Entertainment & Arts

Sir George Martin's Caribbean legacy: AIR Studios Montserrat

George Martin at AIR Studios Montserrat in 1979 Image copyright Rex Features

To many, Sir George Martin is simply remembered as the "fifth Beatle", who produced some of the most popular music to ever come out of the UK.

But he was also responsible for building a musical outpost to record some of the biggest-selling albums of the 1980s - in the tiny Caribbean island of Montserrat.

To those who lived and worked there, he will be fondly remembered as the owner of AIR Studios Montserrat, where a who's who of top musicians recorded hit albums throughout the decade.

Yvonne Kelly worked as managing director of the studios from 1981 to 1989 and says Sir George "changed the world of music, as well as my world and my life".

"I was working for Doncaster Council [in Yorkshire, England] when I read about him opening the studios," she says.

"I decided right then and there that I'd leave my job and move to Montserrat to work at his studios. I had spent some time there when I was younger, so I knew the island.

Image copyright Yvonne Kelly
Image caption Yvonne Kelly worked at Sir George Martin's AIR Studios throughout the 1980s

"I opened a restaurant at first when I got there, but when he came to the restaurant, I met him and got the job managing the studios."

The Police, Dire Straits, Elton John, Eric Clapton and Stevie Wonder were among just a few of the names who recorded albums there.

"It was an incredible experience," says Ms Kelly, who's now 59. "We had some great times. I was afforded a fantastic opportunity by George.

"I met a lot of stars and road crew, but most importantly, some fantastic people.

"It was a really nice environment to work and record in and it was all down to George."

Sir George opened the studio in 1979 after he "fell in love with Montserrat and decided to build the ultimate get-away-from-it-all recording studio", which offered "all of the technical facilities of its London predecessor, but with the advantages of an exotic location", according to its website.

Martin had founded Associated Independent Recording (AIR) studios in London in 1969.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Dire Straits, Sir Paul McCartney and The Police all recorded at AIR Studios Montserrat

Having played host to the recording of many best-selling rock albums - including The Police's Synchronicity and Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms - the studio was forced to close in 1989 after much of the island was destroyed by Hurricane Hugo.

Sir George kept close ties with the island however, and helped to raise funds for the victims and families of those affected by the hurricane, as well as the enormous volcano eruption in 1997, which left 19 people dead.

"He maintained a relationship with the island ever since the studio closed," Ms Kelly says.

Image copyright Facebook/Mark Knopfler
Image caption Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler posted his tribute on Facebook

"He still had a home there. He loved the island and brought his family there. You could say George Martin was integral to the island and to why it became so popular.

"His involvement with the island was such a positive note for Montserrat, as it struggled compared to other Caribbean islands to attract tourists.

"I grew up having to explain where the British colony of Montserrat was, yet thanks to George, Montserrat is now known as the home of some of the best music of the 1980s.

"I am forever grateful to have known him and his family. He was a truly talented gentleman. Montserrat - and the world - mourn his passing and salute his work."

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