Mary McCartney is making a legacy with a film about Abbey Roads Studios

When Mary McCartney was approached by producer John Battsek (“Searching for Sugar Man,” “One Day in September”) about making a film about London’s legendary Abbey Road Studios, she didn’t jump at the chance, but almost every other photographer did , who is interested in taking the leap into documentary filmmaking, might have done so. It’s not hard to see why she might have resisted and then succumbed to the idea of ​​”If These Walls Could Sing,” which premiered at the Telluride Film Festival and aired on Disney+ over the weekend.

“I think my last name makes me a little oversensitive,” says Paul McCartney’s daughter, sitting at a sidewalk table in Telluride. “I used to shy away from anything to do with my family because I wanted to make a name for myself with my photography in my own field. I mean, I’ve always been very proud of my family, but lately I’ve realized (I shouldn’t) actually shy away from it because I feel like I’m being judged. …. I used to think my family is my family and my career is my career and now I’ve gotten to the point where I’m confident enough to combine the two.”

It didn’t hurt to admit that the Beatles’ Abbey Road adventures in the ’60s are obviously just part of the studio’s story, albeit significant enough to satisfy Disney+’s Beatles craving for “Get Back” content . (No premiere date for the film has been announced on the service.) Fans of classic rock will likely be equally interested in the stories Roger Waters, David Gilmour, and Nick Mason tell about the making of “The Dark Side of the Moon.” , they say, as they will in McCartney’s chats with her father and Ringo Starr. But talking to the director, you quickly get a sense of who you thinks he’s a rock star.

“I literally thought, ‘I love my job’ when I got the chance to interview John Williams. That was a highlight in my life,” she says. “Oh my god, I fell in love with him. He is so talented and such a gentleman and just being in his presence and sitting with him made me really happy.”

Mary McCartney at the Telluride Film Festival, September 4, 2022

Chris Willman/Diversity

Williams is one of the main protagonists in If These Walls Could Sing, which chronicles how the studio has been in the classical music business for much of its history, and the score really flourished after Williams directed Raiders of the Lost Ark ran the orchestra-sized Studio 1 and has often returned for Star Wars sequels and other projects. Most eloquently, Williams describes the particular sonic qualities of the Abbey Road facilities, although McCartney notes: “He does it in such an eloquent way that it’s almost non-technical because you can understand it in layman’s terms. ”

Here’s how she explains it: “I’m doing it for an audience to get in the studio. It’s not really about all the technical innovations and things like that. It’s more about the album stories, personal stories and the space and how much it means to people. And with the interviews, I tried to keep them very relaxed and intimate and talkative. I wanted an informality, like an accessibility.”

So does talking to her father, who, while invariably charming in interviews, seems to give 20% more when he’s with her. She agrees: “I felt that too. I was really happy because when you interview people you don’t know what mood they’re going to be in that day. But Dad is so passionate about Abbey Road he was very good at talking especially about the people who work there and what great technicians they are so I think maybe that’s why he gave that extra 20% because he really wanted to speak up for the place that has so many memories for him.

“I feel like Abbey Road Studios helped formulate the Beatles’ sound, not just because of the room they recorded in, but because of the instruments lying around there.” This is illustrated in the film when the senior McCartney notices a specific piano in the room and walks over to play “Lady Madonna on it.” “Mrs. Mills [a novelty artist of the ’60s] was this famous pianist who played all these happy party tunes and she had this piano. The instruments just lay around Abby Road, which is true to this day… I mean it really influenced the Beatles music, and Pink Floyd, the same, because of new technology and new machines and instruments lying around that eventually made their way found in the recordings because they happened to be in the studio. Not because they said, “Let’s buy a piano today. Let’s rent one and then we’ll do it – it was just part of the furniture.”

Elton John didn’t record his most famous albums there, but he remembers his days as a studio musician playing piano on hits like “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.” (In the credits he calls Sir Paul to recount how he met him in the studio in the ’60s and it was the greatest moment of his life up to that point.) Jimmy Page also talks about being a session guitarist in Abbey Road as a teenager, and his amazement at being almost in the front row of the “Goldfinger” session and watching Shirley Bassey huff and puff until she literally collapsed.

Starr is also on his game when he recalls that the White Album’s “Yer Blues” was one of his favorite tracks the Beatles ever recorded, not because it utilized the studio’s vastly evolving technology, but quite the opposite: The Gruppe retreated to a camp area to become more gritty. He also talks about the initially very bad idea of ​​ending “A Day in the Life” with a choir hum, and the much better idea they came up with of ending it with multiple pianos playing the same chord. “This section [about ‘A Day in the Life’] is one of my favorite parts,” says the filmmaker. “But it was pretty emotional when he said that about ‘Yer Blues.’ I think it was good to be able to interview him at Abbey Road because when you walk into the room you get a feeling of coming home. It holds a lot of memories because they didn’t tear down walls and change it.”

How much has it changed? “They built a lot of smaller rooms to be more convenient, so more people could visit who might not be able to afford a big recording studio,” says McCartney. “But Studio 1 and Studio 2 have remained essentially the same as they were. The acoustics – why tinker with something when it’s so great? Studio 3 was always updated, but 1 and 2 were always kept. This gives you a sense of modernity and history. And there’s a great canteen,” she adds, “that’s fun.”

The only ominous note in the documentary comes when the studio hits hard times, faced with competition from far leaner London operations, and the building is sold with much of the content sold out. But obviously not Mrs Mills’ piano – so how much was really kept? McCartney explains, “There’s a guy named Lester Smith who is in the documentary. And there were times when people said, “We need to get rid of some of this stuff” and sell it, because physically, how much space do you have in the studio? They kept as much as they could. But Lester is famous on Abbey Road because when he heard things might be in danger (to get rid of them) he would hide them and then bring them back when it was safe for them to come back. So to this day, people are going to be like, “Oh, I wish we still had one of those mics,” and he’s going to walk away and be like, “Oh, I just happened to find one here.” So it’s full of great characters that are there work and have this great passion.”


Mary McCartney in Telluride

Dixon Knox

Classical fans will be pleased that McCartney doesn’t skimp on this aspect of the studio’s history. “When I dealt with the fact that I’m making this documentary, I became obsessed with it, and then it became so much this learning journey. Because I didn’t know it’s been open ’90 years’ – before that it was a nine-bedroom house – ‘and I didn’t see all the classic connections.’ Kingdom was great and who gets a good chunk of screen time, the glamorous young cellist Jacqueline Du Pre. The crossover musician’s story is both inspirational and tragic, and it leaves you wanting to see more. “I said that last night — I thought we had to do a whole documentary about Jacqueline,” says McCartney.

Kate Bush makes a rare modern appearance in the documentary, albeit audio-only. “It’s amazing to have Kate with us because she produced her third album there, shot her video there… I kind of got in touch with her. I know she doesn’t do interviews but I know she really cares about Abbey Road so over time she kindly agreed to do an audio post which she wrote and sent to me. It’s also very special to let her voice speak about the room.”

Another person who rarely shows up: Mary McCartney. She appears primarily in the beginning of the film to establish that she grew up somewhat within its walls when Wings was recording there, and then steps back for the remainder of most of it.

“One reason I was kind of like, ‘Oh, I have to do this’ was when I found this baby photo of her in the studio in the early ’70s. “Then I had seen a biography about the history of the place, and I saw this picture of my mother leading the pony” – called Jet – across the intersection. And I was like, that is So my mother. She was so obsessed with animals and treated them as individuals. This image stuck in my mind. But it was actually my editor’s idea when we were trying to figure out how to go about it. And he’s like, ‘Look, I want you to be open to that. I know you don’t really want to be there.” And then I was like, ‘You know what? You’re right.’ When we did that, I felt like maybe it brought more emotion or connected me more to the story.”

But McCartney wasn’t just dragged to Abbey Road as a child – she’s returned often as an adult and has known many of the staff, even attending anniversary celebrations for longtime boss Ken Townshend before he retired.

The Telluride reception was gratifying: “Until yesterday I had never seen it with an audience. You’re working so hard on something and you’re wondering how it’s going to be received? But audiences especially responded to the Shirley Bassey/Jimmy Page scene because it’s so dramatic and it’s so brilliant and dramatic,” says McCartney proudly.

She hopes to make more documentaries. “I’m glad John convinced me and I didn’t say no. I’ve learned to hold on to opportunities when they’re presented to you. You can be a lot lonelier when taking photos. When I was directing, I realized that I also really like working in a team. I’m glad,” she says, “that I spoke to myself.” Mary McCartney is making a legacy with a film about Abbey Roads Studios

Charles Jones

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