The Great British Recording Studios
By Howard Massey
Hal Leonard Books 2015, $34.99, ppxiv-357
I was quite familiar with many articles he wrote in the 80s and 90s - most of
them, about "technical" matters related to such topics as recording
and FM programming for synthesizers - which appeared on such U.S. magazines as
Keyboard, Musician, and EQ, I have to confess that the first time I really took
notice of Howard Massey's work was thanks to the masterful interview he did
with world-famous record producer George Martin, which appeared as the cover
story of the February, 1999 issue of Musician magazine. While obviously
competent when it came to technical matters, this time Massey also proved
himself to be a fine interviewer, having a stimulating, interesting
conversation about a topic everybody has read a lot about - a large part of the
conversation dealing, of course, with George Martin's collaboration with The
George Martin interview was later included in the fine volume titled Behind The
Glass - Top Record Producers Tell How They Craft The Hits, originally published
in 2000. The interviews featured in the volume all shared a mood of optimism
and creativity, and it was still possible at the time to consider the fact of
Musician magazine ceasing publication - something which happened two months
after the George Martin cover story went on sale - as an isolated incident due
to specific mistakes made by those at the helm.
that time, I exchanged a few e-mails with Massey - I reviewed both editions of
Vol. I of Behind The Glass - and I noticed his jovial mood and his optimistic
attitude when it came to the state of the record industry.
goes without saying that nobody could predict the Napster phenomenon and what
came later. So it's a "systemic crisis", not an "isolated
problem", which acts as the dramatic background to those interviews
featured in Vol. II of Behind The Glass, published at the close of the decade.
Closing the book, one had to be skeptical about one's chances to read Vol. III
in the series.
so, through no fault of its own, the recent appearance of The Great British
Recording Studios - a work that's intended as a celebration of the creativity
and sounds produced in a specific place at a specific time - almost reads as
the mourning eulogy of a colossal work that now appears to be destined to cease
due to "financial strangling".
readers will burst out laughing upon reading this, but in my opinion the
spectacular graphics featured in this book - hundred of pictures, many of them
never seen before, of houses and buildings, streets, rooms, clothes, and sound
equipment, all assembled with great care and good taste on pages made of
high-quality paper - make it possible to see this book as a subsection of the
social history of "Greater London": a photo of Denmark Street from
2013 (on p233) immediately becomes "ancient" upon reading that
starting from January, 2015 the street will be razed in order to undergo a
dramatic change when it comes to buildings - echoes of The Kinks' Maswell
Hillbillies album, mentioned in the chapter dedicated to Morgan studio.
colossal work, The Great British Recording Studios was endorsed and written
with the cooperation of the U.K.-based Association Of Professional Recording
Services. There are a lot of vintage pictures, drawings of studio floors,
vintage ad brochures, and so on. A hundred tales, often dealing with famous
albums, appear under the heading Stories From The Studio, thanks to vintage
issues of such magazines as Studio Sound, Sound On Sound, and MIX. There's also
a very fine Glossary, a Bibliography, and a comprehensive, well-organized
noticed the non-appearance of Command Studio (it's barely mentioned), where
King Crimson recorded two albums. I saw a "John Congas", that reminded
me of one "John Kongos" whose music I listened to, once upon a time.
Only mistake I could find, on p282 the guitar player from Free, Paul Kossoff,
becomes the group's bass player; he's back on guitar, but as
"Kosoff", on p298.
in the United States, Howard Massey moved to England in the 70s, working as a
tourig musician, to become part of Pathway Studio in 1979, so starting a career
as an engineer and producer, with a long stint at famed Trident Studio.
book starts with a bang, with a long preface where Massey paints a background
and also clarifies the different approaches - and different equipment - adopted
by U.K. and U.S. studios: a chapter, this, that also will be of great interest
to those who deal and write about music in a "non-technical" way. The
"focus" of the book is obviously on the music production from the
mid-50s to the early 80s, but readers beware: when talking about a "golden
era" of pop music, Massey doesn't really pronounce a value judgment about
music per se, but talks about the "individuality" of sounds as
related to a "technical" environment as part of a culture. A
perspective that's echoed by other writers who are quoted here, and in a way
connects with the Introduction written by U.S. engineer and producer George
Massenburg to Vol. II of Behind The Glass.
Great British Recording Studios presents different chapters, the first one
dealing, of course, with the most famous recording studio in the world: EMI,
aka Abbey Road.
chapter offers the same internal organization: A brief history, a list of names
of key personnel, a description of physical facilities, notes about acoustic
treatment, room dimension, echo chambers, and an accurate list of key
equipment, with subsections on mixers, monitors, tape recorders, microphones,
and signal processors. In closing, a discussion of the studio's technical
innovations, and a selected discography (funny to notice how many celebrated
albums were recorded in studios whose name at first doesn't ring a bell).
Abbey Road we find chapters on Decca (with engineer Derek Varnals here acting
as a narrator), Philips, Pye, IBC, Lansdowne, Advision, Olympic (George
Chkiantz does quite a bit of talking), Trident (with their famed piano, and
their mixing desks), AIR (with a section dedicated to the collaboration between
the studio and world-famous desk designer Rupert Neve), Sound Technique (and
their mixing boards). There's also a chapter about sonic innovator Joe Meek.
are chapters about Wessex, Morgan, Chalk Farm, Apple, Island/Basing Street,
Manor, Scorpio Sound, Chipping Norton, SARM, Roundhouse, RAK (an historical
studio still going strong today thanks to artists such as Adele, Arctic
Monkeys, and Shakira), Good Earth (Tony Visconti's studio), Townhouse, Ridge
also a long, detailed chapter that deals with "mobile studios", many
of which quite famous in the history of rock music: The Rolling Stones Mobile,
The Pye Mobile, Ronnie Lane Mobile, The Manor Mobile(s), The Island Mobile, The
RAK Mobile, The Maison Rouge Mobile (owned by Jethro Tull).
of the interviews were conducted for inclusion in this book.
chapters in the Stories From The Studio series are for the most part quite
interesting. Many of the chapters are quite "technical", while others
can also be useful to those who regard themselves as being "just a music
fan". Here are a few.
synchronized echoes featured on Us And Them, on Pink Floyd's The Dark Side Of
The Moon, created by Alan Parsons (p27). The start and the ending of the Moody
Blues album On The Threshold Of A Dream, with "the sound of the background
radiation from the Big Bang" (p64). The recording of the Blind Faith album
of same name, especially the section from 6' 41" to 6' 51' off Had To Cry
Today. The drum part featured on Whole Lotta Love by Led Zeppelin (p159, while
pp170-71 in the chapter about Olympic feature Glyn John's drum miking
technique, with a clear colour picture). The section titled Sex Pistols
Deconstructed (p246). The recording of an album by "supergroup" GO
(pp264-65). The chapter about the world-famous gated drum sound on Phil
Collins's In The Air Tonight, appearing under the title The Drum Shot Heard
Around The World (p296). The chapter about the recording of John Martyn's album
One World, by the Island Mobile, titled The Making Of One World (p324).
course, what I offer here is just a little more than an overview, but written
after careful reading. By now, readers have all the essential information.
© Beppe Colli 2016
| Mar. 3, 2016