A close look at the Manor's astonishing new studios
The left-hand side of the studio is bright, offering a very live ceiling and stone-faced walls. At the very back of the studio, there is still a gallery. Heavily trapped, with a low ceiling, it is ideal for acoustic instruments.
Surprisingly, the demolition and rebuilding of the studio's interior required only 30 days. Westlake's chief designer, Tom Hidley, flew over from the States to oversee the repairs.
Mike Patto, lead singer and producer of Boxer, was among the first producers to use the new studio. "Tom Hidley showed me around the place and he pointed out the design features — the use of wood, cloth and stone, but none of it was used for decoration. It was put there for its acoustic properties.
"Ollie (Halsall, lead guitarist in Boxer) is a very loud guitarist, and he was playing right up against the stone walls without any leakage into the drums or bass."
Kevin Coyne was also among the first artists to use the new Manor. "I found it much easier to use, more practical and more accessible for recording, in the past, recording on one level and being away from the mixing room (previously, the Manor's control area was at the rear of the room: on a gallery overlooking the studio), I felt a bit removed from the actual recording process. I think it's now the best studio I've ever worked in."
Richard Digby Smith engineered the Trevor Lucas and Sandy Denny sessions, the first ever done in The Manor. He also worked on the Boxer sessions, the first done in the rebuilt studio. "There's been an improvement, no doubt about that, but it's more than the actual 'West-laking'.
"The desk is new, and everyone's going to want one. It's the first one I've ever used which offers complete parametric equalising on every channel.
"The control room is good too — all anyone wants is a guarantee that when you take the tape out and play it elsewhere, there won't be a difference in sound." Mike Patto agreed, "The speakers and the power are both designed to fill the playback room, but provide a very flat sound."
Much of the credit for technological improvement in the studio must go to Helios, who built the control console.
A 32—input, 24—out desk with four quad outputs, the desk boasts four section parametric equalisers on every channel. There are API/Allison computerised faders on the channels, groups and groupers. The limiters used are Tektronix LA3A, UA 1176, Neve 22S4A and A & D F760X. There are four Kepex expanders, UREI graphic equalisers, a Little Dipper, a Wattnot Product Generator and an Eventide Phaser.
The Manor have continued to rely on Ampex machines, both 16 and 24 track, with search and cue. All their machines have Varispeed with digital readout on all machines.
Echo is provided by two EMT 140 ST plates, two Master Room units, and a Time Line digital delay echo effect. Dolby units on 34 channels round out the technical specifications on this, the newest and most advanced studio in Europe.
For all the modern improvements, the tranquil character of The Manor remains unchanged. A full time staff of six is headed by Barbra Jeffries. In charge since April of last year, she previously served as studio manager for Alvin Lee's home studio.
The Manor's philosophy remains unchanged. With attractive and comfortable bedrooms sufficient to accommodate bands, wives/girlfriends, children and roadies, a cordon bleu chef who has mastered culinary masterpieces (including macrobiotic food) from every continent, and a collection of animals ranging from rescued cats to pedigree Afghans, The Manor remains a comfortable retreat for people who want a sympathetic environment in which they can get down to their work. All that has changed is the improvement in the technical quality of that work. That is indisputably a change for the better.
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