Toronto’s Kensington Sound Recording Studio Celebrates 50 Years

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

It hasn’t been easy, says studio owner Vezi Tayyeb, who started his business at Kensington Market in 1972 in the Baldwin Street area he still calls home.

“We had some very dark times, but we survived,” he said during a mid-November visit to the studio, which over 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 talent as a sideman and his esteemed engineering and production skills – he has been the musical director of classic soul-pop legends The Drifters for more than 35 years ; accompanies McLauchlan when the singer-songwriter tours with a band and was a staple of the Prakash John-led Lincolns when they appeared frequently at the Orbit Room. He hadn’t planned on a career as a studio owner.

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

“It was the 60s. I became a musician and started learning guitar for real and let my hair grow out.

He also formed a band called Harbor in the early 70s and admitted, “We weren’t very good at all.”

But they shot and eventually Tayyeb found himself in 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 were looking for a rehearsal space 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 perfectly,” Tayyeb recalls. “By today’s standards it was a joke, but back then it was a cutting-edge, cutting-edge piece of equipment. The groups discovered that we had a fancy new machine and came to call us.

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

Another plus 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 my songs here and he brought in all these amazing musicians. It was a shot in the arm of the studio. Prakash played an important role in taking the studio to a different level.

By the time the 1980s rolled around, Kensington Sound’s business was booming, and Tayyeb and his partners were expanding into other facets.

“In the 80s we started a label, Quantum Records, which released albums by Mad About Plaid – which won ‘Star Search’ in the US – 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 gotten a few Juno nominations. We did all the hard work ourselves for 10 years and were very active; we visited MIDEM (an annual global music industry conference) every year in Cannes, France, and ended up in a partnership with an American label called SWS Records.

This accelerated activity still wasn’t enough for Tayyeb and company, so they looked beyond the music industry for new opportunities.

Tayyeb said that early on the biggest advantage Kensington Sound held over competitors was that it was musician-friendly and cheaper than the major Toronto studios of the time.

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

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

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

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

At least it was kind recorded in the studio.

“(The project’s producer) David Tyson called me up and said, ‘Do you know Alannah Myles? ‘” Tayyeb recalls. “I was skeptical but they came in and from day one Tyson, (songwriter and producer) Christopher Ward and myself were here – Alannah came in and out – and I thought the results were mind blowing The whole album was recorded here, then they got a recording contract, then they re-recorded the whole 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 was time for Tyson to pay the bill just as Atlantic Records in the United States was expressing interest in signing her. And David said, ‘Well, instead to pay the bill, would you take a point (a percentage of record sales?) We haven’t agreed 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, jokingly grimacing years later as he narrowly missed a potential six-figure bonus.

Over the years, musicians as disparate as guitar phenom Joe Bonamassa, married pop duo Wild Strawberries and acclaimed cellist David Darling have recorded in Kensington Sound, and Tayyeb took sole ownership of the company a while ago. some time.

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

So why is it still in after 50 years?

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

“It all comes down to the music.”

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