"Thrillington" session #1

Tuesday, June 15, 1971 • For Percy "Thrills" Thrillington

Album Songs recorded during this session officially appear on the Thrillington LP.
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

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About

Three weeks after the release of Paul McCartney’s second solo album, “RAM“, on May 21, 1971, work began on an instrumental version of the album, orchestrated by Richard Hewson (who had collaborated with Paul on a few projects in the past like Mary Hopkin’s “Post Card” album, and more controversially on the Phil Spector-produced version of “The Long And Winding Road“).

Three days of recording and a day of mixing were required to complete the album, but the result wouldn’t be heard till 1977 when “Thrillington” was finally released.

From Wikipedia:

The album was recorded in June 1971 and with an intended release shortly thereafter. Paul McCartney produced the sessions, although he did not play or sing at all on the album, and all arrangements were by Richard Anthony Hewson, who was asked to work on the orchestration before Ram had yet been released. The album was completed in three days of recording sessions, but when Paul and Linda decided to form Wings, the (at that point untitled) Thrillington album was shelved.

Years later, in late 1976, McCartney decided to release the long-in-storage project, and devised a plan to publicize the album while obscuring his own involvement with it. In preparation for the release of Thrillington, McCartney invented the fictitious socialite Percy Thrillington, and even took out ads in various UK music papers announcing Thrillington’s so-called comings and goings to generate curiosity and interest. […]


I don’t know what it is, but Paul always trusted me, maybe he liked my stuff, but he always said, do your own thing. He asked me to do My Love with Wings, and again, didn’t make any comments. If you listen to My Love, I brought some jazz, there’s that saxophone bit at the beginning, a very long note, the “doo”, which the engineer nearly lost, playing Paul’s piano part at the beginning and we had to frantically get more tape. I was recently sent a photo from MPL of the session, with me looking at the ground, because I didn’t have a stand, they must have had hundreds, but I’m looking at the ground at the sheet of music, I must have had very good eyesight then. Denny Laine’s in the foreground, Paul’s not in it, Linda took the photo.

Richard Hewson – From Richard Hewson On Paul McCartney’s ‘Thrillington’ » We Are Cult

It was just, “Hi Richard, orchestrate the album for me, will?” And that was really that. He didn’t want to have any input in it musically, he just wanted to oversee it. He just let me have a free hand – whatever instruments I liked to use and any musicians I wanted to use, as long as there weren’t any lead vocals. There were singers on it, but not singing words. The musicians were jazz players that I knew. It gave it a much more jazzy feel, and I think that’s what Paul liked about it – they weren’t just regular session geezers. The string section were mainly Philharmonic players. I’d spend about three to four weeks putting the charts together – it was hard rock: working every day, night and day, and getting the musicians sorted, making sure they were all ready for the job… But quickly recorded, I have to say: the album was made in three days. We did rhythm sections in the morning – guitars, bass, drums and all that – then in the afternoon we might do the horns – flutes, trumpets and whatever else is required – and then strings in the evening. That was the plan. It worked almost like a military operation – it had to, because we were very short on time – but you know, it worked.

Richard Hewson – From “RAM – Archive collection“, 2012

I don’t think I’ve seen Paul quite so happy, away from the responsibility of making and producing his own music – just having a great, great bunch of musicians playing his music. Paul would talk to the musicians, and be the producer in the box, with me engineering, and it all flowed. Paul was bopping around, and feeling great about his music. I reckon we all did.

Tony Clark – from Facebook (Quote taken from McCartney Legacy Volume One, © Dey Street books, 2022.)

From “Good Day Sunshine” fanzine, issue #78:

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!” […]

From “Good Day Sunshine” fanzine – Issue #78 – Quoted in mcbeatle.de

The recording of “Thrillington” continued on the following day.

Last updated on April 30, 2022

Songs recorded


1.

Too Many People

Written by Paul McCartney

Recording


2.

3 Legs

Written by Paul McCartney

Recording


3.

Ram On

Written by Paul McCartney

Recording


4.



6.

Smile Away

Written by Paul McCartney

Recording




9.



11.

Staff

Musicians

?:
2 clarinets and 2 alto saxe, 1 harpsichord, 4 cellos, 10 violins

Musicians on "Too Many People"

Vic Flick:
Guitar
Clem Cattini:
Drums
Herbie Flowers:
Bass
Steve Gray:
Piano
Jim Lawless:
Percussion

Musicians on "3 Legs"

Vic Flick:
Guitar
Clem Cattini:
Drums
Herbie Flowers:
Bass
Steve Gray:
Piano
Jim Lawless:
Percussion

Musicians on "Ram On"

Vic Flick:
Spanish guitar
Clem Cattini:
Drums
Herbie Flowers:
Bass
Steve Gray:
Piano
Jim Lawless:
Percussion

Musicians on "Dear Boy"

Vic Flick:
Guitar
Clem Cattini:
Drums
Herbie Flowers:
Bass
Steve Gray:
Piano
Jim Lawless:
Percussion

Musicians on "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey"

Vic Flick:
Guitar
Clem Cattini:
Drums
Herbie Flowers:
Bass
Steve Gray:
Piano
Jim Lawless:
Percussion

Musicians on "Smile Away"

Vic Flick:
Guitar
Clem Cattini:
Drums
Herbie Flowers:
Bass
Steve Gray:
Piano
Roger Coulan:
Organ
Jim Lawless:
Percussion

Musicians on "Heart Of The Country"

Vic Flick:
Guitar
Clem Cattini:
Drums
Herbie Flowers:
Bass
Steve Gray:
Piano
Roger Coulan:
Organ
Jim Lawless:
Percussion

Musicians on "Monkberry Moon Delight"

Vic Flick:
Guitar
Clem Cattini:
Drums
Herbie Flowers:
Bass
Steve Gray:
Piano
Roger Coulan:
Organ
Jim Lawless:
Percussion

Musicians on "Eat at Home"

Vic Flick:
Guitar
Clem Cattini:
Drums
Herbie Flowers:
Bass
Steve Gray:
Piano
Roger Coulan:
Organ
Jim Lawless:
Percussion

Musicians on "Long Haired Lady"

Vic Flick:
Guitar
Clem Cattini:
Drums
Herbie Flowers:
Bass
Steve Gray:
Piano
Jim Lawless:
Percussion

Musicians on "The Back Seat Of My Car"

Vic Flick:
Guitar
Clem Cattini:
Drums
Herbie Flowers:
Bass
Steve Gray:
Piano
Jim Lawless:
Percussion

Production staff

Paul McCartney:
Producer
Richard Hewson:
Orchestration, Arrangements
Tony Clark:
Recording engineer
Alan Parsons:
Assistant recording engineer

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

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"In this issue we take you back to the early days of Paul McCartney’s solo career when he decided to form a new group. With Wings he proved there was life after The Beatles. This Maccazine features a detailed timeline of ‘the birth’ of the band with interesting entries including many new facts and unpublished photos. Follow-up timelines will be published in the upcoming years."

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