Friday, 15 August 2014

Radio Review: 15 August

This week, the BBC dusts down the good old Mellotron

Written by Louis Barfe
Louis-Barfe-newBWIt’s good to hear BBC Radio 4 Extra delving into the musicdocumentary archives, even if it means treading on 6 Music’s toes. In particular, it was a delight to hear Sampledelica! again, a history of the Mellotron hosted by Mark Radcliffe and first transmitted in 2006.

For the uninitiated, the Mellotron is an electronic keyboard developed in the 1960s where the sound comes from a mass of tape loops hidden within. While it was invented to impersonate the ‘real’ instruments that featured on its tapes, musicians soon came to appreciate it for its own distinctive sound. The flutes at the start of The Beatles’ Strawberry Fields Forever? All Mellotron.

Andy Partridge of XTC , a hero of mine, said in the documentary that there were two main sounds in psychedelia: tapes being played backwards and the Mellotron, which somehow sounded a bit like it was being played backwards anyway. He’s a fan of the instrument. Rick Wakeman less so, having set fire to his on Bonfire Night in 1982. Neither is Tony Banks of Genesis, having had to battle with one night after night in the 1970s. It was, he said, an instrument for the parlour, not the road, requiring daily bodging.

Quite a few disparate types did have them in their parlours, we were told, including Peter Sellers, King Hussein of Jordan and HRH Princess Margaret. No mention for the great Raymond Baxter, though, who definitely had one in his living room – presumably bought after it was featured on Tomorrow’s World.

Nowadays, you can get a Mellotron app for the iPad, and expert chums tell me that it’s a fair approximation. You can also listen to this documentary on the BBC website, which involves not a single tape loop.

Louis on Twitter: @LFBarfe or email:

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