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Tony Visconti

Last updated on February 10, 2024

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Paul McCartney gave ‘Come and Get It’ to Badfinger, and he was a mentor for them for a little while, wasn’t he, but it occurred to me that when he got you to work on the orchestration for Band on the Run a few years later, that was because he would have known about you through this period. He must have been aware of your skills and what you could do.

Partially. He was aware of that, but he double-checked by phoning me. He was a T. Rex fan and he said “Those string arrangements, they’re really good. Who wrote them?” I said, “I wrote them”. He then asked if I could read and write music and I said “Well, yes, I can. Because I wrote them!”. And he goes, “Okay, well, I’ve got this little project and maybe you could come over to me”. So I went to his house a few days later, in St. John’s Wood, and then we started together working on those arrangements, for Band on the Run.

But would you ever pitch for a job, Tony? Or do you just think, “if they want me they’ll ask”? Because I was thinking about that with Band on the Run, because Paul had got back from Lagos, and he had all these tapes and recordings and you could easily have taken a bit more of a production role on that record. I know Paul’s an accomplished producer himself, but was that something you thought of suggesting or hinted at?

It was in the air. We talked about it. He was definitely trying to be known as a producer. His first experiment was ‘Those Were The Days’, with Mary Hopkin. And he did very well. That’s an incredible production; it’s really great. So I don’t think there was enough space for me in his productions to be a co-producer, or anything like that. He saw me as an arranger, which was good, because I really enjoy that role as well. I know, George Martin got a little upset when I was doing those arrangements. He assumed that he was always going to write arrangements for the Beatles. Even when they was solo.

That’s interesting. He would have orchestrated Live and Let Die before that.

When George and I finally met, we got on. We had a great lunch at some recording studio in North London. I had a few meetings with him, and he was charming. He was really a great guy. […]

You did work with Paul in the 1980s of course, at least a little bit. You orchestrated the single mix of ‘Only Love Remains’, from Press to Play.

Yeah. And I’ve met Paul socially, since then. Mick Jagger threw a big party at his Chelsea home and I had this funny conversation with Paul where he’d come up to me and we talked face-to-face about music and about our families and everything. Then he starts adjusting my lapels on my suit jacket, and then he starts adjusting my tie and he’s dressing me! [laughs]. I found this bizarre, except I know there’s this thing called neuro-linguistic programming which I studied and it’s when you touch people, and tap them and you’re actually putting a slight hypnotic control over them. So I thought, maybe he studied that, he’s very erudite. Maybe this technique works for him. But I knew what he was doing. And I found that a little funny, you know. Awkward, but a little funny. He’s an amazing guy. A friggin’ genius. I love him.

Tony Visconti – From In Conversation with Tony Visconti – SuperDeluxeEdition, October 17, 2023
From “You’d do anything for a Beatle” Tony Visconti on working with Paul McCartney (mojo4music.com)

Did McCartney say why he asked you to arrange Band On The Run? Presumably he was a fan of T. Rex?

That’s exactly why he contacted me. His first questions were, “Did you write those string arrangements for T.Rex? Can you read and write music?” I said yes, of course. Then we started discussing what he wanted immediately afterwards. This was at his house near Abbey Road.

What was your impression on hearing the Lagos tapes? A lot of work to do or was it mostly there?

Paul and Denny Laine played really well, but Geoff Emerick told me that the climate in Lagos made the oxide shed, and some of the tapes were so bad you could hold them up to a light and see through them. The first thing Paul did when he got back to London was to transfer each song to 16-track tape – they’d recorded on an 8-track – with a compressor on every channel to cover up the wavering audio, so the tapes he gave to me were impeccable.

How were the sessions at AIR?

They were a marathon. I met up with Paul on Sunday afternoon, and towards the end he dropped the bomb that it had to be done by Wednesday. In those days you would do anything for a Beatle, so I agreed, and with around four or five hours’ sleep I faced the huge orchestra at 10am on Monday. The idea was to start with the big groups and end on the smaller groups, like adding the two saxophones on Jet. I made it to the end on pure adrenaline. I hardly slept.

What was your feeling about the material? The first two Wings albums had been poorly received, so there was a lot riding on Band On The Run.

On the Sunday, Paul would only play me the parts of the songs where the orchestral instruments would come in, and he would record those bits on a separate cassette recorder. I never heard the entire songs until Wednesday because he was afraid that if I did, I would make copies and send them to friends. I would never have done that, but fair enough – he didn’t know me well. My impression of what I did hear was that this was going to be an incredible album.

Did you have Beatles references in your mind when doing the arrangements?

Wings was all about McCartney doing something new, but he had Geoff Emerick engineering at Lagos, so there was that connection, and how could he do something entirely new? He always sounds like himself and his writing style is very evident. Band On The Run was a new concept, and using me instead of George Martin for the arrangements was a serious departure. I’m sure George Martin, who is one of my idols, was a little upset about that.

How do you feel about Band On The Run, and your part in it, today?

I’m very proud of my participation and I was honoured that Paul trusted me with a big chunk of the music. He played a few top lines that would become first violin parts and I filled in everything else, the orchestration, all of it. Oh yeah, it’s a real feather in my cap.

Tony Visconti – From “You’d do anything for a Beatle” Tony Visconti on working with Paul McCartney (mojo4music.com), February 8, 2024

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