A Swingin' Safari on Horch House Tape

Feature

A Swingin' Safari on Horch House Tape
Thursday, December 10, 2015

If you’ve been seduced by the unique, analogue excellence of a quality reel-to-reel tape machine, you’ll know the need to feed your passion. The Holy Grail would be actual master tapes moving over your heads, but back in the real (reel?) world, the closest you’re likely to get is one of Horch House’s pre-recorded tapes. These are pure analogue recordings taken from the master tape, put through a painstaking restoration process (Horch House describes this as a ‘refurbishing’ process; there’s no remastering here) and then copied 1:1 to create premium tapes it claims will transport you “back into the sound engineer's chair at the time of recording.”
There’s an eclectic array of Horch House titles available (access to those master tapes can’t be easy); I began by reeling Bert Kaempfert’s A Swingin’ Safari onto our Revox B77 MKII HS. Bert Kaempfert was a talented German songwriter and producer, penning the music for hit songs including L-O-V-E by Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra’s Strangers in the Night and Wooden Heart for Elvis Presley. Kaempfert was also the first person to sign, record and produce The Beatles – hiring them in Hamburg to back Tony Sheridan in a series of 1961 recordings, most famously My Bonnie (subsequently heard by one Brian Epstein, rest is history etc).
A self-confessed ‘sound fetishist’, Kaempfert was also busy trying to recreate the sound of South African Kwela music for a wider audience. The result – recorded in December 1961 – was A Swingin’ Safari, a relentlessly upbeat jaunt through instantly recognisable tunes from the title track onwards. Kwela’s penny whistles are replaced by piccolos and flutes, which soar above the brass section, all underpinned by the glorious “knackbass” of Ladi Geisler (the bass guitarist who’d loaned his amp to the under-equipped Beatles for that Sheridan session). The depth of detail, size of soundstage and sheer authenticity of the performance is astonishing. You start to feel part of the recording – as if you could jump in and join the chorus of Wimoweh.
The album was known in America by the title of the second track, 'That Happy Feeling': a perfectly apt description of how you’ll feel when this reel runs its length, and the many times you’ll then hear yourself humming its tunes. Yes, this Horch House title isn’t cheap (€298) – little about owning and maintaining a quality tape machine is – but if this is an album you love, you’ll never hear it more faithfully reproduced.
Clare Newsome
Available direct from Horch House