Recorded: 3, 4 October 1978
Producers: Paul McCartney, Chris Thomas
Paul McCartney: vocals, piano, bass guitar
Linda McCartney: vocals, Hammond organ
Denny Laine, Laurence Juber, David Gilmour, Hank Marvin, Pete Townshend, Martin Jenner: electric guitar, vocals
John Paul Jones: bass guitar, piano, vocals
Ronnie Lane, Bruce Thomas: bass guitar, vocals
Gary Brooker: piano, vocals
Tony Ashton: keyboards, vocals
Steve Holley, John Bonham, Kenney Jones: drums, vocals
Speedy Acquaye, Tony Carr, Ray Cooper, Morris Pert: percussion, vocals
Howie Casey, Thaddeus Richard: saxophone
Tony Dorsey: trombone
Steve Howard: fulgelhorn
‘Rockestra Theme’ was the final single taken from Wings’ last album Back To The Egg. It was recorded with a supergroup of rock stars.
From 11-29 September 1978 Wings recorded a number of songs at Lympne Castle in Kent, England. Among the songs worked on was a demo of ‘Rockestra Theme’.
The album version was taped on 3 October at Abbey Road Studios 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 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.
On 11 June 1979 McCartney held a press conference at EMI’s Studio Two. The studio was decorated to look like a giant frying pan, with the walls covered with black curtains, and tables adorned with yellow parasols to represent egg yolks.
The album was played to invited guests and reporters. Also at the event was the first screening of the Rockestra film, though only 15 minutes were shown. The film crew were presented with an engraved egg cup and spoon by the McCartneys.
‘Rockestra Theme’ was released as a single in 1979 in France, where it was also the theme tune of radio music show Chlorophylle.
In 1980 the song won the 1980 Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
Wings’ final tour took place in November and December 1979 across Britain. Performing in theatres rather than stadiums, the group ended the tour in Glasgow on 17 December.
Their final performances, however, were at London’s Hammersmith Odeon on 29 December. Kurt Waldheim, the then UN Secretary General, approached McCartney to ask if Wings would give a charity concert for the victims of war-torn Cambodia (then Kampuchea). The result was a series of events, Concerts For The People Of Kampuchea, which featured The Who, Queen, and The Clash as other headliners.
The final concert was also Wings’ last. Two versions of ‘Rockestra Theme’ were performed with many of the original musicians, including John Paul Jones, John Bonham, and Pete Townshend. Other performers included Robert Plant, Dave Edmunds and Rockpile, Billy Bremner, and James Honeyman-Scott.
Most of the performers wore silver suits for this performance. Townshend refused, and McCartney could be heard commenting: “Thank you, Peter. Only lousy sod who wouldn’t wear the silver suit. ’Cause he’s a poof.”
The audio recording was released as an EP and on the 1981 live album Concerts For The People Of Kampuchea, which also included Wings’ performances of ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’, ‘Every Night’, ‘Coming Up’, ‘Lucille’, and ‘Let It Be’.