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When Your Ship Comes In

Photo by Laura Oakley


Lightship95 owner Ben Phillips has been consistently busy, recording nearly every day for the last year. Jake Young is welcomed aboard for a tour of a studio on a ship.

ARRIVING AT the Trinity Buoy Wharf centre for the arts and creative industries, the site’s long and varied history is quickly apparent. Littered among the Wharf ’s original buoy workshops, which have now been converted into gallery and artistic working spaces, are a number of new rehearsal rooms, a school, a classic American diner, and three of the sustainable Container City buildings built from shipping containers linked together. Yet one of the most striking

features of this thriving artistic community is the bright red 1939 lightship moored to the wharf that is home to the contemporary, self-built Lightship95 recording studio that owner and engineer Ben Phillips shares with producer Rory Attwell and engineer

30 January 2014

Jack McKenna, as well as the numerous other producers and engineers who hire it for its unique space and great- sounding live room. After four years of trying to

find an interesting, classic building that would fit his plans for a custom studio, Phillips found the decommissioned lightship on the River Medway. Disillusioned by the process and limitations of trying to convert a conventional building, the boat breathed fresh life into his quest. “I just got really fed up with

the constant wrangling with planners and local authorities, the tiresome waiting around for solicitors and agents, and all the suited people that go home at 5pm on the dot, have Friday afternoon off, and are on holiday every other week,” says Phillips

With the purchase

completed, Phillips made a trip out to David Gilmour’s Thames-based Astoria houseboat to do some initial research: “It’s beautiful but it’s not a boat, it’s a floating summerhouse,” he laughs. “It’s very small; the live

room is not much taller than me, but the control room is amazing. The stuff they’ve got in the shed on the land, which they don’t use, is probably more than most people have in most studios. “It’s not a commercial

facility. When I was there the guys were just testing cables and they had been for about three weeks. It’s a totally different thing for someone with an infinite pocket to get someone else to build a studio compared to someone who had to shower under a hose for

a year and eat tuna and sweetcorn.”

MOVING IN The boat’s conversion took nearly two years, with more than 20 tonnes of steel having to be removed before any of the build could even be started. What is now the large, naturally lit control room started life as the ship’s diesel tank, with the even larger live room situated where the engine once was. The floor is essentially floating and the walls are built on the floor and supported by neoprene mounts all the way around, which join to the ribs of the ship. What would have almost

certainly been an impossible project was made viable thanks to the fact that after being automated in the 1980s the ship had been highly modified

with a large amount of the original engines and mechanics removed. While an API 1608 console

was originally specified in the design of the studio, a year and a half later when the studio was finished and Phillips was ready to take-up his asset finance the recession was in full swing and he was only offered a third of what was originally promised. Opting for a Calrec console instead, it took Phillips a couple of years to get to the point where he could shell out the money for his long-awaited 1608. “The API is the obvious choice for recording drums and guitar music. There wasn’t really any alternative anywhere in the price range. “I’ve always wanted the space to be good for drum recording and that’s how I

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