'Nevertheless the Lord raised up judges...' — Judges 3,16
'And they spake unto him, We are come down to bind thee, that we may deliver thee into the hands of the Philistines...' — Judges 16, 12
I never really wanted to be a judge. You there at the back, stop sniggering, boy! Right, see me after Matins, in my study... Where was I? Oh yes, how I never really wanted to be a judge. After all, whoever said 'Those who can, do, and those who can't, teach,' might just as easily have said, 'and those who can't end up as critics and judges'. Being myself one of the world's great mediocre cellists, indifferent guitarists, and tone-deaf singers, the idea of judging rock and folk performers seemed to me to lack the underlying soundness of logic deemed necessary to The Music Biz. But then I was very naive in those days; I still imagined technical proficiency, talent, and hard work had something to do with Success. Fortunately I was able to change my outlook in time for my first appearance as a judge.
I have changed the names not to protect the innocent (I am led to understand that God sees to that as a matter of Celestial Wisdom), but to protect myself. Any of you who see through my thin veil of nom-de-plumery can smile a thin and world-weary smile. But please feel free to keep shtum.
When first I was called to be on a panel judging the United Kingdom Be-Bop and Ethnic Music Competition, sponsored by the Futility Press, I was elated, if a trifle nervous. The heat was to be held in — stop that bloody sniggering — Uxbridge. So I lurched into my best denims, hailed a hackney cab, and made my way hence, clutching my three-quid briefcase and my Boots dark glasses. My brain seethed with visions of entering a packed hall to the tumultuous applause of audience and competitors — much as a gladiator would enter the arena. I saw myself ensconced on a dais surrounded by terrified adoring would-be Joni Mitchells and nail-biting embryo-Claptons. In my mind's eye, I saw the heat end with a flourish, then the suspenseful silence as the judges deliberated. I had been told that, as the representative of Futility Press, it would be my pleasant duty to take the stage to make the winning announcements, which I was determined to do with quiet dignity (as befitted my high station) and Absolute Objectivity. I might even essay a jocularity or two, and to this end I consulted my tattered copy of Boys Own Annual circa 1953. Armed with a selection of wizard wheezes, I arrived at Uxbridge.
Blimey! Vast hall, no people. I decide on my modus op: stand still, look lost. Eventually I am accosted by a member of the sex other than the one I'm of, whichever that is. I am asked my identity and my reason for being. I flash credentials. Go and sit at that table, I am told. I make the acquaintance of my two fellow judges: one can best be described as a spotty oik who does some form of clerical work in the Accounts Dept of Struth Records, and the other is already somewhat newt-like and therefore incoherent. Later I ascertain his position as Sports Editor of the Uxbridge Picayune-Clarion-Haddock. Being a journalist and subject to the rigours of that estate, he is perpetually tired as a lord. Frosty tubes appear and I get a bit tired myself.
Eventually, after much tedious 'testing... one, two, um, four... ' of the battered PA system, the first band slinks onstage. The unusual line-up is drums, bass, guitar, and Batavian ear-oboe. They call themselves Death of an Artichoke. They look bored stiff. Having roundly ignored the good advice from the roadie about playing levels, they proceed to whack the wicks up to 10 and the first bars of their reggae version of Sunshine of Your Love blast forth. We, their judges, are dumbfounded. The lead vocalist is eating the crash cymbal; the bassist has fallen unconscious, laid low by a fit of acute lethargy. Each of the 38 bands in the heat is allowed ten minutes' playing time and thirty minutes to set up. As Death of an Artichoke blunder into their third number — a pastiche tribute to Genghis Khan — we find ourselves glued to the clock on the wall. Not to worry, only eight minutes to go. Crack another tube...
Six hours and 20 minutes later, it is all over bar the moaning. We have listened to 38 exceeding loud bands, three of which were nearly in tune. The judges confer — that is, the spotty oik and I confer; the Sports Editor has died of a liver overload and is under the table beneath a clanking mound of empty frosties. How can we pick a winner? Should there even be a winner? We consider naming all 38 bands joint second place. The competitors await, yawning and vomiting. The nearest exit seems a long way off, so we choose a winner and I step up to announce the victory.
Standard Judges' Apologia: 'Ladies and gentlemen, first I'd like to commend all the performers for their — er — performances and say how tough it was to pick a winner to go on to the semi-finals in Dundee. But someone has to win, so let's have a big hand for a great little band, The Sons of the Kray Brothers!' Clap... clap... ominous mutterings from 37 bands.
Back at the judges' table, 112 losers gather to ask politely why their bands didn't win, and could they see the scoresheets? The scoresheets have a section for judges' comments and as the heat wore on and our ears got number and our brains got duller, the comments veered away from objective gentility. Some of the comments consist of one word. To show the scoresheets to these surly musicians would be an act of the most outrageous folly. We stand on our dignity and whine that only the judges are allowed to see the scoresheets. There are mutterings — I can pick out '... tar and feather the...' and 'where's that bloody noose?' It seems a good time to become highly scarce.
That was four years ago. Since then, I have judged a dozen heats each year. I have hardened my soul. I now mark all my scoresheets with high points and kind comments, and keep my actual scores on the band of my Y-fronts with a felt-tip pen. I no longer look for talent and any of that stuff. The winning band is invariably the one which is onstage for the shortest time. I am a veteran and can out-consume any three novice judges. Who'd be a bloody judge, eh? Crack another tube...
Pyral, well-known for their top-quality cassettes and tapes which are currently edging their way slowly but surely into the studios, recently announced their new ASA 3 real-time ⅓-octave audio analyser. This box has 28 filters from 35Hz to 22KHz, with 0.25dB precision readout on Burroughs 'Bar-graph' displays. The machine has two memories and two switchable inputs. The device also incorporates a white/pink noise and sweep sine generator. The ASA 3 is designed for analysing music signals in real-time, or for giving frequency-response curves.
Pyral, (Contact Details)
It's sad to reflect that presently there is only one multitrack tape machine in volume production in the UK: the Brenell Mini 8-track. Soundcraft, that well-known manufacturer of very attractive PA and studio mixers, plan to put a stop to that and are currently developing a transport for release some time later this year. They have already put together a rack-mounting electronics package complete with mother board containing master bias oscillator, tape head connections and the necessary interface logic for the remote control system. The electronics module costs a very reasonable £1,335, while the 8-track control unit, which features line out selection of line/sync/replay and channel record/ready selector switches and indicator lights, will set you back a further £140.
Line in and out connections to the electronics package are via unbalanced ¼in sockets. The replay amplifier is designed to operate with 80mH tape heads but will accept units within the range 60-200mH. Level and hf presets are provided, and Soundcraft quote a signal-to-noise ratio of 68dB referenced to 510nWb/m and an overall frequency response of +1, -2dB from 30Hz to 20KHz. The sync amplifier is designed to operate with 7mH heads (range 5-20mH), and has a quoted signal-to-noise ratio of 55dB (ref 510nWb/m) and an overall frequency response of +1, -2dB from 100Hz to 20KHz. If you are wondering, as we did, what transport was used to obtain these numbers (after all a box of electronics should have a better signal-to-noise ratio than 55dB) Soundcraft tell us that the tests were carried out on a prototype of the new transport design. They seem to be on the right path.
In addition to the line output amplifier, which is switched by remote control between line in/sync/replay, each channel is provided with a separate sync output amp. This has the same technical spec as the main line amp except for a rolloff at 16KHz to prevent excessive crosstalk during track bumping.
Connection between the electronics module and the remote control is achieved by a single 26-way multicore. A closed contact is required from the tape transport to tell the electronics that record has been selected. Two units can be linked for 16-track machines.
We'll be keeping our ears open for further information on this new equipment, and will be reviewing the complete machine when it becomes available.
Full details from Soundcraft Magnetics Ltd (an offshoot of the mixer company) at (Contact Details).
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