Ken Scott has worked with some of the most influential artists in the history of pop music, including David Bowie and The Beatles
The early years of his career as a producer and sound engineer were spent at the world famous Abbey Road studios, where one of his first jobs was working on A Hard Day’s Night at the age of just 17.
Alex Nelson sat down with Ken to hear some of the stories from his time at the studios, and to find out some of the things you learn when working with the world’s biggest band.
1. Getting a job at Abbey Road was easier than you’d think
“It came about because I got fed up with school and wrote a load of letters to them. Then I had an interview and was accepted two days later – and started to work at what became the world’s most famous recording studio.
“I started off in the tape library, and three or four months after that I got promoted and just happened to be put on the album with the biggest band in the world…”
2. You never know how big something is going to be
“I don’t think we ever knew that we’d still be talking about them 40 or 50 years later. Rock and roll wasn’t even that old at that point, so we had no idea.
“It was amazing [working with Beatles]. Here I am, a young kid, they’re my favourite band and I’m hearing things before everyone else and being in the same room with them.”
3. But working with The Beatles could be a terrifying thing
“My first memories of working at Abbey Road are of abject fear. When the first thing you ever do is with The Beatles it’s scary. Very scary.
“But I got through it. and kept on working with them as an assistant engineer from A Hard Day’s Night through to Rubber Soul.”
4. Communication didn’t always run smoothly
“The lead engineer left early one evening, and a lot of press people came in. The only communication between the control room and [me] was this really terrible talkback thing; you’d hear bits of what was said, and normally you could piece it together.
“These press people were being played what we’d recorded, and at one point I heard [producer] George Martin come over the talkback. There were lots of other voices going on behind him and the only thing that I heard was ‘…home’.
“I thought he meant we’d finished, so I switched off the power, and as I’m heading out I walk past George who is standing at the door and he says ‘is it up yet?’ And I say ‘I’m sorry, is what up?’
“He says ‘have you got ‘When I Get Home’ up yet?’ and I think ‘oh… sh*t!’
“I pretended that I just had to get the tape that was in the other room, and I quickly went back and played it for them. I seemed to go through quite a few situations where I thought ‘OK, I’m going to lose my job!'”
5. Abbey Road wasn’t as laid back as you thought
“It wasn’t quite Victorian, but it was certainly that style of having to wear a suit and tie the entire time. It was very…’regimental’, I guess would be the best way of describing it.
“There was a set of studio ‘roadies’ called the Brown Coats, simply because they had to wear brown lab coats.
“Then you had the maintenance staff that had to wear white lab coats all of the time, and we as assistant engineers had to wear nice trousers, a jacket and a nice shirt.
“It wasn’t a comfortable place to work, but that slowly changed thanks to The Beatles and [Pink] Floyd and bands like that, that came in right in the height of ‘flower power’, and it started to ease up.”
6. The Beatles worked crazy hours
“The older engineers hated working with The Beatles because of the hours. Originally it was 10 in the morning until one in the afternoon, two-thirty until five-thirty, and then seven ’til 10, and the older engineers had got used to those hours and that’s how they liked to work.
“But The Beatles often wouldn’t come in until four or five o’clock in the afternoon and they’d work until four or five o’clock in the morning.
“The older engineers hated that, but we as the younger generation had no problems working until 5am – especially with a band like The Beatles!”
7. The band were always experimental
“The Beatles were forcing us as the recording engineers to come up with new ideas all the time, which – as a trainee engineer – was absolutely incredible, because I got to experiment, whereas a lot of engineers when they first start have to do things exactly the way the person before them has done, because they don’t have time to mess around.
“I could try any mic I wanted to, and put it anywhere I wanted to, because The Beatles always wanted things to sound different. So that opened up everything to me.”
8. John Lennon took your jokes seriously
“There was one day when we were doing a vocal, and because we were trying to do it in a strange way, on one of the playbacks I turned to John and said ‘the way you guys are going you’re going to want to record in there next!’ pointing to this really small room – it was tiny.
“He just looked at me and didn’t say anything, and we just carried on. But a couple of days later, he comes out with ‘we’re going to record a new song, and we’re going to record it in there’. So we had to fit the entire band – drums, bass, two guitars, live vocal – all in this very small room, and that’s ‘Yer Blues’.
“It was done live, and if any of the guitarists had spun around too fast, someone would’ve lost their head.”
Ken Scott was visiting Leeds Beckett University to hold a music production masterclass