Under the volcano: How a rock music legend was turned to dust

It was renowned by musicians world-wide as the Air Studio, named because its soundproof recording room was built on ball-bearings to "float" during tremors from the nearby volcano. Belonging to the former Beatles' record producer, George Martin, it was a Caribbean paradise hideaway that churned out classics from the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, the Police, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Dire Straits, Stevie Wonder et al.

Sting and the Police recorded Every Breath You Take here, and filmed the video in a local Anglican church. McCartney and Stevie Wonder turned out Ebony and Ivory here. Local soca-calypso star Arrow cut most of his world-wide hit Hot, Hot, Hot. In the most prophetic song of all, Jimmy Buffett laid down his famous Volcano song: "I don't know where I'm gonna go when the volcano blow."

Now, the recording studio lies abandoned and ash-covered in the shadow of Montserrat's volcano. Inside the "forbidden zone," evacuated and out of bounds, it is threatened with fire or burial under ash, rocks and mud if there is another major eruption. One church used in the Police video has been destroyed. Another is now crammed with refugees who fled the evacuated and devastated capital, Plymouth.

To give something back to the Caribbean island that helped sell their records, the pop ghosts who still haunt the abandoned studio, including Clapton, Sting and McCartney, will perform at a benefit concert for Montserrat on 15 September in the Royal Albert Hall.

Local hero Arrow, real name Alphonsus Cassell and undisputed world king of soca, the Afro-Caribbean-Latin beat, will set the tone at the concert with Hot, Hot, Hot and his volcano song, Ah Just Can't Run Away. "As long as breadfruit and mango down here, I'll be holdin' on," it says. "As long as I can leave me door wide open, I'll be holdin' on. What is to be will be. I will never leave my country."

More than half the island's 11,000 residents have left their country, to Britain or nearby islands, or else simply moved north, to refugee shelters in tents or churches.

The white stone Air Studio building, originally a storage warehouse for the island's waterworks on an old slave cotton plantation known as Hollander's, is perched above the Belham River valley outside Plymouth. Scientists fear the next avalanche of red hot rock, ash and gas from the Soufriere volcano could come down the valley and swamp Hollander's, the studio and the entire low-lying river valley beneath the township of Salem.

The studio, where Sting played pool between cuts and where Ringo Starr slept rather than return to his villa, had been little used since 1989, when parts of its roof were torn off by Hurricane Hugo. Much of its equipment has been sold off to Japan and the outside swimming pool used by the stars is now full of ash. But, perched alone on a lush hillside above George Martin's mansion, Olveston House, it has remained a symbol of Montserrat's musical glory years.

"I found out when I did vocals there, they came out better," said Arrow, who runs a clothing store between recording sessions and has moved his business from Plymouth to the higher ground of Salem. "Maybe it was because I was home, but others told me the same."

Montserratians are not ones to complain, though a few had asked foreign reporters why an array of world pop stars had so far done nothing for the island. But, with no newspapers arriving from abroad, no one in Montserrat had even heard yesterday of the Royal Albert Hall concert, and no one seemed to really care. If anything, the sentiment was that money from the concert was unlikely to get beyond the British or local officials who run the island, one of a dozen so remaining British colonies.

But the stars will doubtless remember the locals who looked after them here. There was Mickie, the studio barman, X, the maintenance man and driver, and Tappy, the studio chef. And, of course, Andy Lawrence, owner of Andy's Village Place, a nearby restaurant and bar.

"Elton [John] proposed to his wife at Andy's. She was a sound engineer at the studio," said X, who still works for (now Sir) George Martin. Like everyone here, no one knows Lloyd Francis, 50, as anything other than his nickname, X, not unconnected with his respect for Malcolm X.

"Yes, Renate worked on the sound for my Hot, Hot, Hot. And I hear she got a few million out of the settlement with Elton," added Arrow as we chatted in his shop in Salem. "The studio had the best chef on the island, George "Tappy" Morgan. George [Martin] hired him from the Vue Pointe [the island's best hotel, now also evacuated] just to keep the stars well fed and happy."

"They all dined here: Sting, Elton, Dire Straits, Simply Red," said Andy Lawrence. "They loved our chicken. We're the Kentucky of Montserrat. We miss them a lot. They're nice people. If you mention my name, they'll say 'yes, I know him, I know Andy.'"

"Mick, who came here with Jerry Hall, once told me what he loved about this place was that he could walk down the street and not be mobbed," said X, wearing a black Keith Richards t-shirt the Stones' guitarist had given to him. "Paul [McCartney] came with a dozen security guys not long after John Lennon was killed but sent them home after the first day. He'd pass through Salem with his wife and people would just say `Hi' and walk on. When Ringo came to visit Paul, he seemed to have a woman bodyguard," added X without a hint of a smile.

"Paul was popular but Stevie [Wonder] was a blind guy, and black like us. People loved him. He used to play gigs at The Anchorage club, in Wapping, just south of Plymouth. "The club's probably gone now. Looks as though it was in the volcano's path.

"It's one of my dreams to see the studio reopen," said X, who looks after Sir George Martin's homebelow the studio. "The volcano kills our hopes at the moment. But once the volcano stops, maybe my dream come true."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?