In the footsteps of the Beatles

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After another long gap, at last! A new blog!  I’ve been busy lately, just having returned from a much-needed two week holiday in lovely (damp) Devon.  But more on that later.

Just before we left, I was able to fulfil the musical dream of a lifetime.  Musicians have a pilgrimage place here in London – the Abbey Road Studios. 

You can go to Abbey Road  pretty much any time and there will always be a few people outside the studios snapping pictures of their friends, dodging cars on the famous zebra crossing, or leaving a little message to their favourite band on the white wall out front. 

On each of my three trips to London, previous to coming to live here, I made a point of visiting.  I don’t believe I ever wrote anything on the wall, but it’s always interesting to read the comments of others.

Then, a few months ago, I received an invitation to the annual Performers Meeting for PPL, a performance rights group in the UK who look after radio airplay royalties for musicians and performers.  I was thrilled – the letter said the meeting was to be held at Abbey Road Studios!  I immediately RSVP’d.

The day before the meeting I realised that I was coming down with my husband’s nasty case of flu he’d been battling.  For once acting in a completely insensitive and selfish manner, I decided to stuff myself full of cold medicine and go anyway.  I didn’t care if I infected the entire London recording industry, I was not going to miss a chance to see inside those hallowed studios.

Nervous and excited, I emerged from the St Johns Wood Tube station and wandered up the road towards the studios.  Blue plaques on buildings are used here in London to show places where famous (dead) people lived or worked, and I was delighted to pass a house where the artist Alma Tadema had lived.  He painted what is probably my favourite picture of all time – Spring, which hangs in the Getty Museum in California.

I continued down the road till I got to the corner where I needed to turn to go into Abbey Road itself.  There was the famous zebra crossing and, sure enough, there were about six people with cameras getting pictures of it.

I stood at the kerb and waited until the cars stopped to let me cross, then, conscious of the historic nature of the event, stepped down onto the crossing and made my way across Abbey Road.

I walked along the wall, stopping to read some of the comments scrawled there, and realised that since I’d last been there we’d lost another Beatle.  My favourite tribute was a perfectly drawn, tiny submarine, which would have been yellow had it not been drawn in felt tip.  At each window waved a Beatle, and there were tiny fish swimming past it.

I rang my husband to let him know that I’d arrived and was still managing to stay upright on the copious amounts of medicine I’d been taking.

I then glanced back at the wistful fans taking pictures and, thinking I’d dreamt of doing this my whole life, turned and walked through the gate and up the steps to the front door of the studios.  Of course, I’d always dreamed I’d be walking through those doors on the way to a recording session of my own.  But one has to take what one can.

I took a deep breath, pulled the door open, and went into the gorgeous art deco lobby.  I was directed to a table to sign in, then was led down the stairs, past the posters of the many soundtracks that had been recorded there, through the doors and into the sacred temple that is Studio 2.

The reception was lovely, and it was great talking to different people there.  The meeting was interesting.  The after-party with the drinks and nibbles was good fun, and I got to meet some really nice people who I’m hoping to stay in touch with.

But what really mattered was that I was standing in Studio 2, where it had all happened.  Nearly everything The Beatles recorded was done in that room.  All the films I’d seen, every album I’d played and sang along to, all done here.  There were two Steinway grand pianos at one end of the room.  Someone had opened one and various people took turns playing on it.  I had a quick, shy go on it, wondering if Paul McCartney might have recorded Let it Be or Hey Jude or Lady Madonna on it.

It might have been my imagination, but the place did have a palpable atmosphere.  It was a place of great presence, presumably from the accumulation of the great presences who had been there.

I soaked it in, lingering, wanting to capture the feeling of what it must be like to record in there.  But eventually, after several hours, they asked us very politely and nicely to leave.  I’m sure the staff there are used to what happens when you get a bunch of musicians around an open bar and free food. 

I took my time going back upstairs, looking around me, and was jolted by the quantity of film soundtracks that had been recorded there – all the Lord of the Rings, some of Danny Elfman’s excellent filmscores. I glanced down one hall and was stunned to see posters from every single Star Wars film lining it. Of course! Those were done here as well.  Probably the first orchestral music I was really swept up by.

And in the stairwell, amongst other greats such as Stevie Wonder, was a picture of Kate Bush.  I’d forgotten that she was an EMI artist as well, and that her first two or three album would have been recorded there.  In that room.  On that piano?  I wonder.

It was humbling and inspiring.  I learned a lot from the content of the PPL presentation. But the location stole the show.  Thank you, PPL, for giving this musician a chance to look inside this palace of dreams.

Kathie Touin

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