Keith Grant (1941 – 2012)
Posted on:
February 9, 2013
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Passings
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Keith Grant (1941 – 2012)

What’s rough about making a documentary like A LIFE IN THE DEATH OF JOE MEEK, one whose story is stapled to the center of a previous century, is that, every now and then, we have to deal with the passing of one of our “cast”. This past autumn, we had to grapple with the death of Big Jim Sullivan – one of the great session guitarists of all time (and one of Joe Meek’s key session instrumentalists and member of The Wildcats).

grant_bw_nameThat was a heartbreak since we had gotten to know Jim pretty well since filming his interview. The news of his death came to us quickly from close personal contacts. But we don’t always hear the news so quickly, as was the case with the death of recording engineer Keith Grant – the co-owner and co-designer of Olympic Studios. Keith died on June 18th, 2012 – that’s two full months before we launched our Kickstarter fundraiser. We’d only just heard about it this morning.

What hurts most whenever someone like Grant leaves us is that they take with them all that unique knowledge, personal perception, applicational skills and history that contributed to major innovations in the recording industry and pop culture. Without Keith Grant, the majority of soundtracks from the last 40 years, the rock, pop and orchestral music that we grew up with – sounds that shaped and fired our emotions and imagination and inspired and innervated us – wouldn’t have been the same or, perhaps, exist at all.

olympicheliosKeith was a pioneer of sound – proud of some accomplishments (the design of Olympic, which he shared with his father) and not-quite-as-proud of others (he felt the “innovations” of the transistorized mixing desks he helped develop was initially a step down from what had come before – he believed it gave a much colder sound than he preferred) – but it’s inarguable that despite whatever Keith’s opinion of his contributions were, the fact is that they were a snug fit with the incredibly complex range of sonic demands at the time.

From Wikipedia:
“Keith Grant joined the company in 1958 from IBC Studios as music engineer. Swettenham designed the first professional transistorised desk in the world, which was installed into Studio One during 1960, along with the first Four track tape recorder in England. Studio One was used by many influential British groups including, The Yardbirds, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Alexis Korner and Graham Bond. The Rolling Stones recorded their first single “Come On” at Olympic, a number of Dusty Springfield hits and The Troggs successful single “Wild Thing”, were also the result of recording sessions at Olympic, during the forty year history of this studio. Olympic was a popular studio with Decca, EMI, Pye and Philips recording A&R staff, as well as hosting London Weekend Television’s music recordings.

olympic-studios-1When the lease expired in 1965, the studio was bought from McKenzie by Cliff Adams and Keith Grant and they moved it to Barnes, a year later. The Rolling Stones were among the first clients of the new Olympic Studios in Barnes, consecutively recording six of their albums there 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”. Jimi Hendrix recorded for his Are You Experienced album at Olympic, and of his albums Axis: Bold as Love and Electric Ladyland, all of the former and a substantial part of the latter were recorded at the studio. The Who recorded their albums Who’s Next and Who Are You. It was used extensively by Led Zeppelin, who recorded tracks there for all of their studio albums up to and including Physical Graffiti in 1975. In the same year Queen used the studio for their album A Night at the Opera while David Bowie also used the studio. The studio also saw the production of great numbers of other landmark albums and singles, including by The Small Faces, Traffic, Hawkwind, The Moody Blues, Deep Purple, and Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale”.

Over the 1970s, Grant commissioned his father, Robertson Grant, to re-design Studio Two, as the now working studio was causing problems with sound transmission to Studio One. Studio One, for example, might be recording classical music by Elgar while Studio Two would be hosting sessions with The Rolling Stones. Robertson Grant successfully innovated a completely floating space weighing seventeen tons, which was supported by rubber pads. The original album version of the rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar (1970), many film scores and orchestral works were recorded during this period. 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, recorded in Studio Two in 1975.

pg-50-grant-rexAt this time Mick Jagger became involved with the decor and furnishing of the studio and produced a contemporary design. Later, Grant added probably the first instant acoustic change using rough sawn wooden slats, to cover or reveal sound absorbing panels behind, thus changing the acoustics. This made the room suitable for the recording of both rock and orchestral music at the pull of a cord.”

Keith was employed at IBC Studios in the wake of Joe Meek’s departure in the late 1950′s. However, he got to work with Meek many times, years later, whenever Joe would require the superior mix-down facilities that Olympic could offer. Grant was “always in awe” of Joe’s “sound” but frequently amused by his “at times, histrionic defensiveness — I never got the brunt of it, mind you, but when it came to a particular studio’s idea of how to cut one of his discs… ugly… But he was ahead of his time, really. And he allowed himself to lead the battle charge against the status quo. Extremely talented, bold… and amusing fellow.”

We pay tribute to Keith with this clip from our interview with him – recorded on September 16, 2009 – where he explains the process of disc cutting for Joe Meek.

Links to obituaries:

The Independent

The Telegraph

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