Artistic and production excellence has always been the standard throughout Mark Knopfler's career. From the time his old band, Dire Straits, arrived on the scene with their distinctive self-titled debut, through the 1985 worldwide success of Brothers In Arms, to his own series of acclaimed solo efforts, Knopfler has approached creating and recording music as if every emotionally resonant note and lyric truly mattered. As a result, his work has moved beyond pop music sensibilities into something more lasting. When Knopfler wanted to create his studio British Grove, he brought in consultant David Harries, studio manager David Stewart and longtime co-producer Chuck Ainlay to assist him. For the recording spaces, Knopfler wanted the flexibility to meet any kind of sonic need.
photo: Rick Clark
“Mark built the studio he's always dreamed of being able to make records in,” says Ainlay, who calls British Grove “a monument to past and future technology. The studio has an API Legacy in one of the rooms and a new 96-frame Neve 88R in the other room with a bunch of older Neve-style modules. There are also two old EMI consoles: One's a very rare tube desk — like the ones you would see with George Martin and The Beatles with the big knobs — and the other's a later EMI console that Band on the Run was actually recorded on. They have a veteran EMI tech going through them and making them like brand new. It's amazing!”
For his part, Knopfler says he wanted British Grove to feature “the best of the old technology combining seamlessly with the best of the new. We've got a wide choice of EMT plates and other analog outboard, vintage mic preamps, compressors and equalizers, as well as all the digital stuff. I've heard just about every mixdown format, and certainly British Grove can supply any, including our great-sounding 1-inch Ampex machine. Sometimes you might want something like that for what it can bring to a recording.” Knopfler adds that he prefers to record with two 16-track head stacks on linked Studer 800s and then transfer straight to Steinberg Nuendo through the Apogee 16X converters.
“The whole thing is probably analog's last great shout,” Knopfler says with a laugh. “But it also incorporates the best of the latest digital technology via Steinberg Nuendo and AMD to give you unlimited possibilities in terms of recording. Of course, you can also go Pro Tools if you wish.”
Concerning the AMD processors, Ainlay says, “Their setup allows us to utilize the system without being apparent. The only reason that it would be apparent would be because it's causing issues and we don't want issues — we just want to do our work, and that's what's good about it. It doesn't crash and it gives me all the speed and processing possibilities that I could ever want. I can't believe how many plug-ins I can effortlessly run. It's really brought Nuendo into the professional world in my viewpoint.”
Knopfler chose ATC monitors for his studio. “The ATC monitors in British Grove are beautiful; this is the only studio I've been in where I'm happy to work on the big monitors alone. They're lovely at low and high level. They don't tire you at all, partly because of the design of the control room, the ATCs and the way they've been installed.
“Because there isn't yet a ‘standard’ for positioning of rears for 5.1, especially with music mixing, engineers can position the rear ATCs where they want with a fingertip through an ingenious rail device,” he continues.
“The rear speakers are on a track that keeps the speakers equidistant,” Ainlay clarifies, “so they can actually move from 110 to 160 degrees. You can have them at the ITU recommendation, all the way to like how Elliot Scheiner likes to work, which is more of a quad situation.”
One of the most recent projects done at British Grove was the 5.1 remix of Dire Straits' Brothers In Arms, an all-digital recording that was influential in selling the public on the then-new CD format, thanks in part to Neil Dorfsman's excellent recording and mix.
“Each element was superbly recorded,” says Ainlay. “For surround, it really is spectacular because you've got all these very dynamic elements and you can really pan them around and it doesn't sound out of place. It fits into the whole architecture of the recording. I'm really proud of this.” An upcoming duets album with Knopfler and Emmylou Harris was also completed at British Grove.
Knopfler concludes, “A quality studio will save you time and irritation afterward — sitting in a mastering facility trying to compensate for room and recording shortcomings. People should use good studios when they possibly can. For so many projects and from so many standpoints, it's the best way to do it.”
Rick Clark is Mix's Nashville editor.