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[…] In the mid-60’s, Richard Hewson was attending college at the Guild Hall in London. Though studying classical music, he had a strong interest in jazz. “We had a little band; there was only three of us,” recalls Hewson. “I played guitar in those days. We had a drummer called Nigel Anthony, who’s now an actor.” The bass player was another friend of Hewson’s, former Peter & Gordon member Peter Asher, who played upright bass in the combo. “We used to go around to his basement in Wimpole Street and practice. At the time, Paul was going out with Peter’s sister, Jane, so I got to know him then.”
Shortly thereafter, Asher, through his connection with McCartney, was hired as the head of A & R for Apple Records. During the early summer of 1968, Apple was preparing its first batch of singles, which was to include a disc by a new discovery of Paul’s named Mary Hopkin. Paul recorded Hopkin in June of that year performing a lovely tune he’d heard a few years back in a club by Gene Raskin, “Those Were the Days.” Paul decided it was to be scored with some strings, and henceforth turned to his new A & R man, Peter Asher, to come up with an arranger.
“Apple was a funny old place,” says Hewson. “It was very haphazard. Nobody really knew what anybody else was doing! Peter didn’t know anything about arrangers. All he knew was he knew me, and that I’d been to the Guild Hall and studied classical music. And he thought, ‘Okay, so Paul wants some orchestra on this. Richard probably knows how to write classical orchestra arrangements, let’s try him.’ That’s how I got the job, cause they didn’t know anybody else. That was lucky for me. If they’d looked around, they could probably have found a real arranger.”
It was Hewson’s first working job out of college, and would turn into a multi-million selling hit around the world. Hewson actually began working a few years earlier, “moonlighting” as a session player at EMI to make “pocket money” while still a student. “I used to get pulled out occasionally to do sessions, because I had a few connections.” [One of his employers at that time, oddly enough, was George Martin!]
To give “Those Were the Days” that “old country” feel, Hewson concoted a simple arrangement consisting of an acoustic guitar, upright bass, tuba, banjo, drums, a clarinet section, violins & violas, trumpets and an Hungarian instrument called a “cembalon”. “It was an unusual instrument played with hammers, like a dulcimer. There was only one guy in England who could play one – one of my professors, Gilbert Webster. That’s who’s on that recording.” The song was topped off by the addition of a boys choir.
Hewson began working regularly for Apple through 1969, scoring Hopkin’s album, Post Card, as well as her next single, “Goodbye,” written and produced by Paul. The latter featured “all violas, 12 of them in fact, with no other classical instruments. That was a first!” Asher also commissioned him to assemble string arrangements for his own new discovery, James Taylor, who was recording his first (and only) album for Apple. Hewson recalls, “He was very nice. He was an easygoing guy, but he was really out of it at the time. Quite weird, actually. He went to a mental home shortly after that.”
It wasn’t until the Spring of 1970 that Hewson did his most important arranging job for the Beatles: the lush orchestrations for the Let It Be album. “I got the call about 7:00 p.m. It was to be recorded the following day. I hate working at night; I’m not very good at it.” Hewson went to Apple and picked up the demo for “The Long and Winding Road” and George’s “I Me Mine” (the scoring for “Across the Universe” was assigned to another arranger, Brian Rogers). The former featured just piano, drums and McCartney’s vocal.
Hewson quickly began work for the session the following day, at 7 in the evening on April 1st at Abbey Road. “They said they wanted the whole thing orchestrated. I didn’t meet Phil Spector until the actual session.” But the two had plenty of contact, via the telephone. “He said, ‘I want it orchestrated with a massive orchestra.’ So I lined up an orchestra with what I thought was a massive orchestra. All through the night, he kept ringing up saying, ‘Let’s have some more violins. Let’s have three harps instead of one,’ and all that. There were so many musicians in the end that we couldn’t get them all in! We actually, literally, had to shut the door and say there’s enough.”
The session the following day was, as has been documented numerous times, no picnic either. Spector’s unusual behavior didn’t help matters. “He was surrounded by these bodyguards, all wearing these fedoras, you know, those gangster-type hats. He looked like a gangster.” Spector didn’t do much to improve his relationship with the musicians. “They turned the lights out in the control room. He was in there sitting in the dark with all these weird guys. I was actually a little frightened to go in there.”
Spector had the orchestra play the parts repeatedly, which quickly wore on the musicians. “He kept going, ‘Let’s have another take.’ He didn’t ever want to listen to a playback, he just wanted to play it over and over again. The guys were saying, ‘We played it. We can’t play it any better.’ It wasn’t that difficult music for those guys. They’re brilliant musicians. The first reading through is pretty well perfect, and the second one is right on. Eventually, after the tenth time, they got fed up and left.”
The only Beatle present was Ringo who, true to form, kept drumming faithfully along. “He was very cheery, and he didn’t seem to mind. He kept drumming every time we took a take.”
The results have always gotten mixed reviews from fans, but decidedly negative reviews from the group. “I know McCartney wasn’t too happy with the idea. I heard about it later. I know both he and George Martin didn’t like all that stuff, though Paul’s never said anything about it. I’ve worked with George Martin several times since. One time, I actually pulled his leg and said, ‘What about that, then?’ He sort of changed the subject!” How does the arranger himself feel about it? “It was just a job for me. I know they weren’t really keen on this big orchestra treatment. But history shows that it did well.”
A little more than a year later, during the second week in May 1971, Hewson once again received a call from Paul McCartney. “He called and said, ‘How’d you fancy orchestrating the Ram album for an orchestra, you know, without any vocals?'” Even though he was unfamiliar with the album at the time of the call, Hewson was not one to turn down a job from Paul McCartney.
In fact, at the time of that call, no one had heard Ram yet; it hadn’t been released. It was the second week in May 1971, and the album wasn’t due for release in the UK until May 28. It is interesting to note, at this point, that McCartney had begun the orchestral version of his new album before his own version was even released. Just what Paul had in mind is to this day a mystery. “He just wanted to do it,” remembers Hewson. “Just make an orchestral album of it. We didn’t really discuss how it was going to be presented at the time. Nobody sort of thought of it.” In fact, if you think about it, had the album been released at the time it was recorded, it would likely have appeared on the Apple label (though at the time, Paul’s business was handled separately from Apple’s, by his father-in-law’s firm, Eastman & Eastman, with Paul only releasing records through the label).
Hewson was sent an advance copy of the new album, on which his arrangement would be based. He set about immediately writing the various arrangements for the entire album, which would take him nearly a month, working on barely anything else in between.
[In fact, Hewson was called in to meet with producer Tony Visconti at Apple on May 19 at 11:30 a.m. to discuss scoring the A-side of Mary Hopkin’s next single, “Let My Name Be Sorrow,” Visconti’s first project with Hopkin (they had just met less than two weeks before, though within a few months, Visconti and Hopkin would be husband and wife). The producer was an admirer of Hewson’s work on “Those Were the Days.” Recalling her earlier experiences with the arranger, it was felt that Mary would feel most comfortable working with Hewson. Though his hands were full with the new McCartney project, Hewson took the job anyway, conducting the session himself shortly thereafter at George Martin’s then-new AIR (London) Studios. The piano player on the session, by the way, was a rising star named Rick Wakeman, then a London session player. […]
Last updated on November 13, 2018