Inside Abbey Road Studios: The Mystery Uncovered
Written by Clare Care on August 13, 2021
As we waited by the wall outside the iconic landmark, the excitement and sheer magnitude of the highly anticipated occasion was building inside me. I was determined to be completely present and drink up the magic and energy of the experience. I was brought up on The Beatles, so it was really special to visit these studios with my 3 favourite men on the planet; my dad, my brother and my husband, all of whom are musicians and have inspired and encouraged my love of music in so many ways. We captured a photo on the steps together, big smiles all round, before embarking on our tour. As we were led through the reception area, there were photos of musical greats including Nile Rodgers, Stevie Wonder and Adele adorning the corridors.
We ventured into the Studio 3 Control Room and were invited to sit at the 96 channel analogue mixing desk. It was like being in the cockpit of a jumbo jet. We were then treated to the 5.1 surround sound, remastered video of Imagine. It was an emotional moment as the clarity of the recording was breathtakingly intense. You could hear the crunch of the leaves under Lennon’s feet as he walked through the garden, and it was as if the birds were tweeting on our shoulders. What an amazing welcome to the tour, knowing that this track had been mixed and mastered in this very room using the equipment we were seated at. We chatted with Sound Engineer, Freddy, about his typical day and the gadgets he worked with. We wandered the small Studio 3 which had seen Amy Winehouse record her last songs. It was quite modern and had isolation booths adjoining for vocal and instrumental recording.
Next, we were shown to the Control Room of THE most coveted and intriguing studio. Known as The Beatles Studio, Studio 2 was upon us. We met Mastering Engineer, Christian and he told us about the 60-channel Neve 88 RS console and how there are technicians on hand 24/7 should any complications arise, and that the machine is hardly ever powered down in order to prolong its lifespan. We knew the moment had arrived when we would descend the stairs into the mysterious Studio 2, to a land of creative genius. If only the walls could talk. My brother and I exchanged a knowing look at the enormity of what we were about to encounter. I held the bannister on my way down, imagining all the legends who had shared that same touch. The studio had an instant high vibration. I crouched down to stroke the parquet flooring, then surveyed my surroundings. It was astonishing. Here we were, in the room that our heroes had created the best music in the world. Moments forever captured in a time and place that will live on, long after we have all departed. It was a joy and a privilege to learn about the instruments and equipment. We even got to visit the famous Echo Chamber, which was used to produce the haunting vocals by John Lennon on ‘A Day in the Life’. It was quite small and smelled of damp, the walls were tiled white with round concrete pillars in the centre, to reflect and bounce the sounds. A strange little cell! I galloped around the space with childish excitement, clapped and made a plethora of silly noises to see how the room would react!
Back into the studio and we saw the renowned Steinway upright ‘Mrs Mills’ Piano, best known for the sound on ‘Lady Madonna’. It looked very well loved and her battered ivories still get tinkled! We were told by Music Technology graduate, James, that the reel-to-reel tape machine was German technology, designed during war times to create a louder recording. It was used by The Beatles to record their first 2 albums. Looking heavy, clunky and more suited to a submarine interior, the equipment is still used to create retro sounds and nice saturation effects. The studio has enormous acoustic screens that were used back in the day. They wheel out to cordon off particular areas, and are made of patterned hardboard. Sound dampening quilts are attached to the high walls. Originally filled with seaweed, until they realised in the 80’s that was a highly flammable thing to do! The quilts remain but the seaweed has long since been replaced. We breathed in the space. We imagined the history, the people, the legends, the music, the magic. It was hard to leave. So, we popped back in to say goodbye to the room one last time! Another moment filled with emotion and gratitude.
The final leg of the tour was to experience the great expanse of Art Deco Studio 1. This is where Elgar recorded Land of Hope and Glory, when it first opened 90 years ago. I stood on the podium, where many a musical talent had conducted. I waved my ‘air’ baton as I pretended to be Danny Elfman! The room was enormous. It’s the world’s largest purpose built recording studio. At the back of the room 100 chairs were set out for a choir and they seemed completely dwarfed. We strided around the space and heard a recording of the late, great, Cilla Black singing ‘Alfie’. Onto the Control Room for our final sensational soundtrack. We were greeted by Sound Engineer, Andy and Intern, Will, who led us to the 72-channel Neve 88 RS console. It was huge and majestic. We sat back and listened to the final battle scene from Star Wars Episode 1. It felt incredibly dramatic, as I pictured Darth Maul’s attack before the Jedi Knights saved our bacon! We chatted with the guys about them having the best job in the world, although being an employee at Abbey Road Studios is indeed a lifestyle choice, with some months racking up 300 hours of work. But they love it and it’s worth every second of their time. It really is like another world in that place. As we said our farewells, we knew that exceptional day would be etched on our minds forever and we all took a bit of the Abbey Road Studios spirit with us. What an opportunity, what an adventure!