The recording studio at this house in Woodbine Street was established by John Rivers in 1977. He converted the cellar into a basement recording studio. John moved out in 1981 to build a new studio at St Mary’s Crescent in Leamington Spa; it retains the original name.

The studio is perhaps best known as the location of the recording of ‘Ghost Town’ by ‘The Specials’ in 1981.

The unveiling on 8th December 2021 (both photos by Allan Jennings)                               WOODBINE STREET RECORDING STUDIO
In 1973 John Rivers bought 27 Woodbine Street because it was “the cheapest house in Leamington”.  It had all the problems of old houses, but it also had a redeeming feature, one that would change his life forever: a cold, dark, damp, windowless cellar…
John’s passion was music.  He learned to play the piano when he was four years old and as a teenager, played keyboards and drums in local bands.  After leaving school John was a professional musician until the age of 22, when he became a computer engineer.
Having been fascinated with recording since he built his first tape recorder aged 14, John bought an old Sony valve tape recorder and started recording musician friends in the front room of his new house.  His growing reputation led to more ambitious recordings with even more musicians.  Realising that this could be his future career, in 1975 he bought a 4-track tape machine to improve the quality of his recordings.  The problem was that the front room was too small to cope with the increasing number of musicians and the complexity of John’s recordings.  The solution lay directly below – the cellar!
John set about converting the cellar into a basement recording studio: ‘I lined the brick walls with two-inch by one-inch blocks of wood and put fibre board on top, which was nearly one inch thick and very absorbent and non-resonant. While the floor was carpeted concrete, the ceiling was marine ply and I put dry sand on there to add soundproofing, as well as a great big RSJ across the centre to stop it all sagging. I also installed a false wall between the front of the studio and the road, as well as double doors to get the gear in and out.  The ceiling height of that cellar was ridiculous.  It was probably only six foot six, but I couldn’t afford to do anything crazy like taking the floor out and raising the head room.  It must have measured about six foot six by 12 feet by 10 feet — I can’t believe anybody wanted to work there!’
John soon became a full-time music producer.  He reinvested his income into new recording equipment and in 1979 he made the leap from 4-track to 8-track with the acquisition of a Soundcraft Magnetics recorder and mixing desk – costing the equivalent of the price of a decent new car!
John’s new studio was incredibly successful with many new artists recording there, including The Shapes, Swell Maps, Eyeless in Gaza and Barnsley Bill (aka Mr Horace Panter).  However, the studio’s growing reputation did not depend on technology, acoustics or location, but on John’s reputation as a producer who cared about artists and the music they wanted to make.  
Most artists recorded playing together ‘live’, squashed into the studio’s tiny space.  However, this was not possible in the case of the most famous group to record there, The Specials.  It was physically impossible for all seven members of the group to perform together so each person was recorded separately in the studio.  Apart from the flute – this was recorded upstairs in the hall, with a microphone hanging down from the first floor!  And the record itself?  Ghost Town, one of the most evocative and provocative singles of all time, a graphic depiction of the inner-city deprivation and urban unrest prevalent throughout the UK in the early 1980s.
Horace Panter, bass player in The Specials said: ‘In an era when eye-watering amounts of money were being spent on recording at residential studios in the Bahamas on state-of-the-art multi-track machines in rooms the size of tennis courts, The Specials recorded one of the most iconic pieces of 20th century pop music in a basement studio at the bottom of a terraced house in Leamington Spa. Not only as a snub to the unnecessary extravagance of the music industry, but as a homage to the music that influenced us.  All our favourite early reggae songs were recorded quickly and cheaply. Woodbine was the local studio with a growing reputation and fitted the bill.  Not only was Ghost Town a great piece of music, it had a different sound, and this was due, in no small part, to the studio in which it was recorded and to the engineering skills of its owner, John Rivers.’
Ghost Town went on to become The Specials’ most successful single ever, spending three weeks at No 1 in July 1981.  However, those ten days in John’s studio was the last time that The Specials would record together – they separated later that year.  In 1993 some members of the band reunited and they continue to perform as The Specials to this day.  Ghost Town will always be their encore.
1981 was also a year of change for John – he built a new, larger studio in nearby St Mary’s Crescent, where he continues to produce music for a large variety of artists.  Its name?  Woodbine Street Recording Studio.  It couldn’t possibly be called anything else…
Word count – 836   (Text from Leaflet produced for Unveiling – MR)