Revisiting the Remains of AIR Studios in Montserrat

At one point, AIR Studios on the Caribbean island of Monserrat was the place to record your album. Owned by George Martin–yes, the Beatles’ producer–it was the birthplace of albums by the Police (both Ghosts in the Machine and Synchronicity), Dire Straights (Brothers in Arms) and Duran Duran (Rio). Pink Floyd, Rush, Black Sabbath, the Rolling Stones, Supertramp, Paul McCartney and many others used the place.

But then along came Hurricane Huge in 1989 and destroyed the place. It’s been in ruins ever since. The Soufriere Hills volcano eruption of 1995-99 didn’t help, either.

Earlier this week, the Globe and Mail ran this feature on the place–or what’s left of it.

I don’t know whether Sir George Martin would be dismayed, or quietly pleased, to learn that I trespassed at his famous recording facility in Montserrat, now an abandoned ruin that was once a magnet for A-list rockers.

I do know that the pilgrimage my family and I made to AIR Studios – a temple of rock music where the legendary Beatles’ producer enticed deities of the genre to record some of the world’s best-selling albums – was the highlight of our annual trip to the West Indies.

Montserrat has not had an easy time. A British territory that was once a playground for the rich, the 16-kilometre-long island was devastated by Category 4 winds in 1989 when Hurricane Hugo stormed through. It took another blast in 1995 when the Soufrière Hills volcano erupted, killing 19 people.

The airport and the capital city of Plymouth were buried under metres of ash, mud and rock – and the fate was sealed for AIR (Associated Independent Recording) Studios. It operated for just a decade before hurricane winds, water and humidity reduced the then state-of-art facility to scrap. Never again would it be the favourite recording getaway for legends such as the Rolling Stones, the Police, Rush, Lou Reed, Elton John, Black Sabbath and, well, you get the picture.

Folks could be forgiven for thinking that Montserrat remains a dead zone. The volcano is still active.

Two-thirds of the island, encompassing the hill on which AIR Studios was built, is an “exclusion zone” that has been deemed uninhabitable and “not safe for travel.”

Except that it is travelled. I travelled it – along with my husband, my mother-in-law, my sister and my brother-in-law.

Continue reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

3 thoughts on “Revisiting the Remains of AIR Studios in Montserrat

  • February 5, 2015 at 4:18 pm
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    Dire “Straights”? Hurricane “Huge”?

    Reply
  • February 6, 2015 at 9:14 am
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    Where are the pictures, damn it! 🙂

    Reply
  • March 10, 2016 at 3:28 pm
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    We paid a visit to Montserrat and in particular the exclusion zone late last year and loved it.next time we hope to take a much closer ( guided ,obviously ) tour and stay on the island itself .previously we stayed on Antigua in order to be close to Montserrat finding it difficult to get accommodation on the Emerald Isle .so sad about air studio and sir George Martin.prople and places like that can and will never be forgotten.

    Reply

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