Tag Archives: Abbey Road Studios

Rocks In The Attic #836: The Beatles – ‘Live At The Hollywood Bowl’ (2016)

RITA#836Bravo, James Clarke.

You might never have heard of James, but he’s an unsung hero, a worker bee (or Systems Analyst, to give him his official job title) at London’s Abbey Road Studios. It was James who spent hours developing software to ‘demix’ the original live recordings from the Beatles’ Hollywood Bowl concerts in 1964 and 1965.

If you’ve ever heard the original 1977 album, you’ll know that it isn’t exactly the cleanest recording of the band. George Martin describes the constant screaming of the audience as akin to the high-pitched wail of a jumbo jet engine. And so how the hell do you remaster something like that?

RITA#836aEnter Giles Martin, son of George, and heir to his father’s legacy. Live At The Hollywood Bowl represents the first in a long line of remixes of the band’s output by Martin Jr. and engineer Sam Okell, a series of release which would gather steam with Sgt. Pepper’s in 2017, the White Album in 2018, and Abbey Road in 2019.

James Clarke’s audio-modelling process separated each instrument and vocal track from the din of the aircraft engine audience, to provide Martin and Okell with individual elements to build up a new remix with. ‘It doesn’t exist as a software program that is easy to use,” Clarke says. “There’s no graphical front end where you can just load a piece of audio up, paint a track, and extract the audio. I write manual scripts, which I then put into the engine to process.”

Pulling out the bass guitar and bass drum was simple, with their low frequencies being easy to isolate. The hard part was separating the guitars, vocals, snare drum and cymbals, which commonly share the same frequencies as the screams of the teenage audience. Here, Clarke used the studio recordings of the band to help the software identify what needed to be pulled out of the live recording. “I went back to the studio versions to build the models,” he says. “They’re not as accurate, as there are usually temporal and tuning changes between playing in the studio and playing live, but the Beatles were pretty spot-on between studio and live versions.”

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Even though Clarke achieved ‘nearly full separation’ of the music from the audience, they decided to keep the sound of the audience on the record for the explosive atmosphere it generates. On the finished product, the audience scream is 3 decibels lower than on the original 1977 release. “They could have pushed it a lot further if they wanted to,” Clarke says, “but I think they got it spot on.”

This 2016 reissue is an odd release, given that it’s the companion piece to Ron Howard’s documentary on the band, Eight Days A Week: The Touring Years. In lieu of a traditional soundtrack release, Apple Records decided to pair the film with Giles Martin’s remixing experiment, even though the Hollywood Bowl concerts are only mentioned in passing in Howard’s film.

Although I’m very excited with the new remix, I would rather have had an original release of the band’s 1965 Shea Stadium concert. This remastered concert footage was played in full after Howard’s documentary when it was released in cinemas, and it was just a joyous experience: euphoria, mass hysteria, John, Paul and George’s faces lit from below due to the placing of the stage-lights, military jackets, elbows on keyboards, and fans breaking out from the crowd, tackled midfield by police officers.

Hit: A Hard Day’s Night

Hidden Gem: Things We Said Today

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Rocks In The Attic #718: The Beatles – ‘The Beatles & Esher Demos’ (1968)

RITA#718You can hear the differences straight away. Paul’s snare beat on Back In The U.S.S.R. is punchier and his vocal ad-libs in the fade-out are much clearer. Then John’s acoustic guitar fades into Dear Prudence and Paul’s pulsing bass sounds on top of everything, front and centre.

Released yesterday to celebrate the record’s fifty-year anniversary, Giles Martin’s new 2018 stereo remix of the Beatles’ ‘self-titled’ White Album is an early Christmas present for fans of the band.

Repeating the successful formula employed on last year’s stereo remix of Sgt. Pepper’s, Martin Jr. has broken down the White Album recordings, and built them back up again. Untrained ears might not be able to tell the difference, we’re talking subtle changes. Clarity and focus are the operative words, not revisionism.

RITA#718aThe sliding, uptempo bass line in Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da transforms one of my least favourite Beatle songs into a stormer. Eric Clapton’s swirling guitar lines in George’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps feel even more hypnotic. Paul’s bassline in Why Don’t We Do It In The Road sounds funkier. Birthday sounds as insane as the band probably intended it to. Paul’s screaming salvo into Helter Skelter sounds at war with Ringo’s drums. The horns in Savoy Truffle are sharper, the electronic piano line closer to the front of the mix.

The 2014 mono remaster was previously my favourite version of this album. I didn’t think anything could beat that. How wrong I was. All in all, this new release is like listening to the album for the first time, with fresh ears. And if that wasn’t enough, the other half of the box-set is just as revelatory.

In May 1968, fresh from their Rishikesh trip, the Beatles convened at Kinfauns, George’s house in Esher, Surrey. There, they recorded demo versions of 26 of the White Albums’s 40 tracks, plus songs that didn’t make the intended album.

Glimpsed on 1997’s Anthology 3, Giles Martin has now remixed these tapes and re-sequenced them into a double-LP with – where possible – the same running order as the 1968 album.

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Hearing McCartney doing a loosely double-tracked Back In The U.S.S.R. on an acoustic guitar – complete with a sung guitar solo – is just fantastic, and really fills me with hope that there’s more material like this yet to see an official release.

The songs that were worked out in the White Album studio sessions – Wild Honey Pie, Martha My Dear, Don’t Pass Me By, Why Don’t We Do It In The Road, I Will, Birthday, Helter Skelter, Long, Long, Long, Savoy Truffle, Revolution 9 and Good Night – don’t appear here in demo form. Instead we get a raft of songs intended for the album, but which appeared elsewhere: George’s Sour Milk Sea (a single for Jackie Lomax), Not Guilty (re-recorded for his 1979 record, George Harrison), and Circles (re-recorded for 1982’s Gone Troppo), Paul’s Junk (soon to be heard on 1970’s McCartney), and John’s Child Of Nature (reworked as Jealous Guy from 1971’s Imagine). Two other Lennon demos presented here – Mean Mr. Mustard and Polythene Pam would be reworked into the medley on Abbey Road in 1969.

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The demos make for a fantastic listen. Complete with between-take chatter, coughs and sniffs, the sound quality is mostly very good with the occasional bit of tape-hiss evident on some tracks. In hindsight, the Beatles probably didn’t need to go to Abbey Road and Trident to re-record these demos – they could have just released this back in 1968.

While it now seems inevitable that Giles Martin will provide similar remix duties for next year’s half-century release of Abbey Road, followed by Let It Be in 2020, I really hope he continues with the pre-Pepper albums as they begin their sixty-year celebrations from 2023.

And hopefully he’s training his son in the finer techniques of audio engineering, ready for the next generation of reissues…

Hit: While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Hidden Gem: Helter Skelter

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