**Before I say anything else, I want to say this: Tittenhurst Park, where Startling Studios was located, is a private residence. Don't attempt to go there. The house including the studio and much of the grounds were gutted and remodeled in the late '80s anyway.**
On 18 September 1973, Ringo Starr purchased the Tittenhurst Park estate from John Lennon, which included the studio he built in the house, Ascot Sound Studio. According to Startling Studios manager Mike O'Donnell "Pretty much all the gear was left behind including John’s desk, screens, mics the lot..." O'Donnell tells me that Ringo kept the studio for the first few years of his tenure at Tittenhurst essentially as John had left it, though he rarely used it.
Around 1975 Ringo decided to move out of Tittenhurst Park and make the studio and house a commercial residential recording studio. Its unclear exactly when the studio was officially dubbed "Startling Studio", when it started taking on clients, and when exactly it was remodeled. The memories of those I talked who worked there are somewhat hazy on the exact timeline.
The liner notes of the Hudson-Ford album Worlds Collide tell us that the studio was called Startling and accepting outside clients as early as January 1975. My guess is that the studio may actually still have been in the Ascot Sound Studios configuration for the first year or so of it being called "Startling Studios" with the custom CADAC console, white color scheme etc... See the Ascot Sound Studios page for more information.
Those I've talked to point to some time around 1976/1977 as being the time the studio was remodeled. Eddie Veale, who originally designed the studio for Lennon, was brought back in to refurbish the studio. The remodel was a complete cosmetic, acoustical, and equipment remodel. The best evidence I can find about when the studio reopened is an article in a trade magazine, Cashbox, from 27 August 1977 which indicates the studio re-opened in September 1977. According to that same article, the studio operated exclusively for Ring O' Records clients until Christmas 1977 after which time they opened the studio up to public bookings.
Below is the Startling Studios Brochure produced to entice potential clients when the studio opened to the public:
During this period when Ringo wasn't living at the house, some bands chose to leave the tiny confines of the live room and record throughout the main house. In this article from Metal Hammer, British Steel producer Tom Allom explains how they used the whole house to record the album at Startling: “We set up each member in a different room, and the vibe worked really well,” says Allom. “I think KK might have been in the room with the famous white piano, the one you see Lennon playing in the video for Imagine.”
After John's murder in December 1980 and his marriage to Barbra Bach in April 1981, Ringo decided to move back to England and Tittenhurst Park once again became his home. Startling Studios technically became his private studio at this point, but it was still occasionally hosted Ringo's friends and Ring O Records artists. Because Ringo was once again living in the house, bands no longer had access to the entire house and would stay in various other accommodations on the property.
“When I left the country for Monaco in 1976, I turned the house into a studio with accommodation for the bands. When Barbara and I came there in 1981, we had two German shepherds who didn’t like anybody except the family. When we returned, we’d hear screaming. The guitarists would want to go out and get some fresh air, and you’d hear barking and see a lot of musicians up trees. Those dogs would rip your clothes off.”
Starr eventually sold Tittenhurt Park in 1988. The entire house including the studio was summarily gutted by the next owner, thus ending Startling Studios. Studio Manager Mike O'Donnell bought the equipment and opened Bluebird Sound Studios at Lee International Film Studios. Below is the Brochure for Bluebird.
As mentioned above, Eddie Veale, who originally designed the studio for Lennon was brought in to refurbish the studio. Below are some of Veale's drawings for the refurbishment.
Veale's original 1969 plans for Ascot Sound Studios took into account the potential for future expansion and I believe they may have done just that when they renovated it into Startling Studios. Its hard to tell for sure from photos, but I think its possible that the live room was expanded into what was a dark room and storage in the Ascot Sound Studios days. In addition, the live room of Startling Studios looks to me like it may be slightly taller than the live room of Ascot Sound Studios. Directly above the live room was a flat roof, so they would have had room to expand upward.
The studio was likely completely gutted and rebuilt, though the layout remains essentially the same. I imagine that this overhaul was not only cosmetic, but a completely revamp of the acoustical design/treatment as well both in the live and control rooms. Gone are the light colors of Ascot Sound replaced with dark '70's hues. The exterior windows both in the control room and live room were covered with stained glass as well.
The control room looks roughly the same size to me. An overhead rack was built above the console position, the door leading into the hallway was moved back a few feet, and the door at the back of the control room that led to storage was completely removed.
The live room looks almost completely different. The walls were completely refinished and rounded off at the top, the carpet was replaced with hard wood floors, and a door was added. I think that it is possible this door led outside for artists to load equipment directly into the live room. From what I can tell from the Tittenhurst drawings, the closest exterior door to the studio was somewhere behind the control room which probably made loading in a bit of a chore.
Control room front: Ascot Sound Studios (L), Startling Studios (R)
Control room rear: Ascot Sound Studios (L), Startling Studios (R)
Control room right: Ascot Sound Studios (L), Startling Studios (R)
Control room left: Ascot Sound Studios (L), Startling Studios (R)
Live Room by control room window: Ascot Sound Studios (L), Startling Studios (R)
Live Room (opposite view): Ascot Sound Studios (L), Startling Studios (R)
Live Room exterior window: Ascot Sound Studios (L), Startling Studios (R)
SOURCES & NOTES
The Startling Studios Brochure (viewable above) was the best source of information I had for Startling. It's text and photos gave me a jumping off point to start all of my research.
https://www.modmusic.co.uk - The website of Mike O'Donnell, manager of Startling Studios. Lots of great stories on his blog. Mr. O'Donnell was also kind enough to answer questions via email for me.
https://tickleentertainmentltd.com - The website of David Tickle, a recording engineer at Startling Studios.
http://philsbook.com - Phil's Book is/was a website dedicated to "Classic UK Studios". The Startling Studio's page is currently inaccessible, but I was able to view it using the Wayback Machine.
Recording The Beatles - by Kevin Ryan and Brian Kehew - This book is the bible when it comes to, well, recording The Beatles! It is a constant reference for me. Unfortunately it has been out of print for many years now.
Eight Arms to Hold You: The Solo Beatles Compendium - by Chip Madinger and Mark Easter. An encyclopedia of dates and information regarding solo Beatles recording sessions through the year 2000. Very detailed. The book can be purchased as an E-Book here.
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