Sunday, September 23, 2007

The EMI archives: it's in here somewhere

Last week I made a trip I've been planning to make for a while. David Holley from EMI invited me to come out to Hayes to look around their archive. This is where the company formerly called "the greatest recording organisation in the world" keep everything from the equipment they no longer manufacture through all their important contractual correspondence to the tapes and artwork for all those tens of thousands of records that they've released down the years.
It occupies a huge area of the site on which they used to manufacture records, not quite like the warehouse at the end of "Raiders of The Lost Ark" but not far off. (EMI no longer make even one CD. It's all done in Northern Europe, apparently.)
I've got this idea for a radio documentary called "Where Is Everything?" This will examine our assumption that all the millions of media products that are made nowadays are actually being kept somewhere. And if they are, does anyone know where? EMI's archive is huge and comprehensive but some of their singles are filed under catalogue numbers rather than names which makes them awfully difficult to retrieve.
Still, it's better than it used to be. Apparently until quite recently it was all in a cold store beneath Smithfield market. The blood sometimes dripped through from above and threatened some of the precious artefacts below.


  1. Anonymous7:50 pm

    EMI at Hayes... the legendary stories that you used to hear in the 70's about warehouse staff sending raft loads of Pink Floyd albums down the canal to waiting accomplices.
    Back in the late 80's I had to visit an unused (or more correctly never used) Tube Station in Camden in the course of work. The tunnels were laid out in 'H' fashion and I don't think were ever part of the network but were used in WW2 for troop quarters. You had to enter via a round, red metal building and straight into the lift and down. It was used being as secure commercial storage. As we wandered the tunnels, which were stacked with cases and documents, I saw tape boxes clearly marked 'Pink Floyd' and other 60's names, masters too, some of them. Seemed frighteningly exposed to me, but you would of course have had to get them back up to ground level even if you could have got one under your coat . The (completely uninterested in what was there) guide told me that EMI used the place for archiving stuff.

  2. Paul, are you sure this was in Camden? sounds like the Eisenhower Center in Bloomsbury, In the course of my work as a videotape librarian about 15 years ago I was treated to a tour of it. It is many feet below Tottenham court road, and was excavated during WW2 and used by Eisenhower during the planning for D-Day. When I went there they had tons of film cans, tapes both audio and video, going back decades, for the Beeb and ITV, record companies etc, incredibly intriguing wouldn't have minded being locked in overnight...

  3. DH, sounds like a great idea, I'd like to give you a hand with your documentary. I like finding things out, and I like the idea that all this stuff is kept. Almost like 'nothing goes to waste' hm.

  4. Anonymous10:38 am

    Pete, this was the place. That round red lift stays in my memory. Actually Belsize Park, not Camden, although that was going to be another visit that never happened. There are also deep shelter tunnels underneath Camden Town Tube documented on the web and all of this is in a number of 'underground London' books.
    Those ramshackle piles of document boxes are what I remember, and seeing that pile of 60's tape boxes at hip level on my left was amazing. Wonder if it's still down there - and is there anything more fascinating than hidden underground locations?

    martin has written up a windmill road visit above which hosts *all* the BBC stuff. (ie: whats left).
    "4.5m pieces of sheet music"

    mark damazer would have this one like a shot. 10.30 saturday morning. done.

  6. Ah, but did you manage to sneak anything out, you can tell us we won't tell.

  7. I spent a lot of time at Hayes, researching my book on the history of the record industry. It was wonderful to wander past abandoned TV cameras (complete with iconic 'BBC tv colour' placards on the side), prototype digital tape recorders and the original CAT scanner on my way to get a corned beef and pickle roll.

    I never saw in the tape/disc vault. I was content to sit in the research room (through the doors first right, by the 3 foot tall Nipper), while Ruth, Greg and Chris brought me shopping trolleys full of documents to trawl through. Fact: EMI has more information about Decca's history than Universal does. EMI's archive is a wonderful resource, and unless I'm very much mistaken, controlled by a Trust, which should prevent the company's new owners having an asset-stripping away day at Sotheby's.

    As someone else said, the BBC archive is at Windmill Road, Brentford (remember that 1980s archive clip show 'Windmill'?), in a former mattress factory. What I'd give for a 10-minute trolley dash... ITV's archive is kept at several sites, mainly the LWT building, Yorkshire TV in Leeds and, for all the old ATV stuff, an industrial unit in Perivale.

    The sad fact, however, is that an awful lot of stuff still isn't archived. So, part of the answer to 'Where is Everything?' is 'It's gone, mate'.

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  9. By the way, David, did you see this in the car park? It's the weather vane from the old HMV offices.

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