- Album Songs recorded during this session officially appear on the Thrillington Official album.
- Timeline See what happened in June 1971
- EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road
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The sessions for the instrumental album were set up for June 15, 16 and 17 at Abbey Road, barely two weeks after the release of Ram. Richard Hewson had Laurie Gold of the studio’s booking department arrange for “some of London’s best musicians,” as it says on the back of the LP’s liner notes, to be booked for the three days of sessions.
Tony Clark, meanwhile, began planning his engineering setup for the recordings, with his second engineer Alan Parsons (another Beatles veteran who, like Clark, would continue working with McCartney). “I thought it was going to be a ‘McCartney album,'” says Clark. “I remember asking Richard, ‘Where’s Paul going to sing? What’re we doing?’ He told me, ‘No, don’t you know? We’re doing an instrumental version of Ram!'” Again, by this time, the album had been out only two weeks, and not everyone, including Tony Clark, had heard it. “During the first sessions, in the back of my mind, I thought I’d better get the album and brush up on it. But after the first day, I made a conscious decision not to get it, because I realized we were doing something different. Whatever I had to offer the session should be new, not simply a copy of Paul’s album.”
Indeed, by the way, to settle a matter of long speculation, Paul McCartney not only didn’t sing on Thrillington, he didn’t play a single note. Paul acted solely as producer of the album. “He was there the entire time,” says Tony Clark, “fine tuning it, speaking with the musicians, just being on top of it and making sure the feel is right. He was definitely in charge. Everyone was secure that if there were any decisions to be made, he would make them.”
Richard Hewson planned out a neat breakup of the arrangements in order to economically record all of the material in the three days allotted. Unlike a rock recording (a Beatles one, for example), where musical ideas are often worked out in the studio, orchestrated arrangements already have the ideas planned out – on paper, no less. All titles featuring strings, for instance, can have the strings recorded in one morning session, and those requiring horns can have them added in a later evening session.
The first session took place on Tuesday, June 15th at 10 a.m. in Studio Two (“the downstairs one, where all the Beatle recordings took place,” says Hewson). The “basic tracks” for all tunes on the album consisted of a “pop combo,” onto whose recordings the other instruments would be added as overdubs. The pop combo was recorded in this morning session. The group included veteran session guitarist Vic Flick and popular session drummer Clem Cattini, whose group the Telstars had had a big hit in the UK in 1962 with “The Tornados.”
The bassist in the group was Herbie Flowers, who, besides recording with Lou Reed and numerous others, would, nearly ten years later, record with George Harrison and Ringo Starr. The piano was played by Steve Grey, who later would join Herbie Flowers’s own group, Sky (those later albums, by the way, would be co-produced and engineered by Tony Clark). The organ was played by Roger Coulan, and percussionist Jim Lawless rounded out the group.
Flowers recalls, “We were all favorite musicians of Paul’s.” Flowers, in fact, later appeared on McCartney’s Give My Regards to Broad Street, as well as on recordings by his brother Mike and his group, Scaffold. The musician’s skill is evident throughout the record, particularly in the wide variety of basses heard throughout the album. “We read from sheet music. There was no improvising; we just played what was there.” Had he heard the Ram album before the session? “We were all working 12 or 14 hour days. We rarely had time to listen to any albums. If I did,” notes Flowers, a jazz fan, “I listened to Charlie Parker!” [Flowers currently can be heard in the South of England with his new jazz trio, Thompson’s Directory.]
As mentioned, the morning session featured the pop instruments, with Vic Flick providing acoustic, Spanish (nylon string) and electric guitars. Flowers stuck mainly to his electric bass (played through his old Wallace speaker cabinet, which Tony Clark was particularly fond of), playing his fretless in places, and an upright bass on two titles, adding to the jazzy feel of the record. Drummer Cattini alternated between his normal, flawless playing with sticks, and playing with brushes on three of the titles.
The pop combo played until an unknown time, until all 11 songs had been tracked. The evening session, from 7 until 10 at night, featured the recording of 10 violins, 4 cellos, 2 clarinets and 2 alto saxes. A harpsichord with a special “harp stop”, booked just the day before, was also recorded this evening, appearing in the second half of “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”. The harp stop adds a unique sound to the harpsichord, giving the tones an abrupt end to the resonance of the strings, allowing them to be plucked again rapidly from a non-vibrating state.
Sometime during the day, perhaps in the late afternoon, recording stopped for a period while Richard Hewson attended a buffet party hosted by Decca Records A & R chief, Dick Rowe, at the studios of Audio International. Rowe, you’ll remember, was the A & R executive at Decca who became famous for turning down the Beatles after their January 1, 1962 audition. Rowe, however, remained with the company, more than occasionally employing Richard Hewson for string arrangements. “Good old Dick!” Hewson remembers, not necessarily fondly. “He was a real blagger, that guy. We used to go to Decca, and he’d book a ‘half session.’ A full session was 3 hours. He was so mean, he’d book a whole orchestra and five singers, and try to do five tunes in two hours, in the hope of getting one hit single out of that!” […]
Last updated on November 12, 2018