A reminder that not all commercial audio cassette recording was related to music or the spoken voice. Back in the distant depths of 1980 there was a thriving cottage industry creating and selling audio recordings of British locomotives, and not just steam. Classic diesel recordings were also very popular.
In fact, some areas of the industry were not so ‘cottage’. The more celebrated collections of British Rail train recordings actually appeared in big record shops as commercial vinyl albums, and the recordings endured to the extent that they subsequently became available as commercial CDs.
The tape depicted in this post is, however, more typical of the ‘cottage’ area of supply. Deltic Duties was originally available in specialist shops and at big rail events such as depot and works open days, it has a kind of semi-pro feel to it. The printing of the cover is what you’d expect with a commercial tape in 1980, but the included information paperwork looks typed and copied, and the cassette label appears to have been ink stamped by hand rather than printed.
The subject matter is one of the most famous and eulogised British diesel locomotive types of all time. The ‘Deltics’, which were coming to the end of their service life when this cassette was recorded and released, had immense power for their time, and the prototype was by a wide margin the most powerful diesel in the world when introduced in the mid 1950s. There were just 22 production ‘Deltics’, and each had two separate Napier engines based on an immediate post-war design used in naval craft.
These remarkable engines gave the locos their incredible power and ridiculously impressive acceleration for their time, but also their unpredictability, their rousing sound, their eruptive exhaust, and their capacity for ‘fireworks’. Until the mid ’70s there was no production diesel in the UK to match a ‘Deltic’ for performance. Enthusiasts loved them, and their evocative, almost sci-fi sound was a big part of why.
The cassette is a standard ferric, with Dolby, and unlike some tapes with Dolby this one actually does produce optimum sound with the noise reduction employed. All of the recordings were made between June 1979 and March 1980, and the tape was made publicly available in 1980. There are no real signs of the tape manufacturer on the casing, but it’s clearly not an expensive product from a premium supplier.