If you’ve ever wondered what Sir George Martin – the legendary Beatles producer – did after the Fab Four split then Under the Volcano is the film for you. Sir Martin remained prolific in the music industry and opened up his own studio-cum-playground in Montserrat. This state-of-the-art workspace was the birthplace of many hits and much infamy, as this documentary examines.
Gracie Otto (The Last Impresario) directs this feel-good look at recording in an unlikely place. It is similar to Sound City and will be a feast for audiophiles. The film serves as a time capsule to the music industry between 1979 and 1989, when this was active. Sadly, AIR became like the lost city of Atlantis after a series of natural disasters on the island. But as we learn, the music and the memories live on.
Otto interviews a star-studded line-up plus former employees and locals from Montserrat. Among these are Sting, Stewart Copeland, Jimmy Buffett, Stevie Wonder and Midge Ure. There is lots of archive footage, including home videos from Paul McCartney who recorded his Tug of War album there in the aftermath of John Lennon’s murder. Lou Reed was among the list of AIR alumni, but he found himself pinning for New York traffic in this beachside climate. The film is beautiful and rich with wonderful anecdotes. Martin’s widow, Judy Lockhart-Smith and son, Giles Martin also contribute to this well-told story.
The laidback surrounds of Montserrat provided the muse for such hits as Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing,” Dire Straits’ “Walk of Life” (Johnny was apparently a local), and The Police’s “Every Breathe You Take” and “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic.” The video clip for the latter actually sees the band dancing on AIR’s custom-built console in scenes that were bound to make Sir Martin wince.
The soundtrack makes this film worthy of the price of admission alone. This story also serves as a reminder of the rise of digital recording and the final days of big-budget studio albums. Otto does a great job of providing the right amount of historic context and colour to the narrative.
Under the Volcano is a rocking film brimming with candid recollections about some great Eighties hits. It is one that comes with a good serving of mystique, as it chronicles the rise and fall of AIR Studios. We are given a front-row seat to some amazing musical talents expressing themselves in the company of an esteemed producer. To have once been a fly-on-the-wall! So, sit back, relax and prepare to be dazzled by the closest such experience.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Under the Volcano is now available on iTunes, Google Play and Vudu.