Jim Riley Ranscombe Studios Proprietor, Sound Engineer and Musician
Kevin Younger (WOW June 2014)
In the recent book on The Medway Scene, ‘The Kids Are All Square’ (Bob Collins and Ian Snowball), there are only a few names that run right through from the early stirrings of pub rock and punk right up to the current multi-layered mashup of 21st century music. But alongside The Prisoners, The Dentists and the prolific and ever-influential Billy Childish, the name of Jim Riley crops up again and again.
Once the frontman of local R&B outfit Wipeout, he’s now the proprietor of Ranscombe Studios, a recording studio in Rochester that has helped a host of local, national and international talent to get their sound down on tape. Tape, because Ranscombe is a classic analogue studio, similar in some ways to the legendary ToeRag Studios in London in it’s preference for the natural sound wave and magnet over the brittle pixels of digital recording.
I caught up with Jim at Ranscombe Studios, hidden away in soundproof seclusion somewhere beneath ow Rochester’s Royal Function Rooms.
When did you get started?
April 2002 up at Ranscombe Farm near Cuxton. A friend had a rehearsal space and I really fancied getting a studio going. I’d been gigging most of my life and I’d always been interested in the recording side of things. I got the stuff together and decided to go tape, instead of digital which was new then, because I knew tape and liked that old-school stuff. It really just took off. Within a year I was working six days a week. I moved the studio to Rochester in 2004 but I kept the name.
And you weren’t tempted to go with computers?
I’d done a couple of albums with my own band The Gurus on digital stuff and I found it hard work – really hard to get the sound I wanted. And I remember setting up a tape machine and it all went down better. Okay you’ve got to get a performance, you don’t fix it in the mix, but even the drop-ins and overdubs are easier to be honest.
It must work. People have travelled a long way to record here…
I’ve had bands from France, Northern Ireland, the North West, a lot of London bands. I think the analogue thing helps. It’s a bit of a niche market, there are people who really want that sound. They hear stuff that’s produced here and they want a piece of that.
Billy Childish has famously trenchant views on recording studios. How did he come to record at Ranscombe?
I’d known Billy since 1977, but it was around the time he was doing The Buff Medways that he started bringing in his own two track tape recordings and we would just do a few overdubs. In time he got to know me and trusted me enough to record down here. He knows what he wants and that I can do it without the complaining you might get off some engineers.
So is your set-up here just for Beat Era perfectionists and Rock’n’Roll luddites?
No I’ve got UpCDownC mixing at the moment and they’re working on a very widescreen John Carpenter sort of soundtracky album, with all vintage synths. We’ve had everything from old school garage to female singer songwriters. Some of the greatest hi-fi albums were done on tape, pristine recordings like Steely Dan and whatever. Early digital albums were very cold and in fact they now add a lot of analogue outboard stuff to try and give it a bit of warmth.
What projects have you particularly enjoyed working on?
Lots of different things. Dave Goggins stuff, Vlks was very pleasurable, taking time from working it up from simple piano-based ideas with toy instruments and sounds. Then totally different again there’s Rosco Levee, southern blues rock, but again we had the time to get it really spot on. The new Theatre Royal album we worked on for about a year, on and off, and personally I think it’s their best. The songwriting’s still great but there are a few more instruments, a couple of string parts, more backing vocals. I’ve known some of them since they were in the Long Weekend, since they were 18 or 19. We’ve got a good working relationship.
K Younger (WOW, June 2014)
Ranscombe Farm, (the first recording)
The Herbs were formed in 1994, Jim Riley vocals and guitar, Dean Howard guitar, Russ Kennedy bass didgeridoo and chapman stick, and John Keeble on drums. The Other Side was recorded 1995 and after many tours in Europe and UK (supporting Thunder in 1995) The Herbs split up in 1996.