Parr Street Studios: why losing Liverpool’s iconic studios will be a tragic blow for the city’s musical heritage

With recent news of potential closure, Rhys Buchanan speaks to key artists about the importance of Liverpool's Parr Street Studios, including Blossoms, The Coral, Bill Ryder Jones, The Mysterines and the city's wider scene

“You’ve got all the gold discs up on the walls in the kitchen, and you think, ‘fucking hell, these were made here,’” Blossoms frontman Tom Ogden recalls the magical first impression of Liverpool’s iconic Parr Street Studios. Since then, the Stockport band have created three colossal chart topping albums inside its walls – their self-titled debut ‘Blossoms’, ‘Cool Like You‘ and ‘Foolish Loving Spaces’. When they look up at the discs on the wall, they now see their own.

The much-loved studio has played a pivotal role in their journey from bubbling indie-pop band to festival topping giants. Since loading in their gear to record first single ‘Blow’ with The Coral’s James Skelly – the depthful glimmering production on big hitters like ‘Charlemagne’ undeniably helped take them to new heights.

“It felt massive because we’d never been anywhere like that before. Some of the happiest memories we’ve got as a band are in that studio. It feels like a second home because we’ve never really recorded anywhere else. Every song on our albums has been done there. It feels like our Abbey Road.”

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Ogden pictures one scene when thinking of the studio. “The control room is the hub, everyone is sitting around, someone will be drinking soup, someone else will be playing Rollercoaster Tycoon, the rest of us will be trying to make a record.” He says it’s the silly things you remember.

The reality is that Blossoms might not be able to continue their fourth full-length in the studio. Last month (April 30) plans emerged of intentions to sell the privately owned property to developers, which would see the building knocked down to make way for 114 apartments and 36 apart-hotels, as well as retail floorspace. “I’ll be gutted if we can’t do the next record there.” says Ogden. “We’ve already recorded one song for it so I suppose if that is the case at least one was done there.”

Last month anger and sadness rippled through Merseyside and the wider musical world following the news. A petition to prevent demolition hit over 10,000 signatures within days. The new plans are currently in a public consultation phase, following a positive pre-application consultation with Liverpool Council. If cleared, the demolition of the building would come as three devastating blows, with the complex also housing venues Studio 2 and Attic Bar.

When contacted by NME about the process, Liverpool City Council stated that they wouldn’t comment on a live planning application. A recent report from the Liverpool Echosuggests that the developers, PJ Percival, are not intending to bulldoze the building and are open to potentially keeping a studio within the complex. These plans are subject to planning approval from Liverpool City Council.

Tucked away in Liverpool’s city centre Ropewalks district, Parr Street has been a vital organ in Liverpool’s music scene for nearly thirty years. Integral to the fabric of musical culture in the city, albums like Coldplay’s ‘Parachutes’, ‘Rush Of Blood To The Head’ and ‘X&Y have been made in the studio alongside work from The Coral, Ian Brown and Miles Kane. Even big hitters like Rihanna’s ‘Take A Bow’ and Justin Bieber’s ‘Right Here’ were recorded there.

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The studio started life north of the city in Kirkby as Amazon Studios. Here The Smiths recorded ‘Meat Is Murder’ and Echo & The Bunnymen made era-defining records like ‘Ocean Rain’. Heavy metal titans Black Sabbath also laid down some of their early recordings there. But in order to keep the studio going, it had to be moved to a more viable location, so owner and producer Jeremy Lewis oversaw the transition to the city centre’s Parr Street in 1991.

Speaking to the people running Parr Street for the last decade, Rich Turvey and Chris Taylor, it becomes clear that this reality has been on the horizon for some time despite the ongoing success of the studio. “The whole time we’ve been there, there’s always been this thing about it being for sale, it’s not actually surprising if you’re within the building”, says Turvey, who has acted as a co-producer on all of Blossoms’ records. “It’s not anything to do with Coronavirus and it’s not anything to do with us wanting to leave it. It’s just that they want to redevelop the land because that would turn them a healthy profit.”

“It’s not as simple as yelling at the council either”, adds Taylor, the studio’s manager. “It’s a commercial building and the owners have decided to sell it on. The problem is the land is worth more than the building.”

He points out how the landlords initially helped save the building when it was slated for redevelopment in 2006. “They paid over the odds to buy the land and saved it from redevelopment – I’m very respective of them for doing that – but I’m curious as to why they’ve chosen now as the time to sell and as to why they’re not trying to save the studio.”

Parr Street Studios
Liverpool’s Parr Street Studios. Credit: Alamy Stock Photo.

There’s been multiple unsuccessful attempts to purchase the building and keep it running as a studio. Taylor himself put a few bids together. “I can only pay them what the building is worth but they’re looking to sell for what the land is worth for redevelopment.”

Independent record label Modern Sky which is affiliated with Sound City Festivals also tried to acquire the building. CEO David Pichilingi says that they “put together the finances to purchase it but then I was told that there was another sale in progress and it was too far down the line.”

Pichilingi stresses the building must be saved. “If Liverpool wants to be a music city then it must start protecting its musical legacy. The Liver Building is a private building, can you imagine someone buying that, then saying, those fucking birds on the top, I’m taking them off and I’m going to build apartments on top of it. The legacy and history of that studio is insurmountable.”

“The legacy and history of that studio is insurmountable” – David Pichilingi, Modern Sky

Liverpool is proud of its musical heritage and understandably so. The city is covered with Beatles memorabilia and being birth-place to the world’s most successful band is certainly something to shout apart. Once you get past the statues, museums and countless gift shops and down towards the Cavern Club, you won’t struggle to hear some dodgy version of ‘Come Together’ blaring from the countless pubs and clubs.

Whether the city isn’t doing enough to retain some of its more recent history – especially a place that actively supports new artists like Parr Street – is up for debate. “It’s sad that you lose history,” Turvey says. “To put a bulldozer through the place where all those albums have been recorded is devastating. You go upstairs and there’s the piano that Chris Martin wrote ‘The Scientist’ on and it sounds exactly like that. For any young band there’s something inspiring about being in a space like that. You’re walking the same path.”

Merseyside songwriter and co-founder of The Coral, Bill Ryder-Jones, feels similarly to be losing a place where he’s created lasting memories. “I’ve had loads of great times there. There was a lad who used to work in the attached hotel and if I didn’t have the money for a taxi or I’d missed the train he’d let me doss in one of the spare rooms. I’ve been there so much – it’s a very important place. I’m gutted, it’s so wrapped-up in my teenage years, my twenties and my thirties.”

He’s also unsurprised given the climate in the city which has recently lost key musical pillars in the centre like iconic venue The Kazimier. “It’s gutting that they couldn’t have torn down one of the car parks around it or any of the crap bars. I can’t believe the council are still pushing this angle of Liverpool the great music city. They seem to go out of their way to close down any hub of creativity or anything that gives Liverpool a modern identity as opposed to being just Beatles-land.”

Following a wave of recent venue closures – and with many more under imminent threat – the loss of Studio 2 would be another gaping wound in the Liverpool live scene. The 200-capacity space serves as a perfect starting point for new artists as well as a draw for touring acts, with names such as IDLES and Declan McKenna playing there in recent years.

Parr Street has also been central to more recent movements in the music, with The Coral frontman James Skelly using it as a base for his label Skeleton Key – a launchpad for names like She Drew The Gun, Cabbage and even Blossoms. “Without Chris and Rich we couldn’t have found names like those in the early days,” Skelly says. “They’ve really helped me with all the stuff I’ve done with the young bands.”

He paints a picture of the studio’s place within the vibrancy of the centre. “I remember walking out of Parr Street into the city one summer and it was just on fire and there was something bubbling. I remember thinking, ‘this is the best city’. We can’t lose this. You can actually physically feel it. I think if you miss that you will lose something about the city and that could impact everything.”

Skelly also sees the closure as a wider issue. “Everyone’s concentrating on Parr Street but I think it’s a lot more than that people are really worried about. The area has always had an outsider take on everything and people don’t want to lose that.”

Breakthrough local names like vital no-frills rockers The Mysterines also owe a large amount to the studio. “I think it’s ridiculous how it’s even been considered”, says singer Lia Metcalfe. She explains the studio has been a big influencer on their creativity. “Something weird always happens when we’re in there. We’ve done every single in the big room in Parr Street and that’s where all the magic happens. You get fucked up ideas and go through with them in the heat of the moment.”

Metcalfe says this decision will shrink opportunity for new artists on Merseyside. “Young bands aren’t even going to be able to consider it as a career because there will be nothing to go for. What do you do when there’s nowhere to record? You’ll probably think ‘fuck it, I’ll go and work in Morrissons.’”

Such opportunities have been just as vital for local bands like The Cheap Thrills, who first recorded at the studio on an Arts Council collaboration with Parr Street. “The first time we walked into the big studio it was so magical and inspiring” says the band’s Anton Eager. “If it goes that Ropewalks area will become sterile and there will be no culture to it whatsoever, it’s a city risking losing its soul.”

Christopher Torpey from community driven arts publication Bido Lito! says these creative spaces are being priced out of vibrant areas. “The centre has become too expensive for the music industry, residential and student flats are the only things going up at the moment.” He says there should be more support for arts institutions. “Isn’t it a sad fact that not even the most prestigious studio in the city has the financial clout to stave off this? If there’s going to be this appreciation that music is part of Liverpool’s lifeblood, then there needs to be some assistance or even encouragement for parts of the infrastructure around music.”

Despite all this, the studio is still thriving as a business. “The fact that the owners are selling the building has nothing to do with the viability of the businesses within the building,” says Turvey. “It’s really vibrant and we’re making loads of great records,” Taylor adds. “We had a Number One only a few months ago with Blossoms. We’re making fantastic art and really excited about stuff we’ve got coming out. I’ve got major labels screaming at me to reopen but I can’t because of the pandemic.”

The next phase to determine the future of Parr Street Studios will be a public consultation with residents, businesses, key stakeholders as well as statutory and non-statutory groups. But through the eyes of Turvey it looks like the decision has been made.

“Now the development plans have been released, I think it’s game over with Parr Street to be honest.” He adds that public response to their situation has been heartwarming. “The amount of people who have reached out and started petitions. It’s brilliant to see how much the place means to people. It means the work we’ve done has resonated on some level.”

“It feels like our Abbey Road” – Tom Ogden, Blossoms

Whatever the future holds for Parr Street, Rich Turvey and Chris Taylor are already excited about the next chapter, doggedly declaring in their statement, “People make records, buildings don’t.” Turvey says it will be refreshing to work without a cloud of uncertainty hanging over them as they look to find new premises. “It’s kind of like one door closes and another one opens. When we do the next thing, we’re still going to be working with the same people. It’s not as tied to the space as you might think.”

They’ll still have the likes of Blossoms returning wherever they are. “They know enough about making records to make it a great vibe. I’m sure they’ll continue the legacy and encapsulate a bit of Parr Street,” Ogden says.

Chris Taylor concludes: “The team, the equipment, the engineering staff will move somewhere else and we’re going to continue making art, I’ve no doubt about that. That’s what we’re looking at now and we’re excited by the challenge and taking charge of our own destiny.”

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