Readers familiar with our sister magazine MI Pro's interpretation of the inestimable Pete Frame's Rock Family Trees (and yes, we did ask his permission), can be forgiven for wondering if they've picked up the wrong mag when they turn to this page. But no - MI Pro's Family Trees has (at least for a while) spawned. Or should that be bifurcated? Anyway, the reason for this 'Son Of' is that our subject - the home recording and project studio business in the UK - is even more relevant to what the BBC would no doubt call 'the pro audio community' than it is to its siblings in the MI industry. Se here, at least for a while, we are.
This is, in my opinion, one of the most important untold stories in the British music industry - how a small nucleus of designers, engineers and entrepreneurs exploded out of the 1970's rock scene and created the British Pro Audio business. While the major studio equipment and PA companies will, no doubt, come under our microscope in the future, starting this month we are setting the big black dial in the Tardis to the 1970s, and meeting the man who started Allen and Heath, gave the Portastudio its name, was also responsible for introducing the UK to Tascam, fathered the Fostex X-15, built the infamous quadraphonic mixer for Pink Floyd and, in passing, gave the company in which he was a founding partner, Turnkey, some of the best marketing and copywriting ideas this business has ever seen.
'Being precocious, I wandered into Tin Pan Alley one day, walked into a studio and immediately came across someone speaking with a funny accent, which I realised was Polish - a guy called Ziggy Jackson, who was later involved with MCI. Ziggy was talking to Ted Fletcher, who was then an engineer at Pan Sounds. He was telling Ted that he was going to start his own recording studio and needed a mixer. I picked up the conversation, told him I had a few months off in the summer and that I'd build him a mixer - though I had no idea what I was doing at the time - but I did it anyway. Ziggy was a friend of Bill Shepherd, who was the Bee Gees' producer at the time and through that connection, Bill asked me to build him one as he was using sound on sound with Revox 77s, doing his arrangements for the Bee Gees. So, I went back to my garage again and built another one. After that it started to become far more interesting than doing my degree - cutting slots in bits of aluminium with a jigsaw screwed to the side of a table and so on. Then, I thought I'd build eight of these mixers next time, rather than just one and I did, working under the name of AB Audio. I built one for Mo Gibb, one for a show in town, another for Alan Price's band.
'The one that went into the theatre was through a guy called Jim Douglas and a company called Theatre Sound and Lighting - TSL, which is still around. I happened to mention to Jim that I wanted to build more and he said had a mate, Steve Batiste, whose father was a millionaire, who would be able to help. So, Jim, Steve and I myself went in to old man Batiste and said we wanted to make mixers. Batiste had a business he'd acquired, called Allen and Heath. Apparently it had lost tens of thousands of pounds and he was sitting on it for tax reasons. He said we could plug ourselves into that. So I did and the other two ran off. I started building mixers then, under the name Allen and Heath and after two to three years on my own, I met Ivor Taylor.'
At this point, I should add that Ivor Taylor is the star of next month's story - his and Andy Bereza's paths having been woven together for many years. This is important at this point in the story as Mr. Taylor has equally fascinating insights into what was going on at this time and I offer no apologies for proposing to tell elements of the same story through two sets of eyes - not because they differ, but because they provide stereoscopic vision. But back to Mr. Bereza.
'I had a fibreglass sports car, a Clan Crusader, and Ivor had a Ginetta. We got talking about cars and I asked him what he was doing, to which he said he was working for Pepe Rush at Rush Audio. I said he should come and join me doing mixers, which was much more fun. That's how we got together. For a while, I also had a guy called Chris Carey working for me and he became one of the great pirates - literally, as he'd been on the pirate radio stations at one stage. He ended-up building his own radio stations, first in Spain and then in Ireland and eventually ended-up doing pirate satellite cards... an amazing guy who has done incredible things. Anyway, later, realising we needed a salesman, we advertised and I remember distinctly, it was a summer day. this red-haired guy walked in wearing white shoes and a purple suit, carrying an umbrella - I hired him on the spot.' It was Andrew Stirling - these days, of Stirling Audio fame.
'We had a good two or three years from then, building a lot of stuff for a lot of different bands, but not that many for multitrack, because there wasn't much multitracking going on.' Indeed, outside professional studios, multitrack recording wasn't even really in its infancy - most home studios and songwriters still relying on the time-honoured twin Revox approach. But things were set for a dramatic change. 'I can't remember precisely when, but it was the year that everyone said quadraphonic was going to be big, so Teac built the 3340 - but not to be a multitracking machine for home studios. In fact the reason the toggle switches on that machine are on the head was because it was actually a machine designed for quadraphonic, not for multitrack. But once I saw what people were doing, I knew that was going to be the way the business would go - it was inevitable.' Multitrack aside for a moment, quadraphonic itself most certainly was the flavour of the time and the A&H team were approached to produce a full-fledged quad mixer for Pink Floyd. Still being stuck on miserly salaries, this became one of several clandestine "black projects", undertaken by Messrs Bereza and Taylor on their own. 'The Floyd asked us to do something so special that it would never have happened if it had gone through the regular channels, so I undertook to build this in hiding and we used to work on it at night - Ivor and I were on 25 quid a week at the time, so this was a substantial amount of money for us. We actually designed and built it while we were doing all the other stuff and because it was so big we used to hide it underneath the goods lift in the Allen and Heath building'. In fact, they ended-up finishing it in Chris Carey's basement, following a cat and mouse game of hide and seek with Mr. Batiste's representatives.' Another customer for A&H's clandestine mixers, meanwhile, was The Who.
Allen & Heath (as we will find out in more detail from Ivor Taylor next month) had been set up in an ideal way to capitalise on the energy and inventiveness of the terrible trio, while giving them the minimum actual ownership - one of the reasons that Andy Bereza left. 'Part of the reason I left was due to the internal problems of the company and the way it was structured and part was that I wanted to make products for musicians in great quantity and make less money on each one, which Batiste refused to do. That was really why I jumped ship to Tascam.
'Actually, I left into nothing and I sat around doing precisely that for two or three months but I had had this contact with Teac, who had seen the mixers we'd been building and I had had contact with Mr. Abe at Tascam. I hate saying this, but there were a number of things that I had done with some of our mixers that hadn't been done before. Things like attaching boards directly to front panels - and I think some of the other construction techniques we'd used, bringing the price of modules down by thinking laterally. That was probably why I got noticed by the Japanese. My thinking came out of asking, "why are people paying so much money for expensive equaliser circuits when you can build one for a simple bass and treble control which will do 90 per cent of the job at a low price. We were able to do that with mixers, but we couldn't do the same thing with tape recorders, though, after I left, Ivor and Andrew went on to buy Brenell and went down that route for a while.
'I had plugged into this Japanese way of thinking early on and that was part of my frustration with Allen and Heath. You could see that the Japanese were thinking of the world market while we were so parochial in the UK. There was just no way that we were ever going to get on that level - nothing was coming out of England at that time at that sort of level. Eventually, I was pulled into Tascam by Abe and passed on to this guy in America called George Derado, who was the man who launched Teac into America and made it a big name. He was one of the big guys, up there with the likes of Walter Goodman and Sidney Harman. When I joined them Tascam was just this little division - Teac Audio Services Corporation of America - and they were about to launch the model 5 and the 88. Then the Japanese, as they will, decided to fire Derado, probably because he was too powerful and they don't like that. So Derado was fired and I ended-up with a direct contract to be responsible for the introduction of Tascam into Europe. I should say that the Japanese themselves had no belief whatsoever in Tascam at that point. We were just this oddball thing that was doing well in America at the time. As Abe used to say, this was just for "hippy musicians" so they didn't actually care what they did with me because they didn't think it would come to anything. As a consequence, I was paid next to nothing apart from commission so they felt they were on an easy wicket.
'Teac's distributor in the UK at that point was Acoustic Research, but I spent a lot of time on the continent, getting Tascam known at exhibitions and to key dealers. The distributor in Germany, though, was Harman, which was how I got to know Walter Goodman, which was helpful later on, when we sold Bandive to Harman.'
Eventually, Mr. Bereza was pulled inside the company to work on product development, during a key period during which Tascam was casting round, trying to work out where the fledgling home recording market was going to turn next. 'My feeling was that all they'd done with the 3340 and 2340 was to make them more expensive and that they'd still not brought them down into the realms of the ordinary musicians. I felt that we should really do a low cost four track version. They had a one motor machine at the time but that was still too expensive to turn into a cheap multitracker, so I hit on the idea that as we had cassette tapes which had four tracks on them, why couldn't they use those? Tascam said they couldn't do that successfully, so I came back with the suggestion that they double the tape speed, but it turned into a huge political war. Part of the problem was that Philips forced you to turn the cassette over as part of the licensing agreement and you also had to run it at the low speed - although a couple of higher speed decks had been done at that stage. I pushed this idea of cassettes, though and so we started to go down the Elcasette route.' Elcassette, for younger readers (or those so old they have forgotten it) was Sony's late 1970s wunderformat tape cassette system that was supposed to replace the humble Compact Cassette for audiophile users. Though it satisfied the tape size objections to the Philips format, deck makers like Nakamichi (and others) proved it simply wasn't necessary - the humble cassette was quite good enough for the job at hand and Elcassette became one of those Sony formats that never made the commercial grade.
'It was just part of my badgering process really,' says Andy Bereza. 'I never wanted to go down the Elcassette route, I just wanted to make them realise that a cassette system would work - it was never intended as a serious proposition. Anyway, eventually, Abe took on the risk and decided he would do it with a cassette.' And no, apparently Philips never did kick up the fuss that had been feared.
'That was the basis of the original Tascam 144 - and then they fired me,' he laughs. 'I'd made a lot of money as a rep in Europe and had been working on the basis that if I came up with something there would be a few per cent in it for me as the originator. I think the reason they fired me was partly because of that and, as someone once said to me, "we could employ ten Japanese for what we pay you" so I was slid out of focus on the whole thing and I never brought the Portastudio in. I was involved in it, but I wasn't there when it was launched.'
While Mr. Bereza had been labouring in the vineyards of Tascam, Ivor Taylor and Andrew Stirling had been reaching the end of their tethers at Allen and Heath. It seemed time for a re-union. 'Andrew and myself, during the Allen and Heath days, had done a couple of private deals under the name Turnkey, doing total installations, so I said why not do it properly? We took a couple of shops in Barnet, and originally what we intended to do was go back into making mixers in kit form, so we came up with Seck mixers and some effects called Accessit. In order to keep Andrew going in the very beginning, we also retailed. Because we knew the four track market was coming, we made the 1478 mixer, and eventually we built hundreds of those. We called it that, by the way, because it was thought-up on the 14th of April 1978. Basically, it was a totally passive four-in, two-out mixer with bass, treble, pan and echo send. The background to that was that when you had recorded your channels on multitrack they came out at line level but the tape recorder had mic inputs, so it was perfectly ok to have a 20dB loss. Well, if you configure a passive bass and treble control circuit and fader and a pan control, you can build that without any transistors - any power - and so you had this mixer with faders and knobs which we could build for about a tenner and, in effect, give it away with 3340s on a 'get your 3340 and get a free mixer' basis. That was an absolute killer, that was!'
Another fine wheeze was The Great British Spring - in effect nothing more complicated than a Hammond spring reverb in a plastic drainpipe. 'I found somebody who made those flexible plastic records and we made one for the Great British Spring as our brochure for it. We sold thousands of them.'
Both the Turnkey shop and Bandive as a whole were a phenomenon. Out of it came not just a tremendous business for Messrs Bereza, Taylor and Stirling, but a series of satellites as the home and project studio revolution they had done so much to engender got under way: other retailers, other manufacturers, journalists, magazines, musicians recording their masterworks at home - an entire subset of the music industry, mostly derived from the prodigious energy and inventiveness of this one company.
It could, of course, have been even better and had the company been in Japan or, particularly, the USA, where it would have Mackied long before Mackie. 'It was ahead of its time,' agrees Andy Bereza. 'People weren't ready for Accessit, we weren't in the guitar market and we were parochial, though we tried to break into America. But for all that Andrew was a fantastic salesman and we grew and grew. Andrew had this maxim - "If you think champagne you drink champagne" and he ended up going up the ladder, allying with Phil Dudderidge' (Soundcraft's founder) 'selling 16 track systems to rock stars and that part of the business developed massively.
'Then, because I'd had this contact with Tascam, and because Fostex had been brewing for two or three years as the key team at Tascam, led by Abe, had left Teac to join forces with the Foster Corporation to create Fostex, I managed to get the deal that made us the importer of Fostex for the UK. It was a massively successful agency from the get-go. By the time we'd moved to Brent Cross, we were doing one or two million on Fostex alone,' he recalls. 'At that point we were also doing between 1-2 million on Fostex, Andrew was selling about the same amount of big gear, there was a million or so in retail and probably another million on manufacturing - this was very fast growth. By then we had about thirty people working for us and it had all happened very fast. We were certainly out-marketing Harman, who by then were selling Tascam in the UK, not least because the Tascam innovation had gone and they were recreating what they had done before, because they'd scared away the creative team. That team, of course, was brand new at Fostex and it was Abe, Mickey Matsumotu and myself who masterminded the hotbed of ideas at Fostex. For example the word 'multitracker..' I think I'd come up with the word "Portastudio" and I was forced to think of a new term, which was "multitracker". I wouldn't like to claim many specific things but I would claim the baby one, the X-15, as one of mine. But the big killer for Fostex was the 16-track machine, the B16, and it was Dolby C that did it. I started spending a lot of time in Japan after that.'
From the outside (and how often is this the case?) Turnkey/Bandive seemed to be setting the world on fire. But from the inside it looked quite different. 'It just wasn't working,' says Mr. Bereza. 'I can remember the three of us sitting there and, literally, crying about the situation we were in when Andrew left.' The problems of a fast-growing UK business were taking their toll on the relationships - and, in the background, a hungry predator was circling.
'Harman knew, by then, that they were going to lose Tascam and because it was very profitable for them, they needed to replace it. Obviously, Fostex was a natural replacement and because we had Synclavier at the time, and it looked like that could have been big as well, Walter Goodman got very interested, and at a time when Harman were starting to pull other pro audio companies under their wing. We became absolute prime targets at that point because we were seen as being able to replace their Tascam, profitability.'
The dance continued, seeming (at least from the outside) to be growing more dizzying by every turn and more detail will be provided next month, by Ivor Taylor, who fills in the background to the absorption of Robert Wilson's Atlantex, Harman's takeover of Bandive and the eventual establishment of Fostex UK. As far as Andy Bereza was concerned, he ended-up running the aforementioned Fostex UK and was then seconded to America to sort-out Fostex USA in the early 1990s. 'I was doing well in Fostex, looking at hard disc recording and trying to get that down in price. Ivor was involved as well but there were complications in America and in the end I think, once again, they decided they were paying me too much money and - really - they thought I was trying to take over Fostex Japan, so I got unceremoniously thrown-out. At that point I decided there wasn't anything else I wanted to do in this industry and so I went off to find the next goldmine.
'Twelve or fifteen years ago I started thinking that times were getting worrying. Until then, I had been able to make Mullard circuits, which is where I started form, fiddle with them and come up with new products. There was mechanical and electronic innovation that went into them too, but when it went over to digital technology there was suddenly very little control over what you could do with things. And by the time you've re-made the Portastudio 50 times, what do you do next?'
The answer, it appears, lies in the computer field. I asked if Mr. Bereza ever felt like moving back into the audio market. Apparently, not. As I said at the outset, I feel sure that is our industry's loss.