Ground Floor - 19/20 Euston Tower Centre - 286 Euston Road, Camden, London.
A History by Dennis Weinreich
It’s late 1972 and the UK is on the cusp of the beginning of Commercial Radio. Two London franchises have been awarded to London Broadcasting Corporation (LBC) and Capital Radio. Lintas Overseas, an advertising agency in New Fetter Lane that is part of the Unilever group, sees the potential for a recording studio aimed at the boom there would no doubt be in production to feed this new market. And what better place to put it than Euston Tower, the proposed home for Capital Radio and the London home of Thames Television. A lease is secured and two top BBC engineers are appointed to build a studio. The future is rosy. But getting Scorpio designed and built was challenging and when the project was finished there was little creative energy left to actually run it.
Also the people with the vision to create the facility had moved on in the corporate structure and by the time Capital goes on air in late 1973, Scorpio Studio manager Aidan Day has moved upstairs to take a senior role at Capital and not much happens that is commercially positive at Scorpio Sound.
Enter a new team. Paul Dallas is headhunted away from Chappell’s studio as new Studio Manager. He brings along technical wiz Sean Davis and hires Ray Hendriksen from Pye Studios and Peter Hoskins from Radio Luxembourg as the house balance engineers. Both are very experienced and respected mixers. With Paul comes a change in focus away from servicing commercial radio and jingles and into Music.
Changes are made to the equipment from the original setup. The 24 input Cadac console remains, but The Ampex MM1000 16 track is replaced with a newer MM1100, the latest Cadac “powerhouse’ monitors with twin 18” bass units replace the Altec based originals. Mono and stereo Fairchild Compressors are acquired as is a Cooper Timecube and an additional EMT 240 quad plate to complement the existing EMT plate.
Paul, Ray and Peter start promoting the studio to all their clients and are finding it a struggle. It’s a fine studio, with a large control room but the décor is pure BBC. Around this time Capital realised that they could get around the needle time restrictions by recording bands specifically for broadcast. The small 8 track studio at Capital was far too small for most bands so it was logical to book the big 16 track down stairs.
This proved to be the making of Scorpio. Through 1974 and into ’75 just about every chart act came through Scorpio’s doors and in doing so was often blown away by this excellent, if perhaps drab studio. Also around this time Dennis Weinreich arrives from Los Angeles. He is looking for a base to work out of and instantly hits it off with the Scorpio team. The reputation is starting to take hold and the book is filling up.
The focal point is the huge Cadac powerhouse monitors. The control room is airy, has great air conditioning and is remarkably true. Aside from the projects Ray, Peter and Dennis are working on, Ken Scott drops in to finish a project that cannot be accommodated at Trident in St Annes Court where he is based. Ken loves the control room and the Cadac speakers and desk. A decision is taken to replace the small Cadac desk with a bigger 36 channel 24 group Cadac.
The installation of the new desk starts on 29th March 1976 and takes 9 days.
Ken returns with albums from Supertramp, Stanley Clarke, Billy Cobham and many more. Trident colleagues follow suit with Roy Thomas Baker coming to finish the Night a the Opera tracks with Queen just as the MM1100 is replaced with a 24 track Telefunken, but that is a story all by itself. The Telefunken is replaced before the Queen project is finished with an M79 because of head stack compatibility issues. But problems with the transport cause the M79 to be finally replaced by a Studer A80 MkII, which remained the main machine until a MCI JH16 24 track was added for 48 track work in the early 80’s.
Scorpio is building a reputation as an ‘Outside Engineer friendly’ studio in a time when most London studios have some discomfort with this concept. In-House engineers know the eccentricities of a studio and can work around them. Outside engineers will often see these eccentricities as faults and point to them as causes for records to not achieve expectations. With so many outside engineers having worked at Scorpio with great results there is the confidence that the studio is immune from this kind of criticism.
But like all 70’s studios Scorpio does indeed have eccentricities. Two that were often discussed were the Cadac Powerhouse monitors. They sounded amazing and were loud (during the mixing of the Supertramp album Crime of the Century we received numerous calls from the Capital engineers saying we were breaking through the structure and could be heard on air!) Most engineers loved them. But they did not work particularly well at low levels. As long as you monitored loud they were fantastic. Their HF characteristics were quite unique and it took some mixers time to adjust to them. They were also prone to blowing drivers. Another issue was the desk being side on to the studio. For the regular outside mixers and the house team, these were not really problems.
The book is full and getting time to record and/or mix at Scorpio is difficult. Paul Dallas leaves for Canada about ’77 and Peter Hoskins takes over as Studio Manager.
Scorpio in 1976
That Stereo Fairchild is still with me. I use it often. The small rack with the hat on it has 3 x Fairchild FET limiters that I brought with me from LA. The fact they are plugged in tells me this as a Ray mix session. I hated them and Ray loved them.
I can also tell you that was the original Cadac desk before the 32 input quad with the gyrators. This desk in the picture had 10k resistors as protection on the inputs to every stage. The morning setup was to fire up a soldering iron in the work shop, make sure you had plenty of 10k's in the drawer and start working. At some point every day you would need to change a burned up 10k. They were on natty little posts that made changing them easy and there was no need to power down the desk to remove a module. The swop could happen in the time it took to rewind the multi track! Dennis - 2011
In 1978 Peter Hoskins designs a re configuration of the monitors based on 3 x 15” Tannoy HPD’s per side. These prove to be very popular with most of the outside engineers who are comfortable with the Tannoy sound. Some months later LA based engineer/producer Val Garay comes to Scorpio to make an album with Mr. Big. He was recommended Scorpio by Bill Schnee who had been in doing an album with Neil Diamond. On Bills recommendation Val brings with him a pair of Altec 604’s with Mastering Lab crossovers. These use the same HF driver as the now decommissioned Cadac Powerhouses. and for Ray and Dennis these are a welcome reminder of the Scorpio Sound, er, sound.
Val also brought with him a new speaker that Yamaha were thinking of marketing called NS10 and some gizmo the Sunset Sound engineers were experimenting with called an Aphex Aural Exciter. During the project attempts are made to buy NS10’s from Yamaha UK as well as dealer Music Lab, but this was met with complete denial from Yamaha that these speakers existed!
Soon after the project with Val was complete Dennis went to LA for a small project at United Western. While there he moves between 2 studios; one with a pair of Altec 604’s identical to the ones Val had brought and another with a pair of prototype Altec 604 based monitors with time-aligned crossovers. These prototype UREI 813’s seem to address all of the shortcomings of the Powerhouses.
On his return from LA he calls UREI dealer FWO Bauch to place an order for these new speakers. Bauch say the have no intention of bringing in these speakers to the UK because there would be a conflict with their main speaker product by Klein and Hummel. There is much frustration, as Ray and Dennis want to get back to that Altec HF sound of the Cadac’s. UREI will not send the speakers direct to Scorpio as it would conflict with their main exporter Gotham Audio who will only deal with Bauch. In the end a pair is bought in Los Angeles, and shipped to Scorpio bypassing both Gotham and Bauch.
The UREI’s are a hit with clients, but are simply mounted on custom made hydraulic steel stands that allow them to be wheeled into the control room, raised to the proper height in front of the desk then lowered and wheeled out for clients who use the Tannoy based monitors. There is no consensus as to which monitors are right for the studio. Both are used just about equally but by different clients. It’s decided that the control room should be re built to accommodate both pairs. The new Sean Davis design is a major success. The BBC style acoustic boxes are gone and the desk is rotated to face the studio. Some changes are made to the studio area as well.
In this configuration Scorpio Sound remained until 1984 when Peter Hoskins left to Join Dennis Weinreich at his new post facility Videosonics in Camden Town.
In February 1980 I was producing an album with French rock group Trust. They had toured in Europe extensively supporting AC/DC and Bon Scott was both a close friend of the band as well as writing the English language translations of the songs. One session the French Media were coming in the evening for a surprise visit to the studio to present the band with gold records for their pervious album (also recorded at Scorpio).
Bon left early to avoid taking the limelight from the band. Of course we don’t know really what happened next but the following morning we received news Bon had passed on.
By 1981 Lintas Overseas sold Scorpio to a video distribution company, VCL, which in turn sold it following Peter’s departure to Capital Radio. At this point the Cadac console was replaced with an SSL 4000e and the Studer with an Otari MTR90. Capital Radio eventually left Euston Tower for Leicester Square and the space that was Scorpio Sound became a Sainsbury’s Local.
About the Author
Dennis Weinreich owned Videosonics, a leading film and television audio post facility with a recording studio that hosted Talk Talk (The Colour of Spring), Michael Jackson (The Bad Tour Live), Wang Chung and many others. More recently he was Managing Director for Film and Television Post at Pinewood Film Studios.