Review "Under the Volcano": making music in paradise

Between this movie and “Rockfield: the studio on the farm”, there appears to be a minor vogue for documentaries on recording studios th...


Between this movie and “Rockfield: the studio on the farm”, there appears to be a minor vogue for documentaries on recording studios this year. The pretext for doing “Under the Volcano” – about the short-lived AIR studio in Montserrat in the Caribbean – is better than solid: the state-of-the-art facility, built by the Beatles producer George Martin, was in the immediate vicinity of the Collines de la Soufrière volcano.

Of course, he was supposed to be asleep, but that wasn’t always the case. Sting notes that volcanic ash from previous eruptions has made the island’s soil exceptionally fertile and lush.

Martin’s desire to create an ideal environment for musicians is touching. Even if a certain patrician colonialism seemed to be inherent in the idea. Jimmy Buffett shares how he and his comrades were baffled by the slow service at a local bar and how he solved the problem by buying the place. Buffett seems to think it’s a lovely story.

Luckily, Earth, Wind & Fire shows up for a session and director Gracie Otto takes the point of view of the film to the residents of Montserrat who worked at the studio and their interactions with various stars of what has become the MTV era.

Filmed separately, the three members of the Police tell how the environment could both exacerbate and ease tensions between the musicians during the recording sessions. Almost 40 years later, it’s hilarious to watch Stewart Copeland speak about Sting with ever-fresh feelings of exasperation, irritation, and admiration. Elton John fans will find the manic work ethic he applied to the album “Too Low for Zero” fascinating.

It was not the volcano but a hurricane in the late 1980s that killed the dream. The volcano spat a few years later, further devastate the island. Martin, to his credit, has sponsored charity concerts to help rehabilitate the island.

Under the volcano
Unclassified. Duration: 1 hour 36 minutes. Rent or buy on Amazon, Apple tv and other streaming platforms and pay-TV operators.

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