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book review: Derek Tompkins And Shield Studio

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Derek Tompkins

Back Street Genius: Derek Tompkins And Shield Studio
D. Clemo, R. Kinsey, M. Tompkins Shield Books

Rock’n’roll magic often occurs in the most unlikeliest places. Take Shield Studio for example. A nondescript factory in the heart of Kettering was converted into a state-of-the-art facility and launched the careers of John Deacon, Trevor Horn and Bernie Marsden [amongst others]. As the title suggests Back Street Genius: Derek Tompkins And Shield Studio gives a detailed account of the man and his endeavours, whilst framing it inside a broader social history. 

The often exorbitant costs of recording in a professional studio means they’re often excluded from the annuls of rock history. With military precision artists will enter, record and exit with no time for the insalubrious behaviour they exhibit whilst on tour. Nevertheless studios are an unquestioningly important component in a bands modus operandi, and even more so in the days of Shield Studio. In a time when AM/FM airplay was paramount to a bands success a poor sound could curtail an artists career. Studio owner Derek Tompkins was just eccentric enough to turn his ideas into reality, and ensure Shield was far ahead of its contemporaries in terms of quality and always gave his charges a warm, ‘radio friendly’ sound. 

But Back Street Genius gives us plenty of Derek’s backstory – and what a story. From his war time exploits as a radar technician to his days as a TV repair man in the 1950s Derek was schooled in the University Of Life. It was the type of education to which a classroom can’t compete, and it produced a bold man who wasn’t afraid to take risks and, as a prime example, Derek was in his 30s when he started his own band. This book chronicles his time on the road with The Barry Hart Quartet and then The Q-Men, before a downturn in health found him recording bands in the back of his shop before bringing that wealth of experience to Shield. 

The fast-paced times that ran concurrent to Derek’s life form a template around which his tale is weaved. Containing a plethora of newspaper cuttings and concert posters this book pulls in major events such as the 1966 World Cup alongside a Northants Advertiser review of The Q-Men. As a document of local history it’s priceless, and the mention of clubs such as Kettering’s Granada and Wellingborough’s Co-Op Hall will bring back fond memories for those over a certain age. 

The sheer spectrum of artists Derek worked with is quite breathtaking, and he brought out the best – whatever the genre. From the chart-scaling Barry Noble to the folky metal of Leicester’s Black Widow he moulded the studio around the band, as all good producers should. A second volume is promised that will detail Derek’s later days at Beck Studio in Wellingborough but for now Back Street Genius: Derek Tompkins And Shield Studio is a fitting tribute to the man himself. 

Sargent ‘D’

Back Street Genius is out now

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