When I talked to my dad about my visit to Record Industry in Haarlem, he asked me if I had heard of Gramophone House. I hadn’t, so he told me about this villa in Heemstede that is called Gramophone House. I looked it up and thought it was worth researching it a bit as the history behind it is quite interesting.
The history of EMI in the Netherlands started in 1946 when entrepreneur Gerry Oord started Bovema (Short for Bot Oord Verkoopmaatschappij). The first thing he did was to purchase the Dutch distribution rights of the international EMI-labels like Columbia Records and Capitol Records. The business grew fast as big orders came in for allied troops from Great Britain, The US and Canada that were based in The Netherlands. He also sold many records to Dutch troops based in oversees areas like the Dutch Indies. Due to the import restrictions in after the war, it was cheaper to open a plant for pressing records than to import them. This plant was opened in Heemstede in the late ’40’s.
Gerry Oord bought a house in Heemstede, that was converted into an office for Bovema. The house had been built around 1870 as Villa Interlaken. It’s a chalet style house, the model was chosen from a catalogue (apparently even back then it was possible to choose your house from a catalogue!). The name of the building was first changed to Columbiahouse, after the record label. In 1957 the name was changed to Gramophone House, referring to the studio and record company based there. The house has been used in the Bovema Logo for quite a while.
On the 12th of July 1959, opera singer Maria Callas laid the first stone for Bovema’s first Dutch recording studio behind the Gramophone house. The story goes that Gerry Oord spent a night in front of her hotel room door, to convince her to do this. So many fans attended the happening, that when they left, gardens in the streets around the site had been trampled. Many artists recorded their albums here. It is said that Roger Whittaker recorded “If I were a rich man” in this studio.
Apart from the distribution for foreign labels, Bovema also released Dutch recordings on labels like Imperial Records and Odeon Records. Back then, the music business was very different from what it is now. Instead of the demand coming from customers going into record stores and asking for certain recordings, it was the other way around: Bovema employed four sales reps for the different repertoires (for Columbia, HMV, Capitol and Imperial). Those sales reps would visit record stores trying to get the staff excited about the new releases and getting them to purchase those for their stock. The record store staff would then try to sell the releases to their customers.
When The Beatles became popular, their records were released on the Parlophone label. That was the only EMI label that Bovema didn’t have the Dutch distribution rights to. Their hits like ‘She loves you’, ‘I want to hold your hand’, ‘Can’t buy me love’, ‘A hard day’s night’, ‘I feel fine’, ‘Eight days a week’, ‘Help’ en ‘Yesterday’, were distributed by the smaller company Stibbe. It wasn’t until the end of 1965 that Bovema acquired the distribution rights to Parlophone releases. Unfortunately for Bovema, that wasn’t until after the memorable performance by The Beatles in Blokker:
To strenghten their position in Europe, EMI began to take over several European record companies who were distributing EMI material. In 1967, Bovema was taken over by EMI. Gerry Oord went on to manage EMI in Germany and was involved in the launch of pop label EMI Records, later EMI.
In 1976, Oord left EMI. EMI Bovema en Negram merged into Bovema-Negram.
In 1983 the name changed back to EMI Bovema and 10 years later into EMI Music Netherlands which is still an active company, currently based in Amsterdam.
Gerry Oord passed away in April 2010 at the age of 96.
The Studio at the Overboslaan (on photo above) and the Gramophone House at the Bronsteeweg in Heemstede are both listed monuments.
The Gramophone House is currently in use as an office and not open to the public, although it is available for rent at the moment…