A celebration of Strawberry Recording Studios, Stockport,
1967 - 1993.
1971, December, Pages 47-52
Transport tube train line. It goes a lot further than the sprawling metropolis. It goes as far as Stockport Cheshire, in fact. Stockport is where Strawberry Recording Studios are located. The drive there is through countryside almost totally alien to anyone who spends most of his working life in London. The journey takes about three hours by car, including a stop at any one of the many eating extravaganzas on the way. The town is, however, just as easily accessible by train. An inter-city express (the one that makes the going easy and the coming back sometimes impossible) from Euston takes just over two and-a-half hours.
Strawberry are located just around the corner from Stockport station in Waterloo Road and although at first glance the street seems pretty inhospitable it soon adopts a certain warming atmosphere. It must be the contagious Cheshire friendliness. The studio was the brainchild of Eric Stewart once a member of Wayne Fontana's old backing group, The Mindbenders and now getting into his stride again as a musician with Hotlegs (remember Neanderthal Man?). He opened it in partnership with songwriter, Graham Gouldman, and Peter Tattersall. now resident engineer.
Strawberry was originally housed over a hi-fi shop in the centre of Stockport. 'We had too many hassles with the shop owner though' remembered Eric. 'The shop used to close at 6 pm and we'd have to ring him up at home to be let out if there was a late session. We were really restricted there so we decided to find another place as soon as we could.'
So, they found the current premises at 3 Waterloo Road and, after a talk with Peter Tattersall and Manchester based Ric Dixon, of Kennedy Street Enterprises, who also manages Hot Legs and used to be agent for The Who, the north of England's only professional recording studio was opened. At the time they didn't have too much money to throw about and so they virtually had to build the studio themselves. Fortunately they were in a neighbourhood that featured many material suppliers sheet metal around one corner, a carpenter around another, glass along the road and so forth.
'We put it all together between us' said Eric. 'We had to knock down many walls and eventually some sort of order became apparent.' The first recorder they got in was an Ampex four-track and Dick Sweatenham, who runs Helios Electronics of Teddington and who specialises in building control desks to customers own specifications, supplied them with a model. Not long after some semblance of order had been attained the Hotlegs single was recorded and released. Very quickly it began to rise in the charts and this brought Strawberry to the attention of the record companies in London. Very soon many of them were investigating the possibilities of using its facilities. Philips Records were the first company to buy time with the 24-piece Syd Lawrence Orchestra, in fact. At one time Philips were taking up about 70 per cent of the studio's time. Decca was another record company that showed great interest.
The current control room used to house an acetate cutting office but it was reorganised after more walls had been knocked down and windows through to the studio had been fitted in. Sweatenham went North and designed Strawberry an eight-track desk, similar to the models used at Olympic and Apple. He is now, by all accounts, designing a 16 track desk for the studio. The desk has 16 microphone channels with eight out and with full equalisation on every channel. Other features include an EMT stereo echo plate, four fold back groups, two audio and design limitor compressors, four additional audio and design equalisers patchable into any channel, video monitoring on a peak programme meter (used instead of a VU meter) and EMT faders.
An original feature of the desk is a remote stop/start control button for the tape machines. Eric said the range of sound from the control desk is 'absolutely great.' The equalisation units, he added, are incredible and enables him to try different recording techniques. 'If we do have any mad ideas and need a certain attachment for the desk, Dick Sweatenham will come up here and fit it for us' he said. The new desk that Sweatenham is designing will have facilities for quadraphonic sound. Strawberry have, at present eight-track Scully tape recorders but Eric said he would probably get a Studer 16-track when the 16-channel control desk is installed.
One interesting point about Strawberry is that they use only BASF tape and there is a sizeable wall rack containing boxes and boxes of LG R 30. The LG R 30 tape has tremendous signal-to-noise ratio and at the moment we have not had to install any Dolby noise reduction units' he said. 'Instead, the control desk has an F.W.O. Bauch Kepex unit. It's very flexible in as much that if we've got an acoustic guitarist in the studio playing in front of some other musicians, we can fade them out completely. We can also eliminate any cross talk, backing vocals and reverberation' he said. 'Naturally we will have to go over to Dolby when we go on to 16-track'.
Other equipment in the control room includes H H Electronics monitor amps and J B L speakers. Another interesting point is the utilisation of special cabinets built by KF and in which the stereo tape machines are housed. KF are said Eric a very worthwhile company to have studio dealings with. They took the measurements of the recorders and came back a couple of weeks later with formica-covered solid wood cabinets. KF also made the cabinets for Strawberry's mobile set up, which is also featured later in this article.
The studio itself can accommodate up to 45 musicians. It has a total floor area of 100 square feet. There is a 'live' string area with a hard vinyl floor covering to produce the necessary 'top' for violins, cellos and violas. There are screens to block off any stringed instrument musicians from the rest of the players. 'Brass musicians often complain that some studios are dead for their instruments and that they get the feeling they are playing into a fog with nothing coming back at them' said Eric. 'So we have put screens around the section for brass players too. They are made of hardboard and these help him get his horn sound moving in the right direction.'
Strawberry also claims that they can get any instrument for musicians booking the studio, including a miniMoog. On hand, however, are a Bechstein grand piano, a Yamaha Electone organ with a massive polystyrene speaker, and an upright Chappell piano. The studio is also equipped with H H amplification for bass and guitar. A vertitable battery of Neumann, AKG and Beyer microphones face any visitor to the studio enclosure. The headphones are also Beyer. They are according to Eric, the most robust.
The walls of the studio are two-feet thick brick with batons covered with softboard and fibreboard and panels of acoustic tiles and sponge-filled cloth panels added to help the soundproofing. The ceiling is also two feet thick and is suspended on steel and rubber rods. The floors are completely asphalt and are covered with a heavy red carpet and underlay. All the lighting is controlled from the control room and can be altered to suit the individual requirements of the musician. 'Some heavy musicians prefer playing into semidarkness as it gives them the right atmosphere and puts them in the right mood for playing' Eric said. 'On the other hand orchestras prefer to play with the lights burning brightly'.
Inside the studio is an inconspicuous door behind which is a lift down to the street below. Said Eric: 'This is another of the great features of the studio as the musicians have absolutely no trouble bringing in their own big equipment such as drum kits, organs, pianos, speakers and so forth. Many other studios don't have a lift and this means that roadies and instrumentalists have to lug their equipment up and down stairs.'
Strawberry's mobile unit is a 14-channel stereo job with all the machines encased in cabinets from KF. The custom-built mixer is apparently compact enough to go in the boot of Ric Dixon's car and the whole unit can be packed up to fit in an estate car. Other equipment includes JBL monitors, Calrec anti-feed back microphones and a stereo recorder.
'We have a new method of fold back for the group on stage' said Eric. 'We worked out an induction loop. It works like this: The singer on stage stands on a rubber mat. He has a small ear piece with long wires attached and through this he can hear his voice perfectly above the sound of the backing musicians. The people involved at Strawberry worked it out.'
Strawberry studios are currently the scene of the recording of a Granada Television show called Lift Off. Artists recently featured are Louisa Jane White, The Hermits and Gene Pitney. On the day Beat Instrumental visited Stockport, Muriel Young, the producer of Lift Off was in with Cliff Richard. On the record side most of the material done at Strawberry is mainly production work which is channelled out to both large and small record companies. Strawberry also has its own logo and this has been featured recently on the Philips label.
Another feature of the set up is an art department which deals with album sleeve covers and photographs.
The rates of the studio are:
9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Eight-track £18.00 per hour
Four-track £13.00 per hour
Two-track £10.00 per hour
Mono £10.00 per hour
Eight-track £12.00 per hour
Four-track £10.00 per hour
All configurations £8.00 per day
After 6 p.m., all day Saturday and Sunday, Bank and public holidays, all rates are subject to the following surcharges.
Recording £4.00 per hour
Reduction £3.00 per hour
Editing £3.00 per hour
One Inch £15.00 per reel
Half-inch £8'50 per reel
Quarter-inch £5-50 per reel
Telephone bookings (061480 9711) are accepted but written confirmation must be forwarded. Prices of studio hire are available on request.
The cancellation rates are:
48 hours prior No charge
Less than 48 hours 50 per cent charge
Less than 24 hours full rate
Approved account Nett 7 days. Prices are subject to revision without notice.
The full address of Strawberry Recording Studios is: 3 Waterloo Road, Stockport. Cheshire, England.