My farewell to Sarm…

My farewell to Sarm…

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So, this afternoon, I visited Sarm Studios on Basing Street, London. For so many, many years, I have dreamed of visiting there, recording there, being guided by the great Trevor Horn in creating my musical masterpiece. It’s a dream I have held to this day and, if truth be told, one I am reluctant to let go. But let go I must, because Sarm Studios on Basing Street is almost no more. Trevor has finally had to buckle to the pressure of redeveloping the site. It’s prime London real estate, with bills to match. The deconsecrated church, originally owned by Chris Blackwell of Island Records, simply can’t remain viable in an age where one can create magnificent recordings in a domestic bedroom on a laptop or tablet.

I get this. I mean, I’m as big of a proponent of that concept as anyone. Ever since the dawn of computer based music recording, I have championed it, embraced it, positively encouraged it. So, quite unnervingly, I represent much of what has caused Trevor to make this decision. That doesn’t sit easy with me. Even though I love the fact I can record an entire opus from the chair I am sitting in right now, I still believe that the professional recording studio has a place. especially one steeped in such history. Especially one of the finest sounding recording spaces ever built.

But, if Sarm is to still be here in another 30 years, it must change. The current Sarm building on Basing Street will eventually become luxury flats, offices and two studios will emerge in its basement. The team will relocate to a new “music village” just around the corner on Ladbroke Grove. Trevor will open Sarm South in Lymington on the southern English coast, and Sarm West in Los Angeles’ Bel-Air will remain.

However, it is the building on Basing Street that will always be remembered for being the point of creation for some of the world’s finest music over the last 40+ years. This is where Zeppelin recorded ‘Stariway to Heaven’, where Bob Marley recorded virtually all of his material, where Queen recorded ‘A Night at the Opera’, where Horn, Morley and Sinclair founded and forged the ZTT label and artist roster. Depeche Mode, The Rolling Stones, Pet Shop Boys, Madonna, McCartney, Grace Jones, Duran Duran, Iron Maiden, New Order, Radiohead, …. the list goes on. And of course, who could forget Band Aid, that fantastic achievement of Bob Geldof and Midge Ure. That was recorded in Sarm’s Studio One. And that is where I stood this afternoon, for the first and last time.

In clearing out the building, the Sarm team held a ‘yard sale’ in aid of charity and I decided to go along to not only see if I could pick up a bargain and a memento, but also to be able to say that I have stood in that vastly important place.

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Upon entering the famous Blue Building that sits to the side of Studio One, I was directed up the spiral staircase and was at first surprised at the fact it looked smaller than I had imagined. Tables lined the edges of the main space, and upon these were stacked numerous pieces of studio outboard. The dim lighting meant you had to get up close to see exactly what was what and what there was, was definitely well used. I spied a ‘Tatu‘ modified unit of some description, plenty of amps, patch bays, recorders and lots of speakers. One of the isolation booth’s contained a lot of old tape, of which I suspect had been bulk wiped. There were old light fittings, Dolby processors, even a really old record player. Under one of the tables there were some old Mac towers. My first impression was that either I had missed a lot of the bargains as I had arrived about 30 minutes after the sale opened, or there was just nothing of any real interest there. Sure, any piece of equipment would be a piece of history of some kind, but I wasn’t prepared to lay out cash for a dusty, non-descript relic. There were a few very interesting pieces, such as some gear that had been ‘rebranded’ by the Frankie Goes to Hollywood boys and a white Fender bass guitar, both signed by Trevor, but these were only being sold to the highest bidder, and customers were invited to deposit their sealed bids with Trevor’s son Aaron, who was ably managing proceedings.

Picture courtesy of Ally Horn @allyjhorn

Picture courtesy of Ally Horn @allyjhorn

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So, I circled one or two more times and happened across three items of interest. A Roland VS-880EX, a Native Instruments Kontrol Rig 1 and a Novation Launchpad. Nothing was priced as buyers were asked to make sensible offers. I hummed and ahh’d for a bit and went back to pick those three items up and try my luck. I had been a tad too slow for the Launchpad but the other two items were still there, so I grabbed them and joined the queue. When I finally reached Aaron, we had a little chat and I made him an offer for both items which he immediately accepted. Cash was handed over, a receipt was given and that was that.

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I took a few more pictures, wandered around as much as I could without looking too suspicious and headed out, turning back for one final gaze upon the room of dreams, the room in which so much of the soundtrack to my youth had been created, born and honed to perfection in. Descending the stairs, I asked the receptionist if I could grab some photos of the pictures on the wall, to which she obliged. As I left, the incredibly large, but amazingly polite, security guard asked to check my receipt and with that, I walked out of Sarm.

My emotions were a bit all over the place, really. I had just been inside this desperately important building, the unachieved pinnacle of my musical ambition and the realisation that I’d never, ever get to fulfil that ambition hit me. I’m sure we’ve all had that moment where we realise that one of our dreams will never, ever happen because the subject, the focus of that dream no longer exists. It’s hard to take. I mean, realistically, I was probably never going to achieve it because I am bereft of the talent and funding to justify and afford a session there, but whilst the studio existed, there was always a chance, no matter how remote. But not anymore.

I wandered around for a few minutes, taking a few last pictures. I recorded my thoughts in an Audioboo, pretending I was making a phone call whilst I struggled to contain my emotion. A bit more wandering, a few more pictures and, like that moment you decide to be strong and leave an ex lover behind, I turned and walked down Lancaster Road, forcing myself to not look back and to remember Sarm as I had just seen it.

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And so the future beckons for Sarm and its endeavours. I don’t doubt that it will continue to be the premier recording facility in the country, if not the world. I am certain many more classic pieces of musical creativity will gestate and be born within its confines, wherever they may be. But the vibe and spirit of Sarm on Basing Street is about to go, leaving behind a legacy upon which, I am sure, many hundreds of thousands of pounds in rent will be gleaned. Maybe one day, enough will be made to coincide with a reverse shift in music recording trends that may one day see Studio One resurrected, along with the vibe and spirit that is being squeezed out from it today.

Rest in ironic peace, Sarm Studio One. Long Live Sarm Music Village.

For those of you who are historically minded, here’s some interesting history around Basing Street as a community and a street.

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  • Posted on August 18, 2013 - 10:17 pm
  • By Rob Puricelli
  • Posted in
10
comments so far
  • synthetic says:

    Thanks for the bittersweet report. I would have loved to check that sale out, I’m glad you grabbed a few mementos.

    Another classic studio turned to condos, tragic. There might be one or two studios left in New York (Electric Lady and Avatar?) but thats it.

  • It is so very sad, but wholly inevitable. Places like this deserve to be preserved but time and progress think otherwise :(

  • John Hopkins says:

    Thanks for the report. I would loved to have gone, but live too far away. I wonder if the Fairlight 8th picture down got sold & for how much?

    Was it the Frankie Fairlight I wonder?

  • That Fairlight is my Fairlight, as in the one I’m restoring (check out my other blog posts).

    It didn’t belong to Frankie, but it did belong to Ian Stanley of Tears for Fears, so has some equally illustrious history :)

    Glad you liked the report!

  • nativeVS says:

    Another one bites the dust.
    A really sad story to see such a historic place go.

  • TOM WATKINS says:

    THE INTERIORS WERE AMAZING THANKS TO THE XL DESIGN TEAM who handled all aspects of the SARM corporate and labels.

  • Matthew Lindsay says:

    Very sad. Change isn’t always progress. And I’m not sure you can make the same kind of records on laptops that you could in spaces like Sarm. Hence the airless , cheap sound of so much modern pop compared to , say,the lush budget loveliness, The Lexicon of Love. Technology has an exciting role to play in the making of music , I just it wasn’t obliterating everything else.

  • @Tom, Indeed they were! Thanks for dropping by, Mr Watkins! Nice to have such esteemed readers :)

  • @Matthew, I agree that change is not always a good thing. As for not being able to make the kinds of records on a laptop that you could make in a place like Sarm Studio One, that’s debatable, as technology can now accurately recreate and reproduce the sonics of such spaces. Sarm has already been “captured’ in impulse responses for use in software at a later date, but what you can’t replace is the vibe, the feeling one gets from being and working in the same place that so many great events were born and took shape. That alone has some bearing on the product, and as you rightly say, can’t be reproduced.

    I also agree that the sound of a lot of “popular” music today is pretty weak, but that is also down to the fact that the sound is no longer important for pop music. What is important is a brand, is the marketing and having a commodity that appeals to the biggest market segment of the music buying public, i.e. teenage and prepubescent girls.

  • SRJ says:

    Visited SARM STUDIOS Monday 2nd Sept 2013, Was met by Aaron, Managed to acquire some Kef’s And a quick tour!, Upon leaving, Couldn’t help but notice the time by the biggest clock Ive ever seen, Thanks SARM and Aaron, For a quick but lifetime memorable day.

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