WHILE the music industry rushes into the digital age, with even the MP3 download starting to look long in the tooth, one Oxford band are doing their best to celebrate the golden age of recorded sound.
Jazz-jive-rockers The Original Rabbit Foot Spasm Band have always existed in a different time – their sharp suits, snappy fedoras and prohibition era-inspired songs places them firmly in the 1920s. But for their latest single they have gone one step further, releasing it on a format which has been extinct since the reign of George V – the phonographic wax cylinder.
The two-minute recording of their song Greg’s Greats Record Shop is the first real commercial release on wax cylinder by a major band for more than 90 years. Bandleader Stuart Macbeth, left, and his bandmates are launching it at the Jericho, in Oxford, tomorrow night.
They will be joined by ‘Greg’ himself – Oxford man Greg Butler, right, of The Edison Brothers, whose 1905 Edison phonograph will be used for the ultimate in retro DJ sets. Until the cutting of the cylinder, the machine had not been played in Oxford since the 1962 Horspath Victorian Fayre.
The single is a new version of their song Lonely Record Shop, from cult album Year of the Rabbit. Only 25 copies of the hand-cut cylinders have been produced and it won’t be made available in any other format.
Greg's Greats Record Shop is a new version of the song Lonely Record Shop, which we debuted on BBC Radio 2's Mark Lamarr show," explains Stuart. "It celebrates an actual record shop - Greg's Greats in Cambridge. He is one of the world's leading dealers on 78s, and his customers have included John Peel and Alex James.
"And, Oxford folk will be delighted to know he is one of our own - hailing from East Oxford and educated at the old Peers School. "When I got a call from him asking if we'd like to cut it as a wax cylinder I nearly fell off my chair!
I didn't know such things were possible.
"It's Victorian technology... we're dabbling in the very origins of recorded sound, and the apparatus to cut actual wax cylinders has only recently become available again.
"We're not the first to do it, but we are the first full band to record one in the UK since the 1920s. "And each cylinder is individually hand-made."
And listeners are in for a treat, he says. "It sounds like it comes from another planet!" he laughs. "The planet where Edward VII is still king!
"I have nothing to play it on, but it doesn't matter; it's a beautiful piece of design - a work of art in itself. That's something which can't be said for the MP3, or the mass-produced CD for that matter."
One of the hardest-working bands around, they have played more than 500 gigs in the past three years – including sets at Glastonbury, the Royal Albert Hall, Ronnie Scott’s and the Royal Festival Hall. The show will be their first date at the Jericho since they headlined the Oxford Mail’s bonfire night special.
Additional support comes from London’s Shellac Collective and our very own Brickwork Lizards.
So what people can expect from the show? "The concert is all about the live Rabbit Foot Spasm Band experience, an apocalyptic rhythm and blues knees-up and the kind of hot jazz even your grandfather can't remember all performed with a dash of good British humour.
"We're especially looking forward to debuting our first new material in a year. We ran through it above the Folly Bridge Inn on Abingdon Road last Sunday and, I can tell you, it's really something!
"Think calypso, carnival - and plenty of drinks all round!"
Tickets are £7 in advance from wegottickets.com