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Nelson Gramophone Society
The First Fifty Years

The idea of writing a history of the society was first proposed somewhere around 1988, but, apart from tape-recording the reminiscences of a member who recalled details of the society's earliest years, nothing further was done until the approach of the 50th anniversary on October 20th, 2000 - an obviously appropriate occasion for completing the project. A surprising amount of material in the shape of photographs, minute books, membership cards and miscellaneous pieces of paper was unearthed, from which a booklet with the above title was prepared. That booklet, a copy of which was presented to all members present at the 50th anniversary programme, forms the basis of this slightly shorter account.

A Society Reborn

Although the present society dates its foundation from October 1950 there had been an earlier gramophone society in Nelson of which little is known apart from the fact that, like its successor, it met in the Borough Café. We don't know when that society started but we do know when it ended. The advent of the wireless as a new source of music in the home (and of the cinema as another challenger in the entertainment field) caused its membership to dwindle to a point where the society was no longer viable and, towards the end of 1925, the founders conceded defeat, held a final meeting and disbanded.

For the next 25 years there was no gramophone society in Nelson. By 1950, however, radio was no longer a novelty and interest in music on record had revived, boosted by the release in June that year of the first LPs from Decca. Alec Croasdale's record shop (which stood on the corner of Every St. and Pendle St.) was a favourite hang-out for record enthusiasts and three of these were the founders of the new Nelson Gramophone Society. Their names were Edgar Kay (who had been a member of the old society), Alan Robinson and Arthur Mulligan; names which may be familiar to many older residents of Nelson and district.

To find out whether there was sufficient demand for a re-launched gramophone society they invited people whom they knew were interested in classical music to attend an inaugural meeting. About 25 people came along, officials were elected and a programme drawn up for the first season. Milton Harrison of the Nelson Leader reported this meeting in his Matters Musical column and gave advance notice of the first two record programmes. The founders were making sure that their venture was kept in the public eye. The notice below (left) appeared in the Leader on the very day of the first programme.

Nelson Leaderannouncement 1st meeting

After the formal opening by the Mayor (Councillor T. Walker), Arthur Mulligan put the first record on the turntable and, after a gap of 25 years, Nelson Gramophone Society was in business again. Despite the looming new challenge of television it thrived and has led an active and uninterrupted life ever since. On the Friday following this first programme the photograph shown above (right) appeared in the Leader. Arthur Mulligan is seen putting a record on the Borough Café's radiogram (kindly loaned for the society's used by the proprietors, Mr. and Mrs. Roberts).

Here are the programmes for the first season. It will be seen that meetings continued, at monthly intervals, throughout the summer; a practice which persisted for a while but which had been discontinued by the 1953-54 season.

Oct 20 Schubert Songs Arthur Mulligan
Nov 3 Tchaikovsky - The Russian Tone Poet Edgar Kay
Nov 17 Members' Choice  
Dec 1 The Mikado (Long-playing records) Alec Croasdale
Dec 15 Sibelius Arthur Mulligan
Dec 29 Christmas Music Derek Frankland
Jan 12 Members' Choice  
Jan 26 Overtures D. Parkinson
Feb 9 Opera Alan Robinson
Feb 23 Chopin and Rossini Edgar Kay
Mar 9 17th Century Music Julian O. Pilling
Mar 30 Members' Choice  
Apr 27 Programme Music Arthur Mulligan
May 25 Long-Playing Records Alec Croasdale
Jun 22 Folk and National Music Derek Frankland
Jul 20 Mozart Edgar Kay
Aug 17 Members' Choice  

Due to the limitations of the 78 rpm record most items would have been short, as in Schubert Songs and Overtures; complete symphonies and concertos were expensive luxuries back then. Only seven names of presenters appear - the society had not yet established links with other gramophone societies and individuals from which to draw guest speakers. The new long-playing medium was not neglected; the radiogram couldn't handle LPs but Alec Croasdale had access to equipment which could and presented two programmes in this format.

By the second season the number of programmes had grown from 17 to 20 and the number of presenters to 13, including visitors from the Burnley and Clitheroe societies. In subsequent years visitors from Barnoldswick, Blackburn, Preston and Manchester begin to appear.

Sep 21 Easy on the Ear Arthur Mulligan
Oct 5 A Night at the Round Table Bill Bulcock (Burnley G.S.)
Oct 19 Craftsmen in Atmosphere (Opera) Alan Robinson
Nov 2 Music on Record W. H. James (Blackpool)
Nov 16 Verdi - The Man and his Operas Edgar Kay
Nov 30 Ronald Kay (Clitheroe G.S.)  
Dec 14 Members' Night  
Dec 28 The Gondoliers (L.P. records) Alec Croasdale
Jan 11 In Profuse Strain A. Kears (Burnley G.S.)
Jan 25 Members' Night  
Feb 8 A Visit from the Burnley Ballet Club  
Feb 22 A Few Delius Recordings J. H. James
Mar 7 The Spoken Word on Record D. Driscoll
Mar 21 Ladies' Night  
Apr 4 Music on Tour Derek Frankland
May 2 Great Artists Arthur Mulligan
May 23 Record Concert W. H. James
Jun 27 Promenade Concert on L.P. Records Alec Croasdale
Jul 25 Don Pasquale Edgar Kay
Aug 22 Russian Composers M. Feeley

W. H. James' programme on May 23rd 1952 was given at West Lynn which was the home of Mrs. F. Hargreaves, a society member. Mr. James was a business acquaintance of Mr. Hargreaves and I believe this was not the only programme he gave at West Lynn. He seems to have been an eccentric character who brought his own equipment and preferred to have only the loudspeaker in view of the audience while he made his remarks from upstairs via a microphone. He was, for a brief period, president of the society and appeared on Nov. 20th 1953 in a programme entitled Our President Presents. The arrangement was short-lived and the minutes of the 1954 AGM note that "it was decided to leave the presidency open until a later date". In fact the society never revived the office of president.

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