THE GREAT STOCKPORT BAKE-OFF
This is the story of our recent scary but exciting adventure with three lost 10cc studio tapes, an oven and an analogue studio in Salford. Our documentary film, 'The Great Stockport Bake-off' was released on 25th January 2021. You can watch it now via the YouTube link below. If you want more specific details on our tape baking, restoration, digitising and mastering methods and services, or more specific information about 'Sticky Shed Syndrome', please click this link:
The Consequences 10cc podcast and the birth of the Bake-off
In March 2019, Sean and his long-time best chum Paul McNulty embarked on an unlikely mission: to attempt to capture the magic of 10cc and Godley & Creme in a podcast. The emergence of hundreds of secret, passionate, like-minded 10cc-ers who tuned in religiously to dozens of episodes took both the podcasters by utter surprise. Flabber-casted, you might say.
In the course of nearly two years, we've interviewed lots of fascinating people, including 10cc original members Kevin Godley and Graham Gouldman, pop supremos Tim Rice and Paul Gambaccini, Strawberry Studios founder and engineer Peter Tattersall, fellow engineer Mark Cockburn, record company boss Ken Maliphant, 10cc's former manager Harvey Lisberg, Lol Creme's son Lalo, and a host of fellow fans from all over the world who brought fresh and entertaining views to every corner of the 10cc universe.
Raiding the Strawberry Archive
One of Sean and Paul's guests was key to opening a door that had been shut for over 40 years. Peter Wadsworth of the Strawberry Archive gave us a guided tour of the excellent 10cc/Strawberry exhibition at the Stockport Story museum near Manchester. Peter's a guiding light in curating, gathering and preserving artefacts from this historic studio, and home to 10cc. During his tour he mentioned the existence of a multi-track tape that had been sitting in his cupboard for nearly 20 years. The tape box purported to contain a 24-track recording, recorded on 3rd July 1976 by 10cc for a TV advert for make-up giant Revlon's Natural Wonder mascara! No one, he said, had ever heard the tape.
Paul contacted Revlon's marketing archive in New York, and they had no record that it had ever existed. During podcasts, Sean and Paul quizzed Graham and Kevin from the band. Nope, no memory of it. So was the tape box just a work of fiction, or a plan that didn't transpire? An empty tape seemed like a likely possibility.
He also revealed he had two other tapes as well: one, a smaller 2-track tape marked simply 'Hotlegs' (a proto-10cc band featuring all future members minus Graham) and another 2-inch tape labelled just '10cc'. The plot thickens!
It would take 15 months, and a year ravaged by COVID-19, before the 10cc planets would line up to give us the opportunity to listen to the contents of these tapes. But we had to 'bake' them first...
We'd long assumed that we'd need to physically 'bake' these lost 10cc tapes. A number of recording tape manufacturers - particularly Ampex and Scotch - began using a new 'binder' chemical in their manufacturing process in the 1970s. This binder was used like a glue to stick the black or brown magnetic particles to the plastic tape stock. Unfortunately, this new chemical absorbed moisture over time ('hydroysis'), and this turned the important oxide particles on the tapes gooey. This problem is known as 'Sticky Shed Syndrome'. When played, the tapes would leave dusty, mushy deposits all over a machine's heads, which would have to be cleaned. The tapes themselves of course would be ruined. So effectively baking a tape in a de-humidifying 'oven' would remove the moisture and in theory make a tape playable for a few weeks.
We clearly couldn't risk this with these rare 10cc artefacts! The 'Revlon' and 'Hotlegs' tapes were Ampex, so we were 90% sure that these needed baking. The '10cc' tape was on an Agfa reel, and we could find no evidence that this would need to be baked. But we decided we'd do it anyway, just to be on the safe side!
Paul bought a Super-Q food dehydrator for just over a hundred pounds. Sean tried it out on a couple of old tapes that his grandad - an audio technician - had kept in his attic since the 1960s. Sean researched the 'rules' for tape baking on dozens of websites, including one written by Moog pioneer Wendy Carlos. Mixing and matching the recommendations of these experts, Sean resolved to bake these small 1/4-inch tapes for two hours, at 55 degrees centigrade.
The first tape, a public announcement for the port of Harwich in the UK, played like a dream. The Great Stockport Bake-off was now go!
Sean and Paul met with fellow bakers Peter Wadsworth and Liam Newton (the author of the excellent book '10cc: The Worst Band in the World') at an AirBnB in Manchester. This small house doubled up as our film studio for shooting our talking head interviews, as well as 'Baking Central'. Our own Rob Salmon (of Orfactor Productions) captured everything superbly. We set up our food dehumidifier in the kitchen, and set about baking the tapes. First in was the smaller 1/4-inch Hotlegs tape, which we baked at 55 °C for two hours, according to advice. Analogue recording expert Roy Harrison from Riverside Audio was instrumental in helping us make these decisions, and was an invaluable consultant, on hand by phone. He warned us that there was no guarantee of success...
But a success it was. After cooling the tape for two hours, we tentatively played it on Paul's parents' old Ferguson open reel machine. Sadly, this recorder's fastest tape speed was 7.5 inches per second. The two-track Hotlegs tape was recorded at 15ips! But this made its first hearing even more mysterious! What you hear in the film are brief excerpts digitally sped-up to the correct speed.
Baking the 'big ones'
We were even more excited - and nervous - about baking the much heavier 2-inch 24-track tapes. We were running out of time, and couldn't logistically bake them for the required 8 hours and let them cool down for the same time before we were due at the studio at 10am the next morning. So we hit on a compromise: bake them for 7 hours on a slightly higher temperature. Given that the fruits of our semi-scientific research had landed on 55-60° as a decent standard, we went for 59° as that seemed like a sensible, random decision... Scientists we are not!
To say we were nervous about putting these poor multi-track treasures on a studio engineer's 14-grand tape machine is an understatement!
Playing back the multi-tracks
Cotton Mouth Studios owner Rene Iacopino had prepared well for our arrival. Our tape baking consultant Roy Harrison had helped him to calibrate his beautiful vintage 24-track machine. All tracks were connected to corresponding channels on his analogue 24-track mixing desk, and software program ProTools was up and loaded on the studio's Apple Mac. We were ready to press play.
We won't spoil the surprise here. Suffice to say, Rene's expertise was exceptional, and we'll never be able to thank him enough. All is revealed in our short documentary film, 'The Great Stockport Bake-off'!