It’s that time of year again when it becomes impossible to avoid hearing playlists of nostalgic Christmas hits, which seem to boom from every single supermarket and shopping centre across the land.
One of the most famous festive songs of course is, ‘Do They Know it’s Christmas’; written in 1984 by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure as an urgent charity single to raise money for those suffering from the appalling famine in Ethiopia; a human disaster which was brought to light in late October of that year by Michael Buerk’s shocking and deeply upsetting BBC report, in which he candidly described “the closest thing to hell on Earth…”
‘Do They Know it’s Christmas’ was put together rapidly, and recorded less than a month later, on 25th November 1984. The recording took place in London’s Notting Hill, at Sarm West Studios:
The charity single was notable for the sheer number of 1980s pop stars who participated. Phil Collins, Paul Weller, George Michael, Boy George and the groups Duran Duran, Status Quo, Spandau Ballet and Bananarama to name but a few, all descended on the West London studio, which is located on the junction of Lancaster Road and Basing Street; a quiet backwater, yet still only a 30 second walk from the trendy Portobello Road.
The song’s famous video; a kind of short documentary showing the record being put together, was shot on location at the studio.
The studio in which the creation of ‘Do They Know it’s Christmas’ took place has a long and interesting history.
Originally built as a church, it was later deconsecrated and used as a store room and workshop for one of London’s most famous attractions; ‘Madame Tussauds.’ With many wax-figures kept here, the building must have been a pretty creepy place late at night!
The old church then began its life as a studio in 1969 and, over the years, has been known as Basing Street Studios, Island Records Studios and (at the time ‘Do They Know it’s Christmas’ was recorded), Sarm West Studios.
A huge number of artists have recorded some of the best-known pop songs at this Notting Hill hideaway, the roster boasting names such as The Rolling Stones, Genesis, The Who, Roxy Music, John Martyn, Alicia Keys, The Pet Shop Boys, Jethro Tull, Squeeze and Madonna.
George Michael’s ‘Careless Whisper’ was cut here, as was ‘Stairway to Heaven’ by Led Zeppelin and Queen’s ‘We Are the Champions.’ In 1977, Bob Marley came here, and carried out work on his celebrated album, ‘Exodus.’
Since 1980, the studio has been the property of Trevor Horn who, although a prolific and much respected music producer, is perhaps best known for being the singer in New Wave group, The Buggles.
In 1979, The Buggles released the memorable single ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ which, in August 1981, became the first song to be played on a fledgling American TV network called ‘MTV.’ The tune then featured on the group’s 1980 album, ‘The Age of Plastic’, recorded at Sarm and featuring the studio’s new owner on the cover:
Today, Sarm remains a busy recording studio popular with all manner of acts. In 2012, the premises are going to be given a comprehensive makeover, where they will be kitted out with a further two, sparkling new recording studios.
In October 2011, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a 30 minute documentary all about Sarm Studios and its influence over the years. You can listen to the programme here: