By William Russell and Mike Davidson
LONDON – London’s world-famous Abbey Road Studios reopened on Thursday after closing its doors during the coronavirus lockdown for the first time in its 90-year history.
Celebrated for recording the likes of Edward Elgar, The Beatles and Lady Gaga, the studio’s mixing desks powered up for a socially-distanced session with acclaimed US jazz singer Melody Gardot.
“We didn’t even stop for a World War so it feels like a real moment to come back,” Isabel Garvey, Abbey Road Studios’ managing director, told Reuters.
Music industry workers have been among those hardest hit by the coronavirus lockdown, enacted in Britain on March 23. Many have been shut out of state lockdown support programmes because of the irregular nature of work in music.
Garvey said about half of Abbey Road’s staff had been unable to work away from the studio building during the lockdown.
“I think music carried people through the last 10, 11 weeks of lockdown,” Garvey said.
“So to have artists back recording, making music again, possibly even relating to the experience they’ve had, just feels really good. We need it as humans I think.”
Gardot’s recording session offered a potential glimpse into the future of music production in a post-COVID world.
The singer joined remotely from Paris with her producer Larry Klein from Los Angeles. Both appeared on big screens at Abbey Road to communicate with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, which performed there for the first time since lockdown.
“We’re using the best of technology and musicians in the space to make the whole thing work,” said Garvey.
The music must go on
Gardot said it was an honour to become the first artist to record at Abbey Road since its reopening and told Reuters “the music must go on”, even if a little magic was missing because of her distance from the musicians.
“It’s a little bit frustrating sometimes because of course, like so many other things, you miss the tactility,” said Gardot, who had previously recorded at Abbey Road in 2009.
Opened by Elgar in 1931, the studio reports a healthy list of future bookings but social distancing measures mean there will be some limitations – particularly for large orchestras often present for the recording of major film soundtracks.
Abbey Road boss Garvey said the orchestra capacity of its biggest studios had been roughly halved following a review.
“Recording here is still really viable – it’s just going to be with smaller numbers,” she said.
“There’s big pent-up demand … so it’s looking good but it will take time to ramp up back to normal levels.”
Gardot said she wanted to seize the moment rather than wait until 2021 before making music again, when life might return to normal.
“I’m chomping at the bit to do something, to create something, to make music,” she said.