Every hero has a sidekick. And in this episode we tell the story of Fred’s wingman, the wonderfully named William Sinkler Darby. Five years Fred’s junior, fellow American Sinkler was by his boss’s side as he established The Gramophone Company in London and travelled the world to capture sound. Their tale is like a buddy movie: it’s Batman & Robin meets The Hangover meets Lethal Weapon (if the weapon in question is an unwieldy mobile recording rig).
Darby first worked with Fred in Emile Berliner’s laboratory in Washington DC in the summer of 1897 (he got a job that Fred’s brother Will had initially wanted, only to be banned by their father). Once in London, Darby proved himself to be the most reliable partner imaginable. He helped Fred in the newly established Maiden Lane studio before they headed to mainland Europe to make the Company’s first continental recordings. Leipzig, Vienna, Budapest, Paris, Milan… they visited them all.
There was a definite element of ‘boys on tour’ to these trips, as Dave and James find out in this episode. There were many escapades, including a curious story involving a sausage in a sweltering train carriage in Spain. They then toured the UK and Ireland, recording in Scotland, Dublin and elsewhere. Darby was also with Fred on their ground-breaking recording expedition to Russia in 1900.
But this was more than a Victorian bromance. The duo recorded hundreds of historic recordings. Darby was an accomplished engineer himself, and helmed plenty of recording sessions himself, both at Maiden Lane and at the City Road studio that followed. We play a selection of those tracks here.
Perhaps keen to emerge from Fred’s shadow, Darby went it alone with an interesting venture that we explore in this episode. The history of recorded music is packed with characters. But it’s unlikely that a duo exist who did so much to kick-start the music industry as these two, and – frankly – had so much fun doing it.
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