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Paul Morris-a thumbnail biography to date.

 Since I bought my first record (an elderly Regal 78 r.p.m. disc of a song called “Margie” and “I’d love to fall asleep and wake up in my mammy’s arms” by Fred Douglas) at the age of 10 I have always enjoyed not only the physical artefacts of sound recording, but the actual music they contain. I still have this disc, and although it seems incredible, I think even then-nearly forty years ago-I had some idea of the potent spell it was to cast over me.

I had my first piano lessons at the age of 5, but could play sometime before. To pick out a melody seemed as obvious as talking, and it was some time before I discovered that I had something of a gift. Later on, to supplement my rather “hum drum” piano exercise pieces, I used to play tunes that I had heard on my old records. Though quite realistic transcriptions, they did not go down well with my piano teacher. She once condescendingly described one of my efforts as “jolly”.

 At the age of about fourteen I got to hear about the cylinder phonograph, and this became an obsession that took over much of my secondary school days, for my metalwork projects always revolved around a homemade phonograph. A real Edison being too expensive for my parents at the time. The “Morris Phonograph” won several prizes in a technology fare but failed to reproduce sound. Looking back now, I agree with V.K. Chew-the author and curator of the sound section of the Science Museum-to whom I showed it on a visit. He described it as a valiant effort bearing in mind the limitations of my age, experience and facilities. During my time at secondary school I had another obsession-Chemistry.

By the time I was 16 I had a well-stocked laboratory in the garden shed, having inherited literally hundreds of chemicals and glassware from someone giving up not far away from where we lived, in Poole . Saturday afternoons were spent preparing all sorts of exciting compounds. The world seemed to be opening up to me fast-and how interesting it all was! The time I prepared ether-and nearly passed out, the unusual oxides of chlorine, and the rapid oxidations of phosphorus-well, perhaps enough said about that! I was well on course to read chemistry at university, with the goal of becoming a chemistry teacher.

I chose Exeter University -or rather, in a set of curious coincidences it chose me and I had a chance to get my degree in chemistry. I found university life very hard. Surrounded by very clever people, and in a foreign city. There was so much now that I knew I would never know. For the first time in my life I realised how little I could ever hope to achieve when there was so much that had come before-and when so much of it had been the product of brilliant minds and heroic effort. Edison said “we do not know one hundredth of one percent about anything” He was right.

My chief form of relaxation at university was playing the piano, and one day I came across a very strange piano indeed. I was living at Crossmead Hall, at the time, and a fellow undergraduate said to me he had heard a “pianola” playing in the common room. “Had he seen it” I asked? He had not, it turned out, but he was sure that it was one, rather than a regular piano because there were “too many notes for a human to play” I was flattered-since it was me playing earlier that morning. He was surprised when I told him, but insisted that there was at least one pianola, in the annex where he lived, and offered to show it to me. So there was. It had been bought for £10 from a pub several years ago, and had been left by the students, gathering dust. I acquired it, and spent much time (too much) restoring it. This was more fun than thermodynamics!

Once restored and playing, I found that the player-piano was a great new teaching aid for me to learn more tunes. It allowed me to pick up more difficult stuff by slowing down the music for easier study. Pianists Victor Arden, Max Kortlander and Charlie Straight on some nice old QRS rolls were particular favourites. “Say Arabella” with its tricky chromatic sixths plus melody in the right hand and staggered tenths in the left was quite a challenge. I still play it to this day. All this time my collection of pianola rolls, records and laboratory glassware was growing almost uncontrollably.

By dint of more good fortune, I got a job teaching chemistry in the local college, and almost immediately took what seemed at the time to be the crazy step of buying a house. This solved the problem of accommodating my various collections-and created new gossip for the new neighbours in the vicinity. I also teamed up with Duncan Miller to form “Miller, Morris and Co.” to manufacture wax recording blanks and records in my spare time. A period of stability followed where I was able to collect, consolidate and rationalize my various interests with the salary that my job allowed. Life was not perfect-yet as the once “youngest lecturer in the college” I felt part of a team, and was doing what I always wanted. In 1989 my world was to change forever.

Offered the opportunity to work in Canada as an exchange teacher, I agreed in the certain knowledge that it would not actually happen, and I would appear to be “go ahead” without actually going anywhere. I was wrong. Late July saw me arriving in Montreal’s Mirabel airport with a feeling of sheer panic that is hard to describe. It was hot, foreign, very far away from home, I knew no one, I was horribly jet-lagged and I had to teach courses that I had never done before to classes of 50 or more students. I think this was the biggest challenge of my life to date. After an uncertain start, I seemed to cope very well. I liked my colleagues ( I was part of a very large department), the college was very well equipped, and I liked my students (some more than others). An added bonus was the course coordinator was a keen Edison fan, and arranged for me to give my lecture “Edison and the Chemistry of Sound Recording” at several locations including the universities of Mcgill and Columbia. I made some very important friends whilst in Montreal, was a frequent visitor to the ‘States, and spent most of my money on records. Life had never been so good.

On my return in 1991 to a cold, damp and very small city, one of the first records I played was called “Home Again Blues” by Harry Raderman’s Jazz orchestra. The title of the record seemed to sum up just how I felt. Although there were quite a few reasons why I found it very hard to settle back after those heady years in Quebec, not the least of which was the sense of hopelessness that seemed to stem from constant, and to my mind, irrational, change. I also felt constrained by over regulation, and frustrated by the importance to which the trivial was being treated and the lack of concern about the loss of things that I held dear. This may always happen if you live away for a period of time, but it was exceedingly alarming to me. Perhaps the most curious thing was the feeling of being “foreign” in my own country. All very sad. I needed a change-so I took a year’s unpaid leave. That was in 1997 and I have not been back.

My music had been a constant companion throughout the years, helping me to celebrate the “highs”, and get through the “lows”, but now it had to earn money. I looked at what I had, and what I could do, to form the basis of a business. With the knowledge gained in player piano restoration, my international contacts, my musical abilities and of course the good old wax blank manufacture, I launched “Paul Morris’ Music with my slogan “The future is in the past” to a largely unsuspecting public that same year. With the ever increasing amount of “online” business, a web site gradually proved essential, and so with grateful thanks to my old school friend Hugh Blaney, who has caused me to reluctantly embrace a small part of the twenty first century, may I present to you my website.

Copyright © Paul Morris 2007 - All Rights Reserved.