The Manor Studio Page 2

Late in 1971, Oldfield joined Jamaican artist Arthur Louis' band who were recording demos at The Manor, where he hit it off with a couple of in-house producers. Tom Newman and Simon Heyworth made a copy of Oldfield's demos and then pitched them to Branson. The upshot was that Branson offered Oldfield a week free at The Manor in November 1972 to work on one of the pieces, provisionally called 'Opus One', which was duly recorded on an Ampex 2in16-track tape recorder with a Dolby noise reduction system. Enthused by the results, Branson allowed Oldfield to remain at The Manor to record additional overdubs during studio downtime and more recordings took place between February to April 1973.


To The Manor born – Mike Oldfield poses for a press shot in the early ’70s

Chime Lord
Branson, meanwhile, was pitching the pieces he had to various record companies to no avail, so he took the decision to create Virgin Records and market the recording himself. The album, released on the 15th of May 1973, was Tubular Bells, so named because Oldfield filched a set of said danglers from the equipment being removed from The Manor after a session by John Cale for his The Academy In Peril LP.


Just as serendipitous was the afore-mentioned contribution by Viv Stanshall who, as we know, was wrapping up Friendly as Oldfield arrived. Our tubular guy was a big Bonzos fan and had the smashing idea of asking Stanshall to introduce every instrument Oldfield had overdubbed, one at time, just as the old feller had done on the Bonzos' The Intro And The Outro from 1967's Gorilla.


Slow to sell at first, on the back of featuring as the opening theme for The Exorcist movie, Tubular Bells finally took off, launching the label in spectacular fashion, and eventually selling upwards of 15 million copies. The album also put The Manor firmly on the map.

British band Radiohead in 2008 (l-r): Philip Selway, Thom Yorke, Ed O’Brien, Jonny Greenwood and Colin Greenwood

Others who piled in included Sandy Denny, who participated in The Bunch's 1972 album Rock On and who did her second solo LP, Sandy, there in the same year. In 1973 Gong arrived to create the first part of their fab 'Radio Gnome Invisible' trilogy, Flying Teapot, followed by Tangerine Dream who worked up their most famous album, Phaedra, in just six weeks.


Label of The Cure’s Wish from 1992

Musical Mishaps
According to the Dream's Edgar Froese, the sessions didn't exactly run smoothly: 'Phaedra was the first album in which many things had to be structured. The reason was that we were using the Moog sequencer for the first time. Just tuning the instrument took several hours each day, because at the time there were no presets or memory banks. We worked each day from 11 o'clock in the morning to 2 o'clock at night. By the 11th day we barely had six minutes of music on tape.


The group pictured in the early ’90s with singer Robert Smith centre

'Technically everything that could go wrong did go wrong. The tape machine broke down, there were repeated mixing console failures and the speakers were damaged because of the unusually low frequencies of the bass notes. After 12 days of this we were completely knackered. Fortunately, following a two-day break in the countryside, a new start brought a breakthrough.'


Paul Weller looks pensive in this press shot from 1988. He would later record at The Manor as a solo artist

XTC were also studio regulars, recording their debut White Music (1978), English Settlement (1982) and Mummer (1983) there, and John Lydon's PiL fashioned their second offering, 1979's magnificent Metal Box at The Manor, much of it improvised, made up on the spot and recorded first take.


Blazing a trail in the ’80s – Scottish rock band Big Country made their debut album The Crossing at The Manor

All Change
Other notable Manor recordings include Big Country's debut, The Crossing (1983); The Cure's ninth album Wish (1992); Paul Weller's Wildwood (1993) and Stanley Road (1995); and Radiohead's second LP The Bends (1995). By the mid-1990s, though, Branson had many other fish to fry. Trains, planes and automobiles, etc, and after selling his label to EMI in April 1995, The Manor was closed as a recording facility, the last album issuing from its stately doors being Cast's debut, the aptly-named All Change.

Oh and Branson, if you're reading, you still owe me a fiver.