Perhaps the most remarkable Wings studio session took place on 3 October 1978: the recording of ‘Rockestra Theme’ with a supergroup of guest rock stars.
The session took place at Abbey Road from 10:30am to 6:30pm, and involved some of Britain’s best-known rock musicians. They included Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, The Shadows’ Hank Marvin, The Who’s Pete Townshend, Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham and John Paul Jones, The Faces’ Ronnie Lane and Kenney Jones, and The Attractions’ Bruce Thomas.
The Who’s Keith Moon had also been invited, but died shortly before the session. Ringo Starr declined the invitation to attend as he was out of the country. Guitarists Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, all formerly of The Yardbirds and with glittering subsequent careers behind them, also failed to turn up.
The ‘Rockestra Theme’ has good memories for me, of John Bonham in particular on drums, cos he’s the powerhouse behind the rhythm section. And all the great guys who showed up, [Pete] Townshend, Hank Marvin, a lot of really cool people. The idea was funny, but we were thinking recently of trying to revitalise it; every city has millions of people who play guitar, loads of drummers, and they only ever get together in really small units. Every city’s got millions of people who can play violin, viola and cello, and percussion, but they get together in large units. It was like an us-and-them thing. Why don’t we get together in large units?
That was the idea I was trying to float. I was hoping it would take off so much that people in Cleveland and people in Carlisle, kids would all get together and form rockestras, and do things like ‘Lucille’. Imagine twenty bass players – dum-dum-dum – ten drummers – bash bash bash – it would be a great scene, man, so someone’s still gotta do that. I may not get round to it but someone will, and I want inviting to it, please.
Conversations With McCartney, Paul Du Noyer
McCartney began by playing the assembled musicians the Lympne recording of ‘Rockestra Theme’, before spending an hour rehearsing the group. Recording began at 2pm and the track was completed quickly.
It’s amazing how tightly they all played together. With people like Pete Townshend, Gary Brooker, Hank Marvin, Ronnie Lane, Ray Cooper and Dave Gilmour, you would have expected a rougher, less controlled sound. But it didn’t turn out that way. When you get 14 rock musicians together for the first time, they can be incredibly tight.
‘So Glad To See You Here’ was also recorded during the session with the same line-up. McCartney sang guide vocals, which were re-recorded the following day.
The recording session for ‘Rockestra Theme’ was also filmed for posterity. Directed by Bruce Chattington, it was shot on 35mm Panavision cameras, with a total of 80,000 feet of film being used. In 1980 this was cut down to 5,500 feet for the resulting 40-minute programme, titled Rockestra.
I asked the fellow who was going to film if he could film it like they film wildlife. You know, they sit back off wildlife and just observe it and they just let it go on with its own thing and when you try and film our session it’s a bit like the same sort of thing. If everyone notices the cameras and lights, they all freeze up and won’t talk naturally and they all get embarrassed. So they put all the cameras behind a big wall and no one could see the cameras and a lot of them didn’t even know it was being filmed. John Bonham had no idea it was filmed… in fact he is suing us!
Further overdubs were added the following day and later in October 1978. They included the brass and wind overdubs, and additional guitar by Martin Jenner.
‘Rockestra Theme’ appeared on Wings’ final album Back To The Egg. It was released as a single in 1979 in France, and the following year won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
Also on this day...
- 2015: Ringo Starr live: Sonoma Music Festival, Sonoma, California
- 2014: Ringo Starr live: Fabulous Fox Theatre, St Louis, Missouri
- 2012: Love Me Don’t: EMI withdraws anniversary single
- 2011: UK album release: Ocean’s Kingdom by Paul McCartney
- 1975: UK album release: Extra Texture (Read All About It) by George Harrison
- 1969: Recording: Don’t Worry Kyoko (Mummy’s Only Looking For Her Hand In The Snow) by Plastic Ono Band
- 1968: Recording: Savoy Truffle
- 1966: Brian Epstein denies The Beatles’ split
- 1964: Television: Shindig!
- 1963: Radio: The Public Ear
- 1963: Recording: I Wanna Be Your Man, Little Child
- 1962: Live: Cavern Club, Liverpool (evening)
- 1960: Live: The Beatles’ last show at the Indra Club, Hamburg
- 1959: Live: Casbah Coffee Club, Liverpool
Want more? Visit the Beatles history section.