Legendary Studio Rises from the grave, with Flare & Atmos

Written by Paul Mac
for audiopronet.com
Published: 31 October 2013

The legendary Olympic Studios has emerged nearly five years after the last album was recorded there, from the ashes of its EMI sell-off, to be reborn as an Atmos cinema, cafe. members’ bar, and yes, a recording studio…

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On October 18th the new two-screen cinema complex opened its doors and, in keeping with the audio pedigree of the venue, has been fitted out with a full Dolby Atmos sound system using Flare Audio speakers and QSC amplification. While the Empire cinema is being refurbished, Olympic screen 1 will be the only public, Atmos equipped cinema in London and wil be showing Gravity in Atmos from the 8th November.

Screen 1 is a 120-seat luxury cinema featuring the Atmos system, plus the very latest in digital projection, with comfy reclining seats and plenty of legroom including ‘love seats’ for those wanting to snuggle up and sofas for families and friends to share.

The 65-seat Screen 2 will open soon.

Top music producer Chris Kimsey is currently designing a new recording studio to be built into the complex, and there are plans for provide film cutting rooms upstairs with the facility for film makers to use the cinemas for screenings when available.

Stephen and LIsa Burdge bought the property from EMI four years ago and after spending two and a half years getting planning permission, work started on transforming the site into its new incarnation.

It was important to keep the Olympic heritage alive. “When we started thinking ‘what are we going to do in the cinema? What sort of projectors are we going to have? What sort of sound we’re going to have?’ It always seemed from day one that the USP of the cinema had to be the sound,” explains Stephen Burdge. “Yes, we wanted comfy seats, that was a given; yes, we wanted great picture quality; but we wanted to do something a little bit special with the sound. Olympic was always known for experimenting with its sound – it was the first place in the world to have a four-track recorder; the Helios desks were built specifically for Olympic… It just seemed important to do something special with the Sound.

At that stage Burdge involved long-time Producer Chris Kimsey, himself a long-standing patron of the building, having started as a young engineer at Olympic in 1968. “It’s my spiritual home. I worked there lot as a young engineer,” notes Kimsey. “My involvement was totally in choosing the right speakers. Stephen was very passionate, and determined that the greatness of the Olympic sound continued… He wanted something bespoke that would continue the tradition of great sound at Olympic Studios. So I investigated and discovered this new speaker design by Flare Audio. After a lot of listening and a lot of studies I went ‘wow’ this is not only for cinema but for every application. I thought ‘this might be the thing we’re looking for’.

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Davies Roberts, Founder of Flare Audio, was keen to get involved and basically created the company’s new range of cinema loudspeakers based on the needs of Olympic. All the surrounds in the space use the Flare Audio V8 passive cinema speakers with QSC DCA 1824 Digital Cinema Amplifiers supplied by Sound Associates. The front three are the large Flare Audio X3 active speakers. SB18C and XB21Cs are employed as subs. There area total of 66 speakers in the Cinema 1 installation.

“It was a rush, but the main thing was that we delivered,” commented Davies. “We had to make sure that everything was phase coherent – that every speaker was correctly phased. So we came in for a day and checked and corrected any phase issues. If you get one of the speakers out of phase it will ruin the effect.”

Flare Audio technology is characterised by new technologies that include a ‘sandwiched’ central structure held under high pressure between two aluminium plates, plus an internal vortex to create, as close as possible, the ideal infinite baffle. You can read more about the Flare technology in another APN article here.

Olympic Studios: The History

Olympic Studios started life as Byfeld Hall on 20th December 1906. It was built as an entertainment centre for the local community. Although the bioscope, an early form of cinema was one of the first of its attractions – early audiences were treated to footage of King Edward VII’s funeral – the hall was used for a variety of entertainment activities.

In 1910 the building was renamed as the Barnes Cinema on receipt of its first cinematograph licence; with the first week’s programmes including The Lady of the Lake and The Charge of the Light Brigade screening to full houses. The Barnes Cinema gave way to the new Byfeld Hall Cinema, which was extensively refurbished after the First World War, and in October 1919 boasted a tea lounge and a ‘high-class orchestra’. In 1922 it became the Barnes Picture House.

During the mid 1920s, a young theatrical producer, Philip Ridgeway, acquired the lease to create the Barnes Theatre. Despite being relatively short-lived, his venture was incredibly successful. His production of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, starring the young Gwen Ffrangçon-Davies, saw hundreds of people unable to get seats. Subsequent productions included ‘watershed’ versions of Chekhov plays directed by Theodore Komisarjevsky, whose casts included the emerging talents of 22-year old John Gielgud, Jean Forbes-Robertson, 19-year old Robert Newton and Charles Laughton, who made his professional debut with Claude Rains in Gogol’s The Government Inspector.

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The building reopened as a cinema again under the name of The Ranelagh in January 1930 billing itself as ‘the latest atmospheric cinema’. The Ranelagh continued as one of the district’s ‘most comfortable and intimate cinemas’ until March 1940 when the war forced its closure. But on Monday, November 15th, 1943, it re-opened once again, as The Plaza, with Betty Grable and Cesar Romero starring in ‘Coney Island’. A fire in the projection room caused The Plaza to close for a few months in 1951, and its reopening saw a new name – The New Vandyke.

After a few years as a studio for television commercials, in 1966 it was converted to the ‘Olympic Sound Studios’, with room enough to house a seventy-piece orchestra. The Rolling Stones were among the first clients of Olympic Studios recording six consecutive albums between 1966 and 1972. The Beatles worked at the studio to record the original tracks of All You Need Is Love and Baby, You’re a Rich Man. The Who recorded their classic albums Who’s Next and Who Are You. Led Zeppelin recorded their debut album there in October 1968.

Queen used the studio for their ground-breaking album A Night at the Opera. The studio saw the production of many other landmark albums and singles by artists such as The Small Faces, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and Procol Harum.

The studio also produced film music for The Italian Job (1969); the movie version of Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) and The Rocky Horror Picture Show was recorded in Studio Two in 1975. Over the next 30 years numerous artists recorded in 117-123 Church Road: from David Bowie, The Jam, Pink Floyd, Duran Duran, Queen, and Oasis to Barbara Streisand Madonna, Prince and The Spice Girls.

In its heyday of the early Seventies, Olympic achieved a turnover of £4m, and was acquired by Richard Branson’s Virgin company in 1987, subsequently becoming part of EMI’s portfolio when the major acquired Virgin in 1992. U2 were the last band to record there with their album No Line on The Horizon.