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May 1 to May 31, 1977

"London Town" sessions #2

For Wings

Last updated on May 1, 2022

We hired a charter boat that people use for holidays. The captain went spare when he saw all the instruments. We remodelled his boat for him, which he wasn’t too keen on. We converted his lounge into a studio and we turned another deck into a sound control room, and it was fantastic! We had a recording boat and two others we stayed on. We didn’t have any problems with saltwater in the machines or sharks attacking us. At night, there was much merriment, leaping from top decks into uncharted waters and stuff. I had a couple too many one night and nearly broke something jumping from one boat to another. But then you always break yourself up on holiday. The studio worked out incredibly well and the very first day we got a track down. There was a nice free feeling. We’d swim in the day and record at night.

Paul McCartney – Melody Maker, November 1977

TAKE THE exotic, sun drenched Virgin Islands in the Caribbean; mix in the mellow music of Wings and blend these sights and sounds on three ocean going motor yachts. Result, a Maytime to remember.

In the last week of April the technical and backup team of Mike Walley, Trevor Jones, John Hammel, Geoff Emerick and Mark Vigars left London heading for the capital of the islands, St. Thomas, with a week to convert one of the yachts — ‘Fair Carol’ — into a seaborn recording studio. A wooden control room was built in the stern and the Captain was very worried about the weight of equipment. Mike Walley relaxed him with, “not to worry, it’s just a few bits of wood and we promise to bang only a few nails in the deck!”

On 30th April the Fair Carol, with the other two boats Samala and El Toro set off for Francis Bay on the island of St. John to link up the arrival of Wings, Brian Brolly and Alan Crowder.

Communication was often simplified between the three boats. Everyone just swam from one to the other for planning meetings and sessions. On the first day Brian Brolly did not want to wet his clothes so dived into the sea clad in but a towel, revealing all as the towel took off! Denny learned to sail but most swam around in clear, blue seas studying starfish, sea urchins, brightly hued coral and small, harmless barracuda, with snorkels.

By Monday, 2nd May, serious work began and a pattern emerged of three or four hour sessions in the morning, the same from late afternoon to evening, interspersed with yet more swimming, water skiing and fantastic meals on Samala, prepared by no less than the Captain, Tony Garton, a sound seaman but also a superb chef.

On the morning of the 5th, Paul recorded a track playing acoustic guitar on the stern deck looking out over a sun splashed sea. A dolphin surfaced to enjoy the super sound and splashed around the boat for some time.

Denny became crazy about sailing and spent five hours negotiating the coves of one of the bays. Work went well and a lot of good sound in the can meant a relaxed weekend, particularly for Denny whose long sailing expedition resulted in a severe case of sunburn.

On Monday the 9th there were more troubles and by the end of the day a hospital boat moored around would have not been out of place.

Apart from Denny having to be taken to Caneel Bay for medical attention on his sunburn, Alan slipped down a stairway, broke his heel and had to be taken by water ambulance to a local hospital. In the late evening session Geoff Emerick electrocuted his foot, Jimmy went deaf in one ear and Jack Crymes (one of the support team from Record Plant, Los Angeles) developed a throat infection.

At two in the morning those still mobile raced in powered dinghies round the bay shouting, “Pursuit… pursuit!” and also “Who’s next for the medicos!”

Happily there were no more disasters and later in the week as the flotilla cruised across to Watermelon Bay with the band jamming and recording, Alan Crowder had the look of Long John Silver as he waved his crutch from Samala to the main party on Fair Carol.

It was a wonderful four weeks of concentrated work mixed with hilarity and horseplay, swimming and water skiing. Word of the month was MELLOW and everybody is confident that this great atmosphere will result in a rich, new sound including nine songs recorded. It’s all going to be well worth waiting for.

Mark Vigars, From Club Sandwich N°3, June / July 1977

The McCartneys and Wings wanted to think of a place to go where they could work on music for their next album and have a swell time while they were at it. So Paul came up with a plan to charter a yacht and lie at anchor in a secluded bay off the Virgin Islands. That way they could swim and lie about in the sun, and play music late into the night without disturbing anyone.

In the end three boats were needed as there were twenty people and lots of musical equipment involved. One boat, the “Fair Carol”, was used as a recording studio and it had a 24-track machine installed in it. The second boat was the eating and sleeping boat — that was the “Samala”, a converted British mine-sweeper and the third boat, “El Toro”, was home away from home for the McCartney family.

So the month of May was spent floating on the bright blue water under the warm sun off St. John Island. The food was great (cake and sydney pie was a fav), there were cool breezes through the portholes at night, and lots of time and inspiration to record nine wonderful sounding tunes for the next album.

For a little variety the Wings Armada visited several different bays during the month: Watermelon Bay, St. Francis Bay and Hurricane Hole. Everyone loved swimming in the clear water and the children leaped repeatedly from the boat like little water-babies. “It’s better than a pool ’cause there’s more room”, says Mary. Small motor launches zipped back and forth taxiing the musicians and towing water-skiers. At twilight the boats turned on rows of coloured Christmas lights all strung in their rigging and Wings music would float out across the bay.

Outside of one broken foot (Alan Crowder slipped on a wet step), one bad sunburn (Denny went off sailing too long), and a crew member who lost his false teeth overboard, things went well.

On the last night Paul played the captain’s mini-piano and did the story of “The Two Little Fairies” featuring the song, “We remember that you were nice”, while the young McCartney sisters acted out the parts for everyone. Then Denny led a procession round and round the Captain’s table to Paul’s tune, “Running Round the Room/Standing Very Still”.

As more friends arrived from the other boats the farewell party grew livelier and soon it was time to play “man overboard” in which everybody aboard was tossed overboard by everyone else (except Alan in his cast, Jeff, the recording engineer who can’t swim, and several pregnant ladies).

Next morning the “Samala” cruised to St. Thomas and put everyone ashore right at the airport for their flights back to civilisation. Everyone was sad but tanned, and Wings was well on its way to a special new album.

Henry Diltz (Photographer and friend), From Club Sandwich N°3, June / July 1977
From Jimmy McCulloch – Posts | Facebook – Photos by Henry Diltz
From Jimmy McCulloch – Posts | Facebook – Photos by Henry Diltz
From FacebookPhotos by Henry Diltz
From Facebook – May 1st, 1977. These five Water Wings began recording on a boat in the Virgin Islands. The album would eventually become London Town. 📷 Henry Diltz

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  8. Don't Let It Bring You Down

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Going further

Paul McCartney: Music Is Ideas. The Stories Behind the Songs (Vol. 1) 1970-1989

With 25 albums of pop music, 5 of classical – a total of around 500 songs – released over the course of more than half a century, Paul McCartney's career, on his own and with Wings, boasts an incredible catalogue that's always striving to free itself from the shadow of The Beatles. The stories behind the songs, demos and studio recordings, unreleased tracks, recording dates, musicians, live performances and tours, covers, events: Music Is Ideas Volume 1 traces McCartney's post-Beatles output from 1970 to 1989 in the form of 346 song sheets, filled with details of the recordings and stories behind the sessions. Accompanied by photos, and drawing on interviews and contemporary reviews, this reference book draws the portrait of a musical craftsman who has elevated popular song to an art-form.

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Eight Arms to Hold You: The Solo Beatles Compendium

We owe a lot to Chip Madinger and Mark Easter for the creation of those session pages, but you really have to buy this book to get all the details!

Eight Arms To Hold You: The Solo Beatles Compendium is the ultimate look at the careers of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr beyond the Beatles. Every aspect of their professional careers as solo artists is explored, from recording sessions, record releases and tours, to television, film and music videos, including everything in between. From their early film soundtrack work to the officially released retrospectives, all solo efforts by the four men are exhaustively examined.

As the paperback version is out of print, you can buy a PDF version on the authors' website

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Paul McCartney writing

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Jeff Smithpeters • 2 years ago

Does anyone know which specific songs were recorded on board Fair Carol?

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