Back in Black

Artis is working on windows today, building the frames, beads and hessian linings inside the glazed sections. The control room and live room will both be quadruple-glazed – the outer panes are vertically angled, and the inner two are parallel – this combination stops low frequencies from leaking (because it prevents sympathetic resonance in the glass).

We’re nearly at the stage where we need to start thinking about kit. The studio will centre around a Mac Pro running Pro Tools and Logic Pro through a Digi002. Monitors are Genelec 8040s although I may upgrade these to a system that provides proper sub-bass.

I work digitally in the Mac environment, but now that I have a proper, decent acoustically treated space for the first time, I’m going to go the extra mile and get the best possible quality of input signal – which will mean a valve desk. With Howard’s advice, and having spent a lot of time with the TL Audio VTC in the MusicLab at the University, I’m going for a small version of the same thing – the TL Audio M1F. We’re still working out the signal path – the Digi002 has a rather odd collection of inputs – but I’m basing the planning on the principle that I can have up to 12 simultaneuous valve input channels.

And today, the Latvian ‘cellists are playing… A-ha’s Take On Me.

All signals will pass through the TL Audio M1-F

Live room window frame under construction, with a sample of the black 'spongey stuff' that goes in the void between panes.
Live room window frame under construction, with a sample of the black 'spongey stuff' that goes in the void between panes.
And here's the spongey stuff fitted into the frame - it will eventually run all the way around.
And here's the spongey stuff fitted into the frame - it will eventually run all the way around. The glue has to be completely dry because the unit will eventually be air-sealed.
The control room window will be quadruple-glazed, with 2 x 10mm panes in the interior and 2 x (angled) 6mm panes on each side - that's 32mm of glass.
The control room window will be quadruple-glazed, with 2 x 10mm panes in the interior and 2 x (angled) 6mm panes on each side - that's 32mm of glass.

Snap the Power

Dimmer switch socket and fan speed control for the aircon

The electrics are going in. The control room will have a fan speed control so we can adjust the flow of cooled air into the room. The lights will have a dimmer – for those ‘Barry White’ sessions, I imagine. The control room lighting will consist of eight directional spots, flush-mounted into the ceiling. We don’t quite have enough ceiling height in the live room to do the same so we’re going for three flush circular dome lights in a line along the centre of the room – you can see the location of the furthest one in the picture below.

Back wall of the live room, with light location in the ceiling.
Back wall of the live room, with light location in the ceiling.
Not too Aston Villa, I'm hoping?

We ran out of green hessian to do all the walls in the live room – we could easily order more, but the batches might not have matched perfectly, and it would have held up the project. So we’ve decided to go with all-green walls (including the bass traps, but maintaining the claret ‘V wall’) in the control room, and choose a different colour scheme in the live room. The live room walls will be blue-grey, and the ceiling will be the same light blue as in the control room.

Jeff’s away setting up their next job, and Artis is finishing more of the frames of the interior walls. Here’s one under construction – this is the grey-blue colour we’re using for the live room walls.

Once the frame is made, Artis stretches the hessian over it and staples it in place.
Once the frame is made, Artis stretches the hessian over it and staples it in place.

The frames are made in situ, up against the wall, then once they’re the perfect shape & size they’re removed and the hessian is stapled to them. I was on my way to the shops today and asked Artis if he needed anything picking up. He requested sticking plasters, as the friction from hessian-stretching had scraped several layers of skin off his knuckles. He had been using gaffer tape as hand protection. Very ‘rock’, but I imagine quite painful. We got him the most cushioned plasters we could find.

And here's the same frame resting up against the wall, ready to be nailed to the MDF/rockwool stud wall. In this pic you can see the different blues - greyish-blue for the walls, lighter blue for the ceiling.
And here's the same frame ready to be nailed to the MDF/rockwool stud wall.

The cool thing about this kind of commitment is that the guys don’t have to do it – they could stretch the hessian much less, and it would still look OK. But they know that over time the fabric will settle, and eventually the walls will start to look wobbly. I’ve seen this look in a few studios so it’s great to know they’re future-proofing the interior so well, albeit at the expense of their knuckles. Ouch.

Heart of Glass

This is the door to the Mac area - note the grooves in the bottom for cables.

The Mac void has a miniature door now (double-thickness MDF), meaning the computer can be isolated behind the control room wall, so no fan noise can escape into the room. This means I’ll be able to use the control room as well as the live room for tracking. Today we agreed to add another hole, between the lobby and live room, so we could at a pinch use the lobby for tracking too, giving us three fully isolated recording spaces – not bad for a garage!

Artis has added a slab of MDF to the inner doors for extra density to improve isolation, meaning each door now weights 50KG or so. And today, for the first time, we sealed the building – the exterior glass went in. It’s currently double-glazed (albeit with 10mm thick panes) but each interior floating room will also be double-glazed. It’s almost completely silent in each room with the doors closed – even with HGVs going past on the main road outside.

The exterior glazing is now fitted; looks like Jeff's off to practise his gondola technique.

Today’s Latvian import is Linda Leen – Beyoncé-style pop/R&B. Which is nice, but unremarkable.

But I know what you want – you want more ‘cellists playing hits of the 80s, don’t you? Here’s Melo-M with guest artist Intars Busulis performing ‘Ghostbusters’. What’s the best adjective for this cover version? I’m favouring ‘unnecessary’. Great video effects though…

Pretty Green

Artis stretches the hessian covering over the MDF frame - in the small area of the frame at the front you can see where the mains sockets will go.
Artis stretches the hessian covering over the MDF frame - in the small area of the frame at the front you can see where the mains sockets will go.

We’re now at day 29; Artis is working on the door seals, and building more hessian frames for the walls. I’ve called BT today and worked out how we can get a phone line in there for broadband – and also got some excellent Ethernet cabling help and advice from Robin, the Comms Analyst at Bath Spa. Those guys really hate Wi-Fi because the signal is so prone to interference and loss of data – and TBH I don’t have much confidence that a Wi-Fi signal will get through all of Jeff and Artis’ rockwool/plasterboard work unscathed, so we’re going to run an Ethernet cable round the building, from the aircon area in the lobby through to the Mac hole in the back of the control room.

Artis’ work on the frames is beautiful – each frame is crafted to the shape of a section of wall, so it fits perfectly together with the fabric-width of space in between. The hessian doesn’t actually touch the rockwool inside each stud wall, being raised 12mm away by the MDF frame. And the carpentry is magnificent, even though it’s just MDF. I learn that back in Latvia, Artis’ carpentry business almost exclusively built beehives!

Here are some pics of the hessian frames being constructed, and some more of the door seals.

I’m still learning more about Latvian artists from Artis – recent highlights include Linda Leen (pop/R&B), Brainstorm (pop/rock/electronic), Melo-M (three ‘cellists doing arrangements of cheesy 70s and 80s pop songs), ‘daina‘ (Latvian traditional folk songs) and S’T’A’ (rap/hip-hop). You know which one I’m going to play here, don’t you?!

Mr Blue Sky

Thanks to everyone who voted in the polls. I’ve also collated some views from the ‘analogue’ world – studio users and muso mates etc (plus a few Facebook comments) – and the verdicts are as follows.

  • Sofa – second-hand leather. It will age gracefully and be, er, wipe-clean. Many a studio sofa smells of old ganja and stale sweat after a year or two. Or maybe I’m too used to working with students.
  • Colours – light green walls (restful), light blue ceiling (sky-like) and deep red ‘claret’ for the monitor/baffle wall area. As some have pointed out, this will make the control area look worryingly like I’m an Aston Villa fan. I’m still not sure about the claret at the monitor end – this, after all, is the wall I’ll be staring at for hours at a time. On the other hand, it’s a beautiful colour. Grey is also an option. Comments welcome…
This is the Mac hidey-hole, which will be sound-insulated and allow Mac fan heat to escape into the void.
This is the Mac hidey-hole, which will be sound-insulated and allow Mac fan heat to escape into the void.

The newest addition to the structure is a hole for a soon-to-constructed Mac box, made to measure, which will serve two functions – extracting hot air from the Mac into the void behind the baffle, and isolating the control room from the Mac’s fan noise (the Mac Pro fans are pretty quiet anyway, but it will be great to have the option of perfect silence in the control room for vocal/guitar takes etc). The guys are going to build a mini-door at the front of the Mac box ‘cupboard door’ so visiting musos can plug hard drives straight into the Firewire socket on the front of the Mac. So now that we’ve got a custom-designed computer area built into the architecture, I’m hoping Apple don’t change the design of the Mac Pro any time soon!

The studio features as a specially-constructed coleslaw cooling area.
This studio preserves coleslaw.

Jeff’s away for a couple of days, checking on other jobs and doing some family stuff. Artis is pushing on with more rockwool, the power sockets and the green hessian wall coverings. It’s a blistering hot day in Bath, but the wall/ceiling insulation is so extensive that the studio interior is a good 10 degrees colder than the summer’s day outside. The Mac hole is currently working as an improvised fridge – it has preserved a tub of Co-op coleslaw for two days now…

Different light

He's not called Artis for nothing, you know!
He's not called Artis for nothing, you know...

Day 7 of phase 2. Today Jeff went out hunting and managed to capture an air-conditioning unit. Meanwhile back on-site, Artis took time out from his heavy schedule of banana-drawing (see photo) to construct some lighting boxes. And the lights are going to be fantastic. There will be eight downlighters in the control room – four built into the baffle above the monitors, and four across the centre of the room. There will be a dimmer switch in each room, and each light is built into its own cube-shaped box, ensuring that the bulbs don’t touch the rockwool, and allowing hot air to escape safely into the ceiling void. The light fittings are moveable so each 35W lamp can be angled as needed.

Think this looks easy? YOU try hanging a door with 1mm accuracy!
Think this looks easy? YOU try hanging a door with 1mm accuracy...

Both interior doors are now fitted. They’re pretty dense as they are, but the guys will be adding an MDF layer to the lobby side of each door to add density (the door and its hinges being potentially the weakest point in the room in acoustic isolation terms). The art and craftsmanship of pro door-hanging is truly a thing to behold. There’s a perfect coin gap all the way down – a £1 fits snugly and a 50p rattles around. This is a pretty phenomenal achievement when you think about it – fitting a 40KG 2m high door within less than 1mm tolerance. I once tried to hang a bathroom door at my previous house. I did such a bad job that I had to move house to avoid the embarrassment…

On the music front, we’ve temporarily stopped listening to Skyforger and have now moved on to Jackyl – AC/DC blues with live chainsaw solos. Oh yes!

Moveable light fitting, fitted into the wooden panel that forms the lower side of the 'lighting cube' in the ceiling
Moveable light fitting, slotted into the wooden panel that forms the lower side of the 'lighting cube' in the ceiling
Here's how the lighting panel will fit into the ceiling. Artis tries valiantly to get out of shot but realises at the last minute that his arms aren't long enough...
Here's how the lighting panel will fit into the ceiling. Artis tries valiantly to get out of shot but realises at the last minute that his arms aren't long enough.
Air refrigeration units run wild and free in the forests of Bath, you know...
Air refrigeration units run wild and free in the forests of Bath. You just have to know where to go hunting.

It’s a bass trap… (and you been caught)

Live room air inlet
Live room air inlet

The air ducts are nearly completed. The system will work like this;

  • Refrigeration unit will cool the entire lobby area
  • Fans will blow the cooled air down the silver ‘sandworm’ pipes
  • Cool air will come out at the front of each room (through the ceiling baffles)
  • Warm air will escape into the lobby via ventilation holes at the back of each work room…
  • …and be cooled by the refrigeration unit
  • There will be a fan switch and speed control in each workspace, so the occupant can just switch it on whenever cooling is needed

The air path is broken up into zigzags to prevent bass frequencies from travelling; the ducts are lined with rockwool & fabric. My 8-year-old has pointed out that in the event of anyone,  er, ‘trumping’, this air will be circulated round and round the building at slightly different temperatures. So we will need to open the lobby door occasionally.

Ceiling duct, drawing air into the live room air supply pipe
Ceiling duct, drawing air into the live room air supply pipe

The cunning part is concealing all the ducts necessary to achieve all this. As mentioned before, the cool air enters via the ceiling baffles, having made its way through the soft pipes that run alongside the ceiling. In the lobby area there are two more ducts. This is the one for the live room, in its pre-covered state – you can just see the silver pipe emerging from the back and carrying the cooled air off to the right.

The second foyer duct – the one supplying the control room – is practically invisible now because it’s built into the door frame, so here are a few photos of it under construction.

Door frame air duct - under construction
Door frame air duct - under construction
Door frame air duct with chipboard covering
Door frame air duct with chipboard covering - the upright rectagular hole in the centre will extra warm air from the control room

The basic construction of the control room bass traps is now complete. The principle of a bass trap is that it stops particular bass frequencies from being accentuated by the construction of the room – here’s an article about the physics of listening spaces. This is to ensure that the monitor speakers are giving an accurate sonic ‘picture’ of the instruments/sounds in the mix.

Control room bass trap, viewed from the doorway. Rockwool panels will hang in front of the plywood, and hessian will be stretched over the whole thing.
Control room bass trap, viewed from the doorway. Rockwool panels will hang in front of the plywood, and hessian will be stretched over the whole thing.

Because low frequencies have a longer wavelength, they can only be broken up by large objects. Howard’s design of bass trap, from what I can tell, combines a ‘membrane’ and ‘broadband’ method of construction – plywood panels, with air gap, rockwool and fabric covering. All this means that we need some very large bass traps in the control room. So I may end up with a slightly smaller sofa than I originally thought!

On other news, Artis has been getting me and Jeff into Latvian folk-metal. Here’s Skyforger – chanting a 500-year-old folk song on the beach, then straight into some driving speed-metal riffery. Check out the bagpipe solo!

Stripped

Carl has now sandblasted the phone box, removing all the paint and returning it to its original casting state. I learn that this K6 was cast in 1935 at the Saracen Foundry in Glasgow – as shown in the casting lettering on the back. The lid is cracked and is going to be replaced, but in every other respect it’s come up good as new – take a look at the way the sandblasting has revealed the crisp detail of the casting on the Tudor crown.

Here's the K6 immediately after sandblasting - back to the bare cast iron
Here's the K6 immediately after sandblasting - back to the bare cast iron
Here's the tudor crown after sand-blasting - not a speck of rust!
Here's the tudor crown after primer has been applied - not a speck of rust!
The K6 is now almost completely paint-free, revealing the cracked roof, which is to be replaced.
The sandblasting and priming has shown more clearly the cracked roof, which is to be replaced.
Here, you can see the original 1930s GPO trailer on which Carl transports his K6s
Here, you can see the original 1930s GPO trailer on which Carl transports his K6s

Fakin’ it

Small door painted - allThe exterior door was constructed yesterday and Jeff is now working on its facade. He’s aiming to make it look like an ordinary set of garage doors from the outside. I’m not too worried about security (the door will be three inches thick and the studio will be alarmed & heavily mortice-locked) but there’s no purpose to advertising the fact that it’s a studio. And it’s turned into a kind of ‘art project’ for Jeff – to make the exterior look as garage-like as possible. The exterior wall itself is our now-standard timber/plasterboard/rockwool heavy stud wall, with an outer layer of OSB board, finished with weather-treated exterior plywood. Jeff spent most of today creating cosmetic plywood ‘frames’ to give the appearance of garage panels. The plywood is to be painted with white Sadolin – this is much better than paint because it soaks into the wood grain, providing improved weather protection. See below for a walkthrough of today’s work.

Exterior wall with bare plywood covering
Exterior wall with bare plywood covering
Jeff has started to add strips of plywood to create cosmetic 'frames'.
Jeff has started to add strips of plywood to create cosmetic 'frames'.
The full wall length, with the six fake 'garage' panels. The third panel - painted white here - is actually the door. You can see the hinges on the right.
The full wall length, with the six fake 'garage' panels. The third panel - painted white here - is actually the door. You can see the hinges on the right.

And here's the finished panels with the first coat of white Sadolin applied.
And here are the finished panels with the first coat of white Sadolin applied. Looks like a garage, don't you think?!

Blinded by the light

The 30cm high strip above the doors runs the width of the building, letting natural light into both rooms.
The 30cm high strip above the doors runs the width of the building, letting natural light into both rooms.

The phrase ‘studio tan’ will be familiar to many musicians. It refers to the pasty, underfed, hollow look that engineers, producers and players have after a long studio session. And it’s based on the idea that, being sound-sealed boxes containing lots of nickable kit, many studios don’t have exterior windows. The need for daylight for us humans (and most animals) is pretty basic, evolved over millions of years out of the basic logic that there’s a survival advantage for our metabolisms to know the time of day. The pineal gland apparently secretes the sleep hormone melatonin (more about this here) when it’s dark, making us feel drowsy. Put simply, dark studios don’t make you feel good!

This balance between soundproofing and musicians’ sanity has long been acknowledged by studio designers. Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios in Box has a huge glass-walled control/live room called the Big Room, which all those who’ve worked in it (including my colleague and occasional collaborator Chris) have described as inspirational. So it’s always desirable to get natural light in there if you can get round the technical hurdles of soundproofing, security and air handling.

The control room window frame - the black areas shows where natural light will come in.
Control room window frame - the black area shows where natural light will enter.

And I’m pleased to say that the garage studio will have natural light in both rooms. Jeff, Howard and I have been chewing over this problem since the project began. We’ve discussed sunpipes, skylights and daylight light bulbs. But once Jeff saw the angles created by raising the roof, the solution was clear – a strip window running the length of the east side of the building, letting in daylight above the old garage doors’ location. It’ll be behind and above the mixing/Mac area, creating lots of light without screen reflection (Apple are doing some very nice LCD monitors at the moment but many of them include highly reflective glass screens). There are two walls at the back of the control room (interior and exterior) creating a natural air gap of around 5cm, and meaning that the two window panes will be around 25cm apart, giving ample opportunity for angled triple-glazed panes (the angles serve to avoid sympathetic low-frequency resonance between panes from traffic noise).

Do these holes look innocuous? They are the result of 2 hours of heavy-duty Latvian drilling!
Do these holes look innocuous? They are the result of 2 hours of heavy-duty Latvian drilling!

Artis has now drilled a cable hole through from the control room to the live room. This is easier typed than done; it involved making a 4cm wide hole through several layers of plasterboard, rockwool, OSB chipboard, an air gap (this bit was quite easy actually), a 10cm thick concrete wall, another air gap, and then the rest of the plasterboard/rockwool/OSB layers on the other side. Why didn’t they make these holes when they were building the walls (I hear you ask)? The answer is that the two floating rooms need to settle on their bed of rockwool/membrane/screed etc – and the concrete wall itself will settle very slightly because of its weight. So the only way for the cable holes to line up is to drill them after the structure is complete. This, as with all parts of the construction, preserves the all-important principle that there is no physical contact between the two floating rooms – even the plastic pipes (see picture) that line the holes don’t go all the way through – they are three separate sections which are split across each air gap. We’re still working out what do do with cabling – we could have a standard XLR wall plate in each room, or just chuck loose cables through the hole to the live room as needed, and then fill the hole with a rag to seal it sonically. This might seem like a bit of a bodged working method considering all the detail that’s gone in to the planning and build, but actually it might be the most practical solution because it will allow really simple re-amping, and will reduce the length and number of required cables. Still pondering this.

A real door (the wooden one on the left) partly concealed by a fake door (the garage door is going to be scrapped).
A real door (the wooden one on the left) partly concealed by a fake door (the garage door is going to be scrapped).

And.. we have a door! It’ll have interior plasterboard and chipboard lining, plus sound-sealed hinges, which has the added bonus of making it more secure. It was fitted this morning, and will eventually be disguised as one-third of the mock garage door that Jeff intends to create out of MDF, white paint and deviousness.

True colours

Don't mess with the Sandworms - they can bite your arm off.
Don't mess with the Sandworms - they can bite your arm off.

Firstly, a quick thank you to everyone who’s made suggestions about bringing the studio and phone box projects together (see ‘categories’ on the right hand side). The best suggested studio-related uses for the phone box include shower for sweaty musicians, vocal booth for agrophobic session singers, and banjo booth (need not contain an XLR socket).

The aircon tubes have gone in (the silver snakes that look to a man of my vintage like David Lynch’s sandworms from Dune). These will carry cooled air in from the refrigerated lobby area along the side walls, inside the baffles, and into the live and control rooms respectively. Today also (day 2 of phase 2) Jeff and Artis have constructed the front wall that will eventually have the fake garage doors stuck to them. The original plan was for this exterior wall to be made of concrete, but we learned that the asphalt driveway outside the original garage doors has no foundations under it – so eventually a concrete wall would, er, sink!

Jeff told me a story about a client to whom this had happened a few years back – the guy had assured him that the foundations were sound, so Jeff dutifully constructed a heavy exterior wall. After a few weeks, it sank ever so slightly during one of the client’s studio sessions, preventing the heavy acoustic door from opening and locking the client and his musicians inside. Jeff was called from another site to come and let them out – he had to cut through the door to get in; they were stuck in there for around 7 hours, and apparently got really bored (lightweights – I can spend that long editing a vocal!).

So, if I’m to be potentially imprisoned, what colour should my cell walls be? Now that we’re well on the way to choosing a sofa, here’s another chance for you, dear reader, to influence the design of the studio. Essentially, we have two colour decisions to make (walls and ceiling) and four colours of hessian to choose from (these are rough photos of the fabric rolls, and the colours don’t come up great, but you get the idea – for info the green is slightly deeper than this). The walls and ceiling have to be different colours – a single block of colour will look ‘orrible. Scroll down, and vote now!

Light grey
Light grey
Red
Red
p_1600_1200_50C4F522-8CEE-45AF-A543-F76B2D29F13B.jpeg
Light blue
Light green
Light green

Aircon pipe feed on the left-hand wall of the live room, seen here from the lobby.
Aircon pipe feed on the left-hand wall of the live room, seen here from the lobby.

Open the door, get on the floor…

30.04.09 012The phone box arrived in Norfolk at Carl’s kiosk hospital last week. First step – take the door off fully, and drill out the concrete floor, exposing the whole of the cast iron frame ready for sandblasting. Apparently they come up good as new, even down to the detail of the original symbolic Tudor crown (replaced in 1952 at the Queen’s behest with a more contemporary one). The domed roof is probably past saving, so Carl is planning on replacing it with a reclaimed one from another K6.

In a previous post I marveled at the detail of the original 1950s K6 install instructions (and the devotion of whoever typed it in to get it online). But Carl was, of course, way ahead of me – I feel very much like an ‘apprentice anorak’ in this world. He has a huge archive of K6-related documentation, some of scanned from the original 50-year-old paperwork. It’s an impressive archive. http://www.redtelephonebox.com/archive/

Blogging editorial note – I’m blogging four concurrent stories at the moment – the phone box, the studio build, the guitar book and the Widcombe song. To follow these as individual threads, use the ‘categories’ on the right hand sidebar – here they are as links.

The boys are back in town…

l-1600-1200-a73f9a39-36cf-456f-ab1c-a05808a6db3d.jpegThe studio build has started again after a 2-week break. Jeff and Artis are back, and despite a 3am arrival last night they were up and working by 10am.

Now that the main structure is built on three sides, they’re starting work on some of the baffles and air ducts. The ducts run behind the baffles, combining air handling and acoustic room design in the same construction. Rockwool is an excellent acoustic isolator, but it is also nastily full of inhalable particles, so all the ducts have to be lined. To achieve this they use a one-way permeable fabric more often used by gardeners – the same stuff that goes under gravel driveways.

Here’s a photo walkthrough of Artis lining the interior of the duct/baffle in the live room.

The lining is stapled onto the frame
The lining is stapled onto the frame
Lining of the baffle/air duct is nearly finished
The lining covers all three sides of the right-angled triangle that forms the duct interior, protecting the live room musicians from from nasty airborne rockwool particles.
Another layer of thin rockwool is added, providing more acoustic isolation from any sound that may have penetrated the air ducting.
Another layer of thin rockwool is added, providing more acoustic isolation from any sound that may have penetrated the air ducting.
Now, a layer of plasterboard in front of the rockwool. There's be some more SterlingOSB added onto this, so we can screw in the timbers for the final rockwool/hessian layer.
Now, a layer of plasterboard in front of the rockwool. There's going to be more SterlingOSB added onto this, so we can screw in the timbers for the final rockwool/hessian layer.

Now, the big question. What colour should the interior of the studio be? I have a choice of 4 colours (from the stuff Jeff has in stock – we’re doing this on a budget so I’m not ordering custom colours from suppliers), and from this selection we need to choose walls (one colour) and ceiling (a different colour). A poll will follow, so you’ll get to choose what colour faces me throughout the studio day for years to come.

Not enough love in the world

One of the backlit 'Telephone' panes, showing how bad the exterior rust has become over the years.
One of the backlit 'Telephone' panes, showing how bad the exterior rust has become over the years.

Here’s the phone box in its pre-loved state in Derbyshire, before a chap called Laurence aka ‘Kelly the Crane’ arrived to transport it to ‘kiosk hospital’ in Norfolk. My K6 is a Mark I (i.e. from the first batch, cast in 1935) and is a model ‘D’, meaning that the door is on the right hand side panel with its hinge on the right (I actually remember this from 1979 – it stood on a steep lane called Birches Avenue, and the door opened uphill).

There were four models back in 1935;

”Kiosk No. 6 (Mk. 2)”is available in four assemblies, for use under various conditions as follows:-
“Kiosks No. 6A”; door fitted opposite back panel and hinged left
“Kiosks No. 6B”; door fitted opposite back panel and hinged right
“Kiosks No. 6C”; door fitted on the left side panel and hinged left
“Kiosks No. 6D”; door fitted on the right side panel and hinged right

(From the GPO ‘erection instructions’ dated 1955. Stop giggling at the back, there!)

Yes it’s true – more Googling has unearthed a copy of the original Post Office engineering notes on K6 installation, dated 11th March 1955. Here is the text of the original document in full (and you thought IKEA instructions were complicated!). And this file comes from a website where someone’s collected decades’ worth of phone installation instructions. Can you believe that anyone typed all these in?!

BT, GPO & PO TELEPHONE INSTRUMENTS site.

Download the full K6 installation instructions (pdf). All hail to thee, Internet.

See below for a gallery of the K6 in its garden setting, prior to being transported to Carl’s workshop.

“I’m in the phone booth it’s the one…” in the garden

The phone box stood for 25 years in a Derbyshire garden
The phone box stood for 25 years in a Derbyshire garden

I’ve inherited a phone box from my late father. It stood, between 1935 and around 1983, in the Derbyshire village of South Wingfield where I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s. When the Post Office became British Telecom in the early 1980s, lots of the cast iron red phone boxes in the UK were decommissioned and replaced with the more spartan plastic & metal BT booths (coincidentially, Bath is one of the few cities that has maintained a few red phone boxes in public places – there were a few near the railway station very recently, I recall.)

Some of the rural phone boxes were sold off privately by local authorities (in this case Amber Valley Borough Council) in the mid-80s. My parents didn’t want to see the old phone box leave the village, so they decided to buy it. It then stood in their back garden for 25 years. In that time they didn’t do anything with it (ummm… not sure what you would do with a non-functioning phone box…?), so now I find myself owning three-quarters of a ton of 1930s cast iron.

Unsure of what to do, I Googled ‘Red Telephone Box’ and found, er, http://www.redtelephonebox.com/. This is a company, based in Norfolk, called Remember When UK – and restoring red phone boxes is what they do. I got in touch with them and spoke to a chap called Carl, who runs the business. He’s a self-confessed ‘phone box anorak’ who just loves his job, and he told me lots of interesting stuff about the history of the English red phone box. The business restores phone boxes pretty much exclusively – there are, apparently, enough phone boxes, and enough interested customers, to keep the business going – they usually even have a backlog of work.

The classic red phone box is called a K6. They were launched in 1935 to celebrate the silver jubilee of George V, though weren’t produced in large numbers until 1936. This particular one is, according to Carl, a ‘Mark I’ – shown by the casting stamp on the back. It was cast, as were most of them, in a foundry in Glasgow. The design was found all over the UK, but also, interestingly, used in Malta, Bermuda and Gibraltar (i.e parts of the Empire/Commonwealth). I won’t go on much more about the history of the K6 – there’s an excellent Wikipedia page with more detail.

Being more than 700 kilos, and being set in concrete, they take a fair bit of transporting. I’ll start the saga of the restoration – and the dilemma of what to do with the phone box when it’s completed – in a future entry. For now, here’s a photo of a 1930s GPO phone box installer. And you thought the Nokia 3310 was clunky…

K6 installation (early years)
A GPO worker installs a cast-iron K6 phone box in the late 1930s.

Complete Junior Guitar Player

My next book, the ‘Complete Junior Guitar Player’ is nearing completion – I’m at the final stage of proofing now, and expect to see it in print sometime in June. It’s aimed at 8-12 year old children (and guitar teachers in schools who work with this age group), and I’ve tried to create a basic beginner method that sails halfway between the classical and rock traditions of guitar teaching. This is a slightly different approach from some of my more facetious books – it all uses really straightforward language and a step-by-step, systematic method.

Here’s a sneak preview of a couple of pages (and yes – I know one of the footstool photos is wrong!).

The book will be available on Amazon and Musicroom soon.

There is some dispute about the title, it being planned for sale in the UK and USA, and in translation. We need a title that isn’t condescending to children, that appeals equally to children and guitar teachers, is easy to remember, makes it clear that it’s a beginner level children’s book, and looks snappy/clear on the cover.

Here’s the poll – vote now!

JCGP sample 2

JCGP sample

Last few song tweaks

I’ve made some edits to the original version of the Widcombe song, having identified a few things that I thought were wrong with the first draft.

  • The melody didn’t rise enough in the chorus – so I’ve taken it up a diatonic third and got rid of the scalic 3-note rise.
  • I didn’t like the ‘give a damn’ lyric in verse 3 – replaced with something less abrupt.
  • The sibilant consonants in ‘canalside safe’ were a bit ugly when sung at speed – now fixed.
  • The melodic shape of the end of the chorus was too repetitive – pitches now moved around a bit.
  • The song needs to be applicable to the Widcombe Mummers (who now get a mention in the chorus). This has worked out OK, because I wasn’t happy with the original chorus lyric anyway “all join together” – too clichéd.

Here’s the final version. Probably.

Widcombe RisingDownload pdf version

Here it is as text only…

Widcombe Rising
Words and music by Joe Bennett, May 2009


English Morris feel, 2/4 bounce; crotchet=92

Chorus
D
So let’s all join the Mummers
G                     C
Listen can’t you hear?
G                           C
It’s the sound of Widcombe Rising
G        D7     Em        C
and we sing it every year, oh yes
G/D           D7    G
we sing it every year

G                          D
As I walked down this fair Parade
G                 D
One sunny day in June
G                D
I met a man along the way
G                    D
Who said good afternoon
C                      G             C                     G
I asked him for directions to get to Pulteney Weir
C                G                  D                          G
He said if I was going there I wouldn’t start from here

I asked him if he had a job
He cheerfully replied
“I sit by the canal all day
(Just) watching for the tide
And since I started working, I think I’ve done some good
From Allie Park to Beechen Cliff there’s never been a flood!”

So let’s all join the Mummers…

He said he lived in Abbey View
Had been there all his life
And now that he was ninety-two
He wanted for a wife
He said “I’ll love her truly, and give her all I can
As long as she lives less than fifty paces from The Ram!”

So let’s all join the Mummers…

A song for… Widcombe

This post will mainly be relevant to Bathonians, who may know about the ‘search for a song’ for local Bath district Widcombe. The whole Widcombe community thing is great – street parties, arts events, local history and political pressure groups – all in a group of fewer than 1000 people.  So today I’ve had a punt at writing a traditional English Morris Dance tune (with local references in the lyric). No audio demo yet (as you know my studio is currently being built) so this is done in traditional notation. Any folkies reading this – do you feel like doing a demo with traditional instruments?

Widcombe Rising

Download Widcombe Rising (pdf)

Oh, we’re halfway there

Front view with raised roof

The project is now half complete, and the guys are taking a well-deserved break for a couple of weeks. The entire structure is now in place, as is the isolation on five sides; when they resume (probably towards the end of May) they’ll add the rockwool/cloth interior damping, fit electrics and aircon, build the exterior wall (behind the garage doors in the photo) and start building the studio furniture. You can see now how much the roof’s been raised; this temporary polythene seal will be eventually replaced by one-way translucent glass, letting natural light into both rooms.

Very pleased with it all so far – Jeff and Artis have done an amazing job, working 14 days without a break, and I’ve been really delighted with their professionalism, skill and hard work. Plus, of course (and this is the most important thing in this or any industry) they’re such all-round nice blokes.

Hopefully I’ll have some more posts about the project before the month is out. There’s just time to sign off with the Star Wars joke I can only ever do once a year – “May the 4th be with you!”.

Control room ceiling and window frame
Lobby and live room
Shelf for aircon unit
14 days' solid work - finally a tea break!

Float upstream…

Live room wall, doorway and window frame

Lobby area and doorways
Control room ceiling and window frame

View into live room

The live room wall is now up – this is the wall (with window and door) that faces you when you walk into the building, with the control room entrance on the right hand side of the lobby area. The lobby will also contain the aircon colling unit (and may even double as an occasional makeshift booth for guitar amp micing or re-amping).

The live room is now a complete 6-sided box, which ‘floats’ inside the building. This means that it rests on its base of rockwool (which sits on the floor of damp-proof, chipboard, screed etc) isolating it completely from the floor and walls – the whole room is unconnected to the main building structure. There are not even any screws fixing the room to the structural timbers, as these risk transmitting vibrations in from the outside and between live/control room. Jeff and Artis demonstrated how unconnected the live room is from the building’s exterior, by pushing on one wall while I leaned against the opposite wall; the room moves slightly from side to side. We haven’t recorded anything yet, and the studio already, er, rocks…

————-

Update – it’s now Sunday, and Jeff and Artis leave on Tuesday morning. The project will then be on hold for a couple of weeks – Jeff has other jobs, and Artis has to return to Latvia. So we’re a couple of posts away from taking a break (and I’ll get back to blogging other things, finishing the current guitar book, and preparing for SWF).

If you haven’t done so already, please vote for the sofa.