Review: The Speech of Abbey Road Studios
Even for those with the least interest in music, Abbey Road Studios is an icon. The photo of the Beatles strolling down a zebra crossing is a rock image rivaled only by the cover of The Dark Side of the Moon or HMV’s Nipper the Dog next to a gramophone. But for those who have spent their lives religiously memorizing the names of album producers and engineers – and sometimes catalog numbers – Abbey Road is the stable of pop music, carefully birthing the most important revolution in the world. Twentieth century.
So when an opportunity to enter the Hallowed Studios presented itself as part of his 80th birthday celebrations, it was feverishly taken, prompting a personal rediscovery of the old EMI, Parlophone and Columbia catalogs.
My previous recording studio experience had been as a drummer in sweat booths playing a click track, cigarette burns in utilitarian carpets and the smell of failure, while a trip to Maida Vale was more of a canteen and concert experience. Abbey Road, however, offered the opportunity to get up close to vintage recording equipment and unique instruments.
The tour was one of 12 sessions in which the public is invited to Studio 2 – where the Beatles recorded – to soak up the atmosphere, view ancient technology and attend a 90-minute lecture on the studio history. Under tight security, guests are guided through the residential gate, under the iconic sign, through winding hallways and into the studio with its legendary staircase to the control room.
At first glance, the room, built over the building’s former garden, is smaller than expected, but, as explained later, Studio 2 is about two-thirds the size of Studio 1 where orchestras record soundtracks. of movies. The first thing to do is climb the staircase which gives a perfect view of the corner where the fabulous four sat for all their recordings – John Lennon in particular always singing from one spot. Today, this space is filled with different pianos, including the same Schiedmayer Celeste used on The Beatles Good Night and Pink Floyd’s Time, and Mrs Mills’ Steinway Vertegrand. During the conference, three participants are invited to play on these, a pianist’s dream.
It gets even more geeky in the opposite corner where all the recording gear is proudly displayed. There are BTR-2 and BTR-3 tape recorders, Struder JS7 four-track recorders, a microphone, a mixer called TG12345 mk 2, and many other combinations of letters and numbers that are completely beyond me. But they are fascinating; clunky technology that looks like it came straight out of a Cold War bunker, but was state-of-the-art and used on your favorite records.
We sit for the lecture on the famous red Abbey Road chairs, used during recordings because they don’t squeak, and our hosts – Brian Kehew and Kevin Ryan authors of the book Recording The Beatles – give what is essentially a Powerpoint presentation . The slides, however, contain some of the most fascinating musical stories it is possible to discover. There have never been seen photographs of the early recordings of His Masters Voice in Covent Garden, images of the sprawling HMV complex in Hayes and audio clips of the early recordings; musicians playing live into a funnel as it is mechanically etched in wax.
As the focus shifts to Abbey Road itself, photos of the building’s 1828 pre-studio and original layout plans show how it took over nearby gardens. Later we see designs from the 1970s proposing to turn Studio 1 into a parking lot – plans that were thankfully ignored. We are also shown how the building itself grew, was redesigned and was itself used as an effect with the addition of echo chambers
Although the lecture chronologically covers the story, much of it is compatible with Google. What makes it so special is the archival footage that has never been seen by the public. We are shown film clips from the very first studio recording – a performance of Elgar’s Land of Hope and Glory, audio pioneer Alan Blumlein’s very first stereo recording – Walking and Talking, bandleader Jack Hylton, and fascinating home footage of The Hollies in the studio.
The amount of musical history presented is relentless, and I won’t divulge any more spoilers, but it is truly fascinating. Ok, this may have niche appeal, and the £75 ticket price will put many off, but for those with a deep passion for music, how it’s made, and those smart enough to produce it, this in will be worth every penny.
London music is the best in the world and Abbey Road has been its center from the start. He led the way, pioneered and inspired, and this tour proves just how essential Abbey Road Studios are to the music we love and to London’s heritage.
All the photographs of David Newbury courtesy of Abbey Road Studios.