ROCK: Spanner in the Works: Air-conditioning, a sentry box, all mod cons . . . Gussie Clark's shiny new studio is not in the finest Kingston traditions

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The Independent Culture
KINGSTON recording studios, even the legendary ones, tend to be on the rough and ready side. Many of them start up in bungalow living rooms and retain, even at peak success, features like hair-dressing salons on the ground floor. Gussie Clark's two-room place, Music Works, whose pioneering techno-reggae digital sound dominated the late Eighties, is approached up a flight of steps in a yard off bustling mid-town Slipe Street. The fresh paintwork and the sign reading 'Do Not Put Your Feet On The Wall' give a hint of the boss's unusual fastidiousness.

Music Works II, though, which opened for business at the end of last year, is a different kind of institution altogether, a big cream neo-colonial villa, away from the centre of town with tall gates and a sentry-box where a guard phones in to check your appointment. 'You get somebody like Gregory Isaacs or Freddie McGregor coming here to work in the dub studio, they don't want 22 or 42 people hassling them every time they step out of the door,' explains the proprietor from his pristine, chilled office, where he sits behind a spanking new dark wood desk - imported from the States because he got fed up waiting for his original Jamaican order to materialise.

The new Music Works is the result of two years' work and an as yet unfinalised budget - dollars 12 million is the insurance valuation. With it Gussie Clark has vaulted, technologically, far over the heads of the competition - Donovan Germain's Penthouse Studio, King Jammy, Bobby Digital - whose hit-creations have stolen Music Works' lead in the Nineties.

Everything in the new complex is exactly as Clark wanted it, from the new building itself, copied from an oil company office nearby that Clark liked, to the dollars 100,000 MUSART mixing console, 'superior to anything in the country, but not too sophisticated, because people have to be able to pay the rates . . .' In it, Clark intends to refine even further the carefully planned professionalism which has brought his operation the reputation of a Jamaican Motown. 'I'll be able to put an artiste in the audition room to work out a new song idea . . . they'll come back later and there'll be sheet music ready, arrangements done . . .'

Clark's meticulous and successful approach, marshalling teams of song-writers, assigning suitable artistes to promising songs, deepening the polish on the new digital sound, resulted from 15 years' diligent, unshowy work in Kingston's reggae studios. Two years after the 1988 breakthrough of Gregory Isaacs' smash hit 'Rumours', Clark's company, Anchor Music, was deriving 90 per cent of its income from overseas licensing deals, with the stocky, powerful founder proving as precise and determined contractually as artistically. 'You get a lot of big international companies thinking they can get Jamaican music cheap, or they'd try and do a deal with an artiste I'd recorded first before they got big. But I've always got a signed contract for every record I make and I don't sell for less than the product's worth. I don't negotiate, either - I let lawyers do that.'

The new studio cost Clark two years of work but his reasoning on this is typically methodical. 'Before I had the capacity to make maybe three big hits a year, so say I lose six over the two years. With this new studio I can make ten a year, so I figure I'll soon catch up.'

The first full album recorded in Music Works II, Freddie McGregor's polished soul / reggae fusion, Hard to Get, is a substantial success a month after its release (it sits at No 5 in this week's Echoes reggae chart). One can assume the Berry Gordy of Slipe Street is not short of a follow-up idea or two.