A fond farewell to Dunelm Records (as we
The bad news is that
Jim Pattison of Dunelm Records is retiring. The good news is that
the label he founded in the early ‘90s is being subsumed into
and that its interesting and varied catalogue will live on.
I first came across
the Dunelm label in late 2004 when I requested for review
a disc of cello music by Drakeford, Williamson and Holmboe. I
was both impressed with the disc and surprised to discover that
Williamson was not the composer I had expected (Malcolm) but Mancunian
John R. Williamson. Since then I have heard several more Dunelm/Williamson
discs encompassing music for woodwind,
and come to regard what Dunelm has done for his music as a major
achievement. A particular favourite is the disc of 24 Housman
songs originally issued in two batches of 12 (review
2) but latterly available on one disc (DRD0257).
Most Dunelm discs
and the associated paperparts and label, have been made to order
by Jim Pattison on CD-R stock but, in the future, those that are
re-issued will be commercially pressed. Certainly the Williamson
discs mentioned should be high on the Divine Art priority list,
along with the series of Erik Chisholm’s piano music which Murray
McLachlan has recorded. This well-known Manchester-based Scottish
pianist has made quite a few records for Dunelm, including a Beethoven
sonata cycle. But Dunelm has also championed up and coming artists,
for example pianist Kathryn Page who has made a splendid recording
of the composer’s piano reduction of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring
with Murray McLachlan (review).
Organist Ronald Frost has also featured frequently on the label
and Jim has recorded several Shostakovich symphonies with the
London Shostakovich Orchestra in live performances. I have not
yet heard these but one of his live recordings I did admire was
a recital given by baritone Stephen Foulkes called Shropshire
Lads (DRD0262). These are all Housman settings, most notably
a cycle by Somervell and three songs by Moeran.
In the middle of 2006
I was trying to arrange a recording of the music of Judith Bailey
and approached Jim. The recording was made in December 2007 and
I have written elsewhere
about the sessions. Suffice it to say here that working with Jim
and his wife Joyce was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. In early
2007, Jim had a heart attack and decided, at the age of 76, it
was time to wind down so this will be one of his last recordings.
It will be issued on Metier (one of Divine Art’s labels) in June.
I asked Jim to provide
some information on how he had set up Dunelm Records. The first
thing he did was to send me two discs – recorded mostly in the
early 1980s and featuring him and his wife Joyce as singers in
a variety of roles, for example from various Gilbert and Sullivan
operettas. I was impressed with their voices, and the discs were
great fun to listen to and extremely well-recorded for the time.
Jim also provided
me with the photograph below and answers to the following questions:
How did you come to be interested in recording music?
have always been fascinated by recorded music and can remember
– when a child of about 5 years of age – having a toy gramophone
and four records, a favourite being “Good morning, merry sunshine!”
As a youngster I was allowed – under adult supervision – to explore
my grandfather’s record collection which was a mixed bag of gospel
songs, vocal selections, the arias from Handel’s “Messiah” and
a real gem, Amelita Galli-Curci singing Una voce poco fa
from “The Barber of Seville” by Rossini. The problem with this
‘78’ was that someone had “taken a bite out of it” so I only heard
the last minute-and-a-half of the aria. It was several years later
before I heard the whole piece.
In 1943, as a reward for gaining a place at the grammar school,
my parents gave me a second-hand portable gramophone (as there
was a war on, they had scoured the salerooms of Hartlepool for
it) and, by diligent saving up of pocket money, I began to build
up my own record collection. I read all that I could about the
history of recording but it was only when Grundig consumer-use-type
tape recorders became available after the 2nd World
War that I was able to experiment with the actual process of recording.
At that time, such tape recordings could be transferred to a shellac-on-aluminium
‘78’ from which several copies could be made by sending off the
‘78’ to EMI for processing. This was the only way of making copies
for standard gramophones at that time.
learned the basics of recording in physics lessons at grammar
school supplemented by brief instruction on a general science
course at university. The practical aspects have been honed over
many years by being willing to “jump in” and work out the details
on location and then, as one text book aptly advises, “Trust your
A big breakthrough came when I was able to afford an Akai D-4000D
stereo open-reel tape recorder that was four track (= two stereo
tracks ‘on each side-pass’) that ran at a speed of 7½ inches per
second (ips). Quality at last! It was on this machine, and working
in the realm of slide/tape programmes on industrial safety (long
before the Health & Safety at Work Act was in place) that
I learned how to edit and “splice” tape.
exciting parts of recording are being on location, meeting the
challenges of each job and producing a limited number of CDs or
cassettes on a bespoke basis. This keeps production costs at a
low level and obviates the need to have a storage facility for
Did you make
recordings of yourself singing?
Improvements in consumer-use cassette recorders incorporating
limiters, if used judiciously, meant that I could record myself
whilst performing. A number of recordings were made in this way
in the 1970s and 80s. Unfortunately, at the beginning of the 90s,
the small 4-channel mixer unit broke down and I was directed to
a company that dealt with professional equipment. Guided by its
excellent technicians, I gradually built up the equipment necessary
to record professional performers and, with the introduction of
CD-recordable blanks, was able to transfer those recordings so
that they could be heard on a CD player. By this time, editing
had become computerised and non-destructive, but the techniques
learned in the razorblade-and-sticky-tape era proved to be invaluable.
How does Joyce
assist you in making recordings?
Now, for location recordings, transport of the equipment is
by estate car. At the venue, it all fits into a purpose-made stand
and the equipment rig is erected on location by both of us. Joyce
makes the connections and, when the microphones are in position,
lays out the sound cables. Hers, too, is the responsibility for
the commissariat and, at the end of the recording session she
dismantles the rig whilst I disconnect and pack up the microphones.
In addition to this work on location Joyce, as a qualified company-secretary
and bookkeeper, has been invaluable in keeping the financial side
of the recording exercises well controlled.
How did Dunelm Records start up?
mid-1991 there were tentative enquiries from potential customers.
The first challenging recording opportunity came on 16 February
1992, when a local group, “The Pennine Singers” asked Jim to record
a CD of a number of its songs. The programme was first issued
on cassette (CD-R blanks at that time being quite expensive) and
entitled “Gathering up the roses”. That it was recorded at all
was amazing; the heating system of the Manchester church in which
the singers had gathered to make the recording had failed completely
and it was freezing cold! Only the recording engineer and his
assistant had thought to bring flasks of hot drinks! Not an entirely
conducive environment in which to make a session recording which
necessitated repetitive singing!
That was the beginning; soon Dunelm Records began to receive invitations
to record at such places as The Malvern Festival. A long association
began with the Royal Holloway Symphony Orchestra – comprising
music students and graduates of the Music Dept of Royal Holloway,
University of London, Egham, Surrey, the Kensington Symphony Orchestra,
and the London Shostakovich Orchestra, followed by Chetham’s School
of Music and St. Ann’s Church, both of these in Central Manchester,
challenges have you faced?
were expected to be able to tackle anything. We recorded an orchestral
and choral concert in Surrey in which the choir sang in Russian;
we recorded the complete cast, with orchestra, for a CD and cassette
to promote a new musical to potential “angels”; as well as works
for bizarre combinations of instruments such as one for soprano,
recorder, harpsichord and percussion! We have coped with intrusive
bird song – particularly starlings and seagulls –, refrigerated
lorries, noisy students, a shooting gallery in the basement of
one venue; buses; aeroplanes; lawn mowers; builders – the list
just goes on and on. Today’s world is a very noisy one for the
recording engineer! However, there are quiet venues too, and it
has been a pleasure to record the organ in The Bridgewater Hall,
Manchester and the piano in the concert hall of The Michael Tippett
Centre at Bath Spa University, Newton St. Loe, Bath.
last 17 years of recording have been full of challenges, some
pitfalls, and many triumphs. Now in our 76th year,
we have a number of physical capability and health problems, not
least of which is the heart attack I suffered in 2007, and so
we believe it is time to move on.
The great thing about
making recordings must be that your work lives on. I for one will
be keeping a close eye on Divine Art’s releases as there are quite
a few Dunelm records still on my wish list.
There are many people
– composers, artists and listeners who have reason to be grateful
to Jim and Joyce Pattison. I am sure I will not be alone
in wishing them a long and happy retirement.