The Unforgettable Impact of Watkins Electric Music (WEM)
Transport yourself to a vibrant era in Britain when the late '60s seamlessly transitioned into the '70s. Picture yourself immersed in the electrifying performances of legendary bands like the Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Fleetwood Mac, Jethro Tull, and Pink Floyd. Whether attending local gigs or witnessing the birth of the UK's open-air festival movement, one crucial element unified these iconic acts: their reliance on pioneering PA equipment created by a visionary company known as Watkins Electric Music (WEM). Founded by the ingenious Charlie Watkins, WEM revolutionized the world of audio engineering and left an indelible mark on music history.
The Birth of a Sonic Revolution:
In 1949, Charlie Watkins, a talented musician, and his brother Reg embarked on a remarkable journey, opening a humble record shop in Tooting Market, London. However, their ambitions soon expanded beyond selling music, leading them to move to a larger shop in Balham. It was there that they ventured into the world of instrument sales, offering accordions and guitars. Little did they know that this modest beginning would ignite a profound revolution in electric music.
Elevating British Guitar Amplification:
WEM quickly emerged as a trailblazer by becoming one of the first companies to manufacture and sell guitar amplifiers in England. In 1954, they unveiled the groundbreaking Watkins Westminster amplifier, followed by the iconic V-fronted Dominator. These amplifiers swiftly became catalysts for a new musical era, propelling the careers of countless British guitarists throughout the '60s and '70s. They were hailed as the "British Strat," providing an exceptional sound at an affordable price, empowering aspiring musicians across the nation.
Echoes of Innovation:
In 1958, WEM introduced the mesmerizing Copicat, a portable tape echo unit that captivated musicians and audiences alike. The response to this innovative creation was overwhelming, with the entire first production run of 100 Copicats selling out on the very first day. Notably, Johnny Kidd of Johnny Kidd & the Pirates embraced the Copicat's enchanting echo, incorporating it into their UK hit song "Shakin' All Over." Over the following five decades, WEM continued to refine and expand the Copicat line, cementing its place as one of their most successful and influential products.
Reshaping the Sound of Music Festivals:
Beyond their exceptional amplifiers and guitar equipment, WEM made a lasting impact through their pioneering PA systems. These systems played a transformative role in redefining the live music experience, particularly within the realm of outdoor festivals. Prior to the advent of WEM PA, live gigs in the UK and Europe often suffered from subpar sound quality, relying on outdated house systems that had seen little improvement since the 1940s. The emergence of a powerful and competent sound system was the need of the hour, capable of matching the energy and scale of the burgeoning music scene.
In 1966, WEM introduced their groundbreaking "Slave" PA System, a technological marvel that would revolutionize the live music landscape. This powerful system proved to be a game-changer for emerging bands eager to showcase their talents in larger venues and open-air settings. Renowned artists like Alvin Lee and Ten Years After, The Faces, Jethro Tull, and even The Rolling Stones themselves sought the capabilities of WEM PA to elevate their performances and captivate audiences on a grand scale.
The Transformative Power of WEM PA:
The impact of WEM PA systems was particularly evident during the birth of the UK's open-air festival movement. Whether it was the historic Rolling Stones concert in Hyde Park in 1969 or the Isle of Wight festivals spanning from 1968 to 1970, WEM PA played a pivotal role in shaping these monumental events. With WEM's exceptional sound reproduction capabilities and unwavering reliability, these festivals experienced an unprecedented level of sonic excellence. The sheer magnitude of the performances was enhanced by the immersive and powerful sound delivered by WEM PA systems, leaving an everlasting impression on both artists and audiences.
The legacy of Watkins Electric Music (WEM) is one that reverberates through music history. From their pioneering guitar amplifiers to the mesmerizing Copicat echo units and groundbreaking PA systems, WEM revolutionized the way music was experienced and performed. Their innovations shaped the soundscape of iconic bands and helped define the golden age of British rock and beyond. Charlie Watkins, the unlikely innovator and audio pioneer, left an enduring legacy that continues to inspire and influence musicians to this day. The echoes of WEM's revolutionary spirit can still be heard in the music world, reminding us of the power of innovation and passion in shaping the course of music history.