In the studio

George Harrison began recording Somewhere In England in March 1980, with sessions continuing sporadically over the following seven months.

One song, ‘Save The World’, sampled ‘Crying’ from Harrison’s debut solo album Wonderwall Music.

You spotted that? Three points for you! The whole ‘Save The World’ song blows up in the middle, where we all get nuked, with babies crying. That latter song is very serious, but at the same time is hysterical. The lyrics have got a lot of funny things about “dogfood salesmen” and “making your own H-bomb in the kitchen with your mom.” At the end, I just wanted to let the whole song go out with something sad, to touch that nerve and maybe make you think, ‘Ohhh s**t.’ I thought of that instrument I used on Wonderwall Music called the thar-shanhai, which means ‘string’ shanhai. It’s like a one-string fiddle, a bowed instrument with the sympathetic strings resting over a stretched skin, so it has that hollow, echoey resonance, a wailing, crying sound.
George Harrison
George Harrison: Reconsidered, Timothy White

When it was delivered to Warner Bros, the distributor of his Dark Horse label, in September 1980, Mo Ostin raised concerns at the quality of four songs: ‘Flying Hour’, ‘Tears Of The World’, ‘Lay His Head’, and ‘Sat Singing’.

Derek Taylor, Harrison’s friend, biographer, and Apple Corps’ former press officer, was at that time working for Warners. He was tasked with telling the former Beatle that the songs in question were too downbeat, and that the label was concerned at the lack of an obvious hit single.

Warners also rejected the proposed cover art, a monochrome profile photograph of Harrison superimposed on a map of Great Britain.

They were telling me: “Well, we like it, but we don’t really hear a single.” And then other people were saying, “now, look, radio stations are having all these polls done in the street to find out what constitutes a hit single and they’ve decided a hit single is a song of love gained or lost directed at 14-to-20-year-olds.” And I said, “S**t, what chance does that give me?” So anyway, I went in and wrote that song just to shed some of the frustrations. And there’s things in there like “There is no sense to it, pure pounds and pence to it… They’re so intense, too, makes me amazed.
George Harrison
Creem, December 1987

Percussionist Ray Cooper was drafted in to co-produce the second iteration of Somewhere In England. This set of sessions ran from November 1980 to February 1981, and involved the recording of ‘All Those Years Ago’, ‘Teardrops’, ‘That Which I Have Lost’, and ‘Blood From A Clone’.

George rang me and said he needed some help producing his next album, Somewhere In England. So I co-produced the recut version, which really involved the recording of about four alternative tracks. I think that at that time, George’s musical isolationist policy was beginning to have an effect. I think all artists need to feed off other artists’ talents. It was a great joy for me, as co-producer, to put him in touch with some new faces. So there was some new blood coming in and new conversation.
Ray Coooper
Uncut, May 2020

The musicians that Cooper brought to the table included drummer Dave Mattacks, veteran session bassist Herbie Flowers, and pianist Mike Moran.

George understood space. We would sit in the gardens at Friar Park and talk about what we were going to do next, or we would talk about other incidental things which we would bring back into the studio with us, organically. He knew the value of that. He knew how to bring things together. He knew how to listen and how to collaborate. He needed other musicians to play with and someone who could bring about some energy in the recording room.
Ray Coooper
Uncut, May 2020

In the early hours of 9 December 1980, Harrison received word that John Lennon had been shot and killed in New York City. Harrison’s sister Louise called Friar Park and spoke to Olivia Harrison, who immediately notified her husband.

George had just finished the vocals on ‘All Those Years Ago’, of all things, and I was on my way back home to London in the early hours of the morning. On the radio it was announced that John had been murdered. I turned the car around on the M4 and came straight back. George was devastated. He and John had a very special relationship. He loved him, and he had just written a song about him.
Ray Coooper
Uncut, May 2020

Relations between the former Beatles were broadly positive in 1980, following many years of acrimonious business and legal troubles. And although Harrison had not seen Lennon in two years, he retained a great deal of love and respect for him.

Harrison, via Derek Taylor, issued a press release paying tribute to Lennon. He also spoke by telephone to Ringo Starr, who was travelling from the Bahamas to New York.

In the aftermath of the news, Harrison made the decision to continue working, finding solace in music. Working with Ray Cooper and drummer Dave Mattacks, he recorded ‘Blood From A Stone’.

Ray called on the morning of the sessions and said, ‘I’m not sure whether it’s going to happen.’ I asked why. ‘Have you not heard? John Lennon has been shot.’ There was a two- or three-hour gap when nothing happened, then Ray called back and the conversation was something along the lines of, ‘I’ve spoken to George, and he thinks that trying to make music would be more therapeutic than him sitting around and being besieged by press and God knows what else.’ So the session went ahead.

Ray picked me up at the railway station, and we got to Friar Park and the gates outside were mobbed with press. It got a little bit more serene when we got to the house. I just said, ‘I’m incredibly sorry about the news. Me and half the world are lost for words.’ After a while, the session got underway. I was overdubbing a track called ‘Blood From A Clone’. I was trying to do something a little off-centre, because that’s what the lyrics of the song implied, it was an anti-drum-machine song. I remember thinking, ‘Try and programme this!’ Initially George wasn’t 100 per cent sure, but Ray convinced him. It wasn’t heated, it was just a discussion between the three of us, and he came around to it. After we’d recorded, in the evening we sat around eating. The conversation got around, very gently, to the crazy fan factor. We talked for a bit about Beatlemania and all that, and then George said, ‘All I really wanted to do was to be in a band.’ It was very telling, and very poignant. In other words, ‘All these side issues got in the way, and look where it got us. This is the end result.’

Dave Mattacks
Uncut, May 2020

‘All Those Years Ago’ had originally been written for Ringo Starr to sing, although Starr found the vocals too high for his limited range, and disliked the lyrics. He and Harrison recorded the backing track at Friar Park in late November 1980.

Following Lennon’s death, Harrison decided to record his own vocals over the backing track, with a new set of lyrics paying tribute to Lennon. Providing backing vocals were Paul and Linda McCartney and their Wings bandmate Denny Laine.

In Somewhere In England’s liner notes, Harrison thanked The Beatles’ producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick. Martin was a guest at Friar Park during the album’s creation.

George had incredible ears. The mixes on the album were very much his. George Martin used to pop in; sometimes he was on his way home and he’d come in for a cup of tea – while I was producing! He was very supportive. I would just sit back and make the tea and listen to their stories.
Ray Coooper
Uncut, May 2020
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