I read the news today..
Monday, september 27th, 1982. It's 7a.m. & it takes me a few moments to wonder why the alarm is working overtime in it's efforts to wake me. Then with great joy I remember that today will be one to treasure because I am off to The Beatles' own private workroom-Abbey Road! My good friend & co author of an as yet unpublished book about The Beatles, Paul Tidey,had won the Beatle brain of Britain contest in front of the BBC cameras. His prize was a day at Abbey Road studios & he was kind enough to invite yours truly to enjoy the experience of a lifetime.
Having spent the train journey deep in discussion about what lies ahead we eventually get off at St John's wood underground. A brisk walk down the road & at last there it is- the zebra crossing seen on the front of 'Abbey Road', except that today it's raining very hard & there's four figures missing. Breezing in through reception we inform the palatable young lady at the desk that we have an appointment with the studio's general manager Ken Townsend. He was busy at that moment, so Abbey Road inmates Jerry Kelly & Francis Dilnut wine & dine us at EMI's expense-lager,moussaka,salad,punctuated with rum & cups of tea, & finally walnut cheese washed down by a beautiful red wine!
Down to business at last & Jerry shows us the huge number one studio where the classical recordings are made. Today it's being used by Louis clark & the Royal philharmonic orchestra who were recording their first 'Hooked on classics' album. After a brief look, the main event as we head for studio two. As the doors swing back we saw at last the place where so many classic songs were recorded. Memories came flooding back on a wave of sound as 'Help!', 'Strawberry Fields Forever' 'Hey Jude' & many others come rushing through our minds. Inside was a piano,organ,Fender Rhodes, & also the 'leslie' speaker, all of which appear in numerous pictures of The Beatles. The strangest feeling was the realization that we were in The Beatles' main workroom, walking around quite freely & yet just a few years before we wouldn't have been allowed anywhere near the place. How cool would it have been to watch & listen to them bringing a song to life....! We took several photos including the famous Abbey Road clock, the steinway piano,the Fender Rhodes electric piano, & we posed on the stairs leading up to the control booth. Once in the control room we were able to gaze out across the studio as George Martin must have done so many times. Paul took some photos of the mixing console, whilst I hastily snapped up some badges that proclaimed it was '20 years ago' since the fab four had first burst on to the scene in 1962. Jerry told us that he couldn't remember when studio 2 was last decorated, & it wasn't likely to be either as it might change the sound!
Next was number four studio, at that time EMI's pride & joy, & known as the penthouse studio. It was the smallest studio but was absolutely immaculate, the touch sensitive control desk costing £100,000 back then! Lastly we made our way to number 3 studio where George Harrison recorded 'All things must pass'. Today it was being used by Alan Parsons who was busy working on his 'Eye in the sky' album. We finished our tour with a visit to the laquer room, where the groove being cut on to a record is displayed on a small TV screen, & also the tape copying rooms for cassette & reel to reel. After a refreshing cup of tea we had a 45 minute chat with Ken Townsend. Most interesting was a project by balance engineer John Barrett. He was undergoing chemotherapy as he'd been seriously suffering with cancer, & Ken suggested that he could keep himself occupied by going through all the Beatles' tapes at Abbey Road & carefully logging them when John asked for something to keep him busy whilst undergoing treatment! We too were busy jotting down what we could for our own project about The Beatles' songs & the inspiration behind them, along with accurate recoding dates & alternate versions. There wasn't time to get all the information we needed, but Ken told us to send a list of what we needed & he'd do his best to help us. John Barrett wasn't at the studio that day as on top of his battle against cancer he had caught shingles. However, he later replied to my letter & supplied confirmation of dates & whether certain tracks existed in the Abbey Road vaults or not. He also took the trouble to phone me at home & we had an enlightening & enjoyable chat. One of life's good guys who is sorely missed. We felt privileged to see this project as it was 6 years before it was finally published as 'The complete Beatles recording sessions' by Mark Lewisohn .( The general public had a chance to enjoy previously unheard tapes when Abbey Road opened it's doors for the first time to them between July 18th 1983 & september 11th 1983. For £4.50 you got a 90 minute audio visual show which included excerpts of unreleased tracks & alternate versions, along with refreshments. Paul & I went along & thoroughly enjoyed it, although it didn't have the intimacy of our first visit. somebody recorded the show & bootlegs subsequently came onto the market.)
Whilst we were speaking to Ken, Francis Dilnut popped into the office to say that EMI wanted a John Lennon collection put together, including the tracks he recorded for Geffen records. This was later released on vinyl as'The John Lennon collection'. Ken told us that 5 days earlier on the 22nd there had been a party to launch the 'Guinness book of 500 number 1 singles' at no.2 studio. Paul McCartney was there & afterwards he'd stopped to sign autographs in the car park, joking that he'd been the gate man at Abbey Road for 20 years!
Thanking Ken profusely for letting us loose in Abbey Road & eating them out of house & home, we finally left after 5 magical hours laden down with T shirts, badges & other goodies, & huge smiles on our faces, having seen where so many wonderful songs were made. Before we headed for the station there was just one more thing to do- stop the traffic whilst we took photos on that famous crossing in Abbey Road!
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