Chipping Norton Recording Studios
Chipping Norton Studios.
Ninety minutes drive from central London, in deepest Oxfordshire, lies the busy market town of Chipping Norton - host to one of this country's top residential recording studios.
Originally set up by producer Mike Vernon and his brother Richard to provide studio time for artists signed to their own Blue Horizon record label, Chipping Norton Studios began life back in 1971 when the Vernons chanced upon the premises during a reconnaissance trip for suitable studio sites outside of London. The original building had been a school which satisfied both the physical and financial requirements of the day, and so they set about constructing a studio. Ex-colleague David Grinsted was enticed from Decca, where he had been a staff engineer, and enlisted as studio manager-cum-engineer.
The concept of working outside London seemed a viable proposition, as both Rockfield and The Manor had been going for some time, when the studio eventually presented itself for business in October 1972.
Initially equipped with a Trident 'B' range mixing console and an MCI 16-track recorder, the work started to pour in. So much so that David brought in Barry Hammond as second engineer to help relieve the workload. As the industry upgraded to 24-track Chipping Norton followed suit, and in 1975 brought in yet another MCI — this time a JH-100 24-track.
The original studio area had been designed and constructed by David and Mike Vernon, based upon their experience of studio layout, and consisted mainly of acoustic tiles and panels stuck on walls to cut the reverberation time of the rooms to acceptable levels. Thus, it came as no surprise when in 1977 they decided to 'do it properly' and enlisted the services of John Storyk of Sugarloaf View (USA), one of the top studio design consultants, to redesign the acoustic treatment of both studio and control rooms. In conjunction with Peter Sarony and Associates, the work was carried out successfully. In came the bass 'traps', suspended ceilings and separation booths, the end result of which was an acoustically and aesthetically pleasing environment with an overall atmosphere that blended well with the rural image projected by the studio.
The studio quickly gained a reputation for professional work with the added bonus of accommodation for bands wanting something different. Being a residential studio it has its own relaxed atmosphere as David says, "I like to feel that it's the closest that artists can get to being at home and having a studio in their basement or dining room. We try to make them as comfortable as possible but at the same time it's still a business-like studio."
This philosophy has paid off over the years, helping to attract such recording giants as Gerry Rafferty, Steve Winwood and Chris Rea, who all recorded hit albums at the studios. More recently the place has played host to the younger bands like Duran Duran, Kajagoogoo and BowWowWow - all of whom have been inspired to create masterful 'hit' songs within the confines of the studio walls.
This success has not been due solely to the positive atmosphere of the studio, it is equally due to the skills of the engineers and producers, and above all, the top class equipment that fills every nook and cranny.
The control room is located above and at right angles to the main studio area and measures 16' (W) x 16' (L) x 8' (H) approximately. Pride of place in the carpeted, pine panelled room goes to the Trident TSM 32 in, 24 out mixing console adjacent to the control room window. Flush-mounted into the angled walls are the powerful JBL 4326 monitors driven by Crown DC300 amps. Air conditioning keeps things cool, whilst a small CCTV keeps an extra watchful eye on studio proceedings if required.
Designed for one man operation, directly behind the engineer stand the MCI JH24 multitrack machine and a couple of Studer A80-RC stereo tape recorders with remotes. A rack of Dolby A units, for both multitrack and master recorders, is left of the MCI whilst the right hand wall is obscured by the effects rack containing AMS DMX-1580S and Eventide 1745M digital delays, AMS RMX-16 digital reverb, Eventide H910 Harmonizer, dbx 160 and 165 compressor/limiters, various Orban Parasound parametric equalisers and de-esser, Bel stereo flanger and Drawmer, Roger Mayer and Allison Research noise gates.
Supplementing this gamut of technology are two EMT 140 echo plates and a Master Room MR 11 reverberation system. All of which can be checked either on the (inevitable) small Auratone speakers or the excellent Visonik David 6000 reference speakers that seem to be popping up in all the best studios lately, both of which are mounted at either end of the studio desk.
The main studio is a rectangular room measuring 32' (L) x 16' (W) x 12'(H), treated in a variety of stone, ash, mahogany and tiled finishes with no parallel facing walls to cut out possible standing waves. The control room wall itself is of the slat resonator type, constructed from a framework of uneven width panels filled with Rockwool to absorb specific frequencies.
The studio is built on the 'room within a room' principle having a double breeze block structure and a two feet air gap between each wall.
Movable baffles with reversable, angled perspex tops are available to form booths if you require a particular amplifier to be separated, for instance, from other equipment. The parquet floor adds a welcome degree of liveness to the studio at one end of which is a raised plinth originally intended for drums. Most frequently it supports the Yamaha grand piano.
A comprehensive selection of microphones by Neumann, Beyer, AKG, Shure and Sennheiser cater for most needs and there are also two Amcron Prezzure Zone microphones fixed to the walls, which can be used for general ambient pickup - a favourite technique of staff engineer Barry Hammond.
30 mic lines are on hand, as well as a custom designed, 4-way foldback system using Beyer headphones, driven by Quad power amplifiers for a really clean sound. "I always felt that foldback is an essential element to get right because if the musician is happy and hearing what he wants to hear, then he'll play better — and that's half the battle won!" said David.
One last point not to be overlooked is the standard of accommodation to be found at Chipping Norton — it fair puts the Holiday Inn to shame! Twelve double bedrooms can be made available, some of which are part of three self-contained cottages across from the studio car park, situated conveniently at the rear of the building for easy access.
With all this going for it. Chipping Norton Studios looks set for a healthy future. It will most likely remain a 24-track facility, as there has been no real 'user pressure' to upgrade to 48 tracks, but plans are underfoot for changes, as David Grinsted explained to me; "there are two things we'd like to do: one is to provide a live area within the studio itself which we presently don't have, and secondly, we'd like to expand the control room, simply because of the amount of work that is being done in there these days. We've even had people assembling a drum track in there, piece by piece using a Simmons kit!"
All augers well for the future, and of one thing you can be sure: Chipping Norton has carved a name in recording circles, based upon a reputation for quality and professionalism; qualities that will ensure its continued prosperity and success.
Chipping Norton Studios are located at (Contact Details). Booking details and studio rates are available from the London office, (Contact Details)
Feature by Ian Gilby
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