Cliff Cooper – Founder & CEO

We started to build the Orange Studio in the basement at 3 New Compton Street in the summer of 1968. I worked with Brian Hatt, a good friend of mine and an excellent studio technician. Brian Hatt was also a good producer and musician, and played in the band Candy Choir. That summer we both burned the midnight oil for several months building the studio and preparing equipment. In those days, every jack socket and loom had to be hand-cut, stripped, wired and soldered – which seemed to take forever! I can remember doubting whether it would ever get finished, or indeed, work at all. Luckily, it did, and we opened the studio for business that same summer. The studio, with its ex-IBC 24-channel mixing desk worked very well.

In those pre-digital times, every module in the desk had four preamp valves – and if you’ve got twenty-four modules in the desk, that is a lot of valves… One effect of this valve situation is that the heat they generated kept us warm in the winter, but very hot in the summer. Valves also wear out, especially as they are often working 24/7, and so the studio’s equipment required ongoing monitoring and maintenance. A good engineer could hear any slight sound differences between each channel, and would become acutely aware of any loss in sound quality between the desk’s modules.

From left: Brian Hatt, Roger Jeffrey, Cliff Cooper. Haydn Bendal.

We employed a very gifted designer, Roger Jeffrey, who maintained the equipment and went on to design our Amity 24-track tape machines. I invested in an AG440 Ampex 4-track, which was a state-of-the-art professional tape recorder. With this and the stereo Ampex, we were able to bounce tracks. Our sound engineering had really moved forward and we attracted many famous names including Brian Wilson, Stevie Wonder, Robin Gibb, Mickie Most, John Miles, Paul Anka and lots of heavy metal bands. Our basement studio had a great vibe – it was very large and, as nobody lived or worked on either side, volume wasn’t an issue. Most bands preferred to come in for night sessions.

Brian Hatt, Orange Studios’ engineer with Carl Wilson of The Beach Boys

Hot Chocolate recorded one of their early hits ‘Love Is Life’ at the Orange Studio with their producer, Mickie Most. Many of our own studio engineers went on to become world-class producers and engineers. The Orange Studio is where Steve Churchyard learned his craft from Brian Hatt. We gave Steve his first job as a trainee engineer when he was eighteen, and he stayed with us for three years, before landing a job at Sir George Martin’s legendary AIR studios. Currently Steve lives in LA and has worked with just about everybody – world-class artists such as The Eagles, The Darkness, George Michael, and Sheryl Crow.

Orange raises industry safety standards

Cliff Cooper – Founder & CEO

Orange Quality Seal

The AMII Association of Musical Instrument Industries [which no longer exists and is not to be confused with the MIA, Music Industry Association which is doing a great job for the music industry] was formed to promote music and musical product manufacturers in the UK.

For four consecutive years, the AMII turned down Orange’s application to join, but they always refused to give us a reason for this. It would really infuriate me because, of course, many of our competitors were AMII members and were being given an unfair advantage. For instance, members were eligible to receive exclusive grants from the Government’s Board of Trade scheme: grants which would pay half of the cost of exhibition space at international trade shows such as the renowned ones held at Frankfurt and Chicago. And, of course, it was exasperating because we were more than qualified to be in the Association – we were exporting over half a million pounds worth of equipment a year, and representing British innovation throughout the world… and I came of good report. I felt so strongly about the matter, that I actually wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, Edward Heath.

I became yet more frustrated when they introduced the AMII Seal of Approval, which in my view was ethically wrong. They didn’t even bother to set up a department to test equipment before issuing the seal. If you were a member then your products automatically got the AMII Seal of Approval, no matter how badly designed or dangerous they were. As such, I decided to introduce the ‘Orange Gold Seal of Approval’ to draw attention to the rigorous testing we did. I remember we launched the Seal with one of our humorous comic-strip adverts in the trade press – the ad took a swipe at the AMII. It read: ‘Who wants one of their stickers with its smelly glue on the back of their amp? The Orange Gold Seal is the true mark of a quality-built and tested amplifier.’ I knew that they wouldn’t sue.

The AMII Seal of Approval

AMII continued refusing us and other up and coming companies without reason. We decided to get together and form a rival organisation known as IMD [Independent Music Dealers]. In 1972 we held our first trade exhibition to coincide with The London Music Trade Fair which was a similar AMII event. We called the exhibition ‘The London Music Show’, and it proved to be a great success.

Music Week September 1972

Soon afterwards, I received a call from a board member of the AMII asking for a meeting. We met and talked and I was invited to join. I accepted on the condition that they would allow the other companies who had unsuccessfully applied to join. We did it!

A new idea to improve after-sales service

Cliff Cooper – Founder & CEO

Orange amplifiers were issued with a log book before leaving the factory

The Orange log book was essentially a guarantee card and a service record which showed the age of the amplifier, its history and maintenance record. In those days, by law, every car had to have a log book which showed details of the car maker, number-plate, engine size, year of manufacture and change of owner.

I thought it would be a good idea to have a log book for our amplifiers. When an amplifier was purchased from a shop, the buyer would receive his log book and send it back to our head office to register the guarantee and have it stamped [shown opposite]. We in turn would notify our sales reps that an amplifier had been sold in that particular shop. Should a problem have occurred with the amp or it had needed a service, change of valves etc, the customer would take his amplifier along with his log book to an Orange service centre. The work done would be registered in the log book, duly stamped, signed and dated.

Orange Log Book

If somebody was looking to buy a second-hand Orange, they could see the history of the amplifier and would know that genuine replacement parts had been used. This also made it more difficult to sell a stolen or modified amplifier. The log book was a big success in those days and gave us a lot of good publicity. Sometimes an amplifier would change hands several times and come back to us for stamping.

The original Orange Voice of the World stamp

The Original Orange Stamp

 

Cliff Cooper – Founder & CEO

When Stevie Wonder played his legendary Rainbow Theatre concert, he was using Orange gear – and so was Suzi Quatro, who did a great support slot for him. That night I discovered the lengths to which rival amplifier manufacturers would go in their attempts to discredit the reputation of our amplifiers.

Suzi Quatro

After Suzi’s set, Stevie Wonder and his band went on stage. As he turned up the volume on his amplifier in the very first number it went dead! My heart started pounding and I immediately rushed out onto the stage with a spare amp that we’d taken with us. We’d brought one simply because it was such an important high-profile gig for us, that we couldn’t afford to take any risks. I immediately plugged in the spare amp and Stevie carried on – I thanked God that it was all put right so quickly. Throughout the gig I just couldn’t believe that one of our tested, reliable amps had blown simply because Stevie had turned up the volume. After the gig, I asked one of our roadies to go onstage and check out what had gone wrong.

What he discovered was that somebody had deliberately changed the fuse in the mains power plug from a 13 amp to a 1 amp. As the volume was turned up the amp drew more current and blew the fuse. I was amazed later on to discover that this was quite a common dirty trick played by rival manufacturers on each other. Up until that point, I was unaware that this kind of thing happened. Later on, I found out that the culprit was a roadie who worked for another amplifier company. Learning of this really made me feel sick. I have never wished any other amp company any harm, not then – not ever.

After the show, I went backstage to see Stevie who was in his dressing-room. I was so nervous, not least because there were a lot of people there. Stevie called me over and whispered, “What was the problem with the amp Cliff?” At the time, I was unaware about the fuse situation, so I just told him I didn’t know.

“Thanks for sorting it quickly,” he whispered back. To hear Stevie softly say these words was very reassuring, and it proved what a gentleman he is. He could easily have humiliated me in front of the whole room – and I know a few big names who would have done exactly that… but not Stevie Wonder.”

Stevie Wonder: Genius and Gentleman

Cliff Cooper – Founder & CEO

I believe that when the Customs & Excise inspectors paid us a visit at the Orange Shop, it was a set-up arranged by spiteful competitors. The shop was doing really well, even though the big distributors would not supply us. The demand for second-hand guitars was such that their sale price often exceeded the cost of new ones. This really annoyed those shops selling new instruments, and I think they resorted to ‘dirty tricks’.

The Customs & Excise swoop happened so suddenly we hadn’t a clue what was going on – they literally just charged into the shop. They demanded to see proof that import duty had been paid on every second-hand US-made guitar in the shop.

We always took the precaution of having a legal form completed for each ‘buy in’ which showed proof of purchase, previous ownership and the seller’s identification… but it was impossible for us to prove that import duty had been paid on these used guitars. I contacted the UK distributors, and they denied keeping a record of serial numbers which I did not believe. These serial numbers would have helped us to track the guitars and prove duty had been paid.

The Customs officers placed all our paperwork into black sacks, tied them up, affixed a lead seal and took them away. Looking back on the incident, their heavy-handedness was so out of order it was almost comical – it was more like a drugs bust! Everything about the Orange Shop was completely above board, but even so, we almost had to close the shop indefinitely. They just seized every US-made guitar and amplifier in the shop, which was about 95% of our entire stock.

Some months later, the Customs people put the guitars up for sale by tender. I was able to buy back some of my guitars and they purposely let me buy them at a low price. I knew the reason they did this was because one of the Customs officers from the Tender department told me this swoop should never have happened and it was the result of a letter from one of our distributors.. and I think I know who it was. Despite this setback, we were helped immensely by our loyal and understanding staff who agreed to work at half of their salary for a month. We were therefore able to keep the shop going, and I soon had enough money to repay them in full.”

John Bates – Orange Shop Manager with Receptionist Dawn

Veronica Waters – Cliff’s PA at the Orange Shop and manager of the second Orange Shop takes up the Customs swoop story:

They came in and put padlocks on all of the doors and literally took over the place. They had John Bates, the manager [pictured above], in a small office and were badgering him like mad. They’d got it into their heads that we’d done something extremely fraudulent. So there was poor old John, completely innocent but being grilled like a criminal. I kept on going in and offering cups of tea and coffee just to try and break the tension. I remember how, later on, some of the other music shop-owners were giving us knowing looks about what had happened. They’d all had it so easy for so long – privately agreeing in a cartel not to cut prices. The Orange Shop always had a really great atmosphere. People came from far and wide to see the Orange Shop and just hang out.

Veronica Waters

Orange Shop Front

Dennis Sinnott. Head of Orange Publishing, St. Louis, Missouri, USA

I heard a lot about Orange in the early 1970s when I was Head of Copyright at EMI. The first impression for me was seeing this amazing 100 watt Orange amplifier, which was selling in the Orange shop for an unbelievably low price – I think it was about £35. And all the kids were going crazy… they were lining up the whole length of New Compton Street. I remember walking along Charing Cross Road and seeing this psychedelic shop, and its front was this really bright orange colour. I was just fascinated and I thought to myself “God, this is all so new and different…” I also remember seeing this young guy there, who I later found out was Cliff Cooper.”

Melody Maker Cutting 1970

 

Sales day at Orange

 

Cliff Cooper, Founder and CEO explains:
I remember the psychedelic lettering of the shop front logo taking forever to complete, but it was worth the wait. It truly reflected the Flower Power and Psychedelia era.

John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Paul Kossoff, Marc Bolan, Gary Moore, Peter Green and many other famous musicians would visit the store. They’d sit around chatting and play guitars for as long as they liked – most other shops wouldn’t tolerate this.

In late 1968, Fleetwood Mac became the first band ever to use Orange amplifiers. Around that time, musicians began to really prefer older, used or beat-up guitars, as they considered them to be of better quality and have much more character than the new ones available. The Orange Shop was first to cater for this new second-hand market.

Cliff Cooper, Founder & CEO of Orange Amps:

When we opened the shop, we painted it inside and out in a really bright shade of orange. Even from a distance you couldn’t help but notice it – the shop front had this luminous, really powerful aura. However, shop owners nearby complained and the council told me to change it back to its original dark brown colour. I wouldn’t agree, and after a plethora of letters had exchanged hands, the council decided to let it go. I think they took the view that it didn’t really matter because the shop was soon to be demolished anyway.

We opened the ground-floor premises as a music shop on September 2nd 1968. The basement studio wasn’t covering its overheads so I was forced to sell my band’s Vox equipment in the shop in order to pay wages. It sold the same day – we were now in the music retail business. The main distributors at that time for Marshall, Gibson and Fender would not supply us even when I offered to pay them up front, so I was forced to sell second-hand guitars and amplifiers. We began manufacturing our own amps at the start of 1969. That was also the year that Vox went into liquidation and so there was room for another amplifier company. My background in electronics proved very useful and, needless to say, I called the amplifiers Orange. That’s how it all started.

The shop was very cramped. You can see the stairs going down to the studio on the right in this photo which was taken after the Customs & Excise swoop [covered in a later post].

Cliff Cooper, Orange Amps Founder and CEO:

Whilst I was in The Millionaires – a name which Joe Meek himself gave us – we had a top twenty hit record ‘Wishing Well’, which I wrote with my brother Ken, and Joe recorded and produced.

The Millionaires

Joe was a very special talent who – like Phil Spector with his pioneering ‘Wall of Sound’ recording techniques – was way ahead of his time. Joe was completely dedicated to music, and with his company, RGM, was forever experimenting and trying to discover new sounds. It was a privilege to watch him at work in his Holloway Road home studio [pictured below].

Unfortunately, towards the end of his life, he was beginning to get very stressed and was living more and more on the edge. I remember one particular incident at the studio. Our bass player, Staz, was coming up the narrow stairs into the recording room as Joe was coming down them. Really, Staz should have returned back down the stairs, but instead he tried to squeeze past Joe. Joe suddenly flared up and just threw his tea all over Staz!

At the time, I heard that the reason Joe was so stressed was to do with a copyright issue regarding his hit single ‘Telstar’ [performed by The Tornados, it reached Number 1 in the UK and USA charts in 1962].

Joe committed suicide in February 1967, which shocked everybody in the music business. We hadn’t had the opportunity to work with him for long, and he was planning a follow-up single for us.

From left: Ken Cooper, Cliff Cooper, Tony Searle, Terry Johnson

Cliff Cooper, Founder & CEO of Orange:

By the time I opened the Orange Shop I’d played in two bands – The Rocking Chairs and then The Millionaires. I had also set up two very basic recording studios, so I had some experience of recording and music amplification.

I loved the early Vox amplifiers and their sound and played my Hofner Verithin bass (see above) through a Vox T-60 head and 1×18” bass cab. I had revamped the CTI Pixy (read about it here) but couldn’t afford to produce them in any quantity. I took it to Tom Jennings of Vox (pictured below), and asked him if he might be interested in marketing it under the Vox name with a royalty for myself. He thought that the Pixy was a great idea but that it didn’t fit in well with the Vox brand. Nonetheless, he certainly encouraged me not to give up. Tom was a very nice man – a man who brought so many ground-breaking developments into the market.