Inside Far Heath Studios

The Northamptonshire countryside may not be the first place you’d look for a top-notch recording studio but Angus Wallace’s upgraded facility is drawing attention to this secluded spot. Jake Young finds out why.

It’s been 26 years since Angus Wallace started charging his school friend’s band to record in the annex of his house. He was 18 at the time. From there he slowly built the studio up moving from an eight-track to a 16-track reel-to-reel. Today, Wallace is doing the rough mixes and recording all the backing for two songs by singer songwriter Peter Conway. Offering recording and tracking, mixing, mastering, voiceovers, sound design, and recording courses in the Northamptonshire countryside, Far Heath has come a long way from its humble beginnings.

The location is one of the many things that makes Far Heath unique. The studio is surrounded by miles of walks, country parks, canals, and substantial areas of ancient woodland, making it the perfect place to disappear for a while. “I think it just gives people a different, more relaxed feel,” says Wallace. “No stresses. And mobile phone reception is bad so they can’t get interrupted. Deep, rural seclusion.”

For those wanting even deeper immersion, Far Heath features an accommodation area for up to six people, providing a lounge, kitchen, and bathroom. “So now it’s a nice purpose-built bedroom area where people can sleep and get away from the music. It used to be just camp beds. For many years people were sleeping in the lounge.”

According to Wallace there are about six studios in Northamptonshire with his being one of the larger ones. “There’s a lot of studios starting up in many of the counties around the Midlands now, I suppose some of them are almost bedroom studios. Because the price of equipment’s come right down you can start achieving high quality with fewer outgoings. I’ve always reinvested the cash so the equipment here is top-notch now.”

The studio is set up for live bands, so there are a lot of vintage mics, a self-designed drum booth with a 10ft ceiling, and a 24-input Solid State Logic AWS 900+ console. Award-winning UK acoustic and technical design firm White Mark designed the studio control room as well as the live room. “They raised the ceiling and worked out how it was going to sound best with oak flooring and a huge window that overlooks it from the control room,” says Wallace. “White Mark were excellent, very professional. They did the wiring as well. I think they did a cracking job. I’m very happy with it. The main reason I did the whole upgrade was to improve the monitoring in the control room, and then it sort of snowballed a little bit from there, but the monitoring is gorgeous.”

Wallace’s main monitors are Exigy 515s and the mini monitors are Focal Twin6s.

Moving up
A recent upgrade included moving up to 32 I/O of Avid Pro Tools HD Series interfaces, which replaced the older Digidesign 192 I/O interfaces. The team at studio installation company Studio Creations assisted with the upgrade. “I used Studio Creations to help me go through a lot of different interfaces,” says Wallace. “I wanted to get 32 inputs as opposed to my old 24 inputs. I’d heard that these Avid interfaces had a richer tone and they do sound much better, so everything that goes through them I’m very happy with. I haven’t gone for Pro Tools 11 yet but that will probably happen later next year.”

Two more vintage Neumann mics, a U67 and a M49, have been added as well as a pair of Schoeps Colette condenser mics with MK 4 capsules and a vintage EMT 140 Classic Plate Reverberator, which was originally commissioned for Polydor before it went to Chapel Studios in Lincolnshire. The unit has seen a lot of action over its life, with Jimi Hendrix, Cream, and The Who just a few of the musicians who have used this very unit.

Wallace has also purchased an API 500-6B six-slot lunchbox. “I thought ‘is it just a fad?’ but I tried some out and I think they’re absolutely stunning. The quality of the stuff that’s coming out for them is fantastic. I’ve got a stereo set of AEA RPQ500s, which are really built for ribbon mics, which I have quite a lot of, but they sound great on condensers.”

Previous projects include mixing an album for Japanese band A Month of Sundays released through Rough Trade, The Prodigy recording drums with producer Neil McLellan, Spiritualized doing some work for their Lazer Guided Melodies album, The Fall, guitarist Albert Lee, Shane MacGowan & The Popes, Wishbone Ash, and Love and Rockets.

Wallace remembers Liam Howlett of The Prodigy as a fantastic drummer. “We were playing kit here but he was playing parts for some awesome roto-toms that he was going to loop up later on. And he had a fantastic turbocharged car that used to make a squealing, honking noise as it raced off. People were thrilled to hear this weird monster machine he was driving.” However some of his recollections are just bizarre. “Mark E Smith from The Fall woke up the whole studio at three in the morning; he was trying to open a tin of Spam by smashing it with his shoes, and the ex-Bauhaus band Love and Rockets set fire to the live room while trying to perform a witchcraft spell during recording.”

Most recently, the studio has seen Grammy Award-winning producer Ken Nelson and Neville Staple from The Specials working on new projects.