The Federation of Recorded Music Societies (FRMS) can claim to have played its part in developing greater enthusiasm and understanding of recorded classical music over a substantial portion of the past century

Gramophone societies have existed in the UK since the very earliest years of recorded sound: the Prudential Assurance Company Society for example is noted as forming in 1904. However, those early meetings tended to concentrate on the rival merits of particular equipment and reproducing systems, reflecting the novelty of the invention itself, but with the music often assuming very much a secondary role. This preoccupation was not to be broken until the mid 1920s and the introduction of electrical recording.

Attempts to amalgamate societies into groups began as far back as 1913 in Northampton, but it wasn't until the 25th July 1936 that some 37 members of 14 societies met at the Columbia Recording Studios, Abbey Road, to launch the fledgling "National Federation of Gramophone Societies", FRMS's precursor.

Although the title has been changed to reflect more recent developments, the aims of the movement have remained basically unaltered. For example, the Federation was amongst the first to proclaim the desirability of a national gramophone library. Although this was eventually realised by others, it did not prevent pioneering spirits from providing an extensive service to Federation affiliates. In the 1950s W.W. Johnson, then Chairman, not only maintained a collection of over 1000 discs on the movement's behalf, but shuttled them up and down the country by post, providing an essential backup to early affiliate programmes. The dedication involved was astonishing, considering that the whole enterprise was undertaken from a small back-bedroom in North London, England without any assistance - even from members of the family! But times change, and as records became more widely available and more affordable the need for the library diminished and the collection was eventually disposed of.

In post-war Britain the movement boomed. Since the opportunities for the appreciation of good music was not as easy as it is today, the chance of hearing new recordings on fine equipment, set within the context of an informative talk, proved to be a strong lure … and despite some rationalisation in modern times, that attraction is still present in the 21st century as around 120 societies continue to meet regularly. Indeed, with increased availability of rare repertoire, programme activity is more diverse than ever before; composer biographies vie with miscellanies, opera and choral music with instrumental programmes, symphonic music with jazz, and artist profiles with surveys of historical periods.

The Federation provides such groups with licensing and insurance services, at an economic rate, without which individual societies would find it difficult to operate. It can advise its affiliates about the wider issues of copyright, insurances and other legislation or business practices that interest recorded music societies. Federation officers and committee members are themselves members of their own societies and collectively are well experienced in all aspects of society management and operation and are thus able to advise or assist other affiliates on any topics that affect them.

The Federation also manages a website on which societies can promote their activities and until recently published a twice-yearly magazine, the Bulletin, with interesting articles, advice on programme planning, and record and book reviews, plus of course, news and information from around the movement. A replacement for the Bulletin is likely to emerge soon.

The Federation also promotes a wider music community. Increased interchange of activities, ideas and people between the dispersed societies is achieved by the formation of Regional Groups (with attendant local activities and exchange of presenters), and through day or weekend events.

The Federation has been honoured in having some distinguished figures from the world of music as President - Sir Adrian Boult, Dr Vernon Handley, Edward Greenfield and Lyndon Jenkins have all served us in that capacity. Our current President is Julian Lloyd Webber, Principal of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.
In virtually every corner of Britain, Recorded Music Societies, through their regular programming, support for live music, special events or participation in Federation activities, are an integral but often unsung part of our musical fabric. Countless individuals have had their appreciation of music and the recorded repertoire developed by regular attendance at local meetings. Furthermore, they have gained great enjoyment from the experience, and have made friendships that, in many instances, have lasted a lifetime simply from listening in stimulating and convivial company. Whilst no one denies the enjoyment of home listening, the excitement of live music, or the value of evening classes, there is a valuable half-way house - the Recorded Music Society

Updated April 2019


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