Mill Hill Music Complex – A few of our better known customers – #1 The early days

The question we get asked most at Mill Hill Music Complex is “who is the most famous person who has used the studio?”. It is a question I don’t really like to answer because we’ve had so many great musicians come through the doors. So I thought I’d share a few stories about a few of the people who are better known. Rather than post a massive long blog, I thought it would post a few little stories and anecdotes about them as part of a series.

Strangely enough, both of our first two paying customers back in 1979 are bands with a profile and a track record. The very first was The Polecats. Although well known on the Rockabilly scene and having achieved chart success and an appearance on Top of the Pops, they are perhaps better known because their lead guitarist Boz Boorer has worked with Morrissey for the last 20 years. Boz was at Orange Hill school with me and as soon as he heard that I had set up a “practice room”, the band were straight in. They would pay £5 for as long as they liked. Mill Hill Music Complex then was the front room in the derelict caretakers cottage in Bunns Lane Works. The Polecats recorded a single for nervous records at Alan Warner of the Foundations Lane Studios. Alan asked where they rehearsed and they sent him down. Both Boz and Alan are still customers today.

I have many stories to tell about various incidents with Boz over the years. Perhaps the funniest one was back in the very early days before the Polecats were signed and they sere trying to build their profile. They got a big gig at the Electric Ballroom in Camden own. Boz at the time had a Hayman guitar and a Carlsboro amp (if my memory serves me right). Boz was always a perfectionist and was worried that as the gig was a Buddy Holly rollerdisco (I kid you not), he would not look the part. At the time I had a Selmer Zodiac amp and a Hofner Galaxy guitar. Boz asked me if he could borrow them. I of course agreed, in return for free beer and a ticket to the gig. At the time I was a Punk rocker (well I still am) and there was some friction between punks and teds. I thought it would be wise to invest in a lumberjack shirt so I could go incognito.

I turned up at the gig and it was a riot. During the Polecats fourth number, I saw a truly awesome sight. A huge Rockabilly was skating towards the stage with two pints of beer. He wasn’t dancing on ice material. As he got to the centre of the dancefloor, over he went and the beer went everywhere. Slippery floors and rollerskating don’t mix. The great thing was that nobody seemed to mind, the fact everyone was falling over only made it more entertaining. Up until that point I’d only seen the Polecats in Scout huts and church halls. I realsied that they were actually a great band on that night.

As for Alan Warner, through the Polecats I got to know him. My band, The False Dots recorded a demo at his studio back in 1979. As the Polecats had done a demo, we thought we should. The first demo was a truly amazing experience for me. Our drummer, Paul Marvin (son of Hank) left the band after we’d booked the demo. I rang Alan in a panic “Do you have a drummer we can borrow?”. He sent down a guy called Dav. I never got to know Dav’s surname, but I still think he’s the best drummer I’ve ever worked with. We wanted to record three songs Ride, Not All She Seems and Her Little World. Dav instantly made the songs sound a million times better. I wanted the songs to sound like the Velvet Underground, so Alan encouraged me to experiment and try acoustic guitar on the songs. Pete Conway (our bassplayer and vocalist) was dead set against it, until he heard the finished product. We did the demo and Dav agreed to join the band (to my amazement). Alan suggested that the song “Not All She seems” could actually be done a lot better with some proper rehearsal. As a result of disagreements Pete Conway left the band, our Lead guitarist Paul Hircombe switched to bass and we recruited Craig Withecombe, who was a brilliant musician on lead. After some proper rehearsal, we rerecorded Not All She Seems, along with three other tracks.

When we played the finished result to friends, their jaws dropped. We had gone in the space of four months from being an out of tune, unlistenable punk band to a band that rocked. Sadly Dav had to return to his hometown of Shrewsbury for work, shortly after the demo was completed. We did three gigs with him, but if anyone knows what happened to him I’d love to hear.It felt good and in a large part it was due to Alan Warner’s help and advice.

One Response to “Mill Hill Music Complex – A few of our better known customers – #1 The early days”

  1. Do you recall whether the Polecat’s Hayman was a black one with f-holes? I ask as I’ve just extensively refurbished one which I’m told was given to a friend by Tim Polecat… my pal who passing it on to me maybe 25 or 30 years later, I suspect with the same two strings on it that it had been given to him with ;-)

Leave a Reply