Inside the room where Arctic Monkeys first rehearsed in Sheffield: “They were definitely going to be stars”

Arctic Monkeys in 2005.
Arctic Monkeys in 2005.

"All the young kids who come here want the Arctic Monkeys Room," says Andy Cook, the director of Yellow Arch Studios in Sheffield where, as young teenagers, the four aspiring musicians from High Green would be dropped off by their mums after school for their first proper rehearsal sessions.

It all happened in room three at the sprawling complex, which started as a nuts and bolts factory in the Edwardian era but was taken over by Andy and his team 21 years ago, bringing a recording and practice facility to the heart of industrial Neepsend.

The sleeve of an Arctic Monkeys EP that is displayed on the wall at Yellow Arch Studios in Sheffield, showing them rehearsing there in room three.

The sleeve of an Arctic Monkeys EP that is displayed on the wall at Yellow Arch Studios in Sheffield, showing them rehearsing there in room three.

Singer Alex Turner and his bandmates showed up not long after forming in 2002 and began honing the songs - Mardy Bum, number one hit I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor and the like - that would comprise their debut album, which immediately became the fastest-selling by a new band in UK chart history on its release in 2006.

"Basically that album came out of room three every day for years," says Andy. "Alex and the lads had a proper working-class miners' mentality of 'We're here, and we're 'avin it.' And they worked, and worked, and worked - some bands were booked in for three hours and you'd say 'Have they done anything?'"

In their old rehearsal space, a lopsided portrait of Elvis Presley hangs from the back wall behind a drum kit - the King watching over proceedings. But visitors shouldn't expect any Graceland-style shrine to the Arctics, back in Sheffield for the first time in five years this week for four concerts at the FlyDSA Arena. The rough purple carpet, yellow-painted brick walls and worn leather sofa contribute to the low-key atmosphere; the only clue to its former occupants is a framed picture, positioned near the door, of the group at Yellow Arch in 2006.

It's a cavernous, high-ceilinged room, however - perfect for a band looking to make a lot of noise, having previously only played in a garage. "Nobody was bothered," says Andy. "As long as you know a couple of chords it'll sound great."

Andy Cook, director of Yellow Arch Studios, inside room three where Arctic Monkeys rehearsed.

Andy Cook, director of Yellow Arch Studios, inside room three where Arctic Monkeys rehearsed.

The quartet stood out for several reasons, he remembers. Musically, they became an unusually tight unit, and exuded a strong sense of camaraderie.

"A lot of bands have one or two ideas, but them guys were doing five, six or seven - you can imagine the rehearsing. You always thought, 'If people don't like that, they're going to appreciate it, because they're the only band who are putting in dynamics'."

They 'always came across as if they were definitely going to be stars', says Andy. "It was like the Four Musketeers had entered the building. And that, I feel, comes out in the music, the live shows, the lyrics - attitude comes out, definitely, in that first album."

Yellow Arch supported the band with 'resources and a little bit of mentoring'. 

"All the rooms come with the equipment. It seems like every kid now has got a guitar and a piano, but 20-odd years ago they had nothing. It's almost a harder climb out of the working class to stardom because of that. They could come here for the equivalent of £3 an hour, between four or five of them, and everything would be here. That's what enabled Yellow Arch to thrive - the kids could come down with a few quid and make something. Now you can buy a guitar for £100 brand new."

Andy's wife Ali gave singing lessons to Alex, building his confidence, and the studios backed their early tours.

"They held off, bucked every trend and literally waited until they were famous before they released the album. And that worked. In that process they had to do a lot of showcases, support gigs with famous artists - that's when we really helped by saying 'You can lend our tour bus, you can have the PA'."

They fed the young band too - perhaps the most important thing anyone can do for a gang of permanently hungry teenage boys. 

"I'm pretty damn sure they would have eaten anything we'd have put in front of them, like any musician," says Andy, laughing. "In the old days you used to be able to smoke in buildings as well so it was much more of a social thing. People would bring their tinnies and a packet of fags, and everyone had their own little den." 

A 'wonderful moment', he says, was when their record company advance - an upfront sum of money, normally a five-figure amount to be deducted from future sales - arrived, allowing them to go shopping for instruments.

"They spent their childhood longing for a guitar or a Marshall stack. When that new equipment started coming up the stairs, and kept coming... that's one of the most monumental things for a musician, when you get the tools of your trade you've fought so hard for. We'll never forget that day."

Such advances are largely a thing of the past now, as music companies have reined in their once lavish spending. In many respects, Arctic Monkeys emerged on the cusp of major changes - guitar bands would soon go out of fashion, making it harder for anyone to follow in their wake, and the internet brought a huge shift in the way fans could hear new music. Many people first heard the Arctics' demos online.

"We had this rebirth, which the Arctic Monkeys led," says Andy.

The band recorded their first LP - Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not - at 2Fly in Sheffield, The Church in Lincolnshire and Telstar in Munich. Then they returned to Neepsend to rehearse the finished arrangements for live gigs - Andy last saw them there on the day they left for their initial world tour.

"They've obviously developed," says Andy of their most recent album, Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino. "All hats off to Alex, really. It's the hardest craft in the world, I think."

Today the studios runs three bars and a live venue that opened in 2015 with a late licence. Richard Hawley has just been in to record his eighth album - "That's ready to be mixed now," says Andy - and veteran guitarist Duane Eddy is booked for sessions too.

Turnover has risen successively year-on-year, and the Arctics connection has helped to give the studios an identity, Andy thinks. After all, it is some people's sole reason for dropping by, which he finds 'really endearing'. "They even think they've got to pay. Most of the time we say 'Buy a coffee or stick something in the collection jar'."