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For Sale: Oasis's Former Recording Studios, Wheeler End, Huckenden Farm

The owner of a recording oasis in leafy Buckinghamshire tells why she’s selling up after almost 30 years on the music scene

It’s an honourable rock tradition: over the years, scores of artists, from Led Zeppelin to Goldfrapp, have opted to get their heads together in the country, seeking out a rural retreat where they can gaze at the landscape and write songs. If the retreat has recording facilities, they might lay down a few tracks, even a whole album. Many of these musicians will have found themselves leaving the M40 for a labyrinth of country roads in Buckinghamshire, finally coming to rest at a quiet old farmhouse high in the Chilterns.

This is Wheeler End residential recording studios, at Huckenden Farm, which has been used by George Harrison, Robbie Williams and Oasis. Today, however, the place is strangely quiet. The sound of guitars and drums is absent, and the only singing comes from the odd fantailed cuckoo or dusky woodswallow flying overhead.

The property is up for sale.

The owners, Suzanne Lee Barnes, 61, and her boyfriend, Geoff Coupland, 58, have decided to “move on, start a new life and give somebody else a chance” with this exceptional piece of rock real estate.

Walking around the sprawling farmhouse, which has six bedrooms and extensive reception rooms, surrounded by five acres of land and a cluster of spacious outbuildings, it is hard to appreciate that, 28 years ago, it was the choice of a rock musician looking to downscale.

Lee Barnes remembers coming to view Huckenden Farm in 1980 with her then husband, Alvin Lee of the British blues-rock band Ten Years After. The couple and their daughter, Jasmin, then 4, were living at Hook End Manor, in Berkshire, which had about 60 acres of grounds, but they wanted something smaller and less costly to run.

Huckenden, Lee Barnes recalls, looked impressive and was practical, too: the owner was a motoring enthusiast who restored classic cars, and there were large loading doors, handy for bringing in musical equipment. They paid about £375,000, while Hook End Manor was snapped up by another guitarist, David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, for an undisclosed sum.

The farmhouse at Huckenden dates to the 16th century, and looks solid enough to last 16 more, with thick walls built of brick and flint. The studio complex, created in the 1980s from existing outbuildings, shoots off the side of the main house like a gigantic tremolo arm on an electric guitar. It consists of two roomy studio spaces, both more than 500 sq ft in size, and a storeroom for equipment.

In the early days, Lee Barnes recalls, the studios served as glorified music rooms for Lee and his friends. Visitors included Jon Lord of Deep Purple, Joe Brown, the guitarist Gary Moore, and Mick Ralphs of Bad Company. George Harrison, who lived seven miles away in Henley-on-Thames, would often pop over, too. “At one point, Alvin was struggling with a song called The Bluest Blues,” Lee Barnes says. “George pitched up and put down this guitar part that changed the whole feel of the song. It was wonderful.”

The couple split up in 1994. Lee moved to Spain, leaving Lee Barnes with the farmhouse, and she started renting out the studios. “I decided to see if I could stand on my own two feet here,” she says. “I offered the facilities to musicians I knew, and it paid for the running of the house.”

Word spread on the grapevine; in 1997, Paul Weller came by and was impressed. After he brought along Noel Gallagher of Oasis, Wheeler End became an important haunt for the band. Much of their 2000 album, Standing on the Shoulder of Giants, had its beginnings here and the studio became a successful venture.

In 1996, Lee Barnes met her new boyfriend, Geoff Coupland, a businessman in the food-flavours industry. He bought out Lee’s share of the house, then moved in. He realised that this slightly dowdy property could do with some renovation. “The house is Grade II-listed, so it all had to be done as faithfully as possible,” he says. “I made new wooden window frames and did all the oak floors.”

The wooden barn outside was leaning over and falling apart. With the help of a local restoration firm, Coupland stripped it back to its frame, repaired the timbers and reconstructed it, preserving as much of the original structure as possible. He used traditional materials such as lime plaster, lime cement and pressed sheep’s-wool insulation. It is now super-ecofriendly: rain-water from the tiled roof is collected in tanks and channelled into the lavatory.

The barn has since enjoyed a new lease of life as a rehearsal and relaxation space for musicians including Weller, who worked on two albums here: Illumination (2002) and As Is Now (2005). “Paul absolutely loved being in this barn,” Lee Barnes says. It has also gone down well with restoration experts, winning a heritage award in 2000. A local conservation charity, the High Wycombe Society, described it as a “beautiful building with a cavernous interior”.

Coupland, who jokes that he has “compulsive building disorder”, went on to convert an unwanted greenhouse into a guest cottage with two bedrooms and a gym, which slots neatly onto the studio end of the house. “All these outbuildings started becoming proper dwellings,” Lee Barnes says. “We started calling it Geoff Town, because it became like a little village.” She estimates that he has spent more than £1m, “easily”, on the property.

While Coupland has master-minded the restoration, Lee Barnes is the driving force behind the studio. She operates as an easy-going rock patron, allowing artists all the freedom, peace and security they need to make music. “We would lock down a creative bubble here and they felt safe and undisturbed,” she says.

Robbie Williams may be an exception: when the singer stayed here in the 1990s, he claimed he saw the ghost of a woman in his bedroom. “He wouldn’t go back in there,” Lee Barnes says, “but there’s no way we’re haunted.”

“What musicians have always bought into here,” Coupland adds, “is the fact that Suzanne spoils them rotten. It’s a sort of growing medium for them. Liam Gallagher always liked going out to the local pubs. You could see one or two of the landlords looking a bit nervous when he walked in, but he’s a lovely lad.”

It was the decision by Liam’s brother, Noel, to end his long-time association with the studio that was one of the factors behind the couple’s decision to sell. “Oasis have been with us for 7½ years,” Lee Barnes says, “I think it was time to move on. Bands are always looking for new inspiration.”

Coupland is also setting up an essential-oils business in the south of France. “I get bored every now and again, and I enjoy going off to Australia,” he says. “I’d like to spend four or five months of the year in France, three or four months in Australia, and the rest of the time in Britain. This place is too big to keep leaving and coming back to.” The couple plan to find a house in the area to serve as their UK base.

Although Lee Barnes is selling Huckenden Farm, she is not saying goodbye to the recording business. Last year, she acquired Dean Street Studios in Soho, central London, which is managed by Jasmin, now 32. She is also keen for the farm’s musical story to continue. “What I want, more than anything else, is to see it sold to someone who intends to carry on using it as a recording studio,” she says. Let’s hope the beat goes on.

Huckenden Farm and Wheeler End Studios are for sale for £3m through Savills via


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