Rock and pop stars have backed a campaign to save a school which has prepared hundreds of young people for careers in the business.
The London Music School (LMS), housed in an East End warehouse, is due to close at the end of October unless it can quickly find alternative, affordable premises. The school has trained hundreds of hopefuls from Britain and abroad in skills such as guitar, vocals, bass, drums, sound engineering and music technology since it was founded in 1984 by the late Ian Dury's former girlfriend, bass player Denise Roudette.
But now its lease is running out and the freeholder, a large property company, is determined to replace the former 19th century tea warehouse with 10 luxury flats.
Stars who have rallied to the LMS's support – by writing letters opposing the development – include Oasis, Queen guitarist Brian May, musician and broadcaster Jools Holland, and, before he died in June, The Who's bass player John Entwistle. Graduates of the school include Martin Carling, now drummer with "trip-hop" band Morcheeba, Stefan Olsdal, guitarist with Goth rockers Placebo and drummer Ian Mussington of grunge band Soul Asylum. Many former LMS students have made careers as session musicians, playing with acts as diverse as Bjork, the Bee Gees and Mica Paris.
One of the school's biggest successes is completely unknown in Britain – but singer Gao Feng is a million-selling superstar in China and the Far East. Last year, half the 150 students came from 23 foreign countries including Cyprus, France, India, Israel, Italy, Korea, Latvia, Malaysia, Mexico, Sweden, Turkey and the US. Those from Britain included several from the school's deprived hinterland in East London.
The LMS is one of very few pop "academies" in the UK, the closest being the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, which was set up in 1996 with the backing of Sir Paul McCartney.
The school is upstairs from and under the same ownership as The Bass Centre and The Acoustic Centre, specialist guitar shops whose customers read like a Who's Who of rock and pop music: Sir Paul, Oasis, Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, The Who, Radiohead, Genesis, Manic Street Preachers, U2, Jamiroquai, Queen, Wet, Wet, Wet, Bryan Adams – even The Spice Girls. Bon Jovi dropped by before their London gig last week.
The Bass Centre's owner, Barry Moorhouse, started working for an orchestral hire business based in the warehouse in 1976, and opened the Bass Centre in 1984. He bought his upstairs neighbour, the LMS, formerly the Musicians Institute, when it fell into the hands of receivers in 1999. He feels "deeply let down" by the Government since a planning inspector in John Prescott's department found in favour of the developers, Macleod and Fairbriar, in July. "After all that talk about Cool Britannia, it makes you wonder what's important to these people," he said. "Twenty people may lose their jobs. Two hundred students will be let down. Hundreds of local people and local businesses objected to the planning application. So did all these these rock stars. Twenty years of pop history will be lost. Yet none of this matters; it's all been ignored so that a property company can build 10 half-a-million-pound flats."
The LMS's administrator, Diana Mole, said: "We're not trying to turn out pop stars but people with the skills to make a solid career in one of Britain's most successful industries, which was worth more than £1bn last year."
The school in Wapping High Street, is one of the few "real" businesses providing jobs for local people and supporting the local economy. Ms Mole, who lives locally, said: "We've put a lot into this area in terms of jobs, and giving opportunities to kids from Tower Hamlets, which overall is still a deprived borough. Does Wapping need another swanky block of flats occupied by rich people?" Staff blame Tower Hamlets council for not standing up for the school. The Labour borough's own development plan says that educational establishments are protected from the change of use planned for the LMS, but planners were equivocal about whether it qualified and advised the flats scheme should get the go-ahead.
Councillors turned it down, but Macleod and Fairbriar won an appeal to the Secretary of State this month. Hiring lawyers and planning consultants has all but exhausted Mr Moorhouse's resources, and closure of the school and the instrument shops now looks inevitable unless a saviour can be found.