‘Live at the BBC’ – How a Fan Helped Make Beatle History

It’s reasonably well known in Beatle circles that when it came to compiling the 1994 album Live at the BBC (later re-issued in remastered form and accompanied by a second volume in 2013), Apple and EMI relied heavily on some previously unknown 1963 recordings made off the radio by a teenage fan named Margaret Ashworth.

Margaret was credited prominently in the liner notes of both. Here’s Volume 1:

And here are the credits for Volume 2:

Her name was there for all to see, and we knew she was the source of many songs and performances previously thought to be completely lost, or only available in very poor quality. But we didn’t really know the whole back story. She’s not even given a single mention in Kevin Howlett’s comprehensive book on the subject, The Beatles: the BBC Archives: 1962-1970.

Now, for the first time, Margaret Ashworth – a veteran journalist (now retired) who worked at the Daily Mail newspaper – has written extensively about just how she was able to come to the rescue of The Beatles and made a new release of their live radio performances possible.

Check out her Mail on Sunday article ‘How a besotted Beatles superfan who made amateur bedroom recordings of the band’s 1960s hits ended up with a personalised thank you on their hit BBC album three decades later‘, and also her personal music blog post on the subject ‘How I made a Beatles album (with a little help from my friends)‘. It covers similar ground but, goes into much more detail. They’re both great reads.

Realising that her homemade tapes were gold, the engineers at EMI immediately made seven sets of CDs of the full Pop Go The Beatles programs. They presented Margaret with one set:

When the album Live at the BBC was originally released in 1994, Margaret Ashworth says she could easily tell which of the tracks came from her tapes. Here’s one of them, ‘Ooh! My Soul’. It is the track the producers and engineers used to test the quality of her recordings when she first took them to the Abbey Road studios:

It’s so good to now have this story told in full, and by the Beatle fan who made it happen.

Wild Life Gets 50th Anniversary Half Speed Master

50 years ago, on December 7, Wings released their debut album Wild Life – recorded over an eight-day period at Abbey Road Studios in London.

Now it joins McCartney and RAM in getting the Limited Edition, 50th Anniversary Half Speed Master treatment:

Paul and Linda McCartney, Denny Seiwell and Denny Laine arrived at the studios on 25 July, 1971 to begin recording with engineers Tony Clark and Alan Parsons.

“They rehearsed for a while, sang some old songs, wrote some new ones and in time headed for the big city studios. In three days they had laid down most of the tracks and by the end of a couple of weeks the album was finished. In this wrapper is the music they made. Can you dig it?”, wrote Clint Harrigan for the original album’s back cover liner notes.

On PaulMcCartney.com Paul wrote: “Wild Life was about spontaneity: the opening track ‘Mumbo’ was recorded in one take. I’d read that Bob Dylan had just made a quick album and I really liked the idea, because we tended to take longer and longer to make records. The early albums by The Beatles hadn’t taken long and it seemed to me that Dylan was getting to that. I was a great admirer of his – and still am to this day – so I thought, well, if it’s good enough for him, let’s do it.”

The 50th anniversary edition of Wild Life is cut at half speed at Abbey Road using a high resolution transfer of the original 1971 master tapes. The Half Speed 50th will be released on February 4. It is available for pre-order now.

The Beatles, Get Back and London: On the Trail of a Timeless Story

In the lead-up to the release next week of the Peter Jackson film The Beatles: Get Back, John Harris, editor of the new book of the same name, takes us on a fascinating journey to the three key locations in the making of the Let It Be album. It is delightful:

Record Store Day 2020 – Beatle Related Titles

It’s been a bit quiet on the new Beatle product front for a while. Then comes the 2020 Record Store Day official lists – and not one, but three titles that will be of ineterst to collectors.

First up, Paul McCartney and yet a further re-issue of his first solo album from 1970, simply called McCartney:

This time around, for it’s 50th anniversary, McCartney is getting the Half Speed Master treatment. There will be just 7000 copies produced. If you’d like to know more about Half Speed Mastering UMe has produced this article. Abbey Road Studios engineer Miles Showell (who worked on this 2020 re-issue of McCartney) explains more here:

And, as one wag said on one of the better re-issue forums (Super Deluxe Edition – which we love): “Just as he did fifty years ago, Paul’s making sure his solo album gets released before Let It Be hits the streets…” That’s actually very funny. History repeats.

Also on this year’s Record Store Day list, a Ravi Shankar Centennary Edition of his Chants of India album, produced by George Harrison in 1997. In what is the first physical product to come out of the new distribution relationship between BMG and Harrison’s Dark Horse Records, this LP is being issued for the first time on vinyl – and it will be on red coloured vinyl to boot! 3000 copies are being pressed, and the 2LP set will come in a gatefold cover with an exclusive photo print:

Finally, a John Lennon title is included in the 2020 RSD list. A 7″ black vinyl single of his 1970 hit ‘Instant Karma!’ is being billed as the 2020 Ultimate Mixes. The single will feature newly mixed audio and a faithful reproduction of original UK sleeve artwork. 7000 copies are being pressed:

Record Store Day this year is on Saturday, April 18. Check here for the full list of what is planned for release. You can find the US RSD store here. The official RSD UK store is here.

New Book: The Beatles Recording Reference Manual – Volume 1

A fascinating and well-researched new Beatle book has just landed. It’s rather lengthy title is The Beatles Recording Reference Manual – Volume 1: ‘My Bonnie’ through ‘Beatles For Sale’ (1961-1964). The book is written by musician, recording engineer, producer and Beatle aficionado, Jerry Hammack:

As the front cover says: “From the first take to final remix, discover the making of the greatest pop recordings of all time”. It is the first installment of what will be a four-book series.

Volume 1 takes us in great detail through the albums Please Please Me, With The Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night, and Beatles For Sale.

Over eight years in the making, Jerry Hammack has collected and analysed hundreds of recordings (takes, outtakes, remixes and the officially released versions), read hundreds of books and magazine articles, scoured photos, film and videos, and interviewed key personnel who worked on Beatle sessions to compile a definitive statement about just how each of their classic recordings was made.

From his home in Toronto, Canada, Hammack explained, “I’d be working on a session and an artist would ask for McCartney’s bass sound on Sgt. Pepper, or Clapton’s solo guitar sound on ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’. While I could eventually track down the details that brought those sounds to life for them, it required a lot of detective work sorting through outdated, or even worse, unsubstantiated misinformation on the topic. As The Beatles influence is as present now as its ever been, I thought it was important to put those questions to rest.”

And put them to rest he does. The Beatles Recording Reference Manual – Volume 1 – ‘My Bonnie’ through ‘Beatles For Sale’ (1961-1964) includes song-by-song descriptions of the entire recording process, complete with diagrams to visually describe what happened with each song. This allows the reader to follow the critical milestones of each work. Every entry has detailed session by session breakdowns of the people involved, instruments and studio tools used. Plus there are numerous appendices at the back of the book covering release versions, gear, and more.

You’ll find in this book minute detail – right down to the studio gear in the control room at the time – like this beautiful old Telefunken M10 Master Recorder (which was the model used to record masses of the band’s earliest songs):

The book also has what I very much like to see in reference works of this nature: a Glossary of Terms, a thorough Bibliography, and a comprehensive Index, making things easy to find and cross reference.

Future volumes in this definitive, four-volume series will be released approximately every 6 months. Jerry Hammack has created a great website to support the book series, and you can purchase his book direct from the site, or through Amazon (where you can also take a “Look Inside” peek at the contents). Here’s the rear cover of Volume 1 (click the image for a larger version): 

Volume 2 will take us from Help! to Revolver (1965-1966); Volume 3 will look just at 1967 (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour); and the final in the series Volume 4 takes in the LPs The Beatles (aka The White Album, through to Abbey Road (1968-1970). Really well worth getting hold of if you love to delve into how Beatle magic was made in the recording studio.

Legendary Abbey Road Studio Recording Console to be Auctioned

It is best known as the mixing desk used to record Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, but this Abbey Road Studios EMI TG12345 MK IV Recording Console was also used by Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr on various solo projects between 1971-1983: 

The TG12345 MK IV, formerly housed in the famous Abbey Road Studio 2, is now up for sale as “Lot 35” in an upcoming Bonhams Auction event featuring a wealth of collectable rock music items. The console comes with letters concerning its provenance, including one from Ken Townsend, Abbey Road Studio manager at the time and future Chairman. Townsend worked with The Beatles as an engineer on numerous albums over the years. There’s a great little film about him here.

The auction will take place in New York on March 27. Click here for more details.

Abbey Road Beatles Pianos Sampled

For any musicians out there looking to recreate the exact piano sounds found on many iconic Beatle recordings, it is now possible.

A company called Cinesamples, working directly with Abbey Road Studios, has been given complete access to two of the vintage upright pianos in Studio 2.

One is called the Challen Studio piano (as played by the Beatles on several albums), and the other the “Mrs Mills” piano (again used extensively by the Beatles). Both pianos have also featured on countless recordings by numerous other famous acts:Challen-IMG_9908The samples were recorded in-house by Abbey Road’s studio engineers, in the same studio the Beatles used as well. You can’t get any better than that! These samples can now be purchased and played by anyone – using software developed by Cinesamples:abbey-road

There are two pianos but three main sounds which can be reproduced: the Challen, the Challen Tack, and the Mrs Mills. Here Mike Patti from Cinesamples demonstrates the upright Abbey Road Challen pianos:

According to reviews, these two pianos – three if you count the harder-edged and more jangly Challen Tack version – sound flawless. These are really some pretty special instruments, with piano sounds that are just not available anywhere else. Given the impossibility of ever getting near one of these two pianos yourself, if you’re a musician this software provides a remarkable way to get the exact same sounds that the Beatles made onto your own recordings – or in live performances.

Abbey Road Studios Revealed

Using Google today we accidentally stumbled across a fantastic interactive gateway they’ve created which takes you into the world of the historic Abbey Road studios in London – the place where so much Beatles history was created:Abbey Road 5

On the Google home page all you have to do is click on the link ‘Step inside Abbey Road Studios‘. When you do you’ll see this:Abbey Road 1Once inside you can choose to go to Studio One, Studio Two, or to Studio Three.

If you choose Studio Two (where the Beatles made so much of their music), have a look around. You can also click on a link to the making of Paul McCartney’sQueenie Eye‘ video, which was shot entirely in Studio Two:Abbey Road 4Don’t forget to go upstairs to the Studio Two control room. There you’ll find Giles Martin at the mixing desk and a number of interesting features to click on:Abbey Road 2There’s also an option to visit the Abbey Road Mastering Room. Have a look at what’s on top of the stack of LPs on the coffee table at the back:Abbey Road 3This is a fantastic resource, one you can spend quite a while clicking around on and finding our more about the famous Abbey Road. Thanks Google!

Thinking About Abbey Road Studios at 80

I stumbled today upon an article on (of all places) the computer/gadget specialist site CNet. It is about the famed EMI Abbey Road studios in St. John’s Wood, London – the site of so much fantastic recorded music including just about all the songs recorded, in one way or another, by the Beatles. The studios have just turned 80 years old and it got me thinking about what an important role this particular pile of bricks and mortar on a nondescript street has played in the history of popular and classical music – not the least of which is the music of the the Beatles.

If George Martin is often referred to as “the fifth Beatle” then surely Abbey Road could be regarded as one of the instruments they played – with as much importance to the Beatles sound as the Gibson acoustics, the Gretsch and Epiphone electrics, the Ludwig drums, and the famous Hofner bass.

The CNet article has some very interesting observations made during a recent tour of the famous building and it’s numerous rooms – so many of which are associated with Beatles tracks. You have got to scroll through the thirty photographs taken during CNet’s visit. Its a terrific tour with some great shots for both Beatles fans and technical nerds alike.

The studio itself has a website which is worth a visit every now and again to catch up on their news – one of the latest of which is the remastering of the Beatles “Anthology” series for digital download.

So much happened at this one address – including the Beatles themselves honoring their home-away-from-home with an album bearing the studio’s name.

Abbey Road photo session - August 8, 1969

Then there was the heritage listing for that famous zebra crossing out the front….and the zebra crossing web cam, now complete with live street sounds. Its no longer in exactly the same spot as the photo on the front of the “Abbey Road” album having been moved down the road a bit from the studios – but countless fans still come each day, month, and year to be photographed striding across it.

Happy 80th birthday Abbey Road Studios. Here’s to 80 more years.