- Album Songs recorded during this session officially appear on the Strawberry Fields Forever / Penny Lane 7" Single.
- EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road
More from year 1967
Some songs from this session appear on:
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The Beatles had recorded Paul McCartney’s “Penny Lane” in eight sessions so far, on December 29 and December 30, 1966, and on January 4, January 5, January 6, January 9, January 10 and January 12, 1967.
On January 11, Paul McCartney witnessed David Mason, a trumpet player, perform Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto N°2 in F Major, on the BBC1 television program “Masterworks”. Impressed by the performance, Paul informed George Martin the following day. George Martin, who was familiar with David Mason, contacted him and scheduled a studio session on this day.
The session started at 7 pm and saw David Mason overdub a piccolo trumpet solo in the middle eight onto track three of Take 9. He also added a second part for the coda of the song, onto track two, but this coda was not kept for the released version.
Those overdubs concluded the recording of “Penny Lane“.
I was in the New Philharmonia then, now known simply as the Philharmonia, and still am. I’ve spent a lifetime playing with top orchestras yet I’m most famous for playing on ‘Penny Lane’!David Mason – From “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions” by Mark Lewisohn
[Paul McCartney] saw me playing Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto Number 2 in F Major with the English Chamber Orchestra from Guildford Cathedral. […] We spent three hours working it out. Paul sang the parts he wanted, George Martin wrote them out, I tried them. But the actual recording was done quite quickly. They were jolly high notes, quite taxing, but with the tapes rolling we did two takes as overdubs on top of the existing song. I read in hooks that the trumpet sound was later speeded up but that isn’t true because I can still play those same notes on the instrument along with the record.David Mason – From “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions” by Mark Lewisohn
Although Paul seemed to he in charge, and I was the only one playing, the other three Beatles were there too. They all had funny clothes on, candy-striped trousers, floppy yellow bow ties etc. I asked Paul if they’d been filming because it really looked like they had just come off a film set. John Lennon interjected ‘Oh no mate, we always dress like this!’.David Mason – From “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions” by Mark Lewisohn
[Paul] was still after that one last bit of magic, and inspiration came to him one night while he was at home watching a television programme featuring a performance of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto no. 2 — coincidentally, one of the records I had discovered as a child in my grandmother’s basement, and one of my all-time favorite classical pieces.
The next evening, we were in the studio and Paul couldn’t stop talking about it. “What was that tiny little trumpet that fellow was playing?” he asked us. “I couldn’t believe the sound he was making!”
George Martin’s classical training never came in more handy. “That’s called a piccolo trumpet,” he said, “and the chap playing it was David Mason, who happens to be a friend of mine.”
“Fantastic!” exclaimed Paul. “Let’s get him in here and have him overdub it.”
A few days later I found myself carefully placing a microphone in front of Mason, who was himself quite famous in the classical world as the principal trumpeter for the prestigious Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The only problem was that no music had been prepared for him to play; instead, he had to sit there for hours while Paul hummed and sang the parts he was hearing in his head, George Martin writing the notes out by hand. By this point, it was a big deal to be asked to play on a Beatles session, and I suppose Mason felt that it was prudent to keep his countenance, though I am quite sure the lack of preparation tried his patience sorely. Eventually, though, the score was worked out to Paul’s satisfaction, and he headed up to the control room to listen as we began rolling tape. True professional that he was, Mason played it perfectly the first time through, including the extraordinarily demanding solo which ended on a note that was almost impossibly high. It was, quite simply, the performance of his life.
And everyone knew it… except, obviously, Paul. As the final note faded to silence, he reached for the talkback mic. “Nice one, David,” Paul said matter-of-factly. “Can we try another pass?”
There was a long moment of silence.
“Another pass?” The trumpeter looked up at the control room helplessly. He seemed lost for words. Finally, he said softly, “Look, I’m sorry. I’m afraid I just can’t do it any better.”
Mason knew that he had nailed it, that he had played everything note-perfect and that it was a prodigious feat that he could not possibly top. Quickly George Martin intervened and addressed Paul emphatically, one of the few times in recent weeks that I saw him assert his authority as producer. “Good God, you can’t possibly ask the man to do that again… it’s fantastic!”
A dark cloud gathered over Paul’s face. Even though the exchange was occurring in the privacy of the control room, out of earshot of Mason and the other Beatles, George’s remark clearly embarrassed and angered him. It was the kind of scene I would not witness again until partway through the making of the White Album, when things were to build to an exploding point.
For an uncomfortable moment, the producer and his headstrong young artist glared at each other. Finally, Paul returned to the talkback mic. “Okay, thank you, David. You’re free to go now, released on your own recognizance.”Geoff Emerick – From “Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles“, 2006
Following that came ‘Penny Lane’, which started life as a fairly simple song. But Paul decided he wanted a special sound on it, and one day, after he had been to a concert of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerti, he said: ‘There’s a guy in them playing this fantastic high trumpet.’
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘the piccolo trumpet, the Bach trumpet. Why?’
‘It’s a great sound. Why can’t we use it?’
‘Sure we can,’ I said, and at that he asked me to organise it for him. Now, the normal trumpet is in B flat. But there is also the D trumpet, which is what Bach mostly used, and the F trumpet. In this case, I decided to use a B-flat piccolo trumpet, an octave above the normal. To play it I engaged David Mason, who was with the London Symphony Orchestra. It was a difficult session, for two reasons. First, that little trumpet is a devil to play in tune, because it isn’t really in tune with itself, so that in order to achieve pure notes the player has to ‘lip’ each one.
Secondly, we had no music prepared. We just knew that we wanted little piping interjections. We had had experience of professional musicians saying: ‘If the Beatles were real musicians, they’d know what they wanted us to play before we came into the studio.’ Happily, David Mason wasn’t like that at all. By then the Beatles were very big news anyway, and I think he was intrigued to be playing on one of their records, quite apart from being well paid for his trouble. As we came to each little section where we wanted the sound, Paul would think up the notes he wanted, and I would write them down for David. The result was unique, something that had never been done in rock music before, and it gave ‘Penny Lane’ a very distinct character.George Martin – From “All You Need Is Ears“, 1979
There were no clear lines of demarcation [between me and The Beatles]. It was more a question of being a good team than of isolating individuals as being producer, arranger or songwriter. When I arranged, I worked closely with John, Paul or whoever it was, and they arranged with me. To hark back to an example – the use of the piccolo trumpet on ‘Penny Lane’: it is true that I arranged it, but equally true that Paul was thinking up the notes. If I had been left to myself, I honestly do not think I would have written such good notes for David Mason to play.George Martin – From “All You Need Is Ears“, 1979
Three mono mixes numbered 9 to 11 were promptly created after Dave Mason’s participation was finished. Remix Mono 11 was considered the best. The final task of the session, which concluded at 12:30 am, was to make a copy of this mix to be sent to Capitol Records in the US. This mix would be pressed onto promotional discs and distributed to radio stations.
However, new mixes would be made on January 25, 1967, that excluded the trumpet coda. Capitol replaced the mixes in time for the release of the single, but Dave Mason’s seven-note coda was still frequently heard.
Remix Mono 11 was released on “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (50th anniversary boxset)” in 2017.
Last updated on February 8, 2023
Mixing • Mono mixing - Remix 11 from take 9
Album Officially released on Strawberry Fields Forever / Penny Lane (1967 - US promo version)
The definitive guide for every Beatles recording sessions from 1962 to 1970.
We owe a lot to Mark Lewisohn for the creation of those session pages, but you really have to buy this book to get all the details - the number of takes for each song, who contributed what, a description of the context and how each session went, various photographies... And an introductory interview with Paul McCartney!
The third book of this critically - acclaimed series, nominated for the 2019 Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC) award for Excellence In Historical Recorded Sound, "The Beatles Recording Reference Manual: Volume 3: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band through Magical Mystery Tour (late 1966-1967)" captures the band's most innovative era in its entirety. From the first take to the final remix, discover the making of the greatest recordings of all time. Through extensive, fully-documented research, these books fill an important gap left by all other Beatles books published to date and provide a unique view into the recordings of the world's most successful pop music act.
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