Blue plaque: Chipping Norton recording studios

PlaqueLittle did I know as I lay back in the dental chair for my biannual inspection at Chipping Norton Dental Practice that the sounds emanating from nearby rooms would have been very different to the drilling and grinding sounds of today.

Remember the soulful saxophone solo on Baker Street? That was recorded just downstairs from the dentist’s chair in one of the most successful recording studios of the seventies and eighties.  From Duran Duran to Marianne Faithful, Status Quo to Paul Weller, Radiohead to Chris Rea, hundreds of rock and pop stars made a temporary home in Chipping Norton whilst recording the albums and singles that were the soundtrack of our younger lives.

The story began back in the late sixties when the  Surrey-based record company owning brothers, Richard and Mike Vernon of  Blue Horizon records, had their first big success with the  number one single Albatross by  Fleetwood Mac in 1969.

Proceeds were so huge that the brothers Vernon had money to invest in property. The cost of hiring studios in London at the time was becoming prohibitive, so sights were set on Chippy, and the building, a former British Schools establishment at 26-30 New Street, just down the hill from the town hall, was purchased and developed in 1971. The original concept was fairly low key, a personal studio for the Vernons and friends, but, in the mid Seventies, a band called The Bay City Rollers were about to change the studio’s profile forever – “Bye Bye Baby” was recorded and the so-called tartan phenomenon was well under way…

Kim says…..

“That long hot summer of 1976…..we heard that our favourite band was recording in Chippy – so off we went on our bicycles. Simple!  Me, my sister, our cousins and a couple of friends, to join a few local Chippy girls, the tartan scarves as our visible bond.
Only seven miles there and seven miles back…who needs eighteen or twenty one gears anyway!
My bike had none, but the effort was driven by the expectation of a glimpse of the boys of our dreams.
Sadly, as it turned out, owner Richard Vernon had other ideas and kept the objects of our teenage excitement forever out of view.
Suffice to say the girls were not amused!” 

The studio itself was state of the art, of course, with rooms being built within rooms, floating floors, fantastic noise suppression and great acoustic properties. The equipment was originally 24 track, later upgraded to 48.  Incidentally, the original ‘Trident A’ recording  desk which recorded so many hits was, after the studio closed in 1999, shipped out to the USA and made even more celebrated recordings; now back in the UK it is valued at over £100,000  – not bad for a fifty year old piece of equipment; if only it could talk! The residential studio had 15 bedrooms, boasted full catering facilities and was, in a way, a home from home for the stars.

CN StudiosSadly most good things tend to come to an end, and in 1999 the studio finally closed its doors, the primary reason being the increase of technologically advanced recording solutions that could be installed in much smaller spaces, with artists and record companies building small but powerful studios to give themselves more control over schedules, plus, everyone now had the ability to record digitally and be able to send recordings and tracks all across the UK via the internet. The large residential studio was no longer viable.

In 2017 a blue plaque was unveiled to properly celebrate the legendary studio – worth seeing next time you are in Chipping Norton.

And lastly, for those of you with a computer, head over to You Tube,  search for “Gerry Rafferty, Chipping Norton Studios”, and take a look at the man in his prime in the late Seventies,  playing  “Night Owl”  live with his band in what is now the dentists reception area!

Brock Perry and Kim Bradley

August-September 2019