Prince Harry and Meghan start Aussie tour with baby gifts

Britain's Prince Harry and his wife Meghan walk down the stairs of Sydney’s iconic Opera House to meet people in Sydney on October 16, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 16 October 2018
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Prince Harry and Meghan start Aussie tour with baby gifts

  • The royal couple announced their pregnancy after arriving in Sydney
  • Harry, 34, and Meghan, 37 have stepped to the fore in the last year as the British queen reduced her public appearances

SYDNEY: A beaming Duke and Duchess of Sussex thrilled thousands of fans outside the Sydney Opera House on Tuesday during their first meeting with the general public since the former Meghan Markle’s newly announced pregnancy.
Prince Harry and Meghan spent longer than the 20 minutes allocated in their schedule to speak to and shake hands with as many well-wishers as possible. Meghan, wearing a beige trench coat over a sleeveless cream dress by Australian designer Karen Gee, accepted cards and flowers from an enthusiastic crowd.
The news of the pregnancy was announced after the couple arrived in Sydney on Monday and 15 hours before their first public appearance. The two are on a 16-day tour of Australia, Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand that their Kensington Palace staff said would not be altered despite confirmation that the American former actress is pregnant.
Among those taken by surprise by the announcement were their Sydney hosts, Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove and Lady Lynne Cosgrove. The governor-general, who represents Queen Elizabeth II, Australia’s head of state and Harry’s grandmother, sent staff to hastily buy a toy kangaroo with a joey in its pouch and a tiny pair of Australian sheep skin boots for their pregnant guest.
“Here’s your first gift for the nursery,” the governor-general told the couple during the official welcome at his official residence, Admiralty House.
“Thank you, that’s so sweet,” Meghan said as she received the toy.
The pregnancy has made front-page news across Australia.
The Sydney Morning Herald ran the headline: “A smooth ride to Sydney, but royals reveal bump on the way.” Darwin’s irreverent NT News chose the headline: “Ginger Pregs” — a play on a long-running Australian comic strip about a mischievous red-head boy called “Ginger Meggs.”
Outside the Opera House on Tuesday, Harry lingered longest with war widow Daphne Dunne, 98, whom he hugged as they chatted.
It was the third time that they had met since Harry’s eye caught sight of a Victoria Cross medal on her chest during a Sydney visit in 2015. She explained that her first husband Albert Chowne had been given the highest award in the British honors system after he died in Papua New Guinea in 1945.
This time, Meghan joined Harry in greeting the Dunne, who admires the prince’s work with veterans.
“Oh my goodness, is this Daphne?” Meghan asked.
Dunne later said Meghan told her “she had heard all about me; she’s so beautiful.”
“I wished them well with the baby on the way and said this is what Harry has been waiting for so long,” Dunne added.
Before Megan donned her coat, her tight-fitting dress barely revealed a bump as they were welcomed at the first event of the day at the Sydney Harbor-side mansion where the two are staying.
The main focus of that engagement was to meet Invictus Games representatives from the 18 countries competing in the event that starts Saturday. The sporting event, founded by Harry in 2014, gives sick and injured military personnel and veterans the opportunity to compete in sports such as wheelchair basketball.
Several of the representatives congratulated the couple on their baby news. Meghan replied: “Thank you so much. We are very excited.”
The couple later traveled by boat to Taronga Park Zoo where they opened a research center and met two 10-month old koalas that had been named after them.
They watched an indigenous dance company rehearse inside the Opera House before meeting the public.
The announcement of the pregnancy confirms weeks of speculation from royal watchers about why Meghan was not joining Harry on his Sydney Harbor Bridge climb set for Friday.
Harry, 34, and Meghan, 37 — along with Prince William and his wife, Kate, the duchess of Cambridge — have stepped to the fore in the last year as the 92-year-old queen slightly reduces her public schedule.


Back to the future: cassettes launch comeback tour

Updated 24 March 2019
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Back to the future: cassettes launch comeback tour

  • The niche revival has faced a global shortage of music-quality magnetic tape needed for production
  • ‘It died in 2000, as far as conventional wisdom was concerned, and it has made a strong comeback since’

NEW YORK: The humble cassette — that tiny little plastic rectangle containing the homemade mixtapes of yesteryear — is back, joining vinyl as a darling of audiophiles who miss side A and side B.
But as top musicians including Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber release their music on tape and demand continues to climb, the niche revival has faced a global shortage of music-quality magnetic tape needed for production.
Now, two facilities — one in the American Midwest and the other in western France — have stepped in to meet the need.
“It’s a good place to be — there’s plenty of business for both of us,” said Steve Stepp, who founded the National Audio Company in Springfield, Missouri with his father 50 years ago.
He said that around 2000 the “imperial hegemony of the CD” cut his business, which stayed alive as a major manufacturer of books on tape that remained popular.
But despite the astronomical rise of streaming, Stepp said rock bands like Pearl Jam and The Smashing Pumpkins began seeking to manufacture anniversary tapes in the mid-2000s, launching a cassette comeback tour.
“That convinced major record labels that there was still life in the cassette as a music form,” he said.
Several years ago, National Audio bought 300,000 reels of tape from a South Korean company that gave up music-grade tape production.
As that stockpile began to shrink, his facility in November 2016 was faced with a choice: either make reels, or fold.
His business invested several million dollars buying up old equipment from defunct production facilities, and last year National Audio manufactured 18 million audio cassettes, Stepp said, selling to 3,500 record labels globally.
“I think it’s got a bright future,” Stepp said of the cassette market. “It died in 2000, as far as conventional wisdom was concerned, and it has made a strong comeback since.”
“Reports of its death were greatly exaggerated.”
Since November, Mulann — a small French company near Mont Saint Michel — has also rebooted production, the country’s first manufacturing of music-grade tape in two decades.
Already selling magnetic tape for metro tickets or military recording studios, the Mulann group acquired a plant to produce analog audio tapes under the trademark Recording The Masters.
For Jean-Luc Renou, Mulann’s CEO, there’s still a place for analog sound in today’s ephemeral music world.
“Take the example of heating: you have radiators at home. It’s comfortable, it’s digital — but next to you, you can make a good fire.”
“Pleasure” is the goal, he said: “That’s the cassette or vinyl.”
The company sells tapes for €3.49 each, producing them by the thousands each month and exporting 95 percent worldwide, according to commercial director Theo Gardin.
The 27-year-old admits he didn’t know in his youth the joys — and pains — of the Walkman personal tape player, or the delicate strip of tape that tangles up and must be rewound with, say, a pen. Or a finger.
According to Stepp, it’s precisely 20-somethings like Gardin fast-forwarding demand, as young people seek something tangible in the Internet age.
Urban Outfitters — an American clothing brand catering to hipster types that also sells electronics — on its site spells out the mixtape process.
“If you’ve never spent 3-5 hours sitting by the radio, waiting for that one Hanson song to come on so you could add it to your mixtape, get pumped: you can now relive that experience,” it says.
“Let those ‘90s vibes wash over you, man.”
Cassette tape album sales in the US grew by 23 percent in 2018, according to tracker Nielsen Music, jumping from 178,000 copies the year prior to 219,000.
It’s nothing compared to 1994 sales of 246 million cassette albums, but significant considering the format was all but dead by the mid-2000s.
“As an old fogey I don’t want to imagine a world with no analog,” Stepp said. “The world around is analog; our ears are analog.”
“Digital recordings are very clean and sharp but there are no harmonics. These are digital pictures of audio recordings, if you will.”
Bobby May, a 29-year-old buyer at Burger Records in southern California, said that while “physical media in itself is a totally antiquated idea,” cassette sound has what he called a uniqueness.
“The consumer public is fickle and trends always change, but for the foreseeable future, I know tons of people will stay pretty crazy for records and vinyl.”
Last year vinyl saw revenues hit their highest level since 1988, totaling $419 million — an eight percent jump from the previous year.
Though vinyl’s sound quality is unquestionably superior to cassettes, May said tapes’ low cost makes them ideal for collectors.
“I still like stuff pilin’ up around me,” May laughed, adding that he probably has 500 tapes from Burger.
In addition to the homemade and indie cassettes, he cherishes several mainstream albums as well.
“I have a prized ‘Baby One More Time’ cassette,” he said, referring to pop princess Britney Spears’ debut album. “It looks great on my shelf.”