In this clip from the BBC show Three Men In a Boat David Gilmour takes visitors on a tour of his floating recording studio the Astoria.
Back in 1986 lead guitarist for Pink Floyd, David Gilmour, had his license revoked for a year for excessiveness. One afternoon while being chauffeured around, Gilmour was looking out the passenger window and some "interesting metal work" caught his eye above the wall, so he asked the driver to pull over to have a look. As he tells it in an interview for 3news.co “We stood on the corner there and peered over and looked down and saw this incredible boat and this water and work on the top. And I thought 'Oh, that's fantastic."
Two weeks later, Gilmour ran across it again. This time he was sitting in his dentist’s waiting room.
"I picked up a Country Life and there it was for sale in this Country Life by pure coincidence.” Says Gilmour. “So I rang them up and came down and had a look and bought it. I didn't even think about putting a studio in it at first. It was just very, very beautiful, a magical place."
Moored on a very quiet stretch of the Thames River not far from London’s Hampton Court (a royal palace that has not been lived in by the British royal family since the 18th century), the houseboat Astoria has been used for a number of Pink Floyd projects as well as for many of Gilmour’s own.
"Well it's lovely to be here, you know, to have the water gently drifting past us and all that, and I like to have windows." he said. "You know I've spent rather too much time in studios and most of them don't have windows, and I can't stand being in places that don't have windows."
Built in 1911 for Fred Karno, a famous music hall impresario who managed Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy, among others, the 90-foot long boat was designed to accommodate an entire 90-piece orchestra playing on it's upper deck. (The cost, considered exorbitant at the time, was about 20,000 pounds ($32,000 U.S. dollars).
According to Phil Taylor, Gilmour’s, long-time guitar technician, who managed the transformation of the Astoria into one of the most technologically advanced recording studios in the world, the logistics were quite challenging. As he explains in a 2005 interview for tapeop.com:
"I had to get a crane barge and a tug to get both the tape machines in through a window opening in to the master bedroom on the far side of the boat and the air conditioning unit for the control room on to the roof. The last two days of construction, I think I just stayed there, having barely slept at all, trying to get 20 workmen out of there who had been doing the whole installation getting in each other’s way in a fairly confined space with desk installation, wiring, electric, woodwork, glazing, air con, CCTV, decorating, etc., with the floors up and all going on at the same time and I had to get the place finished and running to be ready for use."
Most of Gilmour’s work for the past 25 years was mixed and assembled aboard theAstoria. Pink Floyd’s The Division Bell and A Momentary Lapse of Reason were recorded there, as were Gilmour's solo albums, including On An Island.
Recently his crew moved Astoria to dry dock for a complete steel hull replacement. From all estimates, the floating studio should last another 30-40 years with no major work.