The Sound Of The Hound


#10 Fred's plaque

Season 2, Ep. 1

Fred’s back! And he’s got a plaque! The first episode of Series Two of The Sound of the Hound covers the unveiling of a commemorative plaque on the wall of Europe’s first recording studio, opened by Fred Gaisberg in Covent Garden in 1898. The unveiling of the plaque, which is part of the Westminster Council Green Plaque scheme, followed a campaign by Sound of the Hound co-presenter James Hall.

This opening episode was recorded live at the unveiling ceremony in the building at 31 Maiden Lane on 4 December 2019. We hear an introduction by Caryn Tomlinson, the chair of the EMI Archive Trust, who backed the campaign, and a speech by James before legendary drummer Roger Taylor says a few words and pulls the chord to unveil the plaque. That’s right. Rock royalty. The previous Westminster Council commemorative plaque was unveiled on the old GCHQ building by the Queen. We went one better and got a member of Queen.

The words on the plaque are simple: “In August 1898 Fred Gaisberg and The Gramophone Company opened Europe’s first disc recording studio on this site.” But the stories in the building behind it are legion, as we hope we’re showing in this podcast series. The episode continues with co-presenter Dave Holley interviewing attendees of the ceremony with his roving microphone. Dave talks to members of the City of London Phonograph and Gramophone Society, who kindly set up a demonstration of old gramophone machines for guests. It’s the Antiques Roadshow meets Top of the Pops, and it’s fascinating stuff. Also present is animator Jim Le Fevre, who brought along a special Fred Gaisberg edition of his Phonotrope invention, designed specifically for the day. We’re thrilled that Fred’s achievement is now publicly acknowledged for all to see. We’re glad he’s hanging around.

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#14 Feodor Chaliapin

Season 2, Ep. 5
In this episode we look at the epic – and we mean epic – story of Russian bass singer Feodor Chaliapin. The singer’s relationship with Fred spanned decades, continents, wars and revolutions. It is a tale about music but it is also a tale about the extraordinary power of friendship. And spats. It’s a story about spats. And potatoes. And backstage punch-ups. This episode really does have it all. Chaliapin was a big beast of a man with one of the deepest and most expressive voices you can imagine. He was born in the same year as Fred, 1873, but on the other side of the world, in Kazan in Russia, and into poverty. He took to singing as a youngster and, shortly after his 20thbirthday, was performing at the Imperial Opera in St Petersburg. Fred first heard him in 1900 when he was in the city scouting for talent. He immediately made moves to record this “enormous young bass” singer, but Chaliapin would not respond to his overtures. Again and again Fred tried but, despite becoming friends, it wasn’t until 1910 that they signed a contract (with steep terms dictated by the Russian). The recordings were tricky. The thin-skinned Chaliapin would only record at certain times of the day and was partial to raucous vodka-fuelled parties, which one imagines Fred only mildly resisted. A strong bond was formed. Chaliapin sung in front of the British royal family in London but not before the burly bass got involved in a backstage fist fight. He was on the cusp of global fame and untold riches when the First World War broke out. Back in Russia with his family, Chaliapin was thrust back into poverty. He was paid in potatoes and lived in rags. It took a daring and covert mission by Fred to get him out of Russia (with the help of author H.G. Wells) and smuggle him back to England. Here, Chaliapin indulged in his love for fine tailoring and shoes and, of course, singing. Sell-out crowds treated this great, bruised singer as something of a hero. He and Fred went to America (eventful, inevitably) and stayed close until Chaliapin’s death in Paris in 1938. This story has to be heard to be believed. We are joined in this episode once again by Michael Volpe.