Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, it hasn’t been possible for London Shoes to keep up its usual frequency of a blog per week lately, for a number of reasons – however, this is one I knocked out a couple of weeks back, and one that I really enjoyed putting together.
This particular publication forms Part1 of a brand new London Shoes category of blogs entitled “London’s-Lost Recording Studios” – and hopefully, this series of blogs will cover off a shed load of old recording studios, where some of Britain’s most classic and most legendary tracks were recorded.
So – to kick-off this category, ‘Shoes’ went out ‘on-the-road’ up Norf London way, to track down 3 buildings that were once places where some of this country’s most legendary music history was made.
First up, I hopped on a Piccadilly Line tube train, and headed norf up to Holloway Road station. Fortunately I know the Holloway Road area reasonably well, as when I was part of the Barclays North East London Area Management team in 1the late 1990’s, Barclays Holloway was one of the branches within our patch.
Anyway – having reached the Holloway Road, my quest was to search for a particular property where, in the 1960’s, legendary record producer ‘Joe Meek’ set up a recording studio in his flat, and using some weird techniques, recording a number of ground breaking, all time great ‘hits’.
Joe Meek was born in Newent Gloucestershire in 1929, and following a number of electrical type jobs, he made his way to London in the hope of becoming a recording audio engineer/studio technician.
In 1960 he set-up his own ‘Triumph Records’ and almost had a ‘hit’ straight away with his very first recording – a song called ‘Angela Jones’, which took everyone by surprise by reaching the UK Top-Ten. It would have probably made No.1, but Meek’s Triumph Records was an independent label, and therefore didn’t have the capacity or connections to ‘press’ more copies of the record and keep up with its demand.
Joe Meek ended up selling his Triumph Records business, and set up another record production company called “RGM Sound Ltd” – which he operated from the rooms of his rented flat at 304 Holloway Road-Islington-London N1.
304 Holloway Road was a 3 storey building, where the ground floor was a leather goods store.
Meek used all the rooms of his flat, to make recordings – which often involved guitarists playing on the stairs – the drummer playing in the living room – and the vocalist taking advantage of the acoustics in the bathroom. The sound he created was totally unlike anything else out there – and to this day, many producers have tried hard to recreate the heavy reverb atmosphere of his records, but failed badly.
He created a sort of ‘house-band’ called The Outlaws, who he used to back an number of his artists. Notable members of The Outlaws, were the very young ‘Chas Hodges’ (later of Chas & Dave fame) and guitarist ‘Ritchie Blackmore’ (later of Deep Purple fame)
His first big No. 1 hit recorded at 304 Holloway Road was the all time classic “Johnny, Remember Me” by singer John Leyton. Another big hit that followed was “Have I The Right” by the Honeycombs, which even reached no.5 in the States.
Many more hits followed – which throughout the subsequent decades, have become all time classics – such as:-
*”What do you wanna make those eyes at me for” – by Emile Ford & the Checkmates – which reached No.1 in the UK Charts in 1959
*“Wild Wind”– by John Leyton – which made No.2 in the UK Charts in 1961
*”Telstar” – by The Tornados – which made No.1 in the UK Charts & the US Charts in 1962
*”Just Like Eddie” – by Heinz – which made No.5 in the UK Charts in 1963
*”Have I The Right” – by the Honeycombs – which made No.1 in the UK Charts in 1964
Telstar was by far Meek’s biggest hit at that time. The title of the song was nicked from the historic Telstar Communications Satellite that was launched in 1962. I was only the 2nd ‘instrumental’ to reach the No.1 spot at that time, spending a total of 25 weeks in the UK Charts – for which it won a Ivor Novello Award.
Following its global success, a French composer took Meek to court for plagiarism – saying that the Telstar melody was nicked from one of his tunes.
When the noise of Joe Meek’s recording activities became too much to bear or if there were too many complaints from other tenants – Meek’s landlady ‘Violet Shenton’ would use a broom and bang on the ceiling, in an attempt to get Meek to stop making such a racket.
Joe Meek was a bit of a weird guy, as he was obsessed with communication with the dead, and he believed that aliens were controlling his mind and were transmitting their words through his speech. it is said that he was brought-up a girl for the first 4 years of his life
Meek was also homosexual, at a time when it was illegal to be so inclined in the UK. He always felt under pressure mentally, afraid that his mother would find out about his sexual orientation. He also suffered from dreadful paranoia – thinking that everyone was out to ‘get’ him.
In 1963 he was convicted and find £15 for ‘importuning for immoral purposes in a London public toilet’ – and he seemed to go down hill fast after that – believing that London’s biggest underworld gangsters, including the Krays, were out to steal his ‘acts’ or to blackmail him.
Meek’s paranoia, depression and erratic behaviour began to get worse – as did his financial position. In today’s world he would have been diagnosed a bi-polar or a paranoid schizophrenic.
Meek’s troubles came to a head in on 3rd February 1967, when he his landlady Violet Shenton went up to his flat to speak to him about his rent arrears and the continuing complaints about the noise.
An argument broke out and Joe Meek shot dead his landlady with a single-barreled shot-gun that he had confiscated off of one of his famous acts ‘Heinz’ who had been the bass player in the Tornados and had had a solo hit ‘Just Like Eddie’.
Having shot his landlady a point blank range, Joe Meek aged just 37, put the barrel of the gun in his mouth and committed suicide.
Ironically – just a few days following Joe Meek’s death – the Court’s ruled in Meek’s favour in respect of the outstanding plagiarism case concerning the Telstar instrumental.
So – that’s the story of Joe Meek and his unique ‘hit factory’ recording studio inside 304 Holloway Road.
With 1 ‘lost’ North London recording studios under my belt – I made my way a little bit further up the Piccadilly Line to ‘Arsenal’ tube station – so named, after the football club nearby, but used to be called ‘Gillespie Road’ tube station.
Following a 15 min walk through previously unchartered Islington streets – interestingly, passing by Arsenal football club’s magnificent old ‘Highbury’ stadium, that is now criminally, luxury apartments – London Shoes finally tracked down the street I was looking for in my quest to find the next ‘lost’ studio on my list – the sedate and very residential road called ‘New Highbury Park’.
Half way down New Highbury Park is ‘St. Augustine’s Church’ – a massive 1869 built Victorian Gothic style church that can seat 1,000+ worshipers. At the back of St. Augustine’s Church, with ‘St. Augustine’s Path’ running alongside it, stands the 1881 built ‘St. Augustine’s Church Hall’ – where ironically, some of the most iconic ad legendary ‘Punk’ albums were recorded – plus many other classic rock numbers from legendary bands.
In the early 1960’s the ‘Church Hall’ was bought and converted into a recording studio, and named ‘Wessex Sound Studios’-the ‘Wessex’ reference was because the family that converted it into a studio, came from Bournemouth, which was once situated in the old English county of ‘Wessex’.
Anyway – in 1965 Beatles producer ‘George Martin’ bought the studio – and it became one of the country’s most popular and famous studios, second only to ‘Abbey Road’.
By the mid 1970’s the studio had be bought up by Chrysalis Records – ad in the 1980’s it became the HQ of the Matrix Recording Studios Group.
Some of the material that has been ‘laid down’; there is staggering. For example, probably 2 of the most iconic and influential albums from the ‘punk’ era, namely “Never Mind the Bollocks-here’s the Sex Pistols” and The Clash’s “London Calling” were both recorded at Wessex Sound Studios – as were the majority of the Sex Pistols singles.
The Rolling Stones – Slade – The Pretenders – Kylie – REM – Motorhead – Coldplay – Elvis Costello – The Specials – Queen, are just some of the legendary bands and artists that recorded material in the old Church Hall. In fact, For ‘We will rock you’ Queen recorded the mighty ‘boom-boom-cha boom-boom-cha’ of the song by making the whole staff of the studios jump on the paving slabs outside the studio doors.
Sadly – the entire building was sold and converted into 8 residential apartments. However – some of this famous old building’s musical legacy still exists, as these apartments are known as “The Recording Studio”.
With 2 ‘lost’ North London recording studios under my belt, my final stop was the ‘Angel’ tube station on the Northern Line – and my destination was ‘Britannia Row’ in search of the once famous studio that once operated from there.
‘Britannia Row Studios’ was a recording studio, housed in an old 3 storey Victorian warehouse, and located in Islington-London N1.
The original studio operated from 1975 to 1995.
The original studio was built by the British rock band Pink Floyd following the success of their 1975 album ‘Wish You Were Here’.
Pink Floyd then used the studio to record their album ‘Animals’, and parts of their iconic ‘The Wall’ – including the school kids singing the ‘We don’t need no education’ chorus on their global chart topping single “Another brick in the Wall”
After a while, the Pink Floyd drummer ‘Nick Mason’ took over full ownership of the studio. In the early 1990s, he sold the studio as a going concern, and it continued to operate for the next 20 years.
Sadly, the Studios closed in September 2015 and was converted into residential flats – but during its time as a functional recording studio, some mega rock legends ‘laid down’ plenty of rock classics there:- – for example:- Pink Floyd – Kate Bush – Squeeze – New Order – Pulp – Kylie – Joy Division – Snow Patrol – Manic Street Preachers to name but a few.
So – having spent a good few hours ‘up norf’, tracking down the locations for this Part 1 of “London’s-Lost Recording Studios” – although the pubs were open, I didn’t fancy knocking back a few ‘cheeky’ ones in ‘unknown territory’ – and so I took the easy option and headed back home to Romford, and the safety of my ‘The RAFA Club’ – and sank a few refreshing ‘cheeky ones’ there, whilst planning candidates/locations for the forthcoming ‘Part 2’ of this blog theme.
Hope the muso’s reading this enjoyed it.
Take care & be nice to one another
See below – the full gallery of photos taken to support this blog