25 years of memories at Parr Street Studios16 November 2016
The UK’s biggest recording studio outside of London, Liverpool-based Parr Street, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.
Interestingly, the seed for the studio was planted in the 1970s when two ex policemen, Harold Collins and Eddie Hunt, set up a studio called Liverpool Sound Enterprises to record local artists. This was then taken over by a man named Jeremy Lewis in 1973, who wanted to record his band, as well as running the studio as a commercial enterprise. He renamed it Amazon studios and business boomed. But with a slew of British bands enjoying overseas success in the 1980s and the growing demand for use of the studio, the isolated location in the northern suburb of Kirby – outside the city centre – started to present problems. A decision was made to relocate the studio to the centre, but the move created financial problems for Lewis and by 1991 his major investor took over the company, liquidating the assets, but continuing the studio under the name Parr St Studios.
Current studio manager, Chris Taylor (pictured), says this has given the studio a rich historical background. “The Smith’s album Meat is Murder, Echo and the Bunnyman’s Ocean Rain and New Order’s album Brotherhood were made at Amazon. All of these great, classic records were made there, so when the studio moved into the city centre it was this big entity.”
Today, Parr St can boast its part in the creation of several high-profile albums (pictured top), such as Coldplay’s first and second albums Parachutes and Rush of Blood to the Head, Sterephonics’ Word Gets Around and Black Sabbath’s Forbidden. The range of people who have used the studio are broad from: Doves, Paolo Nutini, Elbow and Gomez, as well as Drake and (swoon!) Justin Bieber. r
But for Taylor, who has worked at Parr St in some form since the early 2000s before taking over as manager in 2010, it’s not just the big names of music that have created the memories.
One session (pictured right) that has really stuck in his mind was a song done with The Justice Collective – a group of musicians and celebrities spearheaded by Peter Hooton of The Farm – set up in 2012 to raise money for charities associated with the Hillsborough Disaster. “It’s been a long time to get justice for them, but the Collective recorded a song as a charity single and I remember the control room being full of 50 to 60 dignitaries, footballers and people from the Liverpool Club, and we were recording a 30-piece string ensemble and everyone was in tears in the room,” he says.
With so much history having been created at Parr St, Taylor wanted to find a way of telling the stories from the studio to mark the milestone and has decided to record a series of documentaries over the next 12 months.
“The thing for me is people don’t buy records anymore. When I was growing up I brought the Stereophonics’ first album and I could see inside it was produced at Parr St. In the digital age no one can find out where stuff is made; I wanted an ability to shout out about what we are doing in a neat way. I thought, 25 short films – about 25 groups that have come through and used the studio – and it was a way of shouting about it for a period of time, rather than a one-off event.”
The first documentary was released in October and focused on a live performance of minimalist classical composer Steve Reich’s (pictured) three movement piece for string and tape, Different Trains. Rob Ames and Hugh Brunt from the London Contemporary Orchestra collaborated with the band Metal Culture on the project, with the documentary charting the recording of the soundtrack, along with a visual accompaniment to the performance by artist and filmmaker Bill Morrison.
Taylor is tight lipped on what else is planned for the other documentaries, but does say it will be a broad scope from tech specific ones, to live sessions and a couple of new works commissioned through musicians that have met in the studio kitchen.
“It’s really 25 diverse projects and just to highlight the differences. The big thing about this complex is it has produced so much work, this week we have Hollywood A listers in the studio doing TV work … we do a lot of music at different levels, local, national and international musicians and also do film and TV, so we are set up for all of those things,” he comments.
“I think that’s part of what keeps this place going. No two days are the same for our staff. We are really busy for our studio work – we have 28 or 29 days occupancy per month in all three rooms and in the current climate that’s great. We are not doing the documentaries as a promo piece – we’ve already got too much work – and it’s a headache just trying to get the maintenance guys in and I don’t want to get any busier. It’s about this great artistic hub that is unheard of and I’m trying to reposition the north a little bit.”
“So much music is being made here, we see everything from major international superstars all the way through to just local bands, so it keeps people really grounded as they get to work on massive bands and then other local bands,” he says.
“We get loads of people moving to Liverpool because of its cultural integrity and cultural qualities, so producer Steve Levine (whose credits include the Culture Club and The Beach Boys) moved up here because he wanted to be where music is happening and he found that difficult in London and he wanted to be where the thrust of new music is coming from.”
But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing over the past 25 years, with Taylor citing budgets as one of the current challenges the studio faces. He says over the last six years he has seen budgets diminish and people expecting more for their money.
“We’ve got a strong team of assistants so that really helps people get the most out of the space in a relatively short amount of time … and the biggest positive is that Protools is so fast we get so much more done and it means we can be creative in such a short space of time, which means we get to work on a bunch of projects,” he comments.
A great example, says Taylor, is a band called The Coral, who did their last record in about 28 days, which compared to years ago would have taken two or three months. He adds that the studio prides itself on meeting these types of challenges.
Taylor also admits that the studio experienced a “bit of a blip” and a quiet period in 2007 and 2008 when technology changed and people were recording at home. But now the studio is booked out and he thinks people have realised that great spaces and great people make great records.
“Parr St has those in abundance and the reason why is I don’t think gear makes great records – I’m a firm believer that it isn’t the equipment it’s the people using it – and the vibe and acoustic nature of the place. I think the industry is coming back to realise this,” he says.
As for the future, Taylor likes to think that Parr St will go on for at least another 25 years.
“There are so many studios closing in London – getting to 25 years is such an achievement – so I would like to see how the next 10 years goes. But we are an anomaly, so many studios are closing, but we are going strong.”