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Planning and Rehearsals
Recording the Album
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Before Beggars' Hill:
.......... Flyntlocke
.......... King Bill Folk Club
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Wrong website? If you are looking for the other Beggars Hill group, which started in 2001 at Gdynia in Poland, click here.

JM Davis (dulcimer)
JM Davis (dulcimer)

Peter Sharp (electric guitar)
Peter Sharp (electric guitar)

BEGGARS' HILL

This is the story of the Beggars' Hill folk-rock album from 1976 which is now much sought-after by collectors of vinyl records. In 2010 it was professionally restored and officially released on CD for the first time by Talking Elephant Records.


Planning and Rehearsals

It all started when I saw the advert in Melody Maker for Sun Recording Services at Reading, inviting musicians wanting to make their own records to hire the recording studio for a weekend for £120. That sounded affordable, I thought, so I contacted Martin Maynard for more information, and he sent me his very helpful leaflet. It soon became clear that the £120 was just the tip of the iceberg.

Money Matters!

Adding onto the £120 for the studio hire, there would be the cost of the 8-track recording tapes and stereo master tapes (about £40), the pressing of the records (£120 for cutting the original metal plates, then 35p each for 500 records with inner sleeves), the record labels (set up costs of £10, then £22 for 500 labels with an allowance for wastage), the record sleeves (about £100), and the copyright royalty fees (about £50). Oh, and don't forget the VAT at 8% on all of that! With the aid of a calculator, I estimated a total budget cost of about £700 for 500 copies. Of course I did the sums for smaller quantities, but all the biggest costs were fixed setting up costs, and changing the quantities didn't have much affect on the total cost. For instance, I looked at pressing just 25 copies, and that would still be quite expensive, about £400.

In 1975, if my memory is correct, I was the only one earning a salary in paid employment (except Marc, but I think he'd already left the area). So if we were going to make a record, I would have to finance it. I'm a bit hazy now about the precise details, but I do remember that most of the group members were students, either at university, polytechnic or technical college. So I decided to take the responsibility to organise and finance the project, and create a typical collection of all our musical projects of the last few years.

Song Selection

I wanted to do a selection of songs from Flyntlocke, the King Bill Folk Club, and the various other informal combinations as well, but only those where we had added some originality to the arrangement of voices and instruments. So I looked through our song lists from all the gigs we had done, and started a shortlist of songs to choose from. I left out all those where we had just copied the original arrangement by Steeleye Span, Pentangle or whoever, but included less well-known songs which we had made into our own style. We had previously performed all of those songs live, but in the studio we would be able to over-dub extra vocals or instruments, so I tried to imagine how the present arrangements could best be improved to suit each song.

I needed to prune the shortlist into the final selection of songs for the album. For this, Peter Butcher's assistance was invaluable. We tried out several of the songs, and even just experimented with parts of some songs, which he recorded for us to listen to over and over again, to help us decide what sounded good and what didn't. So I was able to select the final songs, and plan which vocals, instruments and personnel would be needed. I believe the final selection of songs is pretty balanced. There are three songs from the Flyntlocke era, three from the King Bill Folk Club, three from our informal trio/quartet arrangements, plus two Everly Brothers songs which reflected other related styles from our repertoire which we never performed live. All of the personnel from those previous projects were involved with at least one of the songs, but I also took the opportunity of inviting Laura, Neil and John Rodd to join us as I felt they could add something extra to some of the songs.

This all sounds as if I was the big boss, ordering everybody around, but (I hope) it wasn't quite like that. No musical project like this would succeed unless all the performers were keen to make their own unique contribution. My role was really to take care of the business and organisational aspects, and to get the best out of each of the performers. To do this, initially I had to discuss the project with each of them and explain what I had in mind for the album as a whole, and the part I hoped they would play. To their credit, they all jumped at the chance, even those only involved with a few of the tracks, but several of them thought I was mad and that we weren't good enough! However, I was confident that we were good enough - we were just inconsistent, but the advantage of the recording studio was that we could separate each voice and instrument and re-record over any faulty bits.


Peter Butcher recalls the weeks leading up to the weekend in the recording studio:
"In preparation for the day of the recording, Dave and I spent some time checking harmonies that he'd arranged for a number of songs; we did this by means of a very elderly reel-to-reel Truvox tape deck, where it was possible to play one (previously recorded) track while simultaneously recording an additional source on to the other track. It sounds excruciating to describe, looking back with the benefit of access to modern digital equipment where such things are much easier. There was a lag in the process caused by the gap on the tape between the relative positions of each of the playback and record heads so the process of balancing the signal levels was pretty tricky. I thought the results were very poor, technically speaking, but Dave was clearly seeking simply to verify that the harmonies he'd mapped out would actually work!

We then put the voice parts together on to a simultaneous recording - this would have been done with a pair of stereo mikes and the balance would have been achieved "on the hoof" as we went through the songs. This was really to enable Dave to get to a shortlist for the day itself. Before that, my mind is a blur about where and when the earlier gigs took place. Sometimes we were working with extremely limited kit; later on some significant purchases were made. No doubt other memories are better than mine about all of that!"

Logistical Nightmare

One problem which we needed to work around constantly, was that nearly all of us were students and needed time for exams, coursework and lectures. We would have to fit in all of the rehearsals and recording sessions during the summer vacation. So I arranged to visit Martin at Sun Recording Services to check out the facilities and clarify any queries - everything looked good, so I booked the studio for the weekend of 13th and 14th September 1975. In the meantime, we had many rehearsals in small sub-groups of four or five people at the most. This was partly because we were rehearsing in our parents' homes and space was limited, and partly to avoid wasting people's precious time waiting around during the songs they were not involved in.

The logistical problems became more acute when planning the actual recording weekend, as some people had other commitments and would be unavailable for part of the weekend, while others were only involved with one or two songs and it would be unreasonable to expect them to wait around doing nothing for hours (and unlikely to be conducive to giving their best performances). Plus, we also had to transport eleven people, instruments and equipment from the Epsom area to Reading, a journey of about 40 miles taking about an hour. Fortunately, several of the group had their own cars, but I'm especially grateful to Peter Butcher, yet again, who kindly volunteered to be a taxi service doing the trip backwards and forwards several times on Saturday to help us out.

This problem was solved in our rather strange programme for the recordings - basically we recorded enough of each instrumental backing track to allow the remaining parts to be added later when the other performers were available. Rather unconventional, I admit, but it was the only way we could resolve all the conflicting requirements and complete enough songs to fill an album. As a result, only three of the songs were actually recorded live, with all of the performers singing and playing together at the same time and place. Now I come to think about it, it's a miracle we managed to complete eleven songs at all!


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Neil Stanford (electric guitar)
Neil Stanford (electric guitar)

Pete Roberts (drums) & Neil Stanford (standing)
Pete Roberts (drums) & Neil Stanford (standing)

JM Davis (bass)
JM Davis (bass)

Dave Frohnsdorff (bass) & Neil Stanford (electric guitar)
Dave Frohnsdorff (bass) & Neil Stanford (electric guitar)

Dave Frohnsdorff (acoustic guitar) & Marc Isherwood (bass)
Dave Frohnsdorff (acoustic guitar) & Marc Isherwood (bass)