Setting up a small recording studio for experimentations

March 1966 ?
Timeline More from year 1966
34, Montagu Square, London, UK

Related song

Eleanor Rigby

Officially appears on Revolver (UK Mono)

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In 1965, Ringo Starr leased an appartment at 34 Montagu Square, London, before marrying Maureen Cox. The couple lived there until July 1965, when Ringo bought Sunny Heights, a country house in St. Georges Hill, Weybridge, Surrey. He retained the lease of 34 Montagu Square and rented it to his friends.

In early 1966, Paul McCartney and Barry Miles decided to establish a small recording studio for avant-garde artists to record their work. Paul rented the Montagu Square premises in March 1966, as the location was close to the Abbey Road studios, where The Beatles recorded their songs, and Jane Asher’s parents’ house at 57 Wimpole Street, where Paul was living at the time.

Paul installed sound recording equipment in the premises with the help of Ian Somerville, an electronics technician, and computer programmer (and boyfriend of American novelist William Burroughs). They experimented with tape loops to create avant-garde sounds and recorded spoken word performances of poets, including William Burroughs. While at Montagu Square, Paul also worked on the composition of “Eleanor Rigby”.

Later that year, Paul moved out, and the place was left empty until December 1966 when Ringo sublet the property to Jimi Hendrix. In 1968, John Lennon and Yoko Ono rented the flat and took a photograph that became the cover of their “Two Virgins” album. However, after the police raided the premises looking for drugs, the landlord sought an injunction against Ringo to prevent it from being used for anything illegal. Eventually, Ringo sold the lease in February 1969.

In 1966, Paul McCartney, myself, Marianne Faithful and John Dunbar had the idea that we should bring out a monthly magazine in record form. There’d be somebody at all the good poetry readings, we’d have a few snatches of groups rehearsing, and I would be going out doing interviews for International Times and we could do bits of those on tape. As you can imagine, we smoked an enormous amount of dope and thought this was the greatest idea in the world. So we needed someone to operate the tape recorders and nobody knew anyone who could do this except me. Ian Sommerville knew a lot about tape recorders. We also needed a studio and Ringo had this old flat that he wasn’t using in Montagu Square, a ridiculous pad with green silk wallpaper, and he said we could have that. Ian actually moved in there. I don’t think he was supposed to, it was supposed to be the studio. Bill [William Burrough] never moved in, to my knowledge, although when you went to see Ian there, Bill was usually mucking about, but he kept out of the way because he definitely had the impression that this thing was somehow to do with the Beatles and he wasn’t supposed to be there.

Barry Miles – From “With William Burroughs : a report from the bunker” by Victor Bockris, 1996

It was kind of uneasy there… This was when the Beatles were just getting into the possibilities of overlaying, running backwards, the full technical possibilities of the tape recorder. And Ian was a brilliant technician along those lines. Ian met Paul McCartney and Paul put up the money for this flat which was at 54 Montagu Square. There were people like bodyguards and managers who didn’t like this at all and they were always threatening to come around and take the equipment away. I saw Paul several times. The three of us talked about the possibilities of the tape recorder. He’d just come in and work on his “Eleanor Rigby.” Ian recorded his rehearsals. I saw the song taking shape. Once again, not knowing much about music, I could see that he knew what he was doing. He was very pleasant and very prepossessing. Nice-looking young man, hardworking.

William S. Burroughs – From “With William Burroughs : a report from the bunker” by Victor Bockris, 1996

I recall one day when Peter Asher, Ian, and I were there. Bill [William Burrough] was there but sort of distant and not spending much time in the room, always doing things in other rooms. Paul arrived with the acetates for “Rubber Soul”. That was the first time anybody’d ever heard those; they’d just finished mixing them. We were talking about what direction rock music was going to go in, no doubt toward electronic music, but no one knew what they really meant. In those days digital technology didn’t really exist. We all knew that somehow there was going to be a combination of electronics and rock that would be really exciting and that music had gone beyond the barriers of just a bunch of guys playing instruments. Bill and Paul were talking about this.

Barry Miles – From “With William Burroughs : a report from the bunker” by Victor Bockris, 1996

(Barry Miles’ recollection of Paul bringing the “Rubber Soul” acetates doesn’t match up with the timeline of Paul setting up the Montagu Square studio in March 1966.)

In our conversations [with William Burrough], I thought about getting into cut-ups and things like that and I thought I would use the studio for cutups. But it ended up being of more practical use to me, really. I thought, let Burroughs do the cut-ups and I’ll just go in and demo things. I’d just written ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and so I went down there in the basement on my days off on my own. Just took a guitar down and used it as a demo studio.

Paul McCartney – From “Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now” by Barry Miles, 1997

Occasionally Burroughs would be there. He was very interesting but we never really struck up a huge conversation. I actually felt you had to be a bit of a junkie, which was probably not true. He was fine, there never was a problem, it just never really developed into a huge conversation where we sat down for hours together. The sitting around for hours would be more with Ian Sommerville and his friend Alan. I remember them telling me off for being a tea-head. ‘You’re a tea-head, man!’ ‘Well? So?’

Paul McCartney – From “Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now” by Barry Miles, 1997

Allen Ginsberg told me [Eleanor Rigby] was a great poem, so I’m going to go with Allen. He was no slouch. Another early admirer of the song was William S. Burroughs who, of course, also ended up on the cover of Sgt. Pepper. He and I had met through the author Barry Miles and the Indica Bookshop, and he actually got to see the song take shape when I sometimes used the spoken-word studio that we had set up in the basement of Ringo’s flat in Montagu Square. The plan for the studio was to record poets – something we did more formally a few years later with the experimental Zapple label, a subsidiary of Apple. I’d been experimenting with tape loops a lot around this time, using a Brenell reel-to-reel – which I still own – and we were starting to put more experimental elements into our songs. ‘Eleanor Rigby’ ended up on the Revolver album, and for the first time we were recording songs that couldn’t be replicated on stage – songs like this and ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’. So, Burroughs and I had hung out, and he’d borrowed my reel-to-reel a few times to work on his cut-ups. When he got to hear the final version of ‘Eleanor Rigby’, he said he was impressed by how much narrative I’d got into three verses. And it did feel like a breakthrough for me lyrically – more of a serious song.

Paul McCartney – From “The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present“, 2021

Last updated on December 3, 2023

Going further

The Beatles Diary Volume 1: The Beatles Years

"With greatly expanded text, this is the most revealing and frank personal 30-year chronicle of the group ever written. Insider Barry Miles covers the Beatles story from childhood to the break-up of the group."

We owe a lot to Barry Miles for the creation of those pages, but you really have to buy this book to get all the details - a day to day chronology of what happened to the four Beatles during the Beatles years!

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