Blackwing Studios


The site of Blackwing Studios taken after its closure in 2010
The site of Blackwing Studios in February 2010

Blackwing Studios was an English recording studio, most notable for early Depeche Mode and Yazoo recordings in the early 1980s.


The rear of All Hallows showing the main church window and bell tower, which was used for tape storage.
The site of Blackwing Studios in February 2010

The Blackwing Studios complex was housed inside a deconsecrated church in south-east London. All Hallows church was partly destroyed during The Blitz in 1941. After the war, Southwark Cathedral retained the north aisle and carried on using it as a temporary church. The destroyed south aisle was later turned into gardens and maintained by local residents from 1968.[1]

Blackwing Studios was started by Eric Radcliffe, who worked on most of the early Mute Records recordings alongside Daniel Miller.[2] Miller had discovered Blackwing when recording the Silicon Teens album. He required a studio with a big control room where he could set up all his synthesisers.[2] Daniel Miller carried on using Blackwing to record other Mute Records artists. At the rear of the church building was a bell tower that was used for storing master tapes.[3]

The first Depeche Mode album, Speak & Spell, was recorded at Blackwing using a TEAC eight-track recorder. The album was engineered by John Fryer.[4] Yazoo named one of their albums, Upstairs at Eric's, after the studio, due to the main Blackwing studio being above Splendid Studios.[2]: p.28  When Vince Clarke initially came to Blackwing to record with Yazoo, he found that the studio was fully booked; Depeche Mode were recording their new album. He had the choice of recording at 4am during studio downtime or building another studio, which is how Splendid Studios came about. It was a not-for-hire studio below Blackwing.[5]

After the break-up of Yazoo, Clarke decided he wanted to remain in the music industry. His initial enterprise after Yazoo was the formation of his own record label called Reset Records, a joint effort with Radcliffe, to sign and produce new acts recorded in Splendid Studios. The recordings were then licensed to RCA Records for release.[6]

Blackwing Studios closed down in September 2001 and the building has been empty ever since, but the church building and gardens are still there. However, this may soon not be the case as Southwark Council have been submitting plans since 2005 to redevelop the site with a four-storey development of private flats.[7]

Studio equipment

When Eric Radcliffe opened Blackwing, he initially used an eight-track TEAC for recording artists; this was later replaced by a 16-track machine. A second recorder was acquired and locked together with the initial machine, giving Blackwing 32 tracks of recording. This system was used for many early recordings by Yazoo and Depeche Mode. The system was eventually rationalised when two 24-track machines were purchased: one for Blackwing and one for Splendid Studios downstairs. Blackwing used an Amek 2500 mixing desk modified to work with electronic instruments. All the equipment at Blackwing and Splendid Studios was designed to be patchable through patch bays; none of the effects units were hardwired.[5] Clarke installed a Fairlight CMI into Blackwing, which he had bought before the Yazoo tour, and used it on tracks such as "Never Never" by The Assembly.

Due to the low bandwidth that the Fairlight produced, Clarke began using the Synclavier, which used FM synthesis. This led, in 1984, to Clarke’s purchase of a Yamaha DX7; he also updated the sound cards in the Fairlight to create a fuller sound. The Fairlight was used to sample sounds of Clarke smashing all sorts of wood, china and glass that were found when demolishing the lower part of the church to build Splendid Studios.[5] Blackwing used a range of quality reverberation, including an AMS RMX, Lexicon 224 and 224X and a Quantec Room Simulator. Recordings at Blackwing also used natural reverb from a long corridor that still retained the stonework from the original war-damaged church. Above the studio was a natural echo chamber that lay under the church roof. Radcliffe left the echo chamber when designing the studios, as it seemed a waste removing it.[5]

Depeche Mode

One of the first tracks Depeche Mode recorded at Blackwing was "Dreaming of Me", after being decided it would be the band's first single.[2] At the time, Clarke was unemployed, so he spent most of the daytime in the studio with Daniel Miller, who would advise Clarke on how to get sounds, use studio technology and arrange songs. Later in the afternoon, Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher would arrive from their day jobs to record melody parts.[2]: p.30  After the recording of Speak & Spell, Clarke left the band but carried on recording at Blackwing. In late 1981, Depeche Mode returned to Blackwing and recorded the single "See You",[2]: p.43  the first Depeche Mode track to use a Roland MC-4 sequencer, which made the core sound to the track.[8] It was also the first Depeche Mode track recorded without Clarke.

Notable recordings at Blackwing

External links

  • Sound On Sound John Fryer
  • Mute Records
  • Save All Hallows


  1. ^ London SE1 Retrieved on January 29, 2010
  2. ^ a b c d e f Malins, Steve (2014-09-01). Depeche Mode: A Biography. Carlton Publishing Group. p. 27. ISBN 9780233003771.
  3. ^ Erasure Official Site Archived 2012-10-23 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on February 26, 2010
  4. ^ Sound on Sound Retrieved on January 29, 2010
  5. ^ a b c d E&MM Magazine March 1984
  6. ^ Erasure Official Site Archived March 16, 2010, at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on January 29, 2010
  7. ^ Save All Hallows Retrieved on March 4, 2010
  8. ^ Miller, Jonathan (2008-09-01). Stripped: Depeche Mode. Omnibus Press. p. 139. ISBN 978-1847724441.

Coordinates: 51°30′12″N 0°05′52″W / 51.503221°N 0.097817°W / 51.503221; -0.097817