|Abbey Road And A Typical Session|
In fact, all of EMI's artists recorded there, using EMI engineers, producers and disc cutters. It was possible for an artist, once signed to EMI, to have a successful career without ever stepping outside the EMI system. The Beatles entered that system in 1962, and rarely recorded anywhere but at Abbey Road. Between 1962 and 1966 they settled into a routine - Abbey Road became like a home to them: “In the end, we had the run of the whole building... I think we knew the place better than the Chairman of the company, because we lived there” (McCartney, Anthology, p.93).
Sessions never began before midday, and 7pm was the band's favourite time to start recording. During recording, the Beatles would usually arrive together at the studio, having been picked up by Lennon's chauffeur, perhaps having stopped at McCartney's house to rehearse. The car - Lennon's Rolls Royce or Austin Princess - would pull through the gates and into the small rear car park where their van would already be parked. Mal Evans and Neil Aspinall would have arrived sometime earlier and unloaded their guitars and amplifiers, setting them up in whichever studio they were booked into on that day.
The band would enter through the "tradesman's entrance", rather than the front door88. Inside, security guards - retired policemen or former soldiers, like university porters - in official looking black uniforms and peaked caps were reminiscent of the foyer of a minor government office in Whitehall. Institutional corridors led off toward an institutional canteen, institutional toilets, with institutional waxed toilet paper, and institutional offices. Each office was occupied by one of EMI's army of strictly graded, by- the-book managers, including Mr EH Fowler, the top man – Studio Manager89. “The whole building,” recalls Nick Mason of Pink Floyd, “was painted throughout in a shade of green that I can only imagine was inspired by the KGB headquarters in the Lubyanka.
Anyone you get who's been EMI trained really knows what he's doing. they actually used to have to come to work in ties and suits and white coats which is lovely, like another age! (McCartney, in Lewisohn, p.11)
Then, there were the three recording studios themselves. Studio 1: vast, cold, and echoing - like a school assembly hall, with its waxed parquet floored and white painted wooden wall panels. The smell was of disinfectant, floor wax and dust. A staircase led up to the ceiling where the control room, like the bridge of a ship, looked out over the "shop floor". The mixing desks were expensive and solid – painted metal, with heavy industrial knobs and switches, which might have come from the dashboard of a tank, and shining rivets. The faders resembled the
throttle controls from fighter planes. This was the high prestige, classical recording venue which made the studio famous.
You'd see classical sessions going on in number one - we were always being asked to turn down because a classical piano was being recorded in number one and they could hear us (McCartney, Sessions, p.8)
Studio 2: smaller, but still large, and still echoing, and with more parquet flooring and white paint – Geoff Emerick describes “filthy white walls” (p.180). It was, as George Harrison observed, a “big white room that was very dirty and hadn't been painted in years.” With his noted eye for detail, he recalled “these old sound baffles hanging down that were all dirty and broken... this huge big hanging light... no window, no daylight.”91 The control room here was also up a flight of stairs. The cupboard under that staircase was a "toy cupboard", filled with items which were largely useless, except insofar as when banged together, rattled or hit, they made interesting sounds. There was a wind-up wind machine, tambourines, strange percussion instruments from Africa and Asia. In the studio itself were a Hammond organ, a piano, and a harmonium.
Studio 3: the smallest studio, almost cramped, and used to record artists on a budget, or as a last resort when Studio 2 isn't available. The control room here wasn't up a flight of steps - it looked out straight into the room. Most of Revolver was recorded in Studio 3 and Studio 2. The band would have entered whichever room they were working in to find Aspinall and Evans finishing the setting up of their instruments. George Martin would be in the control room with engineer Geoff Emerick and his assistant, Phil McDonald. Martin, Emerick and MacDonald, wearing sober shirts and ties, adhering to the strict EMI dress-code, would pop down the staircase or – in the case of Studio 3, along the corridor – to say hello.
Sessions usually started with cups of tea and cigarettes – and perhaps some toast or sandwiches. It was Evans' job to fetch these from the canteen, or prepare them in an improvised kitchen in the Studio, which the Beatles had earned the right to run with their superstar status.
Once they had settled in George Martin would stand with the band and they would decide amongst themselves which track to record, with the song's main author running through them on acoustic guitar or piano93. Emerick would often listen from the control room and try to anticipate any technical issues which might arise.
Once they'd decided, they'd tell George Martin how they wanted the record to sound, often in quite abstract terms, and he would relay the requirements to the engineer, whose job it was to conceive of a way to achieve the requested sound. He, in turn, would then ask the white-coated studios technicians to carry out any electrical adjustments necessary, and/or ask the brown-coated maintenance staff to move amplifiers or instruments into the right positions. The engineer would then see to microphone positioning and set-up.
There was a standard set-up prescribed by the EMI technical guidelines, which indicated which microphones should be used for which instruments, and how far away each should be placed; each engineer also had his own preferred set-up, with minor adjustments based on experience and the kind of sound the artist was after; in the case of the Beatles, Geoff Emerick started out using a variation on Norman Smith's set-up, but was willing to make severe adjustments, often in contravention of studio rules and regulations, in order to achieve not only the right sound, but also completely new sounds.
Once everything was ready, there would be wires trailing all over the floor, empty tea cups balanced on amplifiers or other flat surfaces, and everybody would be in their places with “cans” (headphones) on. In Studio 2, Martin and Emerick would be out of sight of the band up the staircase, and able to communicate only by coming downstairs or talking to them through the studio desk. In Studio 3, they would be face-to-face with the band through heavy glass.
The session would then go on, often for hours, until the band called it to a halt. Martin didn't always stay to the end of a session – despite regulations, sessions rarely finished on time - but would leave his engineers in charge.
In the meantime, members of the band would periodically retire to the echo chamber or toilets to smoke pot; dinner would be ordered and brought in by Mal Evans; visitors might pop in, though they were rarely welcome.
Eventually, Starr would grow tired – drumming is the most physically strenuous job in most bands – or a natural pause in proceedings would occur, such as getting a good take of a particular track, and band members would make their way out to waiting cars. Sometime, an individual member might stay to tinker with his parts on a track, or all four members might hang around in the control room listening to playback of their evening's work. Sometimes, they made copies to take home.