Sheila Bromberg

Sep 02, 1928
Aug 24, 2021

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From Wikipedia:

Sheila Bromberg (1928–2021) was a British harpist who performed in both classical and popular settings. She is best known for playing on the Beatles’ song “She’s Leaving Home” on their 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. […]


Bromberg played harp in the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the BBC Concert Orchestra, and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. She also performed in the orchestra for the London run of the musical Phantom of the Opera, and she played harp on two James Bond films in the 1960s, Dr. No and Goldfinger. In addition, she earned regular wages as a session musician for popular artists such as Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, the Bee Gees, Dusty Springfield, and Sammy Davis Jr.

In March 1967, Bromberg was hired to play the harp on the Abbey Road studio recording of “She’s Leaving Home”, one of the songs on the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. This made her the first woman to appear on a Beatles song. Her playing on the song has been said to “define the piece”.

She was a member of the BBC’s Top of the Pops orchestra in the 1960s and 1970s, considered to be England’s most popular music television program during that time period. She also played the signature introduction on the recording of “Boogie Nights’’, a hit single in 1976 by the disco band Heatwave.

Bromberg was an orchestra regular on the highly rated British television show Morecambe and Wise, and she also appeared in many commercials as well as in a Monty Python’s Flying Circus sketch, where she played the harp in a wheelbarrow. […]

On March 17, 1967, George Martin conducted a small orchestra to record the backing track of “She’s Leaving Home.” The players were: Erich Gruenberg, Derek Jacobs, Trevor Williams and Jose Luis Garcia (violins); John Underwood and Stephen Shingles (violas); Dennis Vigay and Alan Dalziel (celli); Gordon Pearce (double-bass) and Sheila Bromberg (harp), the first woman to play on a Beatles record.

Sheila, how were you chosen for the session?

There were people called fixers. This fixer phoned me up and said am I free from 9 o’clock at night till midnight, and I looked at the diary and, oh no, I had a jingle from 8 till 9, then I was on here from 10 till 1, then I was at Decca from 2:30 to 5:30. I thought, do I really want a session from 9 to midnight? But it was Alec and he gave me a lot of work so I didn’t want to turn him down and upset him. He didn’t tell me, at the time, that it was for the Beatles. You never knew who you were going to play with. I was sitting here [at Abbey Road Studio 2] at half past eight, tuning the harp, thinking of nothing in particular. Suddenly, a piece of music was plonked on my music stand. I gave it a brief look – “oh yeah right right” and then this voice said “uh well what you got on the dots?” meaning “What’s written on the music?” I recognized the Liverpool accent, turned around. Of course, it was Paul McCartney.

Well, first of all, I played exactly what was written. Then I stopped and he said “No, I don’t want that I want something…” So I thought how can I make it different. “No I don’t want that, I want something…” So I brought out the big guns…

I think he had an idea in his head of what he wanted it to sound like but he couldn’t describe it, he couldn’t express it and he was waiting for somebody to bring it out of the air. During the session after each time we played it, Paul McCartney would hear from the controls “No I don’t want that, I want something…”

So we played again. Came midnight and the string section was really fed up and eventually the leader of this string orchestra stood up. Erich Gruenberg. He tucked his violin under his arm says “No, it is midnight, we have to go home because we are working in the morning!”

So a voice from the control box said “Well, I suppose that’s that then,” and we all went home.

[After all that work, when Sheila heard the track, she realized they’d used the first take. What Paul McCartney had been after was a doubling effect of her playing that had been created by the engineers.]

Oh! that’s how they got the sound! That’s what he was after!

Sheila Bromberg – Interview with BBC, May 2011

From Oxford Mail, May 3, 2011:

[In 1967, Sheila Bromberg] received a call from a ‘fixer’ – a middleman between producers and session musicians – for a three-hour recording. She did not know who it was for. The now 82-year-old said: “He asked if I was free from 9pm to midnight, but I had been working since 8am that morning and really didn’t want to go. Unfortunately, I did a lot of work for that particular person and didn’t want to say no because otherwise they would choose someone else next time, and you don’t want that.

She arrived early and began tuning her harp, when she suddenly became aware of someone standing behind her. It was Paul McCartney and Mrs Bromberg was about to become the first woman musician to play on a Beatles album. He briefly asked about the music she was playing, before disappearing to the control booth. For the next three hours McCartney had Mrs Bromberg and the other session musicians play the same piece over and over.

Mrs Bromberg said: “After every take he would say: ‘No I don’t want that, I want something… err…’

She said the musicians became more and more frustrated as the night wore on, until, at midnight, the orchestra’s leader stood up and said they were leaving.

McCartney responded: “Well, I suppose that’s that then.

Mum-of-two Mrs Bromberg said: “Thinking back, I’m really proud to be part of it, but at the time I could have wrung his neck. He didn’t know what he wanted, which was very annoying, but when you listen to the album you realise what he really wanted – and that was the album.” […]

Mrs Bromberg, who now teaches the harp, said: “I feel very grateful to have been chosen to have been on it. And I feel very proud that that piece of work has given such a tremendous amount of pleasure to everyone. But what amazes me, of all the music I’ve performed in, I’m noted for four bars of music. I found that a little bit bizarre.

From Bucks Free Press, October 26, 2013:

[…] Remembering that day in the mid 1960s, when she encountered a young Liverpudlian, whom she didn’t instantly recognise, she explained: “We were booked to go to EMI studio 2 for 9am until midnight. In those days you never knew who you’d be working for. You were never told. You had to be very good sight readers so you could play whatever was put in front of you. I got to the studio early to tune the instrument. I walked in and there was Paul McCartney but I didn’t recognise him at first. I was concentrating on what was written on the manuscript, then I turned around, heard the Liverpool accent and realised it was him. I hadn’t got a clue, I had just talked to the other musicians and waited. In actual fact he was quite difficult to work with because he wasn’t too sure what he actually wanted. He said ‘no I don’t want that, I want something…’ but he couldn’t describe what he wanted and I tried it all every which way.” […]

From The Washington Post, September 10, 2021:

Sheila Bromberg was a busy harpist in British symphony orchestras when an agent called on March 17, 1967, to offer her a three-hour stint that night as a session musician at the EMI recording studio on Abbey Road in London.

The pay was 9 pounds — about $17. With two young children to feed, she showed up at 8:30 p.m. to tune her harp and was handed a piece of sheet music. Only later did she learn that the notes she played were to be the intro on “She’s Leaving Home” by the Beatles. The song was released months later on “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” which Rolling Stone magazine ranked in 2003 as No. 1 of the 500 greatest albums of all time. […]

Mrs. Bromberg’s harp intro and rhythm, backed by a full string section, set the poignant tone of the track before Paul McCartney (who recorded separately) began the lyric “Wednesday morning at 5 o’clock as the day begins.” […]

Last updated on December 31, 2023

Recording sessions Sheila Bromberg participated in

Recording "She's Leaving Home"

Mar 17, 1967 • Songs recorded during this session appear on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (UK Mono)


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Beverley 4 years ago

why is this video no longer on YouTube. Sheila is my great Aunt, and it would be great to still be able to see the interview on the One Show with Ringo Starr

The PaulMcCartney Project 4 years ago

Hi Beverley, a shame indeed this video is not available on Youtube anymore. However, I've found it on DailyMotion - !

Beverley 4 years ago

Hi Paul McCartney Project, Only just seen your reply! thank you so much for uploading it! (although it is in wide format mode!!! are you able to change it by any chance? Thank you so much :-)

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