I am not a religious man. Tonight I had the closest thing I can compare to what I imagine a religious experience to be. There were no choirs of angels. There were no pearly gates or elephant gods or laughing golden buddhas. There was just a converted house in North London with a zebra crossing outside.
In a stroke of luck so wide it could only have been made with an industrial roller I was asked if I wanted to attend one of a series of speeches given by Kevin Ryan and Brian Kehew who wrote the critically acclaimed book Recording The Beatles.
At first I thought it was some kind of sick joke. For a boy who grew up listening to Magical Mystery Tour and Sgt Peppers rather than nursery rhymes, who learnt With A Little Help From My Friends on piano while everyone else was off playing football, who once said anyone who doesn’t like The Beatles is inherently evil, it is basically the dream assignment. After standing about drooling for five to ten minutes I accepted the challenge and attended the talk.
The lecture covered the full history of the studio, from its days under EMI as His Master’s Voice, Columbia and Parlophone right through to it’s liberation and status as a listed building. A lot of the talk was focused on The Beatles, and rightly so, their music is Abbey Road’s most famous export. It would be like giving a talk on Amsterdam that didn’t cover prostitution, relaxed drug laws and tulips.
The amazing thing about the studio is you can hear The Beatles in it. When Brian Kehew gave a demonstration of how the last note of A Day In The Life was recorded (by the four Beatles each hitting a chord on a different piano) the acoustics of the room gave it exactly the same rich quality it has on the recording.
To create the claustrophobic blues club vibe for Yer Blues the four of them clambered into a tiny tape room above the studio itself.
The place has an incredible ambience and an incredible history. It’s a hard thing to describe or explain. It feels as though you have been transported back, that the studio techs in lab coats could wander in at any second to set up. It’s been kept so well, preserved like a memory.
It’s a rare treat to be granted access to the studio. As an audience we were told they are not usually accessible to the public. That didn’t stop me wanting more though. Regardless of the fact I was sat in the same room The Beatles had recorded, I wanted to see it all. It felt as though things were being kept back. On every corner between the front door and Studio Two a security guard had been placed to ensure nobody wandered off and saw something they weren’t supposed to. I was reminded of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. It wasn’t enough I had a golden ticket, I wanted to go swimming in the chocolate river. At one point while everyone else was gumming themselves over archaic pieces of recording equipment I feigned needing to visit the little Beatles room and started off down a corridor. I found a bar. For a second I thought about going in and pretending I belonged there. Then I remembered I had an assignment to do. Disobeying orders made me need the toilet. I think I used George’s one.
The studio had been converted into a lecture theatre by a small stage being constructed for Brian and Kevin, and their projections and videos. The rest of the room was lines of red leather chairs with metal legs. During the lecture we were told the chairs had been brought in during the 60’s as it was discovered the squeak caused by the old wooden chairs often ruined recordings and an American studio had started using ones similar. The chairs have been in the studio since then. By the end of the talk I had convinced myself I was in John Lennon’s favourite chair.
I’ve already written two articles on the studios, and they’re a lot more professional and focused than this but I need time to geek out and freak out over being invited into my own personal Mecca