Meet The Man Who Helped The Beatles Creat Their Distinctive Sound
The Liverpool Echo
"WHO would ever have thought when we were making those albums that it was going to go on?” muses Geoff Emerick. “In fact I was talking to Paul recently when he did the Hollywood Bowl.
“We were talking about things that have happened over the last 40 years, and there aren’t any words that can actually describe what happened, they don’t exist, because it will never happen again.”
Of course the Paul in question is Sir Paul, his Macca-ness, and the phenomenon Geoff is referring to is The Beatles – the band that revolutionised millions of lives in the 1960s, including that of one teenager from London.
Geoff, now 63, was a 15-year-old straight out of school and on only his second day at work at Abbey Road studios when four lads from Liverpool arrived to make their first record Love Me Do.
Their first LP soon followed, famously recorded in one 12 hour session.
He recalls: “I was the assistant on the session when we overdubbed the special piano sound on Misery that George Martin played on and then I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from that album.
“It was magic, absolute magic.
“You were going through all the political stuff in England at that time and it was pretty dirgy and this was just a breath of fresh air you know?
“When George Martin put his half-speed piano on Misery to go with the guitar solo, that showed me more could be done with tape and stuff so that was the beginning of it.”
Fast forward half-a-century and we’re sitting where it all began – well, as close as you can since the original was razed – in the Cavern where Geoff and US stage producer Stig Edgren are auditioning sound-a-like John, Paul, George and Ringos (mostly Johns it turns out) for a new live spectacular-in-the-round – The Beatles Sessions – due to open in LA this October.
The pair are checking out hopefuls in Liverpool, London, New York and LA. After two days of auditions and call backs, a quartet from the city on the Mersey have made it to the final auditions next month.
The Beatles Sessions will recreate Abbey Road’s Studio 2 and the amazing, music world-changing sounds created within its walls by the Beatles from Love Me Do to Abbey Road.
No one, apart from perhaps Sir George Martin and the two remaining Beatles, knows what went on there better than Geoff.
He started his career as assistant to sound engineer Norman Smith who was in charge of recording each of the Fab Four’s early recordings up to and including Rubber Soul.
Geoff took over the helm with Revolver, the album that would change the sound of the Beatles forever.
“It all started really with Revolver because on Tomorrow Never Knows which was the first track we cut, the multi-track machine for those sessions was located in another room down the corridor,” he explains.
“The operator could monitor the tracks separately or combined, and all the rest of the staff from the studios were hanging around outside the multi-track room just bewildered by what was coming out.
“They’d obviously heard nothing like it, especially the loops and the backward guitar on other tracks, but that was really the beginning and I changed all the mic technique that they’d been used to.
“We were making this stuff up with glue, strings and bits of bandage and abusing the equipment. That’s the only way I could come up with the goods, overdriving the equipment to make things really punch out.
“It was exciting. But now everyone is painting by numbers, everything sounds the same.”
Geoff would go on to engineer all the band’s remaining recordings, including the ground-breaking Sgt Pepper album which also features his own favourite Beatles track – A Day In The Life.
He recalls: “The night we recorded that and actually overdubbed the orchestra part, you had to be there to experience it, but it was like going from black and white square pictures to cinemascope Technicolor.”
Not everything went to plan however, although even the mistakes turned out to be happy ones.
“The alarm clock in A Day In The Life goes off on the 23rd bar, the idea being to let them know that the 24th was coming up, but it wasn’t intentional because when Mal (Evans – the Beatle’s roadie who was in charge of the clock) was doing that count when we laid down the basic rhythm track, he set the alarm off but it went on to Ringo’s drum mics so I couldn’t get rid of it so that’s how come it’s there.
“And the other thing was it was only coincidence the “woke up, got out of bed” – Paul’s song – came after the alarm clock. That wasn’t planned.”
It must have been a continually exciting time at the St John’s Wood studios, and Geoff describes the Beatles as “very demanding” despite the sometimes rudimentary equipment they had to record on.
He says: “They were experiencing new sounds in their own minds and I was also re-mastering American records for EMI at the time, and listening to Tamla stuff and realising the bass content on the Tamla was really brilliant and what was coming out of Abbey Road wasn’t that good – so I was always searching for ways to get good bass and stuff on record.”
Now he has a fresh challenge – to recreate the changing sounds of the Fab Four on a set in Los Angeles and give audiences some of the same thrill he felt all those decades ago.
“Technology will help us a little bit,” Geoff says. “I’m going to still keep the basic rhythm tracks, the guitars, base drums, and possibly some of the lead vocals from an analogue mixing console.
“And the orchestra and other parts will go through a digital desk and I can still use some of the original outboard equipment through the analogue desk that I used on the original records.
“It’s enormous. We’ll need three or four sound engineers in there to do this. It’s going to be hard, because it’s all live – there’s no pre-recorded stuff.”
The Beatles Sessions is due to open at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles on October 10.