Two years ago, in 2015, I started what I hoped would become a regular Friday ritual during my annual business trip to London. Sadly, last year didn’t happen, but I was more than eager to get back on track again this year. The plan this time was to seek out the recording studios where Elvis Costello had recorded, or at least what remained of them. Realizing that in some cases we are talking about events some 30 years ago, I was certainly prepared for several stops to be of the “where it once was” variety.
Barely had the idea for this tour made its way to fan and friend John Foyle had he fully embraced it leading up to his researching and mapping out our journey. Delightfully, our no-frills adventure would merely bear the cost of a daily train ticket (£12.30). With maps in hand and our friend Clare along for the ride, we set out mid-day.
Our first stop was to the lovely Westminster neighborhood of Pimlico for the former site of Archipelago Studios (1A Moreton Terrace). Now nothing more than a row of residences, it was here in 1980 that Elvis without the Attractions recorded the tracks for what would become the “New Amsterdam” EP along with some demos for the Get Happy!! album.
Despite having just started with studios, we were situated for our one planned diversion of the day which would be to the site of the former Stiff Records office (32 Alexander Street). But, first we took a few moments to savor the sacred ground of the Royal Oak tube station where after dropping off his demo tape at Stiff, the young Declan MacManus stumbled upon his eventual producer, Mr. Nick Lowe.
Walking over to the office location, all these years of envisioning it in a bustling commercial district were dissolved. It sits in the middle of a narrow residential street that I don’t suspect looked all that different back in the day. I wondered what their neighbors thought of all the ruckus back then?
Riding the Overground train to Canonbury, the next location proved to be the most exciting. Now nothing more than a tiny home at the end of an alleyway next to a tire shop, there once stood the closet of a recording studio in Islington called Pathway Studios (2A Grosvenor Avenue). This is where Nick Lowe “bashed-out” the first British punk single (The Damned’s “New Rose”), his own debut solo LP (Jesus of Cool) and of course Costello’s “recorded-on-sick-days” debut, My Aim is True. EC later returned to Pathway to record some Imperial Bedroom demos, the Wendy James demos, and one last time in 1992 for a few Brutal Youth tracks.
After lunch, we made our only mis-step of the day by visiting what turned out to be the new, but not original location of Sir George Martin’s Air (“Associated Independent Recording”) Studios. Fortunately, our visit inside found an informed chap who pointed us back to their original Oxford Street location.
In the meantime, however, we took advantage of our location and visited the only still-active recording studio of our adventure, Church Studios. Located in Crouch Hill, this old historic church carries no markings of its current activities. Fittingly, this classic-looking building, often-used by producer Kevin Killen, served as the locale for Costello’s recording of The Juliet Letters with the Brodsky Quartet. He also later would cut a few tracks here again for the Brutal Youth record.
A bit weary after much walking, we concluded the day by correcting our Air Studios error by heading down to London’s busy Oxford Street where Air operated through 1991. Presumably led there by produced Geoff Emerick, who of course engineered The Beatles with Sir George, the fourth floor of this corner office building was the recording home for the masterpiece known as Imperial Bedroom. A few years later Costello would make a return visit with different producers (Langer and Winstanley) for Punch the Clock.
The excellent Elvis Costello Wiki provides exhaustive details about the locations of Costello’s recordings. And, as you will see, a few (notably Eden Studios, a bit out of the way in Acton) remain for a follow-up tour. Hopefully, we can continue this journey again next year.
Thanks to John Foyle for planning and mapping this effort and to Clare Hughes-Cross for her spirited companionship.