About steamsounds

Who exactly is steamsounds?

David Bailey, the ex-photographer, 1980s Scarborough Spa Express season ticket holder, amateur train driving computer simulation programmer, amateur web page designer, and once upon a time time editor of HLPG News and the Steam Sun is the person responsible for all this!

Some Background

Back in about 1964, soon after I first started to get interested in railways and steam locomotives - Ok, I'll admit it, it was through train spotting but that only lasted a few years. Anyway, soon after I started I recall wandering into, I think it was W. H. Smiths record department and finding a small selection of records of railway sounds and I bought one. 'Pacific Power' it was called, one of the Argo Transacord records of Peter Handford's recordings. After listening to that record I was hooked and I decided that I wanted to make some recordings of my own.
At that time we had a tape recorder at home. A reel to reel one, this was in the days before cassettes and Walkmen were even a twinkle in Mr. Sony's eye, and it was about the size of two breeze blocks but only a little heavier. Worse still it was mains powered. As the nearest railway line was about 3/4 mile away this wasn't a practical proposition. Now there was a battery powered version which was only the size of one breeze block but the drawback was the cost. £49 19s 6d if I remember correctly, which doesn't sound like much unless you only got 5/- (25p) pocket money so, at the time, that goal was unattainable.
As often happens, eventually my finances caught up with my requirements and a year or so later I scraped together enough money to buy a battery operated reel to reel recorder. It only cost £19/9/6 (£19.50) from Dixons and only weighed as much as a house brick. Watch out Handford here I come!
As I should have expected it was an unmitigated waste of space, time and money. Firstly, the tape recorder was cra...., sorry, not very high quality and, more importantly, I had very little idea how to use it. My first attempt was one weekday morning in the school holidays on the 11.34 Harrogate to Kings Cross which I knew to be steam hauled as far as Leeds, on this occasion by B1 61406. From a compartment in the front coach of this train, all 3 vehicles of it, I confidently stuck the microphone out of the window, probably on the wrong side for the wind, and hoped for the best. The 'best' does not describe the result. In fact 'result' is hardly appropriate either.
My next attempt was only slightly more successful. This was at the lineside near Newley & Horsforth station (on the Leeds to Shipley and Ilkley line). At this time there was plenty of freight about, most of it still steam hauled, and in the space of a couple of hours I had recorded the passage of perhaps a dozen trains. Ok, most of them were not making much noise when they passed me but there was one train, hauled by an 8F which made plenty of noise restarting from a signal check. Well, due to the aforementioned cra..., poor quality recorder it was hardly possible to tell what most of the recordings were supposed to be and the 8F, well, you could hear it, just. Very disappointing.
After that experience, apart from one very successful recording session some years later with a borrowed Uher reel to reel recorder that I couldn't afford to buy, many years were to go by before I made the attempt again which is why I have no 'real' BR steam recordings.
It was in the late 70's when steam hauled railtours were beginning to become more frequent that I made my next foray into railway sound recordings. By this time the technology had improved, although breeze blocks were still lighter than the recorder I bought, and I knew only a little more about the technique required. I would have done far more recording in these early days had it not been for the breeze block. By the time I had added my photographic equipment, food, beer, etc. to the pile required for a day out, adding something the size of a breeze block frequently was not an option.
Rescue arrived in about 1982 when I spotted in a Hi-Fi shop a reasonably priced Aiwa 'Walkman' sized cassette player that actually recorded. It was wonderful! I no longer have it as I passed it on to a friend (Hi Ken!), but as far as I know it may still be going strong. With a decent microphone the quality was good the only drawback being the lack of any manual control of recording level. But it was so convenient to carry and use and use it I did. It accompanied me everywhere and, gradually, getting a recording became more important than the photography and film making that had been important in the past.
Since then I have worked my way through various recorders culminating in my current digital recorder and, since getting serious about recording in the early 80's I have amassed something like 1000 hours of recordings on 400 cassettes, a growing pile of mini disks and various hard drives.
Right from the start I edited the recordings that I made down to compilations of the best bits and spent hours editing the recordings using two tape decks. This editing process was not always easy.
I remember spending one entire Sunday afternoon editing a particular recording of 777 'Sir Lamiel' on a Welsh Marches Express. The particular recording in question was of the start from Abergavenny and the ensuing climb to Llanvihangel. It was a really good recording, the only problem was that, soon after the start, someone (and you know who you are!) standing next to me in the corridor of the front coach coughed. So, I attempted to remove the cough by editing it out.
The technique was this: Using two tape decks I would record from the original tape the first part of the track to beyond the cough. After rewinding both tapes I would play the newly recorded tape up to a point just before the cough and pause it there. Then I would start the original recording and, just after the cough, start the second recorder thus missing out the cough. This, if done carefully, was extremely successful however, the problem was that it was impossible to tell how successful it was until the entire track had been recorded which took 15 minutes or so each time. Sometimes the editing was obvious but, with a lot of trial and error I managed to get this track just right, without the cough. Some time later I gave a copy of the edited tape to the person responsible for the cough in the first place, he had already had a copy of the unedited tape complete with his cough and, after he had heard the edited copy he commented to me that he was glad I had managed to get rid of the cough from the original. He told me that it had been really annoying him every time he listened to it until he realised that he was the perpetrator!
Nowadays, such an edit would be the work of a few moments and would be completely undetectable first time thanks to the wonderful world of digital audio editing.
Which brings us nearly up to date. Right from when CD audio recordings first appeared I wanted to get my recordings on to CD.
One problem with having 700 hours of cassette tape is that every time you put the cassette into a deck you can never be 100% certain that you will be able to get it back out again in an undamaged state as cassette decks have been known to chew up tape. Add to this the fact that recordings on tape do deteriorate over time and the advantage of CD becomes obvious.
Once again, eventually technology, finances and my requirements coincided so I was able to achieve yet another goal and have worked my way through all those recordings, digitising them and putting the results on audio CDs. So far I have 100.
I have also been converting these tracks to mp3 files which give excellent results coupled with a small file size. In mp3 format at near CD quality I can get the contents of up to 10 audio CDs on a single data CD.
Which brings us, finally, to this web site.
In the past I have always passed round copies of recordings, originally on cassette and later on CD, to friends and acquaintances so this web site is a logical extension of that.
I hope that you enjoy it.

Why have I done all this?

What a really good question. Phrases like, 'because I don't get out much', 'because I don't have a life' or even 'because I'm a sad b...........d' spring to mind. But the real reason is 'because I enjoyed it all so much!'. Back in the 80's and early 90's I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent travelling behind steam on the main line. It was a very enjoyable part of my life during which I made some very good friends, met a lot of interesting people, visited a lot of interesting places, travelled through Bramhope Tunnel quite a lot and, not to put too fine a point on it, thoroughly enjoyed myself. At the time I always used to pass around cassettes of my recordings and now, thanks to the Internet, I can share them with even more people. If that makes me a sad b.......d, then Ok, that's me!
And, you never know, perhaps someone who I knew back in those days and haven't seen for far too many years will see this and get in touch. By the way, I've shaved off the beard!
If you should happen to spot me out on the lineside, please feel free to say hello (as long as I'm not recording at the time, of course!).

Equipment etc.

There's some brief information in the Some Background section above but, as I get a few requests asking what I'm currently using, what microphone is best, what I'd recommend buying and what techniques I use I thought I'd add this bit but, if you are keen to get more technical information, I'd try searching the internet for those who make wildlife recordings. I've found a few highly detailed, highly technical articles (much of which is beyond me!) from wildlife enthusiasts who face a lot of the same problems as railway sound recordists.
When asked about equipment I expect most enquirers anticipate getting a list of recorders or microphones but the choice of that sort of hardware usually depends largely on the depth of the enquirers pocket and, trust me, it's perfectly possible to get quite satisfactory results from fairly modest equipment but there is one thing that will make a big difference that I always make a point of mentioning.
The biggest problem when recording both on-train and at the lineside is wind. Buying or making an efficient windshield will make a big difference to your recordings.
Having progressed over the years from using an old sock for wind protection I now have a proper 'zeppelin' with a fluffy cover. It came from India and is similar to the ones supplied by Rycote (but cost far less!) but before I got that I had a home made one which was almost as good. It was made from chicken wire and the fluffy outer layer began life covering a cushion.
As you may have read above I've had quite a few different recorders and generally moved with the various developments in portable recorders starting with cassette, then mini-disk and now digital. I've tried plenty of microphones too but have generally favoured so called single point mics, stereo microphones in a single body.
I'm not going to recommend anything in particular; as I said above, choice will usually be dependant on price but I would suggest putting a good part of the budget aside for the microphone as there's no point in spending a lot on the recorder if the microphone isn't much good!
Currently, for most of my recordings I'm using a Sony PCM-D50 digital recorder with an Audio-Technica AT8022 microphone for lineside recording or a Sony ECM-MS907 microphone when on-train and I'm quite happy with the results. I've also used an Olympus LS10 digital recorder which beats the Sony on compactness and price but not on performance. I'm not going to go into great detail about these as they have both been superseded by later versions and there are plenty of reviews of these and others elsewhere on the internet.
So, having chosen your equipment, what else can I tell you? Well, I'm going to be brief:

  • At the lineside, don't get too close.
  • On train, don't stick it out of the window.
As for the rest of your technique I shall advise you to do what I did; keep trying until you get it right - it's only taken me 30 odd years and I can still get it wrong!


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