60 Years at Abbey Road with Ken Scott

60 Years at Abbey Road with Ken Scott

27th January 2024
On this day 60 years ago, legendary engineer/producer Ken Scott started work at Abbey Road Studios at the age of 16.

He went on to work with some of the biggest names in rock including The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Jeff Beck, Donovan and David Bowie.

To mark the occasion, Ken graciously sat down with us to look back at some of his most memorable moments.

60 years ago you started your career at Abbey Road. How does it feel hitting this milestone?

"Astounding. Amazing. The fact that I’ve had the most incredible life thanks to two EMI recording studio execs who saw something in me, and that I’m still working blows me away."

Do you remember your first day at the studios?

"Not really. It was all a bit too much for me to take in, it had all happened so quickly. Nine days after being totally fed up with school and writing maybe 10 letters, I started my first ever job at a place that would set me on an unimaginable path."

A Hard Day's Night also turns 60 this year, what was your experience like working on that record?

"I was certainly very nervous but there was also, at the back of my mind, the thought that even if I got fired the first day it wouldn’t matter because I’d got to spend time in the studio with my favourite band, the biggest band in the world. Quite something to be able to tell all my friends."

Who were some of your mentors at the time?

"Just sitting in the various control rooms watching seven of the greatest recording engineers around was a training that virtually no-one gets to experience today, but I guess the biggest influences, mentors, were the amazing Norman Smith and Peter Bown."

What did you learn that helped you once you got behind the desk as an engineer for Your Mother Should Know / I Am The Walrus?

"Nothing I’d seen, heard or done prepared me for the technical aspect of sitting behind the board, that was a very steep learning curve. It certainly helped that I was working with the most experimental band around at the time so I got to try lots of different techniques, seeing what worked and what didn’t. But that time sitting in the control rooms as a button pusher had taught me the personal side of making a record. How the producers and engineers got the best out of the artists."

What stands out about the recordings for Jeff Beck’s Truth recorded here in 1968?

"How much fun it was. How easy it was. How talented and level headed the band were, until they toured the US and came back with MASSIVE egos. It was also interesting when looking back that although it’s stated that Mickie Most produced the record he was only there for the mixes. The man there for all the recording was Peter Grant, who went on to manage Led Zeppelin."

Can you tell us about the session in 1969 with Paul McCartney, Mary Hopkin and Donovan and what you liked so much about that C12 setup?

"We were working on Mary’s Postcard album with Paul producing and on this occasion, playing. The session happened to be booked into Studio One, the big one, and we were going to be recording two songs written by Donovan.

Working on an aesthetic I’d learned from Paul I decided to make the setup of two acoustic guitars and a vocal look as pleasing and geometric as possible. I used three AKG C12s set up as the corners of a triangle, one for Donovan’s guitar, one for Paul’s guitar and the other for Mary’s vocal. Even with the studio being so big it sounded wonderful and looked great too. The other thing about that session was that Diana Ross just happened to stop by."

What would you say is the most memorable session you had at the studios?

"There are no ‘most’ memorable, just memorable ones. Everything from sitting back and listening to the final mix of Procol Harum’s track A Salty Dog to having to record Yer Blues in a tiny room at the side of Studio Two control room following an attempt at a joke I made to John."

The most outrageous?

"That I remember? I’ve seen oft mentioned a particularly insane session recording Helter Skelter but alas memories of that have well and truly faded. Following that I guess would be recording Yer Blues in that tiny room at the side of Studio Two control room. Bass, drums, two electric guitars, plus amps and a live vocal. If someone turned around too quickly they could have taken one of the other band members heads off.

Then of course there was the time Keith Moon guested on a track on the Truth album and upon leaving the car park at around 11:00pm almost ran over a little old lady walking her dog. Most people would have wound down their window and apologised, not he. He swiftly turned on the PA system built into his Rolls Royce and proceeded to curse her out with the most foul language at a VERY loud volume. EMI received more than a few complaints about that the next day."

Did you ever work with David Bowie at Abbey Road? What was it like working with him?

"I never did work with Bowie at Abbey Road. Working with David was another of those steep learning curves as Hunky Dory was my first ‘real’ production gig. He was amazing. Of the four albums I co-produced with him somewhere between 90 – 95% of the final vocals were one take, the first take, well before being able to cut and paste, quantize or Autotune. I’d get the sound/level, hit record at the beginning of the song and what he sang that one time through is what you still hear today. Amazing."

Did you begin to make the jump into production whilst working here, or was that something that came later?

"Later. The jump came after I’d started to find engineering boring, all the sessions starting to become the same and I wanted more artistic input. I quickly found that I preferred engineering my own productions but virtually stopped doing it for anyone else."

What is your favourite piece of gear you used here?

"This is another of the 'there is no favourite' answers. There are four. The REDD desks, the Studer J37 4-tracks, the Altec 436C compressors and the Fairchild 660 limiters."

What are some of the projects you’ve done here more recently?

"I am lucky that I still get to work on projects I love, I recently completed a project in Nashville, but most of what I do these days is more in a teaching role. I have been back several times recently to do master classes for an American university and actually got to work back in Studio Two recreating the various eras of Beatles recordings for the internet website Puremix. That was wonderful for me as I got to learn first hand how Norman Smith got the sounds of the early albums."

What do you think makes the studios so special?

"If I knew the answer to that I’d be opening studios throughout the world! It’s like the perfect storm of a studio complex. Take Studio Two for instance, it seems to have some kind of muscle memory that leads it to know exactly what’s required. You want a huge drum sound the studio opens itself to it’s full grandiosity, but if you want to record a vocal you can have a Neumann U47 in the middle of the room and it shrinks down to the size of a vocal booth. Studio One, the perfect size and sound for a large orchestra outside of a top concert hall. And Studio Three the perfect smaller studio that’s still big by most standards.

Then of course there’s the staff. From the brilliant recording and mastering engineers throughout the decades to the maintenance staff that always keep the equipment working to 110%. We, the young blood, used to think the studio was staid and old fashioned, which it was, but I have come to realise that there was method to their madness. I and so many that have climbed those eight steps and walked through those now famous doors would not have become what we’ve become without that wonderful and glorious place."

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