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11 legendary recording studios in London every muso should know

Written by
Robert Lordan

It was 31 years ago this week that the cream of '80s pop squeezed into Notting Hill’s Sarm Studios to record the charity single, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ Until then, few Londoners realised that the studio on Basing Street W11 even existed – despite it being the place where Bob Marley & The Wailers cut their album ’Exodus’ and Led Zeppelin rocked out ‘IV’. Although the site was recently surrendered to the luxury development mob, Sarm are thankfully still around, based in Ladbroke Grove as part of the Sarm Music Village.

The former Sarm West studios, Notting HillRobert Lordan

Here are ten more London hit factories steeped in musical history:

The former Trident Studios, SohoRobert Lordan

Trident Studios, St Anne’s Court

Tucked away in the depths of Soho, Trident played host to many a legend over the years. This was where The Beatles made ‘Hey Jude’, Carly Simon recorded the mysterious ‘You’re So Vain’ and T-Rex worked on their glam-tastic album ‘Electric Warrior’. Trident also played an important part in David Bowie’s early career with ‘Space Oddity’, ’Hunky Dory’ and ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust’ all laid down here. The facility closed in 1981. 

The former IBC StudiosRobert Lordan

 IBC, Portland Place

IBC started out as an independent radio broadcaster before switching to music production in the late '50s. One of the earliest recordings made here was Lonnie Donegan's, ‘My Old Man’s a Dustman’, followed by The Kinks, who recorded ‘You Really Got Me’ in 1964 and The Who's rock opera, 'Tommy' in 1969. Today, the vibe at 35 Portland Place is a lot more square – it’s now the Colombian Consulate. 

Joe Meek's former home, HollowayRobert Lordan

RGM Sound, Holloway Road

It may not look like much on the outside, but it was in this flat that experimental producer Joe Meek – best known for his 1962 hit ‘Telstar’ – installed the most unconventional studio on this list. Joe utilised all parts of his digs for recording, which included cramming artists into the stairway and bathroom and stamping on the floor in order to pump up the bass. Tragically, Joe suffered from depression and paranoia, leading to an incident in 1968 in which he shot his landlady before turning the gun on himself.

The former Britannia Row Studios, IslingtonRobert Lordan

Britannia Row Studios, Islington

Set up by Pink Floyd in the mid '70s, Britannia Row was used for the recording of ‘Animals’ and parts of ‘The Wall’, including the famous 'We don’t need no education' chant featuring kids from nearby Islington Green School (now the City of London Academy, Islington). Other albums of note made here include ‘Cool For Cats’ by Squeeze, ‘Closer’ by Joy Division and ‘Power Corruption and Lies’ by New Order. The studio has since moved to Fulham.

The former Townhouse StudiosRobert Lordan

 Townhouse Studios, Goldhawk Road

Established by Richard Branson in 1978, it was at Townhouse Studios that Elton John re-worked ‘Candle in the Wind’ following the death of Princess Diana in 1997. Townhouse also witnessed the recording of The Jam’s ‘Setting Sons’ album, Blur’s ‘Great Escape’, Pulp’s ‘Different Class’, Coldplay’s ‘X&Y’, Muse’s ‘Black Holes and Revelations’ and Queen’s soundtrack to the 1980 cheese-fest ’Flash Gordon’. Sadly, the Townhouse was recently converted into (drum roll, please) a block of luxury apartments.

Church Studios, Crouch HillRobert Lordan

 The Church Studios, Crouch Hill

In the early '80s Crouch End’s Park Chapel was purchased by animators Bob Bura and John Hardwick – the team behind such classics as ‘Trumpton’ and ‘Captain Pugwash’. The first band to hire studio space here were The Eurythmics, who produced most of their albums at The Church, including 1983’s ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)’. Bob Dylan has also been known to tinker at the Church – giving rise to an urban myth that claims the sulky legend once ended up sipping tea in a stranger’s house after confusing Crouch Hill with Crouch End Hill. Easily done. 

Wessex Sound StudiosRobert Lordan

Wessex Sound Studios, Highbury New Park

Don’t let looks deceive you – this old church hall hidden away behind St Augustine’s ain’t as quaint as it looks. Sure, ‘Remember You’re a Womble’ was made here, but so was the Sex Pistol’s blistering 1977 album ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’. Wessex Sound was also chosen by The Clash for the production of their ‘London Calling’ album and Queen, who came here to pound out the drum beat to ‘We Will Rock You’. 

RAK StudiosRobert Lordan

RAK, Charlbert Street

In 1976, flamboyant producer Mickie Most acquired this former St John’s Wood schoolhouse – for a mere snip at £350,000 – and transformed it into a custom-made base for his RAK label. A stone’s throw from Regent’s Park, it was at RAK that Kim Wilde’s ‘Kids in America’ and The Cure’s ‘Love Cats’ were recorded. Hot Chocolate (featuring the late, great Errol Brown) often popped by too. Mickie Most was also noted for producing the anarchic music show, ‘Revolver’ which featured a grumpy Peter Cook playing cynical compere to a swathe of new-wave acts. 'The X Factor' it wasn’t. 

Abbey Road StudiosRobert Lordan

Abbey Road Studios, St John’s Wood

Opened in 1931 when ear candy was still delivered via gramophone, Abbey Road remains a true monument to music. Studio One alone can accommodate a 110-piece orchestra along with 100 choir singers, and has hosted all manner of greats from Sir Edward Elgar to Kate Bush. Countless film scores have been pressed here, too, including ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, ‘Return of the Jedi’, ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ and the soundtracks to every movie in the Harry Potter series. All of this before you even consider the Fab Four, whose long association with the studio blessed London with the world’s most celebrated pedestrian crossing (which you can check out via live web-cam here). 

Olympic StudiosRobert Lordan

Olympic Studios

South-west London’s equivalent to Abbey Road, Olympic studios began life as a theatre before flinging its doors open to some of the greatest names in pop. In 1963 The Rolling Stones recorded their first ever single here – a cover of Chuck Berry’s ‘Come On’. The Troggs hammered out ‘Wild Thing’, Dusty Springfield was a regular, and it was at Olympic that The Jimi Hendrix Experience produced all three of their studio albums. Like Abbey Road, Olympic was also a popular venue for soundtrack production, with the scores to ’The Italian Job’ and ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ both being set down here. Olympic Studios is now a popular café and cinema complex.  

For more sounds from the city, check out the 100 best London songs.

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