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*Unreleased 1960s EMIdisc
   Acetate Recordings

In October 2012, three ten-inch one-sided 45RPM acetate discs came to auction, containing recordings made by Andy for EMI in the 1960s. Two of the three recordings are previously unknown; were never released and have remained unheard for over fifty years, until now...

*What is an Acetate disc?

Image of an acetate disc cutting machine

A 1960s acetate disc cutting machine (also known as a lathe)

Acetate discs were the forerunners of today's blank recordable CDs. These "recordable records" comprised of a thin platter of aluminium sandwiched between two layers of nitrocellulose lacquer that, untouched, were smooth and blank in appearance, but when placed onto a "cutting" machine and an audio signal fed through the cutting "head", grooves were carved out onto the blank surface rendering the disc playable on a conventional record player.

Acetates were unique items, cut in "real-time" (i.e. if the track was three-and-a-half minutes long, that's how long it took to cut the disc) and were used in recording studios, so that personnel involved in the recordings - usually the artist or the producer - could take away the fruits of their labour for review at home. Many did not survive. They were seen as disposable and the discs physically did not stand up to repeated plays like their vinyl counterparts.

EMIdiscs were the standard acetates used by EMI with either handwritten labels or as the case with these particular ones written directly on the disc.

*Restoring the discs

Many acetates from the 1960s are now in a less than desirable state; however these particular discs have survived in reasonably good condition. Present around the rim of each disc is a white powder deposit that is a known problem with old acetate records. The adhesive that binds the acetate to the aluminium leaks out over time and dries into a hard "mould" that is very difficult to remove. If it is on the playing surface, the audio will be affected; however as these tracks were cut to a seven-inch dimension on a 10-inch disc the deposit doesn't encroach onto the playing surface. With some gentle cleaning, 50 years worth of dirt and dust was removed and the tracks were transferred and digitally cleaned up.

*Examining the content of the discs

The actual discs contain three "finished" tracks - not demos or early versions - The Scottish Fiddler, Jock Cameron and The Hawk. The Scottish Fiddler is the same mono mix as heard on the 1963 LP Songs of Scotland whereas more excitingly Jock Cameron and The Hawk have never been released at all. Identifying the recording dates, the writers and the personnel involved in these recordings involves one part detective-work, and a larger part of guess-work.

Dating the recordings is reasonably straightforward. The Scottish Fiddler was released on the 1963 Songs of Scotland LP. Andy was in the studio in the latter half of 1962 recording tracks for this album and as these acetate discs physically share similar batch numbers it is easy to suggest that they were cut with tracks from recording sessions within this time-frame.

Identifying the conductors is more difficult. When listening to songs recorded around this time, the orchestration of these tracks bear more resemblance to those by Ken Thorne or Brian Fahey than those provided by Bernard Ebbinghouse. Adding more to the mix, in the original bunch of acetates in the same handwriting was one by the Frank Cordell Orchestra. Frank Cordell orchestrated Andy's 1961 recording Tunes of Glory - did he have a hand in these? Without documentation this is pure guess-work.

*Jock Cameron

Jock Cameron was written by Andy's friend and colleague, the "Scottish Fiddler" himself, Jock Morgan. We know this as Andy eventually released a version of this in one of his medleys on his Sing a Song of Scotland album in 1979 which is credited to Morgan. This 1962 version is a sheer delight with a strong arrangement and a highly infectious chorus.

*The Hawk

The authorship of the other unreleased track, The Hawk, is more difficult to attribute.

The Hawk that Swoops on High is a retreat march arranged by Pipe Major John Mackay (1860-1925) of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and based on the Gaelic song Creag Ghuanach. Creag Ghuanach (meaning "stately rock") is a small steep craggy hill rising above Creaguaineach Lodge at the head of Loch Treig in the region of Fort William.

The lyrics presented here bear no resemblance to the translated Gaelic original, and one would guess therefore that Andy has again employed his magic formula, and written new lyrics to the MacKay pipe-tune. There seems no reason not to suppose further that Iain MacFadyen may well have provided the arrangement, making this a hitherto unknown Stewart-Grant collaboration. The Michael Sammes Singers are present on this track and the song itself is probably the strongest of the selection here presenting the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Battle of Culloden in rousing fashion.

Why were these three tracks cut to acetate and for whom? The tracks themselves are excellent - were they being considered for single release? Why were two of the tracks never included on any release? We will probably never know, however, the chances of previously unknown, unheard and unreleased tracks surfacing over fifty years after their recording are slim to say the least, yet amazingly, here they are.