More From Geoff Emerick

Oct 31, 2006 3:32 PM


Education Guide

Mix is gearing up to present its longstanding annual Audio Education Guide in its November 2014 issue. Want to have your school listed in the directory, or do you need to update your current directory listing? Add an image, program description, or a logo to your listing! Get your school in the Mix Education Guide 2014.

What took you so long to write this book? Why now?
Over the years, a lot of people have asked me, "When are you going to write the book?" I've been quite shy of doing it. I still communicate with all of my friends from the past, and we find ourselves saying, "Ah, do you remember this," and, "Do you remember that?" I just wanted to share the experience before I really forget everything. Otherwise, it's never going to get documented.

One thing I was amazed at in the book was that your initial interest in recording came from your love of classical music.
Yeah, when I was 6, I found these old 78 rpm, 10-inch records in my grandmother's cellar. And they fit on this toy Gramophone I had, and I just fell in love with them. I used to love "Madame Butterfly" and, uh, I think it was "Rhapsody in Blue," George Gershwin and a few other things. It was very melodic music. Anything with melody and bit of emotion in it.

I wasn't so much interested in the recording of them as I was just attracted by the melodies in general. I just wanted to be involved with putting music onto records.

How did you get your first interview with EMI? You were only 15 at the time.
I had been sending letters to the four major record companies—Decca, Pye, EMI and, I think, Phillips—and got rejection letters. But the careers officer at school was able to get an interview at Abbey Road.

Besides the fact of Mr. Beckett, the fellow who allocated all the sessions, nodding off during the interview, which was a bit comical, I remember being asked to draw the side elevation of a pulley wheel, which, if you think about it, was an odd thing to ask someone. It took me years to figure out why a pulley wheel; the reason being that they used to use pulleys to drive the turntables for the waxes. These guys were from that generation.

The first sessions you worked on were classical sessions, not pop records, right?
We were doing both. Some of the young guys liked the classical music sessions and some didn't. But being the new guy, I'd be allocated to the classical stuff, which I didn't like too much because the personnel tended to be sort of stuffed shirts. But the emotion that used to come from those performances that I heard as a young kid, it was great to see an opera being recorded live to straight stereo.

Remarkably, you started at Abbey Road just as The Beatles were making their very first record in September of '62, and you visited that session. What do you remember about them?
It was about two days after I'd started and just to try and increase my awareness of what was going on in the studios. I wasn't part of the session; I just snuck in at the back and watched what was going on.

On that night, I believe they were doing "How Do You Do It," the Gerry & The Pacemakers song, which George was first trying to get them to do, instead of "Love Me Do." I wasn't terribly impressed; they were just young kids. I always vividly remember the slim ties they were wearing.

What was the atmosphere like in the studio when people knew there was going to be a Beatles session?
There was a buzz, for sure. And I remember, of course, that day they came to record "She Loves You." They were first doing a photo shoot at the back of the studio. All the fans knew they were there, and I think they were waving to the fans. They'd rarely venture outside.

So the fans got more and more excited, and when we started to record, the fans burst through the gates and into the studios. I mean, they were everywhere! It was just hilarious and The Beatles were loving it.

And, of course, when we started to record, the energy from what had happened was reflected into the recording of the song. It just shows you how much, from an atmospheric point of view, that sort of stuff plays a part in recording. There's so much energy in that song.

The book details the climb of the typical engineer up the EMI ladder at Abbey Road. Can you talk about that?
Well, you started at Abbey Road by being the assistant engineer, just looking after the tape machines. Most sessions when I first started were stereo sessions.

Because they were classical sessions.
Right. And that meant that there was no fallback on the multitrack if you screwed up. The rule was, you're allowed to wipe something once, and, as far as I know, I never did wipe anything. But on classical sessions, they'd back it up with a second, third or fourth machine. They'd actually run four stereo machines together, and then eventually pick which one's sound was the best, because they've all got different amplifiers in them, even though they're the same machines.

It was a horrible job because there were no electronic clocks on the tape machines. There were four lots of boxes to write up. And a lot of those classical sessions were on small tapes. You'd suddenly realize there was only three minutes of tape left on each reel, and you've got to make the decision to stop recording and change tape. Some of those reels didn't have backing plates on top, and sometimes they'd fly up in the air.

What were the pop sessions like?
Those you just normally had one stereo machine, a twin-track machine or mono machine, and an echo machine for live tape echo. It was delay tape fed into the reverb chamber, something called "STEED": Send Tape Echo Echo Delay. How it worked, God only knows. There was a box in the rack, it had a knob on it. I always turned it, and I couldn't hear anything happening. So anyway, you started as a button-pusher. You never started in the library or sweeping the floor, like today. The next progression after that was cutting playback lacquers, because there were no cassettes then. You used to do these rough acetates, 7-inch playback acetates of the titles of the artist that had been in the previous day. If Cliff & The Shads [Cliff Richards & The Shadows] were in the night before, you'd be cutting three titles of the session. You'd come in the morning, and there would be the requisition, "We want six playback lacquers of this and six of this, et cetera."

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