During the middle of 1973 there were more strikes than usual by construction workers in Battersea. The Who were responsible — they usually are for any fracas in their vicinity — but not, in this case, directly. Right across from a major housing development in Thessaly Road, SW8, an old (1900) Church of England parish hall had been converted by The Who's ex-Production Manager, John Wolff, into the U.K.'s first specifically built quadraphonic studio. That necessitated the installation of a false roof. Seeing workers on strike at the site across the street, John had the nifty idea of dropping them a few bob to use their cranes and equipment to set the girders into place for his ceiling. The Council had to wait a bit longer to settle that strike.
Even worse, the lad didn't even have planning permission for the conversion. When a local government architect turned up at the housing site and found the mobile cranes careering down Thessaly Road, dangling girders to be aimed at a Victorian Parish Hall, he was interested to discover what exactly was going on.
The Council told John Wolff politely that he had broken 113 planning bye-laws and would he please stop work at once. Naturally he said "Yes', continued work and managed to get the studio open inside six months after conception — an amazing feat of designing and organising skill.
Today, permission for everything to be done on the site has been obtained. Everything, except for one thing. You're not allowed to pray if you nip down to Ramport Studios. When the C. of E. sold the land (mucho consecrated) they stipulated that no praying should ever be done on the site. So you can't pray for a hit album when you record it at Ramport.
"We call this the two week studio," says John. "All the time we said 'we'll finish it in two weeks'. You know, one of the boys would ring up and say 'How's it going' and we'd say 'open in two weeks'".
The studio was actually built to record one album. The Who are into the silly money of course, and their record obligations were pressing them to get into recording Quadrophenia. Only there wasn't anywhere in the U.K. or Europe they felt was right. Quite a few years ago the band bought the old hall in one of the less attractive parts of Battersea. "We were getting so much gear that we had to find a warehouse to store it in. I nipped round to see the vicar with cash in hand — there were lots of people after it — and did the deal on the spot.
When the time came to think about recording Quadrophenia the band wanted to build their own studio and the hall was the obvious site.
"After we'd got it all built and the Council were giving us aggro, they came down and started complaining about the amount of noise we were making. I sat them in front of a couple of speakers and cranked it up to 130 dBs and then took them outside to hear it. Of course their ears were ringing and when they got outside they couldn't hear a thing, although some noise was getting out then. They sussed it afterwards of course, and came back with meters, but we managed to get the whole thing soundproof. I mean with the planes overhead, lorries going by and a railway next to us, you can't really complain about noise.
"We had a little trouble with neighbours at first, they didn't really know what was going on, but we lent them some equipment for the estate parties they have in the neighbourhood and now we're good friends".
Despite it's eccentric beginnings, Ramport has developed into a major commercial enterprise with the world's top bands competing to get time. Naturally, The Who always have first priority on studio time, but there's a growing roster of famous artists who like using Ramport.
"After we'd done Quadrophenia, we realised that it had taken a lot of getting together bread-wise and that we really shouldn't have that much gear sitting about so we decided to hire the studio out. In the early days, it was just friends and friends of friends and we'd come to an understanding about the money side of things. Then more and more people started to use the studio. We had to develop some sort of tariff and before we knew where we were we had a full diary and were working properly on a commercial basis".
"There's all sorts of little touches that make Ramport unique. Like having four separate mains power circuits. One at 240-250Hz, one at 240-260, one at 110-150 and another at 110-160. This means that a visiting U.S. or European musician can choose his wall socket and plug in to get a perfect sound, regardless of what equipment he has with him. It's not just a question of changing over the voltage selector, it's also important to have the right cycle supply.
The equipment at Ramport makes a list like something out of an engineer's fantasy: 32 track Helios Quad Desk; 3M 24 track, 16 track and 2 track; Studer 16 track, 8 track and 4 track, all with 24 i.p.s. copying capability. Monitors are 12 JBL4320 and 12 JBL4310 enclosures, driven by custom-built Ramport amps, S.A.E. amps and Quad amps. Ancillary equipment includes Eventide digital delay, Dolby and DBX noise suppressers, noise gates, Universal Audio Limiters, Teletronics levelling amplifiers, ITI and Acousta-Voicetta equalisers, the list seems endless. Much of the equipment is American and John Wolff tries to do as much shopping as possible when he's in the States. He believes that U.S. equipment helps U.S. bands, and it helps producers feel at home when visiting Ramport.
"Apart from that, they're still way ahead of us technically".
Now that Ramport is proving itself to be a highly functional commercial studio as well as a hobby for the band, John has ideas of expansion.
"I wept about the amount of work I've had to turn away because we haven't had a separate mixing desk. Now we've decided to expand but we've run out of space. I'm trying to go up," he explained pointing at blue sky, "but I suppose I'll have to get planning permission first this time, otherwise they'll probably lock me up. If they won't allow me to go up, I'll have to go down. The building is so old that I'm sure there's no tunnels or cables underneath us, so we should be able to dig out some space. The only problem is that we're fairly near the Thames, so I'm not sure where the water level is".
"I'm planning to get an automated mix-down console for the reduction suite — probably a Neve — everybody here thinks they're the governors — and we'll have a small overdub piece as well".
One of the big pluses: Ramport offer is a wide range of instruments available at all times. These include a Hammond Organ with a Leslie tone cabinet, a Fender-Rhodes electric piano, lead and bass amps, a xylophone, a marimba set, gongs and a drum kit. In addition a wide range of strings, picks and other accessories is kept available.
Although the studio was built principally to cater for rock bands (you can't get many bands heavier than The Who), the studio is versatile enough to record string and brass sections perfectly. The change in acoustics is accomplished by the ridiculously simple but effective expedient of rolling up the carpet to reveal a parquet floor.
The heavy carpet is laid in strips so a very fine change in reverb time is possible. The variation possible in the studio is from .8 sec to 1.8 and this caters for almost all types of recording. The studio can accommodate up to 40 musicians in a floor area of 2,250 square feet and for the convenience of everyone there's a drinks machine in the reception and delightfully easy parking for an area that's only ten minutes away from London's West End.
Feature by Ray Hammond
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