Elstree, look at me
Now I work for the BBC
Life is not what it used to be
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Elstree Studios Lot in Borehamwood, London.
(Credit: Damien Slattery)
Elstree Studios, a beloved institution in the history of British cinema, are situated in the commuter town of Borehamwood, just outside of London. Although much of the original structure has long since been demolished, the remaining core is still used for film and television recording to this day. Mention the name to any British film enthusiast and the chances are they will go misty-eyed, and with good reason.
It is staggering to think that the very first film ever made at Elstree, Madame Pompadour
, was released over 100 years ago, in the year 1927. Two years later Alfred Hitchock directed the studio's first "talkie," entitled Blackmail.
Over the next few decades, Elstree changed hands several times, with Warner Bros, EMI, and MGM variously owning and controlling the company. During this time hundreds of films were produced on site, including such classics as The Dambusters, Moby Dick,
and the James Bond film Moonraker.
It was in the late seventies and early eighties, though, that Elstree cemented its legacy, with Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back,
and Return of the Jedi
all being filmed there, as well as Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Death in Venice, Labyrinth, Empire of the Sun,
and many more revered motion pictures.
This continuing narrative between the old and the new, the changing face of technology, the dreams, disasters and dramas, hopes, fears, and aspirations perfectly tie Elstree Studios to the music of the band who were The Buggles.
Comprised of Trevor Charles Horn and co-writer Geoffrey Downes, The Buggles met in London, 1977, and their debut single (and sole hit) "Video Killed The Radio Star" was released in 1979. Standing on the edge of the '80s, a decade in which so much seemed to change so quickly, that single reached Number One in sixteen countries and, in a grand touch of comic irony, became the first video ever to be played on MTV.
On the back of that success, the duo wrote and recorded an album's worth of additional material, largely whilst on the road promoting and playing their hit. Horn later recalled how lyrics and music were scribbled on odd bits of paper in airport lounges with frantic dashes into the studio to lay down the tracks. The songs, he says, are modern psychedelia, and largely deal with the twin themes of nostalgia and anxiety with which every age wrestles.
Borehamwood: All Saints Church
(credit: Nigel Cox / CC BY-SA 2.0)
The resultant album, The Age Of Plastic
, sounds as if it is caught in the ether, suspended in time between a 1950s imagining of what the future ought to be like, the exuberant reality of the 1980s, when mass-market technology was just breaking loose, and a nascent tomorrow (or perhaps today) where thinking machines have driven a wedge between the bonds of humanity, disconnecting society from itself, whilst pertaining to bring us closer together.
One of the most affecting songs on the album, "Elstree" tells the tale of a failed actor looking back with fondness and regret. "Elstree," he sings, "remember me. I had a part in a B-movie." Even as the unnamed narrator laments his fall from stardom, he speaks with pride of his work in an age where there were no shorts cuts. "There's no technology to fake up a song, they stop the orchestra if you get it wrong." Lyrically the song feels ever more relevant today. It is sad and poignant, but also beautiful, with old and new instrumentation coupled with a wonderful tune and excellent production. "Life is not what it used to be," sings our narrator, and surely we can all agree on that.
Post-Buggles, Trevor Horn went on to an award-winning career as the music producer behind such era-defining acts as Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Seal, and Grace Jones. Geoffrey Downes formed the immensely successful Asia, and also produced for artists including Mike Oldfield and the Thompson Twins.
~ Chris WheatleyChris Wheatley is a music journalist, writer and musician from Oxford, UK. He has an enduring passion for sounds of all genres and far too many CDs. SilverPilgrim.com
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