The Old Church Hall, Brook Road, Wood Green, London
The History of Livingston
Livingston Recording Studios had it's first incarnation in 1963 in a premises in Barnet. It was owned by Fred Livingston-Hogg, a businessman based in Camden, who had several companies, including "Livingston hire" still in existence today. It was run by Ray Kinsey, a documentary film director who made films for the Christian Missionary Society.
The studio was mostly used as a film dubbing studio, unusual as the film industry was very much based in Soho then as now. Ray's son Nic joined as engineer in 1966 and developed a relationship with legendary folk producer Bill Leader, which resulted in Livingston becoming renowned for folk music recording (along with Sound Techniques in Chelsea). Music recording became the main business at Livingston, now upgraded to a Sound Techniques desk and a Studer A80 16 track, acoustic design by Sandy Brown.
New Owners, New Site
Livingston was bought by Nic Kinsey, Alan Tompkins and Mike Smee in 1978 and a major upgrade began. Nic, generally being a smart guy, soaked up everything he could about acoustic design, including visiting several Tom Hidley "Westlake" studios in L.A. On returning he designed his own version and Livingston Barnet became a 24 track studio with a Neve desk (Ex KPM studios) and an Ampex 24 track (replaced fairly rapidly by a Lyrec).
In 1980 a change of landlord at the Barnet site forced Livingston to find new premises. A vigilant Bob Henrit noticed St Johns Hall on Brook Road being vacant. The building was a virtual clone of the old studio only larger.
Work commenced, the studio being designed by Nic Kinsey. It opened in 1980 with a 24-16-16 Neve desk (ex Decca West Hampstead) and the 24 track Lyrec from Barnet; the KPM Neve biding it's time, under wraps in the derelict half of the building.
The basic shape and layout of Studio 1 has barely altered in the intervening 30 odd years. The studio area occupies the front of the building, with a large wood floor/stone wall live area nearest the front, then a more neutral area which at various times had a stage area and a small plaster walled corridor as part of it; off this area, behind the stone wall for the live area, was another large booth. Essentially there were three good-sized recording areas, latterly separated by glass patio doors, this has made Livingston a very effective studio for recording musicians playing together.
The Control Room
The control room was conceived to be large for the time, designed in a similar style to Westlake rooms of the period it had Westlake TM3 monitors with White room equalisation. Outboard was an EMT plate, Neve Compressors, MXR flanger/doublers (2), an MXR Graphic Eq, Scamp Rack, 2 Revoxs for tape delays etc and a Studer B62 for mastering.
Yours truly arrived in 1981 to join the staff which now included Bill Leader's son Tom.
Pictured Left: The author hamming it up in Studio 1 with the MCI desk.
By 1982 Nic had persuaded Jerry Boys and Tony Cox from Sawmills studios to join the fun and Studio 2 was started. Again designed by Nic Kinsey (often off the back of a fag packet as we went along!) studio 2 occupied the ground floor of the rear part of the building, with offices, workshops and recreation areas all being upstairs. The desk was the Neve from Barnet which was expanded by grafting on 8 channels from an older Neve (ex Chappells studio). This beast then becoming a 28-8-16 which took a bit of getting used to. The tape machine was another Lyrec 24 track. Jerry and Tony brought with them a flood of new gear (and maintenance man Pete Martelli) from Sawmills. This equipment was distributed between the two studios and included another EMT plate, Eventide Flanger, Eventide Harmoniser, Klark-Teknik DN34, A&D compressors, DBX 160s and UREI 1176s. They also brought along a Bechstein piano which took up residence in studio 1. Jerry christened Studio 2's control room with a Level 42 mix on Aug 2nd 1982 (the studio area was completed later).
With Jerry at the helm as manager and chief engineer the studios started getting busy and soon Studio 1 was being refitted. In April 1983 the Neve was replaced by a 42 channel MCI JH-500 (ex Basing Street), at the same time the Lyrecs were replaced by Otaris. Things were booming and soon (1984) the hybrid Neve was ousted from Studio 2 to be replaced by an AMEK 2500. (This Neve is now officially "lost" it went to a studio in Essex which then moved to Southend, it's whereabouts is currently unknown, could be worth a fortune, check your garages now!). It was a time of "Fashion led" change; we had a Neve, people raved about MCI; we got an MCI, people wanted SSL so that's what happened next; of course having got an SSL people started bringing in Neve channels!
Russ Ballard - Barnet Dogs
Regular visitors included Russ Ballard, Charlie and Saxon (produced by John Verity, ex Argent, now working for Livingston as Engineer/ producer). The sleeve of Russ Ballard's "Barnet Dogs" album shows a stylized image of the Barnet studio.
1985 - Livingston's SSL
Livingston's first SSL arrived in Studio 1 on the 14th of March 1985 and is still there churning out the hits. It's a unique model as the Eq was redesigned by Nic Kinsey along with Jerry after much listening to the Eqs in the MCI and the AMEK both of which sounded far better to us than the standard SSL Eq. The redesign become the "Black knob" version, later available on new SSLs, albeit slightly toned down from the unique Livingston one. The MCI found it's way across London to Eastcote studios where it is still humming along today: http://www.eastcotestudios.co.uk/
The Brook Road premises was now "complete" but with business still booming Livingston took on a whole new additional premises in Guillemot Place, an industrial estate around the corner, with a view to build more studios:
1986 - Studio 3
Studio 3: Opened in Aug 1986. Enormous studio area, divided into three main areas plus a madly live booth (great for drum sampling and as live echo room during mixes). Divided up by glass partitions and patio doors this room offered excellent facilities for "band" recording, it can be seen in all it's glory in the following video of Steve Earle and the Pogues (Featuring a very young George Shilling assisting!) Here.
The desk was another SSL 56 channel with "Black knob" Eq, with 48 track facilities provided by 2 Otari MTR 90s and Lynx synchroniser.
1987 - Studio 4
Studio 4: Opened in May 1987. Another large studio, slightly smaller than 3 with a more "wraparound" feel. Again three recording areas and a good-sized booth all separated by glass and patio doors. Equipment was initially the same as Studio 3, SSL desk (56 frame G-series) and MTR 90s.
This SSL was replaced in Feb 1992 by a 72 channel SSL with Ultimation (SSLs moving fader system). This wasn't as popular as had been hoped, studio rates had peaked and the desk was sold on and for it's final days studio 4 muddled by with an AMEK Angela and an MCI 24 track whilst in theory a Neve VR was being purchased.
1992 - Studio 5
Studio 5: Opened in Oct 1992, a small MIDI programming room with Soundtracs Megas console.
March 24th 1993 Landlords repossess the Guillemot Place site.
Amidst much chaos and recriminations; Nigel Frieda (Matrix studios) bought most of the equipment from studios 3 and 4 and the original Brook Road site was bought out by Jerry and Dave Margereson (Supertramp's manager). Studio 1 still with original SSL; Studio 2 in the intervening years had had a Mitsibushi Westar desk (Sept '88-Sept '89) and an old SSL (ex Manor), now found itself with the AMEK Angela desk.
The shape and form of Livingston has remained pretty much the same since, the Amek Angela made way for an AMEK Rembrandt in 1995, Protools has replaced the Otaris as the main recording system. Nick Gold (World Circuit Records) bought the studios in 2001 after a fruitful working relationship with Jerry on many albums most notably "The Buena Vista Social Club".
In early 2012 Nick Gold decided to sell the studio. It has been taken over by the Miloco Group and is currently (Oct 2012) being renovated. Details of the renovations can be seen on photolog at http://www.livingstonstudios.co.uk/
The Livingston Cats
As an aside I'm sure many ex clients remember with fondness the two cats that did sterling service at Livingston from 1981 when they arrived as kittens. "Bud" the black and white one being the most stoic cat I've ever come across- nothing ever freaked him out, we gaffered him to the mixing desk one day and he just went to sleep, he'd still be there now if we hadn't undone him.
I remember him being dragged around the place by a 2 year old, his back paws dragging along the ground at the same time being half strangled, an expression of "seething tolerance" on his face. The tabby one , known forever as "the Tabby one" was a bit more highly strung but still put in the hard graft, snoozing away on the couch at the back of the control room as we toiled through the night!
Just a small personal note here to remember Nic who was so crucial to the success of Livingston. He died on the 4th of July 1993 aged just 48. It's a terrible cliche to claim that someone was "one of life's originals" but Nic truly was. Propelled entirely by his own conviction that he was right about pretty much everything, he designed and built some of the best studios in the World. Often designing as he went along and using an "unskilled" (to say the least) workforce, nothing seemed too difficult: 3D modeling- no problem, fag packet and pencil or pub table with finger dipped in beer as pen and he'd be away; Acoustic damping- "bung some old socks in there and put a trap cover on, no-one will ever see it"; Quantity surveying- "quick pop round to Sandell-Perkins for some more 4 by 2"; structural engineering- "that old door will prop up the live end ceiling ok".
I can safely say that he drove absolutely everyone mad from time to time; deadlines, business, tidiness, professionalism were words I'm sure he knew, but chose to ignore. But I choose to remember the good times, sitting in a pub drinking far too much, talking about pretty much everything and you could always guarantee that whatever subject you got onto Nic would have something to say.
Article and Discography by Tony Harris 2011