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Amazon Studios  

Stopgate Lane  Simonswood  Liverpool

philsbook.com                                                               

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.

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 compatibilty 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.

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.


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 the1980s, 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.

1978


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.

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 rigueur 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 SSL 4000E Series - 1984

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 synchronizer 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’.

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.

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.

 

Installing the Neve V3 Console
   Geoff Higgins,  Keith Andrews and  Pete Coleman

 



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).

Parr Street studios

By the beginning of the 1990s the isolated location among the fields north of Kirkby (and almost complete lack of ‘anything to do’ for any band members who aren’t needed for a while) finally drove the studios to relocate to the city centre. A building known as ‘The Royal Institution’ at the junction of Colquitt Street and Parr Street was planned as the site to which the studios would move, as it seemed to be perfect. It was built in 1814 as a location to promote Literature, Science and the arts, and already had a full theatre where bands usually commented favourably on the sound, as well as plenty of high-ceiling rooms for other studios.
Eventually the plans to acquire the Royal Institution fell though and Amazon ended up purchasing the building almost directly next door, in Parr Street.

The newer building was a four-storey mid-20th Century manufacturing building, which had been in use as a hardware factory. The studio construction in the new location began while Amazon continued operations in the original building in Simonswood, with a fourth small ‘programming studio’ built into some spare space in the water cistern tower on the roof (!)

Both Studio 3 and Studio 4 were home to AHB ‘Saber’ consoles at this point.


In 1991 the studio equipment was transferred –one room at a time- to the newer location. The first clients in Studio 2 (the first studio to relocate) recorded while construction on the rest of the facility continued, but eventually the whole operation was relocated to the city centre.

The original Simonswood building underwent a face lift after Amazon had moved out, with a new brick facing and hipped roof added and converted into a nightclub. It ran for a number of years but once again the isolated location became an issue and it eventually closed. In 2012 the building was empty and back on the market for sale.

In addition to the four studios, the new site boasted a floor of twelve residential ‘hotel’-style rooms, a licensed bar and cafeteria, and another separate floor of office suites which were rented out to locally-based companies associated with the music business. Examples included radio promotions, band management, session musician management and record companies.

Andrea Wright and Mike Hunter in Studio 1 - 1993


The new building had been quite a stretch in terms of investment however, and by mid-1992, Jeremy Lewis’s major investor (who by now had a controlling interest in the company) took over the company in something of a ‘coup’, liquidating the assets, purchasing the operation as a going concern, and continuing under the name ‘Parr Street Studios’.

RECORDED AT AMAZON/ PARR STREET (PS)


BADLY DRAWN BOY “THE HOUR OF BEWILDERBEAST" PS

BARRON "I'VE LOST MY SENSE OF HUMOR...ETC"

BELLY "STAR"

BENNY PROFANE "TRAPDOOR SWING"

BODINES "PLAYED"

CARCASS "HEARTWORK" PS

COLDPLAY "PARACHUTES" PS

COLDPLAY "A RUSH OF BLOOD TO THE HEAD" PS

DEMON "BREAKOUT"

DISCHARGE "GRAVE NEW WORLD"

DOCTOR PHIBES AND THE HOUSE OF WAX EQUATIONS "HYPNOTWISTER"

DOVES "THE LAST BROADCAST" PS

ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN "OCEAN RAIN"

ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN "ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN"

ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN "WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH YOUR LIFE?" PS

ELIXIR "LETHAL POTION"

ENCHANT "A BLUEPRINT OF THE WORLD"

FICTION FACTORY "ANOTHER STORY"

HULA "MURMUR"

ICICLE WORKS "IF YOU WANT TO DEFEAT YOUR ENEMY, SING HIS SONG"

IAN McNABB "MERSEYBEAST" PS

ICICLE WORKS "BLIND"

ICICLE WORKS "PERMANENT DAMAGE"

INSPIRAL CARPETS "REVENGE OF THE GOLDFISH"

MARTIN STEPHENSON & THE DAINTEES "BOAT TO BOLIVIA"

NEW ORDER "BROTHERHOOD"

OMD "CRUSH"

OMD "THE PACIFIC AGE"

PINK MILITARY "DO ANIMALS BELIEVE IN GOD?"

PURESSENCE "PURESSENCE" PS

SMITHS "MEAT IS MURDER"

SPACE "SPIDERS" PS

STEREOPHONICS "WORD GETS ROUND"

SUPER FURRY ANIMALS "RADIATOR" PS

SUPER FURRY ANIMALS "OUT SPACED" PS

TRIFFIDS "BORN SANDY DEVOTIONAL"

VEILS "THE RUNAWAY FOUND" PS

WALL OF VOODOO "SEVEN DAYS IN SAMMYSTOWN"

 

       Studio Index

 

The 8-track Control Room - 1981

The 24 track Control Room - 1981

 

1977

 

 

The Amek M3000 - 1984

November 1984

 

 

The ex Amazon Studios building in Simonswood, now empty 2012

 

Parr Street Studios

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RECORDED AT AMAZON/ PARR STREET