When Elgar met Pink Floyd

During my recent listening session with the celebrated recording producer Christopher Bishop a fascinating anecdote emerged about the legendary EMI Barbirolli/Janet Baker Dream of Gerontius. For the sessions in 1964 the producer was Ronald Kinoch Anderson with Peter Bown as balance engineer. Peter Bown was highly-skilled at the mixing desk and more of that anon, but his experience and expertise was mainly in rock music. Which meant he would struggle with reading Elgar's score for the oratorio. 

So Christopher Bishop, who had just joined EMI to start his career as a producer, was delegated to sit with Peter Bown in the depths of Manchester's Free Trade Hall to interpret the score. Christopher was full of praise for Peter Bown's work at the sessions; which is confirmed by the 1964 recording remaining today as the definitive version of Elgar's masterpiece.

That is Peter Bown (1926-1997) in the photo above. He was one of the renowned trio of EMI 'pop' engineers together with Malcolm Addey and Stuart Eltham. (The latter also crossed between classical and rock, with considerable success in both fields.) Among Peter Bown's credits are engineering for Phil Spector on the Beatle's Let It Be. But his most famous achievement was working with the then-unknown Pink Floyd on their breakthrough album The Piper at the Gate of Dawn, for which he is credited with masterminding the famous Pink Floyd sound. He went on to work on the Floyd's Atom Heart Mother and Meddle.

At a time when homosexuality was frowned on even in the creative industries, Peter Bown was unashamedly gay. When a suit, white shirt, and tie was the standard uniform for EMI production staff - see photo of George Martin at the Sgt Pepper sessions - he dressed and acted flamboyantly. It is thought that this flamboyance was why the hugely-talented Peter Bown, who brought together Elgar and the Pink Floyd, never progressed to become an EMI producer.  


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