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:: ProjeKction - King Crimson NET :: • View topic - Bill's Leslie Bradley Interview -- PART ONE

Bill's Leslie Bradley Interview -- PART ONE

This is where writer Bill Murphy posts his interviews with the Crims, and other prog luminaries. It's a book in serial form -- that you become part of!

Moderator: LTinAspic

Bill's Leslie Bradley Interview -- PART ONE

Postby LTinAspic on Fri Dec 29, 2006 2:05 am

Greetings...and Happy New Year!

On October 3, 1993, I interviewed Mellotron genius Leslie Bradley for well over an hour. Mr. Bradley, along with his brothers, is responsible for building and popularizing Mellotrons in the 1960s. Mellotrons, as y'all know, gave birth to progressive rock. My conversation with this fascinating man was one of my favorites. Very few people had as colorful and interesting a life, and I considered it a high honor to speak to him.

Sadly, Mr. Bradley died, at the age of 80, on January 16th, 1997 -- just four years after I spent a few hours with him on the phone.

If memory serves, I called him a week after this interview for another interview. I'm listening to my tapes to find out for sure. if I discover that my set of tapes marked October 10th are different from this interview, I'll transcribe and post it.


BM: Hi, may I speak to Mr. Bradley, please?

Voice: Yes, just a minute.

LB: Hello?

BM: Mr. Bradley. My name is Bill Murphy, I’m calling from the States.

LB: Yes.

BM: I’m writing a book on King Crimson and progressive rock and Mellotrons and all that kind of stuff. And David Kean gave me your phone number, and said I could probably call you. Is there any chance I could speak to you today, or is now not a good time for that?

LB: Yeah, now is a little awkward.

BM: Ok.

LB: If you could, let me think. It’s about 5:30 here at the moment. If you could ring our time, say 10 to 10:30, that’s in five hours time.

BM: Yep, that’d be great.

LB: Is that convenient for you?

BM: Perfect.

LB: Right.

BM: I’ll speak to you then.

LB: I’ll look forward to it.

BM: Thank you, sir.

LB: Goodbye.

BM: Cheers, bye bye.

A short while later...

LB: One eight oh two?

BM: Mr. Bradley?

LB: Hello there.

BM: Hi, this is Bill Murphy calling from the States again.

LB: Hello Bill.

BM: How are you doing today, or tonight?

LB: Oh, not too bad.

BM: Yeah? What’s the weather like there?

LB: The weather has been rather nice today. We’ve been having a lot of rain and wind of late, and rather chilly. But up until about 6:00 it was fine, but now it’s nice and steadily raining.

BM: [laughs]

LB: Which is about normal for England, you know.

BM: Really?

LB: We get a lot of that stuff, even the Romans complained about it.

BM: [laughs]

LB: And they called it a land of rain, cloud, and cold.

BM: [laughs] And that about sums it up, huh?

LB: [laughs] Well, at times. We do get an awful lot of that because we’re a small island surrounded by the sea, but I think the whims of nature get at us a bit.

BM: [laughs]

LB: What can I do for you, Bill?

BM: Well, I’m researching a book on King Crimson and progressive rock, and Mellotrons, and things of that sort. And I contacted David Kean about a month or two ago and he suggested I get in touch with you. I asked him if I could speak with you, and he said it should be ok. And he gave me your phone number. And I just want to ask you some questions about that incredible instrument. First of all, I guess, what do you think of the current resurgence and interest in the Mellotron?

LB: It has amazed me. When, you possibly know, that the company Streetly Electronics, we had to go into liquidation in 1986. And I really thought that was the end of the line. And then, about three years ago, David Kean, who must have been trying to find me for some months, got in touch, and you know, told me of his interest. And shortly after that a chap called Martin Smith, who lives about 40 miles from here, also got in touch, and he wanted a Mellotron. And from there it seemed to have, I don’t know whether that started it all, or whether it was on its way. But quite honestly, I thought the thing was dead until then.

BM: [laughs] Really?

LB: And it was a very, very pleasant surprise to find it wasn’t. It’s good news, really, because there’s one or two people now beginning to use them over here, and I think it’s going to become, it’s perhaps going to achieve something it didn’t achieve when it was first around. You know, it, the numbers came up, and the--made use of it, but it didn’t have much acknowledgment. Of course, for one thing, the musicians’ union were dead against it.

BM: Yeah, I was going to ask you about that. Yeah, that was in the early 70’s or 1970, was it, they tried to ban it. What did you think about that? Were you pretty worried that your instrument would die then and there?

LB: Well, we were, really. There were quite a few people that were still using it, but of course, it went from any sort of broadcasting or television, and the chap that really broke it or was, what was his name--oh god, I’ve forgotten it now--The Moody Blues.

BM: Oh yeah. Michael Pinder.

LB: Michael.

BM: Yep.

LB: Yes, he, this was all going in for about 18 months I suppose, and Mike rang me up one day at work, and said, “Are you likely to be in next Thursday?” I think that was two days away, and I said, “Yes.” He said, “Well, have a look at the BBC.” I think it was 9:30. And I said, “What are we going to see there?” And he said, “Well, wait and see.” And I said, “No, tell me, come on.” And he said, “Right, well, I shall have two Mellotrons on the show.” And I said, “Well, what about the musicians’ union?” He said, “You want to know about the musicians’ union?” And I said, “Yes.” He said, “Well, fuck ‘em.”

BM: [laughs]

LB: And how on earth he managed to get the BBC to do it, I’ll never know. And I’ve never seen him to have a talk since, but from then on in, I think the union liked--it was the same with electric organs. They tried to squash them, but of course in the end, they couldn’t. And finally, they shut up about it.

BM: [laughs]

LB: So then it of course, that was when the model 400 started to really go then.

BM: And that was, yeah. That was, model 400 was around 1970 or so. Yeah.

LB: Yes, the 400, I think--I’m afraid I haven’t got any records at all. A lot of this stuff went when we went into liquidation. A lot of the paperwork disappeared, the liquidators sort of grabbed hold of it, some of it was stolen. And in our rush to quit the factory under penalty, we couldn’t be sort of careful in what we kept, you know? It was bloody awful at the time, and naturally, we all thought it was the end anyway. I wish to god that I could have had another half day there now, before we scrapped all that stuff. I could a rather detailed story. It was, I think, about 1972 or 73 when we made the first 400. That is not exact, I can’t be positive, but it was around then. And then of course, we made quite a lot of them, the better part of 2000.

BM: Well, did you guys, when you were inventing this thing, did you ever stop and think or did you even imagine that you’d be creating something that would start a whole new genre of music?

LB: Not at all. We recognized it as a very revolutionary, sort of way-ahead sort of thing, because it naturally came just before the synthesizers. We actually didn’t invent it. It was the child of Harry Chamberlin who lived in California. He actually was the original inventor. Do you know the story?

BM: Vaguely, somewhat. But if you can tell it to me, that would be...

LB: Yeah, sure, sure. Well, what happened was, the first thing we knew about it was in 1962. We’d had a terrible year, we lost my father, my middle brothers lost his wife, we lost and uncle, and it seemed to be all funerals. And then, in May, towards the end of May, we had a phone call from an American chap in London asking if we could supply 70 matched magnetic heads, because at the time we were manufacturing all sorts of tape heads, special and standards, those types of things. And we said yes and sent him a quote. And he came back a day or two later and said, “Well, what else can you guys do?” And we said, “Well, virtually anything.” It was a bit of a bad time because we had a series of recessions in England, you know, about every 18 months for the last 20 years...

BM: [laughs]

LB: ...and it was during one of those. And we finally went down to London to meet Bill Fransen, he was the chap that brought it over. And he was in an apartment in Park Lane. We went upstairs, had a cup of coffee, and he was a master at sort of presenting this thing, you know? He said, “Do you want to come in the other room?” And, “This is it.” And there was this humming beast with a noise coming from it.

BM: [laughs]

LB: And then he started to play it of course, and complete rhythms and accompaniment, and violins and voices and all the rest of it came forth, and I mean, I think there was sort of three bangs as our chins hit our chests, you know?

BM: Yep. [laughs]

LB: And from then on in, it becomes a case of finding the finance. He’d already got someone in tow who turned out to be, well, he was the sort of chap I think in England at least, that makes a bastard look a gentleman, you know?

BM: [laughs]

LB: So anyway, this struggled on, and I think we went down to London a total of 15 times, which became a little tiresome. And finally, Bill in August had to go back to California for some family problems and all that, mother or something, and he was away for about a month. And when he came back, he said, “Well, this doesn’t seem to be working out.” So we had a final meeting with this chap, and it was pretty obvious it wasn’t going to work. So he then advertised a sort of unique, new musical instrument, etc., etc., needs finance. And it was replied to by an English conductor/musician called Eric Robinson. He was very popular. He was doing a program called Music for You on television. And he played popular numbers and had popular singers, you know? Light music, in general. Anyway, Eric saw it, and he was quite impressed, and we met there in London and had lots of talks and things. Meanwhile, we were trying to find a bigger factory to get into, and suddenly it all came together and Robinson said, “Yes, let’s go ahead.” and produced some money. We found a factory, fitted it up, and in 1963, we started on the project. That’s the basic early story, you know?

BM: Where did the name Mellotron come from? Who coined that phrase?

LB: It was the registered name of the unit already.

BM: Was it really?

LB: Yes, that was Chamberlin’s name that he named it. How Fransen came involved, actually, he was a bit of an entrepreneurial type of guy who I think had done virtually everything for a living. And he decided to have a bash at being his own man and cleaning windows.

BM: [laughs]

LB: And of course in those days, people used to use dusters and window leathers and stuff like that. And Bill had got himself a wide sort of squeegee thing and a lot of extension things and managed to clean windows, you know, that were 30 feet in the air without a ladder.

BM: [laughs]

LB: And while doing this, he looked in this, I think it was a converted garage and saw Chamberlin working and playing one of his machines. And he got involved. And he found, I think, finance for Chamberlin, but Chamberlin because the guy with the money wanted his name to appear somewhere on the instrument, didn’t like it and was very mad. So I think he went on making one every six months for a bit. And finally Bill thought, well the way to get it done is to come over to England, and he brought a couple over. And it all started from there. It’s a long story, Bill.

BM: Well, it’s an interesting story about people being in the right place at the right time, and its fascinating. But what did you think of the sound? When you supplied all the tape heads for it and he put it together and brought you into the room and said, “Here it is.”, what did it sound like to you? Did you like it?

LB: We did. I was absolutely shattered, actually. I couldn’t believe it. In fact, it wasn’t, there were none of our heads in it. It was one of the original Chamberlins that he brought over.

BM: Really?

LB: Yes, he started to play Five Foot Two and Georgia Brown and things like these favorite numbers. And of course, to hear it all going and never having seen or heard anything like it before, I mean, we’d got some very simple rhythm generators, but they didn’t play in different keys. And what with the fills and end chords and one or two effects noises, we were really shattered. We couldn’t, as a matter of fact, I remember when I got home it was quite late, and I had a hell of a job to get to sleep, and when I did, I was dreaming about this damned thing all night.

BM: [laughs]

LB: I could hear this mellow sound with a sort of, you know that comb noise. Like a ghost picking his teeth with a toothpick.

BM: [laughs]

LB: And we, in the morning of course we met up, and we were all agog, and from there on in it took, what, let me think now, one, two, three, something like five or six months to get anywhere. And meanwhile, of course, we were neglecting our own work in all this letter-writing and hurtling to and from London, which is about three or four hours from here with a truck. And eventually it went, and then of course it was all systems go. It was the worst winter we’d had for 50 years, and I elected with one of our old and trusty employees, to go and do all the conduit wiring and all that sort of thing, because there was little or nothing in the place. With no heating in there, I remember at the time there was a little shop next door that sold almost everything, and we bought a bottle of milk, I remember, about 8:30 one morning, and when we came to make some coffee about 11, it was just solid ice.

BM: [laughs]

LB: So I went home, and with great difficulty, there was about three foot six of snow everywhere, and got an electric kettle, poured it up, and worked that way.

BM: Wow.

LB: Lot of fun. And actually we were using about six or seven pullovers and overcoats and overalls and it was still bloody cold.

BM: [laughs]

LB: But we got it done, and then we transferred all the stuff from the old factory, which was in Aston Villa, which is about five or six miles away, and we slowly did the conversion, installed the machinery, and we got a couple of good guys building jigs and tools, getting it all sussed out, ready to produce. And in the end of 1963, we got one of a sort going.

BM: What was that first Mark I like? What was a--

LB: It was bloody awful, actually.

BM: [laughs]

LB: We’d done a Chinese copy of some of Chamberlin’s dreadful engineering. And it was not a success, although it proved the point we could do it. And we then set about making Mark II. And we got rid of a lot of the original problems, which must have bedeviled the original Chamberlin Mellotron all the time.

BM: What kind of problems did the Mark I have? What was its basic flaw?

LB: Well, its basic flaw was that we suffered from rather a lot of hum problems, plus the fact that on the Mark I and II, you probably know there are six selections of tapes stored on drums. And it’s possible to cycle from one selection to the next. And Harry’s system, to say it was hit and miss I think would be the understatement of the century.

BM: [laughs]

LB: It caused dreadful interference and crashing noise in the system. [coughs] Excuse me, I’ve got a bit of a tickle. I’m all right, but it always happens to me when I want to talk. It’s, in your country it’s Murphy’s Law, in ours, it’s Sod’s Law.

BM: Sod’s Law?

LB: That’s your equivalent to Murphy.

BM: [laughs]

LB: A couple of right bastards, if I may say so.

BM: [laughs] Yes, indeed.

LB: So really, from then on in of course, modifications, various demonstrations and people didn’t want to accept it because it was so entirely new. A lot of the organists started to play it, and they were hands-off, they didn't want to play it, they thought they might make an idiot of themselves. Of course, Bill Fransen was the only guy that could play it at first. And we finally got a couple of chaps that could demonstrate and picked it up quickly. And it went on the air, and we did a program for the American Forces Network in Germany. Various other things. But of course, around the events of it all was the problem, I suppose the worst problem, of producing the tapes. At the start, it was not a standard width. To be able to get the series of tapes in with the width of the keys, it was a substandard 3/8 of an inch wide tape. Which is halfway between quarter and half inch, of course.

BM: Why didn’t you just have heads that were a standard, why 3/8 inch tape? Why couldn’t it have been different?

LB: Well, because the only heads at the time that were available that were completely screen and didn’t cost an arm and a leg was an ordinary half track head, which is half track for quarter inch tape. And since there were three tracks on the tape, on the machine, we had to move it laterally to embrace the tracks.

BM: Ok.

LB: And that was the problem, really. And we had a lot of trouble getting tape, and also of course there were no standard tape machine available that would handle the stuff. Plus the fact that you’ve got to make a one to one copy from the original masters to get an absolute intonation and tuning. And I designed the original double deck tape recorder, with a common capstone and guidance and that kind of things, firstly to record the 3/8 master from quarter inch tapes. And then, having built it, they are copied onto another 3/8 tape to be cut up and shoved into the machine.

BM: Wow.

LB: That was some job, boy I’ll tell you. Some job.

BM: [laughs]

LB: In fact, [laughs] when I think of it, I mean, I haven’t got much hair left, but it can still make it stand up, what I do have.

BM: [laughs]

LB: When we first tried this out, I had a toolmaker actually assigned to me to make all the special bits. And when we first got it running, we laced two tapes up and set it up, ready to run, marked it over the head block, and by the time the tape had gone the short distance to the reels that were collecting it, the two points had moved six inches apart.

BM: Oh wow.

LB: [laughs] You can imagine what the result is going to be. So we tried all sorts of things with pressure, all sorts of guidance and couldn’t get it right. So we, my brother and I spent, I think we started one Friday and we worked from about 8:00 in the morning anywhere up to about 11:00 at night, changing pressures around and different layout. And at the end of the week, which was the following Sunday week, we thought, “Well, this is, it can’t be done.” And it’s a very strange thing, but this is god’s truth, I went to bed on that Sunday night really troubled, and I fell asleep. My father, by the way was an extremely clever chap. He got about 100 and something patents to his name, and could come up with almost anything. He had died 12 months before, and I dreamt that I was looking at a blank television screen and my father appeared on it and looked very intently at me, and said, “Leslie, you’re in trouble, aren’t you?” And I remember saying, “Yes, dad.” I wasn’t a bit surprised to see him, strangely enough. And he said, “You know what I always told you? Use your brains and the knowledge you already have. Use it, and you’ll find the answer.” I got up in the morning, had my breakfast, on the way to work, the answer came. And by 3:00 in the afternoon, we had gotten the machine running within an eighth of an inch over 60 feet of tape.

BM: Wow. So what was the answer? What did you have to do?

LB: Well, we, what I did was to have common rollers taped together. Originally, as the tape came off the reel, it went ‘round these rollers to guide into the head blocks. And instead of having two separate rollers, one above the other, I had a roller very carefully turned to less than a thousandth of an inch, mounted them so the two tapes were running in tandem over the same roller. And that was the first cure. And I finally finished up with three of them, and you could run 100 feet of tape and have about a quarter of inch error.

BM: Wow.

LB: But how that all happened, heaven only knows. I tell you exactly what happened and I don’t understand it now. But it was almost as if my father had said to me, you know, when I was asleep, “Well, this is the way to do it, Les.”

BM: Wow.

LB: But I mean, that sounds like a silly, fantastic story, but it is true. And if we hadn’t have managed that, then we should never have been able to done the job.

BM: What kept you going, really? What you’re talking about here is a project that consumed an awful lot of time and money. You’re pulling your hair out, you had no idea how to do anything, what motivated you to keep trying with this instrument? Why didn’t you just give up?

LB: The Bradleys, to start with, are noted for being a dogged lot of buggers, for one thing.

BM: [laughs]

LB: And secondly, it’s a challenge. Thirdly, we got a lot of guys relying on us, not to mention the chaps that put the money up, and it was one of those things like a war time job that you decided just had to be done. And we just kept at it, and we did it, that was all.

BM: Wow.

LB: And we had a very good chief engineer, Peter Leversley, who was also very good. He didn’t have much to do with the recorder, but a lot of the rest of it and the cycling system, he developed the speed controls and that sort of thing. It was sheer persistence, dogged determination, I think is the word.

BM: So you had to actually, to make all the tapes then, you had to go and record all these instruments, correct? I mean, you had to sit down and record them?

LB: They were recorded on standard quarter-inch tape, four track, at seven and a half inches per second.

BM: And then you had to--

LB: Of course, that was no picnic. You can imagine trying to record those rhythms in absolute tempo.

BM: [laughs]

LB: And not only that, you see, we got a fill section which matched up to them.

BM: Wow.

LB: And you might have a dixieland, [sings rhythm] type of about that tempo, and then by playing an octave, you’ve got a trombone going [sings rhythm], with the leads providing the actual, you know, lead music. And all that of course, became sadly unstuck a few times, I can tell you.

BM: [laughs]

LB: I remember this Bill was a six foot, two and a half, heavyweight fella, and he said, “One of these days, Les, I’m going to stand on these stairs and I’m going to piss all over this fucking machine.”

BM: [laughs]

LB: [laughs] And I nearly joined him a couple of times. We did refrain from that. We thought it might have gotten in the motors and conducted the stuff back to our, uh, outlets.

BM: [laughs]

LB: [laughs] So that was how it went. It was just a hard, continuous slog. Took us 14 weeks to do the tapes, and sometimes we used to work ‘till very late, although it was found to be rather unconducive to your judgment and assessment, the quality as you get tired very much falls away, you know.

BM: Diminishing returns there, yeah.

LB: We used to come back in the morning, get a cup of coffee, and just listen to what we did last night. Bill was a rather profane guy, and he’d just say, “Oh, fuck me.”

BM: [laughs]

LB: [laughs] It was a lot of fun, amongst the heyday. But he was a great guy, unfortunately he’s been dead now some years. He was only 52 when he died. But he was one of these guys that never looked after himself, go all day with nothing to eat, and then eat about half a bucket full of something, you know.

BM: [laughs]

LB: And then be looking for the indigestion tablets.

BM: Yep, yep.

LB: A lot of men like that.

BM: Well, how did--I’m sorry, go ahead.

LB: He had a massive heart attack and died.

BM: Oh yeah? Well, that kind of pace, yeah, that kind of stress would definitely do that.

LB: Yes.

BM: But, what did you think when it finally took off? I mean, when people like, for instance let’s say the Beatles, even Peter Sellers, people like that, the Rolling Stones--what did that feel like?

LB: It felt great. We were all elated, you know, because they had one each, the Beatles did. And we were friends with the chap that sold them to them.

BM: Really?

LB: And of course, when they started to use it on some of their LP’s and whatnot, I mean, it was really out of this world. I mean, I can feel the excitement now, you know. All your efforts are sort of being repaid. And the strange thing too, was when Mike Pinder, he worked with us, you know, in the early days. He was our test setting up section, and he got a little group, which they used to go do one night stands within the radius of about 50 or 60 miles. I think it was just a couple of guitars, some simple keyboard instrument, and percussion. And Mike was in the test room, and he used to do the final work on them, and he was pretty good at it. And I noticed that he didn’t really know I knew, but he was making arrangements and whatnot for some of the stuff he was going to play.

BM: [laughs]

LB: Well, I knew about it, and I thought, well, he’s getting his work out and he’s got this little group. And eventually he said, “Well, we’re starting to get busy now. I might be late one or two mornings, but I’ll make up for it.” I said, “Well, you’ll just get your money stopped if that’s all right, Mike.” And there we go.

BM: Yeah. [laughs]

LB: So eventually, they left, and they started their group. And about 12 months later they were starting to get recognized. They were not the people, not the standing that they later got, and one day, they turned up, there were two of his guys and himself, and it was the time when they used to use, they’d dress up in army uniforms and things. I don’t know if you remember that period.

BM: Uh uh.

LB: Rather sickening, I thought. [laughs] You know, you see a guy who hasn’t been very careful about his hygiene for about two weeks in a smart army suit, you sort of keep him upwind.

BM: [laughs]

LB: And he said, “Well, Les, I want a Mellotron. Have you got a secondhand one?” And I said, “No, we haven’t.” He said, “Do you know where there is one?” And I said, “Yeah, I’ve got a note somewhere.” I looked in my diary, and they had one at the Dunlop people, you know, you’ve probably heard of Dunlop, the tire people?

BM: Oh yes. Yes.

LB: And they had one in their canteen there, and a guy used to play it during the meal times. And he finally left and went to London, and they rang me and said, “Well, if you’d be interested in buying it, we’d like to part with it.” Anyway, I said, “Well, Mike, go down to Dunlop.” I made him an appointment, he went down, this would be about, I suppose 11:00 in the morning. And we’d just started back after lunch, it was about 5 past 2:00, and I remember I was upstairs in the office and they came in the front gate there, and I could hear all this cheering and whooping and whatnot, and Mike ran upstairs, “We got it, Les, we got it!”

BM: [laughs]

LB: So we looked it over, and just sort of generally tuned it up a bit for him. And of course from then on in, the story is well-known. He played them.

BM: Wow.

LB: They probably used it more than anyone, in the end, I should think.

BM: Yeah, they were, the Moody Blues were definitely known for the Mellotron. They, 1967, I think, <i>Nights in White Satin</i>, I think they made a big use out of the thing.

LB: And still play it now.

BM: Yep.

LB: There’s a lot of numbers of theirs, I mean, its going all the way through, isn’t it.

BM: Yeah. Well, what did you think of--well, let me back up a second here. You invent, you helped produce this type of instrument. Were you surprised that rock groups were using it and not other kinds of groups?

LB: Yes, we were, really. We were a bit disappointed, because of course it was, I think originally conceived as a household instrument, and possibly for cafes and dining rooms, and things like that. And of course, much to our disgust, they never used the rhythm sections, because they’d got their own rhythm sections. So they wanted the strings and the flute and all that stuff. And they started then having them converted to two sets of leads on both sides. Which of course, gave them even more in the way of leads. Then, when we got the 400 going, of course the choirs became the thing. And there’s still no way, I don’t think, of generating a big choir. You must need a house full of memory to do it. And that’s why they’re still used now, particularly the four-man, four-female tracks are very good indeed. And with a suitable amount of eq and reverb, they come out well now.

BM: Did you, once the rock groups started using it and popularizing the thing, did you ever go see it used in concert, or did you just hear about it, that it was being used?

LB: I didn’t. Some of the chaps from work used to go. I know they usually if the Moodys were anywhere local, they used to see that. But of course, it was the records where we really heard them.

BM: Yeah, yeah.

LB: I can’t say that I’m awfully keen on listening to about 10,000 watts of audio, sort of trying to rock your eardrums and things.

BM: [laughs]

LB: I’ve heard most of them on LP or tape, and we used to occasionally get recordings that were passed over to us, used to come up from London. And I think in general, they were used very carefully, and in many cases, thoughtfully. Although there were a few thumbs that used to use 10 flutes, you know.

BM: [laughs]

LB: By playing 10 notes together. I mean, it was a rather unnatural sort of sound.

BM: That kind of, that unnatural sort of sound almost kind of sums up the King Crimson use of the instrument. I’m sure you’ve heard, well, first of all, it sounds really erie. You know a Mellotron when you hear it.

LB: That’s right. Sort of hangs about there in midair, doesn’t it?

BM: Yeah. It’s got an ethereal quality to it. Kind of spooky at times. But what did you think of that type of sound, when certain bands like King Crimson or Yes or Genesis, they started turning it into something that had an erie or spooky sort of sound. Did it surprise you that it was being used in that way?

LB: Not really, no. You know, with electronics and reverb and flanging and all the things they can do now, not really, no. It was gratifying, I think, to see that people were developing it, you know. But I think it was good to see, because it meant it could do other things rather than play just a straight violin note.

BM: [laughs] Yeah, that’s true.

LB: I mean, they, some went with them into ring modulators. I mean, god knows what. And sometimes you think, “Why the hell have they done that?”

BM: [laughs]

LB: And yet, sort of hanging about, as I said, in midair is still the original sound, somewhat bent a bit, but there it was. We were very pleased. We never did very well at them at the time, you see, because it was a fairly expensive instrument. We’re talking about 1963, 64, well it was your equivalent now would be about $1500, $1600. And of course, it was a big thing, it was heavy, and it didn’t like traveling too well either, the original one didn’t. We made three models, well, four actually. We made the Mark I, Mark II, the we made a 300, which had 52 keys, and there was no odd key changes, you could play it as a straight instrument. And we made then the 400, of course, which was the real goer. Then we mad the Mark V, which was a double manual version of the 400, which also had things like pan controls and reverb on it and that sort of thing, two control panels. And we also made a 550, which was a transit case version of the 400. Not many of those.

BM: Which version of the instrument did you like best? Which one did you get most gratification out of, thinking, “Yeah, this is it. This is the best one we made.”?

LB: Well, being a bit of a corn ball, I think really the possibly the Mark II is my favorite instrument.

BM: Really.

LB: Because being a simple instrument, I’m not really a pianist or anything, but I can make a passable noise, you know, you don’t have to sort of run out of the room with your ears ringing or anything like that. But I think the Mark II, well of course, since it’s my baby or our baby, naturally number one, I think. It’s like your first mate or even your first sweetheart I suppose.

BM: [laughs] Yeah.

LB: By the way, where are you from, Bill?

BM: Michigan. That’s where I’m from. Right now I’m calling you from St. Louis, Missouri.

LB: Absolutely. May I ask how old you are?

BM: I’m 33.

LB: You’re only a young man, about the same age as David.

BM: Yeah.

LB: Well, the best-informed man now on repairs and service and that, is my son, actually. He built, before we folded, he built all the last runs of 400s and serviced them and refurbed them and did all the necessary work right down from the shaft onwards. And he’s lost his job, actually, in this bloody recession in England. He buys himself a new house and settles down, and the next thing is, six weeks later he hasn’t got a job. So he’s at the moment looking into the possibility of doing some work and servicing and whatnot I think, rather than find another job. But of course, money is always the problem.

BM: Oh yeah, yeah.

LB: And it’s just the same there, isn’t it?

BM: [laughs] Yeah.

LB: You’ve got the same problems.

BM: Yeah, there’s definitely a lot of, yeah, unemployment’s becoming a difficult problem to deal with over here also. Yeah.

LB: The worst of this was that he had no notice at all, you know. They were going home at 5:30 on Thursday, about 20 to 6, and there’s a guy there, you know at the bus, waiting with an envelope saying they’d had it.

BM: Wow.

LB: It was a bugger. And then a week later, he changes the name, and he’s in business again with a holding company that owns all the assets and materials, tools, etc. So he’s a crook. He could have had another job with John, but he said, “No, I’m not working for the dishonest, no-account swine like him.” And so since then, he hasn’t been able to get a job. I mean, they’re as scarce as rocking horse shit over here, you know.

BM: [laughs] Is he available, would he be able to talk to me about repairs and things like that on Mellotrons?

LB: I should think so, yes. I would prefer to speak to him about it first.

BM: Sure, that would be all right.

LB: As far as the details of the groups and what happened with them, we have a mutual friend called Martin Smith, who I think could tell you a lot about that. He’s, he was the second guy to get in touch. He wanted a tron, and he finally got me. He must have come round the factory when he was a kid. And I must have been very kind to him, and let him play with the machine in the test room for a quarter of an hour, and he never forgot it. And he finally found my number and came through. And he sort of, working together with John, because he also was made redundant. And he knows a lot of the history of the groups. I think in that respect, Martin will be abel to open your eyes quite a bit.

BM: Is he, something about a Classic Rock Appreciation Society or something?

LB: No, no. He’s just a Mellotron man.

BM: Really? That name’s familiar somehow. I might know him through somebody else, but I haven’t talked to him yet.

LB: I should say, it’s probably David you know him through.

BM: Yeah, it’s possible.

LB: Yeah, now here’s an interesting story. Have you got time for me to tell it?

BM: Oh sure! Yeah.

LB: Well, in this case, he came to me wanting a, preferably a Mark II. And I’d got one or two addresses and telephone numbers, all of which he tried, no joy at all. And he said, “Anywhere else?” And I said, “Well, the only person or people I can think of is, the Moody Blues have got at least two. Most possibly three.” Their road manager, Mike Keys, I knew very well, we used to do all the business with him. Very nice guy. And I told him, “Tell him Les Bradley told you to ring.” And he, about a half an hour later he comes on the phone, you know, the same as Mike Pinder did when he got his first. And they actually sold him one. And not only that, it was one that had been completely reconditioned by us, and the electronics changed over to solid state, and he’s the proud owner of that now.

BM: Wow.

LB: That’s another interesting story, you know. And it’s, it isn’t what you know, it’s who you know in this world, I’m sure.

BM: [laughs] How can I get in touch with Martin Smith?

LB: I can give you his telephone number.

BM: Yeah, that would be great.

LB: Um, now as far as the details, obviously, there’s quite a lot of things you need to know, isn’t there? If you’re writing a book, you’re probably, from my angle, would want to know quite a lot of other things.

BM: Yeah, there’s a lot, in fact, David Kean...in the world, with Mellotrons? I mean, would you say he’s the...

LB: Yes. I would say, in terms of having them, yes. He is. See, I sold him, when we went in liquidation, we were, both my brother and myself, in dreadful financial straits, because we’d put every penny we could into the business. And unfortunately, it collapsed before we could really get anything back. And, what am I doing, what am I telling you this for? Uh, oh yes, then when David got in touch with me, we were very fortunate, as much as a friend of my brother, Norman, there used to be three of us, Leslie, Frank and Norman. Frank died in 1979. And Norman had a friend that said, “Well, what are you going to do with this stuff?” And we said, “Well, the liquidator will have it.” And he said, “Well, ask him what he wants for it.” Anyway, this chap bought it for us, loaned us the money, and we had to find a place to store it all, which of course nearly broke my bank. I mean, to pay the rental for it.

BM: Oh yeah.

LB: And eventually, I was able to sell some stuff that I’d got on my own, to David, and we were able to pay off that debt. ANd then of course, slowly but surely, the machine and the recording equipment and the Mark II masters went down to London. They will be in the science museum in a month or two. They’re preparing a place for them.

BM: Good!

LB: And a lot of the other stuff, the tapes and masters and things, and parts and machines, we sold to David. And David, I think, is the only chap of any note that you could possibly buy a machine off or get some tapes, or whatever. So, it’s possible that say my son and his friend may start doing the same thing in England, in conjunction with Dave Kean.

BM: Well, it sounds like things have kind of come full circle with it. It started out--

LB: You’re telling me.

BM: That’s an interesting story, really. Do you feel that you’re now kind of getting the recognition with not only your efforts, but the instrument itself, that it should have gotten 30 years ago?

LB: Oh yeah. That’s it. It was too early, I think you know. It came at the time when people didn’t really appreciate what they had. Plus the fact, of course, it was expensive. But the amount of work in one, have you ever looked in one?

BM: No, I never have.

LB: Well, if you ever get the chance, have a look and you’ll see why it cost 1000 pounds. [laughs]

BM: [laughs]

LB: It was very complicated, and as Bill Fransen said to us at the time, “Don’t worry about the complication, it’s just repetition of keys and heads and you know, it’s just like making hot cakes.”

BM: [laughs]

LB: Yeah, I reminded him of that a few times when we were stuck with some problem. [laughs]

BM: [laughs]

LB: I can remember the time I thought I ought to shove the whole thing up his rear end.

BM: [laughs]

LB: He was all right, he’s a nice lad.

BM: What happened in the 80’s then, when it became, when you lost somehow, in fact, let me--You lost the ability to call it a Mellotron, and you stared naming them Novatrons. What was going on there at the time?

LB: Well, originally there were two companies involved. There was Mellotronics in London who owned the patents and the general design of the machine. And there was us who worked solely and produced for them. Well, we produced a lot of 400s which went to America. And something happened over there, the money suddenly disappeared, and Mellotronics was left with a colossal debt of about 130,000 pounds.

BM: Wow.

LB: And at the time, the financial man was a guy named Hurlston, and he died right at the same time. Which sort of left us up to our noses in crap, as you can imagine.

BM: [laughs]

LB: They couldn’t survive. And so they went into liquidation. We were at the creditors’ meeting, and we offered to buy their effects. And we got a very snotty liquidation chap in charge of it all, and he said, “Well, you make an offer, and if anyone else comes up with an offer that exceeds it, I’ll let you know. And if you want to rethink it, you can. But nothing will happen until two months elapsed.” Then, about a month later, I had a telephone call from a guy named Eberline, Bill Eberline. And he was the guy that started Digital Mellotron, I think he called himself. He bought the whole lot, the whole shooting match, the stock, two recorders, some of the masters. And took them to America. And of course, he also bought the name. We then were prevented from using the name Mellotron. Anyway, we did our best to fight that, but no joy. He wouldn’t cede to anything, and he said, “No, it’s our name, you can’t use it.” Then we had to think of another name that would sort of be reasonably like it. And by the time we’d got that done and the name registered, which in England is a very long process, it was 12 months. And that’s how the name Novatron came about. We could advertise, we could do Mellotron spares, but we couldn’t call the bloody things Mellotron.

BM: Oh man!

LB: So what happened is that eventually, they decided to fold, and they sold the effects to a guy who eventually sold it to David.

BM: Oh good.

LB: What a story, eh? What a story.

BM: [laughs] So he’s kind of the king pin here. He’s got all the parts, and he’s got a lot of the machines. Well, do you still make Novatrons? Are they gone now or is it--

BM: No, no, we don’t make them anymore. You see, unfortunately, nearly all the tools, I mean, there was just nowhere to put the tools. No one was interested, we couldn’t sell them, and 1000 pounds worth of tools just went to scrap. If we could have retained those, of course, we could have made some more. And there was, oh, there was a hell of a lot of stock of loads of parts and pieces which I could not sell. And I was getting to the stage where I was two or three months behind in the rent of this place we had, and I had to start selling the stock. You know, motors and things we used for electronic parts. But if I hadn’t done it, we should have lost a lot and there wouldn’t have been anything available for anyone.

BM: Wow.

LB: So it was a really touch and go, sticky situation.

BM: What do you do now? Do you still work electronic stuff?

LB: Yes, I do a bit. I do a bit of installation of, sometimes of public address or I’ll service anything like that. And I’ll occasionally do a bit of remastering of 78 and LP records too.

BM: Oh really?

LB: For various people, yes. It’s quite an art.

BM: Yeah, I’ve spoken to Tony Arnold at great lengths about remastering things and making them sound better.

LB: Oh, you know Tony, do you?

BM: Yeah. I spoke with him for about an hour and a half one day. Last fall, in fact. And he’s a character too. He’s got a lot of stories and a lot of things to say about Fripp.

LB: Oh yes. I mean, the whole thing is a circle of the most fascinating and interesting things. I mean, there’s a lot of little things in between all this that I could possibly tell you, not in a day, I don’t think, let alone over the phone. [laughs]

BM: Yeah.

LB: You know, there are so many, there were so many hiccups and problems and the musicians’ union, and you’ve got almost every obstruction that could have shoved in front of us was there.

BM: So it’s almost a miracle that this thing existed.

LB: That’s right. I think that one of the first things I ever heard Bill Fransen do in an American way is when we couldn’t get this 3/8 tape, and they were getting it from the 3M people in St. Paul, Minnesota, and I think the first few reels, because they must have had some in stock. I think they did them for Chamberlin. We managed to get them there. Of course, by the time we’d done all the experimenting, there was precious little left to actually use.

BM: [laughs] Yeah.

LB: And so, they went down to London and did their level best to get some tape from there with absolutely no joy. And we got to the stage where we’ve got machines ready to tape and no tape.

BM: Wow.

LB: Anyway, Bill Fransen said, he rang London and said, “Who is the contact at 3M?” And we got the phone number. Anyway, the salesman’s name was Dave Cable. And he said, “I want you to come into my office, Les, and listen to this.” So he gets on the phone, “Dave Cable, please.” Dave Cable comes on. “Ah, this is Bill Fransen here, Dave. Mellotron 3/8 tape, I understand you know something about it.” No, he didn’t know anything about it. He said, “Well, I have one question to put to you, Dave.” He says, “What’s that?” “Where’s our fucking tape?”

BM: [laughs]

LB: Anyway, the result of that was, I think this was on Tuesday morning, by the following Saturday morning, we’d got 50 boxes of 3/8 tape. [laughs]

BM: [laughs]

LB: And Dave Cable did his stuff, we finally got it from EMI in England, but at least that got us moving. So it was things like that all along the line. Loudspeakers, we couldn’t find a speaker that would stand the hammer and all this sort of thing.

BM: Wow.

LB: It just seemed like as fast as you shifted one obstacle, there were 10 more there. It was one step forward and two backwards.

BM: What did you think then of the birth of the synthesizers that sort of took--You know, the Mellotron is sort of a precursor to sampling, isn’t it?

LB: Oh yes.

BM: So when synthesizers came about, all that music was stuck in microchips and completely different kinds of sounds. Did you look at those as an improvement on what you did, or did you see them as sort of a competitor, or what did you think of synthesizers?

LB: Well, we felt the same way that cinemas thought about television. You know, what the bloody hell?

BM: [laughs]

LB: I didn’t like it, I didn’t like the sounds, either.

BM: Yeah.

LB: Another interesting little story was that of course when Moog got his polyphonic synthesizer, as you know, you play one note at a time, obviously. And on one of the London music shows, one of the synthesizers was in London. It was a big thing, you know, and it was terribly complicated thing. Nobody seemed to be able to make the same sounds twice out of it.

BM: [laughs]

LB: ANyway, one of our lads down in London, a guy named Peter Nichols, decided he could hire this and record it onto the tracks of a 400, we could then play octaves and whatnot. And this he did. And we got a guy playing this in octaves and things when Robert Moog walked into the show, and his pitch wasn’t far from ours. And he listened to this, and the look of bewilderment on his face was something to be seen.

BM: [laughs]

LB: [laughs] He came over and wanted to know what the fuck was going on, you know? So amusing. And he said, “Those are my sounds.” And I said, “Well, you don’t own the sounds. Do you make everybody pay when they use it on a record? Or does Steinway do the same with a piano.” He said, “No.” “Well, what’s stopping us from using it.” “Yeah, but you’re playing octaves and whatnot.” We said, “Yes, well that’s ok.” Anyway, I believe he cut short his visit, and he tore back to the States, and he got his later ones out, which could do everything.

BM: Yeah.

LB: But that was another little story, which goes on. What’s the name of that Canadian pianist, the Black guy that is very clever on pianos? Do you know who I mean?

BM: No, I don’t.

LB: A big Black chap, he is. He’s been called American, but he is in fact Canadian.

BM: Hmm.

LB: He plays a lot of jazz stuff, a very clever guy. He had a Mark V, which he used to practice arrangements and whatnot on.

BM: Oh yeah, yeah.

LB: And quite a few people used it for that purpose, actually. They didn’t actually play them, but were useful for sort of working out strings, chords, and all this sort of thing.

BM: Are you benefiting now financially from any of this resurgence in Mellotron interest?

LB: No. No. Not at all.

BM: That’s a shame. It seems like you ought to somewhere.

LB: I’m hoping to. I’ve been very bullish since we went into liquidation, I’ve been very careful, you have to watch every penny, you know. But I’m hopeful that I’ll live long enough to get some results. [laughs]

BM: [laughs] Well yeah, I definitely hope so. Yeah, yeah.

LB: What do you want to do now? How can I help you?

BM: Well, if you could give me Martin Smith’s phone number, and then ask your son if he would be interested in speaking with me, that would be very helpful.

LB: All right. So you’ll ring me again another evening.

BM: Yeah, if you don’t mind. I’d love to hear these stories. They’re definitely nice anecdotes, they’re very interesting. It’s fascinating.

LB: I think really, probably the only way for me to really help you would be for me to shove something down the cassette, just brief you on the whole thing.

BM: Oh yeah.

LB: Would that be all right?

BM: If you don’t mind, yeah, that would be great.

LB: I’ve got a couple of write-ups and things which I could probably dig up, but I won’t bother to have your address at this moment, we’ll do that next time.

BM: Ok.

LB: To get Martin Smith on your normal England dialing code, [gives phone number].

BM: Ok, very good.

LB: I should, it’s a bit late tonight, I shouldn’t do it now, but tell him you’ve spoken to Leslie and he suggested that you have a chat with him. Put whatever questions you want to him.

BM: Ok. Great. Well I really appreciate your time tonight.

LB: My pleasure. When would you want to ring me again?

BM: When are the best times for you? Are you available generally on weekends?

LB: Yes, or most evenings I’m in. I should be in most evenings next week, except Friday. Oh, incidentally, we’re on the BBC on this Friday night at 9:00, myself, my son and Martin and a Mellotron, and they’re giving us a quarter of an hour questions and answers, and a bit of a demonstration.

BM: Oh, that’s excellent. Yeah!

LB: Well, I shall, I’ll get it recorded anyway, and I’ll send you a copy to Dave, so I have no doubt he can pass it on to you.

BM: Yeah. That will be great. I’ll make a note of that, in fact. Ok.

LB: Ring me, let’s see, I can get John some time. If you ring me Tuesday night about 10:30 our time. Incidentally, it’s about 11:20 here now.

BM: Ok.

LB: What is it there?

BM: Let’s see, it’s right about 5:20. So there’s a six-hour time difference.

LB: That’s it.

BM: Ok.

LB: About that time would be fine, Bill.

BM: All right. Well, I appreciate your time tonight.

LB: That’s all right. I mean, it’s a pleasure. I’ve gone on a bit, haven’t I?

BM: [laughs] Well, I appreciate it though, because I like to hear about it.

LB: We’ll have something more complete between us to help you with your book.

BM: All right, thank you.

LB: Try Martin, I think evenings are the best for him, our time, probably about 10ish.

BM: Maybe I should give you a call on the weekend, next weekend. You can tell me how the BBC thing went.

LB: Yes, that’s all right.

BM: I would love to hear how that program goes.

LB: Yes, let me just think now if there’s anything going on. Saturday evening, I think we have something. You could ring me next Sunday night, about 10:30.

BM: Ok, that I can do. All right.

LB: Do that, and I’ll let you know.

BM: All right, thanks a lot.

LB: My pleasure.

BM: Have a good week.

LB: I’ll look forward to hearing from you again, Bill.

BM: Yes indeed. Thank you. Cheers.

LB: All the very best to you.

BM: You too. Bye bye.

LB: Bye bye.


And there you have it -- Part One. Apparently, I did set up another interview. And, from what I recall, it too was filled with fascinating anecdotes and factoids about one of the most important musical instruments ever created.

And that reminds me of my interviews with Tony Arnold (who had absolutely hilarious things to say about Robert Fripp) and Mike Pinder (whose comments on the Mellotron gave me chills).

I'll post more as soon as I transcribe and proof it.

For now, enjoy this installment.

Cheers,

Bill
Last edited by LTinAspic on Fri Dec 29, 2006 12:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby vrooom on Fri Dec 29, 2006 2:31 am

Absolutely brilliant. I really like Mr Bradley's turn of phrase...and I can't wait for the Tony Arnold stuff too. :D Heck, it is Christmas everyday here, isn't it? ;-)


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Postby LTinAspic on Fri Dec 29, 2006 3:21 pm

vrooom wrote:Absolutely brilliant. I really like Mr Bradley's turn of phrase...and I can't wait for the Tony Arnold stuff too. :D Heck, it is Christmas everyday here, isn't it? ;-)


Darren


I agree. Mr. Bradley spoke in a colorful way. I can't wait to post Part Two!

After Part Two of Leslie Bradley, I have Tony Arnold cued up -- as well as Richard Palmer-James, Dik Fraser, Richard Vickers, Mike Giles, Pete Sinfield, Ian Wallace, Keith Tippett, Ian McDonald (Part One is almost edited and ready to post), and more.

I'll try to keep it as Christmas-like as possible for as long as possible. :)

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Re: Bill's Leslie Bradley Interview -- PART ONE

Postby Dog_none on Fri Dec 29, 2006 3:53 pm

LTinAspic wrote:Mellotrons, as y'all know, gave birth to progressive rock.


I thought King Crimson gave birth to progressive rock (and then abandonded it like some poor, bastard child)?

Or maybe you're saying that mellotron is the mommy, and King Crimson is the daddy?

Anyway, I can't wait to read this one. Looks like another winner. Should be a slow day at work so hopefully I'll get to it this morning.
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Re: Bill's Leslie Bradley Interview -- PART ONE

Postby LTinAspic on Fri Dec 29, 2006 4:33 pm

Dog_none wrote:
LTinAspic wrote:Mellotrons, as y'all know, gave birth to progressive rock.


I thought King Crimson gave birth to progressive rock (and then abandonded it like some poor, bastard child)?

Or maybe you're saying that mellotron is the mommy, and King Crimson is the daddy?

Anyway, I can't wait to read this one. Looks like another winner. Should be a slow day at work so hopefully I'll get to it this morning.


Actually, The Beatles gave birth to progressive rock, using the Mellotron and other studio wizardry, with a whole lotta help from Sir George Martin.

Nearly every prog rock lumiary I interviewd cited The Beatles as the start of prog rock, specifically Revolver's "Tomorrow Never Knows" and then, of course <i>Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band</i>. That blew the doors wide open and ushered in The Moody Blues, King Crimson and, later, Genesis, ELP, Yes and others.

So I guess the Mellotron was the aphrodisiac, the tawdry tart, who seduced all these early musicians.

Most prog artists -- especially Mr. Fripp -- say prog rock's reign ended in 1973 or thereabouts. Or, if not its reign, its "progness." After that, it was mimicking itself and, therefore, no longer progressing, no longer new. Hence, the rise of "neo-prog" in the early 1980s with IQ, Marillion, Pendragon, Twelfth Night, Pallas and others.

So I prefer to think of the Mellotron as the Great Seducer who spawned a world of clever, creative music. If not for the Mellotron, which enabled bands to carry around with them an "orchestra" of sounds and moods, I daresay there would be no King Crimson or Moody Blues or Genesis or Yes. Or even such classic tracks as "Strawberry Fields Forever."

All hail the Mighty Mellotron!

Bill
Last edited by LTinAspic on Fri Dec 29, 2006 6:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby vrooom on Fri Dec 29, 2006 5:28 pm

Bill - you ARE the MAN... :D

The Beatles pushed rock music forward and The Moody Blues created the genre of progressive rock. King Crimson just fucked with it really...


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Postby Dog_none on Fri Dec 29, 2006 5:41 pm

This stuff if too good.

You could make a pretty good movie out of his anecdotes.

I've already started storyboarding the dream sequence...
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Postby Hans on Fri Dec 29, 2006 11:41 pm

Next on Mythbusters: Does pissing on a Mellotron give you an electric shock? :lol:

Great stuff, Bill, as always!
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Postby Indyrod on Sat Dec 30, 2006 2:26 am

Excellent again Bill.

We should start charging for admission. :D
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Postby evktalo on Mon Jan 01, 2007 10:42 pm

Thanks Bill. Another intresting and very entertaining article. Wonderfully unexpected too!

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