I’ve been a Beatles fan ever since 1964. My father was cool enough to buy me tickets to see them play the Boston Garden in September of that year and after seeing them play live I was hooked. Since then I followed their music like millions of others around the world. I anticipated the release of every album and read about them in teen magazines, newspaper articles and books. I was somewhat interested in their history and personal lives but what really fascinated me then and now is their music, its creation and the inner workings of putting together the words and music and the overall sound that made them so special. I didn’t care about the Liverpool tours or crossing Abbey Road’s zebra crosswalk. I wanted to go INSIDE Abbey Road Studio Two, the laboratory where they painstakingly came up with those masterpieces.
Occasionally over the past twenty years, Abbey Road has opened Studio Two for a lecture series discussing the history of the studio, the equipment and The Beatles’ part in their history. I finally reached my now-or-never moment and made reservations for the August 12th 2018 morning session. The lecturers this year were Brian Kehew and Kevin Ryan, authors of the outstanding “Recording The Beatles” book. After entering the Abbey Road building, going straight down a hallway and down a flight of stairs and then taking a right, you enter the huge doors into the room you’ve seen in countless photos.
The famous fire doors, the flight of stairs The Beatles have climbed hundreds of times to the control room, the high ceiling, the closet containing the maracas and tambourines they used so often. Before the lecture, you are given an hour to walk around and explore the studio and the exhibits along the walls – the original 4-track mixing desk, used on their early sessions, the Neumann U-47 recording mic, vintage tape recorders and numerous keyboards used by the group.
The 90-minute lecture concerns the fascinating and entertaining history of EMI and the studio, the recording process and stories about artists who have recorded there from The Beatles to Judy Garland and John Williams (all of the Star Wars soundtracks were recorded in the enormous Studio One). By far, the highlight for me was the demonstration of how studios as well as musicians have their own distinctive sound. To illustrate this, they chose four audience members, myself included to play two studio pianos – an upright and a Steinway grand - two players on each.
We were asked to play an E chord at the exact same time and let the notes ring out – in other words, the final chord on “A Day In the Life”. I was playing the bass chords on the upright that Paul played! On a count of four we played that chord and the audience was amazed – it sound exactly like the recorded version. Small wonder, since we were playing the exact same pianos The Beatles used in the same room in the same place. It is true – that room indeed has a special sound and you can hear it. That was an experience I will forever treasure.
If you are a Beatles music fan, this visit to the birthplace of Beatles recordings is a MUST. Tickets are £100 ($132.00) – a bargain, really. This lecture series took place during the summer months, so the airfares were high- $1500 round trip was the best I could do. There are cheap hotels centrally located that were perfectly comfortable. My hotel was a walk away from Baker Street and Marylebone – the former location of the Apple boutique. It was also a short bus ride from Abbey Road and the rest of central London. Keep in touch with Abbey Road on Facebook or other social media to find out the next series of lectures (if they decide to have one!). You’ll never forget it.
Editor’s note: Jim Morin is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist whose work is published in newspapers and online worldwide. Long time listeners to Beatle Brunch may remember Jim as a contributor to Larry Kane’s excellent memoir about his time touring with The Beatles called, “Ticket to Ride”. In addition to being a life-long Beatle fan, Jim is equally passionate about Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys among other 60’s legends and is a long standing member of The Beatle Brunch Club.