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Air Studios Montserrat by Patrick Bennett

On-Site Montserrat: Air Studios, Rock and Roll Ruins

On-Site Montserrat: Air Studios, Rock and Roll Ruins

From the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, the view of the Soufriere Hills is spectacular. To say this volcano is smoking is an understatement. Chain-smoking is more like it. As a result, a vast area surrounding the volcano bears the scifi-worthy name, “The Exclusion Zone.” Looking over the landscape, I noticed two little white houses with roofs of brick red. It seemed like a strange spot, directly between the peaceful blue water and the smoking crater with the pipeline to Hell.

Those little white buildings are all that remain of Air Studios Montserrat. Beatles producer George Martin fell in love with Montserrat and founded Air Studios in 1979. In turn, British rock royalty fell in love with Air, and Montserrat, as well. Private jets full of artists now addressed as “Sir” went through hundreds of synthesizers and perhaps thousands of headbands while recording some of the biggest-selling hits of the 80’s here.

Air Studios was a safe haven from the social, sexual and pharmaceutical distractions of recording in Los Angeles, London or New York. Why put up with all those annoying dealers, pouty ex-mistresses and goldbricking relatives when you can fly off to Montserrat and concentrate on your music—or, like The Police and Keith Richards—dance on the mixing console and nearly de-nut a guy who asks for another take?

Naturally, Patrick and I wanted to see this piece of rock and roll history firsthand. The property had been condemned, but we were no ordinary visitors. After all, we were staying in George Martin’s house—the lovely Olveston Guest House. If he would allow us to sleep under his roof, break bread at his table, and drink dark n’ stormys on his veranda, then surely he wouldn’t mind us wandering around his old hurricane-ravaged studio.

Air Studios Dining Area - Patrick Bennett
Air Studios Dining Area – Patrick Bennett

We pulled into the small driveway and walked into the house. The first room we came upon was a large kitchen and dining area. Was this where Stewart Copeland played his drum kit on Every Breath You Take, in search of a bigger sound? Perhaps. But where was the studio? Outside, we crossed a field of high weeds to reach the pool, beside which a fateful band meeting was held, during which members of The Police almost gave up on the recording project that would become Synchronicity.

Air Studios Pool - Patrick Bennett
Air Studios Pool – Patrick Bennett

Near the pool was a long white building that was boarded up thoroughly, but not quite thoroughly enough for us. Inside was a small, dank room. Tape boxes and audio manuals littered the floor. We had found the control room, the heart of Air Studios, and once home to a Neve console. We passed into another small room, perhaps an isolation booth. (Did Sting cry “I want my MTV” in this very room?) A step up led to another room and pitch darkness. Patrick fired his flash to light the way. I saw a large room with a brick wall I remembered from this Rolling Stones video.

Air Studios Control Room - Patrick Bennett
Air Studios Control Room – Patrick Bennett

Here in Montserrat, we walked among rock and roll ruins. Synchronicity and Ghost in the Machine by The Police were made here, as was Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms. (Sting appeared on Dire Straits’ Money for Nothing, because he happened to be vacationing in Montserrat.) Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder recorded Ebony and Ivory here, while Elton John produced the hits I’m Still Standing, I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues, and Sad Songs Say So Much. Eric Clapton, Lou Reed, Rush, Little River Band, Supertramp, and Duran Duran—they all sought the muse on this beautiful island.

The pursuit of rock and roll stardom may no longer be possible here, but walking in the footsteps of some of the music world’s biggest stars can still prove inspirational. Trust me, the musical muse still lives in Montserrat. For anyone wishing to fall under her spell, or anyone who just appreciates rock and roll history, this special island is certainly worth checking out.

Editor’s Note: This is Dave’s third story for Uncommon Caribbean stemming from his November 2010 trip to Montserrat with Patrick to compete in the island’s Volcano Half Marathon. You can read his other contributions here and here. For more on their incredibly uncommon and often hilarious adventure, click here. Thanks, Dave!

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  • What a great article! I flew the Montserrat Volcano helicopter for several years (even flew George Martin there), and hovered longingly over Air Studios wishing I would get to walk through it, but it never happened.
    One of my neighbours in Antigua was an engineer at Air Studios back in the day, and I heard many great stories.
    Thanks again.

    • uncommoncarib

      Thank you, Steve!

      I’m in the process of uploading even more photos from the Air expedition to our Facebook page, so head over to facebook.com/UncommonCaribbean to check them out.

      See you in Antigua soon!

  • Yve Robinson

    At last an article about Air Studios Montserrat that is well researched and accurate. Like others who lived and worked in Montserrat and worked at the studio I usually find myself correcting the inaccuracies and not enjoying what has been written.
    I was luck enough to be part of most of the the recording sessions mentioned.
    Thank you for putting together this well written piece about “The best studio in the world”
    Kindest regards
    Yvonne Kelly
    Formerly MD of Air Studios Montserrat

    • Dave Keener

      Thanks Yve. That is great to hear. You must have some great info. I’d love to talk to you if Patrick and Steve decide to do a follow up or related story. I didn’t find much about local artists recording at AIR, but after the article, a friend of mine was telling me about a keyboard player he knew who used to play with Arrow and record in Montserrat, but I don’t know if it was at AIR. — Dave

      • Yve Robinson

        Hi Dave, Only just saw your reply – contact me via yve.robinson@btinternet:disqus .com

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  • Hi Yve. I’m trying to reach you. I’m sorry but that address is not working for me. Would you mind e-mailing me at dave.keener@yahoo.com? Thank you.

  • Jkjj1

    What was the address? I want to find it on Goole Earth. Thanks.

  • Jkjj1

    I meant Google Earth.

  • It was great to stumble upon this article as I sit hear listening to a the 20th anniversary SACD of Brothers In Arms. I have always been fascinated by Air Studios and I finally got to spend 3 days on Montserrat this summer. We rented a beautiful villa for next to nothing, had a wonderful meal at Olveston House and then topped it off (for me) with a private tour of the Exclusion Zone and a stop by Air Studios. I can’t adequately describe the palette of emotions I felt walking through that control room. Sad to see it in such a state…ecstatic to think of all the amazing talent that walked (or stumbled) through those very doors. I’ve been all over the Caribbean, but this trip was a special one for me. I hope to return some day. It’s a beautiful island with some of the most welcoming people on earth.

    Thanks for refreshinng the memory!

    Steve Cirica
    Flower Mound, TX, USA

  • So sad… 🙁

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  • Gary robilotta

    Really nice work with this read, yet sad to see the state of this once beautiful studio. I was fortunate to record some piano tracks there in 1987, Rupert was my engineer. Our family lived on Montserrat for 12 years, and still own a home. By the way, a big “Hello” to Yvonne.
    On the subject of homes. my brother Carrll and I are holding a fundraiser to help salvage our house. If you care to help: http://www.montserratsurfvilla.com will explain further. Looking forward to more photos!
    Gary Robilotta

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  • Joe Turner

    I still think this is one of the most fascinating stories of rock lore. Dying for someone to make a detailed documentary. Could be part of a doc on the many glorious studios in rock history that have since disappeared (Le Studio, Compass Pointe). We flew over the site two years ago but have not had the chance to step foot on the island. I fear that the ravages of time and weather will finally win out over the building. Such amazing history.

    • uncommoncarib

      Thanks so much Joe! We couldn’t agree more.

  • Gio

    Hello everybody; to be at Air Studios, or what remains of it, is a dream that I want to become real. Does anyone know if today, in 2015, there is still something to see of the studios? And anyone knows how I can see it on google earth?

  • Ned Gerblansky

    I’d love to know what’s on all of those reels of tape that are just left there rotting.