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Jessica Duchen
Wednesday 17th February 2010
For Sale: A Nation's Musical Memories...

The news broke yesterday that EMI is allegedly putting Abbey Road Studios up for sale. The sum it could raise would barely begin to plug the black hole in the difference between what was paid for the company and what it's now worth - it just lost £1.75bn - not even with its prime location in St John's Wood.

But the black hole it would leave in 80 years of the UK's musical memories if it disappears cannot be measured in pounds, guineas or euros. This was where the Beatles made their recordings - just look at the graffiti on the wall outside for proof of how much that still means to everyone; where the teenaged Yehudi Menuhin recorded Elgar's Violin Concerto with the composer conducting (the latter then sloped off to the races); and those are just the two most famous instances.

Paul McCartney expressed hopes yesterday that it can be saved...

I hope he's right. Otherwise, what will they do with Abbey Road? Options: pull it down and build luxury flats subject to planning permission; convert it to same, at a premium for its history; turn it into a bijou hotel with an Elgar Suite and a Beatles-themed jacuzzi...

Or, if either the government or someone with a heap of dosh and philanthropical mindset could please step this way, turn it into a musical museum. I was about to suggest this but Norman Lebrecht, a neighbour of the studios, beat me to it over at Slipped Disc

This would be a musical museum with substance. Perhaps an ever-renewed display of irreplaceable photos, a recording archive available to the public for listening, memorabilia and minutiae of the great and the good...

And if we apply some lateral thinking, it would also be an excellent location in which to display the V&A's musical instrument collection. Come on, National Lottery Funds - the Olympics will last all of two weeks, but this would be long-term, solid, sensible and necessary. Abbey Road Studios is part of our national musical soul, such as it is. Get on and preserve it for the nation: that's what you're there for! 

UPDATE, THURSDAY 18TH 8.50AM: Apparently the National Trust is now saying it would consider buying Abbey Road Studios if there is enough support. Bloggers & music biz acquaintances strongly divided on this idea at present. I would be roundly in favour if it turned out there's no way the place can be kept going as a working studio.

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Guy Aron
February 17th, 2010
10:02 PM
I support the move to make Abbey ROad studios a museum. I'd have to check my CDs, but I suspect a fair number of Jacqueline du Pre's British recordings were laid down there too. Re the Elgar violin concerto - I remember from the sleeve notes of Menuhin's remake of the concerto with Boult, that when Elgar went to the races after early rehearsals had gone so well, he took Menuhin with him. Best, Guy

February 17th, 2010
8:02 PM
Why not ask The Beatles to donate some of the publicity they receive every time 'Abbey Road' is mentioned.

Jessica Duchen
February 17th, 2010
1:02 PM
Yes, Avi, absolutely right. A friend in the recording industry has just been in touch to tell me that he knows of no better studio for recording a symphony orchestra - it is all very well to say that people can now record in their own back rooms, while full-scale orchestras make live recordings in concert, but I do think the industry would feel the lack of this resource sorely. Re the V&A, of course certain instruments should be played, like the great Italian violins, as I mentioned the other day; but there's limited call for rare Renaissance keyboard creations and they are certainly beautiful to look at. And in my hypothetical museum there would be a performance space too... I'd rather see them housed in an instrument museum than consigned to oblivion in storage.

February 17th, 2010
11:02 AM
It's slightly O/T, but why would we want to house the V&A instrument collection? Wouldn't they be better off being played, and wouldn't we be better off being able to hear great artists make music with them? On Abbey Road, a £40m museum seems like a very expensive thing to me... £40m 'only' buys 50,000 children a music lesson a week in term time for a year I suppose. happily, in many ways, I haven't seen anyone suggest that AR isn't a viable business in it's own right - just that EMI are in dire need of cash. That suggests that it could possibly be sold as a going concern, which would be far better all round.

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About Jessica Duchen

Jessica Duchen is a music journalist and the author of four novels, two biographies and several stage works. She writes regularly for The Independent and BBC Music Magazine. Her latest novel, Songs of Triumphant Love, is published by Hodder.

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