Abbey Road at 80
A Slice of Britain: And, to mark the anniversary, The Beatles' former studio sets a competition to find a new anthem
Will Clapson is sitting in one of the most famous spots in the world's most famous recording rooms. Studio Two, Abbey Road, is best known as the space where The Beatles recorded almost every one of their hits. Clapson is just metres away from the piano where "Peggy Sue" was first played, but he's waiting patiently to hear a recording of his own song.
As Abbey Road celebrates 80 years of recording this weekend, eight unsigned and undiscovered composers from around the world are preparing for the release of their birthday "anthems", made in the same studios with the same engineers.
Joining the ranks of Kate Bush, Pink Floyd, Oasis and Radiohead, Clapson and two other UK musicians are about to go through the excruciating experience that almost every recording artist will admit to dreading: listening to the final mix of their songs for the first time.
To mark the anniversary, Abbey Road launched an anthem competition earlier this year. The idea was to "open its doors to up-and-coming composers". From 918 applicants, judges – including the composer Eric Whitacre – selected eight winners to record their own work in the same studios as scores for some of the Star Wars and Harry Potter films were performed.
Invited to work with Whitacre, the London Symphony Orchestra and the Eric Whitacre Singers, the winners collaborated on arrangements and scoring over a four-day period. The musicians now have only two weeks to wait until a compilation of their tracks is released as a free download.
"Abbey Road is the sound of British music and pretty much all of my favourite bands have performed here," says Clapson, 22, from Essex, who co-wrote a folk song for the compilation with his bandmate Oliver Chapman. "Singing in Studio One by myself was incredible, and then I saw the 150-strong choir singing along to a song we usually perform in our shed. My family still doesn't believe it."
The cavernous Studio One is where composer Sir Edward Elgar conducted "Land of Hope and Glory" in the very first recording at Abbey Road 80 years ago almost to the day. It is also where The Beatles performed the first international live broadcast of "All You Need Is Love" in 1967.
Jonathan Allen, an Abbey Road veteran of 18 years, says the eight-month project has been "serious" work. "It was about the craft of writing an anthem and paying attention to detail," he says. "I wanted the competition to be inclusive and to embody lots of different types of music. But it was about the composition; it was serious. It was an antidote to The X Factor-style machine."
Most winners had never been in a recording studio before. Aged between 22 to 48, one came from Australia to London for the first time to record his classical score. Steven Jackson, 27, from Carlisle, wrote the words for his song, as well as writing the music for all the instruments that accompanied his recording.
For Whitacre, who conducted all the orchestral and choral sessions, the competition was a "triumph". "The anthem is a reflection of all the different kinds of music recorded at Abbey Road over the past 80 years," he says. "We chose eight extraordinary entries and there was music making at the highest possible level. It seemed to capture the spirit of Abbey Road. It is the craziest place; you go in and your level of creativity doubles as you go through the doors."
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