Tag Archives: cassette

August 1st 1975

“Round Nigs recording all afternoon”

It’s this kind of riveting reportage you come here for isn’t it?

There’s no mention of what we were recording of course, but regular EFA70sTRO readers will be all-too familiar with this bereft attention to detail from many of my diaries entries.

So, I don’t know if we were copying albums, recording some kind of band, noises or if it was some vocal rubbish. I’ll leave it up to your imagination dear reader.


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July 26th 1975

“Sold about £480 of stuff at work and got £2 spiv for selling 8-track. Phoned up Lorna!”

The 8-track cartridge was a most peculiar music format. It launched in 1964 and was huge in the USA – mainly the result of the Ford Motor Company installing players in many of its vehicles during the mid-to-late 60’s – but stalled across most of Europe as many were dubious of its so-called advantages.

The cartridge itself was designed – by the Lear Jet corporation of all people – as an “easy-to-use” upgrade of the more popular and recognised reel-to-reel tape decks which had found favour with some audiophiles as a viable alternative to vinyl. The tape inside the cartridge was a continuous loop of ¼-inch oxide-coated plastic, with the songs split across all eight tracks of its surface. The end result however was often very poor sound quality and many album’s songs being split up as the player’s head changed tracks on the tape. Another quirk was that some albums had to have their track listing altered to accommodate the tape length or songs were cut short to fit. In some instances the shorter songs were repeated and/or had instrumental content recorded to make up the time.

Despite the quirks and appalling audio reproduction, USA music fans snapped up both home stereo and boombox models of the 8-track machines, hailing its portability as an advantage. The format took an even more bizarre turn when, in 1970, quadraphonic tapes and machines hit the market so that listeners could now hear poor quality sound from 4 speakers instead of two!

It did admittedly have some fans in Europe, but many more music fans – myself included – had migrated to the FAR simpler and FAR better quality compact cassette as their alternative to vinyl. Plus – a big advantage – you could record on a cassette, something which was impossible to achieve on 8-track cartridges (at least, as far as I know?!).

If I was a betting man, I would say that my “£2 spiv” (“spiv” being a slang term – long forgotten by me – for sales commission at Dixons) was given as a special bonus, the result of me persuading some poor sap to buy an 8-track player when it’s days were most certainly numbered in terms of popularity. I wonder if the buyer has ever forgiven me?

Anyway, emboldened by my increased income I evidently called Lorna to ask her out of a date.


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January 11th 1975

‘Started new Job – GREAT!”

Seems as if I was a little more excited to be at Francis Records than I was on ANY day I ventured to Lancaster & Crook supermarket, doesn’t it?

I really did fall into the new job very quickly too, revelling in the fact that I was now one of ‘those guys’ behind the counter who I admired and envied so much. Suddenly my opinion on music – for whatever it was worth – held some sway. (“Yes sir, have you ever heard Aphrodite’s Child?“)

Do I remember my first ever sale? Somewhat weirdly in what has otherwise been an utter desert of memories, I do. Elton John’s double opus “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road“. Do I remember the price. Reverting to type… nope!

Mrs Francis was a quirky old stick to work for. I guess in time – and certainly when I ended up with my own store – I eventually understood just why she only ever wanted things done her way. Because, ostensibly, her way worked. She was adamant about how every sale had to be processed, but when you’re 17 years old it just seemed ‘petty’.

This was before the days of big (even small) fancy tills. Every sale was written in a simple duplicate book, the top page of every ‘paired twin” duly rubber stamped with Francis Records’ address and phone number. The pages in these books weren’t even self-copying, thus requiring a succession of little sheets of carbon paper.

As well as handwriting the customer’s receipt, Derek and I had to ensure we also wrote the details of any transaction down on a “daily sales sheet”, basically the top page of a writing pad sitting somewhere in the near vicinity. Whilst we were able to conduct cash sales ourselves, any cheque or credit/debit card sale HAD to be handled – at least initially – by Mrs Francis… awkward if she happened not to be around at that very moment. In these circumstances we had to run downstairs and see John in the classical department and ask him to handle the sale. Bizarre, but true. However, cash WAS king so the incidents of credit or cheque sales were (perhaps surprisingly nowadays) admittedly rare.

Customers would come to the counter with their LP requirements sleeved in plastic covers which we would then fill from the masterbags in the racks behind us. People would have to ASK for singles (45’s) as there were scant few ‘picture sleeves’ in those days for customers to browse through. Cassettes were a little more problematical as the racks required a key to open them.. and Mrs Francis had the key. Again, if she wasn’t around John had to be summoned from downstairs.

Customers’ purchases would be placed in a 13″ or 8″ square paper bag advertising the Francis Records name. If we sold a poster we would wrap & tape a bag around it by way of some strange ‘proof of purchase’.

Mrs Francis DID teach me – from this early age – the ‘right and proper’ way to answer a telephone call in a manner that made the caller feel respected. It’s something I never forgot and I used pretty much the same style of greeting 11 years later when I opened my own shop.

One thing that I did of my accord – maybe at my Dad’s suggestion? – was wearing a tie to work. Whilst Mrs Francis would have been quite happy for me to wear more casual clothes, I actually spivved myself up a little each week, preferring decent trousers, a crisply ironed shirt (thanks Mum!) and, yes (the ultimate establishment icon), a tie.

Little did I know that this day in 1975 would represent the very beginning what eventually turned out to be an almost 22 year ‘romance’ with the music (and/or video) industry.

So, a belated THANK YOU Mrs Francis for giving me this early opportunity. Not just for kick-starting my eventual career but for handing me that inate ability that all record shop workers have for being somewhat dismissive and sneering of other people’s music collections!

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May 3rd 1973

“Gra back at school – bought 3 cassettes off him. Went up his ouse after skool – saw his cassette player… bloody sod!”

A-ha… so, the mystery of what I was going to buy off of Gra is finally solved.

As I have mentioned before Gra used to travel the world with his Dad, and often brought back dodgy bootleg cassettes from (I think it was) Hong Kong.

I evidently bought three of them, failing to mention what titles I added to my collection, not realising that without those names my online blog some 36 years later would seem VERY boring indeed! How dare me!

As is now, Hong Kong was also home to the ‘dodgy’ knock-off hi-fi sellers of the world, so he must also have brought back a new cassette deck – of which I appeared just a tad jealous.

Unlikely that the player was a Nakamichi as shown in the photo above. More like a knockoff brand like Nookamoochi or Nagasaki.

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March 12th 1973

“On way home bought Audio-Magnetic C-90 cassette – 54p. Borrowed machinehead – deep purple, in evng taped it”

I scribbled about Deep Purple’s “Machine Head” a few weeks ago.

It would appear that before I committed it to regular listening I had to save up 54p for an “Audio-Magnetic” cassette. I think its fair to say that my 54p was probably NOT buying me the best quality tape known to man; “audio magnetic” sounding suspiciously like one of those ‘knock off’ brands one might have found at the local petrol station?!

Meanwhile, my activities may have aroused suspicion up in parliament if the accompanying logo is anything to go by? *grin*

(Actually the logo – and phrase “Home Taping is Killing Music” – did not appear until the 1980’s… somewhat ironically a period when the music industry sold MORE product than it ever had before!)

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January 26th 1973

“Got Melody Maker” / “Rob gave me back Fragile + another cassette to record Waves” / “Record player went up the wank – Dad fixed it for me”

“Up the wank”

Now, THERE’s a phrase I haven’t heard/used in a loooooooooooong time.

I can’t understand why.

Oh, wait… yes I can.

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January 16th 1973

“2nd Maths Mock o’level – BLOODY hard” / “After two weeks of solid revision, had to do piles of copying up” / “Got Quid for Focus ticket” / “Got Tarkus tape back from Precision”

A diary entry that has made me both remember AND forget things in equal quantities.

Firstly, conveniently forgetting that my Maths mock was BLOODY hard (please note swearing, spelled correctly, for absolute emphasis), my brain is somehow farting over the phrase “copying up”

Don’t get me wrong, I recognise the phrase “copying up” from the days at school, I just cannot – for the life of me – remember what it relates to exactly. As several of my old schoolchums might be reading this… maybe they can shed a little light on it?

The thing I CAN remember – perhaps surprisingly – is with regards to that comment about getting ELP’s Tarkus tape back from Precision. (I must have had a faulty one or something?)

The compact cassette began life in the mid-60’s, designed by Philips, primarily/initially for dictation and personal recording use. It was introduced to replace the unwieldy, huge and non-portable reel-to-reel tape recorders which had been popular for some time. The cassette was therefore an early example of product miniaturisation as a result of consumer demand, something which still exists to this day. People only have to notice how small their mobile/cell phones have become in the the past 5 or 6 years.

In 1971 three things happened almost simultaneously that propelled the cassette into the forefront of commercial recordings and allow it to take on the LP’s dominance.

The first was that the 3M company rejigged the transport mechanism inside the tape shells, making the tape run cleaner and with less flutter.

The second thing was the introduction of chromium dioxide (Cr02)tapes, giving much improved and longer-lasting quality.

The third, however, was the most revolutionary.

Tapes invariably gave off a hissing sound when played back, the result of the tape moving across the machine’s heads. In 1966 an American scientist named Ray Dolby invented a professional noise reduction system for recording studios that all but eliminated that tape hiss. That system was known as “Dolby A”. Several years later he perfected a second version – Dolby B – that made high fidelity (hi-fi) a reality on home tape machines and cassettes.

The combination of all these factors – together with the sheer portability of the format – made the cassette market take off like a proverbial rocket. (However, it would be 1979, and the advent of the Sony Walkman that would take the format all the way to the moon)

I am digressing to tell the story of the cassette, but here’s the thing I CAN remember from this period in the seventies.

Lord, then Sir, Lew Grade

Record labels did NOT release their own tapes in th UK. Instead of manufacturing the cassette versions of their best selling albums, many licensed them out to Precision Tapes, a subsidiary of Sir Lew Grade’s massive ITC Entertainment Group. (Digressing a little:- Lew Grade was the man wholly responsible for bringing  shows like The Prisoner, The Saint, Thunderbirds and The Muppets to our TV screens!)

So, although the cassettes would carry the same artwork, credits and content, the sales and distribution of those tapes would be handled by Precision.

At least until the record manufacturers had tooled up their plants to churn out tapes alongside vinyl LP’s.

So, my “Tarkus” cassette was a duffer and I obviously had to return it to Precision – rather than Manticore/Island Records – for a replacement. The date being prior to the whole “sale of goods act” – which came into force in 1979 – that meant I could have merely returned the tape to the retailer for a new non-faulty one.

You know, when I actually remember something as intrinsic as this, I get genuinely excited.

(What’s the betting I have it all wrong?)

In one of life’s “chaos theories”, I would later work for the video offshoot of Precision Tapes – for a period of about two months in 1980. Worst job ever.

Hmmmn…. have I written anything about ELP’s “Tarkus”? ….. checks EFA70’sTRO search facility…. Oh…. I see I haven’t…..


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