In the 1970s and 1980s, a Sheffield mechanic's house was transformed into Studio Electrophonique. This recording studio was the home to seminal British bands such as Pulp, The Human League, and ABC. Its story has been retold in a new film.
The unassuming semi-detached home of Ken Patten looked almost exactly the same from the street as any other house on his estate or on any post-war British estate.
However, inside musicians created the future sound British pop using synthesisers in their living room, an electronic drum set in the master bedroom and even a DIY vocoder - which produces a robot-like singing effect - made from old RAF microphones, toilet rolls, and the extension at the bottom.
Martyn Ware remembers the house as "totally chintz" and featured large sofas in flower patterns. It was a typical suburban Sheffield house with a thick pile carpet. It was very comfortable and beautiful, with a little conservatory at the end.
Ware would later form The Human League, and Heaven 17. After seeing an advertisement in the local newspaper, Ware made the trip to Ken's house in Sheffield to meet his first band, The Future.
They expected Ken to bring them into his studio or garage when they arrived. Instead, he said that they would be recording in his lounge.
"I asked, "Where can we place the synths and other stuff?" He replied, "Oh, just put them onto the coffee table." He pulled out his four-track recorder, and, according to my memory, a small mixing desk. Half of us sat down on the small sofa and half on the ground.
It was the unlikely birth of something so beautiful and avant-garde that I can think of. It's a lot more bizarre than being in a fancy set. It was almost like Coronation Street.
Ware's forthcoming autobiography will include a section on Ken's improbable-named Studio Electrophonique. Pulp's Jarvis Cocker fondly remembers it in his recent book Good Pop Bad Pop.
A Film About Studio Electrophonique, a documentary, premiered at Sheffield Doc/Fest last Wednesday.
Jamie Taylor, the film's director, said that the home studio had a "very Heath Robinson home-made spirit to it". Most of the recording took place in Ken's extension.
Taylor says that Taylor did possess some cutting-edge equipment. He also made some unusual contraptions. It was small and extended into other rooms.
Taylor's documentary features Cocker talking about how he marvelled at the CCTV system Patten set up that allowed them to see their drummer downstairs while they were upstairs. This was 1981. Cocker then gave the demo tape to BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel. It led to their first radio session, before they signed a record contract.
Ware claims that his band's recording was "massively crucial" to their progress. The tape, which he calls "soundscapes with vocals" was sent to London record labels. They were all told to leave after only five minutes, but some people saw their potential.
They said that they needed to go away to write structured songs. However, this demo is very interesting. Please come back to us when we have more material." They did and signed a contract with Virgin Records, one of the labels that expressed interest in the Studio Electrophonique demo.
Vice Versa was another band that recorded early in Ken's home. They would later become ABC. Ken also recorded for budding pop acts, as well as folk acts and ranting political singers, in addition to the budding pop bands.
Taylor says that Taylor believes his wife was tolerant of his hobby. Taylor explains that there were rules. If the bands arrived, they had to remove their shoes. They were not allowed to use upstairs the toilet. Jarvis claimed that there was polythene on the bed to prevent them from soiling the eiderdown.
It was a strange mix of a cutting edge studio and a suburban home. One band said that no matter what stage they were in recording, at four o'clock each afternoon it stopped. His wife brought Ken and his heart medication a cup of tea.
Ware also discovered that domestic tasks were more important than work.
He says, "We reached the end of our first day and were really in our stride." "It was about six o’clock when Mrs Patten arrived and said, "Ken, your dinner's ready." He replied, "Oh, my lads, we have to stop now."
He laughs, "We were in middle of something really deep and heavy." "But, 'Your meal's on the table. It won't take long'," he said.
The documentary shows that Ken was more than just an ordinary RAF veteran and panel beatinger. He was a British eccentric technological tinkerer.
He took his daughter water-skiing on a speedboat that he had built (which exploded and injures his daughter). He also recorded radio-style scifi sketches and performed silent comedy routines for a cine film club.
Taylor says, "Based on the things we discovered, it seemed like he was a Wallace and Gromit or Caractacus Potts kind."
He was an outwardly very normal, boring person with a suburban life, but he also had bizarre hobbies. Music was only one of his many interests.
Taylor is following Ken's DIY philosophy. Taylor is an English teacher. He filmed the documentary using an iPad and a cheap microphone, and then got some funding to edit it professionally.
With little expectation, he approached Cocker, Ware, and Sean Bean - both of whom grew up on the Ballifield estate that Ken did - to ask if they would be willing to participate. All of them said yes.
Taylor had previously made a film about a working men’s club football team. It was also shot on Taylor's iPad, without funding and with no idea of who would be interested in it.
He says, "No one's going to commission you to make an film in Sheffield if your are an unknown filmmaker." We just did it. We followed Ken's example."