In the 1970s and 80s, a panel beater’s council house in Sheffied (South Yorkshire) doubled as “Studio Electrophonique”, a recording studio that was the launchpad for seminal British pop bands like Pulp, The Human League and ABC.
From the street in suburban Handsworth, the unassuming semi-detached home of ex-RAF man Ken Patten – with a caravan parked outside – looked like any other house on his estate, or indeed any post-war estate in Britain.
But inside, musicians forged the future sound of British pop on synthesisers in the living room and an electronic drum kit in the master bedroom. There was even a DIY vocoder made from old RAF throat microphones and toilet rolls.
Martyn Ware – who would go on to form The Human League and Heaven 17 – made the journey to Ken’s house with his first band (an experimental collective called The Future) in 1977 after he put an ad in a local paper seeking somewhere to record.
The demo which Pulp recorded with Ken in 1981 led to the unsigned band getting their first John Peel session on Radio 1. Another band to make early recordings in Ken’s house was Vice Versa, who would later become ABC.
Though he specialised in electronic music, Ken also catered for budding pop groups, Hawaiian guitar groups, folk acts, political singers and anyone else who was prepared to pay £15 to record there.
There were house rules – bands had to take their shoes off in the house (out of respect for the deep pile carpet) and the upstairs toilet was out of bounds – and recording had to stop each afternoon for Ken to have a cup of tea and take his heart pills.
Mrs Patten also called an end to proceedings when she had Ken’s dinner on the table.
Ken Patten died in 1990 and remains largely unknown.
A documentary called A Film About Studio Electrophonique – narrated by Sean Bean who grew up nearby – premiered at the Sheffield Doc/Fest in July 2022.