Daventry has long been a familiar place-name to me from reading the dials of elderly radio sets in childhood; other such fabled locations that I’ve by now visited in person are Hilversum, Athlone, Luxembourg. Following my trip to Daventry (Northants) I now know very well that this is where the BBC sited and built the world’s first long-wave radio transmitter in 1925, centrally enough positioned in England to reach most of the UK’s wireless sets.
The Federation of Recorded Music Societies could hardly have chosen a more appropriate venue for their annual weekend meet-up. But they probably could have chosen a more appropriate speaker than me, a lifetime non-reader of The Gramophone and alas now a non-owner of powerful hifi. I am however a proud supporter of the composers’ label NMC, and I was able to tell the open-minded and gracious audience something about the history of this organisation, and how it had come into existence. Other subjects that found strong common ground were YouTube, with its rather shocking appropriation of a huge amount of copyright recordings; and the importance of good sleeve notes (liner notes, for the young’uns). A particularly deplorable trend we’d all spotted was the reissuing of formerly well-noted discs with no accompanying booklet or even accurate track listings.
I didn’t mention the vexed subject of iTunes (from whom I recently purchased a very classic download of the Archduke Trio labelled ‘Beethoven Piano Concert No 6’) because I’d guessed that most FRMS members would not countenance downloads as being an adequate way to listen to music. And giving my talk, I realised that they were completely right, having the chance to hear several of my own recordings plus a few treasured classics played through a sound system of the highest quality. It was illuminating, a revelation. Downloads are so useful when teaching and researching; and composers of course are always helpfully pinging tracks back and forth to each other. But if we listen this way, we only hear part of the sound, and often a rather dead version of the music. Message to myself, invest in some new speakers (and ideally find a regular space in the day to sit and listen to them.)