There is such a thing as being in the right place at the right time.
Not having kept a diary or having been a writer of any sort back in my early teens, this retelling of how I stumbled into one of the most cherished experiences of my life is done through a filtered lens of my mind’s eye thirty-one years after-the-fact. Other than existing slides my Dad shot as proof, I have never documented this experience on paper, or any other medium. I’m going to do so now here before it gets hazier through time.
Back in the summer of 1983, I was a 13-year-old Beatles fanatic and as it turned out, happened to have been with my family on a trip to London sometime in late July of that exceptionally hot summer. Some time shortly after we arrived at out hotel (possibly called the Charing Cross Hotel) situated somewhere near Trafalgar Square, my mother turns to me, while reading some British travel brochures, and tells me that there is some kind of tour and presentation at Abbey Road Studios going on that summer and would I be interested? I look at the literature in complete astonishment and state the obvious emphatically and without any consideration for the other members of my family or the other family traveling with us. I was thirteen after all.
My brother who was 16, his friend, and I quickly got used to getting around London on the Underground and were able to ditch the older folks for some day-tripping, to go record shopping and site-seeing around London. I seem to recall that we, while trekking around London, had purchased the tickets for the Abbey Road Studios presentation several days prior to it so we were guaranteed entry which allowed me to leisurely enjoy my stay in London as well as our scheduled bus trip up to through the lake country. I also seem to recall that the Abbey Road show came towards the tail-end of our English stay so while I was certainly looking forward to it, I also wanted to get the most out of being in the Beatles home country while I had the opportunity.
So when the fateful day finally arrived, my brother, our pal Bruce and I set off to St. John’s Wood via the Tube and found the address on the relatively nondescript looking but heavily tree-lined avenue, walked on into the parking area, there were people already gathering for the afternoon show and sat ourselves down on the steps to await our entry. Thirty one years on, I can still recall the sense of giddiness I felt knowing I would be entering in one of the most hallowed halls in 20th century music history. The rest of our families joined up with us at this point and my Dad started snapping some photos for posterity.
In The Footsteps Of Giants
When it was finally time to enter, it almost seemed surreal walking through the entryway, down through some hallways where framed photographs of some very famous entertainers greeted us. Eventually, we found ourselves entering into a large room with parquet wood floors and various instruments and recording gear set-up around the room. This was the room. There was also a merchandise stall and a screen with chairs. While people milled around the various objects and ogled the wares, I’m pretty sure I grabbed the best seat in the center of the room at the front.
What can I say? My mind was blown hearing these then-unreleased recordings recordings blaring through the Altec Lansing Speakers in number 2. Remember, this was long before the Anthology releases and even long before the unauthorized Ultra Rare Tracks series, so to hear these recordings, in pristine audio quality, in that room, was like beyond anything I could describe. I particularly recall the experience of hearing an early take of “Strawberry Fields Forever” as having an outer-worldly, ethereal-like quality to it as if John Lennon was singing right there and then. And it was loud. And deep man! After the presentation ended, there was much milling around the various studio artifacts, the bass, pianos and the merchandise stall which I have documented by my Dad’s photos. If I’m not mistaken, they still had one of the original four-track recorders from the Sgt. Pepper recording sessions still there, later to be auctioned off. And then walking up the stairs towards the control room which had been closed off for renovations but we did get some cool pictures from the top of the stairs. And I still recall staying until the staff said they had to clear the room to prepare for the next presentation. And could I just stay a few more minutes?
I admit I’m not much of a spiritual person. Nor am I the ghost story type but it was quite a mystical experience to be there. I couldn’t help but experience a tangible sense of magic in studio 2 and while John, Paul, George and Ringo had moved on, recorded in other places, their footprints still loomed large in Abbey Road. People who work there today even speak of it still. Furthermore, back in July of 1983, it had not even been three years since John Lennon’s murder in New York and his death still stung me. Hearing the audio of his voice so vividly, singing and talking to other Beatles or George Martin while on mic in that room brought him and the band together as a working unit back to life in a way I could only describe as like looking at the night sky at the light that beams at us originating from stars of the distant past. John was still there, as they all were, and I was too.
And one more thing.
I do have other souvenirs besides photos of my “blessed” event. Besides my UK LP’s of “The Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl” and “Yellow Submarine” both bearing the “A Souvenir of Abbey Road Studios” on the jackets (both having been purchased that day at the merchandise stall), I do have something else. A completely unopened size small “The Beatles At Abbey Road” grey t-shirt also from the studio 2 stall. I bought two of them that day and after years of wearing one of them, rediscovered the other one I packed away in a box years later, which I had outgrown but kept anyway. I have never seen another one anywhere in all my travels throughout Beatle-land. But there has to be others out there? Right?