Guitar Concerto

Written by Paul McCartneyUnreleased song

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Song facts

Supposedly, it was/is some type of full-album-length rock concerto (all instrumental, I presume) with various musical parts and suites. It was said that Paul had Jeff Beck do some of the guitar work—but then it was also said that Paul thought that he (himself, that is, Paul) could do it better (???) and thus Paul was re-recording it. This has been rumored since the early 2000s, I think. So far, the concerto has fallen into a black hole.

Arnold Grove – From New Paul McCartney album “Egypt Station” coming September 7, 2018* | Page 71 | Steve Hoffman Music Forums

The guitar concerto is for classical guitar and orchestra. Guitarist is Carlos Bonell, one of the best in the world. I interviewed him for my book Paul McCartney Recording Sessions. He said it’s marvelous with some Spanish/flavored melodies all over. Rumors say it was finished a couple of years ago. We’re still waiting though…

Luca Perasi – From New Paul McCartney album “Egypt Station” coming September 7, 2018* | Page 71 | Steve Hoffman Music Forums

The June 2007 New Yorker cover story on McCartney had the most information on the guitar concerto I’ve seen anywhere. Here’s the relevant passage:

“The next day, McCartney was driven to Sussex, about two hours southwest of London, by his assistant John Hammel, who has worked for him for thirty-two years. McCartney owns a house in Sussex and has built a recording studio nearby. He had an appointment at the studio with Carlos Bonell, a classical guitarist who was helping him with some technical aspects of a guitar concerto. Bonell arrived a few minutes before McCartney did and waited in a small kitchen adjoining the control room. “Other pop musicians who have tried classical music often just tack together short, two- or three-minute snippets of melody to build up a nine-minute movement,” Bonell said. “Paul establishes a theme and knows how to develop it; he completely understands classical composition. Which is incredible in its way, because he can’t read or write music.” Bonell explained that his task in the studio is to transcribe on musical staff paper the passages that McCartney has composed on his guitar and on his computer. His first session with McCartney, in early May of last year, happened to fall on the morning when the British newspapers broke the news of McCartney’s separation from Mills. Bonell hadn’t heard. “I got here and before I met Paul I was asked by his assistant to ‘be discreet,'” he said. “I thought, Discreet? O.K., he’s a Beatle, after all. Then I met him and he told me straight out about it. Then he got down to work.” McCartney’s ability to focus on his music impressed Bonell. “You’d be in the middle of a passage, the phone would ring, and it would be Paul’s solicitor,” he said. “He would go and talk to him. Then, bang, it was right back into the piece.” Keith Smith, McCartney’s recording engineer, who was standing nearby, said that McCartney had come to the studio nearly every day for months after the separation. “He actually worked harder,” Smith said.

McCartney appeared in the kitchen just after 1 P.M., wearing a blue dress shirt and brown corduroys. He was in a jaunty mood. The previous evening, he had attended the Classical B.R.I.T. Awards, in London, where he had won in the category for best album, for “Ecce Cor Meum” (“Behold My Heart”), which he had begun composing in 1998, around the time that Linda was dying of cancer, and which he had completed, often in tears, he has said, after her death. I asked if he had gone out to celebrate after the ceremony. “No, actually,” he said. “Got a good night’s sleep, since I knew I was working today.”

He sipped some tea, then entered the control room, which was hung with batiks and dominated by a twenty-foot-long sixty-channel mixer. Bonell sat with a ream of staff paper in his lap; Smith was at the mixing board. McCartney faced them in a red swivel chair, and Hammel brought him a piece of whole-grain toast covered with melted cheese. While he ate, he talked with Smith about the awards ceremony, which they had both attended. Smith mentioned two female winners, who, he said, had been looking for McCartney afterward. “You’re kidding me!” McCartney said. “Ah,” he added in a mock-tragic tone, “they’re too young.”

Smith opened a sound file on his computer: a portion of the concerto that Bonell had recorded a year ago. No one in the room had heard the section since then. “Not since last May,” Smith said. “A bad time.”

“Not a wonderful month, no,” McCartney murmured. He leaned back and put his feet on the edge of the mixing console.

Smith clicked his mouse, and music poured from the speakers mounted above the console – a plangent swell of strings and brass overlaid by the precise embroidery of a classical guitar playing a melody with a Spanish influence. McCartney had used a synthesizer to create the orchestral sounds; later, he planned to assign real instruments to replace the computer-generated ones. “A very mellow trombone would get you that,” he said, as a soft, rounded tone joined the mix. “French horn, even. Very pianissimo.”

When the passage ended, an assistant entered the studio holding a CD recording of McCartney performing with Jools Holland, the British keyboard player and television host, and a small band on a recent radio program. McCartney instructed the assistant to put the CD in the player. The room filled with the sound of “Dance Tonight,” the opening track on “Memory Almost Full.” McCartney plays the mandolin and sings ostensibly happy lyrics (“Everybody gonna dance tonight / Everything gonna feel all right”), but his voice, once preternaturally smooth, has developed a rasp, and the song’s minor chords gave it a mournful air. McCartney listened, nodding in time to the music. When the song was over, Bonell pointed out that McCartney’s mandolin had been slightly out of tune.

“Yeah, I know,” McCartney said. “But I liked that. The Beatles always called it ‘a fairground sound’ – the way music sounds when you hear it live. We used it on some of our early LPs.”

As Smith cued up a new section of the guitar concerto, McCartney continued to reminisce. “I remember when the Beatles first started to use orchestral arrangements,” he said. “George Martin would hire classical musicians to come to E.M.I. studios. There was a lot of smirking from the classical guys in the early days. When we were recording ‘Hey Jude,’ we asked them to add some handclaps in the sing-along at the end. One of them refused. He said, ‘I was not trained to clap.'” Bonell and Smith laughed.

Bonell began to transcribe a guitar passage while McCartney talked about his intermittent attempts to learn to read music: first, as a boy, when he briefly took piano lessons, and grew bored; and, later, as a Beatle, with the same result. “Now I don’t even want to learn,” he said. “The notes don’t seem to go with what I’m hearing.” He said that Lennon also could not read or write music. “Someone once told us that the Egyptian pharaohs couldn’t read or write – they had scribes to put down their thoughts. So John and I used to say, ‘We’re like the pharaohs!'”

After discussing the arrangement for a sweetly melodic movement called “Romance,” McCartney and Bonell went into an adjoining room with hardwood floors containing a concert grand piano, vibes, guitars, and other instruments. They sat beside each other on stools, facing a window through which they could see Smith in the control room. Both men picked up guitars and prepared to work on some passages that McCartney wanted to refine. But first he played the opening bars of a Bach bourrée. He said that he and George Harrison used to play it together as a “party piece” in the early sixties. He showed how one of the chords had become the opening notes to “Blackbird.” He played a snatch of that song, then stopped abruptly. “O.K., back to work!” he said. “That’s enough fun. It’ll end in tears.”

He asked Smith to play through the studio speakers a guitar phrase from the beginning of a movement called “Farmboy” – an ascending run of five notes that McCartney had recorded sometime earlier. Smith played the phrase. “O.K., stop there,” McCartney said. He turned to Bonell and explained that he wanted the figure to include “more notes.”

Bonell performed the phrase, adding more notes.

McCartney grunted. “I’m trying to get, like, twice the amount of notes in,” he said. “So instead of – ” he played an arpeggio – “it should be. . . . ” He tried to play the sounds he heard in his mind, but stumbled.

Bonell’s fingers flew over the frets.

“Yeah,” McCartney said, still not hearing it. “Um, there’s a note on the way, a passing note.”

Bonell played a fancier run up the scale.

“Yeah,” McCartney said, dubiously. He attempted to sing the phrase but couldn’t capture it. “It just needs two notes for every one,” he persisted.

Bonell tried again.

“Yeah, that’s probably it,” McCartney said. But he didn’t sound sure. He suggested that they move on to another passage. They worked this way for almost an hour.

At 4:30 P.M., McCartney announced that the session was over.”

I don’t think there’s been much mention of it since. I was also disappointed since I was really looking forward to it. I’ve enjoyed all of his classical work.

From Paul McCartney: “Kisses on the Bottom”* | Page 30 | Steve Hoffman Music Forums

Paul wrote and recorded a 9 minutes long piece of music for the Jacques Perrin Film, Oceans. But it wasn’t used because it didn’t fit with the Bruno Coulais score, So Perrin refused the music. Then Paul reworked the musical theme and wrote more for the ballet. The guitar concerto is another totally different project, with already 2 different versions recorded ( one classical with an acoustic guitar à la Vivaldi’s concerto, and another one with Jeff Beck electric guitar wth Orchestra, but EMI classics refused it, because of the change of label by Paul for his rock albums and his back catalogue. So it’s on the shelved, and Paul would like to use this for the Londonolympic games, if someone ask him for this. There is always an opportunity for any macca unreleased stuff , eg : Blue sway , recently

McCartney Ballet Score ‘Ocean’s Kingdom’ Out Oct 4 | Page 2 | Steve Hoffman Music Forums

Despite beginning in 2006, McCartney’s classical guitar concerto is yet to be finished. Carlos says a lot of work has gone into it and speaks fondly of how it sounds. “It’s a mixture of bits which you go ‘Oh that sounds like the Beatles’, bits which sound like baroque music, and other bits which sound like Spanish music,” he says. “I hope that if you write this up, it’s a good message to Paul: Paul, where is that guitar concerto? Shall we pick it up again? That’s the message.”

Carlos Bonell – Muso Mirror Interviews: Classical Guitarist Carlos Bonell, February 6, 2021

Live performances

Paul McCartney has never played this song in concert.


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