Tuesday 18 April 2023

Why I started Mill Hill Music Complex

Did you know that I'm a thick, lazy, good for nothing, who will never amount to anything? I was told this by the man responsible for my education between 1973 and 1978, Mr Nick Kelly, Headmaster of Finchley Catholic High School. My careers advice suggested I might try some form of engineering such as a motor apprenticeship or perhaps driving a train. I say a prayer of thanks to the good Lord that I didn't screw anyones brakes up, burn their house down or crash the train they were on. I never for one second considered any of the options they suggested seriously. From the second I saw the Ramones on the 6th June 1977, aged 14, at The Roundhouse, I knew I wanted to be a punk rock musician. Until a millionth of a second before they took to the stage, I had no idea what I wanted to do. As I believed my Headmaster, I assumed that I'd never get any job that required a modicum of intelligence and anything that didn't seemed far too dull to bother with.  When The band took to the stage and Dee Dee shouted 1-2-3-4 and the first number started, I realised that to be a rock and roller, you did not to be a virtuoso. You simply needed a workable level of skill and good glazing of attitude. I acquired the attitude long before I got even a basic level of competence on my chosen instrument, the guitar. But I learned that attitude got you everywhere. 

When myself and Pete Conway started The False Dots, we had three main obsticles. The first was that we didn't have any instruments or sound gear and even worse, lacked the cash to buy them, being at school. The second was that even if we had them, we couldn't play a note and thirdly, we had nowhere to practice. So we set about making a plan. Myself and Pete were brilliant planners. We were far better at making plans than executing them. But the plan was to beg steal or borrow a guitar, a bass and an amp so we could start learning the instruments. I managed to persuade my sister to lend me her Columbus Electric guitar. It was a very pretty guitar, but a pig to play and did not stay in tune. Pete scraped up money to get a bass and I bought a FAL 50 Watt amp, that we could both play through. We started madly writing songs (that we could barely play). We had no concept of music theory or how to structure songs, so not only were they played badly, but they were rubbish. But a true punk never lets that stand in their way. In the 1970's, we didn't have mobile phones and nothing was on telly, so we had nothing much to do. We slowly improved. We got a drummer, a Mr David Edwards from Finchley. Dave didn't have a kit, so he banged a biscuit tin and a tambourine. Fortunately, no recordings exist of this awful racket. 

After about a month of this, my parents were going mad. My Dad was very supportive, but it was driving him mad. He'd recently acquired the freehold of Bunns Lane Works Industrial Estate and there was a derelict caretakers cottage. He said we could rehearse there if we gave hime £2 a week. We immediately started working on how we could turn it into a 'proper studio'. We approached a couple of other bands, did a deal where we all had a day of the week to rehearse and they gave me a £1 a week towards the rent and electricity. We pooled our gear and "The Cottage" was formed as a musicans collective. Other bands started to use the facilities and also paid, so I ended up making a tidy profit. IN a short period of time, the other bands split and we bought their gear off them. Although the name Mill Hill Music Complex was not used until 2001, the studios started in 1979.

The reason they came into existence was because there was nowhere for young musicians to play in Mill Hill, so young musicians sorted the situation out. It was not and never will be the aim of the studios to become a multi national company, although I do believe that our formula is the best. We exist because people love music and music can only exist whilst there are places for people to make music. It all starts with places like Mill Hill Music Complex. 

As I am now 60, my thoughts turn to the future. A business such as ours only exists because of the passion of people to make it happen. Without that passion, it is nothing. 

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