The Decca Sound - Secrets of the engineers

In 1984, Mike Gray helped assemble a discography of Decca’s classical releases, giving him access to their engineers and recording logs, and a valuable insight into how their records were made. He reveals the truth about the famous Decca tree and the creation of the label’s unique sound.

Mike Gray’s research into the Decca archives began in 1984, when the editor of the Gramophone classical music magazine, Malcolm Walker, asked him if he would like to work with record collector and discographer Brian Rust, who was creating a Decca discography. “We obtained permission to visit Decca at Belsize Road,” explains Mike, “which is where the studios were and the tape store was, and began looking at tapes on the shelf, which was one way to start! But it turned out to be a much more complicated project because, unlike a place like EMI, Decca was very much seat-of-the-pants in terms of documentation.

“As a result, Malcolm and I began to look at paperwork and there was a lot of it. On the producers’ side – there was something called the Musical Record of Session, which was taken at the session itself with all the takes. Then there was the Log Sheet, which was a summary of all the information that went into tracking, or putting the sequence together for the LP record.

“Then I discovered there was something called the Electrical Record of Session, which was kept completely separate by the engineers, and these almost invariably included a date of session, or at least the first session, plus an indication of the microphones being used, their placement, the tape recorder and tape being used, and who was responsible at the session – that is to say, the initials of the engineer and tape operator.

“Well, those records were particularly fascinating to me and, as I was taking notes on the dates of sessions, I started to take notes on the microphone setups, which in the 1950s were very, very simple.”

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