Paul McCartney: Save Abbey Road Studios!

LONDON, 17th February 2010— — Visit Abbey Road Studios any day and chances are you’ll see it: tourists, cameras in hand, recreating the famous cover photo from the Beatles’ self-titled album.

It is a London landmark that attracts people from all over the world.

But there is no gift shop and no sightseeing. Abbey Road Studios is still a fully operational recording facility. The only souvenir it offers is the chance to line up one after another like John, Paul, George and Ringo did in 1969 and cross the zebra crossing to get your own shot of Abbey Road.

And soon, that may be all that’s left. Abbey Road studios are for sale, according to the Financial Times. EMI Group Ltd, the music company owned by takeover firm Terra Firma Capital Partners Ltd., is apparently looking for a buyer to help it out of huge debt.

The group has not yet confirmed the sale but it is in the red at 3.9 billion dollars. A June deadline is fast approaching; the company must provide a down payment of $188 million that it owes to Citigroup.

The studio is best known for its connection to the Beatles. The group recorded most of their music there throughout the 1960s. But their history is extraordinarily varied; from film scores such as Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings to full orchestral symphonies. Pink Floyd produced Dark Side of the Moon and Manic Street Preachers at Abbey Road Studios. More recently, Travis, Blur and Snow Patrol have recorded there.

“As an iconic cultural site, Abbey Road is of tremendous importance,” said Ivo Dawney, director of the National Trust, a UK charity which protects and preserves more than 350 historic homes and monuments across the country. Dawney said inquiries from the public were already coming in as to whether the organization was willing or able to buy the Abbey Road studios.

The childhood homes in Liverpool, England, of Sir Paul McCartney and the late John Lennon are preserved exactly as they were when the two Beatles members were teenagers, thanks to the National Trust. But the Abbey Road studios are prime real estate in West London. The asking price is estimated at $47 million.

A huge sum of money

“It would be a huge amount of money for us,” Dawney said. He said the National Trust was prepared to consider the extent to which the global public would support a campaign to acquire Abbey Road Studios.

“I know there are a few people associated with the studio for a long time who were talking about putting together a bid to save it. And I sympathize with them, you know, hopefully they can do something good,” said McCartney at BBC News.

“See, I have so many memories there with the Beatles. It’s still a great studio. So it would be nice if someone puts things together and saves them,” McCartney added.

If they were to launch such an effort, it would require international support from music history fans in the United States, France, Japan (places with large numbers of Beatles fans) and elsewhere.

The timing of the sale might actually be prescient from an archival perspective; experts say there is a growing awareness in the UK of the need to preserve popular musical heritage. But there is also the potential for aggressive commercial interest in developing the property.

“Historically, popular music has been seen as a fairly ephemeral medium. A lot of material associated with it has been abandoned,” said Marion Leonard, senior lecturer at the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Popular Music. “There is a growing recognition of the need to collect this material.”

“There’s a whole history of British music at Abbey Road Studios,” she continued. “It’s more than real estate.”

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