If These Walls Could Sing

Documentary • Directed by Mary McCartney

Timeline This film has been released in 2022
Release date:
Dec 16, 2022
Filming location:
Abbey Road Studios, London, UK

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About

If These Walls Could Sing” is a documentary film directed by Mary McCartney, in her feature documentary debut, about the history of Abbey Road Studios in London and the experiences and memories of the musicians who have played there.

The documentary was announced in January 2021, explaining it would “form the centrepiece of Abbey Road Studios’ 90th-anniversary celebrations which begin in November this year“. It premiered in September 2022 at Telluride Film Festival and was released on the Disney+ streaming service in December 2022.


From abbeyroad.com, September 20, 2022:

The culmination of years of research, the film is Mary’s personal love letter to a place which not only fostered her dad’s creative work, but also countless numbers of the most talented artists from around the globe.

Featuring stories from the likes of Jimmy PageKate BushNoel GallagherJohn WilliamsCelesteElton JohnGiles MartinShirley BasseyLiam GallagherPink FloydPaul McCartney and even our microphone custodian of over 50 years, Lester Smith.

If These Walls Could Sing is a passionate account of the world’s first purpose-built recording studio spanning 91 years. From our beginnings recording the greats of classical music, to hosting dance hall and big band stars, witnessing the birth of British rock & roll, producing a prolific string of hits in the 1960s, facilitating Oscar-winning film scores and seeing the rise of hip-hop idols. Mary’s film brings to life the magic that continues to echo within the walls of No. 3 Abbey Road. […]

If These Walls Could Sing played for the first time on 3 September to a packed Sheridan Opera House in Telluride, Colorado and will be released in select theatres and on Disney Plus soon.

The film was produced by John Battsek (One Day in SeptemberSearching for Sugar Man), Sarah Thompson (The Australian Dream) and Miles Coleman (head of development for If These Walls Could Sing) of Ventureland and executive produced by Alice Webb and Marc Robinson of Mercury Studios and Kerstin Emhoff and Ali Brown of Ventureland.

I want to make it an emotional experience as a documentary, rather than doing all the historical points. I didn’t want it to feel like a lesson. I really, really hope the viewer falls in love with it. Yes, there were some tense moments, or they’re talking about some creative differences, or sometimes maybe they were a bit naughty in the studios. But I think ultimately there’s a real love for the place. And I find that really interesting that people feel that way about a building still.

Mary McCartney – From Vanity Fair , September 2, 2022

“Abbey Road Studios have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I grew up around the corner and have early memories of going to visit my parents while they were recording. The studios felt like a family. The people who worked there had also grown up there, staying years to be trained and nurtured by the generation above them. This family had also produced the music I loved; iconic, original, pioneering records that have inspired and moved me and millions of others.

A photograph of my mum leading our pony Jet across Abbey Road’s zebra crossing sparked these memories again. Walking by the studios and watching people gather on the crossing to have their photos taken, people who had made the journey from all over the world, made me realize the significance of Abbey Road. There is something truly special about this place; it is much more than a building — it’s a shrine to creative, original thinkers and a treasure-trove of stories.

I have always been drawn back to the studios, and when Abbey Road opened its archives — a huge collection of stills, session tapes and footage — this film began. Covering 90 years of recordings, I realized I could never include everything. I looked to find moments where artists felt comfortable to dare to push themselves and create something new. I knew Abbey Road was a trailblazing institution, but I wanted to really unpack why and how and find emotional, personal moments of self-belief and creativity.

This process surprised and revealed so much. I was familiar with the ‘60s recordings, The Beatles of course, but filling in the gaps revealed immense breadth and diversity and how each period of music built upon the next, paving the way for the next generation to continue to push the envelope. From Elgar to Shirley Bassey to Ye, I found each artist embraced the space, its staff, equipment and possibilities in their own way, with an awareness of what came before and a desire to push further. I had always seen instruments lying around in the corridors, and my dad had told me stories about how the Beatles would pull in anything lying around to use on their recordings, like the comedy sound effects cupboard. But looking at Abbey Road’s history in detail, the cumulative effect of the studio’s building on its music history was astounding.

As a photographer, I wanted to capture the spirit of the studios visually. Being able to invite artists back to the space created intimate, emotional interviews and revealed so much for me and the subject. While gathering memories, I wanted to open the studio up to people who had never had the chance to experience it. I see this film as an opportunity to make the magic of the world’s most famous studio accessible to engage with a younger audience and surprise people.

Abbey Road was a space I thought I knew, but I continue to discover new things every time I go in. For me, this process has underlined why shared creative spaces like Abbey Road Studios matter. I hope this film will carry that message.”

Mary McCartney – September 2022 – From abbeyroad.com, September 20, 2022

Vanity Fair: We’re showing a clip from the film of you talking with your dad about Jet the pony. I love that photo of them on the famous Abbey Road crosswalk. And you even say that it helped inspire this documentary. Can you tell me more about it?

Mary McCartney: Yeah, I’m a photographer. That’s been my main career and moving to directing felt like a natural progression. I’ve never done a feature documentary. And I was starting to think I’d like to do one. And then I had a message from a friend of mine who’s a brilliant documentary producer, John Battsek [Oscar-winning producer of the documentaries One Day in September and Searching for Sugar Man.] He said, “Would you do a documentary about the history of Abbey Road Studios?” And I was a bit like, “Ohhhh, I’m not sure for my first documentary that is right.” 

It was too close to the family?

It felt too close. I still work closely on my mother’s archive, so I messaged the woman that runs that at my dad’s office and I said, “Have you got any photos of me at Abbey Road?” And she instantly texted me back the pictures that are at the front [of the film] and I just thought, “I’m going to have to do this documentary.”

And the pony photo came with that?

Then I remembered when I was young, my mom loved horses so much. We had horses, not in London, but she would get to have them visit for the day from the livery stable. And I remember her taking this horse, Jet, as they were crossing and seeing that picture and just thinking, “Oh my God. I mean, obviously I have to do this documentary.” So then I phoned my friend John and I said, “I’m in.”

I know the documentary goes well beyond Paul and The Beatles, but I love that this was a personal entry point. I felt like I got to know you a little better as it was starting. And then you were the guide to this world.

I didn’t want to over overplay it. I am passionate about Abbey Road as a place because I do think a lot of people don’t have the opportunity to go there. When you do get to walk into Abbey Road, I do believe people get this feeling. It is sort of a spiritual experience and the studios still have the atmosphere that they had from when they opened 90 years ago. I want to make it an emotional experience as a documentary, rather than doing all the historical points. I didn’t want it to feel like a lesson. I really, really hope the viewer falls in love with it.

The Abbey Road album, of course, connects us to Abbey Road Studios because everybody knows the album. But this photo of Paul was interesting because it’s the same place, but a different time than when that album cover was taken. It’s during the Wings era. And he’s walking back the opposite way. It felt very symbolic in that way. And it’s a horse instead of John Lennon. [Laughs.]

Yeah, it’s comical! It’s like a new start, isn’t it? It’s like he’s with his wife, they’ve fallen in love and they’re obsessed with animals. And they’re going to break the rules a little bit by taking a horse into Abbey Road Studios. But also, I wanted to open on that zebra crossing because it is a place of pilgrimage for so many people. […]

I wish you luck as you take this to Telluride. The last question I have for you is, whatever became of Jet the pony?

Jet was our pony for a very long time. He was named after the  [1973] song. He was a feisty little pony who we rode and loved. But it all comes back. I mean, that’s a very unusual photo. And I loved the idea that by doing this documentary, I have been able to show the world one of my favorite photographs, which is my mother taking our pony across the zebra crossing to the studio. I just think it shows her character to a T and what a rule-breaker she was.

Mary McCartney – From When Paul McCartney Crossed Abbey Road With a Pony | Vanity Fair, September 2, 2022
From When Paul McCartney Crossed Abbey Road With a Pony | Vanity Fair, September 2, 2022
From Club Sandwich #6, December 1977

Last updated on November 21, 2022

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