FEATURE: Goodbye Maida Vale Studios: Are We Doing Enough to Save Our Iconic Music Spaces?




Goodbye Maida Vale Studios


IN THIS PHOTO: The Big Moon performing live at Radio 1's Future Festival live recording at Maida Vale Studios in 2017/PHOTO CREDIT: Merrick Winter  

Are We Doing Enough to Save Our Iconic Music Spaces?


I am lucky enough to be one of the last members of the public...

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IN THIS PHOTO: The exterior of Maida Vale Studios on Delaware Road/PHOTO CREDIT: David Dixon

who will get to go into Maida Vale Studios before it closes its doors. The iconic venue is going to move to East London – more accurately, the BBC will host sessions and move operations to a new venue over the other side of London. The legendary and much-loved space has played host to countless artists and incredible moments. Modern artists have been lucky enough to play there and, across the years, Maida Vale has hosted some of the biggest musicians ever. One approaches Maida Vale Studios in West London and, from the outside, it looks rather average. As you walk along Delaware Road, one sees a tin roof and it looks like a farm building. Walking further and there are a series of doors/entrances and then, a bit further still, and you have the main entrance. I have never been in the studios but have seen many photos and the impression one gets from seeing them is immediate. The sheer gravity, size and glory of the studios’ wonder is breathtaking and wondrous. I have heard sessions there throughout the year and, unlike a smaller BBC studios, you can get a healthy crowd in there and pretty much accommodate any musician. It is a dream for artists because they get to be in this iconic space and it feels like they are in a large venue. Given the scale and size of the studios, one might feel there is a lack of grace and intimacy.

Maida Vale Studios perfectly blends the homely and intimate with something more stirring and epic. The BBC has had to make cuts and accommodations through the years but many were not ready to say goodbye to Maida Vale Studios. Back in June, the news was announced that Maida Vale Studios would shut its doors and facilities would move to East London. Here is how The Guardian documented the news:

The BBC plans to close its Maida Vale studios after 84 years and move its live music base to Stratford in east London.

The world-famous studios have hosted thousands of performances ranging from the Beatles to Beyoncé to Girls Aloud, in addition to hosting the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

The studios were originally constructed in 1909 as a short-lived rollerskating venue. The BBC took over the building in the 1930s and refurbished it to serve as studios, making it one of the broadcaster’s oldest buildings.

However, the distinctive and unusual building is in a residential area and contains asbestos, increasing the cost of refurbishment.

“I understand how much our musical heritage at Maida Vale means to us, to artists and to audiences,” the BBC director general, Tony Hall, said in a note to staff. “We haven’t taken this decision lightly. But we’re determined to ensure that live music remains at the heart of the BBC and moving to this new development gives us the opportunity to do just that”...


IN THIS PHOTO: Beyoncé (who is one of the many artists who has performed at Maida Vale Studios)/PHOTO CREDIT: Tyler Mitchell for Vogue

Maida Vale was the site of Bing Crosby’s last recording session and has hosted tens of thousands live music events for BBC radio stations, ranging from John Peel sessions to Radio 1’s Live Lounge recordings. It was also the home of the experimental BBC Radiophonic Workshop, where Delia Derbyshire recorded the Doctor Who theme tune.

The BBC hopes to relocate most of Maida Vale’s functions to a new complex in the Stratford Waterfront development in the Olympic Park by 2023. The site will contain recording and rehearsal studios, providing a purpose-built base for the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and the BBC Singers, as well as being used regularly by the BBC Concert Orchestra.

The broadcaster has pledged to run music sessions in east London schools as well as making digital music resources available to schools everywhere. The BBC will also partner with local education groups on other music projects”.

Musicians, as NME show, were quick to respond to the news:

Several high profile musicians have now tweeted using the #BBCSaveMaidaVale hashtag. Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich wrote: “This is absolutely insane…!! wrong… misguided… Call it what you will – the wrong move… don’t destroy this incredibly important part of our cultural heritage – every bit as important as Abbey Road studios…. stop!!!!”
Foals’ Yannis Philippakis added: “So many memories at Maida Vale, so many amazing sessions over the years. DOn’t confine it to history. The BBC should reconsider.” His bandmate Jimmy Smith said: “For god’s sake BBC, not this one, don’t knock it down. We’ve had so many good times in there, nowhere like it on earth and you are gonna obliterate it!! Every band should get to smell the history in that place.”

Portishead and Beak>’s Geoff Barrow has been asking more musicians, DJs and fans to “tell the BBC they are wrong” using the hashtag. He also asked: “Why are the BBC hell bent on destroying the buildings that are so important to our cultural heritage?


Although I do not have an association with BBC’s Maida Vale Studios; I will be stepping into this legendary space this week and it will be quite sad. The occasion will be happy but, when things are done, one has to realise that it will not happen again – before long, something else will be in its place. I can understand concerns around safety and refurbishment. No matter how much money it takes, there would be plenty willing to subsidise and fund the improvements. It is not like the entire building is crumbling and it is impossible to save it: we are talking about making some smaller changes and repairs/renovations that could bring it up to scratch. Think about the artists who have played through the years and how many have seen their careers hit new peaks because of Maida Vale Studios. It is situated in a very nice part of London. It is only a few minutes’ walk from Warwick Avenue underground and surrounded by rather up-market properties. There is no complaint around noise pollution and, whilst it can get busy around there at times, it is not the case people are stumbling from the building in the early hours and shouting. The civil and professional manner in which operations happen means the closure of Maida Vale Studios is extra-sad. Money and a little effort seems to be the only reason why it is shutting and it makes me wonder why the towel has been tossed in so quick.

Musicians and music lovers alike have argued and protested at the closure. The sheer outage and upset that has been seen on social media over the past six months tells you all you need to know. I am sure the new space/location will be okay but that is not the point. Who knows what will become of the space now? Maybe there will be flats or a posh shop or something. It is another case of something long-serving and much-respected being sacrificed to make way for modern consumers and residents. One will walk down Delaware Road and see something new and unfamiliar in the place of Maida Vale Studios. I shudder to think what is taking the place of Maida Vale’s iconic studios but I suspect it will be some sort of residential building. You can only imagine how expensive that will cost and it makes me wonder whether the millions that will be invested into that project is less costly than what it would take to improve Maida Vale Studios?! How could one rationalise moving and closing this years-lasting and hugely popular venue and replacing it with anything else?! Not only will musicians suffer and we will lose a part of British music’s rich fabric but the area will become poorer. I am sure many who live nearby would rather keep Maida Vale Studios and see it carry on for decades than have flats or shops in its place – which will make the area more crowded and who knows what it will do to the balance there?


 PHOTO CREDIT: @d_mccullough/Unsplash

You never know if the new development will be a boon or a big gamble. Maida Vale Studios has served the local and wider community with dignity and passion since the 1940s. One of the saddest reasons behind the closure is betraying the artists and D.J.s who have relied on it and made it such an iconic place. The Peel Sessions became reliant on Maida Vale Studios and, for one, I feel angry the late John Peel’s legacy and incredible work is almost going to be tarnished because of the move:

From 1967 to 2004, the John Peel Sessions were recorded in studio MV4. At first a number of other venues around London were also used, such as the Playhouse Theatre in Charing Cross, but as these ceased to be used by the BBC, the sessions increasingly centred on Maida Vale 4. Music sessions were once a mainstay of BBC Radio programming as there were strict limits on the amount of commercially recorded music that could be aired, known as needle-time restrictions, so the BBC regularly booked musicians to record music exclusively for broadcast. In the early 1960s, when the BBC began to give some limited coverage of pop groups such as The Beatles, it was found that the sessions allowed up-and-coming bands to gain exposure, and for musicians and groups to try out new material, play covers they would not include on their albums, and experiment with different sounds and guest musicians...

With the introduction of Radio 1 in 1967, programmes such as Top Gear embraced this concept, with sessions from such stars-in-waiting as David BowieLed Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. And when one of Top Gear's presenters, John Peel, gained his own programme, commissioned specially recorded sessions had a new outlet. Most of the artists were relatively unknown even to Peel's listeners: he and his producer would often invite bands on the strength of a rough demo tape or gig to hear what they could do, and for many of the bands it was their first experience of a professional recording studio, not to mention a much-needed boost to their finances…


IN THIS PHOTO: The legendary John Peel (who often based his Peel Sessions out of Maida Vale Studios)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The format became standardised as a single session in the studio with a staff producer and engineer (or more latterly a producer-engineer and assistant), during which the artists would record four songs, but there were also some sessions which were either live to air, or pre-recorded as live with an audience. Other Radio 1 programmes and DJs adopted a similar system of Maida Vale sessions, such as Janice LongAndy Kershaw, and The Evening Session, whose current host Zane Lowe has nicknamed the studio 'Maida Vegas'; as well as the more direct inheritors of the Peel Sessions tradition Huw StevensRob da Bank and Mike Davies”.

Who knows what modern music would be and sound like were it not for those Peel Sessions?! The late John Peel helped transform music and change it for the better when he broadcast from there. It might sound like I am misty-eyed and looking at things through a purely musical (and non-pragmatic) lens but I do wonder whether a lot of effort and thought was put into the closure decision.

One needs to balance all the pros – the fact it has been there for decades and is a crucial part of the musical landscape – against the negatives and drawbacks – the cost of repair and improvements so that it can continue for many more decades. The former is the human cost and benefit whilst the latter is purely financial. It is not a case of staff rebelling and refusing to work; it is not the case residents are complaining and forcing the BBC to move elsewhere. Why did the BBC not have a public fundraising campaign so that extra money could be found?! Why did they not do everything possible to save it?! I think there has been this wasted opportunity for preservation that makes the whole situation really tragic. We do get into this habit of submitting and, rather than do anything to retain the status quo, look at other options that are more modern and cost-effective. So many prefer the Maida Vale Studios – as opposed Broadcasting House and other BBC facilities – because it has that warmth and is overlooked by a rather calm, picturesque and stunning part of London (free from endless traffic and chaos. One could have easily seen radio shows move there and it would have provided a great house for someone like BBC Radio 6 Music or BBC Radio 2. That will never happen and I do wonder whether Maida Vale Studios’ death needs to be a wakeup call for those who make decisions.

The anger and sadness expressed (regarding the closure) demonstrates how important places like Maida Vale Studios are. You cannot simply see a small/medium-sized problem and decide that, because it will be costly to fix it, then that should be it. Considering the likes of The Beatles have played there; one could imagine Maida Vale Studios being declared a national treasure. Put a blue plaque there and get English Heritage invoked! It may sound extreme but you wouldn’t plough through parks and sites that have been deemed culturally significant or historic. There would be protest and the plans would be stopped. Maida Vale Studios has this huge cultural background and legacy that is going to be bulldozed and purged. We owe it to the people, past and present, who have made it what it is – so many will miss it and music will not quite be the same. Look around the country and how many epic and iconic venues are left?! Smaller venues are closing all the time and it seems there is very little classic and old remaining. We are always looking for the new, shiny and elegant. Maida Vale Studios is brilliant and bright but it is not the soulless and ultra-modern sort of space that corporations like the BBC wants.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: MV3 at Maida Vale Studios/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I am not blaming them entirely but it seems like the closure of Maida Vale Studios could have been avoided. There is an all-day Christmas party being held there this Friday (starting at around 7 A.M. I believe) and it will mark the changes happening at BBC Radio 6 Music next year. Whilst there will be celebration and much festivity in the air; there will be that sadness as everyone leaves Maida Vale Studios...uncomfortable in the knowledge that we will never see anything like that happen again. That realisation and heartache might be good for the bottom line and the purse but can you say the masses who adore Maida Vale Studios are better off?! There are still iconic venues and spaces in the U.K. that are safe and I dearly hope they are not subjected to closure threats and caution around financial viability. It would have been costly to bring the studios to code but many would have been happy to briefly relocate to allow the work done. Yes, it would have created a bit of noise whilst workmen were there but given the fact Maida Vale Studios will be replaced and there will be the same sort of upheaval very soon; can one say the trade-off has been a good one?! There is very little that can be done now but I feel, the more and more people come out and share their memories of Maida Vale Studios, the more misguided and foolish the decision is. Let us hope, for all the other iconic venues and spaces in Britain, they do not have to suffer the same fate...

AS Maida Vale Studios!