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Clive Green: silver shadow

Cadac co-founder Clive Green recently received an APRS Sound Fellowship after a lifetime spent at the cutting edge of pro-audio. He spoke to Phil Ward about the early days of Cadac, the continued vibrancy of musical theatre...and taking his beloved Rolls-Royce all the way to Lake Como and back.

Among the Sound Fellowships awarded at the annual APRS luncheon in London in November, one stood out as an acknowledgement of the technical achievement of a classic British brand: Cadac, co-founded by retired eminence grise Clive Green (pictured), contributed to the recording studio revolution of the late ’60s and went on both to transform and dominate live sound mixing in the theatre. A key figure in the APRS from 1970 to 1991, Green’s legacy now enriches industry heritage just like the famous marque on his latterday passion: the continuing maintenance of a vintage Rolls-Royce from 1937, writes Phil Ward.

So how does it feel to be a Sound Fellow?

“Wonderful, what a marvellous occasion. Do you know, there was once an APRS exhibition where they hold the luncheon [The Roof Gardens in Kensington, west London]; I remember carrying stuff up there from Derry Street. I was hoping everyone would have name badges, like the exhibitions, but I needn’t have worried. It was great to see so many familiar faces.”

Not many people ‘retire’ from pro audio; it’s a lifetime thing for them…

“I reached 65, and I have a great many interests besides designing and building mixing consoles – especially the Rolls, which I’ve had since 1973. It’s taken us as far as Lake Como and back…”

How did the creation of Cadac reflect the studio industry of the time?

“I started at Olympic in 1963, when it was still in the West End. I used to wear a white coat! The maximum was four tracks, on Ampex tape recorders. But when we moved to Barnes, in January 1967, our chief technical engineer, Richard Swettenham, designed a mixing console for the huge new studio, big enough for a full symphony orchestra. I moved on to Lansdowne Studios, run by Adrian Kerridge, but I could see the need for a new generation of desks. When we turned Lansdowne’s reception area into a larger control room I got the opportunity to build a desk for it, and word got out. It was a small community of technical innovators and bright businessmen.

“Morgan Studios opened, with Terry Brown from Olympic days and Barry Morgan, and they asked me for the plans so that they could build their own version of my console. Adrian and I asked: if it goes wrong, who’s responsible? So we formed a separate company to build the console for Morgan, very much to protect our interests really, and that’s how Cadac came into being.”

You left CADAC in 2001; do you keep up with developments?

“Well, I’ve just heard that Bob Thomas has left, and of course I know that it’s now under Chinese ownership. But to be honest it’s changed so far beyond recognition that it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to even try to interpret what has happened in that time.”

You created the company, and led it for over three decades. What do you see when you look back on that period now?

“My abiding memories are to do with our success in the theatre industry. That’s how the company really made its name. In fact it was the first one to take mixing consoles for that market seriously. It was [sound designer] Martin Levan who approached us; he was the sound engineer at Morgan Studios, where Andrew Lloyd Webber recorded. Andrew asked Martin to improve the sound quality of one of his London musicals, and since we had a recording console at Morgan he turned to us.”

What were the different requirements of the console that emerged?

“The existing theatre consoles were pretty puny, and the sound quality wasn’t up to studio standards. The first desk we built, for Little Shop Of Horrors, was much larger, although the spec dictated that the front-to-back dimension couldn’t be deeper than a row of seats! One row was taken out by the console, and another by the operator.

“Autograph Sound bought the console and leased it to the production company, and Andrew Bruce did tell me how surprised he was not to have any teething troubles. It worked perfectly straight away. Then Martin Levan did Starlight Express, which also required a specially built desk from us: this one had to be L-shaped to fit the theatre. They had to build a skating rink around the back, of course. So we built the frame first, tested that on site, and the modules were put in later.

“There was no interference, and it sounded just as I would expect a desk of ours to sound at Lansdowne, for example. After that I could accept that a theatre desk could be as good as a studio desk. Andrew was especially pleased with the sound in that theatre. The desk remained for a long, long time – until they closed the show – and in the meantime we built a standard range of desks for this application. Andrew specified that all connectors must be military standard – they were ruddy expensive – and it had to have a patchbay, with as much wiring as a studio desk. These were the A-Type desks, and despite the very British provenance the first two orders came from New York. It was Martin again, working on Broadway and basically selling the concept. At one point later we had consoles on 70% of Broadway shows.”

Is that how the exports picked up?

“Of course; shows like Phantom went on tour. They would open in London, then New York, LA, San Francisco… then a bus and truck tour around the country. Another production would open in Toronto, then various venues around Europe, Australia and Japan – all specifying the same mixing console. We didn’t need distributors; we sold consoles direct to the sound hire companies, and they were responsible for the after-sales service.”

When did you first begin to investigate going digital?

“About seven years before I left, although development didn’t start in earnest until about two years before I left, because the analogue models were doing so well. The big advantage of digital is that the operator can set the controls and later recall them, but I don’t perceive any audible benefits. It equals the sound, but it doesn’t improve it. At the time when I left the industry, for peace of mind I’d still ask for analogue. If digital went wrong, your chances of fixing it in a hurry were very small indeed, although that’s changing now. Our J-Type, the most successful model, was computer-controlled but it was analogue circuitry. The computer took care of remembering the cues, especially muting actors’ mics as they went off stage, but it was all stored on a PC. The desk remained supremely analogue!”

Does it surprise you that musical theatre is still so popular in this age of digital entertainment?

“Well, it’s the perfect form of escapism. I remember the last recession, in the early ’90s, when we were very worried that the West End might go into the doldrums. But it seemed people were still happy to fork out to go to the theatre, even though they were cutting back elsewhere. That seems to be the case still, and I’m very glad that it is.”

Image Credit: James Cumpsty