2 days at Abbey Road studios
Here’s a little word about my trip to Abbey Road studios in London . Might be long – sorry about that !
Friday, Jan 10th 2014
6 months I’ve been waiting for this day ! Everything is ready, guitars are perfectly setup. My nerve .. well, you can imagine, I guess. 8am : meeeting at my place with Damien the video guy, and Thierry, my luthier, guitar tech for the session, heading to the Shuttle at 10 :50 am . Here we are in England, by the time we get used to drive on the left side, we’re already in London. First stop by our hotel, 1 mile from the studio, get our room keys and put our stuff in it. Then, heading to the pub just across the street, The Old Bell, for the traditional Fish ‘n chips. After that, we coudn’t resist to walk to Abbey Road, tourist-style, a few pics in front of the entrance, thinking « tomorrow is my turn, I’ll be in there, » and still not really believing it !
While we’re there, we tried a few pics on the crosswalk, to test a few things, good distance and angle to reproduce the original picture, as it’ll be my album cover too . But you know, it’s London , on a Friday at 5 pm, so it’s almost dark, rainy, and full of cars ! In the end, we just had fun sitting on the sidewalk, watching the place, and the tourists, and the drivers losing their nerve and their patience. Then, as I was in London, I visited my friend Mr Jad Azkoul. He’s a great guitar player, and especially the most amazing teacher ! It’s been 10 years since we saw each other . I used to go to masterclasses with him in the past. And I can honestly say, that thet man has a very important role in me still playing the guitar …. So, just chillin’ in his London house, drinkin’ coffee and talking guitar and other stuffs. It was so great & relaxed that it almost made me forget that tomorrow would be one of the most important time in my musical life … Exactly what I needed ! Then, to the St-Pancras train station to pick up Charles de Schutter, sound engineer for the session ….. Back to the hotel, fish n chips n beer … and off to bed ….
Saturday 11/01/2014 7 am : alarm clock rings …. And I’m up within the seconds … (that NEVER happens at home ! ) First thing I notice : I’m feeling great …. I mean really great . The sore throat from yesterday is gone, no headache (which is, like, a miracle for me ! ) This is the sign of a good day . Full english breakfast, shower, loading the guitars into the car, and heading to Abbey Road, n°3. We’re a bit early, the light is great so we take some time to take the front cover picture on the crosswalk . No cars, no people, it’s done in 5 minutes . Then driving into Abbey Road parking lot … step into that mythical main entrance, written « Abbey Road studios » black on white, we ID ourselves at the entrance desk and sign the register . Well, here we are ! We’re told to unload the gear into a side door, leading directly to the studio floor. SO we walk into that hall, left, right, left, seeing all multitrack tape recorders, some gear, all movie posters for whom music was recorded here. Then we see the sign : . « Studio two : please turn mobile phone off – Do not enter when red light is on » ; 1 door 2 doors A 3rd one, a iron blue door, looking like a submarine waterproof door. I turn that big golden handle … and …. Time just stops there … I’m here, I dreamt of this place ; We step into the room, it’s huge ! no one says a word, really too impressed I guess ! Even now, I can’t really find the right words to express how I felt the first time in that studio 2 …. But we’re here to work and record a CD, so we’d better start working ! We meet Gordon Davidson, he’ll be Charles’s assistant for the session . A very nice guy, about our age, we get along very quickly ! A quick coffee in a Abbey Road mug (of course ) and heading to the microphones room to choose the weapons . Well, I guess you’d believe me if I say they have everything you can dream of. Never seen so many vintage Neumann in my life . As Gordon told us «we have here more Neumann, than Neumann themselves !« Charles makes his choice, we’re here to capture the sound of that room, so we’re using plenty of microphones. For the geek-technical part, here are the microphones used for the session : XY couple in front of the guitar with old tube Neumann KM54 Another couple (wider) of Neumann U67 For « mid room » : a couple of Schoeps MK21 + a stereo Neumann SM69 For « large room/natural reverb » sound : 2 Neumann tube M50, up 6 meters high ! All of these go into a Neve 88RS desk . No need for external preamps, those are wonderful . We added to these tracks, the DI out from my pedalboard, to get the K&K pickup sound, and my gooseneck DPA 4099.
I show Charles my brand new Lowden guitar, he’s amazed ! No doubt it’ll be the main guitar for this record I play a little, go up to listen to it, we make a few adjustements, I play again , we listen …That’s it, the sound is just HUGE ! I’ve never heard my guitar sound like that …. I now understand why this studio is so sought after, the room sound is just amazing !! It’s about noon when the soundcheck is done …. But still I can’t wait to record at least one song before lunch . Nicos just joined us, he’s gonna be in charge of the pictures, and feeding the facebook page with pics and comments. First take : Come Together . It was obvious to me that the first weren’t gonna turn good …. It was the case . But it warmed me up, and got myself used to the sound of the room, and especially proved me that I was feeling good on the guitar ….. Should be a good day ! 3rd take, here we are, first moment of emotion of the day, I can feel it when I play, I can feel it by the long time before I hear the talkback monitors in the room, everyone agrees in the control room …. Wow, it feels good ! « She came in through the bathroom window » is also settled in a few takes . Now lunch time, we’re in the cafetaria waiting for the pizza’s, so Gordon offered us to visit studio 1, as it was empty today … This the biggest of Abbey Road where they score movie soundtracks and classical music . Star Wars, Lord of the rings, Harry Potter, … all of them have been recorded here… It reminds me of that great picture I have of the London Philharmonic recording Star Wars music with John Williams and George Lucas . 12 m high ceiling, the most amazing reverb, a giant mixing desk in the control room ….. I’m dreaming ! Back to studio 2, still playin’ the Lowden, and everything is going in a positive way ! ( Oh Darling, Because, You never give me your money, Sun King, Mean Mr Mustard … ) Everytime I start playing, I’m really into the music 100%, I almost forget that I’m in Abbey Road, and then, last note, I open my eyes again … WOW, I’m at Abbey Road … and feeling so amazed and so blessed every time ! We end the first day on the Larrivée Baritone . A brand new instrument I got before the studio . Planning on using it on Here comes the sun & Maxwell’s silver hammer … And again …. WOW ! the guitar is sounding huge ! with tons of low end, but very balanced …. Piano-like Here comes the sun is done in a few takes too. It’s 22 h, I recorded 11 tracks today, and I cannot feel my fingers anymore ! Back to the hotel, afghan restaurant, to the hotel again, I brought with me my Octomore bottle, and we’re ending that exceptional day, with an exceptional whisky ! 1am …. Soooo exhausted … too much emotion in 24 hours ! Off to bed Sunday 12/01/2014
Up at 7am, and full english breakfast ;-) Charles has to leave for a session in his own studio . Gordon will be taking over the session with us. To the studio, around 9 :45, a few more pics on the crosswalk, sayin’ hi to the friends through crosswalk’s webcam … Getting into the studio, and that feels natural already, I could get used to that ! We meet Paul, who’s gonna be the assistant on today’s session, coffee, warming up, and here we start by a few more takes for Here comes the sun, then Maxwell’s silver hammer on the baritone . Back to the Lowden, and here we’ll experience the most intense musical moment of the week-end : Golden Slumbers … The second take I recorded, gave chills to everyone … me first ! Really rare and precious times, especially in THAT place ! Of course I don’t say enough about the killer team I had around me, with Dam & Nicos for pics and videos, and Thierry who did an amazing job on my guitars setup . I drove him crazy, weeks before the recording, with my setup, receiving new guitars last minute, installing k&k pickup, and always improving the setup …. So that he almost didn’t have to do anything on the guitars in the studio ! We go on … Carry that weight … Something …. My personal favourite … I played that song on a JV guitar, build by luthier Jérôme Vandermaren, from Ath, Belgium . Cause that song required a very specific tuning … Of course, there was pizza at some point in the day, can’t remember , who cares . I just remember that we were watching a football game on the huge TV in Abbey Road cafetaria while eating …..
I’m reaching the end of Abbey road songs, it’s about 6PM. A little break, to visit studio 3 …. The Beatles recorded there too, but also PInk Floyd’s « Dark side of the moon » …. Again, a really unreal place ! Now, I have some extra time, the recording is done for the album …. I use that to re-record some older songs from my first album on the baritone, and playing some overdubs for « I want you » …. I had an idea about using a looper for the ending, so I tried that , but with overdubs ….. I stopped at 120 tracks ;-) 9PM, time to stop …. My fingers wouldn’t let me play one more single note ! 2 x 12h of solo recording just killed them ! Cleaning the place, and then drinking some belgian beers with the 2 local engineers in the control room … another unreal image ! One last quick visit to the amazing studio 1, and we leave the place and our hosts there …. Exhausted by these 2 days, sad to leave such an iconic place, but proud of what I did here ! To the car, Folkestone, Shuttle, and by 7am I was home back in Belgium to see my daughters waking up to go to school …. If you managed to read this far, you’ll have an overview of how I felt , living the dream there . I wanna thank Charles, Nicos, Dams, Thierry, Gordon, Paul, Jad, …. For contributing to such a great time
Pictures here : http://www.flickr.com/photos/agftb/sets/72157639778809283/