AIR Studio Ruins – Montserrat - Atlas Obscura

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AIR Studio Ruins

George Martin's Caribbean recording studio now rots within the shadow of an active volcano. 


The ruins of Beatles producer George Martin’s Montserrat recording studio now crumble within the shadow of a volatile active volcano that’s been wreaking havoc on the island since the 1990s.

Dried mud and ash cake the buildings, and murky rainwater fills the outdoor swimming pool. Wasp nests plug various nooks and hang from the ceiling as tangles of vegetation climb the walls. Forgotten bits of the recording equipment that used to produce so many albums rot inside.

You can’t tell by looking at it now, but the grimy complex was once a hot spot for the musical greats of the 1980s. George Martin, the famous English record producer and musician who was sometimes called the “fifth Beatle,” opened AIR Montserrat on the Caribbean island in 1979. It was a branch of Associated Independent Recording (AIR), the recording company he co-founded.

Martin’s island oasis studio was soon one of the most prolific recording studios of its era, cranking out a total of 76 albums. Musical legends like the Rolling Stones, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Jimmy Buffett, Paul McCartney, and Michael Jackson recorded within its state-of-the-art walls. Musicians spent days or weeks creating their records at what was then a small sliver of Caribbean paradise.

But only a decade after the celebrated studio opened, its life soon came to an abrupt end. When Hurricane Hugo swept across Montserrat in 1989, the storm devastated much of the island and forced the studio to shutter. Then, only six years later, the Soufrière Hills volcano erupted, bombarding the land with lava flows and thick layers of ash. (Jimmy Buffett’s album Volcano, which he recorded in the studio, was named for the then-dormant volcano.) The ongoing volcanic eruptions have made nearly half of the island uninhabitable.

The decaying ruins of the studio stand near the fringe of the exclusion zone. Now too fragile to safely walk within, the studio bears little, if any at all, resemblance to its original grandeur. 

Know Before You Go

AIR Studio is fenced-off and aggressively marked with no-trespassing signs. But thankfully, there are many alternatives to experiencing the impressive recording history of the island including 1) viewing the studio from afar from the nearby volcano observatory, 2) visiting the Hilltop Coffee House, a non-profit owned by long-time Montserrat residents that include informative displays on AIR Studio, or 3) visiting Olveston House, the former home of George Martin that's now a hotel and restaurant that includes Beatles photographs.

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June 6, 2018

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