Montserrat May 6, 2013

We were not really planning to visit Montserrat.  It was actually sort of a last minute thing.  We were planning to head toward Nevis and St. Kitts.  We had engine problems which kept us in the Saintes for a couple of extra days.  So we made an adjustment and decided to stop in Montserrat instead.  The sail from Deshaines in Guadeloupe is about 36 miles and it can be done as a daysail.  We arrived around 4 PM and we anchored in Rendezvous  Bay which is in the Northwest part of the Island.  We came in on a Sunday and we had planned to just drop our anchor and then wait to clear customs and immigration on Monday morning.  However, as we were coming in we got a call on the radio informing us that we might be better off coming in today as the next day was a Holiday.  So I went in to clear us in.  As I was finishing up with customs, I asked about arranging a tour for tomorrow.  The customs officer said to check with Joe Phillips who was parked just outside the gates of the customs and immigration restricted area.  As it turned out, Joe was the tour guide highly recommended by the guidebook.  So I signed Graham and me up for a tour starting at 9:30 AM.

We rode the dingy into Little Bay for our tour.  While we drove through northern Montserrat, Joe started the tour by telling us about George Martin, the music producer for the Beatles.  Sir George already owned AIR Studios in London then in 1979 he  set up a recording studio in Montserrat.  Many famous musicians came here to record.  I knew this was where Jimmy Buffet recorded “Volcano” years before the actual eruption.  What I didn’t know was that many others including Paul McCartney, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Dire Straits, The Police, and Eric Clapton recorded here.

Sir George’s idea was that it could be a retreat where musicians could get away from the distractions and demands of big city life and really focus on their music.  The house was right next to the studio so that it was possible to pop into the studio anytime you were ready to record.

Exterior of AIR Studio, housing on the right, studio on the left
Interior of the AIR Studio in Montserrat

When we arrived I felt sad to see the ruins of such an amazing place.  We wandered around the studio and the house taking pictures while Joe showed us videos and pictures from the studio in its heyday.  One of the best is the music video recorded by The Police for Every little thing she does is magic.  I have embedded the video below.  The really interesting thing about the video is that so much is happening: you can see interior shots of the studio at .36; exterior shots of The Police jamming on the streets of Plymouth (the city engulfed by the volcano); and at 3:25 Sting dances across the famous Neve sound board inside the engineering side of the studio.

Richard Buskin has a really interesting article about what it was like to record Dire Straits Money for Nothing at the AIR Montserrat.  It was a very small space with an amazing soundboard.

Although the studio was destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, George Martin continued to visit his home on the island every year until his passing in 2016.  George has also raised money for Earthquake assistance and a new cultural center that bears his name.  Joe Phillip, our guide, had videos of the many of the performers on his iPad so we could see and hear them talk about their time in Montserrat during the benefit concert. 

Of course the most amazing part of the tour was the views of the devastation caused by the eruptions of the volcano.  We went through a river valley between Plymouth and Brades which used to be a beach and a golf course which has since been buried.  Joe had before and after pictures of the devastation.  This included a bridge buried under 35ft of ash and mud.  We saw before and after pictures of houses where the only visible remains were the very top floor of a three story building.  Joe had many before pictures on his iPad so that he could show us the before and we could see the after for ourselves.  Plymouth was even worse with a huge slides of mud and ash which have buried all but the taller buildings.  We asked Joe to point out the Medical School and we took pictures for our friend Judy R. who graduated from the school. 

Remains of the Montserrat Medical School
Downtown Plymouth: Only the tops of a few buildings can be seen.

It was a humbling experience to see the power of mother nature and the havoc caused.  We left the island thinking that Montserrat has had some very tough times in the last two decades.  It seems unfair that the friendly people of Montserrat have experienced so many natural disasters.

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