GEOFF EMERICK & LUKE HALLS
6th/7th April 2016
Q: You must receive hundreds of offers every year to be involved in Beatles projects: what sold you on this one?
GE: This one came about because Stig Edgren who is the producer, read my book which is called Here, There And Everywhere: My Life Recording The Music Of the Beatles. Stig contacted me and asked if it could possibly make a Beatles show or concert per se. We sat down and discussed it to see how it could be presented and this is going back six years. Stig’s idea was to build a replica of No. 2 Abbey Rd studios and present all the Beatles’ songs in the form that they are on the record with the double-tracked vocals and all the overdubs rather than just four people standing there singing Beatles songs so that’s what we’ve actually done. At the beginning of the show, on the graphics that come down, it says that it has taken forty-five people to recreate the music of four.
Q: That’s an astonishing statistic.
Q: When Stig came to you with this idea, did you think he was a bit mad?
GE: Oh no not at all because it set my mind going as well into thinking how we could do this because he is very visionary and he was talking about microphones moving around the floor and instruments moving and I was thinking that someone had to be on stage physically moving the mic stands. We are using the equivalent microphones that we used to record the records which were AKG U47 condenser mics because when we did the vocals, there was John on one side and Paul on the other if they were doing harmonies or maybe even three people around one mic. It’s all live and there are three main mics on stage which are the vocal mics but when it comes to the double-tracking, there are eight Beatles – there are two sets of Beatles. It’s quite fascinating to watch and see this.
Q: You’re credited as the creative consultant, how hands on where you on it and in what aspects? Have you been doing this for the last six years?
GE: On and off yes; it’s taken that long to get it into its finished form. You know all the bits that I’m not involved with – the business side of it and all that.
Q: Was there a moment during rehearsals where you listened and thought ‘Yeah, we got it’?
GE: Oh yes because it’s six years of my life going by on the stage. There’s a George Martin character and a me character and a Norman Smith character. The George Martin character does a narration from the beginning to the end and I was sitting there in the dressing room, I think it was probably in the first dress rehearsal three or four weeks ago and when they did I Saw Her Standing there and She Loves You and all the earlier ones, you tear up. Just the memory of being on those sessions - because I was an assistant recording engineer at that time – you go right back to when they actually did it.
Q: You mentioned that there is a narration, will that be in Japanese here?
GE: I’ve got no idea. They’ve been toying with how to do it but I have no idea how Stig is going to handle that.
Q: You went through the evolution of modern Rock and Pop recording. Starting with mono, into stereo, 4-track, 8-track, etc all the way through to what we have now. What’s your opinion of how studios have gone? Do you feel the technology has overtaken the creativity?
GE: Yes it has. I was brought up with an artistic side. Our job was to balance the music that we were hearing through the microphones and to make a picture of sound…
Q: Hence your full and correct title: Balance & Control Engineer.
GE: That’s right. At EMI (EMI is the correct name for Abbey Rd Studios) we were not even allowed to move a plug or jack socket into another hole: we had to phone the maintenance department to do that. That wasn’t our job so I wasn’t really into all the technicalities of all that, we weren’t supposed to be and the sound all came from the studio floor, purely artistic. We made decisions of course when were doing basic tracks on the newer Beatles songs, it was a team effort and we would say ‘That’s it’ and then carry on doing overdubs. There was nothing wrong with it and it sounded fantastic and had all the equalization and reverbs on it. That was our basic rhythm track, one or two tracks of a 4-track tape and we worked around that but now the artistic side has gone out of the window. It’s all down to technology and most of the software and plug-ins that are being used are based on the sounds we created by abusing the equipment to try and make those sounds. So the whole artistic side to me is now being overlooked. No one is teaching it so what people are basically doing is painting by numbers – there are no individual brush strokes on any of these canvases.
Q: This is a bit of a nerdy question for you that you may not be able to answer…
GE: That’s all right.
Q: I used to work with bands and one producer who was recording one session was using a AKG D20 on the bass drum and he always used to say to his engineer, ‘Silver side to the skin’. I always wondered what would happen if he put the black side to the skin. Any ideas?
GE: We used to use D20s as well but from what I remember, the ones we had didn’t have a silver side, they were black on both but they did have a little bass roll-off plug that used to go into it and that faced away from the drum. Those mics were only live on one side and I just remember the black side facing the drum. I know there are two lots of D20s and I can’t quite remember what we had but I know that little plug on one side of it was the side that was not live so whatever the opposite side was, was the live side.
Q: Thank you very much for that Geoff – it’s been bugging me for years. Now, if you were going to sit down at home and play someone who had never heard them some Beatles recordings, would you go for Vinyl or CD?
GE: At the moment without going into great detail, it would be the box set of mono CDs. As you know, the definitive mixes are the monos which The Beatle were present at. We normally mixed the record after the recording it. We didn’t leave it until the end of the album, it was done at the time of finishing the recording parts which was good fun. Now, I’m never involved with these reissues – no one ever asks me of course…
GE: …well Abbey Rd recorded The Beatles, I didn’t, it’s one of those situations…
Q: Oh I see…
GE: …so they take all the glory for it – I don’t exist. Anyway, I don’t know what the source material is for the new vinyl. If you’re talking about the old vinyl, you can hear it in its proper state but I don’t know if the new vinyl that is just issued are from a digital source or the actual analogue tape source. It may say so on the album but I’m not sure.
Q: Well I have my perfect condition 1972 issue vinyl so I always play those.
GE: They are the Japanese ones right?
Q: No. These are actually the British ones.
GE: Oh right because I know that the Japanese ones sounded incredible. There was that red one, the red vinyl…
GE: Yeah they sound much better. 1972 of course must have come from the tape and there would have been no digital involvement but the ones on the market today I have no idea what the source is. Even if it is analogue, I can’t see them keep getting the master tape out of the tin. I’ve no idea to be honest but I’ve got a feeling they’ve copied the analogue to some digital thing. I’ve listened to them all and with the stereo CDs, they do what they call ‘cleaning them up’ but to me they shouldn’t be touching them – just leave them as they were. Going back to the artistic thing, because they keep cleaning them up, when we were making them, they would say ‘put a cowbell on there but don’t make it sound like a cowbell’. So we’d do all weird things with the equalization but then a few years ago when they started doing all these reissues someone came to me and said ‘ I never knew what that sound was but now I know it’s a cowbell’. The simple reason is that the glue that was on those records has been taken away. Everything is in focus now and that wasn’t the intention. Because there was no involvement artistically – namely me - in these things, those things have got lost to a certain extent. So should you be listening to these things cleaned up? I don’t know. They sound more modern I guess but what most people normally do is add treble to it and then the next version comes out and that’s got more treble on it. In some instances now, the tambourine is louder than the vocal!
Q: I think I’ll stick with my 1972 vinyl then.
GE: Well you see we sat there and crafted all that mix with The Beatles saying ‘just move that up’ and ‘merge that in’ and ‘blend that there’. That’s their input right so that is the definitive mix so to start messing around with it is ridiculous!
Q: Geoff, thank you very much for this. I hope to catch up with you Japan.
GE: That’d be lovely Glenn. Thank you
Q: This is big production: how long did it take to put the visuals together for this?
LH: We started really in November last year and then developed them in December followed by production in January, February and March. Thankfully it was pretty much my design from the start meaning that all the ideas I came up with pretty much got into the show so there wasn’t a lot of iteration.
Q: Every production you are involved in has its challenges: what were the ones on this one?
LH: I think for me it’s how you represent The Beatles and certainly visually, there is a certain language you can draw on like obviously Magical Mystery Tour and those years which personally I don’t think represents them as artists very well and what I wanted to do was provide more of a visual back story of The Beatles. I don’t mean socially and politically, I mean that kind of styling of the photos that were being taken of them and how that developed throughout the years; taking each album and representing it in a graphical form. It was really fun actually and what first drew me to the project was not using any images of The Beatles because I think it’s too easy that way. If you’re relying on The Beatles back catalogue then you’re not really adding anything to it. Taking for example the cover of A Hard Day’s Night, not actually seeing it but creating a visual style around it.
Q: Good idea because during the sessions, the covers were obviously not designed.
LH: Exactly but the ultimately represent what was going on at the time and what was going on with them and it is what us, as fans, think of them when we hear the music. So it was doing a pastiche I suppose whilst wanting to be faithful to them.
Q: You are a Beatles fan obviously having just said it, when you were offered the job did you have any pre-conceived ideas that you could incorporate? For example, you always had an idea for doing something with A Day In The Life and now you had the opportunity?
LH: I am a fan but I have to say, not as big a fan as my associate. She’s a massive fan so there were quite a few moments when she was ‘Oh! I’ve always wanted to do something for Eleanor Rigby’ or some other song so she bought more of that passion to it than I did. Yeah there moments when she said ‘I’ve got this.’ (laughs)
Q: You are treading on sacred ground here you know…
LH: Exactly and I do hope that I’ve done the die-hard Beatles fans well.
Q: I’m a die-hard Beatles fan Luke and although all I’ve seen so far are the teasers and some photos but I can honestly say you have.
LH: Great. I did try not to draw too much on the pastiches. I do sort of bake the tart for Help and Magical Mystery Tour but I think what a lot of designers do when they approach something like Mystery Tour is that they miss out the slightly harder edge of The Beatles. You have that bright colour front cover but also in their weird outfits and masks and there’s always that sort of cutting line through anything of The Beatles and I tried to get that in there.
Q: It is a very technical show: how much room for error is there in it?
LH: Musically, it’s incredibly complex. Trying to represent the multi-layering and the multi-tracking with a lot of instruments going on makes it technically very challenging. Visually it’s a big projector show so it’s very well rehearsed is all that I’ll say.
Q: How are you going to handle the different languages around the world?
LH: We haven’t had that discussion yet.
Q: You might want to start soon Luke…
LH: Well I haven’t relied on language at all so for my part, there is no language outside of song titles. We do provide some information at that start of each track, we dug through all the recording notes to find something that was interesting about each track so we may translate those.
Q: Luke, thank you very much. Are you coming to Japan?
LH: I’m not sure at the moment. I’ll have to have a look in my diary as I have other shows going on all over the world but I’d love to as I’ve actually never been to Japan.
Q: Hopefully you can and I can buy you a beer.
LH: That’d be great. Thanks.