On Monday the 27th of January in 1964 I took the train, then the tube, to St. Johns Wood station, from whence I walked the five or so minutes over to number 3 Abbey Road, NW8, the location of EMI Recording Studios, and the beginning of an amazing life.
My start was in the same place that most people began their EMI careers - the tape library. EMI's reasoning behind starting someone there was simple; it was the best point from which to learn all about the studio and how it runs.
The EMI training began simply with booking tapes into the library. Through this you learned how all of the information that might be needed during the life of that tape was notated. Things like the tape formats (mono, stereo, and 1 inch four track), and F/S or B/D (a False Start which was a take that lasted no longer than a couple of bars, or a Breakdown, which was an incomplete take that lasted longer than a few seconds). Everything that might be needed by someone that may have to work with the tape at some time in the future and, more important for the hopeful future assistant engineer, all the information he would have to know to notate a tape box properly during a session.
Then there was the learning of how the studio worked. Simple things like the difference between a control room and a cutting room, or what kind things editors do. It's the kind of knowledge that's pretty much commonplace these days, but back then only a very, VERY small percentage of the population even knew what a recording studio was. This was all learned by the process of getting tapes to and from the different places they needed to be. Of course, when delivering tapes to the studios, cutting rooms or wherever, you'd catch bits and pieces of what was going on since you tried to never just pick up, or deliver, the tapes and immediately leave, you'd hang out for a bit and watch. One of the most fascinating parts of hanging out was that as you got to know the "old-timers," they would regale you with stories of the studios and their history, and how records were made right at the beginning of what eventually became the record industry; stories unfortunately now lost to time.
Meet The Beatles
Within 3 days of my arrival I had in my hands a 4 track master tape fresh from Paris. A&R manager (Artiste and Repertoire) George Martin had wanted to release a Beatle's single of them singing in German and, as the band was performing several shows in Paris, he set up a day at EMI's Pathe Marconi Studio along with an interpreter. They recorded their German versions very quickly, and as they had time left, it was decided to try something new. That something new turned out to be "Can't Buy Me Love" and here I was, a huge Beatles fan (one of millions), holding the master tape of what would turn out to be the next Beatles single. Just one thought raced through my mind — "Bloody hell!"
It was about a month later that The Beatles came in to record the songs for their film A Hard Day's Night. There I was carrying a tape up to the library from Number 3 control room when I noticed coming towards me the two Georges, Harrison and Martin. I freaked and almost screamed like any one of the many girls outside, but managed to bite my tongue, a feat for which I would become extremely grateful, especially when considering my many future associations with the two of them.
It wasn't long before I met Norman Smith, the great engineer who worked on their sessions from the first recording test through Rubber Soul, and I began to get friendly with him. I amazed myself by being very up front and asked him if there was any chance of me poking my head in the door so I could watch the band record for a bit. He hesitated for a second, then told me, "Yes, but keep to the back and don't let anyone notice you're there. They can be a bit touchy about new people, so just be a part of the furniture." Well, of course a cocky 16 year old couldn't stop there. "Maybe I could take some pictures?" I asked, assuming I would never get this opportunity again. "Just be part of furniture and don't make it obvious," Norman warned.
Come the day and I have this cheap old camera in hand, and whilst watching the session, I start to take some pictures. There were a number of people there having to do with the movie, including someone who was filming on an 8 millimeter camera (some of this footage has only recently come out on YouTube.) After a while The Beatles decided they wanted to try some handclaps on a song and said to the room, "Come on. Everyone down to join in." I looked over at Norman and he looked over at me and sort of nodded his head to let me know it was okay to do it. "Blimey, I'm gonna go down and clap with The Beatles," I thought. Could it ever get any better than this?
There were eight or nine of us, including Ringo and Paul, gathered around the mic clapping along to "I Should Have Known Better." After the take, the two of them went upstairs while the rest of us stayed there looking up at the glass waiting for a decision, then someone came out to the top of the stairs and yelled, "It doesn't work so forget it. Just come back up here."
The moment I set foot in the control room, George Martin came up to me and politely asked, "Excuse me, but who are you?" Caught off guard, I sputtered, "Mr. Martin, sir, I just started up in the tape library a couple of weeks ago ..." and George immediately stopped me mid-sentence and said rather sternly, "Get out!" I thought to myself, "Oh, hell. This is it. I'm going to get fired," but at least I'd had a chance to be in the studio with The Beatles. Did anything else really matter?
I heard nothing about being fired, and a couple of days later George Martin came up to the tape library and asked me, "So how did the pictures turn out?" Of course I showed him, with much relief, now figuring my job was actually safe. Unfortunately this was just the first of many incidents at EMI where I thought my job would be in jeopardy, all of them having to do with The Beatles.
From Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust by Ken Scott and Bobby Owsinski. Copyright 2012 by Ken Scott and Bobby Owsinski. Excerpted with permission of Alfred Music Publishing Co.