Q: Why did the Anoraks cross Abbey Road?

A: To record a hit record!

If you've been following the Otway Hit story, you'll know why 900 people descended on the EMI Abbey Road Studios in St John's Wood on Saturday, April 30th 2002. If not, read on...

It was a brilliant idea. Over the years, Otway's performance of 'House of The Rising Sun' had been 'enhanced' by audience heckles, and this gradually evolved into a 'call-and-response' routine, with the audience involved almost as much as Otway.

Fans of the man very much want to give him a second hit for his 50th birthday in October, so a cunning plan was hatched. Why not book the Abbey Road studios (where else) and ask 900 people if they'd like to come along and sing on the record's 'b' side. How many offers do you get like that? People with as much as a minuscule interest in music, would jump at the chance to participate in any recording at Abbey Road and I'm willing to bet many would be prepared to pay more than 20 for the experience! Chris and I jumped at the chance and bought Jenny a ticket as a Christmas prezzie!

Abbey Road management thought a real choir was coming. They became a little nervous after they discovered that their studios had been booked by a lunatic 'musician', his backing band and 900 hecklers! They need not have worried. The event was brilliantly organised, with three recording sessions during the day, involving three '300-piece choirs'. We all arrived at the appointed time (our session was scheduled for 1.30), held up the traffic by taking endless photos of people on the world's best-known zebra-crossing, and waved to the Abbey Road Studios webcam, which also points at that famous stripy road feature, now used as the studio logo.

Next, the members of Choir #2 queued outside the studio building, where we were handed our yellow 'lyric sheets'. There was no room for artistic improvisation – it was vital that everyone shouted the same heckles at the same time! I think most of us felt quite in awe of the building we were about to enter. We filed in when told, in a well-behaved crocodile, along corridors lined with posters for movies with soundtracks recorded in 'our' studio, among them Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Lord of the Rings, Shrek and Star Wars Episode 1. The yellow sheet informed us that we were recording 'next door to a rather large orchestra who cannot be disturbed'. The studios are obviously modelled on the 'Tardis'; as it says on the Abbey Road website, "It's much bigger on the inside than the outside!"

Spot the Superstar singer! Yes, you're right, there are TWO here – John Otway and Mary Payne. 'Metal Richard' briefs newly-arrived vocalists on 'heavy singing' techniques A fan is tested on his knowledge of the lyrics without the aid of a songsheet.
Lee Harvey Osmond claims ownership of the shoulder to the far right of this picture and says his mates Irene, Trudi and Dave are the choir members standing behind him.

At the door to Studio One, we were greeted by Patsy Andrews, one of the very hard-working organisers, and we all signed-in on a huge card, to prove that we had really been a part of Otway's choir. Inside, T-shirts were already available with all 900 choir-member names printed on them.
When everyone was present, Otway and the band performed a couple of 'warm-up' numbers and then we rehearsed for our big moment. At first, the 'choir' wasn't quite managing to heckle together, but after a bit of practise, we improved. (That's my story, anyway.) We even got to 'sing' (a term used very loosely here ) a couple of lines and a chorus at the end of the song, with Otway heckling us!

Warm-up for Recording Session II – the Best of the Three! Richard attempts to count down us backing singers for 'overdubs'. Oooh! An impressive pair of knees are on display in Otway's backing band

The red lights came on and it was time to go for a 'take'! How many people in that studio looked up at the red lights and the microphones suspended over the 'choir' and thought, "WOW! I'm recording a record in Abbey Road Studios!!!!!!!!!!!!"?

We all performed magnificently. Then, after the take, we had to do 'overdubs'. Otway informed us that Choir #1 hadn't done any overdubs, so Choir #2 already felt superior! 'Metal' Richard had found he had a talent for acting as Floor Manager, and that he could managed to count backwards from five to one with the aid of his fingers, so he counted us in, as we repeated our heckles for posterity. Eventually, the disembodied voice from the control room told us that everything was to the engineer's satisfaction. Choir #2 had done their duty and it was time to make way for Choir #3.

Otway displays his agony as a prat who owns nothing but a suitcase and a 'tronc'.
This lady was making a comeback after failing the audition for the New Vaudeville Band in 1966. Ann Davies (with megaphone) and Martin (blond hair, beside Ann). See Feedback, below.
Only another 300 to go! Signatures from the 'backing vocalists' for sessions one and two.
Mary, Jenny and Chris:
Top vocalists pose in their recording studio...

What could anyone do to top an experience like that? Go to the Mean Fiddler in Charing Cross Road in the evening, and record the video promo to go with 'your' single, that's what! Otway held the rough mix of our record in his hand like a holy relic, as his 'choir' manhandled him (another holy relic) from the stage to the back, to present the disc to the guy manning the PA desk. Our masterpiece was then played so that we could mime to it for the video recording. A pity the chior managed to drop Otway on the way back to the stage, though! Luckily, the same fate did not befall Richard, who was afforded the same honour, accompanied by his guitar.

Recording the video promo at the Mean Fiddler - with Richard going 'metal'. Video 'director' Steve Frost (yellow jacket) attempts to 'direct' Richard
Rehearsing for 'Top Of The Pops' – miming for the cameras
One more time: "Who's a prat?"

So far, no decision has been taken as to which of Otway's new songs is going to have the honour of appearing on the single's 'A' side. Fans are going to be given the opportunity to vote on it. However, Chris, Jenny and I think the fans' weird B-side rendition of House of the Rising Sun is batty enough to become a novelty hit in its own right. The question is, if 'House' becomes a hit, will all 900 backing singers be able to cram into the Top of the Pops studio?

Mary Payne

See photos taken by another choir member, 'Plucker'

Feedback:

True Confessions – Ann and Martin Davies: "I was the lady with the Oxford Boat Race megaphone" and "Otway ruined my blue suede shoes"!

Your article on Abbey Road is fantastic. I was there at that session (Choir 2) and it was so evocative of the second session. It's all so true and was so awesome! Your photos were excellent. Are you professional?

I was the "lady" with the Oxford Boat Race megaphone. It must have been lucky 'cos Oxford won. I missed the race, by the time I got back to Putney. The tow path was flooded and our best shoes (blue suede in my husband's case, worn for Otway) were ruined.

The promoter at the Halfmoon in Putney Caroline Davies (Carrie) was named after Radio Caroline. We did our courting in the Dunes at Camber whilst listening to Caroline. Her mummy is me, the "lady" with megaphone; her daddy, Martin, is the one with ash blonde hair (or is it grey? Love is blind) behind me.

Pictures © Chris Payne

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