Amazon Studios & Parr Street Studios
Stopgate Lane Simonswood Liverpool
By Keith Andrews
At the beginning of the 70s two ex policemen, Harold Collins and Eddie Hunt, who had a security firm with offices on the Stopgate Lane industrial site, set up a studio called Liverpool Sound Enterprises to promote and record local artists. It was located in a plain, concrete building in the fields of Simonswood, just outside Kirkby, a suburb on the northern edge of Liverpool. The building was a remnant of what had been built as the Royal Ordnance Factory, which was built to serve as an ammunition plant during WWII.
Picture Left: The derelict building in 2010.
Amazon studios began in 1973 when Jeremy Lewis took over the studio to use as a place to record his own band and, hopefully, others as a commercial enterprise.
The studio was built around a custom-made 8-track tube multitrack. The tapes for this machine were not interchangeable with other 1” 8-track facilities, as it was a converted Ampex data recorder, with eight channels of custom built valve (tube) electronics, and a non-standard head arrangement. The conversion had been carried out by a local company named ‘Coghlan and Co.’ Peter Coghlan would be technically associated with the studio for many years after this. The resulting machine was a striking shade of green and quite tall, from where it became affectionately known as “the Jolly Green Giant”. Coghlan & Co. also built the original custom console.
By 1977 the studio had became popular amongst local artists but the lack of compatibility of the Ampex with other 8-track facilities, along with a desire to add a second room with ‘more tracks’ (the 1970s having been a time when track-count expectations had grown significantly) saw the expansion and upgrade of the facilities.
The Amek Console
A short drive away in Salford, Amek (a console company) had been growing during the 1970s, and their desire to develop and sell a comprehensive, large-frame audio recording and mixing console coincided with Amazon’s hunt for just such a beast.
1978 - Amek M3000 Console
Amazon bought an X1000 16:4:8 console from Amek to upgrade the original 8-track room and Amek went ahead with their large-frame console development, eventually resulting in the M3000. The first M3000 was to be installed at Amazon, who rented more space in the building and built a large 24-track studio in an area which was at that point being used as dog kennels. – In the interim period, Amek loaned Amazon an M2000 so that they could operate while waiting for the first M3000 to be finished. Coghlan & Co. built a number of 26-channel headphone mixers which allowed the musicians to tailor individual headphone mixes… Definitely advanced for the time. The M3000 was installed in 1978.
At the same time, the ‘Jolly Green Giant’ 8-track machine was replaced by a more conventional MCI JH-100 8-track 1” machine, and the 24-track studio used a Lyrec TR532 2” machine.
At the beginning of the 1980s, Amazon was reasonably well equipped, though still serving a primarily local client base. London – still very much the centre of the British studio scene - was 200 miles to the south; far enough away to mean that Amazon was rarely considered a serious ‘player’ for most record-company-budget work.
The Mid 80s
By the mid-1980s however, a wave of British bands were enjoying success abroad, notably in the USA. This ‘second invasion’ of UK bands seemed to include a disproportionate number of northern musicians, several of whom remained stubbornly based well north of London, and a growing number of them had begun to work at Amazon.
Record companies based in the capital city were often reluctant to have expensive recordings made too far away for frequent ‘visits’ to check up on progress, but Amazon’s significantly lower pricing helped make this gradually a more common occurrence.
The First SSL
By 1984 the original 8-track room had now grown to a 16-track 1” (using a TASCAM 85-16) and a Soundcraft 800 series 24:8:24 console. Meanwhile, SSL consoles and Total Recall were becoming de rigour and so Amazon placed an order at the end of the year for a 40-loaded (48 frame) 4000 E-series console, purchased outright the building in which they’d grown, and in the remaining space a mix room was built, along with a small overdub area.
The New Mix Room
The new room was pre-wired for 48-track, the multitrack was an Otari MTR 90 MkII 24-track, and a second identical machine was bought to upgrade from the Lyrec in the other 24-track room. –Renting a synchroniser meant that short 48-track mix projects could be accommodated by borrowing the second Otari from the other room, or sometimes by renting a third machine if the other room was busy. The mix room was christened ‘Studio 1’.
The Second SSL
By 1986, the SSL had drawn in so many clients that the decision was taken to buy a second 4000E series, which replaced the Amek M3000 in the original 24-track room (now known as ‘Studio 2’) and the continued success of so many Scottish and Northern-English acts assured a steady stream of demoing, recording and mixing work.
The Neve Console
By the late 80s the Neve V-series was beginning to be accepted as an ‘alternative’ to the SSL, and since Neve still did not build a console with recall, the second SSL was replaced with a Neve V3 in 1988. To Amazon’s consternation Neve announced the upcoming VR console (with recall) directly after the V3 order was placed.
In 1990 the two Otaris were replaced with three Studer A827 24-track machines, and the SSL console was frame-extended to 64-channels, and fully loaded. Lynx synchronisers meant that the mix room was now fully 48-track capable, although the other rooms were wired so that the second machine could be used in studio 3 to ‘step-up’ to 24-track 2”. (By now studio 3 had two machines: a 1” 16-track Tascam MR-16 and a 1” 24-track Tascam MSR-24).