The Mellotron

Resident archivist Jack Dangers gets all 1960s with the very scarce Mellotron demonstration disc

This seven-inch is a real bit of history about a great piece of kit that was used by so many different bands. It’s the holy grail of equipment demo discs. It’s not online. It’s not on YouTube. It’s nowhere. There’s no sleeve, and not very much information on the label, just the address – Mellotronics, 28-30 Market Place, London W1 – and the marketing phrase, “A New World Of Music At Your Fingertips”. My copy has a Mecolico sticker on it. Mecolico was the Mechanical Copyright Licences Company, a precursor to MCPS.

The narration is typically hilarious, and the record shows off how easy it is to make music with a Mellotron using just one finger. It’s a very cheesy demonstration indeed. The Mellotron’s target market were non-musicians looking for a home system to have fun with. I don’t think it really took off until bands started using it and exploiting its full potential.

The Beatles are the most famous Mellotron adopters, with ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’. Lennon bought one in 1965, but for ‘Strawberry Fields’ they used the one at Abbey Road, and McCartney played the intro part. I actually played Lennon’s Mellotron back in 1993, as Trent Reznor had it at that house where Sharon Tate was murdered. You can tell the difference because Lennon’s had this very weird, harsh action. The keys are giant wooden things, and the action is really deep, so you have to push down extremely hard to make it work properly. It’s very difficult to play anything fast on. I don’t know if Reznor actually owned it or not, but there it was, with the flute patch!

The new digital Mellotrons are great. The company has the rights to all the custom sounds that were created for people like Roxy Music, Tangerine Dream and Yes. The bands would send recordings they wanted on their Mellotron to the factory in Streetly, Birmingham, and the engineers would put them on tapes in a loom to go into the Mellotron. So there are all these sound effects, famous little lines from ‘Rubycon’ where they were using a Synthi AKS but needed access to different sounds straight away. They were using it as a sampler, which is essentially what the Mellotron was.

I’ve never seen another copy of the demo disc anywhere, so I have no idea how much it might be worth, but as a little slice of electronic music history, it’s priceless.

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