Friday, 18 February 2011

Abbey Road Studios

EMI have indicated an intent to sell their studios at No.3 Abbey Road. This has produced all sorts of reactions, mostly a mild panic that the building will be sold for residential redevelopment.

In my opinion it's impossible that this could happen. Abbey Road has a distinguished history which makes it a shoo-in candidate for national listing or somesuch - and that's even before one begins to take account of the sanctity conferred on it by being used for the bulk of recordings made by The Beatles.

If one notices nothing else about Studio 2, it's that it looks pretty much like a large recording studio. And that's the second point. Abbey Road is a working recording studio. What would be the point of shutting it down?

Well, clearly there is the usual distant squawk of circling carrion who can see the sell-on value of the property. This is rather like getting nervy about Trafalgar Square pigeons. Additionally, it's suggested that the studios might be worth £30M, which strikes me as a modest sum for a sensible impresario (he says, avoiding the term svengali with it's Cowell implications). Still, John Harris has a sober point in this piece for The Guardian, suggesting that our track record isn't great when it comes to preserving genuine rock monuments.

Then, of course, one forgets that Abbey Road had a distinguished history prior to pop music. This blog post, for example reminds us that preserving important pre-mop-top recordings is as pressing an issue, not least as EMI own the catalogue which could be dismantled and dispersed as easily as the bricks of the building.

Recording music is now, increasingly, a cottage industry for classical musicians. They will not miss the studio with its love of isolation and process. They're ensemble animals who enjoy creating music in a space rather than for a (condenser) receptical. It's already common for live recordings to be made in concert halls and theatres anyway. The Pappano/Domingo/Stemme Tristan was hailed not only for being good, but also as a studio recording swansong, and that was in 2005.

Yet the popular recording industry (even if physical units aren't fashionable) is still not only alive and well but important. This isn't simply about bands - there is an ongoing film music industry as well as the burgeoning computer game market which meeds to be able to lay down original peformance in this manner. I simply can't see the opportunity for acquiring first-class studios being passed up by some entrepreneur with half a brain. Equally it would be nice to think that instead of turning the place into some sort of theme park, the tradition of the studios might be preserved by maintaining them as studios. Tradition in this country seems to consist of petrification.

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