Barry hit the high notes
QUESTION Did Barry Gibb discover his falsetto by accident?
THE Bee Gee did not know he was able to sing falsetto until record producer Arif Mardin asked for harmonised background screaming on the song Nights On Broadway, a track on the band’s breakout 1975 disco album Main Course.
‘I asked Barry to take his vocal up one octave,’ said Mardin. ‘The poor man said: “If I take it up one octave I’m going to shout and it’s going to be terrible.” he softened up a little bit and that’s how the falsetto was born.’
It was the first time Barry had sung in this way. he discovered he was not only good at it, but could maintain falsetto for an entire song.
‘We found a new sound. I came up with a lot of new ideas to suit the falsetto,’ said Barry. ‘everybody was saying the same thing: “Do that falsetto again, do that falsetto again.” It was fine for me; I was having a ball.’
After a string of big- selling albums in the 1960s, the Gibb brothers’ balladdriven pop was starting to become stale. The 1974 album Mr Natural was critically acclaimed, but a commercial flop.
Guitar legend eric Clapton advised them to go to Miami to pick up some fresh ideas. ‘I thought those guys were really an R&B band who hadn’t worked that out yet,’ he said. ‘Man, this would be so good if they could pick up on what’s going on in America.’
Mardin advised the Bee Gees to listen to Stevie Wonder and suggested they try out a synthesizer. This provided the catchy melodies and hooks that gave them hits such as Jive Talkin’.
Jim Parry, Doncaster, S. Yorks.
QUESTION Does plutonium exist naturally or must it be manufactured?
PLUTONIUM does exist in nature, but only in minute amounts. It must be manufactured for commercial use.
Pure plutonium was first made in December 1940 by a deuteron bombardment of uranium-238 in the cyclotron at the university of California, Berkeley.
There are five common isotopes of plutonium: Pu- 238, Pu- 239, Pu- 240, Pu-241 and Pu-242. These are all fissionable — the atom’s nucleus can split apart easily if hit by a neutron.
By 1945, the Americans had produced several kg of plutonium, enough to make three atomic bombs, one of which exploded over Nagasaki in August 1945.
Pu-238 is used to power batteries in heart pacemakers and provide a longlived heat source for Nasa space missions. like uranium, Pu-239 can fuel nuclear power plants.
Plutonium can be separated chemically from the uranium mineral pitchblende and monazite (phosphate) ores. however, these concentrations aren’t commercially viable.
Most plutonium in the environment is in the form of microscopic particles, the remnants of nuclear weapons testing and reactor accidents.
Dr Ken Warren, Glasgow.
QUESTION What are some forgotten units of measurement?
THERE are plenty of discarded imperial units of measurement. Taking length, 5.5 yards equals one rod, pole or perch. Four of these units make up a chain of 22 yards and ten chains make a furlong.
A nautical league is three nautical miles. One rood is a quarter of an acre.
It is not widely known that 21 tons equals one Cornish mining ton.
The old units of force, dyne, erg and
slug, were dropped in the 1960s. Some electrical units that are rarely referred to are the coulomb, candlepower, henry and Weber. Tuns and flagons are no longer in common usage.
One undefined unit of quantity that transferred from imperial to metric is the dollop. It is celebrated in The Wurzels’ song Twice Daily: ‘he gave her a dollop, a gurt thick jollop.’
Richard de Kerbrech, Gurnard, Isle of Wight. WhIle researching an article on the collier brigs that once landed coal on my local beach, I came across a measurement called a chaldron.
Some towns imposed a tax on coal and a measure was needed for this purpose. A chaldron is from the 17th- century French word chauderon, or cauldron.
The measure could vary. In Newcastle before 1695, it was 42 hundredweight and then increased to 52½ hundredweight. It was made obsolete by the 1963 Weights And Measures Act.
On Deal beach, the coal yard was a few hundred yards outside the town’s boundary to avoid the tax.
Between 1777 and 1785, 3,060 chaldrons a year were landed there.
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