Majestic Recording Studios
146 Clapham High Street London
Built in 1914 as the 'Majestic Theatre', and later converted to The Gaumont Cinema, by the late sixties the Majestic building had suffered a similar fate as many other grand entertainment establishments of the era - it had been converted into a bingo hall. In the early 1970s it took on a new identity when it also became the home of Majestic Recording Studios - a business that shared the building with the bingo hall.
The story of this unlikely pairing starts in the mid sixties with musician, businessman and entrepreneur, Michael Collier. He was more famously known under his stage name of Mike Morton and was the leader of a series of bands bearing his name, including the Mike Morton Sound and the Mike Morton Congregation.
Mike Collier’s father owned 3 dry cleaning shops in Croydon and when he died his son took over the business, eventually selling up to pursue his interests in the entertainment industry. One of his first investments was the purchase of a theatre in Chertsey which he set it up as a bingo hall and a casino.
The Mike Morton Sound was originally a live house band for the Mecca organisation - big business in the 60s and 70s - but would go on to achieve a level of commercial success releasing albums of cover versions in a similar vein to the Top of the Pops compilations, with Mike modelling himself on German band leader James Last.
In 1965 he bought the freehold on the Majestic Theatre in which had stood empty for the previous 8 years and set about converting it into a bingo hall.
Many of these cover version records were produced under licensing deals; the artist or production would finance and record the music then license out the recording to a record label. These records would often be sold for a budget price so had to be produced cheaply. Morton was aware that recording costs in the various West End studios were high which would eat into the tight margins.
He decided to set up a small demo studio to produce his own recordings and whilst looking for suitable premises the idea was suggested to use the circle and upper gallery of the Majestic - at that time only the stalls and stage were being used for bingo. He approached Philip Newell, a young sound engineer who he was working with in the Orchid Ballroom in Purley, to oversee the project including the acoustic design and construction, and purchase of equipment.
In 1969 work started on the studio. The balcony and upper gallery were sealed off from the ground floor bingo area by a large partition wall. The upper seats were removed and the slopping floor was levelled to create two recording areas. The control room was built in the upper gallery looking down on the studio area through a large glass panel. By the end of the year the studio was complete
"… its control room, much larger and more absorbent than most control rooms of the day, was not well received. Recording staff also tended to be quite conservative. Philip’s attempt to build a control room that he thought was more accurate than many other control rooms did not see much use. The owner decided that the control room should be reduced in size, brightened up acoustically."
Recording Studio Design Philip Newell
There were some differences of opinion about Newells acoustic design and choice of equipment so engineer David Hadfield from Maximum Sound studios was brought in as a consultant. He convinced Collier to abandon Philip Newell's ides and that he should basically start again with the studio. Eddie Veale was commissioned to sort out the acoustics; Hadfield contacted Clive Green who had just set up the Cadac company about the possibility of supplying a console. Clive Green was about to deliver a new console to Morgan Studios to replace their original Cadac, one of the very first desks built by Clive Green.
So when the studio finally opened commercially it was equipped with the Cadac 16:8 (with 3 built in Pye compressors) and an 8-track Ampex tape machine.
Philip Newell was went on to become a successful independent acoustics consultant, designing many sound control rooms and performance spaces over the following years and writing ten books on the subject of recording systems, acoustics and electro-acoustics. In 1973 he became the technical director of the Virgin Records recording studios division.
He was able to buy back the desk that had originally been installed at Majestic and this was then set up in the newly built Manor Studios.
The reworked Majestic opened again in January 71 with Roger Wilkinson moving from from Maximum Sound to become the chief engineer and David Hadfield remaining in close contact with the studio and particularly with Mike Morton.
The layout off the new studio
Gonna Make You an Offer
Morton would record numerous compilation album at the studio over the following years but the first big chart success for Majestic came in February 1973 with the single. 'Gonna make you an offer' by Jimmy Helms which reached number 8 in the national charts. Over the next few years Helms recorded prolifically for the Cube label, largely due to the success of this song. Although a further solo hit eluded him he did find chart success in both the UK and US as part of the band Londonbeat in 1990s.
In April 1973 Majestic went 16 track installing a Trident B desk.
"Majestic studios in Clapham had a Trident B Range desk. It was one of the earliest B Ranges ( John Kongos had the first one in his studio in Mortlake, Saturn Sound in Worthing had the second one ( clad in blue formica..) My friend Dougal and I wired the console frame (for Majestic). When I went down there to do some sort of mod shortly after it was installed, the engineer was Roger Wilkinson - and he played me the 2-track of Jimmy Helms "I'm Gonna Make You an Offer You Can't Refuse" which had recently been recorded there, so that would make it 1973". Gwyn Mathias.
The Morgan Cadac desk was put up for sale and bought by Tony McPhee of The Groundhogs for his home studio.
Here Comes the Warm Jets - September 1973
There are always certain recordings that put studios on the historical map and these are seldom
Whilst we may like to think of Eno studying various equipment lists and checking out acoustic designs in choosing a recording venue for his first solo album there was one particular feature of Majestic that stood out and swung the deal... cost. Majestic was one of the cheapest 16 track studios in London whilst always offering some of the best studio kit available at the time.