London — 04 March 2013
Inside Abbey Road

The legendary Abbey Road Studios is opening its doors to the public this month, with a series of talks that take visitors behind the scenes to where the magic happens. Laura Martin finds out more

Think of Abbey Road and chances are you’ll picture The Beatles walking across that iconic zebra crossing for the cover of their Abbey Road album. To many, the crossing is Abbey Road. But the world-famous recording studios after which the album was named is actually just a little further down the road from the famous photo op, and this month it will open its doors for a series of talks that reveal the magical musical mastery that has taken place there over the years.

Filling music fans in on the secrets of the studio is Brian Kehew – record producer, engineer, musician and author of one of the most comprehensive books on The Beatles’ time at the studio. 

“I still remember my first time visiting,” he tells Scout London. “It was very significant for me, it was like coming home to Mecca. It felt like you were entering a very holy or special room. Many people feel that there is a vibe in there. I don’t know whether it’s just Beatle fandom or people do actually feel something in there.”

Alongside co-author and co-speaker Kevin Ryan, Kehew spent a painstaking 15 years researching and writing his book, Recording The Beatles, that documented in exact detail the processes used by The Beatles – and many other huge artists such as Pink Floyd, The Hollies, Adele and Oasis – to achieve such impressive results at the north London studios.

“I think the impression people have is that the artists who have come through Abbey Road have been the greatest in their era, across many decades now, all the way back to 1930s,” says Kehew. “They were the greatest of their time and it all reflects back on the studio.”

That said, Kehew is quick to point out that much of the studio’s fame harks back to the Fab Four: “I think The Beatles thing is probably about 90 per cent of the recognition, as they named an album after it and the famous photograph enhances it. But when we wrote the book, for us it was not so much about The Beatles but about the studio and the recording process. We became very involved with people who were working at the studio at the time.”

The studio has also been used to record film soundtracks for major movies such as Harry Potter and Star Wars. And alongside its illustrious musical past, Kehew also discovered a few secrets: “At one point there was a time when the largest room – which was used for a classical orchestra, it’s probably the top orchestra room in the world – wasn’t really used by anyone. So they’d put in a badminton court to have games in there when it was empty.”

As well as listening to the talks, visitors to the studio will get to see rare archive photos and film, while also witnessing some of the vintage equipment in action. There’ll be a film score sync demonstration, plus demonstrations of the studio’s famous echo chamber and a vintage four-track mixing console and tape machine. 

“The Beatles are a fraction of what we talk about, as we cover 81 years,” explains Kehew, “although they are the main reason people come, so we give them a larger fraction than anyone else. But all of it is important. There are people from the 30s and 40s who were selling millions of records even back then.”

Kehew and Ryan will also be showing photographs by photographer Henry Grossman, who they published a book about earlier this year. 

“Henry worked with the Beatles longer than any other photographer and he simply put the photographs away rather than publish them,” Brian explains. “We found he had over 6,000 Beatles images that were not only unseen, but are the best photos of The Beatles I’ve ever seen. He’s an incredible artist. We’ll be showing some images during the talks as there are some taken in the studio that are just beautiful.”

Inside Abbey Road, March 8-17, £80, seetickets.com/tour/abbey-road-studios

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  1. In July of 1983 I was standing there with my nose pressed against the front door. It was after 5:00 pm and the doors were locked. Recording engineer Michael Kenney took pity on me and asked me in. It was the last night of three months of travels through Europe before I headed back to the States. I was 27 years old. We entered Studio no. 2 and Michael walked upstairs to the control room and told me to listen to something I’ve never heard before. It was the solo acoustic piece of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Nobody heard this until it was included on the Beatles Anthology in 1992. I was standing there alone in this empty room, except for Ringo’s drum kit sitting center towards the back. I thought my brains were going to explode. Exactly as the writer of this article said… I felt as though I had entered Mecca. After the song ended he played the acapella version of “Because” harmonized by John, Paul and George. Truly, there were shivers up my spine and tears forming in my eyes. Michael invited me upstairs to the control room to see all of the original equipment the Beatles and everyone else had recorded upon up until this time. This equipment is now in the possession of Paul McCartney. The studio was soon to be rigged for new digital sound and Abbey Road was allowing paid audiences to attend a few evenings there so they could enjoy this very special moment before it changed. But Michael and I were there alone and it was one of the most magical events of my life. Afterwards we strolled around the block to a pub called “the Heroes of Alma”, a place the Beatles and so many others used to drink and eat, and now a private home and no longer a public establishment. Abbey Road IS a magical place and I encourage anyone who has the opportunity to visit to not pass up the chance to go inside. You will never forget it. Tom Hyland Santa Fe, New Mexico