Caught by the River

Fred Affair

1st June 2013


By Alex Wilson.


In the static, in the cut, in the hum – here our Fred stands. In his kitchen, at his dials, at his machines. Whirring, clanking, clicking. Snow drift outside, skeleton trees, blanket silence.

This noise he hears is new- the circuits finally speaking, singing. He could be onto something here. Bold new electronic sound, fizzing, frying, dancing. The other noise is more familiar, his wife, Freda – “‘ere Fred can I come in and get a custard cream love?”

Frederick Charles Judd was born in 1914, Woodford, East London and passed away in Norfolk, 1992. He is now regarded as one of the most fascinating pioneers of early British Electronic music. I have been having an affair with Fred’s music since 2010.

I was introduced to Fred by Brighton based filmmaker, artist, sound creator, instrument maker, ultimate-knowledge-on-all-things-early-electronic and all round polymath Ian Helliwell. It was clear from the offset, we’d get along. Good friend Lionel Skerratt and I were starting an electronic music record label at this time. It would be called Public Information; Fred would be our first big project, the kick off.

Ian started his affair much earlier. Contacting Fred’s widow, Freda, he had amassed a mountain of flood-damaged tapes, time scarred photos and dizzying ephemera. Fred, it turned out, was a polymath, much like himself.

Man of letters: Fred wrote and edited numerous electronic music magazines in the 60’s plus 11 books. Man of invention: Fred created many early synthesisers, drum machines and a highly innovative sound/light device called Chromasonics. Man of own means: Fred was entirely self-taught and received little to no funding to create his many sound systems. Man of Televsion: Fred created the first all-electronic soundtrack for a TV program in the UK, Space Patrol c.1963, predating Doctor Who. Man of community: Fred was a proselytiser for this “new music”, lecturing and teaching up and down the land, spreading the word at “tape clubs” UK wide.

In the summer of 2011 Public Information and Ian Helliwell went deep into a Haringey studio to make sense and cohesion of the many Fred hours we had at our disposal. During this time all other music sounded sterile against Fred’s alien command of the circuit board. His voice, a clipped East London murmur was ever present, telling us, teaching us, making us laugh. Oscillations whizzed around my front room. The cat looked confused. The girlfriend curious. The neighbours annoyed. Eventually we whittled the archive down to one hour runtime. This material became Electronics Without Tears – PUBINF003 – Release Date 16th January 2012.

Practical Electronica: A Trailer from Public Information on Vimeo.

Ian’s documentary about Fred, Practical Electronica, played all over the country, and it seemed people were getting hipped to Frederick Charles Judd. Freda sat in at the Barbican screening of the film and told us “Fred would be so happy, sat up on his damp cloud, chest puffed out”. It brought damp eyes to these blues of mine.

Fast-forward a year or so, and we are setting Fred up for the glitz and the glamour once more, this time with a cast of new players on-board. Many sounds, lectures, rhythms and field recordings went unused on Electronics Without Tears… so we decided to give these to some of our favourite operators in the UK, Europe and the U.S. Interpretations on F.C. Judd was birthed. The characters invited Chris Carter, Perc, Pye Corner Audio, Holly Herndon, Mordant Music, Peter Rehberg, Bandshell, Ekoplekz, The Boats, Leyland Kirby, Karen Gwyer and Ian Helliwell.

We shall let you be the judge of this new Public Information work, but the dozen intrepid souls who took on the archive have kept Fred’s flame well and truly alive. And whilst his name will likely never make the BBCFourMusicDocZone, for those who care about Great British Amateurs and unheralded back room boffins, Frederick Charles Judd will live long in the memory. If nothing else, our Freda can once more look on again at her late husband with a twinkle in her eye and a smile on her face.
To you, Fred… all the best up there on your damp cloud.