Lang Syne isnae sae Lang

Jack gets over the line in time with his Wednesday guest post –

There is such a thing as time travel – and part of the journey involves sound waves captured on coated fragile plastic tape.

Every time I’ve moved house within Scotland, then to England and finally to the US, a treasured box of open reel tapes has gone with me. Only rarely over the years have I had a compatible tape recorder to play them or the time to sit and listen to them. But a good friend recently provided the means and Covid 19 provided the time.

Most of the tapes are big nine inch reels but there are some smaller ones and a good few cassettes as well. The biggest problem is that some have lost their labels or ended up in the wrong box. Just to make things even more complicated the tapes were recorded in mono on either the right or left channel in both directions, so each tape has two full mono tracks in one direction and another two in the other direction!

That’s why this has been a voyage of discovery and a discovery of forgotten delights.

Many of the recordings are of live performances either by me and Barbara Dickson from the 1960s or my band ‘Heritage’ in the 1970s and the quality is very variable. Sometimes the problems are to do with the circumstances of the original recording and sometimes with deterioration of the tape over time.

It’s the ability to actually picture the place and the people around me that is most amazing. One of the surprises was a recording of the very first public performance of ‘Heritage’ in a small village hall. Another was a recording I made of the great Irish band ‘Planxty’ at Inverness folk festival when for only that tour Paul Brady replaced Christy Moore. They never made a commercial recording with that line-up!

Of course this all makes extra work for my good friend and excellent audio engineer Dirk who turns my radio shows into easier listening. I use a Roxio suite to capture the tapes as digital files to my computer, then upload them to Dropbox and copy in Dirk. That’s when he gets to work and we then agree what is of potential radio quality. The historical importance of the recordings is usually uppermost in my mind and some of the earliest ones have already gone to the Library of Congress and the Scottish National Library.

So, although this is an enjoyable journey back in time for me I’m also aware that I’m preserving history and that may be the most important thing in the end – – –

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