Basing Street

Gems wax model makers for Madame Tussaud's Basing Road now Street corner of Lancaster Road annual works outing 1922. Basing Street, originally Basing Road (from 1867 to 1939), probably acquired its name from the railway developer landowner James Whitchurch from Southampton, near Basingstoke, or it could be named in honour of the 16th century landlord, Sir William Paulet or Pawlet, Lord St John of Basing and Marquis of Winchester, Lord High Treasurer in the reign of Elizabeth I. 

'Gems. Drapers & Tailors Stands. Shop Fittings for all Trades. Papier Mache, Wax & Mechanical Figures. Shop Fronts & Show Cases. Turnery for Export.' The waxworks building was originally a congregational chapel. The foundation stone was laid by the Nottingham Liberal MP Samuel Morley in July 1865, 'at a time when all this part was little more than open fields.' Florence Gladstone wrote in 1924 that 'the building remains, at the corner of Basing Road, though it is now used for trade purposes. It is interesting to note that the Notting Dale Chapel in Walmer Road was at one time in the hands of the same firm of drapers' stand manufacturers.' Waxwork models produced on Basing Street for Madame Tussaud's included the local serial killer John Christie from 10 Rillington Place.

Wynne Mills in 'Going Down the Lane': "I started work at Gems in 1920 and worked there to 1980 (?), 60 years in all. It was a happy place though the hours were long (56 a week) and the pay poor. I can remember getting 7/6d and only two days holiday a year and one of those was a bank holiday. Mr Gems worked in the factory office. His grandmother had started the business but then went blind and his grandfather took over. His full name was Frederick Leopold. His brother was called Julius Gulch. Julius made the models (which were sold to Madame Tussaud's). He had a Royal Academy award for modelling. I remember Lord Mountbatten coming to the factory. Michael Wilding was another visitor with his dresser. The dresser was nice but Michael Wilding thought he was the cheese." 

In the late 1960s the building had another famous reincarnation as the offices and studios of Island Records. Chris Blackwell's first memory of the premises is being freaked out when he found himself in a room full of dummies. At this stage the Island label specialised in folk and prog rock, including Emerson Lake and Palmer, Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, Free, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, John Martyn, Quintessence, Spooky Tooth, Cat Stevens and Traffic. Led Zeppelin began recording their fourth album, including 'Stairway To Heaven', in the newly opened Island Basing Street studio 2 in 1970, as Jethro Tull's 'Aqualung' album was being recorded in the larger Basing Street studio 1.

Cat Stevens was photographed across Lancaster Road by the William Blake graffiti 'The tigers (tygers) of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction' on the sleeve of his first greatest hits album. In the first Island rock-reggae crossover Jimmy Cliff covered Cat Stevens' 'Wild World'. As Jimmy Cliff left Island in 1972, in the wake of 'The Harder They Come', Bob Marley turned up on Basing Street, when he was staying in Neasden after touring with Johnny Nash. Chris Blackwell proceeded to sign the Wailers to Island for their major label debut, the Zippo-sleeved 'Catch A Fire', which was remixed and promoted on Basing Street as the first rock-reggae crossover album.

In the glam and prog rock years Basing Street was frequented by the likes of Bad Company, ELP, Alex Harvey, Mott the Hoople, Robert Palmer, Roxy Music, Sparks, Traffic and the Average White Band. The studios were also used by such non-Island acts as the Eagles, Genesis, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. At one point in 1973 the Wailers and the Stones were in the studios at the same time, recording 'Burnin' and 'Goat's Head Soup' respectively.

In Brinsley Forde's 1976 Carnival memoir, Aswad were playing 'Three Babylon' – 'Three Babylon tried to make I and I run, they come to have fun with their long truncheons' – outside the Island studios on Basing Street when the rioting broke out. Aswad recorded their first album in the studios and were on and off the Island label. Delroy Washington's 'The Streets Of Ladbroke Grove' on his 'I-Sus' album on Virgin was recorded on Basing Street with Aswad and the Ladbroke Grove Street Choir.

In the run up to the 76 'Smile Jamaica' concert Bob Marley was shot; probably by a supporter of the Jamaican Labour Party as the gig was promoted by the People's National Party. After that the Wailers came to the UK for the punky reggae party and recorded their most successful album 'Exodus' in the Island studios on Basing Street. By all accounts, Bob Marley was initially sceptical of punk and more inclined towards prog rock. However, during the 'Exodus' sessions, he was won over to the cause and together with Aswad and Lee Perry recorded 'Punky Reggae Party' to accompany 'Jamming', the Wailers' first top 10 single. Bob lived on Basing Street above the Island studios for some time, and his wife Rita of the I-Threes became a longstanding Basing Street resident. Bob Marley's ghost also haunts numbers 8 and 18 All Saints Road, the Mangrove and the Apollo, the Globe and the house of Trevor Bow of Sons of Jah on Talbot Road, and the Rasta House of Dread on Lancaster Road. 

The same year as 'Jamming', Queen recorded 'We Are The Champions' on Basing Street. The following year the Clash were in the studios to record their second album 'Give 'Em Enough Rope'. In 1979 the Slits recorded their punky reggae version of Marvin Gaye's 'Heard It Through The Grapevine' and rehearsed their debut album 'Cut', Island also released Marianne Faithfull's 'Broken English' album and had their first number 1 with Buggles' 'Video Killed The Radio Star'.

The Pogues posed on Basing Street by the castle playground on the corner of Westbourne Park Road (now occupied by a post-modern block of flats), on their way to the Warwick Castle pub, following in the footsteps of the Clash. Island Records distributed and eventually amalgamated with the pub rock Stiff label of Dave Robinson and Jake Riviera, which encompassed Elvis Costello, Ian Dury, Nick Lowe, the Damned, Deviants, Devo, Motörhead, Madness and the Pogues.

Nick Lowe's 'Basing Street' track, on the b-side of his 'Cracking Up' single, recounts a murder on the street: 'Somebody says I think I remember him, used to see him hanging round, but it's hard to be sure, looking at him now, whose hand made the boy suffer and bleed? Who did the deed on Basing Street?... out there in radioland they're all asleep, as the firemen hose down Basing Street.' Dire Straits' 'Portobello Belle' 80s stadium-rock standard was also recorded at Basing Street studios in 79. The early 80s in-house Island band Basement 5 was the post-punky reggae brainchild of Dennis Morris, the photographer/designer, who lived on Basing Street. Chris Blackwell's Island label hosted most reggae acts at one time or another including Black Uhuru, Burning Spear, Third World, Junior Murvin, Toots and the Maytals, Sly and Robbie, Grace Jones's 'Island Life', U2, the B52s, Robert Palmer, Was Not Was, Tom Waits and the Waterboys. 

8-10 Basing Street had another reincarnation in the mid 80s when the Island recording studios became Sarm West, the HQ of Trevor Horn and Paul Morley's ZTT label, who brought us Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Art of Noise. As such the most famous Basing Street recording session of them all took place on November 25 1984, when most 80s pop stars – including Aswad, Bananarama, Phil Collins, Culture Club, Duran Duran, the Police, Spandau Ballet, Status Quo, U2, Paul Weller and Wham – crammed into the studios as Band Aid, to record Bob Geldof's Ethiopian famine benefit single, 'Do They Know It's Christmas?'

The Westbourne Park Road corner was the scene of another pop star gathering in 1986 for the recording of a sickle cell anaemia benefit single, featuring Aswad, Paul Weller, Janet Kay, Imagination, Junior, the Thompson Twins, Tom Robinson, Sinitta and Paul Hardcastle. From hippy to hip-hop Basing Street was a graffiti hall of fame. In 2000 the sci-fi mural on the corner of Basing Street was 'bombed' by critics of the official street art.

The ZTT/Sarm West studios were also used by Depeche Mode, Iron Maiden, George Michael and the Pet Shop Boys. In the 90s the ZTT roster featured the first incarnation of All Saints and Seal. Nick Cave recorded 'Murder Ballads' in Sarm studios in 1995, as he lived in one of the studios flats on Basing Street. Blur, Madonna, M-People, Radiohead, Boyzone, Robbie Williams and Rihanna were also booked in. In 2011 Trevor Horn's Producers group recorded their 'Made in Basing Street' album at his Sarm studios. Following which it was announced that the building was to be converted into flats and offices, including lower ground floor recording studios. The area's most important music history site is commemorated in the Basing Street Rooms mural on the corner wall opposite.

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