2019 saw the 40th Anniversary of the studios. Mill Hill Music Complex first opened to customers in 1979. We started on St Valentine’s day with an opening party, inviting local musicians and friends. At the time the equipment was a hotch potch of begged and borrowed gear and the studio was housed in the long sinced derelict caretaker’s cottage, with boarded up windows and plaster falling off the walls. Since then it has grown to be one of London’s premier facilities for musicians. Ever wondered what the story was?
Well this is the story so far….
The studio started primarily as a base for Mill Hill Punk band, The False Dots. Our first paying customers were British rockabilly icons, The Polecats and our second was Alan Warner, legendary guitarist from The Foundations. Alan Warner ran a local recording studio and used our facilities as his live room for recording drums, bringing a mobile recording system down. Around this time the legendary STN studios also opened up in Bunns Lane Works in what is now studio 2.
In 1985, STN Studios moved on and Mill Hill Music Complex moved into studio 2. At the time, we had the imaginative name of Unit 25 studio. The studio was the centre for the Mill Hill underground music scene. All manner of well known musicians would drop by, including Mark Laff, drummer of Generation X, and Osibisa. Dozens of local bands would use the studio as a base. By the end of the decade, the studio was constantly booked and needed more space.
Ambitious plans were drawn up to build a brand new studio , purpose built for recording and rehearsal. In March 1991, Studio 1 opened its doors. By now the studio had built up an impressive selection of equipment, including Ludwig Drum Kits, Trace Elliott bass amplification and Peavey Guitar amps. In 1994, studio founder Roger Tichborne bought out his former partners Dermot Fanning, Paul Hircombe and Mark Usher and invited a new partner to join. Together with Ernie Ferebee, the studio went from two rooms to twelve. In 1997, a shop was added. After much discussion, the shop was named “Mill Hill Music Mart Ltd”. The studios also started operating as a professional recording studio. Early customers included iconic label Factory Records. At this time our chief engineer Fil Ross joined the team.
The studio built up an impressive array of clients. Through Alan Warner, The Foundations had become regular customers, along with The Damned, all manner of well known drummers such as Frank Tonto also used the studios for private practice. Around this time we also saw David Soul using the studio. Local well known musicians such as Huw Lloyd Langton of Hawkwind and Boz Boorer who plays with Morrissey also used the studios as a base for rehearsal, pre production and recording.
Tragedy struck. Ernie Ferebee developed pancreatic cancer and passed away in February 2001. Current Studio manager Darren O’Reilly joined the organisation to help out whilst Ernie was ill and has stayed ever since.
The ever increasing list of customers grew throughout the decade with Brit Awards winners Amy Winehouse and Kate Nash becoming regulars. The South (formed after the demise of the Beautiful South) also started rehearsing regularly. Universal Records used the studio to help launch the career of Sonna Rele. Modestep have been regular customers at the studio, rehearsing for world tours and even filming videos. Other clients around this time included 1970’s chart topper Chris Spedding and Deep Purple keyboard player Don Airey. In 2008 we saw Chicane rehearsing for their Top of the Pops show with Tom Jones.
The Teenies (2010-2019)
In 2012, the studios saw the fruition of a major redevelopment. Six new studios were added, as well as a modern toilet block and 50’s diner styled reception area. This has drawn admiring comments from many customers including Captain Sensible of the Damned on his Twitter feed. We’ve seen some great bands come through recently and make their name.
The run of great artists old and new has continued. We’ve seen established bands such as The Damned, The Lee Thompson Ska Orchestra, The Polecats and The Foundations using the studios. Other great bands to come through, notably London Grammar and Modestep. We also had a lot of fun when Kingsland made the finals of X Factor and were rehearsing at the Studios. We continue to see great up and coming bands passing through the studios, such as Inglorious, who have really broken through on the rock circuit over the last year.
Perhaps the most exciting of all developments in the teenies years has been the addition of the amazing vocal coach and mentor Joshua Alamu. Josh has brought some amazing superstars such as Rita Ora to the studio to help keep her at the top.
The Roaring Twenties (2020-Now…)
As the new decade dawned, like many, we were riding on a tide of optimism. We had ambitious plans to expand our business. Planning permission was received and we were about to break ground on a new building project, to replace studios 6 and 7 with a new, purpose built modern building. And then Covid struck. In March 2020, our doors closed and didn’t open again until June. When we reopened, it was for solo practice until July. We had to make changes to room ventilation. Having received grants, we were able to fit improved ventilation and also do some much needed renovation of studio 7 (as this was no longer being demolished). Reopening the doors to solo musicians, we were overwhelmed with the thanks from artists, some of whom had been cooped up in flats with no contact with anyone. Although it made no economic sense to open up (sitting in reception and taking £95 worth of bookings in a week isn’t really great business), it was massively appreciated by our customers and we are glad we made the effort. Having opened up and started to some sort of return to normal bookings, the second and third wave hit. The government changed the rules and we could remain open for professional musicians as a workplace. As many studios in London were not able to remain open due to problems with ventilation etc, we saw a big influx of new customers. We’ve seen some great artists including, Leee John, Rak-Su, Romina Johnson and General Levy.
Ohh we Refix 🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/Uw4xyd5IAC
— General levy (@Generallevy) March 26, 2021
In truth, it doesn’t feel like the decade has really got going. No big festivals and few gigs. But we do think things are on the up!
The studios have also become a stop off point for bands arriving for UK tours from the USA, including Eddie Floyd, The Black Kids and The Dickies.
The studio has been used by many well known artists for pre productions as well as recordings. Much of the pre production for Morrissey’s album “You are the Quarry” was done at Mill Hill Music Complex. Peter Gabriel’s world music label also used the studio to record demos. John Lawton of Uriah Heep recorded a solo album (Sting in the Tale) as did Huw Lloyd Langton of Hawkwind (Chain Reaction).
In 2009, we recorded one of the most listened to pieces of music on the planet. Legendary African Artist Mose Fan Fan recorded “Africa Moto” at the studio and this was used as an anthem for the 2010 FIFA World Cup
Friends of Mill Hill Music Complex
Since Mill Hill Music Complex first opened, we’ve been active in our local community. We have organised and helped out all manner of fundraising gigs for charities and organisations such as Friends of The Earth, MacMillan Cancer relief, Cherry Lodge Cancer Care. North London Hospice, Colindale Foodbank, Mencap Mixed Ability Rugby scheme, Mill Hill Music Festival and The North London Hospice. We’ve also helped out many local campaigns that have fought for good facilities locally, such as the campaign to save Edgware General Hospital and Friern Barnet Library. We believe that a good business should be at the heart of its community.
We are inclusive and are proud to have community groups, such as Community Focus, Your Choice Barnet Deaf Drumming Collective and charities such as Art It Up to the studios for all manner of activities.
We believe that young people are the future and have invested time and money supporting them. In 2011, we also saw the Sound Skool Youth music project launched at the site, supported by Mill Hill Music Complex. Well known DJ Mighty Moe gave up his time to become a tutor on the project, which helped over 50 young people develop their musical talents. We work with NCS The Challenge to mentor young people and give studio tours and Q&A sessions to young people on the scheme.
The studio sees an average of 2000 musicians (as well as photographers, video makers, dancers and fitness customers pass through our doors). These are of all levels and all genres of music. Everyone is welcome.
At Mill Hill Music Complex, whoever you are and whatever music you want to make, you are in good company. In September 2019, Mill Hill Music Complex announced a strategic partnership with Ultimate Artists, to add artist development to the range of service provided in Mill Hill. We are also working on plans for a new studio block, following the success of the block we opened in 2012.
That’s for you to write. They say every great song starts as an idea, unless you get out there and play it, that’s all it will ever be, so what are you waiting for !
Thank you for your support.