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Imagine there’s a studio: Eddie Veale recalls his time with John Lennon

Studio designer Eddie Veale recalls his time building John Lennon's 'home studio' at Tittenhurst Park, and how he helped Phil Spector with the ADT on the recording of Imagine. (Photo: Parlophone)

Edward Veale has been in the recording industry for over 40 years and designed many of the great UK recording studios including Hook End, Sarm West, Lansdowne and Britannia Row. Veale Associates Limited, now based in Stevenage, has gone on to design studios for leading brands in broadcast and, more recently, for educational establishments.

But in 1969, the young Eddie Veale, a former engineer at legendary London recording facility Advision, was given the opportunity to design a studio at Tittenhurst Park, the home of John Lennon. Not only did Veale set a precedent by building the first home studio, he also lent his skills to engineering Lennon’s famous Imagine album.

Below, Deborah Skeldon tells the story of how her father, Veale, played his own unique part in a piece of recording history…

When it comes to studios there is perhaps none more iconic than Tittenhurst Park, Ascot, not only the birthplace of John Lennon’s legendary Imagine album but also the country’s very first home studio. Who can forget Lennon at the grand piano in the White Room?

While no longer in existence, Tittenhurst deserves its place in the spotlight not least because it was the model that spawned a generation of home facilities, changing the face of studio recording.

Tittenhurst was the work of studio designer Eddie Veale (pictured). A fortuitous meeting with the Beatles’ manager Neil Aspinall in the summer of 1969 led Veale to an encounter with the great man himself, and launched a career that the former Advision project engineer could never have foreseen.

“John had just purchased a new home and asked me if I would like to build a studio within it, to save him from the commute into London,” explains Veale. “There was no real brief. He just said, ‘Build me a studio as good as Apple’.”

Up until that point, home studios had been no more than a room with a Revox machine and a microphone, more a place for the musician to trial ideas before getting into the proper studio. The Ascot project would be a first not only for Veale but also for the UK.

A few days later, Veale, going it alone under his new guise of Audiotek, met Lennon at Tittenhurst and together they selected a single-storey extension next to the kitchen but away from the main living areas as the ideal location. Construction began in August 1970, and for Veale it was to be his first solo construction project. There was a lot to learn, not least how to keep the rainwater out.

The original studio specified and constructed by Veale was eight-track, largely because the master machine was a 3M eight-track sent over from Apple who were moving to 16-track. The short lead time – Lennon wanted to start recording by Christmas 1970 – meant that there could be no pause for a bespoke console so the ever-resourceful Veale ended up building one from scratch.

“Consoles were all built to order at the time and the only serious console builder for studios was Cadac, but we didn’t have time to wait for them,” explains Veale. “We ended up using Cadac modules and we did the metalwork and the wiring. I had to corner-mount the monitor loud speakers to fit the available space. The speakers were based on my design for the Apple Studios, they were wedge shaped, using Altec drivers, and were placed above the window. I acquired a bit of a reputation for designing loudspeaker systems after that, and have enjoyed improving many studio control rooms over the years!”

“The console (pictured) had 16 microphone input channels and four echo returns, eight master outputs, two foldback and two echo (reverberation) outputs. Monitor power amplifiers were Amcron, headphone and the other amplifiers were Quad. There were two EMT140 echo plates and an echo chamber. Micorphones were Neumann and AKG. Stereo machines for mixdown and ADT were Studer B62, “ he continues.

With the studio up and running on time, despite the presence of an increasingly impatient Lennon who was keen to start work before testing was complete, by the end of July 1971 most of the tracks for Imagine were recorded, and producer Phil Spector was literally in the mix.

“Having designed the place I took on the role of studio engineer for the album,” says Veale, “so that I was on hand to deal with any problems as they arose. I worked closely with a couple of engineers from EMI, which was a huge learning curve for me and helped enormously when I came to design the home studio for George Harrison later on. By the time we were halfway through Imagine we had ironed out most of the wrinkles. It turned out to be quite an engineering achievement on all fronts – technical, soundproofing and isolation – not to mention the construction work.

Even more learning on the job came when Spector called for Automatic Double Tracking for a vocal part: “I had no experience of ADT so I didn’t have a clue how to get it right,” says Veale. “In the end I drove to Abbey Road with Lennon, Phil Spector and a trail of engineers to create it there. As soon as I heard what they were after I realised what the problem was. The playback was reverse phase so what was coming back was out of phase. It took about five minutes to correct and then we had our own ADT effect at Ascot.” (Pictured L-R: a young Veale with Phil Spector, EMI/Apple engineer Eddie Klein and Yoko Ono in the control room. Photo: Dan Richter.)

With Imagine in the bag Lennon was ready to move straight onto the next recording, as soon as Veale could upgrade the studio to a 16-track with a larger control room. The ‘new’ studio remained, maintained by Veale, throughout Lennon’s ownership and beyond, when Ringo Starr took over the tenure in 1973.

Veale subsequently went on to design and build home studios for the cream of the 1970s music scene – Donovan, George Harrison and Alvin Lee among them – and several still exist today. Now, trading as Veale Associates, incorporating Audiotek and a great team of people, the company has expanded into the world of TV, film, radio studios, educational studios and auditoria and acoustics for exclusive offices and homes. Imagine that…