Stephen Foster on the Magic of Abbey Road Studios
It has always been a great pleasure to visit famous recording studios. I have ticked off several in my time, including the best known of them – Abbey Road in London.
Though forever associated with the Beatles, the St John’s Wood studio complex was a major recording complex decades before the Fab Four set foot there. It opened in 1931, which means it is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year.
I was certainly celebrating in 1995 when I got a call on BBC Radio Suffolk from Chris Fenwick, manager of my favorite band Dr Feelgood. I had known Chris for several years and had last seen him at the funeral of his best friend Lee Brilleaux in the spring of 1994. Lee was one of the founding members of Dr. Feelgood and had been at the helm for over 20 years. . I had enjoyed the company of the two men on numerous occasions and was devastated when I learned that Lee had lost his battle with lymphoma.
Chris had phoned me to ask if I would like to work for EMI putting together and writing the cover notes for a five-CD box set paying homage to Lee’s remarkable reign as lead singer and flagship of Dr. Feelgood. You could have knocked me out with a feather because Chris told me he recommended me to EMI because I knew a lot more about Dr Feelgood than the band itself!
It was a dream mission and over the following weeks I spent all my free time compiling the tracklist and interviewing past and present band members for the cover notes. The icing on the cake was spending three days with engineer Peter Mew at Abbey Road overseeing the production of the master tapes. I got to know the building well and had to pinch myself on entering the huge Studio One, the scene of so many classic recordings over the decades.
I was also hoping to take a look at Studio Two, but couldn’t as it was being used for a session by Paul Carrack at the time. I didn’t know I was going to have to wait another 20 years to set foot there. This room is truly the holy grail for Beatles fans with a lot of equipment used by them and their producer Sir George Martin still in place.
My second trip to Abbey Road was to interview singer Chris Rea about the deluxe reissue of his 1996 album The Passione. The booklet with this lavish box set features some of Chris’s impressive paintings that were on display at Studio Two, one of his favorite haunts. As check-in locations disappear, it doesn’t get better than this particular spot and while I was chatting with Chris I was like a kid in a candy store.
It’s hard to express how much my visits to Abbey Road meant to me. The experience is comparable to my three trips to the Sun Studio in Memphis.
I still have a few recording studios on my bucket list. They include the houses of Chess Records in Chicago and the Tamla Motown label in Detroit.
Here in Suffolk we have a lot of great recording studios and in the not too distant future I will be focusing on some of my visits to those. Next week I will be revisiting my long association with one of the county’s most popular events – Ipswich Music Day.