b. 1885, London, England; d. 1955, London, England


  • 1900-1914: Active as an accompanist for several small record companies
  • 1914-1918: Served in the army
  • 1918-c.1926: Artistic Director for Edison Bell's Velvet Face label
  • c.1926-1934: Artistic Director for the Columbia Graphophone label
  • 1934-1950: In charge of sponsored recordings for EMI

Joe Batten, with Fred Gaisberg, was a central figure in the early history of the gramophone in England. Born in the East End of London, he started to play the piano while young, serving as an accompanist for his father in the latter's music-hall appearances. He was largely self-educated as a musician: he taught himself to read scores borrowed from the Passmore Edwards Library in Shoreditch, heard chamber music at Alfred Clements' South Place concerts, and attended performances by J. W. Turner's Opera Company and at Sir Henry Wood's Promenade Concert at the Queen's Hall.

Batten's first experience of recording was in 1900, when he accompanied A. H Gee and Montague Borwell for Dan Smoot, 'in London not for his health, but to make cylinder records'. Adept in the studio, Batten soon made the transition to disc recordings and witnessed the gradual shift by the general public from prejudice against the gramophone to enthusiastic acceptance. By the end of the Edwardian era he was accompanying international concert artists such as Peter Dawson. During the 1914-18 war Batten served as a private, but also continued to be active in entertainment. Following demobilization he joined the Edison Bell Company as the house conductor for its 'Velvet Face' label, so-called because of its claimed quiet surfaces. Here Batten conducted the first recorded excerpts from Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius. Batten graphically described a typical day with Velvet Face in his memoirs: 'One day Tristan in the morning, banjo solos in the afternoon, then the 2LO Military Band playing Holst's Planets, and Jack Payne's Dance Band gathering to follow on.'

Following the introduction of electrical recording Batten moved from Velvet Face to the Columbia label, then embroiled in intense competition with the larger Gramophone Company and especially its HMV label. By 1930 Columbia was producing a considerable programme of recordings, such as Gounod's Faust conducted by Beecham, Brahms's Third Symphony conducted by Mengelberg in Amsterdam, and Stravinsky's Les Noces directed by the composer. Batten, now more of a manager than a performing musician, especially respected Sir Henry Wood, of whom he wrote, 'No man in the long history of our musical art did more for its advancement than he'. With the merger of Columbia and HMV to form EMI in 1931, Batten's influence gradually waned as that of Gaisberg waxed. From 1934 to 1950 Batten was in charge of what might be called EMI's 'Special Projects' division, which essentially made recordings to order. Following his retirement he wrote a useful book of reminiscences, entitled Joe Batten's Book - the Story of Sound Recording, published in 1956, a year after his death.