I think it’s fair to say the ultimate ideal when it comes to recording would be a blend of home-comforts and top of the line sound equipment. Artists not only need a great studio, but time to be creative. In 1971, there was a studio that achieved this blend, and this set-up allowed one of the finest records in British music to be created… This is the story of Mike Oldfield at The Manor.
In the early 1970’s, Richard Branson of Virgin Records bought ‘The Manor’, which became the first live-in studio for musicians. The Manor was set in 35 acre grounds in Oxfordshire, so artists could escape city life and let their imaginations wander. Unlike other studios at the time, the artists could reside within The Manor until their album was finished, taking the pressures of time away from the musicians.
The Studio opened its doors on 3rd November 1971, and engineers began recording The Bonzo Dog Band and singer/songwriter Sandy Denny. During this time, the studio did not have planning permission for late-night recording sessions, but they often let their sessions run into the night. Apparently it was common for the police to be called to the studios for noise pollution, but eventually the police just lost interest and let them be.
Meanwhile a young Mike Oldfield was pedalling his demo tapes to music industry executives, yet being turned away. His 25 minute instrumental rock songs were considered ‘unmarketable’, regardless of his obvious creativity. The tapes he had recorded in his Tottenham flat were eventually picked up and listened to by the newly established Virgin Records, who were looking for an act to sign. Upon hearing Mike’s beautiful demos they agreed to take a chance on this young multi-instrumentalist. In 1972 he was signed and given access to the studio during down-time, to begin work on what would be Virgin Record’s first release.
Mike was just 19 when recording Tubular Bells. Having been an exceptional young guitarist, Mike had spent time as a session musician at Abbey Road, where he could experiment with several unusual and exciting instruments, including tubular bells, harpsichords and timpanis. So when it came to his own recording sessions, Mike gave Branson an extensive list of instruments he desired for his record. He would record each instrument himself and layer track upon track to create his distinctly beautiful sound.
Recording went on until spring 1973, so Mike had spent an emotional and creative year at The Manor by the time Tubular Bells was created. He had been given a rare chance from Virgin Records to eat, sleep and breathe his album, and in return he had given them a timeless composition that would fuel Virgin’s rise as the biggest independent music label in the world.
Sadly, The Manor closed its doors in 1995, but the studio’s ethos is still valid… It goes to show that creativity can really flourish in a good environment, where recording is uninterrupted and musicians can live, write and work together. Since The Manor pioneered the live-in studio there have been many other successful residential studios open in the UK.
Other albums created at The Manor include:
- Sandy – Sandy Denny
- La Folie – The Stranglers
- Hold your Fire – Rush
- Wish – The Cure
- Gold Against The Soul – Manic Street Preachers
- Wild Wood – Paul Weller
- The Bends – Radiohead