A massive piece of London’s storied musical heritage goes on sale today for a cool £10.5 million. For more than seven decades, the historic BBC Maida Vale Studios has seen sessions from some of the world’s biggest recording artists, including David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Beyoncé and Radiohead. It also hosted the era-defining John Peel Sessions, which broke some of the UK’s greatest (and weirdest) acts. But now, the BBC has made the controversial decision to sell it off.
The plan is for the studio complex to move to Stratford in 2025, into a new development that’s part of the Olympic Park, and offers high-tech facilities and two spaces for public concerts. Unsurprisingly, not everyone’s too happy that the BBC is leaving decades of musical history behind, with both locals and music industry bigwigs harbouring a lot of nostalgia for Maida Vale’s quaint wedding-cake-like Edwardian façade and rich, history-soaked atmosphere. When the news was announced, Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich took to Twitter to say ‘Don’t destroy this beautiful studio!!! There are so few of these places left and this particular room is steeped in history.’
Maida Vale Studios has been at the heart of the BBC since 1934, when a building that formerly housed Europe’s largest rollerskating rink was converted into a studio for radio broadcasts. A sad day for roller skaters, but incredible news for music fans. The BBC Symphony Orchestra moved in a year later. Then, from 1946 till the present day, the studios housed recording sessions for BBC radio stations. Standout moments in its history include Bing Crosby’s last recording session, the creation of the ‘Doctor Who’ theme tune at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (which was based in the building) and a teatime radio show by The Beatles in 1963. It’s also got loads of its own folklore. An underground river runs beneath it. And, weirdly, each studio comes complete with a celeste, a tiny keyboard instrument used on songs like The Velvet Underground’s ‘Sunday Morning’ (apparently the BBC sold one of these dinky instruments to Toploader, who used it on their mega-hit ‘Dancing in the Moonlight’. So, really, a gift to us all).
Who’s going to buy this storied space? The good news is that it’s grade II-listed, which means that the iconic frontage will be safe from the developer’s wrecking ball. The bad news is that there’s no guarantee it’ll keep being used for cultural purposes. Estate agents Lambert Smith Hampton is advertising the property as ‘private and affordable residential, commercial and affordable workspace subject to the necessary planning consents’.
Let’s hope a buyer shows up who respects this venue’s incredible musical heritage: some things are too precious to lose.