Rock history for sale: UK's first 'country studio'

Richard Branson's former mansion, the birthplace of 'Tubular Bells', is on the market.

The Manor, high altar of 1970s rock and birthplace of the legendary album Tubular Bells, has been put up for sale. The eventual buyer will snap up not only a grand 16th-century, Grade II-listed house in Oxfordshire, but also a large slice of music history.

Converted by a 21-year-old Richard Branson, the Manor was Britain's first residential recording studio. Opened for business in 1971, the Manor, at Shipton-on-Cherwell, lifted album-making out of cramped city studios and placed it in the countryside.

Among those who recorded there in the early 1970s were Sandy Denny, John Cale, Gong, Vivian Stanshall and the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, Faust and Tangerine Dream. Later came XTC, Black Sabbath, INXS, Rush, Radiohead and Cast.

But it was an unknown teenage multi-instrumentalist who fixed the Manor's place in the rock annals and helped to secure Branson's Virgin business empire. Mike Oldfield arrived at the Manor in 1972 to start work on Tubular Bells, recorded in bursts fitted in between established bands.

"There was a wonderful atmosphere," Oldfield told The Independent on Sunday yesterday. "It was new, exciting. There was nothing that professional, nothing successful, at that time. Just a great feeling that something important was starting to take root."

"Before the Manor," Branson, now Sir Richard, said yesterday, "rock musicians would go in just like classical musicians, three-hour sessions, then go home – very un-rock'n'roll! They liked to record through the night and sleep through the day."

"For me it was a kind of nirvana," Oldfield says. "I had been living in a tiny room in Tottenham. All of a sudden I found myself in wonderful countryside. Being only 19 you can imagine how exciting that was."

Though decidedly laid-back, the Manor was not immune from rock excess. "I opened the door one day to find a guy with a gun looking for Keith Richards, because he thought Keith had gone off with his wife," Branson recalls. "I had to argue with this man that neither Keith Richards nor this man's wife were at the Manor. As I was arguing with him, I saw a naked Keith Richards and this man's naked wife running across the lawn behind him."

"These days anybody with a decent PC or Mac in their bedroom can achieve professional recording results," Oldfield says. "I do miss the big tape recorders and mixing desks."

Mike Oldfield's 1970s albums Ommadawn and Hergest Ridge are re-released this week

Manor Sounds

1970s

Let's Make Up and Be Friendly, The Bonzo Dog Band (1971/1972)

Tie Your Mother Down, Queen (1976)

Set Myself on Fire, XTC (1978)

1980s

Trashed, Black Sabbath (1983)

Love Removal Machine, The Cult (1987)

Trash This Planet, Rush (1989)

1990s

Hardcore/Ballad, Teenage Fanclub (1995)

Bulletproof...I Wish I Was, Radiohead (1995)

All Change, Cast (1995)

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