Remembering Legendary Abbey Road Engineer Chris Parker (1925 – 2021)

21st April 2021

We are deeply saddened to hear that former Abbey Road engineer Christopher Parker has passed away at the age of 95.

 

Joining Abbey Road in 1951 as one era was giving way to the next, wax to tape, Christopher Parker worked on many of the finest classical recordings made during a golden era; anyone who has collected classical recordings will find Chris’s name on countless recordings.

When Tony Faulkner asked Parker which recordings he is most proud of, he suggests Janet Baker’s performance, with Sir Adrian Boult conducting, of Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder.

“I think I got a nice sound on her voice there,” he says. A couple of weeks later, when I ask the same question of Dame Janet Baker, she chooses exactly the same. “I wasn’t a Wagner singer but I agreed to do it because I love the pieces, and thought that this was not going to stress me because I didn’t have to project out into the large building for an audience. Then, in the middle of these recordings – maybe the music got to me, I don’t know, but somehow the quality of those sessions was indescribable to me. And even now when I listen, I can hear something on the discs of that cycle which reminds me of a feeling I had at the time. It’s an indescribable feeling, somehow, when things go right. Maybe it was the temperature in the hall, maybe it was the weather, I don’t know what it was, but it was an occasion when I thought ‘This is really superb’, and it sounded so in the box as well when we listened to the tapes. They got something magical.”
 
 Lester Smith and Chris Parker in Studio One   Period 1980s

Lester Smith and Chris Parker in Studio One Period 1980s

 Recording Mathias *This Worlde's Joie* - Christopher Parker, John Willan, William Mathais  Period 1970s

Recording Mathias This Worlde's Joie - Christopher Parker, John Willan, William Mathais Period 1970s

 
Parker was to become one of Abbey Road’s most respected sound engineers. So much so that former Abbey Road remastering engineer, Ian Jones, says of him, “Christopher Parker is one of my heroes, and one of our heroes in the remastering department because of the quality of his recordings. The balance of the instruments is always where it should be and remains so for the whole recording. The sound will always be consistent, as realistic as it could be for the era. And the choice of his microphones was perfect. If it’s a Chris Parker recording, generally you could put the tape on and you might not need to do much to it.”
 

Tony Faulkner, an acclaimed sound engineer, remembers a professional inspiration and a friend:

"The passing of Chris Parker was sad news for all who knew him, and personally for me. I never worked directly alongside Chris, but we met several times at Abbey Road Studios and later socially at both our homes. He and his musician wife Eva (who sadly died in 2010) were marvellous company. Chris's dedication to capturing natural honest recordings of real performances with the minimum of technical interventions had always inspired me. I admired his Kingsway Hall early stereo recordings: ASD 251 of 1957 Scheherazade / RPO / Beecham was the first I borrowed from Hammersmith Public Library when I was a schoolboy and avid student of recording techniques. It made a huge impression.

Chris was always so encouraging. It began with our first meeting in 1981 or 1982 in the main corridor of Abbey Road Studios. Out of the blue he stepped forward and in front of other EMI colleagues shook my hand saying he has just listened to one of my recordings to be released on an EMI label, that he was impressed and that he could tell how it had been recorded using a simple Blumlein stereo microphone technique close to his heart. No hint of putting down a young whippersnapper – quite the opposite. Throughout his career, Chris was someone who stuck to his guns about honesty and integrity in sound, in service to the concept of performance.

Chris is survived by his three children, Ruth, Nicholas and Deborah, his partner of the last eight years Janet Matthews, nine grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren, the youngest of whom, Michele, was born at five minutes to midnight on April 15th, the very day of Chris’s own death. A great man, whose legacy has enriched, enriches and will continue to enrich so many lives."
 
 

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