I got the Blues – Strange Tales from Mill Hill Music Complex

Over the years, we’ve had some rather strange tales and amusing incidents at the studios. We thought we’d share a few of these with you.

1. Ghosts. We had a customer who booked a a string of 12 Monday afternoons in the studio. He was writing an album and his plan was to record one song a week for 12 weeks with his acoustic guitar. On about week seven, our then engineer Caroline got a frantic phonecall from a member of the customers family. They were in a highly emotional state and simply said “******* can’t make the session today, he’s shot himself in the head” and put the phone down. As Caroline had built up a good working relationship with the customer, she was absolutely devastated. No one spoke about what happened, we didn’t really know what to say other than to give her a bit of support in dealing with what was a horrible shock.

The following Monday, bang on time the customer turned up, smiling and cheerful, as though nothing had happened. Caroline was flabbergasted. She said “We were told you’d shot yourself in the head, we thought you were dead!” He replied “I missed but my girlfriend thought I’d better see the doctor and get my medication changed”.

2. Badly behaved teenagers. Our studios share an industrial estate with a number of other businesses. On occasions we get bands with teenagers, who decide that they are more interested in having a party than a band rehearsal. On one such occasion, a teenager brought a bottle of vodka down to the rehearsal and drank the lot. Sadly it had a bit of an unfortunate effect on the digestive system of the young man in question and he went outside and threw up all over the entrance and door of the business next door which is a welder. The other band mates, not wishing to face the repercussions of the incident fessed up and said that the young man in question had thrown up everywhere. We gave them a bucket, mop and kitchen towel and told them to go and clean it up. Like many teenagers, their attempts to clean up left a lot to be desired.

In the morning the owner of the welding business stormed into the studio reception and announced “One of your dirty bastard customers has thrown up all over my door, I demand you come and clean it up immediately” (or words to that effect) – which would have been a fair enough response until the guy on reception informed him “It was your nephew who did it. He said that if there was a problem, phone him in the morning”. At this the welder stormed off. The young man (looking rather green around the gills) duly turned up and spent the morning clearing up.

3. What sort of establishment is this? Back when we first opened our original shop in 1998 we took a booking from an Israeli rock band. At the time all of our studios were lock up units located up and down the yard, with our shop/reception near the yard entrance. The band turned up for their session and walked into reception. They were not impressed with the industrial ambience of the studios. One announced “the studio we use in Israel is purpose built”. We then asked them to follow us to the room, the band looked around perplexed “Where are the porters to carry our instruments”. We looked at each other and laughed “erm, London rehearsal rooms don’t really have porters”. When they got to the room, we showed them the PA and asked if they wanted us to help them get a sound or whether they could get the sound themselves. They replied “The studios we use have engineers to get us a sound and they stay with us for the session”. We informed them that we were happy to help them get a sound, but the price of the room doesn’t include an engineer for three hours. They were highly indignant. After an hour, one of them arrived back at the shop rather perplexed. “We couldn’t find the intercom to order the drinks!”. We replied “We don’t have an intercom, you walk down here and get them”. At the end of the session, the band paid and then informed us that the studio was the worst run, most disgusting place they had ever visited and they wouldn’t be back. My then business partner, Ernie asked if they had visited any other London rehearsal studios. They replied “No”.

We thought no more of it. You can’t please everyone all of the time. About six weeks later, one of the band turned up. He had a box of chocolates and a bottle of scotch. He asked to see Ernie. He explained that they had been to five other rehearsal rooms. They had been ejected from two of them and didn’t like the other three. They had decided that we were the best of the bunch and they had made a terrible mistake in being so dismissive. They asked if we’d allow them to rehearse again. As we hadn’t actually banned them and had realised that they just weren’t used to the way the London studios operated, we’d found it quite amusing. over the years we got to know the band quite well. It turned out that one of the band’s Dad was a rich and successful Israeli involved in the music industry and he ran a top end recording studio, which the boys were allowed to use at weekends. The staff had pulled out all of the stops to keep them happy. They had decided to relocate to London and try and crack the UK music scene. On one occasion, the Dad turned up to watch them rehearse. Ernie told him the story of the first rehearsal and he thought it was hilarious. He told us that he’d charge the band the equivalent of £5 to rehearse, just so they appreciated it, so they thought this was the going rate for such an establishment.

4. Who’s that girl. The music business can at times be a little bit sexist. Our first full time recording engineer, Caroline had to deal with all manner of comments and dismissive remarks. Bands would turn up for a recording and ask her where the engineer was. Other questions were levelled which would never have been asked if she’d simply been a bloke, such as “are you properly qualified”. There was an upside as well. We found that there were plenty of musicians who preferred a female engineer. Wheras most engineers at the end of long projects get a few cans of lager, Caroline would get a far better quality of gift. One of the things you learn in a small studio is that you have to do everything. If a cable breaks, you fix it. If a piece of a equipment isn’t working you sort it out. If a customer is a having a problem, you talk to them and resolve it. There are some problems all of the training in the world can’t prepare you for. One customer who she simply couldn’t deal with announced to her after a take that he “needed to take a dump” and would be back in a minute. As the toilets were then at the other end of the yard, she knew she had time to make a cup of coffee. She’d hardly put the kettle on when the customer reappeared. As he clearly hadn’t sprinted there and back, she said “changed your mind?” He replied “No, I couldn’t be bothered walking all the way down there”. Outside the studio in the middle of the yard was a big steaming turd. Now this was the middle of the day and the yard is a busy place. Whilst Caroline mulled on what to do, realising a University education hadn’t prepared her for this dilemma, Ernie the studio manager turned up. One of the other tenants had complained. He confronted the customer and asked him why he had done it there. Did he have an upset stomach. The customer replied dismissively “No, I couldn’t be bothered to walk down to the other end of the yard”. At which Ernie ejected him from the studio.

5. The worlds most incompetent thief. I was once about to lock up a studio when I noticed a customer putting one of our microphones into his pocket. He had rather brazenly done it, so I initially assumed he’d brought his own mic and was taking it away. I scoured the room for our mic to put away. Not being able to see it, I asked “Did you see where the mic that was on that stand went?”. He replied “There wasn’t one when we came in”. As I’d checked the room before they entered, I knew he was lying. I said “You just put a mic in your pocket. If you don’t return it, I’m going to call the police”. He denied it. I took out my mobile phone and said “Give it back or I will phone them”. At this, he took the mic out of his pocket and threw it onto the sofa in the room. As I made my way to the sofa to check it, he ran past me and out of the door. By the time I’d checked the mic, he’d gone. I then looked over and he’d left his guitar and a bag full of effects pedals. I was furious. I immediately removed them from the studio. I fully expected the customer to come back at some point. My plan was to tell him just how uncool his behaviour had been. As it was he never came back and after two years, I sold the items on Ebay and donated the cash to MacMillan Cancer relief.

6. The worst excuse for a cancellation. Like most studios we apply a cancellation policy. If a band cancels a session less than 72 hours before the scheduled start time, we charge the full rate for the session, unless the session is rebooked. More than 72 hours and we charge nothing. If we  relet the session we waive the charge. The reason for this is twofold. We have to plan to have enough staff on site to run the studios and if we don’t have sufficient time to rebook the room, it costs us. We are not cruel and heartless and will be sympathetic to genuine reasons. We keep a note of cancellations, which tend to allow us to ascertain how genuine the reason is. If a band has been rehearsing for ten years and never cancelled late and they ring up, we will take a different view to a band who’s drummers Grandma has died six times in the last year.

The worst excuse ever was a band who rang up to say they had to cancel because the guitarists grandma had just died. The band were regulars and we knew them quite well. The drummer used to organise rehearsals. At the booked time, in walked the guitarist. He announced “Are the others here yet”. We replied that the drummer had called and said that his grandma had died, so the rehearsal was off. He was none to impressed at this.

7. It’s all in a name. We have a simple system for keeping track of the days bookings. We have a big whiteboard which we write the name of the person who booked and what extras they’ve taken in the studio reception. That way you easily check to see who is in and out. Typically this will be a surname or a band name.

A prospective customer came down to visit the studios, back in the day when we only had six rooms. He was duly impressed and was brought into reception for a cup of tea and a chat. His eyes fell upon the board. By chance, the first three names on the board were “Gudgeon”, “Herring” and “Bass”. which happened to actually be the surnames of the customers. The fourth room was “Hogs” (a local band called the Hogs) and the fifth room was a girl called Catherine, who we always put “Cat” up on the board. The customer said “What does that mean?” Ernie replied “yeah, it looks a bit fishy doesn’t it?” He then said “We put the name of the band up there so we know who is in the rooms”. The customer then said “You should show your customers a bit more respect, if they are paying you shouldn’t take the piss out of them”. Ernie responded “Actually, that is there names, I can show you the diary if you like?”. At that the customer said “Do I look like and idiot, if you can’t treat people with respect, there is no way I’d use these studios” and stormed out. The incident was witnessed by Bob Bass, a regular, who said “what was all that about?”. Ernie showed him the diary and explained that the customer had mistakenly thought the names on the board were us taking the piss. Bob laughed and said “He must be a right humourless sod, you are better off without him” and walked off sniggering.

8. I got the Blues. We also sell instruments. Whist 99% of our customers are lovely, rational and sane individuals, we do get the odd rather odd customer and odd request.

Perhaps the strangest one was a guy who came in and started chatting “Yeah, I’m great mates with Ray Davies out of the Kinks, I was always going around for a jam, but I stopped playing a few years ago. Yeah, I also used to jam with Noel Gallagher and John Entwhistle was a good mate, I used to write songs with him”. He then told us that he was looking to buy a decent second hand guitar and a little PA system to do a few pub gigs. He then asked if we could set him up a particular amp and a small PA we were selling so he could try it out. He asked if we minded if he played a song quite loud. He said he’d play us a new song he’d been working on. We were looking forward to the rendition. When it was all set up, Mic, Guitar & amp, he went and turned them up so they started feeding back. He then started manically thrashing the guitar without actually fretting down a chord so the strings were completely open and screamed “I got the blues” for about two minutes down the microphone”. When he finished he said “That was great, I’m going to go to the bank and get the money”. He didn’t come back for five years. We’d completely forgotten about him until he played the song again.

9. Sometimes there is a genuine excuse for a cancellation. Once in a while a customer has a genuine excuse for a no show.

One customer booked two consecutive evenings with his band. On the first evening, he asked if he could leave his Gibson Gold top overnight. The following night, he didn’t show. We were not too worried as he’d left a valuable guitar. After a few days and a few phonecalls, which were not answered, the guitar went in the lost property cupboard. We have a policy that if some such item is left for more than six months we will dispose of them, although for such an item, we wait considerably longer.

I happened to be looking through the records, when I noticed that the guitar had been there for nearly two years. Having decided that it had reached the point where the customer wasn’t going to come back, one of the staff asked if they could buy it. The policy with such items is that they would make a suitable donation to charity. Not feeling too happy, given how nice the item was, I said “Look, when it’s been here two years, I’ll let you have it”. One the 2nd birthday of the guitar being left, the owner breezed in. He said “You’ve got my Gibson Gold top here, and I owe for a late cancellation”. The member of staff who was on was new and knew nothing about it, so they called me. I arrived and recognised the customer. He said “I’ve come to pay the late cancellation and pick up the Gold Top”. I said “what have you been doing for the last two years? He replied that he’d booked the session because he’d been on trial for a serious crime. He’d expected that the 2nd night would be his last night of freedom, so he’d booked up the two nights for a jam. As it transpired the case had finished earlier than expected and he’d been in prison for two years. We asked why he hadn’t told us? He responded that he hadn’t trusted his mates not to come and nick his guitar.

10. Things happen that make it all worth while. Every so often a customer who we know and like makes the big time. Whilst it is nice for established celebs to come in, it is even better to see a band or artist start from scratch and then get a hit. With our studios, we are proud that both Amy Winehouse and Kate Nash, Brit award winners rehearsed with us on their way to the top. We sold Kate her first ever guitar and we sold Amy the guitar she played on her first ever TV appearance.

More recently we’ve had Modestep, who have been coming to the studios since they were sixteen set off on a world tour. When there tour bus arrived to collect them, there was a buzz around the place that money cannot buy. 99.9% of customers are a joy to be around and we’ve stepped in and helped more than a few with all manner of non music related problems. Many have become friends and we believe music in all its forms is a force for good in the world. Music is a universal language which transcends barriers of class and religion and brings people together. That is why we love what we do.

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