Memorable Companies (North East)

These are the ones I remember and had dealings with from supplying them to buying off them.

Firstly, Northern Sound Services Ltd (the original company) were on the Quayside in Newcastle and the Lucas brothers (Derek & Colin) ran the company, As well as sound equipment they were the Bell and Howell service centre for 16mm projectors. They were big users of Clarke and Smith equipment also supplied Tanberg product and were also into video at an early stage with Shibaden equipment They had a massive presence in all of the schools in the area, as well as the sound system they looked after the projectors and I believe did some stage lighting as well.

Their favourite way of doing a school sound system was to offer radio distribution as well as PA so multi-core cables ran all over the buildings and in classrooms each loudspeaker had a volume control and a rotary selector for the channels and with each channel having its own amplifier a pretty large rack was needed. They mostly used Clark and Smith equipment.

Think what the cost of such an installation now would be now with double star quad cables being used throughout and every class room covered as well as the circulation areas and halls etc.

A lasting memory of them was Derek who smoked and would always have a lit cigarette in his mouth without knocking off the ash he seemed to have the knack of having the longest ash I have ever seen, if you missed that bit at least the ash was then down the front of his jacket!

They had a recording studio as well although I do not know what type of recordings they did, a Roy Hartnell was the studio engineer and also a film division, which I think, made medical films.

Eventually as projector business diminished and schools did not want or indeed could afford their systems they eventually went into receivership. (1949 - 1984?) The limited company was left dormant for many years until I eventually purchased it.

The other company in Newcastle was G L Morton in Carliol Square. They I believe had been around since the 30’s and as well as sound equipment supplies and installation had a recording studio.
The studio was started by Roy Hartnell (ex Northern Sound Services) who gave it the name ‘Mortonsound)

Mortonsound was the label of the recording studio.   It appears to have served as an outlet for recordings made by Club / Cabaret / Amateur acts, issuing large numbers of records in small pressings.  Its main claim to fame seems to be that it released the first single by Punk band Blitzkrieg Bop, 'Let's Go' (MTN-3172) in July 1977.  The single brought the band to the attention of Lightning Records; they re-recorded it for that company, and the results were issued as GIL-504 in December of that same year.
This is a reprint of a letter from Roy Hartnell to the Newcastle Chronicle

With regard to this article in last week's Evening Chronicle, your reader was requiring information regarding Mortonsound recording Studio in Oxford Street, Newcastle.
Although I can't recall the particular musicians on his 78rpm discs, I can provide some information on Mortonsound.
I was employed as studio engineer by Northern Sound services in Broad Chare (off the Quayside) and I left to join G L Morton and Company, for the express purpose of opening a recording studio, which I named Mortonsound.
I took a quantity of shares in the new company. When the studio opened, it was only four-track tape, from which I would cut a 78rpm vinyl disc to pass to the customer. In the case of a number of discs being required, I would produce an oversized master vinyl, and a quantity of pressed shellac discs would be made in London, by British Homophone. At that time, I was also a performing musician with "The Barnstormers" country dance band, and travelled all over the country to perform. George Morton was very keen to do most of the sessions, but unfortunately he passed away many years ago.
I did many location sessions at the local nightclubs, and the City Hall.
Your reader may be interested to know, that I still get phone calls from various parts of the world, enquiring if I still have access to any original master discs, but regrettably, they were never retained.
Equipment used in the studio was a Phillips four-track tape recorder. The microphones consisted of various types such as AKG Phillips, Shure, etc. The disc cutter was MSS, exactly as used by the BBC. Hope that this may be of some interest”
I think I can just remember them being in Oxford Street but mainly in Carliol Square and the person I knew there was a Frank Caffrey and after they closed down he continued in the industry as Straightline Electricals and the disc cutter mentioned above was in his possession as was most of the studio equipment.

These two companies were the epitome of sound system suppliers and installers, they, when I first started probably got the majority of work in the area and were difficult to beat primarily because of their reputations as good companies who had been around a long time.

The other Newcastle Company I came across was Windows who whilst having a shop in the Central Arcade (still there) in Newcastle operated from a service depot they had Westgate road and they installed mostly background music systems in pubs etc.

The next companies are in no particular order of when they started or when I got to know them and if I have missed any or got things wrong let me know.

They were part of BVC group or British Vacuum Cleaner (goblin etc), there were two parts of the company one did time control and time recorders whilst the other was for public address equipment. They manufactured both the time recorders and the public address equipment.

They were based in Birtley. Jim Bolam was the manager and they had engineers on both the time and sound sides of the business.

When I first got to know them they were in the early stages of producing their new ‘transistor’ amplifier range and I considered Jim a superb salesman as he got a tremendous amount of business from the booming working men’s club market. It always amazed me when I came across one of his supplied systems which was normally just the PA system for announcements, bingo and back ground music that he had sold them a rack system and not a little one! at least six foot high and always had a turntable included (probably never used).

He never undersold a club system!

At this time I was introduced to an ex Magneta employee, Terry Ryan. In my view probably far too clever for his own good and way ahead of his time, he was working out of a factory unit in Cramlington and as I got to know him found he worked most unusual hours usually when everyone else had gone home. He started his own company (Vigilant Electronics) and was based up a narrow back street near Marlborough Crescent bus station. Over many years of knowing him I had the privilege to see systems he developed and manufactured that were ahead of anyone in the market particularly in CCTV and video conferencing his only failure was he didn’t market himself, his capability or his products as well as could be.

Let me get rid of a number of companies who had offices in the area in one quick statement, in this area as in most places throughout England national companies had a presence and whilst most tended to be telephone equipment based all did some PA installations, the main ones were Telephone Rentals, Dictograph (taken over by TR), Reliance, Thorn Ericson, Blick and Modern Telephones (Shipton), each having their own range of equipment usually manufactured by other firms and badged for them.

On a side matter most of these companies were reliant on rental contracts, the base period was 14 years! I came across quite a few systems that were under contract for 28 years by the simple matter of having the customer resign a contract and of course ‘sold’ contracts on the allegedly low quarterly rental. But multiply by 56 to find out how much you were really paying and you never owned the equipment, nice business if you can get it and for a long time they did.

Futers and Wright Associates, I first came across them in an old Co-op shop in amongst houses in Seaton Delaval and started to supply them with public address equipment.

They had some great lads working for them, Jimmy Moore, Gordon Reay, Jim Gallon (ex Northern Sound Services), Ian Byrom, and Az Mohamed amongst them. Dave Futers was one of the owners who I came into regular contact with, the other partner was John Wright but he was rarely seen as he was working I believe down in Manchester. Dave also had a full time job in the control room for British Gas.

The main part of there business was the supply of stage sound and lighting systems. They worked with many local bands with Lindisfarne probably being the most successful.

Over a period of time they developed the industrial sound side of the business with eventually Jimmy Moore and Gordon Reay taking the hire side of the business under the ‘Nitelites’ name. They eventually finished up in North Shields, Dave had sold his interests in the company that had become a limited entity by them and they went into liquidation in December 2010

I must mention some if the ‘characters’ in the area without whom life would have been boring’. Larger than life, Ron Whitfield (Whitfield Communications – Cramlington), started his company late in life after working for companies such as Simplex Time Recorders and Reliance Systems (Sales). He was always welcome and was a cheery happy person, whilst he was first to admit that he wasn’t the most highly trained engineer he, by the simple expedient of using only high quality and reliable equipment minimized his technical needs. He only used TOA public address equipment and Aiphone for the supermarket intercoms he supplied.

Ron Chapman has traded under many names, Sinatra Sound, Quality Sound, QSL and Sound Systems. His market was the workingmen’s club public address system, he ‘cribbed’ a Telephone Rentals (TR) contract and offered clubs the system on a low quarterly rental, and of course he used TR’s terms of a 14-year contract!! . This was pretty watertight and he had a good business for many years. I regularly went to clubs who required a new system and as soon as I saw what they had I advised them they would be under contract, a fact very few knew!

Brian Minnican (BEPA Sound of Sunderland) was an ex BT engineer and had a large hire stock of horn loudspeakers (supplied by us) a fully kitted our ‘enormous’ Mercedes van complete with trailer with temporary seating for events.

A number of companies dealt with what at the time was a very buoyant part of the North East social life, that of the workingmen’s club. Now just a distant memory are the days of full clubs, a concert room with ‘turns’ most nights of the week, bingo at every opportunity, a bell ringing throughout the cub for last orders etc, the ‘committee’, the organist and drummer.

My analogy of the clubs were that they were large businesses with d high turnovers ran by mostly well meaning men with no knowledge whatsoever about running a business, I remember talking with the liquidator at a club in receivership and I described what in my experience was the format of a committee. One intelligent person (normally secretary or treasurer or chairman, his sidekick was half intelligent and the remaining 10 were ‘idiots’ with the guarantee that within this category was the resident expert on whatever you were trying to sell them. His response, after some thought was to totally agree and that he had found the same in most clubs he dealt with, of course when he was involved it was generally too late!

I made a decision very early on in my career after on one occurrence with a club committee, never to attend a committee meeting and I found that this in no way effected the club business we got.

However, there were a number of companies who managed to take large amounts of money out of clubs, a sharp salesman versus a committee on a Sunday morning with him plying them with their drink meant things were sold at very high prices, possibly poor quality, no service backup, wrong stuff for the job etc etc.

I must now deviate slightly to recount a club story, I cannot remember the year but it was the Federation Brewery show at Gateshead. Nitelites took a stand and we arranged with TOA for some of their new stage equipment to be at the show and they sent up David Brown to help on the stand.

Let me describe the show, firstly it took place in the Fed Brewery garage, this was just a very big shed. Probably about 50 exhibitors were there, they were all the suppliers to the clubs and ranged form public address, club furniture and club services as well as all the drinks companies, opposite us was the Teachers whisky staff with representatives in gowns and mortars, adjacent to that was the Guinness stand. Next to us was a company that did ‘cocktails’ they were sold in pubs and clubs in small bottles but for the show they were ‘on draught’

Each club received a dozen tickets so mini buses were the order of the day, the show was over 2 days with two sessions per day, afternoon and evening. As you entered the ‘garage’ immediately on the left and right sides were the ‘Fed’ bars serving their draught beers. A further point to make is that none of us had ever been to one of these events before and more importantly from the exhibition visitors point of view ALL drinks were FREE!!!

We duly stood by the stand, Nitelites, David Brown and myself as the opening time arrived; the doors swung open the crowds surged forward. Half turned right and the other half left leaving the exhibition devoid of any visitors, they did not imerge from the fed bars for over an hour and whilst they only served half’s there was no limit as to the number of drinks that could get.

By the time they started to slowly imerge from the bars and make there way down the isles they did not stop sampling and the drunken voices requesting glass after glass of the brightly colored draught cocktails at the stand next to ours whilst attempting to keep steady was something I still chuckle about.

And then of course was the communication problem when they did show some interest in our products.

The company that provided the PA system and also had a stand and did the announcements also caused amusement, they didn’t have a chime microphone so every announcement was preceded by the words ‘bing bong:

A final note was at the end of the session, which was only 2 or 3 hours long, the final ‘bing bong; told them it was time to leave, I had a walk out to the main door, I can only describe the sight as something you would see in the aftermath of a riot or battle. St Johns Ambulance were in attendance and were needed, as the fresh air hit the exiting committee members the alcohol took effect, they were propped against walls, sitting on the ground or being manhandled into the awaiting buses. They left, we I think were shell shocked but had a couple of hours before the next lot arrived, were they any better – NO

An interesting piece of public address equipment was shown at the exhibition, a public address system designed and built specifically for the club market.

It comprised of input unit with the volume controls and an amplifier, what was its great secret, all volume controls were set in the 12 o’clock position and hidden presets adjusted the levels as required. Then, although the concert chairman could adjust input and output levels if it didn’t work he only had to set all controls to the 12 o’clock position to get the system running correctly!.

The ‘amplifier’ was in fact 3 amps in one box, 100 watts for the bar and the same for the lounge and 200 watts for the concert room. A lot for the bar you may think, but when connected to a small bell wire and run over a considerable distance from the concert chairman’s console to the bar or lounge you certainly did not get 100 watts! And that is on the assumption that the device could deliver that amount of power, I did see inside one of the amplifiers and when a product makes extensive use of ‘bread boards’ for the circuit boards one does wonder somewhat about the products capabilities.

I had the pleasure, if that is the word of going to another Fed show in the Gateshead Leisure Centre many many years later, there was not as much drink but they still managed to get in a state. And these were the people running the workingmen’s clubs!

One common trait with companies that aimed at the club market was to constantly moan that clubs wouldn’t pay the money so cheap was the order of the day. Clubs rate highly in having examples of what not to do with PA and indeed other piece of equipment.

Why have balanced microphones when unbalanced will do, even if there are long mic cable runs involved, what’s a bit of noise! Why have all the amplifiers together when you can put them in each area and link together, this is guaranteed to demonstrate earth loops and different earth potentials, and course we al know the simple way to cure this, just disconnect mains earths till it stops! I and probably most engineers reading this will have seen the 13 amp plug with the earth wire coming out the back !!

The club market also was good for large screen projectors, the original CRT devices were big, heavy and difficult to set up so clubs were supplied with LCD projectors. Great – NO whilst smaller and cheaper they did not like nicotine smoke and many manufactures would not cover warranty on units installed in clubs, Also very few clubs were told how expensive replacement bulbs were and how few hours they worked but of course they were ‘cheaper’ initially, fortunately the no smoking laws now make this a problem of the past.

To be continued

Please note
I will be constantly adding to these listings so if you can suggest others to add or have information please let me know.

Companies & people to research and add

George Harrison
Wearside Electronics