Priory Records ( is a UK record label specialising in church music. As a great deal of early western music was church music, this is a wider field than some people might imagine. Neil Collier is a founder of the company and here he talks to us about recording organs and choirs and also about the Priory label. Several Priory CDs are reviewed in our classical music reviews section.


Recording:  I imagine that over time you've developed a fairly standard bag of kit for going to large churches and cathedrals to record choirs and organs. Would you care to tell us a bit about what's in it?

Neil Collier:
As my work entails much foreign travel, I try to keep recording equipment to a minimum. I therefore just carry a single microphone (with box), a Panasonic DAT recorder, DAT tapes, amplifier and speakers for playback, headphones and an old-fashioned pen and paper!

Is there a range of mics you check out when you're there or do you know in advance which ones will do the job? What sort of closed back headphones do you favour?

Whether it's an  instrumentalist, choir or small orchestra, we pride ourselves in being able to provide a natural and full-bodied recording with a singlemicrophone! Our recording of Organ Concertos with Gerard Brooks andthe Langham Sinfonia (PRCD 439) is a good example of being able to record many musicians without 'multi-miking'. (For the headphones) I use Sennheiser HD 580s.
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Mic placement must be crucial in those situations. Is it a bit of a job to get it right sometimes?

Microphone placement is an art, but there's a certain amount of luck involved too! Once I have captured the sound I like in a building, I generally keep the   microphone in the same spot for subsequent recordings unless I feel I can improve  on what I have done before. As a rule, the microphone is set high on a stand, distanced from the organ pipes according to the acoustic: a long decay requires a closer stance.

Do you favour multi miking or stereo pairs? Or both in different situations?

In actual fact, our microphone contains 4 small microphones within the head - two which speak forwards, and two backwards - we find that this achieves a balance between direct and reverberant sound and typifies the trademark 'Priory sound' .  We like to give our listeners the feeling that they are listening in the best seat in the house - naturally, as they would in the building.

Are the recordings usually pretty much direct to master or do they need tweaking sometimes?  

We record straight to DAT. After the sessions are complete, and the tapes are given to our Editor, we do not tweak pitch or rhythm. Of course editing is a valuable way to raise the standards of a recording and sometimes we may try   to extract a little of the organ blower noise but only if this is in danger of interfering with listeners' enjoyment.

Do you leave the mastering to a mastering engineer or do you sit in? What do you look for at that stage?

When I founded the company in 1980, with a friend called Paul Crichton - a sound engineer for Central Television - I looked after sales and marketing, and Paul engineered the recordings. I sat in with Paul on these sessions, and learnt recording techniques from him. When he left the company to work full time in Nottingham, he was unfortunately unable to continue with us as a sound engineer, although he continues on a freelance basis to take care of all our editing to this day! As he is such a talentededitor, and as at this stage my part is more or less complete I hand everything over to the post-recording production team. They then liaise with the artist(s) over several edits to produce the best results possible, and start on the artwork design for the accompanying printed parts and publicity.

Are there are any special recordings you've made that you prefer over others?

 I have had so many memorable experiences in the last 21 yearsthat it's difficult to single them out!  I'll always remember DavidBriggs recording his excellent transcription of Mahler's 5th Symphonyin one take at Gloucester Cathedral (PRCD 649) and so too will I remember Keith John at The Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik, where I had terrible ‘flu in temperatures that I still can't bear to think about! (PRCD 495) On the choral side, our 500th recording in St Thomas Church Fifth Avenue was a wonderful experience (PRCD 600), as was the historical last recording of Sir David Willcocks with The Bach Choir and The Wallace Collection shortly before Sir David's retirement (PRCD 641).


Record Label:

Would you like to tell us a little about how you came to start Priory Records?

As I mentioned before, I founded the company with my friend,Paul Crichton. At that stage, we both had other jobs and fitted Priory's recordings around those, the intention being to record 'private recordings' - a service which Priory still carries out - of organists and choirs, just for 'porch sale'. By 1983 we were
making commercial recordings as well, and as the company had grown enough that I was able to devote myself entirely to Priory so I left my job in furniture sales and worked on Priory from home. Our present offices and warehouse is in Leighton Buzzard and we employ five full time members of staff at our premises here, Paul Crichton (who takes careof our editing) various sales executives and a freelance web designer.

Running a small label in a niche area must be quite demanding. Do you find your time is spread evenly between new recording projects and  the day to day business things or does it fall more one way than another?

When Priory's first commercial recordings were issued in the 1980s, I decided to distribute Priory into the shops myself. A t first I (rather unsophisticatedly!) took the LPs in the boot of my car and combined sales appointments for the furniture company for whom I was working at the time with sales appointments for Priory in nearbyrecord shops! By the time we were producing CDs, I had sales executives looking after this for me, although I still like to maintain good relations with record shops by calling on customer myself. Through the years other record labels have approached me for distribution and I am pleased to say that Priory now claims approximately thirty other classical music labels in its distribution network. So, much of my time is indeed spent looking after sales anddistribution, as well as devising new programmes and talking to new artists about future projects on Priory. Although we are a niche market,we are lucky that many of our customers purchase every recording we issue and, especially in current market conditions, we are grateful fortheir loyal support.Our office is a busy one, and our staff working together as a team is vitally important to produce the best results possible.

Are there some exciting projects coming up?

We always have exciting projects on the go! At the moment our Organ Master Series with Dame Gillian Weir is our best-selling series (Volumes One and Two available, PRCDs 751 and 752 respectively). Volume One was Disc of the Week on Radio 3, and also is due to receive a Critic's Choice in Gramophone early next year. Our series of Herbert Howells' canticles has been equally well received, with Volume One being chosen as Editor's Choice in Gramophone. Two volumes are available to date(PRCDs 745 and 759) with the Collegiate Singers directed by Andrew Millinger. In our long-running   Great European Organs series we made the first recording of a Greek organ with Nicolas Kynaston at the Athens Concert Hall (available early to mid 2002) and are currently in the midst of a cycle of 25 CDs of The Complete New English Hymnal (PRCDs 701 - 707, Volumes 1 - 7 available).

Thanks very much Neil.

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