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Abbey days are here again

As Abbey Road celebrates its 80th birthday with a series of public showcases, event presenter and Beatles scholar Brian Kehew discusses the studios’ extraordinary recorded legacy with David Davies.

It’s where the ‘magic’ happens, but as with any studio, the magic must necessarily take place behind closed doors. Next month, however, the general public will have a few, extremely rare opportunities to peak behind the baffles and experience the history-infused ambience of Abbey Road Studio Two.

The events – which do not include a tour of the Abbey Road complex – will commence by ushering visitors into a space whose legacy embraces a cornucopia of pioneering musical figures, from Sir Edward Elgar to The Beatles to Kate Bush. This remarkable musical journey will be examined in a far-reaching presentation by authors and Beatles scholars Brian Kehew (pictured) and Kevin Ryan with reference to rare and unseen photographs, films and recordings from the Abbey Road archives. There will also be an extensive array of vintage instruments and equipment – including classic mixers and microphones – for visitors to savour.

With more than 20 years of research into EMI/Abbey Road history to their credit, there is no doubting Ryan and Kehew’s expert credentials. But speaking to PSNE, Kehew was frank enough to admit that the events’ primary attraction is likely to be the extremely rare chance to immerse oneself in the studios’ sound history – a profound reserve of sense-memory that virtually seeps from the walls.

“We realise the lecture portion is only a centrepiece for a main experience the visitors will get,” says Kehew. “Most, I’m sure, will be more excited to walk into that famous building and see the actual studio of The Beatles and so many others. I’ve heard people describe it as the musical Mecca – a kind of holy ground for fans of pop music – […and] the room does have some special ‘vibe’ to it. We’ll be allowing time for people to wander about inside, take photos and feel comfortable; they will not be rushed in and out.”

Nonetheless, Kehew is looking forward to drawing a “personal connection between the room you’re seated in and some very significant history” during his and Ryan’s presentation. A producer, engineer and musician who has worked with artists including Air and Fiona Apple, Kehew has co-authored several acclaimed books on the Beatles with producer/engineer Ryan, including a deep mining of the band’s studio history in Recording the Beatles – a compelling piece of Fabs scholarship fit to stand alongside Mark Lewisohn’s The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions and Ian MacDonald’s Revolution in the Head.

“When we began the project many years ago, it was clear that the most important aspect of the Beatles’ legacy was the records themselves,” says Kehew. “Only the dates and scheduling of those records had been explored before, in Mark Lewisohn’s superb book. We hoped to explore the ‘how’, ‘where’ and ‘who’ of the recordings in great depth. There were the many books showing holidays, Maharishis, chauffeurs and airplane travel of the Beatles, but their musical work is their real legacy, and we’re pleased to have illuminated that dark corner.”

A valuable journey, then, but hardly one without its fair share of pot-holes, admits Kehew, who with Ryan is currently collaborating on a new book based around Beatles studio photos taken by revered lensman Henry Grossman. “It was difficult to find this information,” he says, “and [the project] took 16 years to complete, so we see why it had not been done before!”

Abbey Road Studio Two events are taking place on dates throughout March. For more information and purchasing details, see