Sawmills Studio Page 2

Leckie recalls that the drums were positioned in the centre of the live area, Mani's bass amp was closed off in the 'cave', John Squire played his Fender Stratocaster and custom-painted Hofner 335 copy in a far corner using a Fender Twin reverb with JBL speakers captured with either a Shure SM57 or SM58 together with a Neumann U67.


'Things weren't recorded in a big, open space', Leckie confirms. 'They were recorded in closed spaces. But then, the main room itself isn't that big anyway, and the control room is right next to it, separated by a three-foot-thick stone wall, which provided perfect separation.'

Ian Brown recorded his vocals in the control room, an SM58 mic set up between the main monitors that were only about 15ft apart. 'It was a pretty simple vocal', he asserts, 'and we always had the same reverb on his voice; a Lexicon PCM60, rich and clear'. The result was the band's classic single 'Fools Gold'.


Messed Up
Not surprisingly, Leckie returned to Sawmills at the end of 1992 with Verve to record their debut LP, A Storm In Heaven. Of the album's ten tracks, only three had been played live previously – 'Slide Away', 'Already There' and 'The Sun, The Sea' – the rest arriving from jam sessions in the studio. '[The album] was pretty much improvised', says bass player Simon Jones. According to Leckie, 'They were quite a nocturnal band... they didn't get much sleep'. Singer Richard Ashcroft would often improvise lyrics on the spot – the vocal take for 'Blue' was completed at 6am on the day the label was scheduled to receive the album's master tapes. They sailed close to the wind, but the album was a masterpiece.


Another classic Sawmills recording was Oasis' 1994 debut LP Definitely Maybe. The work had begun at Monnow Valley Studio in Wales with a pal of Noel Gallagher's, Dave Batchelor, from Inspiral Carpets producing. The sessions were a disaster. 'It was thin. Weak. Too clean', recalls the band's guitarist Bonehead. Costing £800 a day, with the sessions going nowhere, Batchelor was sacked.


In January 1994, the group decamped to Sawmills and started again. Anxious to capture the attack of their live sound, they decided to record together in the studio without soundproofing between individual instruments, with Noel overdubbing numerous guitars afterwards. Still not fully satisfied and not financially able to afford a third attempt, the whole kit and caboodle was offered to producer Owen Morris who confesses, 'I just thought, "They've messed up here"'.


Among Morris's first tasks was to strip away the layers of guitar overdubs Noel had added and he worked on mastering at Johnny Marr's studio in Manchester, the final mix created on a vintage Neve console in Studio 5 at Matrix Recording Studios in Fulham. The album became the fastest selling UK debut album at the time.

In the meantime, Supergrass had been playing gigs around their native Oxford in early 1993 when they were spotted by producer Sam Williams, who invited them down to Sawmills to record a six-track demo which got them a deal with Backbeat Records, the label releasing a limited number of copies of 'Caught By The Fuzz' and 'Mansize Rooster'. Parlophone took over, re-released the two songs and set the band up for recording their debut LP, I Should Coco, with Sam Williams back at Sawmills.


Singer Gaz Coombes recalls, 'One of the highlights was the song "Sofa (Of My Lethargy)". I remember everybody got in the live room and had an instrument and we played, all live, one take... We made I Should Coco so fast because we wanted to catch the energy on tape, and do it before the money ran out!'.

Studio Whizz
Of all the acts associated with Sawmills, the one with the closest relationship has got to be Muse. They recorded their self-titled debut EP here in the autumn of 1997 with studio owner and Dangerous Records founder Dennis Smith funding the sessions in return for payment if the band were later signed as a result of the release.


Local studio whizz Paul Reeve produced the EP and the set-up continued for their follow-up, Muscle Museum, the next year. When it came to their debut long-player, Showbiz, John Leckie returned to the 'Mills to help out and the band's second LP, Origin Of Symmetry, was also partially recorded at Sawmills by Leckie who mixed it here.

Looking back, Dennis Smith says: 'We've never been a truly industry place. We've never put gold discs around the walls. We've always felt people want to get away from that'.

'As the Mole said to Ratty: "You really live by the river? What a jolly life!". "By it and with it and on it and in it", said the Rat. "It's my world, and I don't want any other... Lord! the times we've had together!".'