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CTS closure is another blow for UK recording

Formerly run by the local borough council, the Watford Colosseum will now be operated by UK regional theatre group HQ Theatres under a ten-year lease agreement. The multi-purpose venue closed earlier this month and is due to reopen

The renowned orchestral recording facility’s control room at the Watford Colosseum is to be converted into dressing rooms under extensive redevelopment plans, writes David Davies. CTS Lansdowne officially departed the Colosseum in the week of 24 May, having recently undertaken its final, charity-aiding session for the Gentle Jazz Big Band.

“It is an extremely sad week for me,” CTS Lansdowne director/engineer Adrian Kerridge told PSNE during his final few days at the Colosseum site. “It’s a terrific space and fabulous for orchestral recording.”

While orchestral recording may continue at Watford Colosseum via other auspices in the future, CTS Lansdowne’s closure threatens to herald a final full-stop to the five-decade CTS story. It also represents a further blow to the UK’s much-reduced orchestral recording sector mere months after speculation about the long-term future of Abbey Road.

Initially known as Cine-Tele Sound Studios, the company that would become CTS Studios was established in 1956 to focus on the expanding TV advertising and film scoring sectors. With recording engineers Dick Lewzey and John Richards on-board at the original Bayswater location, CTS accrued an international reputation that saw it become a first-choice destination for eminent movie composers including Jerry Goldsmith, Quincy Jones and John Barry.

In 1972, CTS relocated to the former home of De Lane Lea at the Music Centre in Wembley, where it added rock sessions to its ongoing orchestral and film-scoring commitments. The facility also achieved a notable technological first when, in the mid-eighties, Studio 1 became the world’s first all-digital studio following the installation of a Neve DSP-1 console and Sony 3324 digital 24-track recorders.

CTS’s acquisition by Adrian Kerridge and Johnny Pearson heralded another period of expansion. Run in parallel with Lansdowne Recording, CTS continued to attract some of the movie world’s most high-profile projects (including Four Weddings and a Funeral and Shakespeare In Love) while also extending its move into the digital domain.

The redevelopment of Wembley forced a further relocation in 2000, to a purpose-built space at the Colosseum in Watford (formerly known as Watford Town Hall), replacing the venue’s previous reliance on mobile or hired-in equipment. The Colosseum’s already substantial track record in orchestral recording was further consolidated with the arrival of CTS Lansdowne: The Mummy Returns and all three of Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings scores were tracked at the facility. CTS also contributed extensively to BBC Radio projects, including Radio 2 stalwart Friday Night Is Music Night and Radio 3’s highly acclaimed Discovering Music series.

“The thrill of doing Friday Night Is Music Night or a transmission with the BBC Concert Orchestra, knowing that you were live on air, was just incredible,” says Kerridge. “And then to have a 130-piece orchestra and a 60-piece choir for all three Lord of the Rings films – absolutely fantastic!”

But in the week of May 24, Kerridge and colleagues Sharon Rose and Dick Lewzey left the Colosseum for the final time in the wake of Watford Borough Council’s decision to outsource the venue’s refurbishment and operation to a private company. Appointed to the role last year, HQ Theatres operates seven other UK regional theatres, including The Swan High Wycombe and The Wyvern Swindon. Under the terms of its new, ten-year agreement, HQ will first oversee a refurbishment programme that includes improvements to accessibility and new catering and toilet facilities, some of which will be accommodated in a two-storey glass front and side extension. Under a budget confirmed on 26 May, Watford Borough Council will invest £5.235m (100%) in the redevelopment.

“Our vision is that it will be a 1,400-seated, 2,000-standing venue which will attract everything from world class orchestras to top-line comedians and big rock/pop shows, and will also include local hirers, for which I have already had a number of enquiries,” says HQ’s Giles Ballisat, who declines to detail the company’s own financial commitment to the venue.

Ballisat says that the acoustics – historically regarded as some of the best in the UK – will not be changed, although Arup has been brought in to advise on the project. The facility will be open to recordings using hired-in equipment or mobiles, but CTS is not part of the picture: the company’s former control room space will be converted into dressing rooms under the current redevelopment plans.

Kerridge says that he was hopeful “right down to the wire” that he might be able to convince Watford Borough Council of CTS’s continued validity and potential contribution to the new operation. “The truth is they simply don’t understand,” he laments. “The result is we have another nail in the coffin of the industry; the UK has lost another incredibly good facility for symphonic works and recording. And for us, it means the end of a five-decade recording heritage.”

Watford Borough Council’s Dave Cobb says that the tender process “allowed each bidder to assess whether CTS could fit within their business model”. The Council itself, he says, “had an open mind on this and did not want to limit any of the bidders.” In terms of the ultimately successful bidder, “HQ Theatres assessed the potential offered through the inclusion of CTS and decided that they did not provide public entertainment, their bookings for recordings came at fairly short notice (so were unlikely to be possible to accommodate in a public programme that is planned months ahead), and that the Colosseum’s dressing rooms (which the CTS studios have been using) were required to service the public entertainment programme.”

Cobb says that the Council, HQ and CTS “met to discuss opportunities”, but that “no viable solutions could be found”. “They have left on amicable terms and we wish them well in the future,” he says, adding that the BBC has reached a long-term agreement with HQ Theatres that will see the organisation use the Colosseum for 90 days per year.

Meanwhile, although Kerridge still owns a separate, composer-oriented facility, the Lansdowne Suite in West London, he now faces an uncertain future – as do long-term colleagues Dick Lewzey and Sharon Rose. “I will be a fish out of water [without CTS],” he admits. “I’m not sure what I am going to do, really.”