Recording "Rainclouds"

December 8th-9th, 1980 • For Paul McCartney

Part of

Tug Of War sessions at AIR Studios, London

December 1980 • Songs recorded during this session appear on Tug Of War

Album Songs recorded during this session officially appear on the Ebony And Ivory / Rainclouds 7" Single.
AIR Studios, London, UK

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Those two days of recording sessions were held just after the death of John Lennon, and spent working on “Rainclouds“, which would become the B-Side of the “Ebony And Ivory” single. Obviously, given the context, the sessions were quite unproductive, with the exception of the contribution of Paddy Moloney, from the traditional Irish band, the Chieftains, on the uilleann pipes.

The day that John was killed will always stay with me. We were working in London and as soon as I heard the news that morning I rang Paul and asked him if he wanted to stay at home. Of course, he wanted to get away, and he came into the studio and we talked about John endlessly. It was so difficult to believe that our friend had been assassinated by a deranged fan.

George Martin, quoted in the Tug Of War Archive Collection, 2015

From The Chieftains: The Authorised Biography, by John Glatt:

In December 1980 Paul McCartney telephoned Paddy Moloney to ask him to lay down a track of uilleann pipes for a new song called Rainclouds […]. Moloney found himself in a quandary as he and Rita were due to fly out to Bombay for the wedding of his old friend Garech Browne at the same time as the session. […] To celebrate, Moloney had composed a special tune on his tin whistle which he planned to play at the ceremony as a wedding present. Although he was loath to let Garech down, Moloney also realized the vital long-term career benefits of a second collaboration with McCartney.

Rita and I both wanted to go to Garech’s wedding, which I understand was incredible,‘ says Moloney. ‘But at that stage of my career I thought that doing another track with McCartney would be very important. […]

From The Chieftains: The Authorised Biography, by John Glatt:

I was listening to the BBC World Service and had heard on the news about John Lennon at 5am at home in Dublin. I was coming over to London to record the uilleann pipes with George Martin and Paul. So I called early in the morning to ask whether I should still come over or not. It was such a shocker. The studio said come on over, so I got on a plane to London.

[…] I got there, about 1 or 2pm to the studio near Oxford Circus. There were only four of five people there. Paul and me talked a bit. He said he was besieged at home – that it was a relief to get to the studio, to get away from home because there were so many people outside.

There were a lot of tears there in the studio. Paul didn’t say too much about what had happened, but that day will never be forgotten. I hadn’t heard the track ‘Rainclouds’ before I got to the studio; I came up with a couple of ideas, and Paul said ‘Go on, play that.’ So I played what would be the bridge of the song. Then Paul asked, did I want to come down to his house, after the session? Did I want to stay over? There were a lot of tears going on. Linda was there; she was very upset.

We talked about stuff, but the shocking event still hadn’t got to Paul at that point, in my opinion. He talked to me about some of the earlier Chieftains music. We had been together since 1962. […]

I felt very emotional while I was playing ‘Rainclouds’, putting more into it than I usually did. A little lift from heaven, perhaps. […]

Paddy Moloney, quoted in the Tug Of War Archive Collection, 2015

From The Chieftains: The Authorised Biography, by John Glatt:

We just sat around and talked about how sad and terrible John’s death was, and then put down the 16 bars required for the middle of the song, with George in control,’ said Moloney. ‘Then Paul came In and he was in an awful state. He said that the press had been outside his house since 5:00 a.m. and that he’d been pestered so much at home that he just had to get away. He managed to lose the reporters and sneaked into the studios up the back stairs.

We just sat around talking about John. I remember Linda came In at one point and she had been crying. It was very very emotional. By this time a lot of musicians and friends of Paul had arrived In the studio. Finally about two o’clock in the afternoon Paul said, ‘Look, Paddy, do you want to come out to the house and stay?” But I said, “No I’ll leave you to it.” I knew he was very upset. Afterwards a lot of people said they thought it was unusual that Paul had gone into the studio after John’s death. But I thought, “What else would he do?

From Wikipedia:

The uilleann pipes (/ˈɪlən, ˈɪljən/; Irish: [ˈɪl̠ʲən̪ˠ]) are the characteristic national bagpipe of Ireland. […] The bag of the uilleann pipes is inflated by means of a small set of bellows strapped around the waist and the right arm (in the case of a right-handed player; in the case of a left-handed player the location and orientation of all components are reversed). The bellows not only relieve the player from the effort needed to blow into a bag to maintain pressure, they also allow relatively dry air to power the reeds, reducing the adverse effects of moisture on tuning and longevity. Some pipers can converse or sing while playing. […] The uilleann pipes have a different harmonic structure, sounding sweeter and quieter than many other bagpipes, such as the Great Irish warpipes, Great Highland bagpipes or the Italian zampognas. The uilleann pipes are often played indoors, and are almost always played sitting down.

When leaving the studio, McCartney was asked by reporters for his reaction. From Wikipedia:

He responded, “Drag, isn’t it?”. When publicised, the response was widely criticised, and even McCartney himself regretted the seemingly callous remark. McCartney later said that he had intended no disrespect and simply was unable to articulate his feelings, given the shock and sadness he felt over Lennon’s murder.

After those two days, Paul McCartney didn’t record anything else until the New Year.

Last updated on May 12, 2020

Songs recorded



Written by Paul McCartney, Denny Laine




Paddy Moloney:
uilleann pipes

Production staff

George Martin:
Geoff Emerick:
Jon Jacobs:
Assistant engineer

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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