RG – But it’s not the way you imagined it would be?
RB – Well, when I went for my interview, my A level subjects were Maths, Physics, English Literature and Sculpture. I could see that the Professor who interviewed me was deeply suspicious of my artistic leanings. He said, “So I see that you do sculpture? What sort of materials did you use in your sculpture?”
“Well” I said, “I used steel and plaster and clay…”
“And what is the chemical formula for plaster?” he asked.
I hadn’t done chemistry A-level but I thought to myself, you’ve got to have a guess and plaster is basically chalk, so I guessed, “Calcium Carbonate.” I saw him nod and I lived to fight another day – but he warned me at the end of the interview; “We have a very high drop-out rate amongst the Engineering faculty – about 15% of undergraduates each year.” He let me in but of course, the next summer, I was out. I’d learnt enough to know that I’d made a mistake. Instead, I went on to do Physics and Philosophy at Kings, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I don’t regret doing a year of engineering, but some people just have an instinct for Physics and an intrinsic understanding of how things will (or won’t) work. I had the benefit of an expensive education and at school we did mechanics, so I’d been building things, using a lathe and other tools since I was 13. I’d built models from a young age and was inured to the idea of building things and making things work.
But Engineering (the subject) wasn’t about that. I remember being set 10 questions and answering them all. My tutor asked me why I’d answered every question? His reasoning was that on this course, you simply don’t have time to do that. Answer all the questions and you’ll never get through the workload. It’s almost as if they were training us to ruthlessly budget time above all else.
RG – What actually kicked off the process of developing the ‘arm?
RB – What actually happened is that I found two stereos that were about to be thrown out from a house just up the road that had actually been bought by Roman Abramovich. They were going to do a lot of work, improving mainly the inside of the house, so they had an open evening, with the plans, the architects and drinks, to get the locals onside. It’s quite a famous building and fronts the Moravian garden/graveyard. Anyway, as I was leaving, I passed the first floor ball-room and spied a stereo system that had been pulled out of a cupboard. Then I saw another in the ground floor drawing room, all stacked and ready to be ditched. So I went to the architect and asked “what was going to happen to the old stereo equipment?” I didn’t recognise it, but it just looked interesting. Anyway, a few days later the architect rang me and said that the client had said that if I wanted it, I could just take the stereo equipment. So I went back and made two or three trips to cart away all this equipment, most of which I was too young to recognise. The manuals and documentation suggest it was installed in 1963 and I wasn’t born until ’68. A bit of online research soon identified what turned out to be two Garrard 301s, Leak Point One Pre-amps, Troughline tuners, Stereo 20 amps and Sandwich speakers.