Tape Recording Clubs

A Brief History of Tape Recording Clubs

At one time there were tape recording clubs dotted all around the country – dedicated amateurs would meet and swap tips, exchange recordings, enter competitions and arrange activities such as field recording trips. Eager members would lug heavy reel-to-reel recorders around the countryside, to church concerts, fire stations, airports and carnivals to capture the sounds around them. Many experimented with their recording techniques, putting together their own documentaries, plays, quizzes or pre-recorded slide-show commentaries. The clubs had their heyday in the 60’s and 70’s but had mostly died out by the 80’s when people’s interest turned toward film and video. By today’s standards the production values leave a lot to be desired, the voices are unsure or overly self-conscious and the end results amateurish – but here-in lies the charm, there is a naivety and innocence to many of the recordings that has been lost through our (over) familiarity with technology.

My first contact with the phenomenon of tape recording clubs was a pure accident. I bought a second hand reel-to-reel tape recorder at a car boot sale in Derby. The machine came with a carrier bag containing an assortment of different sized open reel tapes. When I started looking through the tapes and playing some of them it became apparent that they had all belonged to one man – Bill Howard, who turned out to be a member of The Derby Tape Recording Club. The tapes I found represented over 20 years of his recording activities as part of the club. From here I made appeals on local radio for former club members to get in touch so that I could discover more about this unusual hobby. The subsequent interviews and other donated tapes became part of a series of radio programmes produced for Resonance FM.

At one time there were a number of different tape recording organisations in the UK including Brit Fed – ‘The British Federation of Tape Recordists’, latterly ‘The British Sound Recording Association‘. There were also local branches of the federation such as ‘The Association of Midland Tape Recording Clubs’. These organisation would organise annual competitions and circulate bulletin tapes around the clubs. Member clubs would also exchange tapes they had produced featuring greetings, summaries of their activities and audio quizzes.

One thing that is evident from all of the tape club recordings is the amazing enthusiasm with which these dedicated amateurs approached their hobby. At a time when this newly available technology was a novelty these everyday people who were chemists, cobblers or sales assistants by day, were by night at the forefront of a technology revolution. They were witnesses to the dawn of the democratisation of technology that put equipment previously only available to professionals into the hands of ordinary working class people; something we take for granted nowadays. I believe these recordings to be a truly invaluable and very relevant oral history resource which has been overlooked or disregarded by formal institutions and oral history archives. These audio archives allow us a rare insight into the way people interact with technology both in the past and the present.

Archival recordings and interviews gathered from tape recording clubs based in the East Midlands have been worked into a series of radio programmes that have been broadcast on stations around the world. In 2009, images and sound from the archives were also used to create an installation for ‘Cut & Splice’, a festival of sound art themed around the domestic soundscape, co-curated by BBC Radio 3 and Sound & Music.

To find out more about the individual clubs and to hear examples click on one of the menu headings to the right.