December, 5th, 2005.
I’m not sure if this date means anything to you, but it certainly represents a lot to this writer. It was on a stormy December evening that I released my book on Paul McCartney (a Brazilian-release only). Roughly translated, it’s called “Paul McCartney – The secrets of his solo career”. Yes, you bet I could spend years talking about its making, but on this post I swear I’m only going to grant you an exclusive excerpt of the book. Specifically, on the recording of the “Pipes Of Peace” single.
Here follows the full interview (with a few changes, as I lost the original Word document) I did with tabla player and music professor in the University Of Toronto, Canada, James Robert Kippen, back in 2002.
As you are certainly aware, the tabla is an Indian percussion instrument that can also be heard on a few Beatles’ tracks, such as “Within You, Without You” and “Getting Better”. For this song, written by Paul after responding positively to Liverpudlian’s writer request, George Melly, the tabla was mixed prominently throughout the track’s middle eight. And how did this come about, you’re due to read in the next lines. Enjoy!
How did you end up working with Paul on Pipes Of Peace?
Well, I’d known George Martin for years before I got invited to work in the sessions. We used to live in the same neighbourhood and his wife (Judy) was close to my mother as well. Another coincidence, by the way. Before that, in the early ‘70s, I looked after George’s children and that indeed helped to make our bond stronger. Truth is that George Martin was very influential in my life because he instigated me quite a lot to improve my musical abilities and reassure my interests in music.
What about playing tabla on the track Pipes Of Peace? How did the invitation come about?
The proper invitation happened in October 1982. George rang me up at home and we had a chat about Paul McCartney’s latest project. Around that time, Paul had already written the song (Pipes Of Peace) as a musical piece that involved several kinds of pipes originated from many countries around the world. It was actually a song about the global peace. And, as Paul is very into detail, he also had a objective idea that his track would be arranged with a very unique sound of percussion backing. Well, so that’s where my role started off. I’m a tabla player, and when Paul thought the arrangement for the song would have Indian instruments, my name immediately came to George Martin’s mind. So he made another phone call and I accepted his invitation.
When you arrived at A.I.R Paul was already there?
No, not really. Paul arrived about a half hour later in the studio and he seemed to be very nice and relaxed. He’s actually a very easy-going, down-to-earth person and he wanted to make sure I was feeling comfortable too. And, as soon as he got in there, we started chatting about how he intended to record the song. It didn’t take long, though.
What about Paul McCartney’s decisions on the arrangements? Did he give you any particular instruction before taping the track?
Well, that’s a nice question by the way. First of all, he wanted to make sure I had understood how my contribution would be like. I remember very well when Paul picked up my tabla to show me exactly what he wanted. He had a particular percussion sound in mind so that he tried to translate it in a practical way for me to reproduce it in the record. He gave the tabla back to me and I offered him several ideas with proper phrases that would serve as support to the song. Paul’s reply to some of my run-throughs were negative, but thankfully he did enjoy most of them. When we decided what was going to be in the song, I had some time to rehearse before recording it properly. Apparently, Paul liked what he heard!
So you did record Pipes Of Peace in the same day you met him for the first time?
Yes, we did. Not a single minute wasted, I can tell! (laughs) After I rehearsed my parts, Paul called me up in the control room to show me where exactly the tabla phrases were going to be placed in. Then we started off recording almost immediately after his last instructions. I guess we did about 20 or 30 takes of my tabla before he decided which was the best one. The remaining of the session was dedicated to mix the tabla sounds on Pipes Of Peace, so the recording engineers came into the scene.
Did they change something throughout the process? Did your original performance get altered in some form?
Actually, yes. But not much. The main difference to the actual recording was that the tabla sound was given a treatment in the mixing desk that ended up with more low timbres than it’s in the original performance. However, it wasn’t heavily altered in the mix. I enjoyed the results as much as Paul and George Martin did.
You told me that the original concept of Pipes Of Peace would feature several pipes in the arrangement. Whatever happened to the initial project?
Actually I was only told that they had changed their minds on the project, months after the album were already available in the record stores. I was in India doing my research on musical instruments and got a little bit surprised with the change of direction. Apparently, one of the instruments that was going to be used in the session was the shehnai, a kind of oboe played in the north of India. So, they’d to face the following situation: it was unlikely they would get in London a musician capable to play the shehnai in the very way the track’s melody was conceived by Paul. One thing I recall is that George Martin later asked me about the actual possibilities to produce the arrangement and I went, very frankly: “Not many, George!”
Did you feel a bit disappoited learning that it had been changed?
No, not really! I enjoyed the results very much. However, you can’t deny that, had the original concept been achieved, it would have turned out as something beautiful, unique. You know, after I picked my copy of the Pipes Of Peace album I showed the final results to my Indian friends and they got impressed with the recording. And I can tell, I DID enjoy the recording. Mainly the tabla bits, I don’t know why…(laughs).
To wrap this up, any particular fun recollection of the sessions?
Yes, I’ve got some. I remember when I finished my part I had my way to the studios’ restaurant to have a bite and relax a little bit. Paul was already there, and I recall that A.I.R had a videogame machine there and guess what? Paul was having a go in the ’80′s ultimate game” – Space Invaders. We chatted a bit and then he confessed: “I’m addicted to this game….I just can’t stop playing it!” (laughs) He told me that the night before our session he had spent hours and hours and just had given up playing “Invaders” around 4 a.m! We had a laugh talking about that, it was really lots of fun…