Rolling Stones Mobile Studio
The Rolling Stones Mobile Studio is a mobile recording studio owned by the English rock band The Rolling Stones. Numerous bands and artists have recorded music using it, including Deep Purple, Lou Reed, Bob Marley, Horslips, Fleetwood Mac, Bad Company, Status Quo, Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden, Wishbone Ash, Mola Mola and the Rolling Stones themselves.
The concept for The Rolling Stones Mobile Studio first came about in 1968 when the Rolling Stones decided they needed a new environment in which to record music. Tired of the 9-to-5 limitations of a regular studio, the Stones decided to use Mick Jagger's new country house (Stargroves) in England to record new music. All the necessary equipment had to be brought to the house, so the idea of putting a control room into a van was brought up by their road manager Ian Stewart.
Under Stewart's guidance, a variety of top engineers and producers, including Glyn Johns, were consulted in the project's creation, which was then taken to Dick Swettenham's company Helios Electronics. Known for making mixing consoles for some of the most exclusive studios of the time, the company then produced the first working version of The Rolling Stones Mobile Studio. Originally only intended for use by The Stones, the unit soon gained popularity among the likes of other classic rock bands, such as The Who, The Faces, and Led Zeppelin.
From the beginning the Mobile Studio was quite experimental. It was the first fully fitted mobile multi-track studio, and could be adapted to whatever specifications the job required. When recording orchestral music for the Frank Zappa film 200 Motels, problems arose when the silver aluminum body kept showing up in the background of the film. The entire unit was then painted with a camouflage color scheme to hide it in the trees. It sported this look for many years to come.
Originally the unit supported a maximum of 20 inputs and had an 8-track recording format. As the Mobile began to be used for live recording, the 8-track format quickly proved insufficient and an upgrade to 16-track took place.
Several classic albums were recorded with the Mobile Studio, including most of Led Zeppelin's Led Zeppelin III (1970) and Led Zeppelin IV (1971), much of the Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers (1971) and Exile On Main St. (1972), as well as the Stones' 1969 Hyde Park concert. The unit was used in a large variety of locations, everywhere from halls to barns to castles and the casino at Montreux, Switzerland. During the making of the sixth Deep Purple album, Machine Head, the Mobile nearly caught fire as it stood next to the casino, which was set ablaze during a Frank Zappa concert. This incident became the inspiration behind Deep Purple's most famous song, "Smoke on the Water", where Ian Gillan mentioned the Mobile in the lyrics ("We all came out to Montreux ... to make records with a mobile", and later referred to the Mobile as the "Rolling truck Stones thing").
During Spring 1973 (until 1976), Tapani Talo (aka Tapanainen) was hired to be the permanent assistant sound engineer for the mobile, and at his insistence and guidance acoustical renovations were conducted. This made the mobile a truly first class recording unit from then on.
During The Rolling Stones 1973 European Tour Mick McKenna joined the company, and working with Ian Stewart until his death in 1985, undertook the future development of the unit to suit the changing patterns of work. The next couple of years saw a great deal of re-building and general upgrade to the Mobile. The 16 track was upgraded to a 24 track, 12 new inputs were added to the existing 20, and a large amount of work was done to improve the acoustic environment of the unit.
In 1979, the Mobile went to the USSR to record a performance of the Katchaturian ballet Gayane performed by the Latvian company Ballet Riga. This performance was accompanied by a 72 piece orchestra and was later presented in movie theaters around the world. Later, the mobile would travel to Greece to capture a concert at the Acropolis by Nana Mouskouri, who had recently returned to her homeland after being exiled twenty one years earlier.
By the 1980s the pattern of work had shifted towards more broadcast oriented products, mostly for major UK clients such as LWT, BBC, Capital Radio, Tyne Tees Television and others. This prompted the inclusion of a synchronizing computer in 1982. This computer enabled audio and video tapes to be run in perfect time, which allowed the Mobile to record a show and then provide finished audio ready for transmission. This feature made it possible to provide the entire sound for several TV series incorporating such artists as Miles Davis, Willie Nelson, Paul Young, and The Chieftains.
In 1987 Bill Wyman created the Ambition Invention Motivation Success project (or the AIMS project) which was a vehicle to give young bands all around the country a chance to work out of the Mobile Studio and produce a top quality demo. The blue livery and yellow sign writing were applied as the colors of the project’s sponsor PERNOD. Producer Terry Taylor & Mick McKenna worked on about 60 tracks during the course of the project, which culminated with a final show at the Royal Albert Hall in February 1988. Six finalists were chosen from the countrywide recording sessions to record one single and appear at the Albert Hall. They included: An American In Paris (From Portsmouth), The Lorry Dogs (Nottingham), Mola Mola (Norwich), This Perfect Gift (Suffolk), Someone Shouted (unknown), The Works (Cleveland). The winner of this project was Mola Mola (Jack Hazebroek). He released his first single "Get ahead" on the "Ripple" Label. To promote the record Jack Hazebroek appeared with Bill Wyman on many radio and TV programs one of which was the "Terry Wogan" Show. A documentary of the AIMS project and the Mobile Studio was made by the BBC. The Royal Albert Hall Concert was recorded by the Mobile Studio and was released on CD by "Ripple".
The Mobile was subsequently returned to the commercial marketplace which had become extremely competitive, both financially and technically. It remained in operation until its closure in April 1993. The last recordings made by it were with Chris Jagger, brother of the Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger, and his band Atcha!, at the unit's base in Pinewood Studios.
In 1996 The Mobile, still in its original form, was sold through auction at Bonham’s and brought to the states by Loho Studios in New York City. After a bit of technical service, it was put into action in the underground music scene in New York; making recordings including: live performances of Patti Smith; The Ramones, and nearly 30 other bands were recorded live at the Continental for the "Best of NYC Hardcore" album; Matador Records retained The Mobile for its 10th anniversary party in 1999, including many Matador alumni, held at Irving Plaza. Also in that year, Greg Di Gesu recorded D Generation's final show at Coney Island High. It remained in service in NYC until late 2000.
The unit is currently owned by the National Music Centre in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
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Notable Rolling Stones Mobile Projects
- "Smoke on the Water" - Deep Purple
- "No Woman No Cry" - Bob Marley and the Wailers
- "Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter" - Iron Maiden
- 1970: Led Zeppelin III - Led Zeppelin
- 1971: Sticky Fingers - The Rolling Stones
- 1971: (Led Zeppelin IV) - Led Zeppelin
- 1972: Machine Head - Deep Purple
- 1972: Exile on Main St. - The Rolling Stones
- 1972: Happy to Meet – Sorry to Part - Horslips
- 1973: Houses of the Holy - Led Zeppelin
- 1973: Live Dates - Wishbone Ash
- 1973: Penguin - Fleetwood Mac
- 1973: Mystery To Me - Fleetwood Mac
- 1973: Who Do We Think We Are - Deep Purple
- 1974: Burn - Deep Purple
- 1975: Physical Graffiti - Led Zeppelin
- 1975: Live! - Bob Marley and the Wailers
- 1975: Run with the Pack - Bad Company
- 1977: Live! - Status Quo
- 1977: Moonflower - Santana
- 1979: Life in a Day - Simple Minds
- 1981: Rocket 88 - Rocket 88
- 1985: A Physical Presence - Level 42
- 1990: No Prayer for the Dying - Iron Maiden