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Saturday, 30 July 2016

Abbey Road Studios

The Abbey Road Studios and that crossing, St John's Wood, London
The Abbey road studios in north-west London are, of course, famous for being the place where the Beatles recorded nearly all of their singles and albums but it has an interesting story of it's own to tell.
Firstly a brief bit of historical background: In the year 1130 Kilburn Priory was established for a community of nuns and lasted until the Dissolution Of the Monasteries in 1537 by Henry VIII. The property at number 3 Abbey Road was originally a nine-bedroom Georgian private townhouse built in 1830 on the lane that lead to where the priory had once stood. There was never an abbey as such but the road was so-named after the religious community. The building is now an English Heritage Grade II Listed Building - for historical rather than architectural reasons. Incidentally, it might be of interest to British readers to know that the Abbey National, now part of Santander, was founded in Abbey Road in 1874 as The Abbey Road & St John's Wood Permanent Benefit Building Society.
In 1931 The Gramophone Company bought the building and Sir Edward Elgar then conducted the recording of some of his own music. They soon combined with The Columbia Gramophone Company to form EMI. Many famous recordings of classical and popular music were made there over the years by artists ranging from Pablo Casals and Paul Robeson to Pink Floyd. George Martin, worked at Abbey Road from the 1950s mainly producing comedy records for people like Peter Sellars and Spike Milligan. Brian Epstein had tried in vain to get the Beatles signed to a record label but George Martin was the only one who saw something in them. After their first recording session he asked the Beatles if there was anything that they did not like. George Harrison said "Yes, your tie for a start!" and a rapport and a mutual admiration was formed which propelled the recordings and the band into a sensational world-wide phenomenon. On August 8th, 1969, at 11.35am the Beatles walked onto the pedestrian street crossing outside of the studios for a ten-minute photo session for the cover of their new album, Abbey Road. 
Abbey Road, 1969
Now the crossing itself is also Grade II listed and is the most famous street-crossing the world. The studio and crossing has people from all over the world hanging around in awe all of the time. There is even a website where one can observe the scene, live on camera twenty four hours a day!    
(PS: OK, I just visited that camera and there is nobody around at 6:30 on a Sunday morning. So sue me!)
Finally an interesting footnote. The studios were actually named after the Beatles album, in 1970. Before that they were known as The EMI Studios!
Sir George Martin, 1926 - 2016
I'm listening to Revolver, my favourite Beatles Album


Mimi Lenox said...

Bazza - Thank you for clarifying that piece of history for me. I learned something new today.
Fascinating...and scary...who wouldn't want to sign them?! LOL
I'm going to the live Abbey Road website to check it out.

bazza said...

Hello Mimi - how lovely to have you visiting again. Did you realise that it's almost exactly ten years since you first visited my previous Blog?
I hope you enjoyed seeing the Abbey Road camera; I am leading my Sunday morning walking group there today. If we can manage it, we will all pose on that crossing - about 25 of us!
I think the Beatles were pretty much 'rough diamonds' when George Martin first heard them.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Bazza - fascinating resume of the Studios - I didn't know some of the history ... and to think that if George Martin had taken offence to George Harrison's remark about his tie - history would be distinctly different.

Thanks for telling us more ... I've got George Martin's "All You Need is Ears" - that is waiting for me to read ... I gather it's a good personal story about their collaboration - cheers Hilary

bazza said...

Hilary, I am sure that book would be a good read as would Brian Epstein's 'A Cellar Full of Noise' (even though it was ghost written by Derek Taylor). I took my walking group to Abbey Road Studios and that crossing this morning and used my research for this post!

David said...

Hi bazza,
Once again a fascinating insight, this time into a piece of British cultural, as well as architectural, history. As the others have said, history would be distinctly different had George Martin not taken to the four lads from Liverpool. The thought that matters of such importance can turn on such small things is indeed a bit mind blowing. And incidentally, I too am a fan of "Revolver", although I'd have to say that my favourite Beatles album is probably "The White Album", while my favourite individual track is from "Sgt. Pepper's...", the brilliant "A Day in the Life", after which I named my blog!
Also, I've just finished watching "Love and Mercy", a moving account of another genius of '60s pop, Brian Wilson. As you will perhaps know, Wilson had quite severe mental health problems, made worse, if not caused by, his father, and in the '80s he fell prey to the abusive "doctor", Eugene Landy. Fortunately he was saved from the situation by his now wife, and all in all it's a quite inspirational tale I'd heartily recommend.
Best Wishes,

bazza said...

Hi David. I have seen Love & Mercy, bought the album too! Very interesting and sad story. I have just remembered that for one of my major essays in the 'Popular Culture' segment of my degree, I wrote a close examination and dissection of the Beatles double A-side, 'Penny Lane / Strawberry Fields'!

Deborah Weber said...

What a interesting story and now you've inspired me to listen to Abbey Road again. What a delight to find your blog!

bazza said...

Hi Deborah. Thank you! Now I'm blushing..... Please call again!

JoJo said...

Wow that is so cool! I had no idea of the history of those studios at all.

bazza said...

It's local knowledge for me JoJo! Thanks for looking in.

Hels said...

The joy of looking back at historical events is that we are (hopefully) more balanced and less agitated than contemporaries. But really!!!! How dumb was it when Brian Epstein tried to get the Beatles signed to a record label ... and failed.

Re the Abbey Road crossing being Grade II listed, I hope the heritage protection works. It may well be the most famous street-crossing the world now, while the Beatles fans still have their marbles intact. But might some council decision-maker simply paint over the crossing in the next decade, not knowing the true meaning of the icon?

bazza said...

Hi Hels. Apparently the man from Decca Records, who actually auditioned the Beatles and turned them down, had to live with the stigma for the rest of his career. George Martin was also impressed by Brian Epstein's enthusiasm.
Enshrined by law or not, the local council could alter the studios or crossing but they would be subjecting themselves to a lot of trouble. I think they rather like having the fame associated with the district.
I understand that crowds still visits Mozart's house in Saltzburg!