Sunday 21st October 2018




History

Old School… An analogue, residential studio in the 21st Century: who’d have thunk it?

The Grange is the brainchild of Dave and Sue Williams, owners of Frontier Promotions, one of the biggest independent influences on the UK rock, blues and roots scene, handling such artists as Paul Rodgers, Joe Bonamassa, Meat Loaf, Donald Fagen, Alison Krauss, Mavis Staples, Eva Cassidy and Joan Armatrading. But Dave’s first love is the studio, a field in which his credits stretch back as far as Tina Turner, including the likes of John Mayall and Peter Green along the way.

When Frontier took up residence in a sprawling Norfolk farm and its outbuildings, the barn was just too tempting an opportunity to miss. In fact, almost immediately, there were recordings coming out of The Grange, with Eric Bibb’s 'Home To Me' album being the first. But these were ad hoc affairs, using the house as studio space and stringing cables to the desk situated in a cottage.

Converting the barn into a purpose-built facility and the two cottages to provide accommodation was a far longer process than originally envisaged, finally reaching fruition with Eleanor McEvoy's 'Out There' album being the inaugural project. The studio was booked solid from the outset. What is it that draws these artists back to a technology and style of recording that the music industry thinks it’s left behind forever?

The thinking behind The Grange is interesting. Faced with a market in which digital recording, sampling and Pro-Tools have created the capacity for a genuine “home” studio, big name recording venues have been folding at an alarming rate. So, the reasoning goes, do something different, something that attacks the weaknesses in this now fashionable approach, the primacy of the computer, the notion of music as a construction process, digital Lego. The decision to go analogue was crucial, not just in technology terms, but just as importantly, in terms of attitude.

Whilst DW is quick to point out the sonic benefits of analogue recordings running on two-inch tape, it’s the notion that sonic quality matters in the first place that really counts. What he wanted to create was a large space, a single acoustic in which multiple musicians can perform together. The Grange offers one large space with three smaller, but interconnecting areas, so that even if you put the drums in a separate space there’s still a visual link between the players. Each area has a range of removable acoustic treatments, meaning that they can be tailored to meet the requirements of a particular project without changing the site, the personnel or the venue. It’s this desire to preserve the chemistry in a band’s performance that dictates the approach, whilst also demanding the weight, warmth and subtle substance that analogue recording brings to the process.

The analogue tapes are run on a Studer 827 Gold Series 24-track machine and there are also two 24-track Radar digital machines, which can be run as slaves along with the 827 or as a separate stand-alone 48-track system. The AMEK Rembrandt desk is an analogue design that incorporates digital control. The studio also boasts an array of classic 60s and 70s microphones and vintage outboard equipment. Finally, for mastering, there’s the option of half-inch Studer A80 or 96K/24 bit digital. It's a recording approach that has proved equally appealing to older performers who experienced it first time round, and younger ones who’ve been put through the Pro-Tools mill and found it wanting. Either way, it signals a refreshing return to concerns over the sound quality of mainstream recordings by serious artists, which has to be good news.

 

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