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Celebrating the British Mellotroo`s 50th anniversary

In April 1962, the business situation of the English Bradmatic company and itss owners Leslie, Norman and Frank Bradley in Birmingham looked :anything but rosy. At that time a nationonal recession as well as several deaths in the family painted a grim picture of the future. Then a strange telephone order suddenly changed everything. Seventy tape heads for an obscure musical instrument were to be supplied to a London hotel room where the Bradleys would get to know the American Bill Fransen and his two 'tape keyboards', so-called Chamberlins.

Completely fascinated by the sound of the instruments and the underlying idea to run under each key a three-track tape recording of original instrumems, the brothers soon agreed to build a mechanically and technically optimized keyboard instrument in their, so far only, on mechanical devices, amplifiers and tape heads specialized company. The sounds for the new, Mellotron Mk I as it was called, instrument would be recorded at London's IBC Studios from an orchestra under the supervision of its fumous conductor, Eric Robinson. For months, thousands of instrumental and rhythmic samples were created there while the Bradmatic staff undertook the arduous effort to solve all the problems that had emerged during the construction of the first prototype. In December 1963, after agonizingly long months of intensive work on the Mellotron project, the first production model of the Mk I could finally be offered for the enormous sum of one thousand pounds sterling. Intended as an exclusive home or club lounge instrument, the 160 kg, doublemanual Mk I was anything but a stage instrument.

But Its orchestral sounds and their accompanying rhythms thrilled people so much that from 1964 the now revised Mk II quickly found its way into the major pop music league (Moody Blues, The Beades, Rolling Stones...). With Manfred Mann's 1966 Top 3 hit "Semi-Detached Suburban Mr. James" began a seemingly endless series of Mellotron-soaked internarional songs.

In 1968, a scaled-down (113 kg), single-manual version of the Mk II, the M 300, came out but it only sold small quantities. With 'only' 55 kg, the smaller snow-white stage Mellotron M 400 came in 1970 onto the marker. The sensational '8 Choir' quickly obtained fame after its arrival in 1972 by progressive bands like Genesis and Yes, which made the little M 400 the most famous Mellotron. To optimize its worldwide sales even further, a contract was signed with the American Dallas Musical Instruments (DMI) Group which also included the transfer of the product name Mellotron. The Bradleys, now trading under Streetly, soon found out that DMI was in such dire financial straits that it had to file for bankruptcy in October 1977. Unfortunately the Mellotron brand was then sold illegitimately into the USA.

For the elderly Bradley brothers began a hard time with their now Novatron called produces competing against the advancing polyphonic synths and samplers. They still developed the doublemanual Mk V model wirh its two tape frames and from 1981 to 1983 three flight case Novatrons T 550. Unril 1987, Streerly still held on but then the glorious Tron times seemed finally to expire. Les Bradley sold his tape cutting machine along with two Mellotrons to the London Science Museum and then the company went bankrupt.

In the early nineties, the representatives of the Britpop wave rediscovered the Mellotron sound anew and ensured that these instruments and their special sound regained in popularity. Given this re-bloom, Les Bradley's son John resurrected in 1993 the old company under the name Scteetly Electronics in partnership with Martin Smith. Afrer they had devoted themselves first to the restoration of Mellotrons and to the sale of sounds, John Bradley then decided to once again offer new products.

Thus the revolutionary Streetly M4000 with its 24 sounds was introduced in 2006. In 2010 the Mellotronics M3000 HD app for the iPad add came our.

In this present collection, all 24 sounds stem for the original Streetly sound library. They were first copied from the master tapes to the Mellotron's distinct 1/4 inch tape format, dthen put into the newly developed, housing-less 'Skellotron' and subsequently recorded from it. In contrast to the pure master recordings, this 'mellotronization' ensures the typical melancholic 'fairy tale' sound full of magic that has thrilled us all now for fifty years.

01. Birotron Choir
With the financial support of Yes' keyboardist Rick Wakeman, the American David Biro vainly tried to compere with the Mellotron from 1975 to 1979 on his endless 8-track cassettes based Birotron B 90. Streetly Electronics were approached to help build the instrument and a legacy of this was an unedited choir recording. Many years later, this
unpublished choir sound was rediscovered in Les' archive.

02. Sad Strings
Experiments with new sounds have always taken place at Streetly, as in this case. Although there had been a lot of false starts, abrupt ends, or wrong runings on this unedited 1/4" master tape from the '70s, a highly atmospheric and tuneful new Mellotron sound emerged after thorough editing.

03. Glenn Miller Brass
In the '30s, the American jazz trombonist and band leader Glenn Miller (1904-1944) entered the music scene with a new brand of big band sound. His special brass mixture in which the clarinet took over the usual saxophone part, created a sound that is still popular today. Now you can finally mike up famous hits like "Chantanooga Choo Choo" or "In the Mood' with this combination of saxless' Brass' and clarinets.

04. MkI Marimba
Within еhe spirit and musical taste of the early '60s, a marimba recording came with the first Mellotron. This dark sound does not only fit as a perfect accompaniment for pop songs like "Spanish Eyes" but also as a basis for interesting and atmospheric pad sounds.

05. MkI/II CRIMSON Organ
Designed for home or studio use, the first big Trons had to offer organs. Those vintage organ noises certainly do not necessarily correspond to today's needs. Used skillfully, this Lowrey organ, played over a fast rotating Leslie, delivers an interesting, unusual sound that King Crimson already appreciated in the song "Cirkus" of their 1970 "Lizard" album.

06. Classic Strings
This beautiful sotunding string sound arose from a careful blend of "MkI/II Violins" and "M 300A strings" that are unsurpassed in their
perfect interplay and clear naturalness.

07. Cor Anglais 2
Also known as "English horn" , this beautiful, natural-sounding tenor instrument of the oboe family was re-recorded by the Russian Senia Trubashnik who now lives in Canada. Mrs. Trubashnik can look back on a long career as first oboist with the Moscow Philharmonic, the Belgian National Orchestra and the Symphony of Toronto.

08. Dick Strings
Do not be offended by the strange name of this combinarion sound! Especially for the Scottish musician Mike Dickson, the "Tronbrothers" at Streetly creared this very melancholic string sound of about 60% "M 300A Strings" and 40% "Viola".

09. Dick Strings+ Cello
To give Dickson's sеrings even greater depth and more pressure, the known M 400 cello, played by Reginald Kirby, was added, making an ideal sound for gloomy songs and foggy days. Oddly, the cello recording dates from 1966 but was never used until the early '70s.

10. Fairlight ARRI
In 1980, Tom Stewan, a student of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, succeeded in recording this iconic slot of the blues singer Sarah. After countless attempts and edits, this breathy, rough vocal sound (aka 'Sararr') was created with the help of the outrageously expensive "CMI Fairlight Series I" music system and its then sensational 8 bit sample technique. Artists like Peter Gabriel, Jean-Michel Jarre, Art of Noise, Yello and Mike Oldfield quickly made it known.

11. Fairlight Swannee
Like "ARRI", this pan flute sound was included in the standard Fairlight library. Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel ("Family and the Fishing Net") and Thomas Dolby ("Mulu The Rain Forest") were among the most avid users of this interesting sound that is also well suited for thickening wind instruments and organs.

12. Cor Anglais / Oboe Split
In the lower range, an "English horn"' can be heard which seamlessly connects to a new oboe recording in the upper range. This combination creates an almost pastoral, slightly nasal sound, full of charm and character for sophisticated, soft tunes.

13. Woodwind 2
Ian McDonald of King Crimson, Foreigner and Steve Hackett fame played his flute with a loе of vibraеo. Blended with the soft sound of a French horn and the combination of Cor Anglais and Oboe, it gives a fresh, medieval sound thaе is in no way inferior еo the familiar "Woodwinds".

14. 8 Voice Choir
When in 1972 Four Female and Four male voices of the Ted Taylor Choir were separately(!) recorded at London's lBC Studio, no one had any idea how celebrated these M 400 sounds would become when they were then blended together. According to the Bradleys' dislike of Chamberlin's voice recordings, they felt a choir was unsuitable for the Mellotron. However, at the customers' request, these voice recordings were finally made. With the release of Genesis' hit album "Foxtrot", the triumph of this (aka '8 Choir') sound started. Not only did it promote the sale of the new M 400, it soon became the standard each sampled choir still has to compere with.

15. Gothic
If you understand "Gothic" as a deep, heavy and colossal sound, you get an idea what kind of noise Les Bradley in 1992/93 accidentally mixed together when he actually only wanted to copy "8 Voice Choir", "String Section" and "St. John's Church Organ" on three separate tracks.

16. Gongs + Marimbas
An old, very rare combination from the Streetly Archives: on the lower three keys are various struck gongs followed by delicate lo-fi marimbas on the remaining keys. An interesting, unusual sound that asks for experimentation.

17. M 4003 Violins
In 1970, a remixed, new version of the famous Mkl/II violins became an integral component of the M 400 standard tape frame. To curb some raucous notes and sweeten the overall string sound, the treble was lowered and smoothed. Bands such as Genesis, The Strawbs, the Dutch Earth & Fire and Led Zeppelin ensured that this new strings
version became world-famous.

18. American Pump Organ
In addition to its appearances in churches, community centres and private homes, the harmonium frequendy found its way into popular music. John Lennon played it with obvious pleasure in the Beatles' "We can work it out" video while Tom Waits even made it the base of his harsh, melancholic compositions. Jim Licka is responsible for the new recording (with bellows noise) which can be very harmoniously mixed to all organ-like sounds.

19. MkI Vibes (Vibrato)
Another classic from the early Tron days is here at last in a very good quality. This beautiful vibrato sound rendered a special rouch not only to cool jazz songs, but also to John Lennon's 1971 "Jealous Guy" and to the Small Faces' "I'm only dreaming".

20. New String Section
To achieve a more classical sounding string section, Streetly decided to mix together Louise Davis' "Triple Cello", "Sad Strings" and Cyndee Lee's "Viola". An ultra powerful recording emerged full of orchestral richness.

21. Pinder Organ
As a substitute for a heavy stage organ, the keyboardist Mike Pinder used a Tron recording of an American Lowrey organ (with slow Leslie) from 1967 to 1972 on seven of the Moody Blues' best selling albums. Originally known as "MkI/II Church Organ", this sound was later restored by Streetly and shines now in its ful splendour.

22. Rhodes
An absolute rariеy that never appeared in rhe official Streeеly library. Piano sounds were never among the major Tron favourites due to the Melloеron system's slight changes in pitch. Perhaps that is why еhe modulated M 400 Rhodes electric piano appealed to "Tangerine Dream" for their spacey sound collages.

23. Moogwoosh
ln the lare 60s, when the synthesizer sounds of the first Moog Modular systems became more and more popular, this tone monster's filtered far oscillators were recorded for the small M 400 model at London's IBC Studios. Being a rare custom order sound only, "Moogwoosh" hardly appeared as a single sound. More often it could be found as a powerful bass under Les Bradley's various mixed orchestral combinations.

24. Wine Glass
This scarce, relatively unknown M 400 sound appeared only briefly in the Streetly library. Like the glass harmonica, an instrument that was developed by the American inventor and politician Benjamin Franklin (where rotating glass bowls are made to sound with a wet finger), waterfilled and rubbed wine glasses here produce Aoating eerie tones that
partly resemble atmospheric organs.

Klaus Hoffmann- Hoock

 

  31 July 2015
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