Music studio where Ukraine benefit single was made faces eviction by NHS landlord

Abbey Music rehearsal room
Abbey Music Studios still regularly hosts professional musicians

A music studio that has hosted members of Squeeze, T’Pau, Nine Below Zero and Kate Bush’s original backing band as well as helping mental health patients faces closure after being evicted by its NHS landlord.

Abbey Music Studio, which is based in the grounds of the former Goldie Leigh Hospital, is set to close next month after the Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust said it wanted to take the building back to open a “wellbeing hub” for staff and patients.

The building was derelict and vandalised when the studio’s founder Steve Norman took it over in the early 1990s, but he patched it up at his own expense and fitted it with professional recording and rehearsal facilities, working with both NHS patients and outside musicians.

Users include Lee Perry’s backing band The Upsetters and Mark Shaw, the singer with 1980s band Then Jericho. The soundtrack to the 2019 Abba exhibition at the O2 was produced at the studio, as was Forever Young, a recent charity single for Ukraine.

Now the equipment is being ripped out as the studio prepares to close for the last time, despite a 2,600-strong petition against its eviction.

“I’m gutted, it’s the end of my life,” Norman, 61, told this website.

Recording studio desk
Equipment such as this analogue mixing desk will have to go

The studio is still used by professional musicians – Brian Bath, the guitarist with Kate Bush’s original group, the KT Bush Band, is a regular visitor: “The band were in here yesterday. They’re really going to miss the place”. But Norman is most proud of the services he provides for people with mental health difficulties.

“I had one a little while ago, a guy who plays saxophone. He lives in a flat, so he can’t possibly play at home, and he comes here up to three times a week,” he said.

Recording studio with sofa and drum kit
Steve Norman is preparing to say goodbye to his studio after 30 years

“I used to have vanloads from Bexley Hospital and the Memorial Hospital at Shooters Hill. Then they made their cuts, they couldn’t get transport over here.

“[The trust] has made no effort to get clients to participate. I’ve always had to do it off my own bat and since Covid it’s dwindled, almost to the point where [the trust] don’t recognise it.”

The trust “could never provide a service like I have here – they tend to have someone passing a tambourine around a room”, Norman said.

Abbey Music Studios
The studio is hidden away, unsigned, on the Goldie Leigh site

The closure means Norman is having to dispose of equipment built up over decades – including analogue and digital recording desks that cost thousands when new and were later passed onto Norman.

“I’ve probably got the quality of what Abbey Road was 10 years ago, which is good enough. I don’t need to have the very latest, I need to have something that works well,” he said.

“Just look at the sound system. They used to use the same speakers in the Astoria and the London Palladium – they’re phenomenal.

“Even my drum kits – some of them have £1,000-worth of cymbals on them, because when you hit them they sound great. People just don’t get the opportunity to use that, especially mental health patients. If they hit it and it sounds great, they want to hit it more.”

Goldie Leigh Hospital closed building
Several buildings on the site remain empty, but Oxleas trust decided to take over the studio

The number of mental health patients “never recovered” after the pandemic stuck, Norman said. “But then the trust has never done anything. If the trust would make an effort, it would’ve been the most phenomenal thing in mental health.

“I could write a book on experiences that I’ve had with mental health patients. You probably know yourself how good music can make you feel. I’ve got so many examples I could give you, but they’re just wasted at the moment.”

One of the petition’s signatories, Shell Newton, wrote: “There is nothing like this locally and the studio is a great resource for everyone and Steve has supported so many vulnerable people, some with mental health issues and learning difficulties. It is a shame and will be a massive loss to many if Oxleas trust do not step in and work in partnership with the studio.”

Another, Julian Chown, said: “It’s not only a vital place for many of us to practice and create, but it also plays a crucial role in keeping young people out of trouble. By providing a safe and constructive environment for them to channel their energy and creativity, this studio has become a beacon of hope for many young artists in our community.”

Goldie Leigh, on the Greenwich-Bexley borough boundary, was a children’s hospital until 1988. Snce then its buildings, tucked away by Bostall Wood, have been used to provide a variety of adult mental health services. But some buildings have clearly been empty for years, while a more recently-renovated building, which is said to contain a hall, is boarded up.

Despite this, and the fact that it has not submitted a planning application for the new wellbeing hub, the trust is still planning to take the studio back.

Empty building on Goldie Leigh site
Oxleas NHS trust said that the other buildings were not suitable for its wellbeing facility

“If they get rid of me they’ve still got three empty buildings,” Norman said. “I’m dealing with the accountants rather than people with a heart.”

A spokesperson for Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust said: “We have been looking at ways to develop our Goldie Leigh site to benefit local people through our health services and improved environmental and community resources.

“Our plans were delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, but our vision is to revitalise the site so the buildings meet the requirements of modern health services and are a better resource for the wellbeing of the local community.

Goldie Leigh site
The trust said it wants to “revitalise” the Goldie Leigh site in Abbey Wood

“To enable a wellbeing hub to be developed for service users, staff and associated charity partners, the building currently occupied by Abbey Music Studios will need to be renovated and repurposed. Other buildings on the site are not suitable for this purpose.

“Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust is in contact with the current occupier who has known for several years about the need to find alternative accommodation for his business. His current lease has ended and we have given him extra time to find a new location. We do not have any arrangements with Abbey Music Studios to provide therapy to our patients as part of their care. We run a range of NHS music therapy services from our Highpoint House site in Woolwich.”

The studio users’ petition is at change.org.


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