Paul McCartney on holiday in Kenya

November 14-19, 1966

Related song


Wild Life

Officially appears on Wild Life

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This trip to Kenya would inspire Paul McCartney to write the song “Wild Life”, some years after. “Wild Life” would be released on the eponym album in 1971.

‘Wild Life’ was to do with me having gone on safari and actually seeing that sign that I sing about: ‘The animals have the right of way’. Which really impressed me. You just realise the sort of dignity and strength of wild animals because here they’ve got the right of way. Whereas we’re all so full of our own importance. It’s kind of nice, you know. You’re just a guy in a Land Rover. You don’t matter so much! So that was why I wrote that song. Man, you know, we’re the “top species”, and yet we’re the ones who eff it up, which is not right. 

Paul McCartney – From paulmccartney.com, October 29, 2018

McCartney and Evans met at 1 p.m. the following day, November 12th, at a pre-arranged spot under the Grosse Cloche clock tower in Bordeaux’s Saint-Eloi Catholic church. Together they drove towards Spain, stopping off at the coastal town of San Sebastian, and then to Madrid, Cordoba and Malaga. The idea had been to visit Lennon on the set of How I Won the War in Almeria, but along the way they were informed that filming had moved on and Lennon was already back in England. Disappointed by drizzly weather and bored by the aimless driving, McCartney craved something more exotic. So, like many adventurous Englishmen before him, he booked a safari in Kenya.

Having arranged for the Aston Martin to be driven back to London, the men embarked on a flight to Nairobi, where McCartney’s girlfriend, actress Jane Asher, joined them. The trio took accommodations at a lodge in the Tsavo National Park and hired a man named Moses to drive them to the local sightseeing spots. At Mzima Springs they watched splashing crocodiles and hippos from an underwater viewing station, and followed wildlife through the Maasai Amboseli game reserve at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro. For an added treat, they stayed at the famous Treetops Hotel, built into an enormous chestnut tree overlooking an elephant watering hole in Aberdare National Park. Queen Elizabeth II had been residing there when she ascended to the throne in 1952. McCartney’s stay would provide another historical footnote.

The group spent their final night in a YMCA on Nairobi’s State House Ave before boarding a flight bound for England on November 19th. Once elevated, McCartney reflected on the 13-day excursion. The time alone had been restorative, and the change of scenery had been stimulating, but he remained fascinated by the transformative properties of disguise. Unencumbered by the burden of celebrity and liberated from any preconceived expectations, he could indulge his every impulse or curiosity. It was total freedom.

As the jet hurtled towards London, bringing him ever closer to the epicenter of over-ripened Beatlemania, he contemplated how to apply these same principles to a band in danger of being suffocated by their own fame. It had already robbed them of live performance, and if they weren’t careful, it would crush their musical creativity. In five days he was due at EMI’s Abbey Road studios for the band’s first sessions since completing Revolver that June, and the way forward seemed murky. “We were fed up with being the Beatles,” he said. “We really hated that fucking four little mop-top boys approach. We were not boys, we were men. It was all gone, all that boy shit, all that screaming, we didn’t want any more.” They yearned to be accepted as artists, but most saw them as the same cuddly act they’d known for all these years.

Perhaps the Beatles needed a disguise. “I thought, ‘Let’s not be ourselves. Let’s develop alter egos so we don’t have to project an image that we know. It would be much more free. What would really be interesting would be to actually take on the personas of this different band. We could say, ‘How would somebody else sing this? He might approach it a bit more sarcastically, perhaps.’ So I had this idea of giving the Beatles alter egos simply to get a different approach.”

But the new group needed a new name. The Beatles’ moniker, for all its global recognition, belonged to a different pop era by the end of 1966. Had the band extended their stay in San Francisco after playing Candlestick Park, they would have encountered Big Brother and the Holding Company, Country Joe and the Fish, the Only Alternative and His Other Possibilities, and Quicksilver Messenger Service. “It was the start of the hippy times, and there was a jingly-jangly hippy aura all around in America,” McCartney remembered in the Beatles Anthology documentary. “I started thinking about what would be a really mad name to call a band. At the time there were lots of groups with names like ‘Laughing Joe and his Medicine Band’ or ‘Colonel Tucker’s Medicinal Brew and Compound’; all that old Western going-round-on-wagons stuff, with long rambling names.”

McCartney was mulling it over when the inflight meal arrived. Evans found himself momentarily confused by the packets marked “S” and “P” on the trays. “Salt and pepper,” McCartney reminded him, before making a quick aural joke: “Sgt. Pepper.”

It was merely a pun – just above groan-worthy, really. But something about the name was catchy. It evoked the Edwardian militaria that had recently come into vogue among London’s fashion-conscious elite. Beautiful young men and women delighted in subverting these emblems of the British empire, steeped in violence and rigid adherence to order, by turning them into stylish works of art. Ultra-hip boutiques like I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet on King’s Road sold vintage dress tunics bedecked in stripes, frilly epaulettes and gleaming brass to Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix and lesser stars of the rock galaxy.

From Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’ at 50: What Inspired the Title Track – Rolling Stone

Last updated on May 3, 2022

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