Welcome to the new Squire Fan Club newsletter. We are looking at the hidden history of ‘The Place I Used To Live’ single! Last week we dived into the story behind the song, and identified all the landmarks in the lyrics based around the town of New Malden in South West London. This week we look at New Malden’s most famous lost landmark - the Decca Records vinyl pressing plant!
Thanks to everyone who got in touch last week mentioning they knew or grew up in the area - we didn’t know New Malden was so ‘on the map’. Musically, certainly in the 1960s, group like Manfred Mann and Fleetwood Mac played in the Malden Manor club. The local area of South West London, from Richmond across to Sutton covers most of the British Beat group phenomenon!
Surprisingly, the Wikipedia entry for New Malden makes no reference to Decca Records! However, growing up in New Malden in the 1960s I could see the Decca pressing plant from the bedroom window! Dad worked there for a while as a coppersmith (the presses are heated with steam), big sister had a job listening to test pressing records for pops and clicks.
However, at a very young age, its hard to connect the glamour of pop stars on TV and buying records in shops, to dirty looking factories, and even if we were told The Rolling Stones had visited the New Malden factory to thank the staff for their Number One record, it made no sense to connect the two worlds together!
The only evidence was a growing collection of peculiar records at home, called Test Pressings, oddities as such as untrimmed discs with the wavy vinyl still attached around the edge, or a mountain of label centres, where mis-pressed records had their label areas punched out and thrown away, so the vinyl could be recycled. These were regularly bought home for us to play with (probably worth a fortune but all lost now!)
These artefacts were part of the growing up toy box, providing an odd yet eclectic mix of unknown recordings on the test pressings that we listened to over and over, and a fascinating collection of mis shaped discs and label centres, that looked like coasters, that all had different labels on. All these would become so familiar later, when setting up HiLo Records, as the vinyl manufacturing process was suddenly recognised and connected with what they did ‘over the road’ when we were small!
Decca formed in 1929, combining the Decca Gramophone Company, who made record players, with the existing Duophone Records pressing plant in New Malden - hence the company formed two years earlier than EMI, which was formed from the combined HMV players and Columbia records in 1931!
The pressing plant was located in Burlington Road, but occupied a huge site bordered by the A3, that now hosts B&Q and various warehouses.
Decca later took over the Odeon cinema on the same site at Shannon Corner, as a warehouse for storage. Seen here.
Focused on ‘popular music’, Decca had also acquired Brunswick records, securing American acts like Bing Crosby to its own UK roster - which included George Formby! They later set up the Decca label in United States before having to sell it in the face of looming WW2. The company then turned research towards the war effort and developed Navigator Radar technology, as did EMI who developed airborne radar technology, and while EMI’s research maverick Blumlein had developed both stereo recording and radar,
Decca’s radar technology was adapted to develop superior Full Frequency Range Recordings ahead of the market in 1944! Indeed the ‘Decca Sound’ became synonymous to hi-fidelity recordings, with ‘Full Frequency Stereo Recordings’, and the ‘Decca Tree’ also became a stereo recording standard method, still used today.
What seemed unique about Decca, was its business practice, not only to manufacture its own label, but to licence in other labels and records. So the catalogue was not only Decca but RCA, Brunswick, Coral and a multitude of licences labels on London American Recordings.
This was the key realisation that connected to all those label centres we had collected, to the music we heard on the Test Pressings, because the factory not only pressed Decca but hundreds of other labels. And so these label centres without sound also presented an encyclopaedia of terms that later became recognised as the 'lingua franca’ of making records, like producer, MCPS, copyright, publisher name, licensed from the original US label, and the words ‘prohibited public performance etc’ around the label edge… .
In 1980 Decca sold it’s recording and music publishing business to Polygram, who quickly disposed of all the assets, studios, pressing plants and navigation companies, keeping only the recordings and copyrights. The New Malden plant closed in 1980 putting hundreds out of work and had a significant impact on the local economy.
Many of the Decca buildings have been demolished and replaced with a retail park which includes a B&Q right where the factory stood.
Nevertheless, the pressing plant was responsible for manufacturing records from post war Al Jolson, Bing Crosby and Judy Garland. It was Decca’s London American imprint that focused on labels licensed from America such as Chess, Sun, Specialty, and Tamla, so it was Decca Records and its subsidiaries that introduced Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley and even Bill Haley “Rock Around The Clock’!
Skiffle’s Lonnie Donegan to Tommy Steele was pressed at Decca. The Surfaris, Phil Spector and The Ronettes came via Decca’s London label.
Early 60s Billy Fury, The Bachelors, Jo Meek’s Telstar by The Tornados, to the later British Invasion’s The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, The Who on Brunswick, The Animals, Small faces, The Zombies, Marianne Faithful, Marmalade, Englebert Humperdink, (who’s record kept The Beatles, Penny Lane from Number One!), Rod Stewart, Steve Marriott, Lulu, Tom Jones, Joe Cocker, The Moody Blues and Van Morrison’s Them - all New Malden pressings!
Decca’s later progressive Deram label using “Deramic Sound” (Decca Panoramic Sound), which “afforded engineers to create a more dynamic stereo field, placing individual instruments in their own space within the stereo picture”, included: David Bowie (Decca released his debut album), Cat Stevens, The Move, and Procol Harum. The Moody Blues, Amen Corner, and The Flowerpot Men, Caravan, Ten Years After - and even Brotherhood Of Man! Lucky New Malden!
And The Sound Of Music soundtrack album, which topped the UK album charts for an unprecedented 70 weeks in total between 1965 and 1968 was pressed in New Malden!
And that’s not an exhaustive list! All pressed at Decca in New Malden!
Even if The Beatles or EMI had never existed, there were enough pop records coming off the production lines in New Malden to satisfy any record collection. And to spin the ‘Decca turned down The Beatles story’ upside down, The Beatles chose to go to Decca first for an audition! It was a culturally more important label than the EMI tripartite of HMV - Columbia - Parlophone, dominated at the time by producer Norrie Paramor’s successful yet prosaic style.
Years later Hilo Records started making records and the process of record pressing seemed very familiar. I recognised all the parts, the terms, even the smell! We first made records at Damont, in Hayes, just next door to EMI’s plant, then Orlake in Dagenham, followed by a switch to MPO in France, (if you’ve seen test pressings saying ‘Mayking Records’ they were the UK agent for MPO).
Finally we pressed records at EMI itself. Sadly we missed Decca by a year.
These days we use GZ in Czechoslovakia and TAKT in Poland.
Since vinyl manufacturing is such an industrial process, there is no particular glamour to the history and so apart from dedicated fan sites or oral histories, the stories are being forgotten. Even last years 90th Decca Anniversary Book makes little reference to the actual mechanics of the New Malden factory.
Nevertheless it remains a veritable cornerstone of the history of the UK record industry, and a key influence on our later steps to self release records!
Indeed, the Hi-Lo’s who gave their name to the label - were pressed at the Decca factory!
Next week is competition time, so make sure to tune in!
All the best from Squire