Howard Massey knows a thing or two about the music industry and is a long-time music journo and consultant to the pro-audio side of things. He’s been a touring/session musician, songwriter, recording engineer and producer, not to mention having written a dozen or so books used in recording school curricula including Behind The Glass and Behind The Glass Volume II. So his credentials for putting together The Great British Recording Studios would seem to be well and truly in order.

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The foreword for The Great British Recording Studios is by none other than George Martin (he of The Beatles fame) and this sort of gives us a taste for what’s in store for readers. First up we have a broad introduction into the way in which recording studios in the UK first developed and how the sound produced differed from their American counterparts – as someone keen on the whole reel2reel “scene” that seems to be burgeoning at the moment, there’s a really interesting section on NAB versus CCIIR/IEC equalisation.

However, the chief focus of Howard’s book is, as the title would suggest, a detailed look inside the better known recording studios of Great Britain: Abbey Road (EMI), Decca, Philips, Pye as well as the early independent studios: IBC, Lansdowne, Advision, CTS/The Music Centre. Then there’s the infamous studio of Joe Meek (304 Holloway Road), Olympic, Trident and AIR (highlighted this month in Janine’s visit to the studio) and then other, perhaps less well known but important studios and finally some of the mobiles, not least The Stones’ RSM used to record many hours of tracks for Exile On Main Street.

Each of the studios featured gets a similar treatment from Massey. Readers are given an introduction to the history of each, what physical facilities were available to artists, what outboard gear was present, what desks were used, the monitors in place, the tape machines utilised and even the microphones to hand. This may seem all very technical and a bit OTT, and I must confess to having skipped much of the information about microphones and outboard, but to many interested in the whole recording process this will be fascinating. Personally I found the background and information about desks, tape machines and monitors the most interesting!

You’d be forgiven for thinking, given my outline of The Great British Recording Studios, that this is a bit of a trainspotter’s guide to equipment and kit (and to an extent it is), but there is much more to this book that makes it eminently readable and enjoyable. Yes, you have all the technical information and kit lists, but you also have fabulous soundbites from people present at the recording of some of the biggest hits of our time and often amusing “Stories From The Studio” pull outs that give you a nice break from the tech-fest. There’s photographs galore in the book too that give the reader an insight into what recording studios were like – one of my favourites is a shot of The Tornados taken at Joe Meek’s Holloway Road studio where the whole band is huddled in a corner of a room with just four microphones to record them. Another favourite is a picture of Frank Oglethorpe sat in the control room at the AIR Montserrat studio.

Given that almost anyone can now have access to computer modelled effects and laptops that can give you as many recording channels as you could ever wish for, it may seem a little anachronistic to focus on analogue recording studios from “the old days”, but, lest we forget, this is how most of the truly great records ever produced were made and Massey manages to make what could have ended up being little more than a long and detailed list both informative and entertaining.
If you are interested in how the greatest records of all time were made, have a passing interest in studio technology or just want a bit of an insight into the lives of recording artists, then The Great British Recording Studios is a must read book. Yes there are bits I skipped, primarily the lists of microphones and outboard effects, but there is still enough in this book to keep you hooked… personally I couldn’t put it down.

Highly recommended.

Stuart Smith

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