The famous Sarm facility in west London’s Basing Street will close its doors in the next few weeks as plans to redevelop the studios get under way.
First announced in May 2011, Sarm studios – where everyone from Frankie Goes to Hollywood to Madonna, ABC to Rihanna, Seal to Robbie Williams have recorded - will be converted into a number of apartments, while two new studios are planned for the basement.
In the interim, Sarm owner, legendary producer Trevor Horn, will move his operations – including parent company SPZ, labels ZTT and Stiff Records and indie publisher Perfect Songs – off-site.
Before the shutdown, though, there was the small matter of the ‘yard sale’ at the studio: organised by Horn’s son Aaron (pictured, right, with Trevor), Sarm raised £6,500 (€7,500) for an orphanage charity of which Horn senior is co-director.
“There were old cassette players, old amplifiers, headphones, volume pedals… Monitors from 30 years ago… obviously we kept all the good ones!” relates Horn drily, three days after the sale. Most of the kit played significant roles in the recording of countless ZTT hits (“Ooh, yeah, loads of it, over 30 years…”), though a meter bridge, used for mixing Frankie Goes To Hollywood, is the only item he singles out when pressed.
According to PSNEurope’s May 2011 story, the refurbishment was due to begin in 2012. What was the hold-up?
“Well there wasn’t really a hold up… it was just, you know, there’s one thing making your mind up to do something, but it’s a big thing actually closing the studio, to get our heads into it. That was the delay, that and sorting out a lot of loose ends business-wise,” says Horn.
“Once it’s gone, it’ll be gone for a long time.”
Until 2016 in fact, when the redeveloped property will be unveiled as nine apartments and two basement studios. In the meantime, Horn’s business operations – SPZ, ZTT and the rest – will move to the old Virgin Music premises near Ladbroke Grove, which SPZ already owns.
Several of the serviced offices there have been converted to around 10 programming rooms, with long-time Sarm associate John Flynn working alongside Horn’s daughter Ally and son Aaron on the specifications. (Flynn and acoustician Sam Toyoshima built the original Sarm Studios 1 and 3.)
Amadeus Acoustic Solutions’ panels and pre-fabricated ‘pods’ have been part of this build. The rooms (seven as white-room, long-term lets; three as daily lets, supplied with “whatever people need – we have such a vast collection of stuff”) will come online over the next two months, says Horn.
The producer of has also set up a base at his Music Bank. “I’ve moved basically Studio 1 to the green room [there]” he says. “I’ve set up my band and I’ve got a Digidesign VENUE board… because I do love playing live… It’s a very big room, and although it’s not really a studio I think in the short term I might be able to get by using it like that, for certain things.”
Music Bank is known as more of a rehearsal space, of course. But Horn insists: “I’m not trying to make it into a new Sarm. It’s mainly for me personally… that’s where I have all of my equipment, and I’ve got a couple of gigs coming up so I’ll be spending time rehearsing.”
Furthermore, the producer has also rented premises on an industrial park in the shadow of the Westway near Latimer Road, but has no firm plans for that at the time of writing.
Sarm South Coast is another project. This, reveals Horn, is a studio in the grounds of his go-to engineer, Tim Weidner, in Lymington in the New Forest. “It’s really nice, an extensive single-storey building, and we’ve already done a lot of work there.”
With Horn’s Toyoshima-designed basement studio at his Chalk Farm home, and plans to convert a large garage block attached to a house he’s bought in Islington, he’s not short of places to work. Sarm West Coast, a studio in Los Angeles, remains unchanged by the UK plans.
Looking to 2016 then, what of the Sarm West Studios reborn? Beneath the proposed nine apartments will be a facility “somewhere between the sizes of Sarm studio 1 and 2, with the best qualities of both… hopefully”.
A three-storey office is due to be constructed at the end of the Basing Street site, with the second studio beneath – though Horn wouldn’t commit to a design. “This is two-and-a-half years’ time so we’ll see how the demand for studios goes, you know? Before we decide what we do with the rest of it.”
“We know we’re going to have one really good classic analogue studio in in the new building.”
Does Horn have a particular desk in mind for that?
“Um, yes… something old and exotic, because that’s the only point of having one these days really. Maybe I’ll persuade Manley Labs to build a board, who knows? I’m a big fan.”
EveAnna Manley, if you’re reading: now you've stopped making kit for Massenburg...