A week ago, George Martin died.
Martin was a prolific, iconic and beloved producer, arranger and composer. He was made a Knight Bachelor in 1996 for his services to music, but perhaps his greatest honour was being the strongest claimant to the title of the “Fifth Beatle”.
It was Martin who signed the Fab Four, gave them their first number one hit and helped develop their distinctive sound as their producer for 11 years.
Their early success allowed Martin to set up shop alone and in 1965 he started Associated Independent Recording. In 1979, he opened a studio on the island of Monserrat in the Caribbean.
Ten years later, it was destroyed by Hurricane Hugo. And in 1995 – and again in 1997 – the studio was buried by ash and mud when Monserrat’s Soufrière Hills volcano woke up.
Situated on the border of the exclusion zone, the studio has been slowly disintegrating, worn away by time and undergrowth. Access has been restricted, but Martin paid a caretaker to keep the place “safe”, perhaps knowing it would become a shrine for fans of the many iconic acts to have worked there on an estimated 67 albums.
Among them, you can count The Rolling Stones’ “Steel Wheels”, The Police’s “Ghost in the Machine”, Duran Duran’s “Rio”, Dire Straits’ “Brother in Arms”, Elton John’s “Too Low for Zero” and Black Sabbath’s “The Eternal Idol”.
For 10 years the locals hosted a hit parade of talent including Supertramp, Lou Reed, Cheap Trick, Earth, Wind and Fire, Art Garfunkel, Deep Purple, Eric Clapton and James Taylor.
A couple of weeks ago, an Australian photographer with a passion for abandoned places was photographing the island when locals told him he should check out the studio.
Shane Thoms returned to Melbourne on Friday from his trip, and told Business Insider that not only was he unaware Martin had died while he was photographing his legacy, he wasn’t totally up to speed with the legacy either, being more a “dark metal fan”.
Here’s what he found, but first, a suitable backing track:
Thoms left for the island on February 25, aware much of its urban space had been abandoned for nearly 20 years.
“I was speaking to some locals and one said to me there was an abandoned recording studio near the area of Richmond Hill,” he said.
“I asked some more questions and they said Michael Jackson, The Police, Elton John, Lou Reed and many other artists had recorded there, so I went to go and check it out myself.”
The once famous recording facility is hidden away on a narrow roadside
“People have been there before, of course. You’re not allowed to – it’s off-limits and it’s just really strange.”
There’s no doubt Martin anticipated the place would be visited. The small annual sum he left for the caretakers was in part “to clear the debris from areas that might be accessed by visitors/tourists, to create safe walkways, and an impression of care and attention”.
Thoms walked up the road, through the gate and “just sort of pulled the door and it opened”.
Inside, there’s still plenty of evidence you’re in a recording studio.
“I reckon it’s interesting to observe a human space without it being eclipsed by movement,” Thoms said. “It provides a beautiful dystopian visual.”
The isolation made it ideal for artists to record without “distractions”, hence The Rolling Stones chose it for their comeback album “Steel Wheels”. Here’s what Keith Richards had to say about that:
“If you’ve got everybody on a little island with nowhere to go, and you’re actually living almost in the studio, then … you get a lot more done, quicker.”
But it’s not without its luxuries. Every rock star needs some Caribbean poolside.
You might recognise AIR studios if you’re a fan of The Police:
Thoms admits he wasn’t.
“I’m into more metal and punk, I guess, and while Lou Reed ties into all that… those big greats, The Police and Michael Jackson and Elton John, they’re not really music I was into.
“I wasn’t aware of legacy to tell you the truth.”
The ultimate lounge act
Nowadays, the only care the studio gets is from a US archaeology group SLAM (you can see their report here). In 2011, an inventory detailed recordings, floppy disks, empty guitar cases, manuals and artist booking forms.
There’s also photographs of wet cement slabs where some of rock’s greats left their impression and autographs. That’s now being looked after by the Montserrat National Trust after SLAM lobbied for it to be recorded as a signiﬁcant archaeological site.
Thom had no idea Martin had died while he was there.
He only found out when he got back to New York a week ago.
“I was very very sad to hear that such an amazing man passed away,” he said. “It’s such an isolated place. I had an analogue TV in the cottage I stayed in but I didn’t watch the news.
“It was completely coincidental.”
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