Sunday, 10 March 2013

Abbey Road studios; a session for national radio. A new name for some, but not for regular readers.

This blog doesn't normally cover the same artist twice in three months, but if the circumstances are exceptional, it's worth breaking that rule. Like now.  

Today’s a bit special. Bright, cold, the sun burning through the mist, promising.  I’m in London, not the West Midlands, for a good reason that connects very sweetly with this blog. It’s horribly early. I’m waiting for the caffeine to kick in.

There’s a live recording session about to take place, at Abbey Road. That’s the Abbey Road: the recording studios, with the pedestrian crossing and the 80 years of music megastar history. One of the UK’s very top studios, it’s no longer a discreet working complex set off from a genteel Camden street. The Beatles saw to that. Now, the front wall is covered with tourist graffiti, and there’s a webcam on that crossing. In fact, as I walk up, there’s a tourist snapping his mate on that crossing, and royally pissing off the rush hour traffic as he does.

George Barnett and team – Team GB – are smiley and bright. He’s here, with band the 9th Wave, to record a session, for Absolute Radio. Now, just consider: a session for a national broadcaster – one of the majors - is a hell of a feather in your cap when you’re 19 and still unsigned. I hate that expression, by the way.

Abbey Road is larger than I expected. It seems to go on forever, with beefy guys in charcoal suits every ten yards or so. Of course, it reeks of stardom and achievement; the corridors are plastered with shots of legends at work. It's a big, working, music complex, shot through with technical expertise: confident, slick, supremely competent, and oddly, institutionally, cosy. Never mind the legends - it’s great just to be in a premier league music place that absolutely knows what it’s doing.

I don't write gig reviews on this blog. There are plenty of fine blogs that do that already; you’ll find some of them in the right hand column on this page. This isn’t exactly a gig, though, but it definitely is live. Not quite unplugged, it’s stripped down to vocals, piano, guitar, bass and drum synth. 

Absolute Radio's sessions take place in Studio 3. Bigger than most studio music rooms, it’s small for Abbey Road – the Star Wars and James Bond stuff is done in Studio 1, along the corridor. Studio 3 has room enough for a basic plinth stage and a standup audience of about 40 people. 

Not dissimilar to a pub gig, then - if it weren’t for the magnificent acoustics, the rather lovely sound reinforcement speakers, the lavish control room off to one side, the setup room on the other, and the balcony viewing areas. There’s someone from Absolute Radio with a video camera, and of course, Richard Shakespeare, George Barnett’s manager, with a still camera, covering the event as well. It's his shots you're seeing on this page.

Oh, and the upright piano. Paul McCcartney used that piano, they tell me.

Time for the set. It’s short: four songs. Three from George: Lone Rose, Where The Devil Sleeps, 17 Days and a cover of Motion Picture Soundtrack from Radiohead, which also came out of this studio. The set goes down well. Very well. George is more understated than usual, but that simply reflects the stripped-down delivery. The band acquits itself perfectly. They seem ridiculously comfortable, in fact. 

In the control room, the first rough and ready playback sounds just fine. A bit of polishing here and there, but the Absolute Radio people and Team GB are happy. Mixing takes place later today in all probability. 

And in the green room, half an hour later, George and band are relaxed. Happy it went well; happy there’s a broadcast on national radio to come out of the day’s work.

So, George… how does it feel to be able to say that you’ve just wrapped your first Abbey Road session?
Really good. I liked it. No, I really enjoyed it. I didn’t expect so many people to come. We’ve been practising for it… 
It’s an extraordinary thing. I’m used to walking into scruffy studios that smell of damp… 
They’re the best…
… and you walk in to Abbey Road, and there’s this huge, slick recording palace oozing history. But you seemed comfortable. 
Oh yeah. I liked it. The crowd was really good. The Abbey Road engineer was great. 
Your most lavish song so far is ‘Where the Devil Sleeps’ which you had to strip down quite a bit. I expected you to get on stage and bash things. 
Cos we do… Yeah, we had to strip it down to the things that matter most in it. The guitar part. I needed Chris (Clarke) on the high piano part because that drives the song. We had to pull back on the drums, and that changed it. I think it’s a good acoustic version.
It’s interesting to take a song with huge underpinnings, and strip all that away… sometimes there’s nothing left. But if there’s a solid structure…
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Exactly. That’s when you know it’s a good song. 
So everyone’s happy? You’re unfeasibly chilled after doing this session. I’d been expecting you all to be bouncing off the ceiling. What’s next?
In the next few months, a new EP, hopefully. I’m recording now. Touring after that. We’re still planning that. 
Time to wrap up. Then it’s out into now warm London spring sunshine, past the knot of people lollygagging around on Abbey Road itself, happily scrawling more felt tip names on the walls, and snapping anything that moves on their phones. 


I’ve just watched a hot talent from my neck of the woods take a well-deserved first shot at recording at one of the world’s most famous studios, for airplay on national radio. Kudos is due, of course, to Absolute Radio, who almost uniquely in UK commercial radio have stepped up to the plate and are supporting new talent. That’s one of the things I’ve campaigned for on this blog since day one. 

And this blog has played a small part in the process. The piece I wrote in January, covering George and his manager’s excellent work in pushing their music forward online and on video travelled unusually far by this blog’s standards. The post was picked up by web marketing sites in the US and elsewhere, and, more significantly for today’s events, by several people at Absolute Radio. 

That led to the station inviting George down to Abbey Road. Given the central theme and purpose of this blog, that’s a result. It doesn’t get better than that. 

George Barnett in session: watch it here on the Absolute Radio site.

See also
George Barnett: 19 years old, 120,000 YouTube views in 14 days

George Barnett
Absolute Radio site. George is interviewed here
Abbey Road

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