A rock ’n’ roll pilgrimage to Montserrat


The author of this article, Gloria Galloway starts by writing about how she trespassed Sir George Martin’s famous recording facility in Montserrat, “now an abandoned ruin that was once a magnet for A-list rockers,” and about how her pilgrimage 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 her Caribbean trip. Here are excerpts (for the full article and tips on where to stay, what to visit, etc. check out the link below):

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.

[. . .] Bob, our guide, met us at the ferry dock. He had already intended to take us to the exclusion zone – that’s what tourists want to see – but we insisted that the first stop be AIR Studios.

We drove along winding hills and through dense green forest, until we came to a steep and well-maintained lane. The van’s bald tires spun up the drive.

A sign out front of the studios warns that it is private property and that the premises are unsafe: Those who enter do so at their own peril. But, perhaps because Sir George recognizes the emotional value the building holds for a generation of rock fans, it does not say “Keep Out.” So we went in.

A caked layer of mud, formed by volcanic ash, coats the broken floors once walked by Eric Clapton. Vegetation has overtaken the courtyard where Sir Paul McCartney pressed his hand into a cement tile. Sludge fills the pool where, perhaps, groupies once lounged or Sir Elton John took a dip after a long session. The electronics in the recording studios where the Police danced in the video for Every Little Thing She Does is Magic are gone, except for a few stray wires.

But one can still envision Mick and Keith checking their bags into the now grey and empty bedrooms. Or Boy George and the Culture Club partying in adjacent rooms. And, even though McCartney’s tile has been removed from the garden, prints of the Climax Blues Band and the band America remain.

[. . .] The north part of the island was largely spared the devastation and today, with the financial help of Sir George, the habitable region is undergoing a renaissance. Volcano-related tourism provides jobs for many residents. There are now places to stay – mainly villas and guest houses where tourists who want nothing more than to spend a few days or weeks in a warm and beautiful paradise will find some bargains, along with a burgeoning restaurant business. You can spend days exploring hiking trails and beautiful beaches.

But for me, nothing compares with AIR Studios – where Duran Duran recorded The Reflex, Dire Straits laid down Money For Nothing, Mike and the Mechanics captured All I Need is a Miracle and the Stones immortalized Mixed Emotions.

It’s easy to find good tanning spots in the Caribbean. But where else can you worship at the remnants of a rock ’n’ roll shrine?

For full article, see http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/travel/destinations/a-rock-n-roll-pilgrimage-to-montserrat/article22745580/

Photo of Sir George Martin from http://www.airstudios.com/about-us/history/sir-george-martin/

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