Page last updated at 16:50 GMT, Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Abbey Road for sale - zebra crossing not included

By Neil Smith
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Reports that the historic Abbey Road studios in London are up for sale have caused consternation in the music industry, and beyond.

Abbey Road Studios
The town house in which the studios are housed was built in 1830

For many, it is inconceivable that the iconic recording complex made famous by the Beatles could be closed down or converted for another use.

Hundreds of tourists visit Abbey Road every day to pay homage to the 'Fab Four', with many leaving graffiti tributes and mementoes on its walls and signage.

Many risk life and limb replicating the band's Abbey Road album cover on the zebra crossing outside, enraging countless cabbies, bus drivers and other motorists in the process.

Their consternation, however, will be nothing compared to the furore that will ensue should music giant EMI and its parent company Terra Firma succeed in selling it off.

Sir Paul McCartney has led calls for the studios to be saved, saying he had "so many memories there" from his time with the Beatles.

"It still is a great studio," he told the BBC's Newsnight. "It would be lovely if somebody could get a thing together to save it."


"It's got to be a recording studio," echoed Robbie Williams at the Brit Awards on Tuesday, saying it had been "fascinating and wonderful" to work there.

US singer-songwriter Regina Spektor is just one of the many artists to have been seduced by its special ambience.

Yehudi Menuhin and Edward Elgar
Menuhin (l) and Elgar were among the first musicians to record there

"If there is the most perfect studio on the planet, it's Abbey Road," she told the BBC last year.

"No place sounds or feels like it."

"Someone has to buy it to save it," wrote DJ Chris Evans on his BBC blog. "It's too important and could also make a fortune if marketed correctly.

"If I was a gazillionaire like I used to be, I wouldn't think twice about snapping it up."

Were Abbey Road to close its doors, it would not be the first iconic London recording studio to cease operations.

Last year EMI shut its historic Olympic Studios in Barnes, saying the building made famous by Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones was no longer profitable.

The future of the BBC's Maida Vale studios is also uncertain, though there are no immediate plans to move its operations elsewhere.


Along with the likes of Sun Studio in Memphis, however, Abbey Road has a special resonance that will linger even if it ceases to continue in its current form.

Indeed, as Evans suggests, it could conceivably have a life beyond that as a museum or tourist attraction.

Ringo Starr and George Harrison of the Beatles
Abbey Road was the Beatles' spiritual home for much of the 1960s

Though many would find this regrettable, it is surely a better option than seeing it bulldozed to make way for high-price flats.

Even this option might be unworkable, though, should Westminster City Council stand in the way of the site's redevelopment.

"While it would be incredibly sad to see EMI leave after all these years, we sincerely hope any future owner would ensure the site continued to be synonymous with world class music production," said the council's deputy leader Robert Davis.

"Any alternative uses would need very careful consideration given the sensitivity of the location."

Originally a town house built in 1830, No. 3 Abbey Road was purchased in 1929 for £100,000 and transformed into the world's first custom-built recording studio.

It was opened two years later by classical composer Edward Elgar, who marked the occasion with a historic performance of his Pomp and Circumstance march.

In 1932, violinist Yehudi Menuhin - then just 16 - was invited by Elgar to record his own Violin Concerto, beginning a life-long association with Abbey Road.

The studios remained open during World War II, hosting the last recordings bandleader Glenn Miller made before his death in 1944.

By the 1950s they had become home to a new generation of pop artists, among them Cliff Richard and the Shadows.

The Beatles made most of their recordings from 1962 onwards at Abbey Road, spending more than 100 days there in 1967 producing their Sgt Pepper album.

Financial woes

Other landmark discs recorded there include Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, Wings' Band on the Run and Radiohead's OK Computer.

Snow Patrol, Massive Attack and Manic Street Preachers are some of the many contemporary bands to make use of its facilities.

Take That at Abbey Road
Take That are among many bands who have performed there in recent years

Abbey Road's expansive Studio One also make it suitable for recording film scores with large orchestras.

The Star Wars, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movies are among many to have had their music produced by the B507 in London NW8.

"Abbey Road was the first great British studio," David Hepworth of Word magazine told the BBC News website.

"It was built to accommodate dance bands and orchestras as well as solo artists, so it can do everything."

Other pundits, though, see Abbey Road as just another victim of the financial woes afflicting the music industry as a whole.

"It is an extensive piece of real estate and it must cost a lot to run," said Dave Robinson of Pro Sound News Europe magazine.

"There are easier ways to make records these days, with a laptop and a microphone. You don't need these big places."


That may be true, but it does not take into account the years of specialised knowledge accrued by Abbey Road's long-serving staff.

"There's a guy there who knows more about microphones than anyone else on the planet," said Will Gregory of Goldfrapp.

"There's all these people there who have this expertise. If that went, there'd be nothing left."

Could there be a lifeline, though? Having recorded the soundtrack for John Lennon drama Nowhere Boy at Abbey Road, Alison Goldfrapp believes there is.

"I heard Gary Barlow was going to buy it," she told the BBC News website.

Additional reporting by Kev Geoghegan, Fiona Pryor and Mark Savage.

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