James Hall wrote this guest blog about his campaign to commemorate Britain's very first recording studio.

James Hall wrote this guest blog about his campaign to commemorate Britain's very first recording studio.

When I discovered that Britain’s first recording studio had opened in 1898 in the basement of a grimy hotel on Covent Garden’s Maiden Lane, I made a mental note to visit the building next time I was in town. I duly did, and was surprised to see no mention of the place’s extraordinary history anywhere on or in the building. Today, it’s a pizza parlour.

The UK music industry is now worth £4.4bn, and it all started here. That’s why I’ve started a campaign to have a commemorative plaque put up on the building by Westminster Council. And I need your help.

Anyone doubting the importance of 31 Maiden Lane to our cultural heritage need only read the next three sentences. The studio was opened in the dying years of Queen Victoria’s reign by The Gramophone Company, which was run by a handful of early recording pioneers with big dreams and limited resources. Things slowly took off. Just over three decades later, The Gramophone Company changed its name to EMI and opened a new studio at Abbey Road.

That’s right. You can draw a direct line from this basement room to The Beatles and Elgar, (or any other EMI act from Pink Floyd to Kylie, or Coldplay to Gorillaz). Equally importantly, the development of technology to allow people to listen to music at home took its early steps in this building. Techniques were tested, ideas forged, breakthroughs made. We take for granted that today we can listen to practically any song we like at the touch of a button. Much of the early legwork was done here. Although The Gramophone Company relocated to slightly bigger premises on City Road in 1902, this is where it began. 

Some important early recordings were made at 31 Maiden Lane (some eccentric ones too) under the watchful eye of a remarkable A&R man-cum-engineer called Fred Gaisberg. Rules restaurant, two doors down, acted as something of a green room to the studio – artists and engineers would head there afterwards to celebrate. The early days of recorded sound fascinate me. My debut novel, The Industry of Human Happiness, is influenced by the real characters and locations associated with its birth. I think it’s absolutely crucial that 31 Maiden Lane’s role in music history is marked; it seems perverse to me that the only round things celebrated in this room are the pizzas.

In order for Westminster Council to consider my plaque application, I need to raise some money (a little over £4,000). I am grateful for support in my application from the BPI and the EMI Archive Trust, which preserves music and technology from the early days of recorded sound. I also have permission from the building’s owner and tenant. The Sunday Times even wrote an article on my quest. But we need the funds. If you’re at all interested, please donate to the crowdfunding campaign on my Just Giving page.

Hear that sound? It’s the sound of the curtain being pulled back at the unveiling ceremony. Just imagine! Thanks for reading.