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Bob Auger - A Great Recording Engineer

Part II

<< Continued from yesterday.

Bob's father was, apparently, a sergeant-major in the Army. Although Bob was born in London, successive postings of his father caused the family endless upheavals. Bob spent some time in India as a child, where he caught malaria, which resulted in many interruptions to his education. He left school at 14, and took a job as a booking clerk at Stoke-on-Trent railway station. When at the age of 28 he left to take up an apprenticeship at Bryanston Street Studios, he was working at Head Office in Euston. From the studios he moved on to the Pye record company as an engineer. From 1960-62 he was Chief Engineer of Granada TV in Manchester. It was through his connection with Granada TV, however, that Granada Recordings was set up, largely as an outfit for him to run, which he did from 1969-74, when he went freelance. It was a meteoric rise in the world for the boy railway clerk, and it demonstrates both the quality of his work, and the regard in which he was held, on the part of the then executive at Granada, and also at Pye.

It is not my intention to write a memoir of Bob as a technical coverage of his recording skills. Sadly, this is not within my capacity. This was a time when the techniques and skills of sound recording were rapidly changing and developing, and Bob was at the forefront of these innovations. He became well-known for developing the multi-microphone techniques on which modern day recording largely rests, while his recording of Mahler's Third Symphony for Unicorn is reputedly the first commercial multi-track recording, on 1-inch tape, using the then newly-developed Dolby A system. As an innovator, he was a hero and an inspiration to many budding sound engineers, such as Tony Faulkner of Green Room Productions, now one of Britain's leading recording engineers.

Bob worked with many great international artists during these years, all of them happy to place their trust in his capabilities to reproduce their art to the highest quality of sound. Many, such as Sir John Barbirolli, became warm friends. Bob worked with, among others, the conductors Bernstein, Horenstein and Stokowski, the singers Beverley Sills and Cathy Berberian, and the film composer Bernard Herrmann. (He also made the first recordings, for Pye, by my husband John McCabe, both as pianist and composer - however, that was before my time.) Although he had no formal musical training, Bob was very knowledgeable of both music and recordings, having started collecting records (78s) as a child. He could read a score well enough to be able to cope with both engineering and production at a small-scale recording session for, say pianist or harpsichordist, where keeping costs down was a major consideration. He had an innate reverance for artistry, which led him to show great consideration for, and patience with, musicians, and generally this meant that musicians felt instinctively secure in his presence. Only once do I recall his patience snapping, with an artist (who shall remain nameless) who had done over 200 takes of a comparatively simple keyboard piece. 'At that point' said Bob, who was to join my husband and me for dinner that evening, 'I showed him how to load the tape, and how to handle the recording controls, and left him to it!'  Bob did not often snap, but when he did you certainly knew it.

Copyright © Monica McCabe, April 4th 1999

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