Shed Studios was responsible for the production of hundreds of band recordings and a large body of music used for various advertisements and films in Rhodesia, and later in Zimbabwe, from 1975 until 2000. The company "Shed Recording Studios (Pvt) Ltd" (now defunct) began as a collaboration between Steve Roskilly, Martin Norris and Neil Thain, all employees of Rhodesia Television, in 1975 in Salisbury, Rhodesia.
Initially housed in a converted caravan, the first studio was based on a half inch 8 track Itam 805 tape recorder and series 2 Soundcraft 12:4:2 mixer, mastering onto a Revox A77. This outfit learned its trade by making a series of live recordings at various music venues, but soon found that the caravan was a restriction and a proper studio essential for progress.
The equipment was set up in one of Blackberry Productions' radio studios, and the company started making advertising jingles, children's story records, and a few private band recordings. As the advertising work increased, the partners lost Neil Thain, who moved to Johannesburg, and in 1979 the business moved into a purpose built professional studio premises on the 4th floor of Park House, Park Street. With 380 sq m available, these were comparatively large studios, comprising 6m x 6m control rooms and 12m x 8m live rooms. Its first recordings were for the folk singer and advertising Creative Director Clem Tholet. Clem's album Songs of Love and War was a chronicle of his early life. Clem Tholet became a good friend of the studios and brought a significant body of advertising work to it in the following years, as well as numerous privately produced songs, albums and film tracks.
The studios by now were called simply Shed Studios. Martin Norris and Steve Roskilly then set about offering free studio production time to deserving artists in return for a percentage of any resultant incomes. A publishing company Shed Music (Pvt) Ltd was created to deal with the music rights. In 1980, as the country became Zimbabwe, success was had with predominantly two artists, David Scobie and The Bhundu Boys, though many others including The Rusike Brothers, The Great Witch, and The Real Sounds became household names.
Roskilly originally asked David Scobie, a 15-year-old with a Neil Diamond sound-alike voice, to sing on an advertising jingle. The jingle, (for Musgrove and Watson) commissioned by Nick Alexander, a copywriter for Matthewman, Banks and Tholet, won an award for best jingle. Martin Norris wrote a song called "Gypsey Girl" for Scobie to record. The released single shot straight up the record sales charts knocking Michael Jackson's "Thriller" off the coveted No 1 position. It was in the charts for 25 weeks, 9 of which were at No 1 position. Subsequently it peaked at No 5 in the South African charts, remaining for 19 weeks. Scobie was offered 2 TV shows on SATV as a result but despite further singles and several albums, his career didn't take off any further. When he left school, however, he joined Shed Studios as a trainee engineer, became a director, and finally left to start his own studio "Eibocs".
Meanwhile, The Bhundu Boys were also having some success. Another great friend of the studio was the Zimbabwean guitarist Louis Mhlanga. He was a regular visitor to the studios, adding guitar parts to advertising works, and as session musician on a variety of albums. His last major work under his own name was Mukai and with Jethro Shasha Musik Ye Africa, before he moved to South Africa, where his career blossomed.
Shed record label
The "Shed" record label was launched and vinyl was pressed under licence by Gramma Records in Zimbabwe. There were a succession of hit songs and several albums. In 1985 the studios were approached by Owen Elias of Discafrique Records in the UK, to release a selection of African band music. A compilation of The Bhundu Boys and African Herb, an offshoot of Thomas Mapfumo's band, was released, and resulted in interest by the radio DJs John Peel, Andy Kershaw and Charlie Gillet. Shed responded in 1986 by licensing a compilation of Zimbabwean Bhundu Boys hits to Discafrique called "Shabhini", which took the UK world music public by storm. To the studio's disappointment, the band pulled out of the final months of their Shed contract when they were signed by Warner Bros.. A second compilation of Shed recordings was released by Discafrique called "Tsvimbodzemoto", which also sold well, but that was the end of the recording careers of The Bhundu Boys at Shed Studios. Following his move to UK in 2000, Steve Roskilly collaborated with Gordon Muir, the Bhundu Boys' erstwhile manager, to produce a final compilation double CD called "The Shed Sessions", which reawakened the classic Bhundu music on CD again, including previously unreleased tracks. The CD continues to sell.
Back in 1981 Shed Studios was commissioned by the Zimbabwe Government to provide live sound for the first Independence Celebrations at Rufaro Stadium. With no PA system available in Salisbury, Roskilly was sent to London with a government minder in tow to buy the relevant necessary PA equipment. The gear was duly delivered to the stadium and the celebrations went ahead as planned. Subsequently, the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee pronounced that the government had not purchased the PA system in the laid down method, but Shed Studios was not held accountable.
In 1981, Shed's session drummer Bothwell Nyamhondera joined the company to become a studio engineer, as a second studio was opened at Park Street. Steve Hughes invested some capital to assist this move, and became a director alongside Roskilly and Norris, managing disc releases. Nyamhondera's talents soon saw him the engineer of choice for the local record companies Gramma and Gallo (later ZMC) and so when Martin Norris left for a new life in Brisbane in 1983, whilst Hughes left for South Africa, Roskilly sold all the studio equipment to Gramma in order to pay off their shareholding, and Bothwell Nyamhondera was taken on by Gramma directly as their new engineer.
Roskilly, as Shed Studios, managed the new Gramma studios in return for a reduced studio hire rate, and continued to produce advertising jingles and film tracks. Business flourished, and as Scobie joined as trainee engineer, so did Henry Peters, a bassist. As a threesome the business continued to grow, and the studios developed to MCI 24 track and capability.
The Refugee Incident
The Zimbabwe Music Corporation brought the Canadian band Refugee, into the studio in April 1986 to record a song called “Sunrise in Zimbabwe”. ZMC represented the label in Zimbabwe, through which the band released their music through. The band had originally been brought to the country to perform in concert by Capricorn Promotions, but Capricorn had failed to provide a suitable PA system. Myles Hunter, lead singer, had written the track and suggested that if it were to be recorded, royalties from a record release could go to the “Save the Rhino” fund. This would therefore entail a second song to be recorded at a later date. The 15-hour recording session went ahead with Steve Roskilly at the helm. There then appeared to be another hitch when Capricorn announced they could not pay for the session. After a brief legal battle, solicitors established that the recording would remain the property of the studio. Cliff Hunt, the band’s manager agreed to make over all rights to Shed Studios as long as any future sale proceeds would settle the outstanding bill, then would accrue to the Rhino charity as originally intended. Two years later, Roskilly asked his film colleague, Ralph Stutchbury, to cut together some iconic sunrise shots alongside the powerful Refugee audio recording. He then took the potential advertisement to the ad agency representing the Zimbabwe Tourist Board, Lintas, who turned it down. The ad was then presented to Michael Hogg Advertising, who immediately took it for their upcoming Air Zimbabwe Campaign. In fact, a whole new campaign was built around the sunrise concept. The result was a huge success nationwide, and the Refugee recording went on to gain many awards for the ad agency. The fee from the agency covered the outstanding studio fees and the balance was made over to Save the Rhino as agreed. It has been noticed that a YouTube-featured video of dubious quality, purporting to be the original ad, is actually fake, having a more recent version of the music performed by another Zimbabwean musician, Bud Cockcroft.
In 1987, Andy Zweck from Harvey Goldsmith Productions in London, and Neil Dunn, a friend of Roskilly’s, brought the offer of becoming promoter for a pair of upcoming concerts for Paul Simon. The African Concerts were to be filmed as a promotional tool for the release of the “Graceland (album)”. The project went ahead as planned, promoted by Shed Recording Studios. Two concerts were recorded, playing to multi-racial audiences of 20,000 at a deliberately low ticket price of ZIM$5.00. Since the total budget was Zim$446,000, a shortfall of ZIM$246,000 was paid into Zimbabwe by Paul Simon to make up the difference. Acting as technical manager Roskilly went on to work with Dunn for a series of further concerts including the Reebok Sponsored Human Rights Now! Harare concert in October 1988 with Bruce Springsteen, Tracy Chapman, Sting, Youssou N’Dour,and Peter Gabriel. Controversially, the PA for this concert came from Johannesburg in apartheid South Africa. Other concerts included UB40, Eric Clapton, and Randy Crawford until 1989 when such concerts were then able to be performed instead in the new South Africa.
More Studio Developments
In 1989, the company pulled out of the Gramma building and constructed 3 studios in the basement of 123 Robert Mugabe Way. A Fostex B16 half inch 16 track and Allen & Heath Saber mixer handled studio 1 band recordings, a C Lab Notator sequencing system with Soundscape SSHDR-1 hard-disc recorder and A & H series 8 mixer handled the ad industry music in studio 2, and sponsored radio programmes were recorded by Cherry Productions in Studio 3, based on Revox recorders. During the move, Scobie pulled away to set up his own studio and Peters left for Germany. Two new shareholders came aboard in the shape of Benny Miller, Thomas Mapfumo's preferred engineer, and briefly, Peter vanDeventer.
This was really the golden age of the studios. Benny Miller did many band recordings in studio 1 including some classic Mapfumo tracks and Kelly Rusike, another outstanding bassist, and younger member of [[The Rusike Brothers] band, became engineer in 1990, handling the regular record company band sessions. Roskilly composed, performed and engineered advertising jingle productions in studio 2, and Sally Donaldson and Hilton Mambo operated Studio 3 as Cherry Productions, doing their sponsored radio programmes. When Bud Cockcroft put up some money to develop studio one to a Fostex G16, Shed gained another shareholder and longtime director. This was the setup for the next 5 years.
In 1995, Roskilly started an offshoot called Prosound, which was to become a live sound production company. It took him away from the studios, and so studio engineer Kelly Rusike took over more of the computer studio work.
In 1996, The Studios hosted an enthusiastic gap year student from Britain, Chris Martin. Martin was nephew to one of Roskilly's family friends. They operated and developed the new PA company together for about 6 months, and worked in the Soundscape-equipped digital studio producing jingles and a theatrical backtrack for St George's College, the Passion Play No Greater Love. This Elaine Gillespie production was performed outdoors to an audience of 1500 for 10 nights. When Martin went away to university, he then founded the supergroup Coldplay.
Andrew McClymont replaced Chris Martin in 1997, as Prosound became Pro-Active Audio Zim, becoming hire manager, and the company took off, handling all sound services for the extensive World Council of Churches' 8th Assembly in 1998, led by general secretary Konrad Raiser.
Final move and Epilogue
Just prior to this event, Steve Roskilly had bought a run down ex farmhouse in Harare’s Greendale district, on a 1 hectare plot. The main house was converted to offices and PA storage, the cottage converted to 2 studios and a service area, and surroundings planted to provide a peaceful setting for some serious chillout for recording bands.
With Kelly Rusike running the computer studio, a new face in the shape of Ex R.U.N.N. family bassist - Peter Muparutsa was brought in to run the 16 track analogue tape studio, doing all the record company business. As time went on, Isaac Chirwa, another long standing associate joined the team to assist Kelly Rusike.
In early 2000 however, Steve Roskilly saw a downturn in Zimbabwe's advertising and disc business due to foreign currency cutbacks in the country, and the politically motivated farm invasions began in earnest against prime exporters. For Roskilly, the political future of the country was not looking good, and when other family issues also intervened, he set about moving back to his native UK. After building a pair of radio broadcast studios for the controversial SW Radio Africa organisation and then acting as station engineer for 2 years, he joined Cheltenham Stage Services, a live sound and lighting company. He resigned his directorship at the end of 2008 and as founder member of Production AV Ltd, a young dynamic Audio Visual company, he specialised in providing AV permanent installations until he retired in 2017.
Back in Zimbabwe Shed Productions, the jingle productions company was sold to studio engineer Kelly Rusike, which continues; Shed Recording Studios which owned all the studio equipment was sold to Keith Farquharson, and Roskilly Enterprises which owned the premises was eventually sold to a new record company. Before being wound up. Shed Music, the publishing company assigned all its rights to Roskilly's newly-incorporated Pro-Active Audio Ltd in UK.
Shed Studios was a pioneer in the development of the music industry in Zimbabwe, taking its place on the Zimbabwe Music Industry Association board, and as chair of the Production House Association of Zimbabwe. From 1975 to 2000, its activities saw substantial competition from many other music studios and production houses, of which none survived. As an independent production company it was an essential tool for emerging bands in the 80s and 90s, where contractual relationships with the record companies was considered to be not an option.
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