Ruined Temples – The recording studios we have known

And still they keep falling – so many British recording studios have closed their doors it has been hard to keep up with the changing landscape.  I thought I would do a roll of honour for those who have given their bricks in the war on what? – downloading, cheap technology, DIY frenzy, rising property prices, falling budgets?  Or the inevitable, unstoppable process of change that has overtaken the recording industry?

Wessex

Closed: 2003 Key Waxing: A Day At The Races (1976)

A converted church like several old school studios, Wessex was the London outpost of a west country studio hence the name.  Owned by Chrysalis from 1975 after which it saw many landmark recordings.  Converted to flats in 2003.

Olympic:

Closed: 2008 Key Waxing: Beggar’s Banquet (1968)

Changed over from a film studio to a recording studio in 1965 with extensive acoustic engineering carried out again in 1987.  Hugely popular with rock bands but later also with less obvious clients like 808 State.  Faltered in the noughties as labels began to baulk at the high fees.  It’s owners Virgin/EMI pulled the plug junking both the equipment and all the remaining masters stored there – nice going guys.

Mayfair

Closed: 2008 Key Waxing: Vienna (1980)

Started out in Mayfair in the sixties but relocated to Primrose Hill in 1980 whereupon a significant string of big selling albums were cut there.  Served as a writing base for hit songwriters during this period as well.  Succumbed to poor management and the recession in 2008, leaving behind the book “What’s Mayfair Got To Do With It?” which should put anyone off the job of running a studio.

Townhouse

Closed: 2008 Key Waxing: Drums & Wires (1979)

Home of the infamous stone room which was key factor in the massive drum sound of the 80s (though this was dismantled in a refit in 2000).  Opened in 1978 as a cousin the rural Manor (see below) it was sold on by Virgin in 2002 and gradually sank until it was closed and ripped out in 2008.  Currently in line for residential conversion which supposedly may include a recording studio  (translation: a nameplate with Townhouse Studios on it).

Chipping Norton

Closed: 1999 Key Waxing: Baker Street (1978)

Setup by indie label owner Richard Vernon in 1971 in a derelict stone house bought for £5000 in the Oxfordshire village.  Closed in 1999, an early casualty of changing technology and a remote location that bumped up rates.  Tellingly, the decision to shut down was pre-emptive as even though they owned the building, they could not turn the required profit.

Eden

Key Waxing: Armed Forces (1979)

Named after the original street it occupied in Kingston Upon Thames Eden fetched up in Chiswick in 1972 in an unassuming suburban terrace.  It’s very normality seemed to be a draw, though walls were knocked through inside to create a decent live room.  Upgraded to digital and moved into post-production and 5:1 etc in the 21st century but went under in 2007.

Whitfield

Closed: 2005 Key waxing: Raw Power (1973)

“I don’t know what separation is and I don’t like it!”  Allegedly this was the only coherent instruction engineer Simon Humphries received from Joe Strummer during the recording of the Clash’s debut at Whitfield in 1977.  Built for CBS on a vacant bomb site in the West End in 1972 it was also used by artists from Sony and Epic.  One of the last surviving central London studios, where property prices make such businesses uneconomical today, it went into administration in 2005 after a failed attempt to offload it to Pinewood.

Eel Pie

Closed: 2008 Key Waxing: Floodland (1987)

Pete Townshend is a perrenial dabbler in the studio business having also owned Ramport in Battersea and a boat studio currently somewhere in France.  The Eel Pie facility was not on the island but downriver just near the imposing Twickenham road bridge.  Quite popular with goths and indie kids in the 80s, Pete sold it in 2008 and it is now a private house.

IBC

Closed: 1985 Key Waxing: My Generation (1965)

Continuing the Who theme, the tiny IBC (International Broadcasting Company) grew out of one of the first pirate radio operations Radio Normandy, an unauthorised mobile transmission in English that was originally based in Le Harvre.  The studios were built at the parent company’s HQ in Portland Place.  Gradually it broadened from light programme fare to rock and pop.  The attraction of IBC was that it was not tied to a label, hence why loose cannon Shel Talmy took the Who there to make a deafening racket in 1965 later released as My Generation.  Its popularity grew even though the facilities lagged behind many competitors.  Perhaps this and it’s valuable location caused it to disappear before the digital era.

The Manor

Closed: 1995 Key Waxing: Wild Wood (1993)

Richard Branson’s pile in the country was an essential rite of passage for loaded rock stars during its heyday.  Not only was it a vast playground for bored longhairs but it was residential boasting every minor royalty frill you could want if the bill was being deducted from royalties.  Pretty much invented the “back to the country” fad.  Mr Pickle’s ludicrously expensive folly was dispensed with by EMI after they bought Virgin.  Check this out to see the record business at play and what the original analogue studios were like.

Clinging on: Konk (Ray has been offered a fat sum to sell up), Abbey Road (losing money all the time but film score work and the brand makes it just about worth keeping open), Britannia Row (West London’s only vintage Neve studio, it says here), Alaska Waterloo (where I recorded once, sadly no longer 24 track analogue).

The recording studio will live on for a time but it has now become decoupled from the actual business of recording music which is largely happening on computers.  As if to prove the fleeting nature of places as conduits of sound, how many songs about recording studios can you name?  I have only ever learned of one and it was by Kate Bush.

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