You are here: Home » Beyond Business » Features
Business Standard

The story of the sitar Beatles used in 'Norwegian Wood'

Harrison bought the sitar from a shop called Indiacraft on Oxford Street in London

Press Trust of India  |  New Delhi 

Do you know that during the recording of the Beatles' iconic song 'Norwegian Wood', one of the strings of the sitar played by George Harrison broke leaving him with no clue about how to replace it until he was helped by none other than Indian political activist in Britain Ayana Angadi?

This and several other titbits about the Fab Four and their India connection are mentioned in an article in "The Equator Line" magazine written by American freelance writer Robert Cepican.

Harrison bought the sitar from a shop called Indiacraft on Oxford Street in London and John Lennon suggested using it for the first time in the song 'Norwegian Wood'.

The Beatles-India story took an interesting twist during the recording of 'Norwegian Wood'. Whether it was divine intervention or the product of a 'real crummy' sitar, one of the strings on the instrument broke," writes Cepican in the piece titled "The Yogi and the Fab Four".

Written by Lennon and Paul McCartney, 'Norwegian Wood' was recorded in October 1965 and released on December 6, 1965. Cepican, who is the author of "Yesterday Came Suddenly, The History of the Beatles" and is working on another book on the legendary British band, says Harrison had no clue how to replace the broken string.

"Producer George Martin stepped in and suggested that he contact Ayana Angadi, the co-founder of the Asian Music Circle (AMC). Angadi had provided George Martin with authentic Indian musicians five years earlier on a song, recorded with Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren, called 'Goodness Gracious Me'," he writes.

Shankara Angadi, Ayana's son, recalls, "As luck would have it, we did have some sitar strings in the house, and the whole family went down to the studio at Abbey Road and watched them record, from behind the glass."

The simple act of a sitar string breaking had a profound influence on the direction of Harrison's life. Indian music had been completely unknown to him but for the next two years, Ayana Angadi and the AMC would mentor Harrison in the study of Indian classical music. The organisation had two sitar teachers, one of whom became Harrison's first teacher, but according to Shankara, no one seems to remember his name.

The AMC would provide authentic Indian musicians for Harrison's next two Indian songs - 'Love you to', which appeared on 'Revolver'; and 'Within you without you', which appeared on 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band'. George wrote 'Love you to' to draw more attention to the sitar. It was also the first Beatles recording to give credit on the album cover to a musician outside the group, an Indian musician named Anil Bhagwat, who played the tabla.

Dear Reader,

Business Standard has always strived hard to provide up-to-date information and commentary on developments that are of interest to you and have wider political and economic implications for the country and the world. Your encouragement and constant feedback on how to improve our offering have only made our resolve and commitment to these ideals stronger. Even during these difficult times arising out of Covid-19, we continue to remain committed to keeping you informed and updated with credible news, authoritative views and incisive commentary on topical issues of relevance.
We, however, have a request.

As we battle the economic impact of the pandemic, we need your support even more, so that we can continue to offer you more quality content. Our subscription model has seen an encouraging response from many of you, who have subscribed to our online content. More subscription to our online content can only help us achieve the goals of offering you even better and more relevant content. We believe in free, fair and credible journalism. Your support through more subscriptions can help us practise the journalism to which we are committed.

Support quality journalism and subscribe to Business Standard.

Digital Editor

First Published: Sun, August 02 2015. 13:25 IST