Thursday, May 20, 2010

Our Excellent Adventure at Abbey Road

The trip to merrie olde England almost ended before it began. Due to unexpected traffic delays, Swanwick and I almost missed the Saturday evening flight. We were told when we arrived at Kennedy Airport that we might have to wait until 5:00 the following afternoon to depart, if we departed at all. Volcanic ash from Iceland was threatening to close every airport in Britain - which actually happened the following day for a few hours. This put brother Pete's proposed trip across the pond in a very precarious position. He wasn't scheduled to fly out of Toronto until Monday night. For a time it looked like he wouldn't be able to make the trip. Owing to the fact that it was he who made the entire thing possible, that would have been an irony compounded by a factor of ten. Due to a simple twist of fate, we all managed to get there. You know how lucky we Irish are.

I am totally ashamed of my behavior on the plane during the flight across the Atlantic. I'm sorry to tell you that I engaged in an inexcusable moment of racial profiling. Behind me were a group of seven or eight men whose attire and demeanor had me very suspicious. As things turned out, their behavior en route was exemplary and I had nothing to fear. Given all that has happened in recent years however, and taking into consideration that it is their kind who are trying to destroy America, I had every reason to be worried. I'm sorry but seeing a group of bloated, middle-aged white guys in business suits tends to make me just a tad paranoid.

For the two days leading up to our tour of Abbey Road, Kevin and I cavorted around London, tearing up the town and making a general nuisance of ourselves. You've really got to hand it to the English people. They have always had an exceedingly high threshold for antisocial behavior; much more so than their colonial cousins. Their tolerance is truly impressive. After having experienced the terror from the night sky that was inflicted on them by Hitler's Luftwaffe seventy years ago, I suppose the prospect of enduring Swanwick and Degan for a few days wasn't that much of a challenge come to think about it.

Pete finally blew into town late Monday evening and checked into his hotel room. After a restless night's sleep (all of two hours for me) we were off to the EMI/Abb
ey Road Studios, arriving early Tuesday morning at a quarter to eight - forty-five minutes early just to be safe. Accompanying us on the journey within those sound-proof walls would be Mr. John Beaumont, an old mate of Kevin's and a new one of mine and Pete's. John is a British subject. Subject to what, he never made quite clear.

It's hard to describe my feelings upon entering the place. I have always, from my earliest boyhood, been fascinated with the art and technology of recorded sound. That plus the fact that it was in this setting that the Beatles recorded their wondrous music between the years 1962 and 1970, it would only be natural that the building would inspire an undeniable awe in someone like me. This was gonna be really cool!

The story of Abbey Road does not begin with the Beatles walking through the door for their audition recording on June 6, 1962. The idea was conceived in the spring of 1927 by a bloke named Captain Osmond Williams - "Ozzie" as they affectionately refer to him today. Sadly, by the time the first recording session commenced on November 11, 1931, Williams had died at the age of forty-five. Abbey Road is his legacy. It is also the oldest recording studio in the world and the first facility dedicated exclusively to making records.

Its lon
g, pre-1962 history aside, this is the place where for eight incredible years something wonderful and magical happened. The sounds that emanated from inside this structure changed our lives forever. Let me take you down....

How this all came about was that a few months ago, Brother Pete bid on a charity auction that would benefit cancer research in the United Kingdom. The winner would receive a guided tour for six of EMI Recording Studios. Much to everyone's surprise (including his, I'm sure) he won. After a few communications back and forth across the ocean, the date of May eighteenth was settled upon.

We were greet
ed in the reception area by a lovely woman named Colette Barber. She organized our visit and was there the whole time to make sure that none of us got out of line (and none of us did - Honest!) After a few minutes she introduced us to Giles Martin. It was he (in collaboration with his father George Martin) who was behind the brilliant collage of Beatles tracks that was released a couple of years ago titled, simply, "Love". I've met a few geniuses in my time but never one half as humble as this guy. Oh! And he's very polite. Did I mention that? Just like his dear old dad, a real gentleman to the manor born. George and Judy, you raised your kid well. Be proud.

It was quite a treat to walk inside Studio Number Two. We had seen thousands of
photographs over the years of the lads at work inside this very room, but to actually be there is something else again. There were the familiar stairs that wondered up into the control room; there was the upright piano next to the entrance that Paul McCartney used on Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da and Lady Madonna - among other recordings too numerous to mention. Just to stand there and imagine all that went on in this room brings to mind an outpouring of mental images. The place literally reeks with history.

One of the unsung heroes of Abbey Road is a man by the name of Lester Smith (photo on the left). Colette and Giles escorted us into his windowless office deep within the building's interior. Mr. Smith, a very kind and intriguing man, is the keeper and guardian of EMI's massive collection of microphones - modern and vintage - some of which go back to the company's founding in 1931! In addition to some easily recognizable mics that were used by John, Paul, George and Ringo during their tenure, he showed us one that was used by Glenn Miller during the final recording session of his life in 1944. His wonderful office is almost like a museum. Here's to you, Lester!

Giles Martin, unlike his wide-eyed charges on this day, does not live with the Beatles. What I mean is that he doesn't bring them home at night, so to speak. This is not meant to imply that he does not love and respect their artistry. He does - very much so. It's simply that the music of the Fab Four is such a huge part of his working life these days, he prefers to give them the day off when in the sanctuary of his home, spending time with his wife and two children. I can relate. On more than a few occasions I have attended the Beatlefest at the Meadowlands Hilton in New Jersey: Two solid days of Beatles - Beatles for breakfast; Beatles for lunch; Beatles in the morning; Beatles in the evening; Beatles at suppertime; Beatles in my dreams; Beatles to the left of me; Beatles to the right of me; Beatles in front of me; Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of the Beatles....After forty-eight hours of nonstop absorption, I would find myself needing a break for a week or so. The fact that the phenomenon of the Beatles has not totally consumed him is a testament to Giles Martin's psychological makeup. And it shows, too. He seems genuinely grounded and at ease with himself. As a result, he effortlessly put his visitors on this day at ease as well.

At one point I informed him that I had a message for Paul McCartney that I have been waiting to give to him since the autumn of 1962. "Would you give it to him for me, Giles?"

"If I can",
he replied, "What's the message?"
"Tell him I said congratulations on Love Me Do getting into the top twenty! It's a nice little song. It has a lot of promise. But I've got to tell you, that middle eight ('Someone to love/Somebody new....') needs a little work. Don't get me wrong; it's good. It's very good! It's just that it could be better. But other than that, I think it's a fine little tune!"

Ain't I a scream?

After this little bit of foolishness on my part, he gently escorted us into Studio Three wher
e he switched on the master recording of John Lennon's Imagine in Surround Sound. The four of us might as well have been listening to this track for the very first time - it sounded that good. The audio experience was almost overwhelming.

Imagine no
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world

After it was ov
er, Pete asked him if he would mind playing it for us again, this time with Lennon's vocal removed from the mix, with only his piano and the strings audible. He kindly obliged. When it was over, there was a somber quiet in the room. As undoubtedly beautiful as the arrangement was, hearing that song minus John's voice, was a sad reminder that that voice has been forever stilled; that he is no longer walking this earth - and the hideous manner in which he was taken from our midst on that horrible December evening thirty years ago. It's impossible not to dwell on all that was lost that night - on all that might have been - had John Lennon been allowed the gift of years. But for the murderous actions of one sick, misguided person with a gun....Don't get me started.

Happily for all concerned, Giles interrupted our grim contemplation by playing for us - again in Surround Sound - the entire Love LP which he and Father George produced in 2008. Like Imagine, although we have listened to it countless times since its initial release, this was a totally new experience for us. No doubt about it: I've got to invest in some Surround Sound equipment very soon. Otherwise it's never going to sound this good again. I hate to have to tell you this, folks, but stereo is the new mono
. I'm adjusting. It's not easy.

Many things were discussed on this day including the evolution of recording technology. I asked Giles if the master tapes that the songs were originally recorded on even served any viable purpose any longer given the fact that they have all been remastered digitally. When he told me that they did, I responded "Too bad. I was going to ask you if I could take one home as a souvenir." I know, I'm shameless.

Another topic that came up was the eternal appeal that the Beatles seem to have for young people. I told him about the Sager kids - Brian, Meghan and Michael, the children of my friends Brian and Terri - the oldest of whom was born over thirteen years after John Lennon died. They recently discovered the music of the Beatles and were sold on them from the start. Giles' theory (on which we all ag
reed) is that the music possesses an indescribable appeal that defies the decades. Who could argue with that? Have you ever met a little kid who didn't adore Yellow Submarine?

It was a great day, one of those mountaintop moments that will stay with each of us for the rest of our lives. Everyone there was so nice that I almost felt guilty. At one point, Colette bought us up a tray of drinks while we listened to those incredible tracks in Studio Three. When the tour was over, both she and Giles walked downstairs with us to the ground-level canteen and joined us for a couple of pints. It opens onto a beautiful garden and we all hung out for about a half an hour, just chatting and relaxing. It was nicer than even I could have possibly anticipated. Despite my deepest, dark-valley moments, I really am having a good life.

As we said goodbye, we told Giles Martin to send his mom and dad our love. Pete and
I met them both in 1999, so it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to do. Once outside, we posed for a few photographs and then made our way down Abbey Road toward the London underground. That night Kevin and I flew back to New York, Pete went on to Paris to see Brother Jeff, and John made his way back to his home in Reading. It was quite a day in the life.

And in the end, the love you take
Is equal to the love you make.

I'll drink to that!

Goshen NY

NOTE: The photograph at the top of this page is of (left to right) John Beaumont, Kevin Swanwick, Giles Martin, Tom Degan and Peter Degan. Taken inside Studio Number Three, Abbey Road, May 18, 2010.
Photo by Colette Barber.


All You
Need Is Ears
By George Martin

With A Little Help From My Friends:
The Making of Sgt. Pepper
by George Martin
(Giles' dad)


"Produced by George Martin" is a six CD set that encompasses Sir George's remarkable fifty-year career. It covers every musical genre you can possibly name: rock 'n' roll, pop, classical, opera, comedy - even a couple of records for children. Pick up a copy. It's more-that-worth the price of the ticket, I promise! Here's a link to purchase it on



To view a Facebook photo gallery of our trip to Abbey Road, click on the link below:

We followed her down from a bridge by a fountain, and she led us to the doors of the Abbey Road Studios. A splendid time was guaranteed for all, and the nice folks there delivered - BIG TIME.



Nasty, LEFT WING propaganda. Cheerio! Pip! Pip!


At 3:54 PM, Blogger roseduncan said...

What a trip. In every possible way. . .

At 6:53 PM, Blogger Kay said...

A group of bloated middle aged white guys makes you paranoid, Tom? It makes me want to BOO at them! I'm glad you enjoyed your trip!

At 7:16 PM, Blogger Ken Riches said...

Sounds like a fantasimical journey.

At 9:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, and I was beside myself when my family and I were able to stand (dodge traffic) on Abbey Road where that famous photo was taken.

Wow. But we made it to Liverpool.

At 12:08 PM, Blogger Darlene said...

I am really impressed that you took the time to write such a long and informative post in the middle of your exciting trip.

I must save this for my son who is about your age and in love with the Beatles also. Who of that generation wasn't? I remember seeing them for the first time on the Ed Sullivan show. (A reeeealy good shew)

At 12:41 PM, Blogger Cirze said...

Yeah, you're shameless.

And a winner!



I know, I'm shameless.

P.S. It was under construction when I was in London so long ago. Lucky you.

At 4:36 PM, Blogger Ellis D., Esq. said...

Tom, excellent job of reporting your excellent adventure. As I've mentioned before, Mark David Chapman is not a nut. He was hypnotized in Hawaii by the same guy who hypnotized Sirhan Sirhan. John Lennon was assassinated not murdered !!!! The CIA was behind it !!!

At 6:02 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

You have a wonderful talent for decriptive prose; I feel as if I experienced this trip with you. Thank you!

At 6:07 PM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

Wish you could have been there, Sheria. And that goes for the rest of you. It really was one of the nicest experiences of my life. I feel like Blanche Bubois - depending on the kindness of strangers. And everyone there was so kind and nice. It was beautiful.

All the best,

Tom Degan

At 7:25 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

That is too cool, Tom! And it's nice to know that Sir George's boy is carrying on in the family business, too!

At 7:43 PM, Blogger Sue said...

wow Tom, how awesome is that!! I would be in heaven if I was blessed to visit Abbey Road. If you want to experience some more Lennon come on by, I posted 3 of my favorites a few days ago. LOVE, LOVE, him!!

At 6:41 PM, Anonymous TheJames said...

Did you record?
I was "Maintenance Head" (I picked my Title and was responsible for technical and "attitude" maintenance) for a major digital recording studio in Houston '85-'89 and it was quite marvelous, notwithstanding the capitalist pig owner. The staff's official slogan was "Your every whim is my job description."
Congratulations, and best, I've quite enjoyed your writing.

At 2:57 AM, Blogger Dearest Friend said...

Great work on giving us the full story on the tour...It
s almost as great as being there!
Also, I highly recommend your suggested reading list to any of those here who are fans who have not read those books yet. I was fascinated by a first or second edition copy I have of "All You Need Is Ears" where George Martin is obviously predicting (if not just hinting at because he already knew!) the emergence of the compact disc form of recorded music! Of course, I read this book in the early 21st century after I had purchased it from eBay or bought a copy at the NY Beatlefest.

Also - recommended listening - the George Martin box set that was released a years back - his history in the music production business in one tight 4 disc box set - what a career! (And maybe 3 at most Beatles recordings in can buy those elsewhere, I'm sure!)

Here's to Sir George and his son Giles! I am sure the former is very proud of the latter for taking up the mantle of great producer!

At 4:45 AM, Anonymous JB said...


A subject is to the crown (to the King or Queen). Much in the same way you must have revered Richard Nixon or more recently George Bush. Perhaps it feels more like having Uncle Ronald around to take tea. Maybe you need to think, “Let’s get out the best china cups because Ms Palin is coming around for lunch”. Hope this is all clear.

A subject does not feel subjected nor subjugated!

Tom, it was a great trip. So many thanks to you, Pete and Kevin.

Fellow day tripper - John Beaumont

By the way, there never was an ash cloud!

At 5:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just an update for you from the States. The Thug still hasn’t done a thing on the oil spill in the Ocean (Napolitano terminology). Mexico’s president got a standing O from the Nazi Dems and the Repubs just sat there and didn’t even walk out. Thug Boy is also visiting that whore Boxer in Cali. Oh, and Michelle O finally shaved her back!

Now look at the government we have.

Harry from Mass

At 6:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since when do "bloated, middle-aged white guys in business suits" blow up planes? Or skyscrapers? Or, for that matter, subways? Or U.S. Navy vessels? Do they smuggle weapons and/or drugs into the U.S.? What did you have to fear from them? A risky hedge fund? But seriously, did you really feel you were in imminent danger of losing your life? Sorry, Tom, but the attempted clever analogy was a complete misfire on your part.

Aside from that, your tour sounds like a magical if not mysterious one. I've been a Beatles fan since, oh, maybe 7th grade... which was quite a long time ago now, so I appreciate your enthusiasm for the Fabs.

At 8:24 PM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

Well, you have to admit that it is the businessmen (most of them white) who have done more damage to our country than any other group. I would only direct your gaze towards the Gulf of Mexico). It was they (in compliance with President Cheney) who did away with the safety regulations that made this current nightmare inevitable....

....but to heck with all of that. We both love the Beatles! Common ground!

All you need is LOVE!

Thanks, just the same, for your comment. Keep 'em coming.

All the best,

Tom Degan

At 8:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's nothing you can know that isn't known
Nothing you can see that isn't shown
There's nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be....
It's easy!
All you need is love!

-The Beatles, 1967

At 2:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


It is okay to hate middle-aged, pasty, overweight white guys. C’mon, get with the times…

At 4:19 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I used to be a huge Lennon fan, not only of his music but I also thought he was one of the coolest humans to walk the earth. Till I read Jann Wenner's 1970 interview, published as "Lennon Remembers." It was then that my admiration for him as a person dwindled to about 20 per cent of what it had been. Now, no one can say that Dr. Winston O'Boogie wasn't HONEST. In fact, I dare say that if any one of us were to be that nakedly truthful in an interview, we wouldn't come out looking too saintly either. But man, the dude was pretty darned vitriolic! I don't want to belabor the point -- the man is dead and can't defend himself. But just read the interview and you'll see what I mean. Don't get me wrong, I still feel that Lennon wrote some of the great songs of the Rock era, and for a time -- roughly 1962-71 -- he possessed perhaps the greatest set of vocal cords as well. Then, after all the primal scream therapy, he unfortunately lost his chops and turned to milquetoast. The dream is over indeed.

At 8:36 AM, Blogger alison fox said...

This is wonderful Tom. I'm glad I checked it out. You must have been in absolute heaven. I can just see you there, dreamy-eyed, just absorbing all that history.


At 11:46 PM, Blogger Dearest Friend said...

I know this is over a year late and a few farthings short (get it?), but I just wanted to back up your suggested listening on this amazing piece about the trip to Abbey Road. I invested in the 6 cd set of Sir George's work the day it came out and I just love it. I recommend it highly. What an amazing career this man has had. I was ecstatic for him when he got his knighthood - my only question now is, why does Andrew Lloyd Weber (whose musicals except for Jesus Christ Superstar are way over-rated in my way of thinking) deserve the title of "Lord" and not George Martin.

Who else has spread so much musical joy throughout the world with his amazing talents? An eclectic blend of artists has worked with him. I'd nominate him for sainthood. He is one person who I would love to meet personally and thank - I think I would be really be speechless if it ever happened.

Thanks for the Beatles, Sir George, and everything else you've touched.

Music lives (to paraphrase Mel Brooks) because this poor half-crazed genius has given it life.


At 3:54 AM, Blogger Fred Garnett said...

Great story Tom. I went to Vegas to hear Love and always say it was like being in the studio with them, but you were. Tell Giles Martin we are waiting for the Love+ remixes! Oh and George Martin's book is fairly poor IMHO. Geoff Emerick's Here There and Everywhere is more telling about Abbey Road, and Kenneth Womack's Long and Winding Roads more discursive about the musical legacy.
You might like the Beatles You Tube Album version of this post;

At 4:04 AM, Blogger Fred Garnett said...

If you are still in London then buy The Beatles London (you can get it at he Coffee Shop at St Johns Wood I think)
or take the Tour
The Beatles also recorded at Olympic (when Abbey Road was being upgraded)
Denmark Street in the West End was the centre of the Music Industry
Which was close to Soho where Skiffle started;

At 4:32 AM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

Thank you for those links, Fred!


Tom Degan

At 9:37 AM, Blogger Kevin Swanwick said...

I think we were the bloated middle aged guys.

At 10:36 AM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

Well, yeah, that's assuming we live to be 108!

Can you believe it's been over two years, Kevin? It seems like it was yesterday.

At 9:30 PM, Blogger Kevin Swanwick said...

Just re-read this Tom. Great job. It still giggle and smile. Unforgettable trip. Next trip will have to be to see John out Wales.

At 6:20 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Love was released in 2006, I'm sure of it!

At 11:26 PM, Anonymous Susan Keller said...

Your telling of listening to Imagine sans vocals gave me the chills.

At 6:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is a test


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