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80 Years of Abbey Road Studios

Well, not quite 80 years for film music at Abbey Road. Following the success of major films like Star Wars and Superman, which were filmed and produced entirely in the UK, the scoring stage Anvil struck a deal with Abbey Road’s manager Ken Townsend. A new company Anvil-Abbey Road Screen Sound was formed and by the end of 1980 the first full orchestra film scoring session had taken place in Studio One (The Empire Strikes Back was only part-scored at Abbey Road, the majority was recorded at Anvil following on from its predecessor, Star Wars). The Studio gained a new kudos and still holds a reputation as the film community’s first choice for film scoring outside the US.

Additionally, a new modern studio was being built on the top floor of Abbey Road. Named the Penthouse studio, its 48 track machine plus Neve console and windows that looked out onto the skyline of St John’s Wood are a rare feature for any studio.

One of the first major movies to take advantage of the new scoring facilities at Abbey Road was Raiders Of the Lost Ark, the first joint movie venture for Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. It was released internationally in 1981 and John Williams was nominated for both an Oscar and BAFTA award for Best Score. He went on to receive the Grammy Award for Best Album of Original Score Written for A Motion Picture in 1982. Listening to that score today and the dynamics are so crisp and clear, thanks in no small part to Abbey Road's unique accoustic which Williams himself has always praised. I had the fortune to experience Raiders of the Lost Ark on the big screen recently, as part of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra's Film Music Festival (The Soundtrack to your Summer) last month, and it was a fantastic print with excellent DolbySR sound quality. What struck me was how loud the music was mixed, the LSO's brass section was utterly piercing and it reminded me how much I miss that overpowering final sound mix that really lets the music take centre stage, a rare occurence these days.

Jerry Goldsmith's Night Crossing is a personal favourite, recorded with the National Philharmonic in Studio One of Abbey Road during 1982. It's such a beautifully recorded score, so rich and vibrant. Perhaps the finest example of Abbey Rd's superb ambience is Sony Classical's The Hollywood Sound. Shawn Murphy and Simon Rhodes' superb balance and mixing also help cement that appraisal. Just listen to The Wizard of Oz, ET,and The Beauty and the Beast's warm sound, far surpassing previous recordings (just to clarify, I mean the best of the endless recordings of ET's Flying Theme, not the actual original soundtrack recording). Not to forget The Devil and Daniel Webster with its glorious percussion, making you actually feel like you are in the studio with the orchestra. Plus, in my opinion this album features the finest recording of Star Wars. Robert Townson's own Varese In Session album also features some Abbey Road recorded highlights, with the LSO and NPO. Some of which will be performed in concert this coming Sunday, but more about that in a moment.

Abbey Road is of course still used today and they are as busy as ever! The final Harry Potter was scored there a couple of months ago, as was James Horner's forthcoming Cristiada in early May. Horner's famous complaint that Abbey Road was technologically out of date in 1986 when he was scoring Aliens is now obsolete!

1980 may have been the studio's first film scoring year, but 2011 sees the studio celebrate its 80th Anniversary. On November 12 1931, Sir Edward Elgar, by then one of Britain’s most distinguished composers, conducted the historic recording of Land Of Hope and Glory, played by the London Symphony Orchestra in studio one. Elgar continued to record some of his most celebrated compositions at Abbey Road until his death in 1934 and this legendary piece of music will actually be performed as part of this weekend's special Anniversary concerts: Symphony in the Park with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Crouch End Festival Chorus and conductors, Joel McNeely and Nick Ingman.

The location is the exquisite surroundings of London's Chiswick Park and on Sunday 21st August at 7.15pm, this unique open-air concert will showcase just some of the best Abbey Road Studios recorded film music (plus some others thrown in for good measure!). Below is the full repertoire and i'm sure you'll agree that experiencing Bishop's Countdown from Aliens, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Memphis Belle's Final Battle and The Final Conflict Finale LIVE (could there BE anymore finals?!) will be particular highlights. As well as the concert premiere of Joel McNeely's own wonderfully melodic Return to Neverland.


First Half:


Return to Neverland: Main Titles & Reunion (Joel McNeely)

Amadeus: Marriage of Figaro Overture & Dies Irae from Requiem (Mozart)

Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone: Hedwig’s Suite (John Williams)

Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows: Obliviate (Alexandre Desplat)

Chicken Run: Building The Crate (John Powell & Harry Gregson-Williams)

2001: A Space Odyssey: Space Station Docking (Alex North)

The Phantom of the Opera (Andrew Lloyd Webber)

Batman: Batman Theme & Main Title (Danny Elfman)

Quest For Fire: Love Theme (Philippe Sarde)

The English Patient: Suite (Gabriel Yared)

Memphis Belle: Final Mission (George Fenton)

The Final Conflict: Alleluia and End Title (Jerry Goldsmith)


Second Half


Star Trek: The Motion Picture: End Title (Jerry Goldsmith)

Aliens: Bishop’s Countdown (James Horner)

The Lord of the Rings: Mount Doom (Howard Shore)

Out of Africa (from Moviola) (John Barry)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (John Williams)

Shadowlands: End Titles (George Fenton)

Braveheart: End Titles (James Horner)

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace: Duel of the Fates

(John Williams)


More information and details of ticket packages can be found here: and Robert Townson is actually one of the organisers and producers, so we'll be in good hands!

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Comments (6):Log in or register to post your own comments
Why the phrase "British composer John Williams"?

Sorry about that, I slapped myself so hard for not picking up on that mistake I now have a red blotch on my cheek!

Following the success of major films like Star Wars and Superman, which were filmed and produced entirely in the UK

Well, if you don't count the parts of the former that were filmed in Tunisia, Guatemala and California (unless the UK has a desert that nobody's ever mentioned!) and the parts of the latter that were filmed in the USA and Canada... :)

I'll be there on the Sunday! Hopefully the weather will be less unpleasant than it has been today.

Following the success of major films like Star Wars and Superman, which were filmed and produced entirely in the UK

Well, if you don't count the parts of the former that were filmed in Tunisia, Guatemala and California (unless the UK has a desert that nobody's ever mentioned!) and the parts of the latter that were filmed in the USA and Canada... :)

Good point, thanks. I should've stated UK Studios only. Somebody should invent a fact-checker app!

A nice article. One point: EMPIRE was recorded wholly at Anvil. No sessions took place at Abbey Road. The last sessions at Anvil were for FLASH GORDON in June 1980.


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