Toronto’s Kensington Sound recording studio turns 50

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It is rare for recording studios to reach half a century of existence, but when the clock struck midnight on January 1, Toronto’s Kensington Sound took that step.

It wasn’t easy, says studio owner Vezi Tayyeb, who started his Kensington Market business in 1972 in the Baldwin Street neighborhood, which he still calls home.

“We had some very dark times, but we survived,” he said during a mid-November visit to the studio, which for the past five decades has hosted clients ranging from Murray McLauchlan, Tower of Power, Ron Sexsmith and David Wilcox to Chris Spedding, the Drifters, Teenage Head and Sharon, Lois & Bram.

Tayyeb is also well known in musical circles for his tasteful guitar playing as an accompanist, and his valuable engineering and production skills. accompanies McLauchlan when the singer-songwriter tours with a band and was a staple of the Lincolns under Prakash John when they frequently performed in the Orbit Room. He hadn’t planned on a career as a studio owner.

“My father was a professor at the University of Toronto and I was supposed to be an academic like him,” he said. “I started taking math, physics and chemistry classes, but I ended up hating it. I kept transferring classes, trying to find something in college that would support my interest, but never did.

“It was in the 60s. I became a musician and I started to learn guitar for real and I grew my long hair.

He also formed a band called Harbor in the early 1970s and admitted, “We weren’t very good at all. “

But they did turn and eventually Tayyeb ended up at a New York recording studio for a vocal session and immediately fell in love with the process.

“I freaked out and thought, ‘This is what I want to do! I was already writing songs and I was like, ‘I’m just going to record them.’

He and his Harbor band mates returned to Toronto and looked for a rehearsal room when they came across the building that would eventually house Kensington Sound. Going into business together, they bought a quarter-inch TEAC 3340 machine “on which you could record four tracks pretty cleanly,” recalls Tayyeb. “By today’s standards it was a joke, but at the time it was a cutting edge piece of equipment and state of the art for the time. The groups found out that we had a fancy new machine and came to call us.

Tayyeb said Kensington Sound’s biggest advantage over its competition was that it was musician-friendly and less expensive than the major Toronto studios of the day like Thunder Sound and Eastern Sound, which charged a few hundred dollars a l ‘time.

Another advantage was the quality of the musician who could be hired for projects, Tayyeb said.

“For some reason we attracted a very eclectic but interesting group of musicians who could really play. Also, at that time, I had signed a publishing contract with Prakash John, who had just returned from a tour with Alice Cooper. He was interested in my songs, and the reason I mention that is because we recorded all of my songs here and he brought in all these amazing players. It was a hit in the arm in the studio. Prakash was instrumental in elevating the studio to a different level.

By the early 1980s, business in Kensington Sound was booming and Tayyeb and his partners expanded into other facets.

“In the 80s we started a label, Quantum Records, which released Mad About Plaid albums – which won ‘Star Search’ in the United States – Belinda Metz, Rex Chainbelt, The Look People and others. ”, Recalls Tayyeb. “We’ve released some great records, shot our own videos, been supported by FACTOR, and got some Juno Award nominations. We have done all the work ourselves for 10 years and have been very active; we visited MIDEM (an annual conference of the global music industry) every year in Cannes, France, and partnered with an American label called SWS Records. “

This acceleration in business was still not enough for Tayyeb and the company, so they looked for other opportunities beyond the music industry.

Tayyeb said that early on, Kensington Sound's biggest advantage over its competition was that it was musician-friendly and less expensive than the major Toronto studios of the day.

“We made a mistake. We got a little too arrogant and opened a restaurant in Front and Church called Peppermint Park. It went bankrupt.

Tayyeb and his partners have opened a second restaurant, the World of Henry Orient, with predictable results.

“It was a bit of a turning point because we lost a lot of money. It was during the ’80s recession and it was just bad timing. So there were years of attrition there where there was massive debt to be paid off, ”Tayyeb said. “But the studio paid off.”

While Kensington Sound has certainly recorded its share of hit records – platinum albums for Teenage Head and Sharon’s “Frantic City”, Lois & Bram’s “One Elephant, Two Elephants” adorn the studio walls – her biggest album. was Alannah Myles ‘eponymous’ 90s smash album that sold a million copies in Canada alone and produced the chart-topping “Black Velvet” and a few others.

At least it was kind recording in the studio.

“(Producer of the project) David Tyson called me and said, ‘Do you know Alannah Myles? “”, Tayyeb recalled. “I was skeptical but they came in and from day one Tyson, (songwriter and producer) Christopher Ward and I were here – Alannah came in and out – and I thought the results were mind blowing. The whole album was recorded here, and then they got a recording deal. Then they re-recorded the entire album at Sounds Interchange and it is the album that came out.

But the real story is how Tayyeb missed a bargain.

“The studio bill was around $ 3,500 and it came time for Tyson to foot the bill just as Atlantic Records in the US expressed interest in signing it. And David had said, ‘Well , instead of footing the bill, would you take a point (a percentage of record sales)? We don’t have a deal yet, but we’re pretty confident we’ll get one.

Instruments at the Kensington Sound Recording Studio, celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Tayyeb had to convince his partners to agree to Tyson’s terms, but he managed to do so and returned to Tyson the next day to confirm the studio’s acceptance of his offer. Except that Tyson had changed his mind overnight.

“David said, ‘No, Christopher and I talked about it and we’ll just settle your bill,’” Tayyeb said, wincing years later as he narrowly missed out on a potential six-figure bonus.

Over the years, musicians as disparate as guitar phenomenon Joe Bonamassa, married pop duo Wild Strawberries, and acclaimed cellist David Darling have recorded in Kensington Sound, and Tayyeb has assumed sole ownership of the business ago. some time.

He said his favorite memories are “the late night sessions where you drift off in a fun zone.” He recently wrote a book for the hybrid publishing house Iguana Books titled “On the Record” which details his professional life.

So why is he still there after 50 years?

“The music,” Tayyeb said. “I am always amazed at how completely I can still be completely moved by music. A few days ago I played the Eva Cassidy version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and I was in tears. In addition, the atmosphere here is good; we still have an old British board from the late 70s called Midas… and musicians love its warmth.

“It all comes down to the music.

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