David Stewart, Manager of British Grove Studios, dies from Coronavirus

David Stewart, the Studio Manager of British Grove Studios in Chiswick has died from the Coronavirus.

‘David will be sorely missed, not only by everyone at British Grove but also by everybody who knew him. Our heart goes out to our beloved Robyn and their two sons Jake and Tommy.” wrote Mark Knopfler, April 16, 2020.

David set up British Grove Studios in the early 2000s with fellow studio engineer Dave Harries for Mark Knopfler, singer-songwriter, guitarist, and record producer, best known as the lead guitarist and front man for Dire Straits. In a relatively short time it has gained a reputation as one of the best music recording studios in the world.

At the height of his fame with Dire Straits Mark Knopfler had a small recording studios in a mews house in Notting Hill, and he wanted somewhere bigger. David Stewart knew Mark through his wife Robyn, who was Mark’s PA. He introduced Mark to Dave Harries with whom he had been working for ten years already at that point, and the two of them set about scouring west London in 2000 – 2001 looking for suitable properties.

“Chiswick is handy for the airport” Dave told me, “We have a lot of Americans coming over, as we do a lot of work for Disney, and we wanted somewhere by the river”.

They chose the building which is now British Grove Studios because of its size and its perfect position.

“It was an old warehouse which had been used for building Mosquito aircraft wings during the Second World War. It had been a printing press for Heidelberg, a Post Office store at one time and a book warehouse”. The building also has a music pedigree as the offices and record store of Chris Blackwell’s Island Records in the early ’70s.

Fundamental to the studios’ initial development was Knopfler’s own vision of his (increasingly sizeable) band “to be able to record together” he told PSN Europe in 2015. They were looking for a big live area. “That meant that we had to have a double-height space and plenty of booths to be able to achieve isolation for all the musicians,” Stewart told them.

The process of turning the premises into a recording studio took three years, as it was totally rebuilt from the ground up. Part of Knopfler’s vision was to combine “the best of old with the best of new” David told Sound on Sound magazine.

David and Dave were already ‘mainstays of the London studio scene’. They opened British Grove Studios for its first full-album sessions in January 2005, recording Razorlight’s second album. Mark made his reissue of Dire Straits’ 1985 classic, Brothers in Arms there, which subsequently won a Grammy Award. He recorded Kill To Get Crimson and Get Lucky albums there, as well as his collaboration with Emmylou Harris.

Eric Clapton, Ellie Goulding, Tori Amos, Kasabian and Mumford & Sons have all recorded there, as have Nick Cave, U2, Roger Waters, Sting, Razorlight, Kaiser Chiefs, Jamie Cullum and Goldfrapp. The Rolling Stones chose the studios to record their most recent album Blue & Lonesome at British Grove Studios. Released in 2016, the album was their first in more than a decade since A Bigger Band in 2005.

Why did they choose British Grove? “They came here because everything works” says Dave Harries. He is and David was a consummate professional, having been a professional guitarist himself and a sound engineer touring the world with live bands before going into management.

“The recording business is the most fantastic business to be in” says Dave. “There are so many jobs within the industry for which you are partly qualified and David just moved between them all”.

The son of an RAF pilot, David spent part of his childhood in Cyprus and part in Lincolnshire, where his father flew Vulcans at Scampton airbase. They moved around a lot, so it must have been completely natural to him to tour the world with bands. He was a guitarist with the Steve Hillage band and played with Santana. He went on tour with Cockney Rebel amongst others as an engineer and managed tours for Bryan Ferry.

“He was the nicest and finest of people” Dave told me. “All the staff loved and respected him. He was nice but he also got people to do things. He’s trained up a lot of young people”.

Currently the premises is secured, on lockdown and the projects they have in production are all on hold. Disney regularly record their film music at British Grove Studios, despite LA’s massive music business. The music for Gravity, for which they won awards, Mary Poppins Returns and the new Beauty and the Beast were all recorded at British Grove. One of the studios has a 96 channel mixer.

How do you manage that? “With a chair on wheels”. They can record as many as 30 or 50 musicians together, depending on the make up of the orchestra.

“The future of the studios is secure” says Dave. “The music business and the film business were both really buzzing before the Coronavirus. Shepperton studios has been bought by Netflix and the old Dagenham factory is becoming a film studios. We have lots of work on”.

David’s funeral will be attended only by his close family, in line with the current restrictions, but says Dave, they will have a big memorial service when they are able. “He would have had a huge number of people at his funeral”.

Image below: flowers outside David and Robyn’s house