Discovering My Dead Dad's Voice On A Vintage Tape Recorder

My Dad died three years ago and he was a bit of a collector. Finding this unearthed voices, characters and memories from my childhood...
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My Dad died three years ago and he was a bit of a collector. Finding this unearthed voices, characters and memories from my childhood...

My Dad died just over three years ago and my Mam is still going through the process of deciding what to do with his belongings. She hangs on to things that mean something to her and slowly over time disposes of the things that don’t. Easier said than done as even something like a broken watch can bring back so many memories but she has done well all said and done. Sometimes she’ll find something that she thinks will interest me and it will be waiting for me when I go up to visit, the things my dad collected are many and varied.

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I’ve been given ties that I’ll never wear, an old army knife that belonged to my granddad, several broken watches, cufflinks, a toy car he had in his pocket to entertain the grandkids, crossword books, Butlin’s badges, football videos, army medals and all manner of paraphernalia. I cherish everything I have that once belonged to him and I never throw anything away much to my wife’s chagrin.

A few months back I went up as usual on my weekend visit and went into the kitchen to make us both a brew. While I was in there she shouted through from the front room “There’s something in the wash house of your dad’s if you want it. I’ve put it in a bag for you” I walked through and saw a large box shaped thing sticking out from the top of a “Visit Wales” bag. It was our old tape recorder, a Grundig T20 Deluxe model circa 1968. I knew it was 1968 because that was when my granddad died and what little money he had was shared between his children and my grandmother. My dad used his money to buy the tape recorder.

The tape recorder weighed a ton and my Mam reckoned it wouldn’t work “I was going to throw it away but thought I’d ask you if you wanted it first. It won’t be any good now after all those years” “No, no I’ll take it” I said excited by the possibility that it might work and voices from the past would once more reveal themselves. When I got home I rushed through the front room and headed for the kitchen, trying unsuccessfully to conceal my new found treasure. My wife highly tuned to my foraging ways said “What’s that? Not more rubbish” “What?” I said, her glare told me she wasn’t in the mood for jokes “Oh this, just summat from my Mam’s” I said as the garish dragon on the Visit Wales bag stretched to breaking point. My wife shook her head and went back to watching an episode of “Come Dine with Me” that she must have seen at least three times.

I walked through and saw a large box shaped thing sticking out from the top of a “Visit Wales” bag. It was our old tape recorder, a Grundig T20 Deluxe model circa 1968.

Alone in the kitchen I went to plug in the giant tape recorder but technology has moved on from the 70’s and the plug had round pins. I couldn’t remember where the spare plugs where so I took the plug off the toaster and just hoped nobody wanted toast soon. With a little trepidation I plugged the recorder in and stood well back. The machine that had lay silent for over 30yrs hummed with power and the smell of burning copper filled the air. I half expected the machine to burst into flames and cursed myself for not having one of those little fire extinguishers that posh people have in their kitchens. Curiosity is a terrible thing though and I had to see if it still worked so I pressed the rewind button to take the reel to reel tapes back to the beginning. The machine jumped into life and the reels started spinning at a frantic rate, it worked! Well at least the rewind button did and I got the tape back to its starting point safely.

This was the moment I was waiting for; a little bit of Topping history would now be heard for the first time since the early 70’s. I carefully turned the dial to “Play” and the tape moved slowly and begrudgingly forward. It groaned like the wind in the trees of a gothic ghost story and I turned the volume up so that when the words came I would hear them clearly. The tape ran slowly through and the clear tape gave way to the brown magnetic strip that magically held all those memories. I put my head close to the speaker grill and waited and then it happened “WHAT BECOMES OF THE BROKEN HEARTED!!!!!” came blasting out of the ether and straight into my ears. I expected some family scene being played out not Jimmy Ruffin so I fast forwarded the tape and pressed play again. This time is was Arthur Conley then later on Billy Preston. Further investigations revealed that either I or my eldest sister Christine had recorded” Emperor Rosko’s Soul Show” complete with Radio 1 jingles from the medium wave radio.

I half expected the machine to burst into flames and cursed myself for not having one of those little fire extinguishers that posh people have in their kitchens.

This was followed by Top of the Pops chart shows from the 70’s and the reel finished with the Phil Spector Christmas album in full. It was not what I hoped and “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree” certainly wasn’t worth the bother of a new plug. Undeterred I swapped the reels around to listen to side 2. At first there was nothing, just the groaning of the turning reels and then it happened, voices… “Go on say something” it was my Dad…

He was talking to one of my little sisters; I had four of them, two teenagers and two little ones at primary school. We all lived in a three bedroom council house in Worsley Hall, my Mam & Dad, me, my four sisters and my niece. It was very rarely a quiet house and aunts & uncles were also frequent visitors. This side of the tape reflected this as voices filled the rooms with the everyday chatter and clatter of a full house. “Should I throw these lobbies away?” shouted my Mam from the kitchen “No my Dad said he’ll have them for his dinner” said our Eileen. “Sing us a song” says my Dad “Which one?” says our Kathryn “One from school” says my Dad “Wow wow wow the boat” sings our Kathryn.

At first there was nothing, just the groaning of the turning reels and then it happened, voices… “Go on say something” it was my Dad…

We were regular church goers, my Mam made us go when we were at school, we knew the Catechism by sacred heart. Thankfully no prayers were offered up to the great recorder though our Angela did sing a lovely version of “Ave Maria” The oldest recording on the tape belongs to our Christine and my cousin Mary as they play out a scene in a shop were a frock is taken back because there’s a rip in it. Christine demands her full refund of a penny back. My only appearance on the tape is a frantic whistling of the tune “We are ace, we are cool, we are Wigan and we rule”

There’s one more tape to try, it looks a lot newer than the first reel and I don’t hold out much hope for anything being on it, it looks unused. I carefully wind it on and press play. Again there’s silence but I wait and then comes the sound of my Dad singing “It’s a long way to Tipperary, it’s a long way to go, it’s a long way to Tipperary, to the sweetest girl I know, goodbye Piccadilly, farewell Leicester Square, It’s a long, long way to Tipperary, but my heart’s right there…

When the song finishes there’s silence and I let the tape run on but the silence continues, there’s nothing else just the noise of the reels turning and the constant hum of the recorder. My sisters, Christine apart, don’t want to listen to the tapes, they find it too upsetting. For me the worst part is that silence, it goes on and on and on…

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