Full disclosure: I've got priors with the album Band on the Run. But haven't we all, to a degree?
For sure, each and every eager ear that turned up to Dolby's London HQ on a rainy night just days ago yearned to hear something it had never heard before – and yet had heard a thousand times – in the half-century since Paul McCartney and Wings' third studio album was released.
And oh, did we get it. On the agenda tonight is hearing Band on the Run in its entirety, remixed for this glorious Dolby Atmos venue (I've written odes to it, most recently after watching Baz Luhrmann's Elvis here) by long-time friend of McCartney and producer of his work, Giles Martin, for its 50th anniversary. We also get an informal Q&A session with Martin.
And on top of all this, the huge news is that we can now also hear the 'under-dubbed' version of the songs – yes, the original Lagos Nigeria EMI Studios tracks, without the subsequent AIR Studios and Kingsway London over-dubs and orchestral additions to fix 'em up.
Both are arriving today (Friday, Feb 2) in a variety of formats including vinyl, CD, and digital, beginning with the essential 1LP, a special vinyl edition cut at half speed using a high-resolution transfer of the original master tapes from late 1973 by Miles Showell at Abbey Road Studios, London.
Of course, you don't get Giles Martin with your purchase, which means we're incredibly lucky. We revel in his wry anecdotes about the "indefatigable, constantly searching for a new sound" McCartney, now 81 years old. We laugh when Martin quips, "We were working on New in 2013 and Paul had been to the Globe to see some Shakespeare. He came into the studio the next day wanting to record with Sagbutts & Coronetts – particularly the sagbutt. Yes, an early baroque trombone!"
But the music is our master (the McCartneys', Martin's, Dolby's) and that's what we're chiefly here to enjoy.
Let me roll it to you
I was able to bag an ideal seat in the middle of the fourth row of Dolby's elite facility. And the Dolby Atmos remix of this 50-year-old album, released in November 1973, from said seat was remarkable. Backing vocals in the title track (you know them, "If we ever get outta here") build gradually from the front of the house to either side of my ears. You can hear that each member of Wings felt more than a little trapped at the time of recording.
Want to latch onto a string-pull or cowbell in Bluebird? Want to hone in on a single saxophone, a jangle of keys in Jet or simply hold hands with a lesser-spotted musical passage until its eventual conclusion? You can – they're all here and with much more space around them than you're used to.
Martin's favorite track on the album? "Oh, Band on the Run itself. It's brave – to me it's Paul's version of Radiohead's Paranoid Android".
The hardest song to approach? He answers without hesitation: "Jet is a tricky track".
How does the process work? "Paul and I sit with a button to switch between the stereo mix and new mix we've got", Martin answers, "And sometimes Paul says 'You've missed a bit', or 'You've done it differently but I like it', and we always have a lovely time. But the stereo version of Jet is really quite gnarly and compressed, so it's about still respecting that gnarly sound."
Ho, hey ho
If you'll indulge me in my own experience (those "priors") with Band on the Run, my parents met in Nigeria in the 1970s. My dad was a quantity surveyor building a main road from the then-capital Lagos to the town of Okene (some 300 miles); my mum was teaching English in that same town.
So of course, I grew up listening to this album. Wings, Fela Kuti (whatever Kuti's thoughts on McCartney recording in Nigeria, mum and dad loved The Shrine), Oneness of Juju – these were all on heavy rotation in the London flat of my early childhood. Dad told me that in 1976 he and my mum had driven to the Lagos EMI Studios, which they realized was not far from a beach they visited called Badagry. Whatever the album's success, the recording studio hadn't become a salubrious place in three years since it hosted the remaining trio of Wings. He remembers a burnt tire near the entrance and a skeletal dog lying on the road. Of course, all of this just makes me love the album – and the fact we can now hear it as it was originally recorded – even more.
Nothing has been removed or deleted here (Martin assures us of this) and nobody is snatching our beloved stereo recordings from us. Some will doubtless say these albums shouldn't be toyed with or remastered, but I hope what I'm about to divulge offers something of an alternative view.
"Look, you should never just mix in Dolby Atmos as a standard. You should mix to make you feel something", Martin tells us.
My mum died last year. She was a huge Eric Clapton and Cream fan, so Band on the Run devotees will know what I'm about to tell you. Cream's former drummer, Ginger Baker, had invited Wings to record the album at his ARC Studio in Ikeja, Nigeria, instead of EMI in Lagos. McCartney went over for a day and the song Picasso's Last Words (Drink to Me) was recorded at ARC. Baker shakes a gravel-filled tin can on the track. My mum always said she could hear it was Ginger Baker playing. I said I could barely hear it at all.
So when Picasso's Last Words came on and there was Mr. Baker, shaking his tin can four rows in front of me and just to the right of the Dolby Soho screen, placed so perfectly and with such distinction that I felt as if I could touch him and his makeshift instrument, I cried. I totally get it, mum.
Did I feel something, Giles Martin? I certainly did. Thank you so much for that.
I made a swift exit after the Q&A (nobody needs my tear-stained boat cluttering up the place) but before I ducked into Tottenham Court Road tube station, I rang my dad. I told him about my evening; that I'd heard Ginger Baker and that I wished mum was still around to hear it too.
"Don't worry", he answered. "She'd never miss that. She was there with you."
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Becky is a senior staff writer at TechRadar (which she has been assured refers to expertise rather than age) focusing on all things audio. Before joining the team, she spent three years at What Hi-Fi? testing and reviewing everything from wallet-friendly wireless earbuds to huge high-end sound systems. Prior to gaining her MA in Journalism in 2018, Becky freelanced as an arts critic alongside a 22-year career as a professional dancer and aerialist – any love of dance starts with a love of music. Becky has previously contributed to Stuff, FourFourTwo and The Stage. When not writing, she can still be found throwing shapes in a dance studio, these days with varying degrees of success.