The Paul McCartney Project

Filming of “London Town” promotional video

Tuesday, February 21, 1978 • Posted in “A day in the life

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From Club Sandwich N°79, Autumn 1996:

With few exceptions, the thousands of pop promo videos made in the last 30 years fall into four categories: direct enactments of a song’s lyric, straight-to-camera performances, storyboard/impressionistic interpretations, or amalgamations of two or more of the above. ‘London Town’, for sure, is an “enactment”. The song paints an audio picture, the promo faithfully transfers the audio images to video.

Wings were a trio at the time the video was shot, during the afternoon of Tuesday 21 March 1978. ‘London Town’, the song, and London Town, the album, had been recorded when the band was a five-piece unit, but between its taping and release a pair Wings – Jimmy and Joe – had taken flight. Not for the first time, Paul, Linda and Denny Laine were left to hold the fort, although drummer Steve Holly was about to round out a foursome once again. Indeed, the morning of the ‘London Town’ video shoot had seen the filming of the promo for ‘With A Little Luck’, in which Steve made a fleeting appearance.

Because it’s an “enactment” video, one need only take a look at the lyric for ‘London Town’ to guess the content of the promo. Amid the light of a “purple afternoon”, the three Wings members sashay down a London street, dressed in raincoats, scarves and hats but, oddly, without shoes. Linda, in the middle, has an arm through the men flanking her.

Soon enough they encounter “a barker playing a simple tune upon his flute”. Rather unkindly, or so it appears, the musician is nudged off the kerb by Paul, to fall in a heap by the side of the road. Closer inspection, however, reveals that, lurking underneath the flat cap and inside the Wellington boots, the barker is none other than John Hammel, Paul’s “roadie” cum assistant.

As “silver rain” (actually glitter) falls, and “ordinary people” pass by, the camera focuses on an “out of work actor entertaining his wife”. The thespian, his face whitened as a Pierrot and his actions greatly hammed up, turns out to be Victor Spinetti, Paul’s good friend, whose talents graced not one or two but three Beatles films: A Hard Day’s Night, Help! and Magical Mystery Tour. The ‘London Town’ video, indeed, was shot in the same place as the first two of these – Twickenham Studios, south-west of London – so the McCartney/ Spinetti reunion must have seemed just like old times.

And speaking of reunions, the director of the ‘London Town’ video was Michael Lindsay-Hogg, brought in by Paul as the director of the Beatles’ final movie, Let It Be, in January 1969 – that also was partially shot at Twickenham. As well as directing this and the ‘With A Little Luck’ promos Michael also worked with Paul on ‘Mull Of Kintyre’ and with the Beatles on ‘Paperback Writer’ ‘Rain’, ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Revolution’ – the latter two shot at Twickenham.

Continuing their stockinged shuffle down the street, Wings come upon a rozzer (that’s a policeman, for the uninitiated) holding a pink balloon, which Paul promptly kicks away, and as they approach a sea-food stall, selling cockles and whelks (this was before the Macs’ vegetarian breakthrough, remember), Paul and Denny don guitars and Paul plays (mimes) the guitar break.

Much was made at the time of Paul’s “flashes” to the camera, parting the flaps of his raincoat to reveal underneath … a transparent net petticoat! It was a spot of good clean harmless fun that amused Fleet Street editors and resulted in the production of a good few inches – of newspaper coverage.

As Wings turn around and head back up the road, the screen fades to black and the ‘London Town’ promo is over. There’s simply no getting away from the fact that, with its basic studio setting and tableau enactment of the lyrics, this promo is a country mile away from the videos of today. But it was made, let us remember, almost 19 years ago, when less discerning viewing audiences neither expected nor demanded sophistication.

It didn’t matter much anyway, in the long run. ‘London Town’ was issued as the third single off the album of the same name, by which time sales had peaked. ‘With A Little Luck’ had scored a Top Five placing, ‘I’ve Had Enough’ had done enough and ‘London Town’, to be frank, failed to set the charts alight as a 45rpm disc. Correspondingly, the video received only a few screenings, and while this can be maddening if a production budget has been sky high, it’s not quite so agonising when costs have been kept low.

Mark Lewisohn

Last updated on September 9, 2020

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