When I was a kid (this would be about 1970), I discovered, in a cupboard at home, a huge open-reel tape recorder, bought by my Dad in the 1950s. I can’t remember the manufacturer but I seem to remember him telling me it was German (or maybe Swiss). The thing was the size of a very large suitcase. It was made of black vinyl-covered wood and it was too heavy for me to carry.
It was a massive treat to get it out and set it up on the bedroom floor. Its valves produced so much heat and so much light that you could do without both while listening. In fact, I remember the thing keeping me warm on cold nights in our badly-heated house. It was engineered like a Motor Torpedo Boat, detailed like a Messerschmitt and was so tough it would certainly have survived a parachute drop. It had a tiny splicing gadget built-in at the front of the machine, so you could edit and repair tapes as you listened.
Dad had quarter-inch tapes recorded mostly from the radio in the 50s. I listened to The Goons, Tony Hancock, Round the Horne, Dylan Thomas, John Betjeman, Lonny Donegan, Tom Lehrer, (and other exotic American comics) plus others I can’t remember now (Tommy Steele? Joyce Grenfel?) and, without a doubt the strangest, Ivor Cutler. Lots of Ivor Cutler. All of this came back to me while watching BBC4’s terrific, affectionate Cutler profile the other night (they’re bound to repeat it). Cutler, perhaps Britain’s strangest and loveliest man, is a sort of gentle Scottish Ginsberg or like one of those happy Swiss Dadaists or your oddest and happiest uncle – but also a proper artist and a great poet. Brilliant.
While you’re at it you’ll probably want to be looking at this obsessive and brilliant museum of old audio gear.