‘A bit of a fantasy’: the Beatles’ Abbey Road sessions make it on stage
A new immersive show hopes to recreate the Abbey Road studio sessions – so why is Apple unimpressed?
John Lennon and Paul McCartney with George Martin (left) and Neil Aspinall at Abbey Road studios. Photograph: Henry Grossman/Govinda Gallery
The Beatles are here, there and everywhere – forever and ever. Just when you think there can be no further thoughts on how to sell even more albums, tickets (and mythologies), along comes someone with another variation on the same theme.
The person behind the latest is LA- based concert producer and promoter Stig Edgren, whose career trademark has been staging productions on a massive scale. If you’re looking for someone to conceptualise and then execute the staging of events for popes, presidents or Olympic ceremonies, Edgren is the go-to guy.
Add to this Edgren’s 40-year experience of creatively directing and designing arena shows for the likes of Cher and Gloria Estefan – and not forgetting his work on “interactive” events such as Elvis Presley: In Concert – and you have one of the most experienced people in the business for devising major mega-bucks shows.
None, however, has come close to Edgren’s latest big idea: a live-on-stage recreation of the Beatles recording at Abbey Road studios. The show, housed within an immersive stage set, recreates the original studios, and the vocals, instrumentation and arrangements are identical to the original recordings.
The idea took root more than six years ago, says Edgren, after he had read the music memoir Here, There, and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles, by Geoff Emerick, former Abbey Road recording engineer. Emerick was at the Fab Four’s first-ever EMI recording session, in 1962, and he subsequently sound-engineered Revolver, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road (and received Grammy Awards for his work on the last two).
Flies on the wall
“As I read the book about his experiences in the studio with the Beatles,” says Edgren, “I had a recurring thought about how amazing it would be to, somehow, create a show that the audience could be a collective fly on the wall, to look inside Abbey Road Studios and see what went on there.
“It’s a bit of a fantasy of every Beatles fan, I imagine, but the more I started thinking about it – and developing it as no more than an idea – the more I knew I had to talk with Geoff.”
Edgren said he “ reckoned that he would be approached almost daily by Beatles nuts about different projects. But . . . he loved the fact that I didn’t want to fictionalise anything.”
With Emerick on board as creative consultant, The Sessions – a Live Restaging of The Beatles at Abbey Road Studios was a goer.
“Geoff is instrumental to the aspect of authenticity because nothing that you see or hear in the show is fabricated,” Edgren says. “We’re not fictionalising what it was like in the studio. For every song we have a schematic drawing on where the members of the Beatles were, where the vocal booths were, where the instruments were.
“The set is a recreation of the Abbey Road Studios: same size, the control booth with the staircase leading up to it. What the audience is seeing is a replica as best as we can do it of how the songs were recorded.”
Edgren is aware that the perception of a recording session (and one that he himself describes as “in progress”) is one of obsessive-compulsive repetition and, therefore, painfully dull to even the most interested non-musician. So what has he done to make the process compelling?
“The best way I can describe it is that we’re going to be in fast-forward mode,” he says. “Recording sessions can occasionally be like watching paint dry, so when I say we’re going to speed it up, what I mean is that we’re going to create more theatrical versions of the songs.”
One example is Strawberry Fields Forever. “The song started as an acoustic riff that John Lennon started playing, yet from the riff they added many pieces – the mellotron, the effects, the strings – to turn it into what we now know it to be. We’re going to do the same, except in front of an audience. Of course, a real recording session takes weeks, months, but we’re going to create that in five minutes.”
The most daunting part of the project, says Edgren with a sigh, is how do you go about cherry-picking Beatles songs, and how do you present the creative arc of the Beatles in just two hours?
“That’s a fantasy, isn’t it? You just have to use your instinct. Yes, there will be the songs that everybody loves – Yesterday, A Day in the Life, many others – but I also wanted to focus on the songs that were ground-breaking sonically. Songs that just didn’t sound like they did until the Beatles created and recorded them.”
- The Sessions – A Live Restaging of The Beatles at Abbey Road Studios will be presented at SSE Arena, Belfast, on April 3rd, 2016, and 3Arena, Dublin, on April 4th. Tickets go on sale on September 25th from ticketmaster.ie
WALKING A TIGHTROPE: A COMPLICATED BIRTH
A disclaimer on thesessionslive.com states that “this show is not affiliated or sponsored by Apple Corps Ltd, The Beatles, or Abbey Road Studios”.
“We have to walk a tightrope with what we’re able to do,” says Stig Edgren. “The only Beatles show out there that is endorsed by Apple Corps is their own production, Love, which is based in Las Vegas. All of these companies have something to say, so the show has experienced a very complicated birth.”