Spotlight on...

Graham BlythGraham Blyth FRSA (BSc Electrical Engineering 1969)

October 2008

'Graham is the founder and Technical Director of Soundcraft Ltd, a designer and manufacturer of professional audio mixing consoles. Soundcraft have recently supplied equipment to the Beijing Olympics and can be found world wide at everything from major Rock Festivals to tiny clubs. Graham is also a renowned organist, making his international debut with a recital in New York in 1993. He gives regular concerts, primarily as an organist and pianist, but also as a harpsichord player and conductor - a skill he took up while studying at Bristol, where he also founded the Music Society (Mus Soc,now BUMS). In 1996 he built the Challow Park Recital Hall, a unique venue for chamber music with a totally adjustable acoustic.

Graham is also founder and conductor of the Challow Chamber Singers and Players, Artistic Director of Wantage Chamber Concerts and Director of the Wantage Festival of Arts. In 2006 he was invited to be a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and in 2007 was awarded a Fellowship of the Audio Engineering Society.

Why did you choose to study at Bristol?
As with a recent subject of this page, I was turned down by Cambridge, but I had offers from Sussex and Bristol. I’d like to be able to say that I chose Bristol because of the high reputation of the Engineering Department of which I was certainly aware, but the pathetic truth is that I was hopelessly infatuated with an astonishingly pretty girl from my social group at home who’d gone up the year before.

So Bristol and Sally won out against Sussex and the Jay Twins. Aargh, I was such a nerd ! Frankly, I went to University to grow up. It clearly didn’t work and I don’t think I got even close to it until I was 50 something, just in time to screw up my children when they were going through the same process.

What is your favourite memory from Bristol?
This question prompted much thought and re-appraisal, and the occasion that brings back more memories than all others was the first concert by the newly formed MusSoc Chamber Choir and Orchestra, held in All Saints Clifton, which I conducted. This was in Academic Year 67/68, and was the first concert that anyone could remember performed and organised totally by students, with no Music Dept involvement.

We know today that this was 1968, the Year of Revolution (and if you missed John Tusa’s wonderful Radio 4 series, then pray they’ll run it again) but my musical friends and I were largely non-political and the big confrontation with Prof Willis Grant at Royal Fort House was certainly overdue. At the time I was described in the Student Newspaper as “arrogant, eloquent and enthusiastic” and I can’t blame Willis for the attitude he took towards me. From his perspective, I was a perfectly dreadful little tick who was pissing on his turf. I had a lot of help, of course, and the two Davids (Pratley and Cutts) in particular should share the blame and any glory.

Who has been an inspirational person in your life?
This would have to be the late great Bill Kelsey, audio guru extraordinaire. Bill was an ex RAF electronics wiz who I met while working for the Compton Organ Company immediately after Bristol, sadly on its last legs, having, to quote one ancient employee, “lost the sound of the diapason”.

I’d studied basic electronics as part of my Electrical Engineering degree, but Bill introduced me to the realities of practical design. We were both made redundant with me going into Underwater Weapons of all strange things and Bill starting a company called Kelsey & Morris, building one of the first substantial mixing consoles for live sound in the UK. I used to go up to his Notting Hill flat in the evenings, later joining full time, to help put together a large console for ELP to use at the now legendary 1971 Isle of Wight festival.

The thing I’ll always remember Bill saying about design was “Elegant, Graham, always keep it elegant” It is this guiding principal that has influenced everything I’ve ever designed. He was a delightful, intelligent and humorous man, with particular quirks such as building crossover networks for his systems inside Old Holborn tins, the contents of which he’d happily smoked earlier, with occasionally added impurities!  We made systems for the likes of King Crimson, Ten Years After, T Rex etc, many of the great UK bands of the 70’s, and it was my time with Bill that set me on the course that created Soundcraft and everything that has flowed from that success.

What are you most proud of?
I have been extraordinarily lucky in life, and this has resulted in a multi faceted and balanced lifestyle. It is therefore perhaps not surprising to have diverse things of which to be proud.

  1. This July I returned to the Vic Rooms after almost 40 years for the BUMS summer concert. It was that hugely enjoyable experience that made me realise the importance of what we had created back in 67/68. Of course, if we hadn’t done it, someone else would have very soon afterwards, but to see the wonderment that our tiny society had grown into, and the standard of performance that it had achieved, was very moving. It was also good to see BUMS and the Music Dept working in harmony, so wiser heads than mine had rightly prevailed.
  2. My work at Soundcraft has resulted in some products that I look upon with particular affection. On the large side there is the 2400 Recording console from the late 70’s, innovative in many ways which I won’t bore you with (and rather beautiful too), and then the smallest of them all, the little Notepad. This has become a bit of a cult product and has been described as “small, but perfectly formed” and I would say is truly “elegant” in Bill’s meaning of the word. Related to this would have to be my being awarded a Fellowship of the Audio Engineering Society. Previous recipients of this award include the great luminaries of the audio industry, people who I’ve looked up to for the last 30 years or so, and to join them makes me feel very proud but also very humble.
  3. More recently, I’ve got involved in the creation of classical Digital Electronic Organs, using the Musicom system. In this activity I’ve finally found the perfect mix of technology and music. I’m very proud of my work in this area, which has brought much joy to both church congregations, individual owners and also to me. Those of you who are organ enthusiasts can judge for yourselves by going to Veritas organs and listening to my recordings on various instruments, one of which is in my Recital Hall at Challow Park, a unique building with technology that allows it to be an acoustical chameleon.

If you could study again, which subject would you choose and why?
This actually came up before, about 20 years ago, when I finally had the funds to afford to go back to academia. At that time I wanted to study music in depth, but I was primarily a performer and had the wrong kind of self discipline for the more academic side. So, though my brain is probably now too old for it, I’d study digital electronics.

Boys and girls out there, please oh please, this is what you should be doing. If you can hack it technically and have a creative nature, the UK is desperate for software writers with a creative bent and with hardware skills. Don’t delay, learn C++ and VHDL today.

 . . . . . . and the book would be “Possession” by A.S. Byatt, the disc would be “Ein Heldenleben” by Richard Strauss – I’ve a fine Bristol memory of attending a rehearsal of this work at the Colston Hall with the BBC Training Orchestra under Norman del Mar - and the luxury, a really good piano, plus a tuning kit. Thank you, Kirsty.

 

Graham Blyth FRSA  (BSc Electrical Engineering 1969)