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Ballymena man who played on Beatles classic Sgt Pepper

To his neighbours in Ballymena he was an unassuming man who lived quietly with his wife and children.

What most of them never knew was that he was a world-class musician who had arranged and written music for the Beatles famous Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album.

But as a French horn player he enjoyed an extraordinary career which included having a piece of classical music written in his |honour.

John H Burden, who died recently, also played on some of the most iconic film soundtracks such as Black Beauty, the Pink Panther and the James Bond movies of the 1970s .

His son Tim Burden said his father would often speak about his time with the Beatles when he co-arranged the Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band horn section in 1967.

“What was funny about the Beatles scenario was that they didn’t know what they wanted. Paul McCartney couldn’t write in musical terms what he actually wanted, he knew he wanted French horns and a fanfare type sound so my dad would have written down the music and arranged it for the Beatles,” Mr Burden said.

“The key thing he used to say was that they were disorganised but they were lots of fun and very respectful. Essentially the vibe that you got was that they were cheeky lads who were a bit disorganised.

“I think he could have felt like a father figure to them,” his son said.

The respected horn player moved to Northern Ireland in 1990 where he taught at Ballymena Academy.

He played organ at St Patrick's Church of Ireland on Sundays and was also called upon to play at St Patrick's Barracks in the town for special occasions.

Born on April 13, 1921, Mr Burden served with the Royal Air Force Band during World War Two before joining the London Symphony Orchestra.

He was a member of the group which set up the Sinfonia of London in 1955 after becoming frustrated with not getting the chance to play contemporary music.

“I suppose word got around that this group were doing pop songs and rock songs and that is why a lot of the big film producers came over to record the music sound tracks,” his son said.

“As a child in the pram I apparently went to many sessions for film and music recordings. I was in the pram for one of the James Bond recordings, Moonraker in 1979.”

The musician befriended composer Gilbert Vinter who wrote the horn piece Hunter’s Moon specifically for him which was first performed by Mr Burden.

“They both served together in the RAF Band and because they were quite close Mr Vinter decided to write this for him as dad’s playing was quite dynamic and the piece suited his style” Mr Burden said.

Martin Wall, french horn player with the Ulster Orchestra was a pupil of Mr Burden’s at Trinity College in London and remembered his teacher with fondness.

“When I was in college in the late 70s he couldn’t play at all, he had problems with his mouth, which tends to happen a lot of musicians. But he was still able to teach, in fact he was a great teacher and he turned out many good musicians.”

John H Burden died in Wiltshire on October 31, 2010, aged 89.


Released in 1969, Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band spent 27 weeks at the top of the UK album charts and was No 1 in the US Billboard Charts for 15 weeks.

It was the eighth studio album by the Beatles and was recorded in London over 129 days from December 6, 1966, to April 21, 1967.

The experimental album made use of innovative production techniques and the Beatles took inspiration from jazz, rock and roll, classical and Indian music.

Belfast Telegraph