LONDON, Feb.17, 2010 -- Pay a visit to Abbey Road studios on any given day and chances are you will see this: tourists, cameras in hand, re-creating the famous cover shot from the eponymous Beatles album.
It is a London landmark that draws people from all over the world.
But there is no gift shop and no tour to take. Abbey Road studios is still a fully operational recording facility. The only souvenir it offers is the opportunity to line up one after the other just like John, Paul, George and Ringo did in 1969 and stroll across the cross walk to get your own Abbey Road shot.
And soon, that may be all that's left. The Abbey Road studios are up for sale, according to the Financial Times. EMI Group Ltd, the music company owned by buyout firm Terra Firma Capital Partners Ltd., is apparently looking for a buyer to help dig itself out of staggering debt.
The group has not yet confirmed the sale but it is $3.9 billion in the red. A June deadline is fast approaching; the company must come up with a $188 million installment payment it owes Citigroup.
The studio is best known for its connection to the Beatles. The band recorded most of its music there throughout the 1960s. But its history is extraordinarily varied; from film scores such as Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings to full orchestral symphonies. Pink Floyd produced Dark Side of the Moon and Manic Street Preachers at Abbey road Studios. More recently Travis, Blur and Snow Patrol have recorded there.
"As an iconic cultural site Abbey Road is of huge importance," said Ivo Dawney, the director the National Trust, a British charity that protects and preserves over 350 historic homes and monuments throughout the country. Dawney said inquires from the public are already coming in as to whether the organization may be willing or able to purchase Abbey Road studios.
The childhood homes in Liverpool, England, of both Sir Paul McCartney and the late John Lennon are preserved exactly as they were when the two members of the Beatles were in their teens, courtesy of the National Trust. But Abbey Road studios is prime west London real estate. The asking price is estimated to be as high as $47 million.
A Massive Amount of Money
"That would be a massive amount of money for us," said Dawney. He said the National trust is open to looking at what extent the world public would come behind a campaign to acquire Abbey Road studios.
"I do know there are a few people associated with the studio for a long time who were talking about mounting a bid to save it. And I sympathize with them you know I hope they can do something great," McCartney told BBC News.
"You see I've got so many memories there with the Beatles. It's still a great studio. So it would be lovely for someone to get things together and save it," McCartney added.
If they were to launch such an effort it would require international backing from music history fans in the U.S., France, Japan (places with a large amount of Beatles fans) and elsewhere.
The timing of the sale could actually be prescient from an archival perspective; experts say there is a growing awareness within the UK of the need to preserve popular music heritage. But there is also the potential for an aggressive commercial interest to develop the property.
"Historically popular music has been seen as quite an ephemeral media. A lot of the materials associated with it have been left to decline," said Marion Leonard, a senior lecturer at the Institute of Popular Music at the University of Liverpool. "There is a growing recognition of the need to collect that material."
"There is a whole history of British music in Abbey Road studios," she went on. "It is a lot more than real estate."