An orchestral version of Paul and Linda McCartney’s 1971 album Ram, Thrillington was recorded that same year but was released under the pseudonym Percy ‘Thrills’ Thrillington in 1977.
The songs were re-recorded over three days at EMI Studios in Abbey Road, London, from 15-17 June 1971, and was mixed on the 18th. Paul McCartney was the producer, but did not perform during the sessions.
The big band arrangements were by Richard Hewson, who had previously orchestrated Mary Hopkin’s ‘Those Were The Days’, ‘Goodbye’, ‘Let My Name Be Sorrow’, and the Postcard album. He also arranged the James Taylor album for Apple, and – more controversially – did the orchestration for ‘The Long And Winding Road’ and ‘I Me Mine’ for Let It Be.
Hewson was sent an advance pressing of the Ram recordings, and re-arranged them with little or no involvement from McCartney.
In the studio
The recording of Thrillington began on 15 June 1971. The core band – which included Vic Flick on guitar, Clem Cattini on drums, Herbie Flowers on bass guitar, Steve Grey on piano, Roger Coulan on organ and Jim Lawless on percussion – taped the backing tracks for each of the songs during a morning and afternoon session. That evening the strings were recorded.
A morning session on 16 June saw the addition of woodwind parts, as well as the male singers on Ram On. That afternoon the French vocal group The Swingle Singers added overdubs to five songs, and in the evening more strings and recorders – the latter played by the Carl Dolmetsch family – were taped.
The final day of recording was 17 June, and saw brass parts added in Abbey Road’s Studio One. Thrillington was mixed to completion on the following day.
The album ended with the sound of the toilets at Abbey Road. The cisterns were old and leaking, and studio engineer noticed that the sound of the water droplets were in tune with one another. McCartney decided that the sound would be the perfect way to end ‘The Back Seat Of My Car’, and the sounds were recorded on four separate tracks to give a stereo effect.
It is not known why there was a six-year gap between the recording and release of Thrillington. Certainly the decision to issue the album at the height of punk rock in the UK meant it had little chance of commercial success.
And so it proved. The easy listening style was far removed from prevailing fashions, although it did demonstrate that McCartney was still willing to make bold artistic statements.
A single, ‘Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey’, with ‘Eat At Home’ on the b-side, was issued along with the album in April 1977. To promote them MPL placed crytic messages in the personal columns of the Evening Standard and Times newspapers in the UK. The approach eventually led to an article in the Standard speculating on the identity of Percy Thrillington.
Then we started this whole business in the Evening Standard ad columns, which was the really fun thing, putting in things like ‘Must get in touch wit… Thrillington’, as a result of which the newspaper columns picked up on it – ‘Has anyone seen this rubbish going on in the Evening Standard about Percy Thrillington?’ – and it was good publicity. It was one of our madcap publicity schemes, as if we were managing this character called Percy Thrillington.
EMI also advertised the album, with a campaign involving radio advertisements, business cards for the fictitious Percy Thrillington, thought-bubble stickers and publicity photographs.
So we invented it all, Linda and I, and we went around southern Ireland and found a guy in a field, a young farmer, and asked if he minded doing some photographic modelling for us. We wanted to find someone that no one could possibly trace, paid him the going rate, and photographed him in a field, wearing a sweater and then wearing an evening suit. But he never quite looked Percy Thrillington enough.
McCartney wrote sleeve notes under the name Clint Harrigan – whose name also appeared on the first Wings album. A press release was issued to accompany Thrillington:
Percy ‘Thrills’ Thrillington was born in Coventry Cathedral in England in 1939. As a young man he wandered the globe. His travels took him to Baton Rouge, Louisiana in the US where he studied music for five years. He later moved to LA where he gained expertise in conducting and arranging as well as the marketing end of the music business. Eventually his path led to London where his lifelong ambition to form an orchestra was finally realized… he takes all the songs from Paul and Linda McCartney’s Ram album and, with the help of some of London’s best orchestra and ‘big band’ musicians, forges the pop music themes into new orchestral versions. He is assisted by Richard Newson [sic] who arranged and conducted. When McCartney heard what ‘Thrills’ was doing he even gave the project his seal of approval.
Due to the commercial failure of Thrillington, it became a collector’s item for a time – although nobody was quite sure whether or not it was by Paul McCartney.
McCartney never volunteered the truth at the time, but was asked about it by journalist Peter Palmiere at a Los Angeles press conference on 27 November 1989.
What a great question to end the conference. The world needs to know! But seriously it was me and Linda – and we kept it a secret for a long time but now the world knows! – you blew it!
The album’s value more than doubled after the admission. In 1990 McCartney also admitted to Palmiere that he was Clint Harrigan.
Thrillington was reissued on CD in 1995 and 2004, and in 2012 as part of the deluxe edition of Ram from the Paul McCartney Archive Collection.
The album was reissued on CD and vinyl on 18 May 2018. In addition to the standard vinyl version, the first time since 1977 that the album had been made available on the format, there was a limited edition red and black marbled vinyl edition.