Blog post by level 1 Audio Production student Alistair Pritchard (3rd from left).
I was invited to spend a day at British Grove Studios in London by Dave Harries when our course gained JAMES accreditation. I helped set up the new tweeters in both studios and was introduced to the various employees of the studio and was then invited to spend a whole week at the studio later on in the year.
The building has a lovely, warm and homely atmosphere with real character, made more so by the staff that work there. Owned by Mark Knopfler and managed by David Stewart, British Grove is one of the very few studios left in London who cater for orchestral recordings as well as bands. Its amazing acoustics and flexibility of live rooms and booths allow it to adapt to each client’s needs.
During my first day I worked as Assistant Engineer with Joe (Engineer) and Steve McLaughlin who’s produced various compositions for films such as Die Hard and X-Men. This involved setting up for recording piano and classical guitar (see picture below) to add to a previous orchestral recording done at Abbey Road Studios. This was to be used for an art exhibition and possibly for a film in the future. Microphone positioning/choice was a key factor during this session to get the best sound but also to piece the music together as it was a complicated composition.
On my second day, after getting to grips with my role as an Assistant Engineer and familiar with the new environment, I was to work with Rich and Jason – setting up to record an album. Later that day I was introduced to Guy Fletcher (keyboard player in Mark’s band). The recording would take place for the rest of the week in studio 1 and, during this time, Glyn Johns was mixing an album for a client with Martin (British Grove Engineer) in Studio 2. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to him and Don Was, which was really nice. I then found myself discussing work with them and made coffee throughout the week which lead to having lunch followed by some sound advice from Glyn himself.
For the recording session in studio 1 we had to use all of the booths and the live room. This consisted of many instruments being recorded all at the same time. To name a few:
Fiddle and Whistle/Flute – Neumann 67 (valve).
Drums – AKG C12s were used as overheads (also valve and very rare these days).
Vocals – A modern copy of a Telefunken 251.
Danny Cummings (percussionist) then turned up with all of his gear and by God, did he bring some drums?! We set them up and got levels with various microphones to find out which ones gave the best sound, in particular for the bass drum. The project was for a Spanish flamenco artist (cannot be named for private reasons) and was to be produced by Guy Fletcher. The musicians were part of Mark Knopfler’s folk band and friends, who I have to thank for making me very welcome and are such nice people. In total we had nine songs to record in full and straight away from hearing the first song you could see why the client had come to British Grove Studios, he was absolutely incredible as a composer of music and guitarist.
Throughout the week I learnt a lot about the hierarchy within a studio and how each level communicates with each other. Specifically to production techniques I learnt about microphone placement and some useful tips on Pro Tools. As the week came to an end working at British Grove started to feel like a norm, and I thoroughly enjoyed it and was always eager to learn but I felt like part of the team – in all honesty I was sad to go.
However, my week was still yet to be completed as David gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse and I stayed for the weekend too. I was then fortunate enough to meet Paul Crockford who is Mark’s manager and has a wealth of experience in the role. The following morning we were set to finish the previous day’s song which would determine whether or not we would finish on time. Later that day I was pleasantly surprised to meet Mark Knopfler himself and that was a great end to the week with the final pieces being tracked and edited.
Overall I had a brilliant time and couldn’t have asked for a better week. Thank you to all involved.