Good vibrations

For 40 years, The Recording Studio was the venue for rock'n'roll legends. Now it's been converted into homes that are perfect for music fans, says Cheryl Markosky
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The Independent Online

If you're the sort of person who likes to practise a spot of vigorous air guitar while fantasising that you're Justin Hawkins strutting his stuff, then you might want to sound out The Recording Studio in north London. The building started life as a humble Victorian church hall in a leafy Highbury street, within earshot of the hymns ringing out from the next-door St Augustine's church, and became one of the hottest rock hangouts around when Sir George Martin, the legendary producer of The Beatles, bought it in 1965 and turned it into Wessex Studios.

If you're the sort of person who likes to practise a spot of vigorous air guitar while fantasising that you're Justin Hawkins strutting his stuff, then you might want to sound out The Recording Studio in north London. The building started life as a humble Victorian church hall in a leafy Highbury street, within earshot of the hymns ringing out from the next-door St Augustine's church, and became one of the hottest rock hangouts around when Sir George Martin, the legendary producer of The Beatles, bought it in 1965 and turned it into Wessex Studios.

Anyone who was anyone in music pitched up, from The Sex Pistols, who recorded their groundbreaking album Never Mind the Bollocks in 1977, to The Clash, who cut London Calling there two years later. The Rolling Stones, Madonna, Nick Cave, REM, Paul Weller, Robbie Williams, The Prodigy, Annie Lennox, Stevie Wonder, Genesis, Tina Turner, Jamiroquai, Chaka Khan, Prince, The Stone Roses, Simply Red, Bob Geldof, M People, Bjork, Queen and Bowie all worked and played here. Wessex was the longest-running, best-equipped and busiest recording studio in Britain after Abbey Road.

In 2003, Sir George sold the musical hotbed to the Northern Irish duo Creighton Boyd and Patrick Heffron, part of the Neptune Group, specialists in urban regeneration on the City fringes. Now the building rocks to a different beat, with the creation of nine homes on site. Prices range from £300,000 to £525,000 - fairly affordable when you are a short walk away from Islington's Upper Street - for two one-bedroom apartments, four two-bedroom apartments, two two-bedroom penthouses and a three-bedroom townhouse. Unlike the celebrity visitors, who presumably arrived in chauffeur-driven limos, residents will need to fight over only four parking spaces, each costing an extra £30,000.

There is a pleasing mix in this gated conversion, with its exposed honey-coloured brickwork, pitch pine beams, arched windows and plaster detailing from the original 1881 building, combined with cool, contemporary "must-haves" such as solid oak flooring, slate tiles and sleek Italian kitchens.

The brochure admits that The Recording Studio might not make you a rock star - "but at least you can live like one". And what self-respecting rock'n'roll wannabe could possibly eat their cornflakes without putting clips of such former visiting luminaries as Spandau Ballet and Sinead O'Connor on the drop-down plasma screens in the kitchens? "That Kylie was in my bathroom," will be the boast of many a dinner party, and if you pick up a double-height penthouse carved from the "chill room" where everyone from Marianne Faithfull to Pulp tuned out with their personal choice of recreational drug, you can try for the same effect, N1-style, by consuming copious amounts of Petit Chablis.

All the homes are fully soundproofed, which has to be good news for owners keen on taking an audio trip down memory lane by belting out the best of Elvis Costello, Madness and Duran Duran. You can only wonder, however, if there might not be a clash of cultures between those who support the hard rockers like Def Leppard, Tom Robinson and Jimi Hendrix who passed through the doors, and those who favour the more mellow tones of Joan Armatrading and Diana Ross.

Critics think it a shame that the large Gothic building has been chopped into relatively small units, but the selling agent, Carl Schmid from Currell in Islington, doesn't agree. "The apartments are actually quite roomy, with one-beds at 600 square feet and two at 800 square feet. The norm is from 500 to 750 square feet, so we believe the spaces are generous compared with many other developments." With high ceilings and large windows that admit plenty of natural light, the sense of space is enhanced even further, according to Schmid.

You could argue that you're getting good value for money; each apartment is fitted with a designer bathroom displaying porcelain floor-to-ceiling mosaic tiling, crafted Grohe taps and showers, and sculptural sanitary ware. But are you showing off just a teensy bit when you invite friends in to share your Jacuzzi, pre-wired with FM radio? Mind you, these days most of the former pop enfants terrible probably tune into Jenni Murray on Radio 4's Woman's Hour, or lose themselves in a Radio 3 symphony, dispelling yet another music biz myth.

The irony is that the ability to afford a pukka property in a chic, rock'n'roll location like this requires a certain amount of cash in the bank. Most of the residents are likely to be sharp-suited City hedge fund managers and solicitors, rather than headbangers.

Schmid points out that you "pay a bit of a premium because of the character of the place". But maybe it's worth coughing up a few grand more to be able to stride into the courtyard where your greatest jukebox hero once passed a spliff to his drummer, or lie on the sofa and absorb any leftover vibes from when the one of the Sex Pistols threw up in the piano.

For rock history was made here: Mike Oldfield clanged out his soporifically repetitive "Tubular Bells", turning the young Virgin producer Richard Branson into as great a star as Oldfield himself. The Spice Girls pranced about, Boy George subverted the whole notion of gender and Michael Ball sang songs that even your mother could understand.

Homes in The Recording Studio are for sale through Currell Islington (020-7226 4200)

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