to be an aide memoir for inclusion in possible later writings. At the time of recording, they were not necessarily viewed for broadcasting or for wider distribution. That need came later.

Throughout his life, Tony continued to record people’s memories, but also other events and sounds that interested him. Examples included, Latin masses, the annual Veteran Car Run from London to Brighton, his own singing experiments often with Terry Potter, fairground organs and radio programmes.

All these recordings were made on reel-to-reel tape-recorders. Tony brought his first tape recorder in 1956, a stylish up to date German-made Butoba Export portable machine. This had a clockwork motor that could run for about 15 minutes or so at 19cms (centimetres a second) and about 30 minutes at 9.5cms and then would need to be re-wound. It could record at 19cms and 9.5cms. Due to the set-up, 19cms was more stable. The clockwork motor uses a centrifugal governor and kept a stable speed until the tension in the springs drops below the level required to maintain the correct speed, after which the speed starts to drop. It is possible to wind the clockwork mechanism during recording to give additional recording time.

A Butoba Export. Photo, Ricard Wanderlöf.

The frequency range of a Butoba recording at 19cms rolled off at around 13000 khz and reduces to 5000khz at 9.5cms. In general, the faster the recording speed, the better the frequency response resulting in better recordings. Butoba did not make their own microphones but recommended suitable microphones made by other companies. One of the microphones recommended by Butoba was the MD7 and made by the German company Laboratorium Wennebostel, a predecessor of Sennheiser and it is this microphone that Tony used for his recordings as it is listed as an accessory in the manual. This microphone is described as a type designed for speech and dictation with an advertised frequency response from 300 Hz and dropping off at 6000 kHz. Each microphone unit might achieve frequencies beyond this range. It is likely at this time the characteristics of available and suitable microphones limited the recording frequency and therefore the resulting sound, rather than the tape recorder especially if recording at 19cms per second.

 

A Laboratorium Wennebostel MD7. Photo, Sean Goddard.

The maximum spool size used on a Butoba Export was 13cm. The spool size does not on its own define the recording time at a given speed. Tapes were available in different thicknesses with corresponding different playing times. With Standard play tape (the thickest), you can get 183m on a 12.5cm reel, which gives just over 15 minutes of playing time at 19.5cms. The next thickness would be Long play tape, which results in the playing time of 22 1/2 minutes. After that, Double play tape which is half the thickness of Standard play tape and consequently would play for 30 minutes at 19cm per second. There were even thinner tapes too, but they were not used by Tony.

George Attrill taken from ‘We Wunt Be Druv’.

The photo of George Atrill outside his house in Fittleworth. Click here to listen to George Atrill singing, The Nutting Girl. This was recorded in 1958 on the Butoba Export and is one of Tony’s earliest recordings:-

https://sussextraditions.org/record/nutting-girl-the/

Don’t get too excited! The Butoba Export still required batteries or an external power supply.  It would require a 1.5 volt battery to power the valve heaters and a 100 volt supply for powering the amplifier circuitry. Batteries such as these would have been readily available as they were used for portable radios but could be quite heavy.

Butoba’s Exports were quite heavy, weighing in at 9.5kg, plus any batteries, microphone and tape. All recordings made between 1956 and c.1960 were made on this machine. For comparison the Butoba Export was heavier than the EMI Midget used by the BBC which weighed 6.6kg and more expensive, and it was also heavier than the portable Uher 4000 series that became the standard portable reel-reel recorded was introduced in 1961 and only weighed 3kg.

This was potentially an expensive outlay for Tony. In Germany, Butoba’s were priced at DM 750 and as the exchange rate was set at DM 11.71 to the pound, it would have cost about £65 new without a microphone, tape or any taxes.

Tony brought a Ferrograph Series 2 in 1961 which was a British-made tape-recorder and used extensively by recording studios, the BBC and similar organisations. These machines weighed 23kgs and were not really portable. The advantages of the Ferrograph’s were that they used 17.75cm diameter tape spools allowing extended recording times, used regular mains supply, had an improved frequency range and you could sit on it when it was not in use!

Digitization.

The process of digitization can introduce new characteristics into the recording. The type of tape machine used to play the tape for digitization may increase or reduce certain frequencies across the whole spectrum. While any noise reduction tools used such as hum or hiss reduction or other equalisation effects will affect the sound.

Using a Sony TC-766-2 semi-pro tape machine Jim Ward transferred the tapes for use by Sussex Traditions. Digitising all these tapes in real time would have involved a huge amount of time so in order to speed up the process all the tapes were recorded in to the computer at 19 cm/s regardless of their original recording speed and then treated as stereo tapes producing a file with track two in reverse. Using Soundforge software the file was split into two mono tracks and track two was reversed so it played normally. Soundforge was used to correct the tape speed.

A Sony TC-766-3. Photo, Jim Ward.

Division of files into tracks then took place. That is each section of the file that has been recorded in the same place at the same time and has the same room ambience, background noise, often mains hum etc. Again using ‘Soundforge’ noise reduction software attempts were made to locate a small section of this general noise containing no wanted signal. By highlighting this, noise reduction was attempted over the whole file. This had to be done with a very light touch or you can end up with strange sounds. Further noise enhancements took place, such as editing out of unwanted material such as banging doors, adjusting volume levels where possible and generally getting everything into a listenable state.

Tony not only recorded singers, but musicians also. William Agate lived at Rusper, near Horsham and played the mouthorgan and tambourine. You can listen to William playing Cock of the North by clicking here. Tony must have been really enjoying himself listening to William, if you listen carefully you can hear him humming along!

https://sussextraditions.org/record/cock-of-the-north-2/

William Agate Playing at the Horsham Folk Festival, 1961. Photo, Clive Bennett.

We are fortunate that enthusiastic tape recordists such as Tony were able to self-fund their activities in the 1950s and 60s in small geographical areas. They have left us with an interesting, if sometimes flawed record of activities that took place at that time. Much has also been written about the songs and the people who sang them, but little has been written about the recording equipment used. That’s an area for further research.

Sean Goddard

24 November 2018