Sunday, 31 March 2013

John's Psychedelic Rolls Royce

I love John's Roller. The 1965 Phantom V (FJB 111C) was delivered to John in gleaming black, and he had the hubcaps sprayed black to match. Judging from these pictures of the Beatles travelling to the palace in the car to collect their MBEs, it seems that he also had the bumpers sprayed black too:

But the bumpers were back to the original chrome finish by 1966 when John used his car in Spain whilst filming How I Won The War:

The car was painted around about May 1967 by JP Fallon coachbuilders in Chertsey, Surrey. They commissioned an artist called Steve Weaver to design the artwork for them and then painted this design onto the car. It's often been reported that The Fool painted the car but this isn't the case, although one of its members, Marijke Koger, claimed that she suggested the idea to John in the first place.  Here's the car being delivered to John after JP Fallon had finished with it:

He had some cool gadgets fitted to the car, including a record player. I mean, how does a record player work in a car? Surely the stylus would bounce all over the place, even in a car as refined and smooth as the Rolls? That's where the Philips Auto-Mignon AG2101 comes in. It was specifically designed for in car use and had a clever suspension-type mechanism in it which prevented the record from jumping. You'd slot your single into the record player like you do in a car CD player nowadays and away it played. 

Here's John sitting in the back of the car in Spain in 1966:

 And here are some close ups of the Auto-Mignon in that audio-visual centre console of his:

Can you spot the Sgt Pepper relic in the pics above? John's portable Sony TV (Sony 9-306UB Transistor TV Receiver) was the same model as the one used on the Sgt Pepper cover.

Who knows, maybe the TV on the cover was John's telly out of the Phantom?

Another groovy little toy that John had installed in the car was a loudspeaker system. This allowed John to have some japes speaking to people outside from within. Here's Paul telling a little story about one such jape involving Brian Jones: 

"...we would play jokes on him. I remember being in Hyde Park, coming back from John's house in his big chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce. John had a microphone he could use with the speakers mounted underneath the car. We were driving through the park, and ahead of us was Brian's Austin Princess. Everyone used to go around in these big Austin Princesses then, it was a sign you were a pop star. You automatically got one of those. We could see his big floppy hat and blond hair and we could see him nervously smoking a ciggie in the back of the car. So John got on the mike and said, 'Pull over now! Brian Jones! You are under arrest! Pull over now!' Brian jumped up. 'Fucking hell!' He really thought he had been busted. He was shitting himself! Then he saw it was us. And we were going, 'Yi, yi, yi. Fuck off!' giving V-signs out of the car window."

Here are the mic controls, below the Auto-Mignon in the Roller's centre console. You can see the 'Mic. Press To Talk' button right at the bottom:

The speakers themselves were fitted into the front wheelarches of the car: 

A telephone and foldaway bed were 2 more of the luxuries that John had fitted to the car. He eventually tired of the Rolls, as from sometime in 1968 onwards, he took to using his white Phantom V instead. Maybe it became a bit too 1967 and psychedelic for him, as he moved to his more minimal look. 

After John gave it away as part of a US tax deal in the late 70s, the car had a bit of a convoluted journey (including being sold by Sothebys for $2.2 million in 1985) and is now owned by and resides at the Royal British Colombia Museum in Victoria, British Colombia.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Steinway Vertegrand 'Mrs Mills' Piano

The Steinway Vertegrand was brought into Abbey Road in the 50s for its boogie woogie sound. The piano had a harder, old time sound which you couldn't get from grand pianos. The felt hammers were hardened to make the strings louder when struck, and the strings were always kept slightly de-tuned to give the piano an antiquated sound. These qualities led to the Beatles choosing to use it on several of their tracks. It was used on Sgt Pepper, but probably most famously, it was the piano Paul used on Lady Madonna.

Here's the piano on display in Studio 2 and being used by the fabulous foursome:

The piano was known as 'Mrs Mills' piano' by the Abbey Road staff after Gladys Mills used it on many of her albums. Here she is in action. She isn't using the Steinway here, but the piano she's playing has a similar sound:

Sunday, 6 May 2012

The Acoustic Screens

Many photos abound of the Beatles in Studio 2 with the acoustic screens in the background. The screens are made of metal and painted white. They're hinged to both of the side walls at the far end of the studio, which is where the Beatles predominantly positioned themselves when they recorded.

The hinges allow them to be opened out so that they can create partitions within the studio. Partitioning the studio stops sound from leaking from one microphone to the other (for example, Ringo might have been behind the acoustic screens to stop his drums from leaking onto George's guitar track).

The screens are huge and were folded back to the walls during my visit.

Here they are in use:

The Studio Two Staircase

One of the distinguishing features of Studio Two is the staircase. It's on your right as you walk into the studio and it leads up to the control room. All sorts of magic happened up here; It was up in the control room that Paul, listening back to his work so far on 'Mother Nature's Son', was absent mindedly strumming a pencil on a notepad at the mixing desk. Apparently all of a sudden he became aware of his strumming and decided it would be perfect as backing percussion to the track. I always assumed that he was just tapping on the body of his acoustic.

The control room sits directly above the entrance to Studio Two. Here it is as it stands today:

Quite a few photos were taken of The Beatles with the staircase in the background. Here are a few:

There's a big window in the control room that looks out over the studio. Here's a shot of John looking pretty vacantly through the window in 1967 (oh look - there's another one of those red Abbey Road chairs to John's left):

And here's that same window today. You can see the same metal brackety-type thing going diagonally across the top right-hand corner of the window in both pics:

Here's the view from the top of the stairs:

And here are some photos of The Beatles taken from various positions on the stairs:

The Abbey Road Chairs

I visited Abbey Road Studios recently for a presentation on the studios' history to celebrate their 80th anniversary.

The presentation took place in Studio 2 and was delivered to us by Kevin Ryan and Brian Kehew. Kevin and Brian are the authors of the critically acclaimed 'Recording The Beatles'. I haven't read it yet, but I've heard that it's excellent and oozes detail (Mark Lewisohn has given it his seal of approval by doing the foreword, so it must be good). Gonna have to put it on my wish list. The presentation lasted for 90 minutes and covered the entire history of the studios, from the time it opened its doors in 1931 up until the present day. Kevin and Brian did a cracking job - there was loads of detail in there and most importantly there was plenty of Beatles content in there.

Lots of the instruments that the Beatles used in their recordings were on display, along with some vintage mixing desks and tape recorders that were used to create their masterpieces.

It was an awesome experience - the air was thick with the history and importance of what had happened there all those years ago.

A splendid time was guaranteed for (and had by) all.

The chairs that made up the majority of the seating for the presentation were the original chairs that were delivered to Abbey Road circa 1960. They were chosen because they didn't make any squeaking noises during recording sessions, unlike the old wooden ones that they had before.

The chairs were bright red leather numbers with grey metal legs. They can be seen in nearly every picture of the Beatles at Abbey Road and are still in use today. I bounced up and down on mine and I can confirm that they don't squeak at all, 50 years later. Wise investment, EMI.

Here are they are now:

And here they are 'in action' with you know who. Wonder if any of them ever sat on the chair I parked myself on?


Here's one of The Fool sitting on the chairs when they visited the Beatles at Abbey Road in 1967.

This is just a little taster of the delights that were on show inside Studio 2. Keep em peeled - I'll be adding more Abbey Road posts in the not-so-distant future.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Magic Alex's Statement

Here's a statement made by Alexis 'Magic Alex' Mardas during his litigation vs the New York Times. Magic Al gives his version of the time he spent with the Beatles and all of the stories of his fantastical claims of being able to make impossible gadgets for them. Look out for him naming 'Imagine' as one of the Beatles' greatest songs: Magic Alex's Statement