The ubiquitous HMV label
O ne Saturday afternoon in 1936 my father, who was a great second-hand shopper, was browsing in a local second-hand goods shop for anything that might ‘look nice’ in our new Bushey Heath house. He had already found a gramophone for our ‘front room’, as we called it, so when he came across a big cardboard box crammed with used gramophone records, 8-inch, 10-inch and 12-inch, there was nothing more to be said. It quickly became ours; he bought it and, balancing it on his bicycle saddle, walked it home and dumped it down with a flourish of deep satisfaction.
I pounced on it and began rifling through it. I found all sorts of things, strange titles that meant absolutely nothing to me, with their funny foreign words on the mixture of brown, blue, green, red, yellow labels.
And then I saw it, the one that was to introduce me to classical music A 10-inch HMV, with its plum-coloured label and the dog with its head titled and an ear to an ancient gramophone loudspeaker. It was the label, the gilt lettering, that caught my eye. It said, ‘Jesu, joy of man’s desiring’. Then it said, ‘Johann Sebastian Bach.’ And the pianist’s name was ‘Dame Myra Hess’. Well, I knew a lot about Jesus. We heard about him every Sunday. I loved Jesus. But this couln’t be the same person; it was somebody called ‘Jesu’. If it was the same Jesus, why wasn’t there an ‘s’ at the end? Curious, I put it on the turntable, wound the spring, released the brake and lowered the needle on the first groove.
A piano began to play, softly. Single notes picked out in a steady rhythm that was nothing like dance band or jazz rhythms but steady, measured, with more notes falling beautifully into place and creating harmony underneath it. I stood there, marvelling. It was like nothing I had ever heard before. A sensation ran through my body. The feeling was indescribable.
I found I had discovered music. The sort of music that has been my joy for nearly 80 years.