The Denis Clixby Recordings Archive

Denis Clixby
Denis Clixby was a St. Ives hotelier and avid Folk Music enthusiast. He was a regular attendee at Pipers Folk Club from its glory days with Brenda Wootton and John the Fish in The Great Western Hotel, Penzance through its many transformations and varied locations such as The London Inn, The Trencrom Revellers Hut, The Gulval Meadhouse, until its dying days at The Old Quay House in Hayle. Denis recorded each and every club session he attended, firstly on a reel to reel machine and then on a cassette machine and in doing so documented all the performances that took place, from itinerant singers, who came along on club nights whilst on holiday, to the Club Resident Singers and all the other folk enthusiasts who came regularly each week to sing and to hear folk music.

He also recorded the so-called ‘names’ i.e. the Guest Artistes who travelled the national circuit performing all over the country and somehow was oddly tolerated by these people even though it was in all likelihood a breach of their recording contracts with whatever Recording Label or Company they were signed to. Such was the casual attitude of the performers and of the times and it wouldn’t be unfair to state that the laid back hippy ethos certainly held sway out of the eyes and ears of the label managers.

Thus it was that a comprehensive recordings archive was brought into being. Denis sadly died on December 05th 1999 and about a week or so after John the Fish had officiated at Denis’ funeral, he had a call from Denis’ nephew(s) at The Belyars, in St Ives where Denis had lived, to say that the place was being cleared prior to a sale and if the tapes weren’t collected within the next few days they would have to go to the dump! John, who presented a weekly folk show on BBC Radio Cornwall, knew this mustn’t happen so he arranged to collect them. As he stated in a letter to me recently, ‘my only knowledge of recording tape, gleaned from the BBC, was that it was fragile and had a limited life and needed to be kept in a stable environment – all I was able to do at that time was to house them – I considered contacting Adrian Tuddingham, who had the knowledge and the equipment to work with them, but John Alderslade said that he could arrange the finance and he knew of someone who could take on the task.’ So, eventually, John Alderslade drove down from his home in Wiltshire and collected the archive.

As John reported to me in a recent letter; he first took them to Keith Gould, in Newton Abbott, the chap who had bought the entire Sentinel Recording Studio Master Tapes. He said he would transfer the reel to reel tapes to Compact Disc. Keith had also told him that the tapes were already ‘difficult to play’ due to their age and the fact that there was no lubricant left on them. He also said that only one pass of the heads would be possible before they were gone. John visited Eddie Upton at Montague (?) House who said he would obtain funding from The E.F.D.S.S. to complete the project. None of this came to anything so then John Alderslade drove back to Newton Abbott, collected the tapes and brought them back to his home. John Alderslade contacted several archive companies and all said that the cost of retrieving the contents would be prohibitive. So, sadly although plans were made and funding sought, they never came to fruition and the recordings lingered, slowly ageing and therefore naturally decaying, in storage for some thirty odd years.

After some discussions on Facebook and by email with all the involved parties: Rupert White, author of Folk in Cornwall, Richard Prest, of Kernow Beat, John the Fish, John Alderslade and myself and other folk enthusiasts, musicians and performers, the recordings then came into my possession.

This came about because I elected to carry out the reviewing and salvage attempts in my home Recording Studio free of charge because I wanted to save what I thought of as a valuable archive not only of Pipers Folk Club and the West of Cornwall’s Folk Music Scene but also as an important and informative local social history. The archive promised performances from many local artists who were still performing locally to this day. I wanted to salvage it too because I knew that without any intervention the tapes would slowly decay to the point where the material would be lost in any case. I also saw this as an opportunity for me to make a contribution and as some return for my many happy years as a folk performer in Pipers Folk Club and other clubs throughout the County.

I must record my thanks here firstly to John the Fish for his timely rescue, to John Alderslade for his care and stewardship of the archive and to Richard Prest of Kernow Beat who diligently catalogued both the Cassette Tapes and the Reel To Reel tapes which has made my subsequent work with the archive much easier.

The Archive.  

The Denis Clixby Recordings Archive consisted of two large cardboard boxes one containing 84 cassettes the other containing 41 reels of tapes of mixed brands and sizes.

The Cassette Tapes.  

Of the 84 cassettes in the Archive 50 are of performances either by named Guest Artistes i.e. the recording touring Artists booked by the clubs and supported by local folk club musicians and performers. I already had three others in my possession borrowed from Denis but never returned which brought the total to 53. The remaining 31 Cassettes are self made compilations, some radio broadcasts, i.e. Opera, Jazz, Light Entertainment etc., and some copies from vinyl L.P. releases by various Artistes. Two are of a pantomime staged by The Trencrom Revellers and the performance recorded by Denis in 1971! Some are pre-recorded Album type products and some of these bear no relation to Pipers Folk Club whatsoever i.e. The Dubliners. Some however do and there are cassette Album releases by the likes of Jon Betmead et al. The cassettes were labelled by Denis but, sadly, over time some of these labels have become rather illegible, mixed up and confused and therefore somewhat useless as the cassette contents often don’t correspond with the labels.

Working Practice.

I decided to divide the relevant cassettes into two groups; one being local performers and/or Guests at the Pipers Folk Club and one being Concerts held in St. Ives Guildhall, probably as part of The St. Ives September Festival. As these latter tapes were of signed recording artists, though supported by local artists, I felt there might be some copyright issues when it came to the final decision on what to do with the digitised archive.

I then decided to test one cassette to see if there would be a problem with oxide shedding on playback as this might then entail heat treatment to fix the oxide but would also render the tapes to a one-pass condition. I started with cassette #14 as it was labelled as a performance by me. I thought that if this material were lost it would not constitute a great loss to the archive. I was delighted to find the cassette played without serious hindrance as this spoke well for the salvaging of the other cassettes. I then set up a routine whereby each cassette was inspected for physical condition, what the label purported it to be and which part of the Archive it belonged to. The work entailed playing and reviewing and documenting the entire contents, i.e. both sides of each cassette, into a MS Word Document one for each cassette as the audio is concurrently recorded in real time onto a Hard Disk Drive therefore making a digital copy. The actual contents i.e. performer and song, spoken references, location and date if possible were also notated. There have been a few ‘hidden’ i.e. not documented, surprises such as Brenda Wootton with Al Fenn (of Decameron fame) in a New Year’s Eve Concert! Another undocumented find were so-called ‘floor spot’ sets from myself and Larry Law!

At the present time I have reviewed and salvaged all of the relevant cassettes and so far have found only two to be irrecoverable by this method. It might be possible to recover these tapes with heat treatment but as this is prohibitively expensive I question its worth as the material, in my opinion, is not that important and other performances by the artists concerned are already salvaged. This cassette part of the Archive salvage and digitisation was completed in January 2013. The material has been saved in two separate folders: one on my main PC the other as a back up on an external HDD.

The Reel To Reel Tapes.

This work was begun in February 2013. My very grateful thanks go to Rupert White for the generous, long term loan of his Akai 4000D Reel to Reel Tape recording machine.

It was soon clear that the Reel To Reel tapes would be more of a challenge. There are two types of Reel To Reel tapes.

Club night performances. Mostly from Guest Artists, i.e. Alex Campbell, Steve Tilston, John Betmead etc., some from Club Residents, i.e. myself, Niall Timmins, John the Fish and, rarely, some from regular contributors or so-called itinerant floor singers i.e. Pete Reynolds, Peter Vastl. Some of these recordings were made in lowest speed available and could not be reviewed or saved due to equipment limitations.

  1. Compilation Tapes on which Dennis has ‘decanted’ material from other tapes making dedicated reels of several performances, i.e. myself, Dick Reynolds, John the Fish, etc.
  2. Denis recorded on all four available tracks to save tape and expense and thus each 90 minute tape can have up to four times that amount of material. This material is therefore in mono and at best only fair in terms of quality.
  3. Some of the tapes appear to be the original of the material contained in the Cassette Archive, or vice-versa. Some had been recorded over in parts. Some of the labels bear no relation to the tape’s contents. Reels which were not labelled or loose, i.e. unboxed, were not reviewed. Similarly reels which were unrelated to Pipers Folk Club recordings or Guildhall Concerts were not reviewed either.

Where it was thought that the oxide on the tapes would be shedding due to age and storage conditions and that sophisticated heat treatment might be required, there was in fact little trouble with this. The tapes played back very well in this respect and very little oxide loss was seen. There were instances of heavy ‘crosstalk’ on some reels, i.e. where a performance on an adjacent track breaks through the material being monitored and saved. This was not able to be corrected and so was unavoidable. 

Working Practice.

I approached this work in the same manner as I did the Cassette Archive, i.e. beginning with a reel labelled with my name and containing my musical contributions over the years since I considered any loss of this material due to tape condition would not be too serious a matter. There were two tracks of over 90 minutes so it was both time consuming and labour intensive as, and highly frustratingly, I also had to remake countless failed splices of both leader tape and other inter reel repairs Denis himself had made.

It soon became clear that, due to the extreme generality of Denis’ personally selected contributors and the quality and age of these Reel To Reel recordings, the time and effort required to salvage the whole Reel to Reel Archive would be counter productive.

Knowing the tapes were in such a condition that they could be reviewed further at a later date if required I decided to salvage only that material I considered to be of value both historically and artistically and further decided to prioritise and save recordings made by artists who:

  1.  Had achieved National fame and who had since died. (i.e. Alex Campbell, Tony Capstick)
  2. Still had a major ‘presence’ in the National Folk Scene (i.e. Steve Tilston, Mike Silver, Johnny Coppin)
  3. Had an historical influence on Pipers Folk Club. (i.e. John the Fish. Brenda Wootton)
  4. Had shown interest/involvement in the Archive. (J. Alderslade)
  5. Had been regular stalwarts of the local Folk Scene who had since died.

I decided against saving material already well represented in the Cassette Archive. I also decided against saving material from recording artists.

In making the above decisions I was aware that these recordings were made on low quality recording devices and that much better recordings of at least some of the Guest Artists were still available in their back catalogue of professionally recorded releases.

After asking for opinions from the other interested parties, it was generally agreed that a realistic price for making copies of these recordings might be £10.00 per CD. I sought other opinions on this and now reiterate for clarity here that I have no intention of seeking recompense of any sort for the digitisation of this material. It was always my intention to salvage and reclaim this material for the public benefit and as a posthumous tribute to Denis and his stalwart efforts, a man who I knew and valued as a friend. I do however think I might be allowed to seek recovery of my expenses. I do not seek to make financial profit from this project but I don’t want to lose money unnecessarily either. Bringing this often confused, patchy and at times with ‘muddy’ sound quality material to a better state is labour intensive and involves a lot of time. When it comes to processing, the material has to be cleaned, edited to remove unwanted passages i.e. long winded tuning and periods of silence, false starts etc. The performances often need pitch shifting too, due to discrepancies between the various recording/playback machines. Some editing, cutting and pasting is often required before final mastering – all of which has to be done in real time. Add in raw materials, blank MDs and recordable CDs, sleeve design and printing, postage and packaging, and the costs soon mount up.

Copies of any these performances can be cleaned, edited and processed and made available on CD or other preferred media to interested parties at a not for profit nominal sum (£10.00 per item) to cover costs outlined above.

I plan further documentation and back up of the audio as mpeg files. These will be unprocessed, unedited, simple true copies i.e. warts and all, of everything on each particular cassette. In time, when all the documentation etc., is complete, I plan to offer the digitised Archive to St. Ives Archives for posterity.

Current list of all materials salvaged so far:

Cassettes.  

  1. Ray Austin,
  2. Johnny Coppin,
  3. Bob Rundle,
  4. Niall Timmins & Friends,
  5. Niall Timmins Country Life, Terry Mike, Aime, Bob Rundle.
  6. Falmouth 3 (No Artists listed)
  7. Dave Paskett & Jon Betmead
  8. L.P. of The Battlefields Band (not saved)
  9. L.P. of The Battlefields Band (not saved)
  10. Roy Bailey.
  11. Tony Capstick Sat. ‘79.
  12. Alex (Atterson) Fri. ’79.
  13. Lowe & Foley (Pipers)
  14. Mic McCreadie Pipers Gig.
  15. Brenda ’79.
  16. Kemysk (sp?) & Rhombus.
  17. Bernie Possy (sp?)
  18. Tape lists ‘London Boys’ from L.P. (not saved)
  19. Club and personal tracks, no artists listed, only song titles.
  20. Sheila Hearne (Hearle?)
  21. Skiffle.
  22. Mac McKenna.
  23. Dave Treharne.
  24. Tannahill Weavers at Pipers Club.
  25. McColville/Halpin/Stroupe 1981
  26. Earl Okin & Adrian O’Reilly (Guildhall Sept ’81.
  27. Gwehagen, etc. Murf
  28. Chris Flegg.
  29. Grossman/Rembourn/Graham (Guildhall ’79)
  30. Tannahill Weavers Pantomime Jan ’71. (Just the pantomime: Trencrom Revellers)
  31. ‘Radio worth having’ – Adrian O’Reilly.
  32. Illegible.
  33. The Chieftains (Guildhall Sept ‘82 #01.
  34. The Chieftains (Guildhall Sept ‘82 #02.
  35. Kicking Mule.
  36. Gypsum.
  37. Brenda.
  38. Derek Brimstone Sat ‘78/Falmouth 2
  39. Chris Flegg ‘79
  40. Chris Flegg (Sunday)
  41. Creepin’ Jane.
  42. Roger Brookes.
  43. Stefan Grossman
  44. The Chieftains (Guildhall Sept ’82.
  45. Dave Swarbrick & Friends (Guildhall Sept ‘81.
  46. Dave Paskett/Jon Betmead 2
  47. Grossman/Renbourn/Graham (Guildhall ‘79.
  48. Bonheime 1-2 (not saved)
  49. Bonheime 3-4 (not saved)
  50. Adrian O’Reilly
  51. Noel Murphy.
  52. Noel Murphy.
  53. Noel Murphy.

 

Reel To Reel Archive Salvaged:  

To date, from the Reel to Reel Archive I have salvaged – but not processed – performances from:

  1. Dick Reynolds,
  2. John Alderslade,
  3. Franklin, (Probably Tony)
  4. Mike Sagar,
  5. John the Fish,
  6. Jake Walton,
  7. Bill Clifton,
  8. Alex Campbell,
  9. Steve Tilston,
  10. Tony Rose,
  11. Rob Bartlett,
  12. Wizz Jones,
  13. Mic McCreadie,
  14. Clive Palmer,
  15. Clive Palmer & Bob Devereux,
  16. Four Fifths Jug Band,
  17. Roger Brooks,
  18. Vernon Rose,
  19. Peter Bond & Vernon Rose,
  20. Adrian O’Reilly,
  21. Derek Brimstone,
  22. Tony Capstick,
  23. Bert Jansch, Polly Bolton, (not Jacquie McShee), and Martin Jenkins (Guildhall Concert ‘78).

Mic McCreadie

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