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Thursday, 29 July 2021

The First Car Radio


I have ‘doctored’ this story to make it less technical. Cars haven’t always had radios. One evening, in 1929, two young men named William Lear and Elmer Wavering drove their girlfriends to a lookout point high above the Mississippi River town of Quincy, Illinois, to watch the sunset.  It was a romantic night to be sure, but one of the women observed that it would be even nicer if they could listen to music in the car.

Lear and Wavering liked the idea. Both men had tinkered with radios (Lear was a radio operator in the Navy during World War I) and it wasn't long before they were taking apart a home radio and trying to get it to work in a car.   But it wasn't easy: automobiles have ignition switches, generators, spark plugs, and other electrical equipment that generate noisy interference, making it nearly impossible to listen to the radio with the engine running.

One by one, Lear and Wavering identified and eliminated each source of electrical interference. When they finally got their radio to work, they took it to a radio convention in Chicago. There they met Paul Galvin of the Galvin   Manufacturing Corporation. He made a product called a "battery eliminator", a device that allowed battery-powered radios to run on household AC current. Galvin needed a new product to manufacture. When he met Lear and Wavering at the radio convention, he had found it. He believed that mass-produced, affordable car radios had the potential to become a huge business.

Lear and Wavering set up shop in Galvin's factory and when they perfected their first radio, they installed it in his Studebaker. Then Galvin went to a local banker to apply for a loan. Thinking it might sweeten the deal, he had his men install a radio in the banker's Packard. Good idea, but it didn't work – thirty minutes after the installation, the car caught fire and they didn't get the loan. Galvin didn't give up. He drove his Studebaker nearly 800 miles to Atlantic City to show off the radio at the 1930 Radio Manufacturers Association convention. Unable to afford a booth, he parked his car outside the convention hall and cranked up the radio so that passing conventioneers could hear it.  That idea worked; he got enough orders to put the radio into production. 

WHAT'S IN A NAME? That first production model was called the 5T71. Galvin decided he needed to come up with something a little catchier. 

In those days many companies in the phonograph and radio businesses used the suffix "ola" for their names - Radiola, Columbiola, and Victrola were three of the biggest. Galvin decided to do the same thing, and since his radio was intended for use in a motor vehicle, he decided to call it the Motorola.   But even with the name change, the radio still had problems: When Motorola went on sale in 1930, it cost about $110 uninstalled, at a time when you could buy a brand-new car for $650, and the country was sliding into the Great Depression. By that measure, a radio for a new car would cost about $10,000 (£7,200) today. 

In 1930, it took two men several days to install a car radio; the dashboard had to be taken apart so that the receiver and a single speaker could be installed and the ceiling had to be cut open to install the aerial. These early radios ran on their own batteries, not on the car battery, so holes had to be cut into the floorboard to accommodate them. The installation manual had eight complete diagrams and 28 pages of instructions. Selling complicated car radios that cost 20 percent of the price of a brand-new car wouldn't have been easy in the best of times, let alone during the Great Depression. Galvin lost money in 1930 and struggled for a couple of years after that. But things picked up in 1933 when Ford began offering Motorola's pre-installed at the factory. In 1934 they got another boost when Galvin struck a deal with B.F.Goodrich tyre company to sell and install them in its chain of USA tyre stores. 

By then the price of the radio, with installation included, had dropped to $55. The Motorola car radio was off and running. The name of the company was changed from Galvin Manufacturing to "Motorola" in 1947. In the meantime, Galvin continued to develop new uses for car radios. In 1940 he developed the first Walkiw-Talkie for the U.S. Army.  A lot of the communications technologies that we take for granted today were born in Motorola labs in the years that followed World War II. In 1947 they came out with the first television for under $200. In 1956 the company introduced the world's first pager; in 1969 came the radio and television equipment that was used to broadcast Neil Armstrong's first steps on the Moon. In 1973 it invented the world's first handheld cellular phone.  Motorola became one of the largest cell phone manufacturers in the world. And it all started with the car radio. 

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO the two men who installed the first radio in Paul Galvin's car?  Elmer Wavering and William Lear, ended up taking very different paths in life. Wavering stayed with Motorola. In the 1950's he helped change the automobile experience again when he developed the first automotive alternator, replacing inefficient and unreliable generators. The invention led to such luxuries as power windows, power seats, and, eventually, air-conditioning. 

Lear also continued inventing. He held more than 150 patents. Remember the eight-track tape player? Lear invented that. But what he's really famous for are his contributions to the field of aviation. He invented radio direction finders for planes, aided in the invention of the autopilot, designed the first fully automatic aircraft landing system, and in 1963 introduced his most famous invention of all, the Lear Jet, the world's first mass-produced, affordable business jet. Not bad for someone who dropped out of school early! 

I'm listening to Janis Joplin's heartfelt version of Me and Bobby McGee. Listen here.

Sunday, 25 July 2021

Robert Wyatt and "O'Caroline"


Robert Wyatt, born 1945, is a retired English musician. He was a founding member of the influential bands Soft Machine and Matching Mole in the Canterbury music scene. He initially played drums and sang before becoming paraplegic after a drunken fall from a window in 1973. He abandoned band work and began a forty-year solo career exploring other instruments. Wyatt's work became increasingly interpretative, collaborative and politicised from the mid 1970s onwards.

His solo music has covered a particularly individual musical terrain ranging from covers of pop singles to shifting amorphous song collections drawing on elements of jazz, folk and nursery rhyme. Wyatt retired from his music career in 2014, stating "there is a pride in stopping, I don’t want the music to go off”

I think his music is very special, sometimes very moving. If you listen to nothing else here listen to “O’Caroline” by Matching Mole. I have said here before that I like sad songs and this always makes me stop and listen.

Shipbuilding” was composed with Robert Wyatt in mind by Clive Langer and lyrics by Elvis Costello for whom it was a hit single. Listen here.

His cover of “I’m a Believer” is very different to The Monkee’s version. Listen here

Heaps of Sheeps” is a hypnotic up tempo rock anthem. Listen here.

O’Caroline” by Matching Mole. Written and sung by Robert.  Achingly sad…Listen here.

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

The Wisdom of Margaret Mead

Years ago, the great anthropologist Margaret Mead, was asked by a student what she considered to be the first sign of civilization in a culture. The student expected Mead to talk about fishhooks or clay pots or grinding stones.
But no. Mead said that the first sign of civilization in an ancient culture was a femur (thighbone) that had been broken and then healed. Mead explained that in the animal kingdom, if you break your leg, you die. You cannot run from danger, get to the river for a drink or hunt for food. You are meat for prowling beasts. No animal survives a broken leg long enough for the bone to heal.
“A broken femur that has healed is evidence that someone has taken time to stay with the one who fell, has bound up the wound, has carried the person to safety and has tended the person through recovery. Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts”, Mead said.
We are at our best when we serve others. Let's be civilized.

I have been listening to the late Etta James singing Stormy Weather. It's a great song and I find Etta's version as good as or even better than Ella Fitzgerald's. You can hear it here. Go on, treat yourself!

Thursday, 8 April 2021

The World’s Most Popular Brands

World’s most popular brands by country. It’s not a surprise that overall Google, Netflix, Amazon & eBay are the world’s most popular brands. I was surprised that Ikea was fifth! Here are some individual countries top brands:

Australia EBAY


China BAI DU (Their censored version of Google)

France & Spain AMAZON


Israel EBAY

Laos (and Niger) MICROSOFT

Nordic countries: Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway & Iceland IKEA

Portugal IKEA

Republic of Ireland NETFLIX

Russia & most former Soviet States plus most of Africa GOOGLE

South Korea NETFLIX    (North Korea NO INFORMATION)

United States AMAZON

United Kingdom EBAY

Virtually all of Central & South America NETFLIX

I suspect that the following places didn’t have many respondents!

French Southern & Antarctic Lands COCO COLA

Heard Island & McDonald Islands HENNESSY


Pitcairn Islands PEPSI (Population c.50)

South Georgia & The South Sandwich Islands PAMPERS (what?!)

Tokelau FORD

Vatican AUDI

I'm listening to the evergreen song Man of Constant Sorrow by Jackson Browne & Sharron Shannon. Listen here!

Monday, 15 March 2021

Painting of the Month (97) March 2021: Early Cinema Posters

I have always been a keen admirer of Poster Art. It is often dismissed as illustration as opposed to Fine Art, which is true. Fine art exists for it's own sake ('Art for art's sake'; it has no utilitarian function), whereas illustration serves a specific purpose, usually commercial or educational.  However that does not exclude beauty or being able to derive pleasure from Poster Art. I have previously Blogged about London Transport poster art - another source of great enjoyment and also female poster artists. Here are some of the best early cinema posters with minimal comment. They are purely for enjoyment!

1913, In the style of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema I would say.

1914, With the great strap-line:
"Upton Sinclair's wonderful story of the beef packing industry"!

1917, Theda Bara got there before Elizabeth Taylor

1917, Reminiscent of Victorian moral painting

Mary Pickford was 29 in 1921 when this was made.
I think it might be considered somewhat dubious today!

1923, Who knew that Rin Tin Tin was
around nearly a century ago?
I'm listening to Victoria de Los Angeles singing the most famous of Canteloube's collection of Shepherd Songs of the Auvergne. You can listen to Bailero here!It's been a life-long pleasure for me.

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

The New World and Spin-Offs

I think the largo, (second movement), of Dvorak's New World Symphony is one of the most beautiful and memorable melodies in the classical repertoire. Apparently other's have felt this way too, as I demonstrate below. Dvorak completed the work in the United States in 1893. It's formal title is Symphony No. 9 in E minor, "From the New World", Op. 95, B. 178.

Firstly you can listen to an extract from second movement played by the Dublin Philharmonic here.

Then, my very favourite, the spiritual song "Going Home", which borrows the melody, sung here by the stunning Norwegian soprano Sissel.

Now a song from 1968 by the Scottish group A New Generation (who later became The Sullivan Brothers). Their song, which faithfully reproduces the opening chords from Dvorak is called "Smokey Blues Away". Click here to listen.

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Peter Gabriel's Solsbury Hill

Peter Gabriel was, along with Mike Rutherford and others, one of the founders of Genesis, the British progressive rock group. Later they were joined by Phil Collins, who took over vocals after Peter Gabriel left to go solo. I was never especially keen on their music but Peter's solo output was much more interesting to me. Solsbury Hill was, in my opinion, his very best creation. Here's the story. The song is about a spiritual experience that Peter had on Little Solsbury Hill in Somerset, England. Gabriel has said that the song is "about being prepared to lose what you have for what you might get, or what you are for what you might be. It's about letting go", not just the leaving of Genesis but of letting go in general. The opening lyric perfectly sets the scene for the story: 

Climbing up on Solsbury Hill

I could see the city light

Wind was blowing, time stood still 

Eagle flew out of the night

He was something to observe

Came in close, I heard a voice

Standing stretching every nerve

I had to listen, had no choice

But the song is also very interesting musically. It is in 7/4 time, which is very rare in popular music and a difficult tempo which helps to convey the idea of 'struggle' within the song. There is the sense that a beat is missing at the end of every bar. When the song has been covered by other artists, for instance Erasure, they have recorded it in the easier 4/4 time thus losing something essential from the song.

The pulse of the song is the constant drumbeat which is like a heartbeat. The sound is actually made by a single drumstick beating on a telephone book! The time-signature works because of the acoustic guitar riffs played by Lou Reed and Steve Hunter, the guitarist from Alice Cooper's band. The four notes played on flute just before the opening lyrics are played by Peter Gabriel himself.

There's not really a chorus in the song but the last line of each of the three refrains is the nearest thing to it. It's always a variation of "My heart going boom, boom, boom. Son, he said, grab your things I've come to take you home."

It's a song that demands to be listened to. Watch this YouTube video which is a joyful montage of different live recordings over the years showing his consistent high quality of work.

If you would like to listen to the original recording, it's HERE

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

Painting of the Month (96) Jan 2021: Renoir


So many of Renoir's paintings have, for me, that rare quality that makes me want to be in them. They depict scenes of such rural, idyllic bliss where the characters appear to be lost in some kind of other hedonistic world. He was a leading Impressionist painter and this picture was very well received at the Impressionist exhibition of 1882. The location is at a restaurant in a hotel in Chatou on the Seine outside of Paris.
Look at the dreamy expressions on the faces of the ladies in this painting as though it was all the same face:

The painting combines elements of still life, portraiture and landscape with a strong diagonal divide provided by the railing, which is still evident in the present day view, below.
I'm listening to John Williams playing the lovely Tango in D by Albeniz. I'm a great admirer of Albeniz. You can listen to it here.

Thursday, 17 December 2020

My Sad Captains by Thom Gunn

My Sad Captains

By Thom Gunn, English, 1929 - 2004

One by one they appear in
the darkness: a few friends, and   
a few with historical
names. How late they start to shine!   
but before they fade they stand   
perfectly embodied, all

the past lapping them like a   
cloak of chaos. They were men   
who, I thought, lived only to   
renew the wasteful force they   
spent with each hot convulsion.   
They remind me, distant now.

True, they are not at rest yet, 
but now that they are indeed   
apart, winnowed from failures, 
they withdraw to an orbit
and turn with disinterested   
hard energy, like the stars.

 Source: Collected Poems (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1994)

 “One by one they appear in the darkness”. In this rather unusual poem Thom Gunn is comparing friends and figures from history to the stars in the sky. They still shine there but they don’t serve any useful purpose. The “sad captains” can no longer have any meaningful role attributed to them. The title is taken from Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra:

“Let’s have one other gaudy night. Call to me

All my sad captains. Fill our bowls once more.

Let’s mock the midnight bell.”

But why captains? Captains could be those who steer us to our destinations as the leader of the ship. It might also be referring to these people as having once been seen as role models. There is some evidence that Gunn had in mind those such as Elvis Presley, Marlon Brando, James Dean, Caravaggio and even Napoleon Bonaparte. Quite a mix! He was an admirer of Jean-Paul Sartre which chimes in with the existentialist attitude in this poem.

I'm listening to the original version of Walk Away RenĂ©e as written and recorded by The Left Banke in 1966! Listen here.

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

2020: My Year on Spotify

I have been using the Music App Spotify for about 12 years, even before it was generally available to the public, (through a friend in the music industry). They have just sent me a list of the 100 songs that I played most in the last 12 months. 

At number TEN is Thirteen by Big Star.  Very underrated group featuring Chris Bell. Listen here.

NINE is The Kiss by Judee Sill, Listen here. Fabulous, tragic, artist. Blog post coming.

EIGHT is A Man of Constant Sorrow by Sharon Shannon with Jackson Browne. Listen here. She invited guests on her Galway Girl album.

SEVEN is And Your Bird Can Sing by The Beatles. Listen here.

SIX is It's All Over Now Baby Blue by Bob Dylan. Listen here.

FIVE is City Girls by J J Cale. Listen here. Passed away in 2013.

FOUR is Stormy Weather by Etta James. Listen here. Even beats Ella!

THREE is Memphis by Faces. Listen here.

TWO is You Ain't Going Nowhere by Bob Dylan. Listen here.

And at NUMBER ONE is Roll on Babe by Ronnie Lane. Listen here.

I have dozens of favourite songs and this list isn't necessarily the top ten just those I have played the most. My next post will be a selection from the remaining 90 tunes!

Friday, 27 November 2020

Painting of the Month (95) November 2020: Cave Painting

CAVE ART, generally meaning the paintings and engravings found in caves and shelters dating back to the Ice Age, roughly between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago, is generally considered to have a symbolic or religious function, sometimes both. The exact meanings of the images remain unknown, but some experts think they may have been created within the framework of shamanic beliefs and practices. A shaman would have been someone believed to have access to good and evil spirits.

Most cave art consists of paintings made with either red or black pigment made from iron oxide, manganese oxide and charcoal and about 400 are known of in several European countries and also in Indonesia. The majority of the paintings (and some sculptures) depict mostly animals and a few

humans. Sometimes a head or genitalia are shown and also outlines of hands. Birds and fish were rarely depicted.These works were not made by ‘cavemen’ although they are usually found in caves, but by modern humans Homo sapiens, anatomically identical to us today.

Recent studies have been made of the numerous geometric signs, though the specific types vary based on the time period in which the cave was painted and the cave’s location. A remarkable realisation was that a range of 32 different signs repeated themselves over and over across the entire European continent over a period of thirty thousand years! That means that the symbols must have been meaningful to the people who were using them because of the replication. It has also been hypothesised that this use of symbols led to the creation of written languages.

These discoveries have overturned the conventional timeline of humans and art pushing back the ‘first art’ to pre-human times in Europe and suggesting there may have been a continuation that came ‘out of Africa’!

I'm listening to Van Morrison's Into the Mystic. It's a truly magical song and an ever-lasting joy! Listen here.

"It's too late to stop now..." 

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Albert Shamplin Centenary

We have just celebrated the centenary of my late father, Albert. This picture was taken in Belgium during the war when he would have been about 22. On the back the picture bears a stamp that says, 'Photo Leonard, Bruxelles' with a phone number. Someone asked me if I had ever phoned that number. I said ,"What kind of idiot would ever do that?".....OK, I have.

I have a box of old photo's in which there is a letter to Dad from a lady in Belgium. I'm surprised that the letter has not spontaneously combusted! Hot....

My sister and I are convinced we have an older sibling in Belgium.

He was a very good ballroom dancer and especially liked the Latin-American stuff. I'm listening to Perry Como singing Papa Loves Mambo, one of his favourites. Listen here!

Thursday, 8 October 2020

Painting of the Month (94) October 2020: Lionel Smit

I don’t think I’ve included any African artists in this series before now. I don’t have a title or much information for this painting but I think there is a deep psychological element to it. The subject has incredibly sad eyes and there is hurt and pain behind them. I do know that the artist quotes Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol and Lucian Freud as his favourites. I think the use of impasto (heavy layering of paint with palette knife or brush) can be seen here and that’s evident in the work Francis Bacon and particularly Lucian Freud. You can clearly see the brush-marks the artist has made and that’s something I like in this kind of picture. Compare it, for example, with work of the Dutch masters where brush marks are never visible.

I found a quote about this painter and sculptor: “Each of Lionel Smit’s works offers us an entry point into the variety and richness that lies beneath every face we encounter, whether in life, in bronze or in paint”. I have shown some more of his work below.

I'm listening to some old Beatles recordings. How well they have stood the test of time, even the 'throw away' stuff! Currently it's Every Little Thing. You can here it here.


Sunday, 13 September 2020

Come From Away

COME FROM AWAY is a Canadian musical based on the true story of what happened in 2001 when Islamic terrorists attacked the Twin Towers in New York City and 38 planes were diverted to Gander in Newfoundland & Labrador, Canada. Gander had a population of 10,000 which was swelled, with no notice, by another 7,000 for the ensuing week.

My daughter and future son-in-law were on a plane approaching New York at the time. Their aircraft was turned around and sent back to Heathrow, London. If they had been ten minutes earlier, they too would have been diverted to Gander, who did a miraculous job of hosting their unexpected guests.

Leah and I were lucky enough to be at the final preview when the show opened in London in February 2019. To our surprise we discovered that two of the main real-life characters who were being portrayed on stage were sitting next to us. And they pointed out that we were actually surrounded by most of the real-life characters and the creator and original producer were sitting behind us!

Nick and Diane who met in Gander and have been married ever since.
The show is still running in London and is a beautiful musical event. This is my favourite song from the show, which I found very emotional.LISTEN HERE

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Painting of the Month (93) September 2020: August Macke


August Macke (1887 – 1914) was one of the leading members of the German Expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider). He lived during a particularly innovative time for German art which saw the development of the main German Expressionist movements as well as the arrival of the successive avant-garde movements which were forming in the rest of Europe.

August Macke was inspired by the leisure activities of his fellow citizens, and captured shopping trips on numerous occasions. This painting from 1914 features the standard style used throughout his career - relatively small use of detail, concentrating more on bright and bold colour. This expressionist approach was relatively new during the early 20th century but is now a well-accepted thoroughbred of art history. Most of his paintings of shoppers capture them looking through the windows of stores, rather than actually inside. They would always be well dressed, presumably wealthy. Leisure time was something that not everyone could enjoy at that time. The Victorian age marked major changes across European society and artists like this provide a window into that time. In truth, most of Macke’s success was due to the bright, expressionist style of his work, rather than the content included. Sadly, this was to be one of the artist's final artworks, with his life soon being lost in the First World War. It was later seized at around the time of WW2 because of the artist's relatively modern style which did not find favour with the Third Reich. Here are some other paintings he made:

I'm listening to Carole King singing her own song, I wasn't Born to Follow

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

Some more laughs!

Here are some more of the laughs I have published on my Facebook page:

I'm listening to the wonderful cover of Denny Laine's song Say You Don't Mind by Colin Blunstone with a lovely string quartet accompaniment. 

Listen here:

Thursday, 20 August 2020

Julian Bream 1933 - 2020


Julian Alexander Bream 1933 - 2020

The classical guitarist, Julian Bream, who passed away last week at the age of 87, was the first truly great British classical guitarist making his debut at the Wigmore Hall in 1951 where he announced his presence to the world. At the age of eleven he heard a recording of Andre Segovia and fell in love with the instrument. Segovia had dragged the instrument from relative obscurity and raised it to a genuine concert instrument with contemporary composers vying to offer new works. Bream continued the work and simultaneously promoted the lute in a similar way.

He was a very expressive player and this compared with his near contemporary, John Williams (born Melbourne, Australia 1941) who was, technically the better player (Segovia had said of Williams that ”God has laid his finger on his brow.”)

However, Bream had a flair and emotional connection to his music that I don’t think Williams displays. As a 17 year-old student of the guitar I met John Williams when he gave a concert at the Commonwealth Institute in London. He approached me in the queue and asked me what time the concert started. I told him and we chatted for a while. As he walked away, my friend told me who he was. I had no idea!

Julian Bream at 85

Bream retired from performing in 2002. Unlike many of his professional colleagues, he had a wide range of interests outside of music. He was passionate about cricket and was a member of the MCC. He was also a formidable table tennis player. Apart from his interests in gardening and his famously well-stocked wine cellar, the visual arts were a constant stimulation – he had a fine collection of late 19th- and early 20th-century English and Scottish paintings – and he was a well-informed collector of English period furniture. The companionship of his dogs became increasingly important to him, particularly after a heart attack on Christmas Eve 1998, when his doctors recommended a routine of regular exercise. Thereafter he became a familiar sight on the North Dorset Downs, striding along with his beautiful flat-coated retrievers at heel.

Listen to Julian Bream playing Cadiz (from the Iberia Suite by Albeniz)

Go on, treat yourself!

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Song by Ben Jonson

           to Celia
     By BEN JONSON (1572-1637)
Ben Jonson | English writer | Britannica
Drink to me only with thine eyes,
         And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kiss but in the cup,
         And I’ll not look for wine.
The thirst that from the soul doth rise
         Doth ask a drink divine;
But might I of Jove’s nectar sup,
         I would not change for thine.

I sent thee late a rosy wreath,
         Not so much honouring thee
As giving it a hope, that there
         It could not withered be.
But thou thereon didst only breathe,
         And sent’st it back to me;
Since when it grows, and smells, I swear,
         Not of itself, but thee.

Although more famous as a song, this poem, first published in 1616, is by far the best-known work of the English playwright and poet Ben Jonson.

The first half of the poem is a witty series of variations on the lover’s pledge. Traditionally, a lover would toast his or her love and drink a glass of wine; here, the poet asks only for a pledge from Celia’s eyes—a loving look—that he promises to return in kind. He says that if she leaves a kiss in the cup, he will have no need for the wine but we can’t be sure how much Celia likes the speaker. The thirst that he mentions in line five is not literal but for love.
He tells us about how he sent her a wreath of flowers once, but she returned it. Even though she returned it, it never wilted. Somehow, Celia breathing on the wreath has given it eternal life.
There is a marked contrast between the first and second stanza. In the first one the poet is making light-hearted and witty remarks to the lady he admires but the second one becomes more serious. The rejected wreath he has sent is something more concrete.

I'm listening to Landslide by the Dixie Chicks. I think it's better than the Fleetwood Mac original version. Have a listen here!