All my own hard work

Tim Hampton in his studio at Warren St
Tim Hampton in his studio at Warren St

TIM Hampton pulls up in his battered Ford Escort estate car. The foot wells are covered in building dust, an old door’s bursting out of the back and a deflated airbag dangles from the driver’s door (a result of a mishap while trying to tow some steel).

You’d be forgiven for mistaking the Bromheads frontman for a cash-in-hand cowboy.

Tim Hampton's studio at Warren St

Tim Hampton's studio at Warren St

But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Well, sort of.

Hampton’s in the middle of transforming a disused industrial site into a huge studio and arts complex for bands, artists and producers – the musical equivalent to Yorkshire Artspace, if you like.

The complex, known as Crystal Ship (named after The Doors song), will also be the home of Hampton’s new record label, The Crystal Ship Recorders.

It’s an ambitious project. Already, since purchasing the property in August last year, the 29-year old musician has built walls, damp-proofed, laid several thousand square feet of wooden floors, painted, plastered, lifted and shifted.

He has, in many ways, become a Jack-of-all-trades workman. Only Hampton’s the one shelling out the cash.

“I’m as proud of these floors as I am of finishing an album,” he says, stamping on the makeshift parquet flooring. “You wouldn’t believe what it was when we moved in. I’m really excited about finishing it.”

As he tours the site, a number of musicians – somewhat incongruously approach him with all manner of practical problems: “Mate, I’m going to sell that bandsaw on eBay and buy a better one,” says one trendily-clad musician.

“Yes, it’s a bit crap,” replies Hampton, who has taken on the role as building supervisor as well as label boss, landlord and producer.

It’s as if BBC 3 have set all these musicians and producers a ‘trading places’ challenge for a daytime television series.

But the system seems to be working. Gradually, Hampton – with the help of his tenants – is metamorphosing this industrial pile into a slick, all-singing, all-dancing musical haven.

And it’s an ambitious project. “I want to create a sort of musical artistic community, where people lend each other equipment and help each other out,” says Hampton.

Some of the rooms have been finished and are already being used for rehearsals.

“I was fed up with landlords taking musicians for granted. Bands pay the same rent as everyone else for workspace, yet they’re treated so badly.

“Many of the rehearsal rooms in this city are cold and damp. Who wants to rehearse in a cold, damp room?”

Dead Sons are among one of the first bands to move in, having transformed one the complex’s larger spaces. Their hub is a rustic haven – walls are painted in deep red, vintage-looking lights dangle from the wall and a Fidelity retro portable record player spins alt-country in the corner.

Producer Ross Orton (whose tweaks can be heard on the Mercury Music Prize-nominated Arular and Toddla T’s Skanky Skanky) is also setting up camp at Crystal Ship.

Orton’s busy installing masses of insulation, a forest of wooden struts and soundproof screens – a far cry from his usual job installed at a sound desk or behind a drum kit (Orton drummed for Jarvis Cocker).

He said: “I’m really excited and I’ll be glad when it’s done. When it’s finished there’ll be a live space, a control room and a big studio room and we’ve already had a studio design specialist come and give us some advice.”

Despite there being at least three producers in the studio, Orton doesn’t believe there will be any aggressive competition.

“There would be if this were in London, because people have to make themselves sound more important.

Perhaps in Sheffield there’s a bit of competition between commercial studios but not with people like myself. I only work with people I like or people whose music I like.”

And then, in stark contrast to the electronic and technical wizardry of Orton’s HQ, is the rehearsal space of Sheffield’s alt-bluegrass, rootsy banjo group, Pete David and the Payroll Union.

But The Crystal Ship’s not all rehearsing and recording – there is some play.

Hampton’s hoping to use the premises for private events, parties and performances. He’s certainly got the space for it.

And, judging from his battered car, his parquet flooring and bandsaw knowledge, the skills too.