Thursday, 3 May 2012

KSR Restoration Workshop and Studio Visit

The Fuji and I took a trip during the second week in April 2012 to the county of Surrey to visit something of a living legend in the shape of Kent Spong.

Kent is known throughout the music business for his amazing synthesizer restoration and servicing skills, so much so that his client list reads like something of a "who's who" of film, theatre and music professionals including Hans Zimmer, Mel Wesson, Ulrich Schnauss and Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins. He is also known as "Mr CS-80" because of his specialist expertise with the Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer, something that has earned him something of a well-earned reputation of excellence. He works in partnership with a specialist vintage analogue synthesizer dealer Richard Lawson who owns a company caled RL Music.

A few people had told me about Kent and everyone had nothing but positive things to say about him. For me, meeting Kent was an absolute delight and I found him to be an unassuming and modest man who has time for everything and everybody. Even though he is the "go to guy" for the stars, he still has a large client base of amateur enthusiasts who he looks after in exactly the same way as his more well-known customers. What you see is most definitely what you get, and hurrah for that says I. I also met Kent's wife Sue (also known as "Chemical Sue"), a very engaging and funny lady, who works with Kent on wood preparation and finishing as well as deep cleaning on the instruments, disassembling and rebuild work and tolexing (replacing/refitting of vinyl-type coverings). I have to say that both made me feel very welcome in their home and workplace.

We sat for a good time in their kitchen, chatting, laughing, drinking coffee and eating fig rolls - always a pleasure. Their home is a synth-lovers paradise and it is nothing to see an Oberheim OB-Xa synthesiser nonchalantly leaning against a dresser in the living room or a ARP 2600 synthesiser awaiting collection quietly reading the paper in the lobby. I had to use their bathroom and leaning on a wall outside the "small room" was a Yamaha CS-80 keyboard assembly!!! Synth bliss I can tell you :-D

And then you get introduced to the workshop and Kent's personal studio. As with the visit to Ben Edwards' insanely brilliant Benge Studios in London last year, it took my breath away as it was a literal goldmine of synths, parts, circuit boards, cables, tools and other bits and pieces. My visit was timed with a particular set up that Kent had in at that time for servicing - a Moog/PPG modular synthesizer owned by ambient music designer, Mel Wesson. Also in for a bit of a service was a Yamaha CS-80 previously owned and used by Roxy Music and now owned by Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins.

I looked around the workshop and was delighted by the sight of bits and pieces of all sorts of different synthesisers, vintage and otherwise, work tools and electrical component spares. Standing on end, back to back, were a white-faced ARP Odyssey (a rare Mk1 version of the classic mono synth, also known as the Model 2800) and a Roland Juno 106. In cases under one of the workbenches were Yamaha CS-80's that had been repaired or serviced and were awaiting collection. Alongside the Moog/PPG system was an opened-up Yamaha CS-80 - Kent gleefully told me that it used to belong to Roxy Music (OMG - one of my favourite groups!!!) and now belongs to Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins (register another OMG please). I took a number of pictures of the Moog/PPG system and the opened-up Yamaha CS-80 as they're not things you see everyday, but also a load of photos of different areas of the workshop. It was fascinating and I could have spent hours in there just taking pictures and chatting with Kent and Sue.

Kent has a great sense of humour, and so I asked if he would mind if I did a "gag shot" of my alter-ego, The Urbexing Stylophone Player, in the workshop. He said yes!!! But not only did he say yes, but he also suggested a set up shot with him in it!!! What a guy!!!

I was then asked if I would like to see Kent's studio. I said "yes" of course and tried not to sound too excited, because I knew what was in that studio and I couldn't wait to see it. As I said above, Kent is known as "Mr CS80" because of his specialist skills with that particular instrument, and this was more than amply demonstrated with his own Yamaha CS-80 which he had rebuilt with a new facia and case and some rather tasty "under-the-bonnet" modifications, which unless you're a synth person wouldn't make much sense, but suffice to say, those modifications dramatically increased the instrument's already significant expressive capabilities. It is a work of art and it sounds too incredible for words. Can you imagine how I felt when Kent uttered those magical words - "would you like to have a go"? Naturally I accepted the offer and now basically, I want one. Also on hand was my favourite looking synthesiser. The Polymoog. Now I know that Polymoogs aren't known for their reliability and that they can be extremely temperamental, but I don't care, to me, they just look the business. I first clapped eyes on them when watching Gary Numan on Top of the Pops back in 1979, and it was love at first sight. I don't expect to ever own one, and many people have told me that they can be more trouble than their worth, but again, I don't care, after playing Kent's Polymoog, I want one more than ever. Also on hand was an Elka Synthex, a synthesizer famously used by Jean-Michel Jarre and not something you see everyday. Another piece of wonderful synth engineering and damn fine to look at as well.

And so this part of the day was over. I had enjoyed my morning explore of the derelict B.B.C. receiving station and I had thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon with Kent and Sue - I still can't get over how quick the time went!!! And the day stall wasn't over, as I was yet to visit the studio of, in my opinion, the best New Age artist in the U.K. at this time, Kevin Kendle - more on that soon :-)

So a huge thanks to Kent and Sue for a very entertaining and enjoyable afternoon, and also for allowing The Fuji and I to run rampant in their home.

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