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Friday, February 14, 1997

Orchestral overdubs for "Beautiful Night"

For Paul McCartney

Last updated on June 17, 2020

On this Valentine’s day, Paul McCartney and George Martin were at Abbey Road Studio 1, to record an orchestral arrangement for “Beautiful Night“. A video of this session appears on the “Paul McCartney In The World Tonight” documentary.

From Club Sandwich N°82, Summer 1997:

George Martin and Paul had discussed [the idea of adding an orchestral overdub to “Beautiful Night”] when Paul had played him the recording a few months earlier. Paul went away over Christmas and mulled over the idea. The thinking was: if it works, fine, if it doesn’t, what’s the loss? The session was booked.

Which is why Abbey Road Studios in London was abuzz the afternoon of Valentine’s Day 1997. Creativity, if not romance, was in the air as 38 musicians and a crowd of other interested parties, not to mention a few invited bystanders, readied themselves for a fascinating three hours. Abbey Road is an undeniably special place. Ask anyone who visits, or even those who work there day in and day out, and they’ll tell you so. But it’s even more special when Paul is in the building. As one of the four who thrust what had merely been EMI’s in-house studio on to the worldwide map, one of the four whose name has been liberally daubed over the once-white front wall by adoring fans, he’s VIP numero uno inside the place. The fans standing outside the iron gates this Friday afternoon – there are always Beatles fans outside Abbey Road – could have had no idea that they were about to see Paul roll up in his car.

And not just Paul, either. Since it was his idea, and his score, George Martin was coming in for the session too. In the past eight months – and in Paul’s case the past eight weeks – both men had been honoured with knighthoods. Sir Paul and Sir George had new stories to swap. One topic of conversation was the fact that this session was taking place 30 years to the very week since the climactic overdub for the Beatles’ ‘A Day In The Life’ had been recorded with an orchestra numbering 40 players all fashioned in fancy dress costume. Thirty years had elapsed since that incredible evening, when the stunning finale to the Sgt Pepper album had been created, here in this very same room, Studio One at Abbey Road. And here were three of the men vital to that epochal night’s work – Paul McCartney, George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick – working together on ‘Beautiful Night’. The anniversary fascinated them, Paul observing that he should have worn a plastic apron for this 1997 session, as he did, so inexplicably, in 1967. Wearing instead a black turtleneck top, blue jeans and muddy trainers, he walked around the studio and control room in a confident manner, chatting to the gathering violinists, passing the time of day with the engineers, talking to the conductor David Snell. Something that hasn’t altered since 1967 is the Musicians’ Union ruling by which players are booked for three hours’ work at a time, which is why, in their early days at least, Beatles sessions at Abbey Road had to run strictly 10.00am-l.00pm, 2.30-5.30 and 7-10pm. The ad-hoc orchestra for ‘Beautiful Night’ was booked 2.30-5.30pm, and so, once the clock hand arrived at the start time, everyone became clearly focused on the work in hand. […]

The orchestral recording came together piecemeal during the afternoon, the strings, the brass and the woodwind, section by section. During a tea break Paul left the control room to go back out into the studio and press the flesh with the musicians, something they all clearly appreciated. Employing them to the full extent, the final overdub was recorded three minutes before the 5.30 deadline. Some of the musicians then ventured into the increasingly packed control room to hear a playback, one of them clutching a copy of the McCartney album, inviting Paul to sign his name over the scattered cherries, which he duly did. More visitors came by too, including a fourth participant in the February 1967 ‘A Day In The Life’ session, Neil Aspinall, of Beatles roadie and Apple repute. All gathered together to hear, for the first time, the newly complete all-encompassing master recording of ‘Beautiful Night’, with punchy violins, violas, celli and double bass, dynamic trumpets and trombones and dreamy flute and oboe sounds.

“That sounded great to me… I couldn’t spot any mistakes,” was Paul’s verdict, breaking into footballing vernacular to declare that we could all “take an early bath”. As the song played once again over the phenomenal loudspeaker system inside Abbey Road’s Studio One, parts were collected up, instruments packed away, possessions gathered together and sweat was seen being mopped from brows. A great song had been endowed in less than three hours.

Mark Lewisohn, from Club Sandwich N°82, Summer 1997

Session activities

  1. Beautiful Night

    Written by Paul McCartney

    Recording • Orchestral overdubs



Production staff

Going further

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

Shop on Amazon

Paul McCartney writing

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