The completion of construction of two new recording studios, The Gatehouse and The Front Room, as well as a Shop and Mix Stage for film post production marks the biggest expansion to have taken place at Abbey Road Studios since it first opened its doors for business back in 1931.
In the first of a two part post, Abbey Road’s Head of Technical Services, Simon Campbell, the man tasked with executing this mammoth and historic feat of construction at the studios, tells the story behind the building work and gives some insight into some of the challenges that he faced along the way.
"Let’s go back to the summer of 2012, when the yet to be discovered Higgs boson was still misunderstood, and Lonesome George was still lonesome…
With Universal Music on the verge of acquiring EMI, the long-standing owners of the studios since it was established in 1931, a few here started discussing what we thought should be done with the place in the knowledge that Universal Music were interested in investing in the studios (Westminster City Council planning consent and our Grade II listing notwithstanding). For a year or so ideas were revised, budgets were evaluated and plans were drawn up. These were eventually presented to the new bosses and after some discussion plus a few tweaks the following proposals were agreed upon:
• A Dolby Atmos equipped film Mix Stage
• Two new bespoke rock and pop recording spaces
• Two new isolation booths and a new lounge for Studio Two
• Consent to develop the garage site into two production suites
• A sub-station to power the building and its new facilities
• A shop in the basement of No. 5, Abbey Road
• Landscaping of the garden area
The reasoning behind these was thus; the back end of the garden has always been somewhat under-used and therefore a logical place to try and develop. The first draft of the proposal for this area had it as a mixture of production suites and storage space (boring I know but always at a premium). Then, former Head Engineer Pete Cobbin said something along the lines of “Have you heard that Dolby has this new surround audio format called Atmos…?” Things obviously evolved from there.
There was an appreciation on all sides to have some smaller, more affordable recording spaces in addition to Studios One, Two and Three.
Studio Two has been in need of isolation booths since Methuselah was in short trousers, and the new lounge was necessary given that the old one was to be absorbed into the backroom space for the proposed Atmos Mix Stage.
At the time this was a plan for a later date, but a change of use for the garage – where for 30 years our mobile recording department operated out of - was foreseeable.
We took the opportunity to solve our immediate and future power requirements by applying for our own sub-station (to all intents and purposes a transformer with some LV switchgear).
Thousands of tourists visit Abbey Road – with some of them even surprised to find a contemporary recording studio nearby (!) – primarily to step onto the zebra crossing in the style of a certain famous album cover and then write on our wall, both now long running institutions. Somewhere for the tourists to buy a memento of their visit and learn a bit about the Studios, as well as its long history, whilst providing a respite from all that good-natured loitering and vandalism seemed like quite a logical thing to apply for.
Given the potential disruption to our garden, this was something that we would have and still want to make good again.
The process of receiving planning permission commenced in November 2013 and the pre-planning application was acknowledged by Westminster City Council in March 2014. Once all the wheels had turned on, quite a lengthy procedure of planning permission with conditions and listed building consent was eventually approved in April 2015.
Work soon began on the Abbey Road Shop, which opened its doors in November that year. In my humble opinion it’s really rather good –and if you’re near the zebra crossing or our front wall do check it out; it has an interactive area and everything.
Next on the list was all the work around Studio Two with its plans for two new booths and a lounge. There was no shortage of things to do before commencing work for this; including relocating two technical rooms, three offices and a tape archiving facility as well as a store room. All this was done between January and March 2016, with Studio Two closed for its enhancements up to early May. The amount of work done here by everyone involved - my technical team and Ian Hobbah’s facilities team in particular - was remarkable and worthy of a wordy blog/syndicated reality TV infotainment docu-soap in and of itself. Admittedly those of a non-studio bent may not find it that interesting, but it was still no less of a Herculean achievement, where Hercules is played in no small part by the inestimable Dave Forty.
Either way the first session when Studio Two re-opened on 8th May 2016 was Hozier recording the end credit song Better Love for forthcoming film The Legend of Tarzan, and both booths have been used extensively and with great success on a wide range of recordings here ever since."
Look out for part two of Simon Campbell’s new studio construction blog dropping early next week. In the meantime, to document the historic occasion of its construction a small team at Abbey Road set up a time lapse camera facing both the Mix Stage site and the Abbey Road garden. You can watch the results of this as well as browse some behind-the-scenes pictures of construction work below.