Band on the Run is the latest of Paul's releases to get the Dolby Atmos treatment! Celebrating the album's 50th anniversary, producer Giles Martin discusses the Atmos mixing process, and shares his thoughts about this iconic Wings record...
The ATMOS Mix of Band on the Run is an incredible way to experience such a cherished album. It's so much fun hearing musical details that have eluded us for 50 years.
Giles: Yeah, it's really interesting for me. You can forget the amount of love and care that goes into an album, and when you're doing an Atmos Mix, you have to be careful that you don't pull things apart too much. There's a reason why recording artists layer things on top of each other - the reason being it should be condensed and put together. Sometimes things will sound quite wide, and some will be narrow. The reason is because it has to sound natural. I don't believe in listening to “a mix” - you listen to a song. But with Paul and what he does, and it's in this album, it's just a ball of energy, and he's a ball of energy. That's what it is to me. You just hear how many ideas he has. That's what it is, you hear the brain working.
He's clearly having so much fun! When beginning this particular project, was there a conversation between you and Paul about what he was looking for?
Giles: No, that’s not really how we work. The way we work is that [producer and engineer] Steve Orchard, who is brilliant, and deserves a lot of credit for this work, Steve compiles everything. There's lots of things that have to happen in these projects, like sorting out the tapes and making sure things are running at the right speed. Lots of really detailed stuff. Then Paul comes in, and we'll listen to everything, he'll tweak, and we have a lovely time. Musically, Paul already knows where everything should be and so there's a pre-emptive guesswork that, I guess, I do with Steve beforehand. Obviously, we respect the stereo as well.
So when you’re working in the studio, Paul remembers everything?
Giles: What's lovely is how much he enjoys it. Paul remembers everything when you're working on a track. Very fond memories. And I learn that there's a reason why everything's in place in the song.
The sequencing of this album is impeccable. It has a sort of narrative arc to it. There must be a bit of excitement, peeling the layers back one by one and seeing what you find. Is it a little bit like that?
Giles: It's always interesting to hear different tracks and instruments soloed - backing vocals and things like that. You find that there's not much extra material. The reason why things sound good is because they were played so well! So, again, going back to what I say about doing this, you have to be respectful that things should be together and not taken apart.
With Band on the Run you really get a sense of the sound of Wings. The combination of Paul and Linda and Denny’s voices is so distinct.
Giles: Linda was very important to this. It was ridiculous and insulting how chastised she was at the time, because Linda had a great voice. You can hear it on the records. And this is obviously pre-auto tune, bear that in mind. It was a great thing. Linda, Denny and Paul together as vocalists creating that blend.
The other thing about this album, of course, is it's a lot of Paul. My father [Beatles producer George Martin] said to me when I was a kid that Paul was probably the best all-round musician he’d ever worked with. Bear in mind he worked with Ella Fitzgerald, Stan Getz, and John Lennon. And John was very different. John was a very natural singer, was actually a very naturally brilliant singer and a great guitar player, but Paul’s ability to switch instruments, I mean…! And I've worked with him. I did an album with him a while back. He's unlike anyone else I've ever known. He is very energetic in the way he works. Band on the Run, for me, is concentrated Paul in that respect. Because everyone has a certain style and a tempo to where they play, and Paul's drumming is very energetic. It has anticipation, and that creates this constant momentum, and Paul's like that. People talk about Prince, rightly so, being this extraordinary musician, and, like, Stevie Wonder, you know. But Paul's like a rhythm machine.
What does the Band on the Run album tell us about Paul?
Giles: I think this album is a bit like a champagne cork moment. Going away to Lagos and working on this album, getting away from everything and being with Linda, and also Denny having his wife there, it was like, they're away. He was away from it. It was a release for him. That's what it tells me about Paul. I think the break up of the Beatles was a big loss for them all to deal with. I think this album is almost him getting over that loss.
Denny Laine referred to it back in 1999 as, “three people in Lagos having a laugh”. He talks about the total “feel” of Band on the Run, which is what made it his favourite of all the Wings albums. That feel must be something that you've got to preserve when doing a job like this?
Giles: There is a thing about not having regimented click tracks and not having everything in time and in tune, which is feel, you know. Things speed up and slow down, and things are sort of a musical journey, if you like. That's important. One thing about Paul is that he has great feel, and you can't teach it.
This iteration of Band on the Run features an Underdubbed version of the album, whose idea was it to do this?
Giles: It was Paul’s idea. It shows that sort of raw essence of what the album was. You have to remember that when you work with him - he's a great producer.
Did Paul have any notes when you played him these mixes?
Giles: What's interesting is that Paul never wants to be safe. He wants everything to be listened to. We'll listen to the song together, and we have a button, which is the original stereo mix and the new mix. We flip between the two at any stage and just see if we're missing anything. Sometimes he'll go, “Oh, you've done this differently, but I like it.” Or, “we're missing this bit here.”
Which of the songs on Band on the Run is your personal favourite and why?
Giles: Probably 'Band on the Run'! Pretty obvious, but I think 'Band on the Run' is like a pop version of 'Paranoid Android' by Radiohead. The fact it’s three completely different songs joined together, but it works as a song. I love that. It's really brave. And I love bravery. It's a pop song that’s really brave.
Is there any one sound, Paul McCartney ad-lib, or a sonic detail that you unearthed in the Band on the Run process that particularly moved you?
Giles: I just get moved by the whole thing. I get moved by listening to the songs. What I love about this process with Paul is that it's time travel, for me. You listen to these tapes, and these tapes were made by people in 1973, and they are that age when they make them and you hear that. So you're with them in a room and that's more than anything else. It's not like, “Oh, that sound moves me,” it's like, “Wait a second, I'm basically in the room with them in 1973”, you know, because the recordings are so good. It's exactly the same sound that Geoff Emerick was listening to. It's that. That's the thing that moves me, and I feel privileged to be in that situation.
You can listen to Band on the Run in Dolby Atmos on supporting platforms such as Apple Music, Amazon Music and Tidal. Listen here!
Plus, the 50th Anniversary Edition of Band on the Run is out now! Featuring previously unheard 'underdubbed' mixes, this edition is available on 1 LP, 2LP, 2CD and digital formats. Get your copy here.