Friends and colleagues have been paying tribute to loudspeaker designer and entrepreneur Stephen Court, who has died following a fall at his West Country home, writes Jim Evans.
Court (“I’m a few years younger than Mick Jagger!”) was a dedicated sound-man and one of pro-audio’s more colourful characters. He worked for the BBC and ITV and some of the biggest names in rock. And he had anecdotes to relate about them all – and the merits, or otherwise, of their sound systems.
In recent years, he was based at Tavistock Wharf in Devon which he and his wife Angela bought in 2006 and developed into the leading live music venue in the area. The sound system at The Wharf is, not surprisingly, designed and built by Court Acoustics, which was the vehicle for his various system designs for both studios and live applications. Just prior to his passing, he had been promoting his latest loudspeakers with presentations at leading studios including Real World (Bath) and British Grove (London).
Alan Parsons worked with Court on a number of initiatives including the Sound Check CD sound analysis programme. “Sound Check was very much his idea,” says Parsons, who is godfather to Court’s son James. “There was definitely a need for this product and he believed the live sound people needed it. He was always into low frequency energy – ‘big bottom end’ as he termed it. That’s why he insisted on Yello’s The Race being included on the Sound Check CD.
“He was also the sound designer for the stage production of Freudiana in Vienna, which was the last project we did with [Alan Parsons Project co-writer] Eric Woolfson before he died.
“He had an opinion on eyerything – whether it was wanted or not. I liked him very much despite the stubborness and the opinions. He was a good friend. We will all miss him.”
Court was a long-standing member of DEAF (The Distinguished Engineers Audio Federation) which over the years has raised thousands for deaf children. His post luncheon/curry jokes at their gatherings won plaudits and groans. DEAF secretary Tony Shields recalls: “His award-winning joke which was requested to be told on several occasions at DEAF lunches about the two Japanese sewage city workers on shift work who never ever met each other, is an apt epitaph to a great character. The gag went on for probably five minutes in Stephen’s wonderfully hideous Japanese accent, while the final punchline… well, it was just belly-aching!”
“Stephen was one of our great characters and staunch supporter of our cherished profession, he will be greatly missed. Between Steve and Dag (Fellner, of Feldon Audio Hire) the ’60s would not have been so much fun,” said acoustician Eddie Veale.
“Stephen was one of the few distinctive original characters in the British audio industry when we led the world,” said former Marquee Studios director Simon White.
Throughout his career, Court championed the merits of quality sound. And it was not always easy. “I recall trying to persuade the London Palladium to install a sound system,” he once told your correspondent. “This followed their phone call to me, inviting me to provide a solution to their sound problems. ‘We can’t afford your quote because we have just put £20,000 worth of carpet and chandeliers in the foyer’ was a not untypical response. ‘You can’t put speakers anywhere near the proscenium arch because the royal crest goes there’. Six months later, they parted with double that amount of money on a system that took two years to sort out.
“It must be very difficult for venue owners because they are really at the mercy of sound equipment salesmen, and even the so-called ‘consultants’ seem to have a remarkably constant choice in equipment they recommend. I recall the great [entertainment impresario] Sir Lew Grade at London’s Talk of the Town telling me, ‘Mr Court, I have heard your sound systems are very good, and I know our sound system here is a load of crap, but we are full every night, and if I spent part of my fortune on one of your systems, we would still be full every night’.”
Referring to The Wharf, he noted, “The joy of owning your own venue is putting everything, exactly where it should be – including the sound control area which we suspended from the roof trusses, geometrically in the centre of the sound field. I think it’s taken me nearly 40 years to achieve that.”
Right now, he’s probably pointing out to the inadequacies of the sound reinforcement at the Pearly Gates to St Peter. We’ll miss him.
The funeral is at 2:30pm on 9 June at The Church of Mary Tavy, just outside Tavistock. The Wake will be held at The Wharf.