Going digital

This post could also easily have been entitled “Why I’ve had nursery rhymes going round and round in my head for the last few days”.  But that’s a bit of a long title.  And it has nothing to do with television.

At the weekend we found ourselves in Paignton, staying overnight with my parents.  It’s not the house I grew up in, but it’s a home from home I’ve learned to love.  ‘Home’, for me, will always be Watcombe Park, in that cosy little 3 bedroom house with the back garden that flooded when it rained and the front garden with the rose bush at the end of the path (but that’s another story).  A great many happy memories were generated in that house, from my earliest childhood memories through to leaving home for university.  And now, nearly 25 years on, with a youngun growing fast, I’m conscious that everything we do has an impact in some way, even if he is only 11 weeks old.  Memories are being made, and as a father I have a duty to ensure that they are good memories.

And so, on this somewhat spontaneous visit, I decided it would be a good opportunity to reclaim a few cassette tapes from my youth, to give Samuel something to listen to.  Or, as the case may be, for me to sing along to until such a time as he can join in.

Top of the list was “Tommy’s Tape”, the product of a Challenge Anneka episode (anyone else remember Anneka Rice?).  The aim was for her to create a tape of nursery rhymes starring celebrities within a weekend to raise money for the premature baby ward at St Thomas’ hospital in London.  It was a tall order, as most of them were, but the result was incredible.  Lots of famous people got involved, all at very short notice, including singers like Beverley Craven and Sonia (both of whom were popular at the time), the girls from Birds of a Feather, Right Said Fred, poetry read by Joanna Lumley and Pam Ayres (to name but a few), a very young Phillip Schofield, and all produced by the legendary George Martin.  The quality, especially given how rushed it must all have been, is incredible.

As a quick aside, I really ought to mention just how excited I was to find that someone had posted a video of that entire episode of Challenge Anneka.  It was 1992, Anneka was wearing a luminous pink and blue jacket, they drove around in her iconic beach buggy, and she talked to her film crew.  Even now, memories are flooding back of watching that programme at home, sat around the television as a family… happy days.

Although I wasn’t able to put my hand on any of the other cassette tapes I remembered from my childhood, Tommy’s Tape surfaced easily, and we promptly popped it into the hifi to listen to it.  Sure enough, it was right there, just as fresh and familiar as if it were still 1992.  Then we listened to it in the car on the way home.  Of course, we don’t have a tape player in our lounge, so I decided to hook my wife’s old walkman up to my computer and transfer the whole thing into MP3 format to preserve it from decay.  That meant listening to it all through again.  Shame.  And then once it was all converted and split into its component tracks, I had to listen to the completed album once more to check that it was playing in iTunes correctly.

For reference, for anyone who might be interested in the technical side of the operation, I plugged the walkman into a USB sound card I have, which provides phono input and output connections, and recorded the source in Audacity (one side at a time), normalised the audio (to make sure it’s all at a suitable volume), saved out as an MP3, and then used Logic Express to split the audio track into per-song chunks which could then be ‘bounced’ out as individual MP3 files.  Those MP3 files were then imported into iTunes, where they were ordered and had their ID3 tags filled in with the appropriate details and album art.  Next time, incidentally, I’ll record straight into Logic Express rather than going via Audactiy, as that turned out to be an unnecessary link in the chain.

I have some favourite tracks, of course.  Timmy Mallet’s rendition of The Laughing Policeman has to be the best I have ever heard.  Beverley Craven’s Hush Little Baby is beautiful, and will undoubtedly make its way onto Samuel’s relaxing nursery playlist.  And I reckon Joanna Lumley’s delightful and expressive performance of Jabberwocky must be definitive; if you know of a better recording, I’d like to hear it.  And the three tracks that have been unrelentingly on my mind the last few days are Sam Brown’s Nellie The Elephant, Julia Fordham’s The Ugly Duckling and Sonia’s Who’s Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf, not because they’re necessarily the best songs ever recorded, but because they’re just so catchy.

So thank you, Anneka, for a superb collection of nursery rhymes and children’s songs, which I am still listening to 18 years on and which, thanks to the joys of technology, is now immortalised in my iTunes collection.  And no, you won’t find this album in the iTunes store, nor even on Amazon I wouldn’t have thought, because it was only produced as a tape, there were only ever 10,000 of them, and it was sold exclusively through WHSmith’s.  So if you want to listen to it, you may just have to come and visit us.

So now I have a collection of other tapes that need converting, now that I’ve successfully transfered this one.  If you need me at all in the next few weeks, I’ll probably be in my study, surrounded by cables, cassette tapes and headphones…

11 thoughts on “Going digital

  1. Your back garden flooded when it rained? By what you’ve been saying recently, it must have been flooded about 90% of the time then! 😉

  2. Hi!,
    Well I really hope i dont seem like a stalker but i have been searching for this cassete for years!!! I had it as a child and had to work out its name by remembering what was on there but as soon as i saw the cover i knew this was the tape i’ve been after. And the fact you’ve burnt it to mp3 is fantastic and can I be cheeky enough to ask for a copy. I am so excited to of found this 🙂 I hope you still have it and are able to send it to me?
    This has to be the best reminder of my childhood i have. I cant wait to hear back from you

    Faith Quickenden

  3. I am lucky to have the Tommy’s tape and I want to convert it to put on my I-pod but not sure how to go about it?

  4. Faith: I’m afraid I’ve never been quite on board with the whole music sharing thing, so I can’t send you a copy of Tommy’s Tape. We paid good money to support that charity, and it would be a bit of a kick in the teeth to deprive them of their royalties. Sorry.

    Steffie: you can buy gadgets that will do the conversion for you, but as I’ve said in the post a tape player connected to your computer will suffice.

  5. Hi,

    When I lived in the UK (am back in the Netherlands now) I played this tape over and over again to my little daughter, but the tape got lost somewhere between the UK and Holland. I sympathize with your comment to Faith that you paid money to support the charity and therefore cannot deprive them of their royalties by just giving the mp3 away. And I paid the money to support them and to enjoy this tape too. But unfortunately the Tommy’s Tape is nowhere to be found anymore. St. Thomas Hospital doesn’t mention the tape anywhere, but I would gladly give them a donation if that would persuade you to share your mp3’s with me. I believe it is more for my sake than for my daughters, but still….

  6. Hi Matthew

    I had a visit today from an old friend and by chance it came up in conversation that she’d recently dug up Tommy’s Tape but upon listening to it, her cassette deck mangled it. Since she’s not internet-savvy I offered to have a look around for a copy, but it’s only available second-hand. I wonder if you would reconsider sharing your MP3s? On the one hand, my friend has already paid for the tape; on the other, it’s unavailable for purchase so royalties won’t be missed out on. What do you think?

  7. I take your point that royalties are no longer an issue – it was a limited run of only 10,000. And I really do understand that people love and appreciate the album. But I’m afraid for me it’s more a matter of principle. I’m not generally in favour of sharing music; this particular case may technically be exempt from the usual reasons, but it blurs the line somewhat, which I don’t think is helpful, so I would rather stick to my principles across the board and not share anything. It’s not that I’m being selfish, I’m just conscious that sharing files is a slippery slope…

  8. Oh, I have been searching for another copy of Tommy’s tape, mine was worn out and was thrown away. It is a masterpiece and my 9 yr old keeps asking about “when she was a baby.” I told her about Tommy’s and hoped to find a copy. I must admit I am jealous but also glad that you have preserved this wonderful collection.

  9. Could you at least put it up on youtube or something? There is no recording anywhere on the web.

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