IT WAS A ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME opportunity to hear The Beatles as they were intended in the hallowed space where they created their extraordinary music. To mark the launch of The Beatles In Mono vinyl remasters, Apple Records and MOJO hosted a special evening gathering at Abbey Road’s legendary Studio 2 to listen to tracks from the new versions and hear a panel of distinguished guests discuss how the group recorded and mixed their songs.
The doors of Studio 2, where The Beatles recorded the majority of their material, swung open at 5.30pm to welcome a specially invited audience of 100 or so Fabs fans, including several dozen MOJO readers selected from our recent online competition.
The event started with the master of ceremonies – storied music writer and broadcaster Mark Ellen – introducing the panel, comprising Beatles engineer Ken Scott; BBC radio producer and Beatle boffin Kevin Howlett; Sean Magee, the remastering and cutting engineer who worked on the new vinyls; and Toerag Studios producer and mono enthusiast Liam Watson.
After hearing the first selection from the new platters, You Can’t Do That – sounding punchy and powerful on £300,000 sound system (with NAIM amp, Focal speakers, KJ West One turntable, Ortofon cartridge) – discussion began about the merits of experiencing The Beatles in mono, Kevin Howlett pointing out that it was the primary format on which records were sold until 1968 and that The Beatles showed little interest in the stereo mixes of their albums until that time.
Abbey Road’s Studio 2 with esteemed panelists (from left) Mark Ellen, Kevin Howlett, Ken Scott, Sean Magee and Liam Watson. Photo by Simon Matthews
Ken Scott revealed that the radically different stereo mix of White Album track Helter Skelter (it’s around a minute longer than the mono mix and ends with Ringo Starr’s cry of “I’ve got blisters on my figures!”) was inspired by Paul McCartney’s realisation that fans were becoming increasingly interested in comparing the two versions. “He told me, ‘If we make them different than we’ll sell twice as many records,’” laughed Scott.
He also explained that the jet engine sound effect on Back In The USSR is different on the two mixes because the tape used on the mono version became so worn out it began to wow and flutter.
After hearing Helter Skelter and the single version of Revolution at gloriously loud volume, Liam Watson selected the Ringo-sung Boys from The Beatles’ debut album Please Please Me to be cued up next. Howlett explained that the group didn’t bother to change the gender of the song’s title when they covered the (all-girls) Shirelles B-side.
Then came the highlight of the evening: “It would be insane to be in this Sistine Chapel of a building and not hear A Day In The Life,” announced Mark Ellen, before the stirring piano chords and Lennon’s opening line, “I heard the news today, oh boy…” of the Sgt Pepper pocket symphony brought a hymnal, emotional ambience to the hushed room.
More fascinating talk followed, including Scott’s recollection of his first time in charge of a Beatles session, on a shelved version of Your Mother Should Know, when in the control room he “had to tell the biggest band in the world to shut the f**k up” because they were discussing something noisily while he was trying to concentrate.
The mono versions of I Am The Walrus and While My Guitar Gently Weeps spread more good cheer, as did Scott’s story that no one, including him, actually remembers Eric Clapton turning up to play the guitar part on the latter. After Love Me Do, a truly memorable evening drew to a close – the organisers graciously allowing the audience to photograph at their leisure the legendary room where The Beatles created their magic.
Read our feature and review of The Beatles In Mono box set in the latest issue of MOJO (251).
The Beatles In Mono Vinyl Box Set and its individual constituent albums are on sale from September 8, 2014.