Mary McCartney Embraces Legacy With Film About Abbey Road Studios

When Mary McCartney was approached by producer John Battsek (“Searching for Sugar Man,” “One Day in September”) to make a film out of London’s legendary Abbey Road Studios, she didn’t immediately jump on the job. opportunity, almost any other photographer interested in making the leap into documentary filmmaking could have it. It’s not hard to guess why she might have hesitated and then succumbed to the idea of ​​making “If These Walls Could Sing,” which premiered at the Telluride Film Festival over the weekend and was picked up for broadcast on Disney+.

“I think because of my last name, I’m getting a little too sensitive,” says Paul McCartney’s daughter, sitting at a table adjacent to the sidewalk in Telluride. “I used to be afraid of everything that concerned my family, wanting with my photography to make a name for myself in my own region. I mean, I’ve always been very proud of my family, but I recently realized (I should) not be afraid because I feel like I’m being judged. …. Before, I was like, my family is my family and my career is my career, and now I’m at the point where I’m confident enough to merge the two.

It didn’t hurt to consider that the Beatles’ adventures in Abbey Road in the 60s are obviously only part of the studio’s history, although it is important enough to fill the need from Disney+ for the post-“Get Back” Beatles. contents. (A premiere date for the film on the service has yet to be announced.) Classic rock fans will likely be equally interested in the stories told by Roger Waters, David Gilmour and Nick Mason about the making of “The Dark Side.” of the Moon,” say, as they will in McCartney’s conversations with his dad and Ringo Starr. she considers himself a rock star.

“I was literally like ‘I love my job’ that I got to interview John Williams. It was a highlight of 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 feel really happy.

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

Chris Willman/Variety

Williams is a key player in “If These Walls Could Sing”, representing how the studio being in the classical music business for much of its history, and film music after that, really flourished after Williams scored “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in the orchestra-sized Studio 1, and has returned often for “Star Wars” sequels and other projects. It is Williams who is most eloquent in describing the particular sonic characteristics of the Abbey Road installations, although McCartney notes that “he does it in such an eloquent way, it’s almost not technical, because you can understand it as a layman. ”

As she explains, “I do it for an audience to bring it into the studio. It’s not really about all the technical innovations and things like that. It’s more about the stories of the album, the personal stories and the space and what that means to people. And with the interviews, I tried to keep them very relaxed and intimate and conversational. I wanted an informal atmosphere, like accessibility.

That goes for the conversation with her dad, who, while invariably charming in interviews, seems to give 20% more when he’s with her. She nods: “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 the amazing technicians that they are so I think maybe that’s why he gave those 20 % extra, because he really wanted to speak for the place that has so many memories for him.

“I feel like Abbey Road Studios helped shape the sound of The Beatles, not just because of the space they were recording in, but also because there were instruments lying around.” This is illustrated in the film when the senior McCartney notices a peculiar piano in the room and approaches to play “Lady Madonna on it”. “Mrs. Moulins [a novelty artist of the ’60s] was this famous pianist who made all these kinds of happy party melodies, and she had this upright piano. The instruments would just hang around Abby Road, which is true to this day… I mean, it really influenced the music of The Beatles, and Pink Floyd, likewise, because of new technology and new machinery and instruments lying around that ended up making their way into the recordings because they were in the studio. Not because they said, ‘Let’s bring an upright 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 remembers his time as a studio musician, playing piano on hits like “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.” (In the end credits, he makes a call with Sir Paul to talk about how he met him in the studio in the 60s and it was the greatest moment of his life at that time.) Jimmy Page also talks about being a session guitarist in Abbey Road as a teenager, and his amazement at being almost front row playing on the “Goldfinger” session and watching Shirley Bassey belt out until she literally collapsed.

Starr is also on his game because he remembers “Yer Blues” from the White Album being one of his favorite things the Beatles ever recorded, not because he took advantage of the rapidly developing technology of the studio, but rather the opposite: the group retreated to a storage area to become more gritty. He also talks about the really bad initial idea of ​​having “A Day in the Life” end with a choral 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 quite emotional when he said that about ‘Yer Blues’. I think being able to interview him at Abbey Road was a good thing because you feel when you walk into the homecoming space It holds a lot of memories because they didn’t tear down the walls and change it.

How much has it changed? “You know, they built a lot of smaller spaces to be more practical, so more people could visit who might not be able to afford a big recording studio,” McCartney explains. “But Studio 1 and Studio 2 basically stayed as they were. Acoustics – why spoil something if it’s so good? Studio 3 has always been updated, but 1 and 2 have always been kept. So you get a sense of modernity and history. And there’s a great canteen,” she adds, “which is fun.”

The only ominous note in the documentary comes when the studio falls on hard times, facing competition from much leaner operations in London, and the building is sold, along with much of the content sold. But not Mrs Mills’ piano, of course – so how much has it really been preserved? McCartney explains: “There’s a guy called Lester Smith which is in the documentary. And there were times when people were like, “We have 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 many as they could. But Lester is famous in Abbey Road because when he heard things might be in danger (of being eliminated) he would hide them and then bring them back when it was safe for them to return. So even today people will say, “Oh, I wish we had one more of those microphones,” and he’ll walk away and say, “Oh, I just found one here.” So it’s full of great people who work there and who have this great passion.

Mary McCartney in Telluride

Dixon Knox

Classical music fans will be glad McCartney doesn’t dwell on this aspect of the studio’s history. “Once I realized I was doing this documentary, I became obsessed with it, and then it became this learning journey. Because I hadn’t realized it had been around for 90 years” – before that it was a nine-bedroom house – “and I hadn’t realized all the classical connections. She was, however, aware of a classical performer who was big in the UK in the 60s and who spends a much of the screen time, glamorous young cellist Jacqueline Du Pre. The crossover musician’s story is both inspiring and tragic and you want to see more.” I was saying last night — I was like, we have to do a whole documentary about Jacqueline,” McCartney said.

Kate Bush makes a rare modern appearance in the documentary, albeit in audio only. “It’s amazing to have Kate there because she produced her third album there, made her video there… I kind of got in touch with her. I know she doesn’t interviews, but I know she has a real affection for Abbey Road, so over time she kindly agreed to do an audio track which she wrote and sent to me. her voice that speaks out of space is also quite special.

Someone else who makes a rare appearance: Mary McCartney. She mostly appears early in the film, to establish that she grew up somewhat within its walls as Wings was recording there, and then backs off for most of the rest.

“One of the reasons I was kind of, ‘Oh, I need to do this’ was when I found this baby photo” of herself in the studio in the early 70s “Then I saw a biography of the history of the place, and I saw this picture of my mother driving the pony ‘-named Jet’ through the crossing. And I was like, this is then my mother. She was so obsessed with animals and treated them as individuals. This image stuck in my mind. But that was actually my editor’s idea, when we were trying to figure out how to start it. And he’s like, ‘Look, I want you to be open to this. I know you don’t really want to be part of it. And then I was like, ‘You know what? You are right.’ When we did that, I felt like it brought more emotion, maybe, or connected me more to the story.

But McCartney wasn’t content to be dragged to Abbey Road as a child – she returned often as an adult and knew many of the staff, even attending birthday parties for the chef. longtime Ken Townshend before his retirement.

Telluride’s reception has been gratifying: “I never watched it in public until yesterday. You work so hard on something and you think, how is it going to be received? But the audience particularly reacted to the Shirley Bassey/Jimmy Page scene, because it’s so dramatic and it’s so bright and dramatic,” McCartney proudly states.

She hopes to do more documentaries. “I’m glad John convinced me and I didn’t say no. I learned to seize opportunities when they are offered to you. By doing photography, you can be much more lonely. While leading this, I discovered that I also really like working in a team. I’m glad, she said, to have had a word with myself.

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