The Beatles test their new recording studio at 3 Savile Row

Monday, January 20, 1969
Timeline More from year 1969
Location:
Apple Studios, 3 Savile Row, London, UK

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On January 10, 1969, George Harrison had walked out from the “Get Back” sessions at Twickenham Studios. On January 15, the three other Beatles had convinced him to come back. One of the conditions imposed by George was that the sessions would have to move to the basement studio at Apple’s headquarters, being built by Alexis Mardas, nicknamed “Magic Alex”.

On this day, January 20, The Beatles entered the studios but quickly realized it was unusable. From Wikipedia:

Mardas had often said that the Abbey Road studio was “no good”, much to producer George Martin’s annoyance: “The trouble was that Alex was always coming to the studios to see what we were doing and to learn from it, while at the same time saying ‘These people are so out of date.’ But I found it very difficult to chuck him out, because the boys liked him so much. Since it was very obvious that I didn’t, a minor schism developed“. Mardas boasted that he could build a much better studio, with a 72-track tape machine, instead of the 4-track at Abbey Road—which was being updated at the time to an 8-track—so he was given the job of designing the new Apple Studio in the basement of Apple headquarters on Savile Row. One of Mardas’ more outrageous plans was to replace the acoustic baffles around Starr’s drums with an invisible sonic force field. Starr remembered that Mardas bought some “huge” surplus computers from British Aerospace, which were stored in his barn, but “they never left the barn”, and were later sold as scrap metal.

Mardas gave the Beatles regular reports of his progress, but when they required their new studio in January 1969, during the Get Back project that became Let It Be, they discovered an unusable studio: no 72-track tape deck (Mardas had reduced it to 16 tracks), no soundproofing, no talkback (intercom) system, and not even a patch bay to run the wiring between the control room and the 16 speakers that Mardas had fixed haphazardly to the walls. The only new piece of sound equipment present was a crude mixing console which Mardas had built, which looked (in the words of Martin’s assistant, Dave Harries) like “bits of wood and an old oscilloscope”. The console was scrapped after just one session. Harrison said it was “chaos”, and that they had to “rip it all out and start again,” calling it “the biggest disaster of all time.” Harrison’s suspicions of Mardas’ competence had been raised when he saw him wandering around in a white coat with a clipboard, and considered the possibility that Mardas had “just read the latest version of Science Weekly, and used its ideas”. Mardas later stated that he had never been in the basement of Savile Row, as the studio equipment he was building was being tested in Apple Electronics, at Boston Place, Marylebone.

The Beatles asked producer Martin to come to the rescue, so he borrowed two portable four-track recorders from EMI, and long-time Beatles’ engineer Geoff Emerick was given the task of building and setting up a recording studio with the loaned equipment. After Allen Klein was brought in to be the Beatles’ manager in 1969, he closed Apple Electronics and Mardas left the company. It was later estimated that Mardas’ ideas and projects had cost the Beatles at least £300,000 (£5.24 million in 2019 pounds if it was essentially spent in 1968). […]

Alex’s recording studio at Apple was the biggest disaster of all time. He didn’t have a clue what he was doing.

George Harrison – From “The Beatles: Off the Record” by Keith Badman

‘Magic’ Alex must have been a considerable drain on resources. I never had any faith in Alex. It was John and George who championed him. He was going to invent all these incredible things, like a door that could tell friend from foe, and would only let in people with good vibes.

Barry Miles – Manager of Apple Records subsidiary Zapple Records – Quoted in Classic Rock, May 2020

Magic Alex invented electrical paint. You paint your living room, plug it in, and the walls light up! We saw small pieces of metal as samples, but then we realised you’d have to put steel sheets on your living room wall and paint them.

Ringo Starr – Quoted in Classic Rock, May 2020

John had such absolute faith in Magic Alex that he let him run up all kinds of massive bills, and none of it ever came to anything.

Tony Bramwell – Quoted in Classic Rock, May 2020

The mixing console [made by Mardas] was made of bit of wood and an old oscilloscope. It looked like the control panel of a B-52 bomber. They actually tried a session on this desk, they did a take, but when they played back the tape it was all hum and hiss. Terrible. The Beatles walked out, that was the end of it.

Dave Harries, recording engineer​ – From “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions” by Mark Lewisohn

The metal was an eighth of an inch out around the knobs and switches. It had obviously been done with a hammer and chisel instead of being properly designed and machined. It did pass signals but Glyn Johns said ‘I can’t do anything with this. I can’t make a record with this board’.

Alan Parsons, tape operator​ – From “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions” by Mark Lewisohn

The mixing console was sold as scrap to a secondhand electronics shop in the Edgware Road for £5. It wasn’t worth any more.

Geoff Emerick​ – From “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions” by Mark Lewisohn

The time for George Martin and Geoff Emerick to come to the rescue, The Beatles were ready to restart their sessions the day after, on January 21, 1969.

Last updated on October 17, 2021

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