Wednesday, October 4, 2017

AIR Montserrat

Nearly 50 years ago, George Martin (along with John Burgess) left EMI to form his own studio known as AIR or Associated Independent Recording. AIR's first studio opened in 1970 on Oxford Street in Central London. Among the incredible recordings made at AIR, was Emerson, Lake and Palmer's incredible Brain Salad Surgery (1973); a record at the very pinnacle of prog, indeed the seminally definitive progressive rock recording. Other recordings in London include Roxy Music's 1973 debut, Kate Bush’s The Kick Inside, with David Gilmour as Executive Producer, portions of Band on the Run, and The Jam’s The Gift.

In 1977, Martin fell in love with the Caribbean Island of Montserrat, and in 1979, AIR Montserrat become the ultimate out of the way recording facility. For more than a decade, the island paradise was host to the most famous names in rock, from Elton John to Duran Duran, The Rolling Stones and Lou Reed. Albums recorded on the island include Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms, two LPs from The Police (Synchronicity and Ghost in the Machine), and Sting's Nothing Like the Sun, as well as Elton John's "I'm Still Standing" and "I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues." In all, 76 LPs were recorded on Montserrat. In the music video for "Every Little Thing She does is Magic," Sting dances across the soundboard in the editing room at AIR. During the recording of The Rolling Stones 1989 album "Steel Wheels," after taking up residence with the band at AIR, Keith Richards said, "If you've got everybody on a little island with nowhere to go, and you're actually living almost in the studio, then…you get a lot more done, quicker." Their comeback LP would be one of the last to be recorded at AIR in Montserrat. 

Battered by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, 90% of its structures damaged or destroyed, the island’s recovery would be halted when in 1995, Montserrat became a Caribbean Pompeii as the Soufrière Hills volcano, of Jimmy Buffet fame, erupted. The capital was buried in more than 36 feet of mud while the rest of the island was mostly wiped out except for a small unaffected area on the northern tip.

Under a thin layer of earth, Montserrat is still burning underneath. Only a few thousand residents remain, rebuilding life on the northern tip, forbidden to visit their former homes in the restricted southern exclusion zone. Located right on the border of this exclusion zone, partially covered with ash and hardened mud, engulfed in tropical overgrowth, is the ruins of AIR.

Today the building which once housed AIR is a mere shell of its former self, though for many Montserratians, it remains a symbol for what their nation used to be. "I didn’t realize how important these people were until I was older," said Montserratian Veta Wade, whose parents sent her to the United Kingdom when the volcano began erupting. "I mean, I went to primary school with Eric Clapton’s daughter."

[It’s through such stories that maybe we better understand the frailty of human accomplishment, but the incredible perseverance of our hearts. With this in mind, our hearts go out to the people of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean islands in their most recent struggles with nature.]