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If These Walls Could Sing review – mystery tour of Abbey Road Studios | Movies

Putting her privileged access to good use, Mary McCartney has directed this enjoyable documentary about Abbey Road Studios in London – famously the site of the Beatles’ classic recordings (her dad is Paul of course), but much more besides. McCartney’s film takes us through the history of the building itself (in the St John’s Wood neighbourhood of London, perhaps only Lord’s cricket ground is more of an English icon).

It was designed to house a symphony orchestra, and its first occupant in 1931 was Edward Elgar conducting the LSO. It looks very different from the way we think of recording studios,small spaces divided from the mixing suite by a pane of glass. In fact two of the studios are huge, where mighty producer George Martin presided over everything from suites accessed by flights of stairs, like going up to the manager’s office from the echoing factory shop floor.

Paul McCartney is interviewed, as well as Elton John and Jimmy Page, who talk about their days as session musicians there. The Beatles did their best work at Abbey Road, as did Pink Floyd, Oasis and so many more. But there was also Jacqueline du Pré recording the Elgar cello concerto; McCartney’s film has great footage of her vivid, beaming face as she rehearses with Daniel Barenboim.

The 1960s gave Abbey Road its golden age of pop and then, just as times were economically hard in the 70s, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and John Williams gave it a new lease of life by making it their home for recording the rousing orchestral scores for their hit movies. Williams gives a fine account of how Abbey Road – though a shoebox compared to Hollywood soundstages – is large enough to give the music its reverberant “bloom” but small enough to preserve detail and articulation. And he and his colleagues were amused at how drinking alcohol in the canteen didn’t seem to hinder the workrate. I have only one quarrel with the film: I would have liked to see something about Abbey Road’s part in the history of comedy, with Martin producing Peter Sellers’ comedy LP work there. But it’s a diverting private tour.

If These Walls Could Sing is released on 6 January on Disney+.

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Photo by Xu Haiwei on Unsplash