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Muscial Hero In Upper Norwood

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#1 heed



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Posted 11 August 2005 - 02:48 PM

If there are any ‘mature’ guitarists in the Upper Norwood area, then like me, you’ll feel proud to learn that there is an unsung hero living among us who played a huge part in that most influential of decades – the 1960s.

I discovered, while casually browsing Google for a music shop in the SE19 area, that there was a listing just off Beulah Hill for Watkins Electric Music Ltd. As there was a link to a website, and as I’m an inquisitive kind of person, I clicked through.

After my initial disappointment that I couldn’t buy guitar strings, I was intrigued to find that Watkins Electric Music is actually WEM – inventors of the legendary Copycat tape echo machine.

Now that might not mean much to ‘younger’ guitarists. But to anyone who learned to play guitar around the same time as me - late 70s ish – it will.

Before the dawn of digital effects pedals like Boss, Alesis, Zoom and ‘The Pod’ someone had the bright idea of using spare parts from a reel-to-reel tape recorder and cobbling together a motorised ‘loop’ of quarter inch tape which ran past a record head and a few playback heads.

That man was Charlie Watkins. The device was the Copycat. And it revolutionised the music of the day – becoming the basis for the distinctive sound of guitarists like Hank Marvin and even (years later) influencing guitarists like The Edge (although he’d probably hate to admit it).

The incredible Charlie Watkins also invented the ’slave’ amplification system and was responsible for the PAs at most of the great festivals of the time – like The Isle Of Wight.

But this amazing story is made even more amazing by the fact that Charlie Watkins still runs WEM today! He’s even selling a digital version of the CopyCat as well as supplying tape loops for the old ones which are still in use! And he even wrote the history page on his website!

So ‘big up’ to you Charlie. You’re a hero of mine (although I’m sad to say I could never afford a Copycat.) And without you, music probably wouldn’t be what it is today.

Thank you.

Check out the great man's achievements at Watkins Electrical Music

Edited by heed, 12 August 2005 - 07:52 AM.

#2 andyb



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Posted 11 August 2005 - 02:55 PM

That's very cool.

#3 ncatteau



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Posted 12 August 2005 - 09:04 AM

I remember WEM.

They did the massive banks of amplification at either side of the stage at pop festivals in the 1960's.

Now the amplification is much smaller and more reliable. I remember those old banks use to blow up at least once during a days music, necessitating running repairs.

#4 croesus



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Posted 15 August 2005 - 01:30 PM

Big up indeed. My friend's dad had a Copycat in the 70s. We used to love fiddling with it - doing Darth Vader voices by recording with the tape going quickly then whipping the speed down for the next time it came around. I remember working out how to do the guitar-picky bit in The Happiest Days of Our Lives from The Wall using it. I wonder whether U2 owe their livelihoods to him...

Edited by croesus, 15 August 2005 - 01:30 PM.

#5 DaisyGrubber



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Posted 15 September 2005 - 12:22 PM

After my initial disappointment that I couldn’t buy guitar strings

You can! The guitar/skate shop at Antenna sells them.

#6 MartinofGrim



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Posted 18 February 2009 - 01:11 AM

My brother - whom now collects vintage guitars, was given as a boy a Watkins Copy Cat by my uncle. Having only just started playing guitar and not really knowing what it was it got knocked about and finally one day destroyed forever in a game of 'bomb disposal" !

I often like to remind him of this, just to see his face turn pale! : )