Recording History the British Record Industry, 1888-1931
Nicholas, Jeremy, Gramophone
The British Record Industry, 1888-1931
By Peter Martland
Scarecrow Press, HB, 408pp, 49.95 [pounds sterling]
ISBN 978-0-8108-8252-2 (ebook 978-0-8108-8253-9)
Dr Martland of Pembroke College, Cambridge, began his career as an economic historian. As an author he performs an unusual double act by writing books about the recording industry and the British secret intelligence community. His first foray into the former, following a PhD thesis on the business history of the Gramophone Company from 1897 to 1918, was a book commissioned to celebrate the centenary of EMI: Since Records Began: EMI--The First 100 Years (Batsford: 1997). Based on both these earlier works, Martland's new book takes the story forwards to 1931, the year in which financial circumstance forced the Gramophone Company to merge with its greatest rival, the Columbia Graphophone Company, while also charting the rise and fall of many other early competitors. It is, to quote the book's blurb, 'a work of economic and cultural history that draws on a vast range of quantitative data [and] surveys the commercial and business activities of the British record industry like no other volume has done before'--or, I would add, is ever likely to do in the future.
Amid the 'quantitative data' (a phrase that deftly characterises the book's appeal), we read of the pioneer movers and shakers, the cunning, the ambitious and the enterprising; and the evolution of the cylinder recording, sales of which far outstripped their disc equivalent in Britain until the whole trade collapsed in 1908. The narrative is dominated, understandably, by the development of the British recording industry (the author has had full access to EMI's extensive archives).
Dr Martland is nothing if not thorough and the ready availability of such a wealth of detailed information makes it an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the business side of the recording industry. Any future rival volume on the subject will be redundant. Its litany of takeovers, patents, buyouts and mergers will make stimulating bedtime reading for some; for others it will be like ploughing through the book of Ezra (chapter 8, say). …