An Unusual Version of Bix Beiderbecke’s ‘In A Mist’.

‘In a Mist’ – played by a wind ensemble plus ‘harpsichord’ in 1936.

In 2007, a very unusual version of ‘In a Mist’ was acquired when a classical flute-playing friend of mine, who also collects 78s of flute solos, kindly called and said he had 2 single sided vinyl test pressings he didn’t want. He’d bought them because hand-written on the labels was: ‘Harpsichord and woodwind ensemble’. But when he played them, they sounded more like Jazz, so he offered them to me. They were obviously British Decca tests, but they were dubbed and the quality was very poor. The master numbers were written on the labels, and on the equally obvious (but mistaken) assumption that they were Decca masters, were dated to May 1941. It was indeed a wind group, and the harpsichord was  assumed to be a Hammond ‘Novachord’, an early and very innovative electronic keyboard instrument. These first appeared in 1939, and Decca had acquired one almost immediately. Alas, even this assumption was also to be proved wrong…

One of the titles was identified by a friend as: ‘Mind, the Handel’s Hot’ – a novelty piece in the style of ‘Bach Goes to Town’, written by Dennis Moonan. It was notably recorded for Decca by Arthur Young with Hatchett’s Quintette, including Stéphane Grappelly in April 1940. Dennis Moonan was a member of that group, playing clarinet, sax. and viola. (Master DR4580-1, Decca F-7591). It was only years later, when we picked up a copy of Decca F-7591 as a companion to the the test, that we discovered that the Decca side was not entirely the same composition; some of the themes were the same, but another was different.  

The other title, to our surprise & delight, was a transcription of Bix Beiderbecke’s piano composition ‘In a Mist’ – the first recording of the piece in the U.K., as far as I know.

However, there were several inexplicable factors. For a start, why were the sides dubbed? Why was the quality of the sound so poor; there is a hum on the original disc. Why was the run-off groove not locked? (At the end of each side, the pick-up slides into the middle of the label.) The master numbers were blank in the Decca files. What did all this mean?

The transcription of ‘In a Mist’ is very nice, very atmospheric – but the performance is full of fluffs, as though it was a preliminary run-through. Or possibly the musicians weren’t quite up to it? Who knows.

Back in 2007, we asked on the 78-list, and Andrew Homzy and David Lennick thought the group’s sound was intended to emulate that of the Alec Wilder Octet. I had never heard any of those, and I believe only one coupling was put out in the U.K. at the time. But the presence of a harpsichord was a ‘diagnostic feature’ of the Wilder sound. I telephoned Wilder’s publisher in New York (this was 2007, coincidentally the centenary of his birth), who were unaware of any arrangement by him of ‘In a Mist’.

And there it stood until a couple of years ago, when Charles Hippisley-Cox contacted me. He had a list of some master numbers of recordings made by the Synchrophone Company, and 5720/21 would have been made in early 1936. Decca had bought up Synchrophone (whose main label was Octacros, which mainly provided library music) around March 1937, and continued to supply Octacros discs for some time thereafter.

So these were not Decca numbers after all, but Octacros, though they were Decca test pressings.

What about the harpsichord? The new date of 1936 ruled out the Novachord, leaving only the Challen ‘Multi-tone’ piano as the most likely candidate. This was a regular piano with an added ‘stop’ that could emulate a harpsichord – but it could also play loud or soft while doing this; the harpsichord itself having a fixed volume level. When you listen to the recording, the pianist actually does play forte, then the same phrase piano, deliberately demonstrating this capability. (But because the tone is exactly the same, it creates the psycho-acoustic effect of the piano suddenly physically receding into the distance!)  

The main problems remaining are these: (a) Who is actually playing on these sides; (b) Who arranged them? Moonan? (c) The Wilder Octet’s first recordings seem to have been in 1938 – well after these sides were recorded. So where did this ‘Wilder sound’ come from, if it be such?

I think the obvious thing to do is to put ‘In a Mist’ on YouTube and see if any info. is forthcoming.

Why didn’t I think of that before? 8^) 



In addition, here are the sides as mp3s:

‘In a Mist’


“Mind, the Handel’s Hot.”
Violet May’s was a legendary second-hand record shop in Sheffield.


Just for good measure, we’ll throw in ‘Mind, the Handel’s Hot’ on Decca, with Stéphane Grapelly, no less. This sounds to me like a revised, improved version of the Synchrophone composition; but as nearly everything else we thought about all this was largely wrong, all we can say is: ‘Who knows?’  8^)  



Finally, the Youtube video has not thrown up any suggestions. If you have any, please write!