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On January 26, 1989 Paul McCartney took part in one of the weekly Granny’s Chest radio programs of the BBC Russian Service, which was dedicated to CHOBA B CCCP LP released in the Soviet Union. Sam Jones was the anchor, Seva Novgorodtsev helped him with translation. Live on air Paul told about his new album and answered questions from the broadcast listeners from various cities of the USSR. You can listen to this program [see Pic. 15]. ALL THE BEST! 2LP-set signed by McCartney was sent as a present to everyone who had been able to reach the live program by the phone. Ukrainian girl from Kiev Natalya Bortsova who was 16 years old at the time became a lucky owner of the autograph. It’s a matter of fact that not everyone got the records which were sent.
From Club Sandwich N°52:
The mere fact that Paul McCartney was able to broadcast to the USSR on 26th January, let alone speak to its citizens, was an indication how far glasnost (openness) had progressed. The Soviet authorities had systematically jammed the BBC’s Russian Service for 24 of its 43-year existence, ending finally (we trust) in January 1987.
Since then an audience 18 million strong has enjoyed a 46-hour weekly output, including classical music, jazz and pop oldies. […] Until October 1987 there were no phone calls from the Soviet Union. By January 1988, 112 people got through one memorable afternoon. In July last year, Mrs Thatcher (despite technical difficulties) generated 250 calls. For Paul, the figure was 1,000 or so, from all over the USSR. Bear in mind that a call costs some three roubles (about £9, or the average weekly wage), that most listeners don’t have direct dialling, that many others have to queue in post offices to make a call, and this is quite a figure.
Your editor joined two dozen-odd (very odd) journalists in listening to a live relay of the programme that memorable Thursday, in an adjacent room at London’s Bush House, aided by some of the Service’s 35 Russian-speaking staff. (Highlights of the 55-minute session were broadcast next day in Sarah Ward’s regular English Service programme, Multitrack Three.) Simultaneous translation was available to both Paul and the listeners […]
“Hi, Paul. Welcome to Granny’s Chest!”
“Ok, how d’you wanna start it?”
“Priviet, Russia.” (Cue ‘Back in the USSR’.)
“Ok, we have Slava from Minsk and his question is, which musicians of the ’50’s have influenced you most?”
“Priviet, Minsk! The main people that influenced me was Elvis, Little Richard and Buddy Holly…I learned to sing a little bit like Elvis, some of the time like Little Richard, and we all loved Buddy Holly.”
“The next call, Paul, is from Sacha in Leningrad, and Sacha is only seven, would you believe it? Sacha’s question is, what music did you like when you were seven, Paul?”
“Well, Sacha, the main music I used to like when I was seven, I heard from American films… People like Fred Astaire: he was a great dancer and a great singer, too. Also, I listened to British radio and they had a programme by a fellow called Billy Cotton, who was the father of the fellow who runs one of the departments of the BBC.” (Sam vainly tried to get back to Sacha for her reaction.)
“Paul, would you like to introduce the record?”
“OK. One of my favourite Little Richard tracks: it’s called ‘Lucille’.” (From Choba B CCCP.)
Paul then revealed as untrue a newspaper item Sam had read, stating that Paul had visited Little Richard in hospital.
“Paul, we have Vladimir from the Black Sea. It’s a good question: Paul and Linda, you’ve been married 25 years -“
“What’s five years?”
“Not a lot,” agreed Paul, laughing.
“The question is, is that a creative marriage, or is it just happiness?”
“Well, I don’t think anyone knows the secret of a happy marriage. You’re just lucky if you have a happy one. We spend a lot of time together and we have a lot of things in common — music, all sorts of things-and maybe that’s what does it. How do you do it, Sam?”
“I don’t know! You’d better write a song: how to be happy in a marriage without knowing it.”
“Yes. I’ll go and write it now.” (Sam getting giggly.)
The next question, from Veronica Gagarin: “Do you prefer making music which is close to your heart, or music which is popular?”
“I think you always try and make music which is close to your heart, and then you hope that it’s gonna be popular. I think it’s a mistake to make music which you think is gonna be popular, but which you don’t like. People can tell if you’re foolin’ ’em or not.”
Andrei Barkovsky (12) was next: “Are you now working on new songs which will be performed this year?”
“Yeah. After this interview I go back to the studio, where we’re finishing up some songs. I’m just mixing an LP at the moment, which should be out in the middle of the year. Some new songs, which I hope you’ll like, Andrei.”
“Are you going to come to the Soviet Union this year?”
“I’d like to…at the moment I’m just putting together a band, so we’ve got to do a little rehearsing and learn some stuff first…I am hoping to go out on tour this year. If that transpires, then I’d love to come to Russia…Other people go to Russia and sing ‘Back in the USSR’: I think it’s about time I went and sang it.”
“I reckon it’s about time: in the early ’60’s there were quite different opinions about the Beatles in the Soviet Union. Now it’s changed and they’re more favourably disposed towards the Beatles and Paul McCartney, but yesterday it was quite different… Let’s have ‘Yesterday’.” (‘Twas done.)
“Yesterday, when we were young,” quipped Sam.
“Not so long ago,” replied Paul, catching the mood.
Then came Nurjan, speaking in English: ‘Good evening, Mr McCartney… I heard you have launched an initiative of forming the Beatles again and you have found a man who is nearly the same as John. Is that so?…And what do you think about our country and its people now?”
“I think you’ve heard a false report…George, Ringo and me could play together, but to find a replacement for John is impossible…The decision not to let us play there didn’t put us off Russia, because in those days most of the things between Russia and the West weren’t allowed: it wasn’t just music…We always heard that the young people were buying our records… so that made me very optimistic about the relations between our countries. That’s why I’m so happy to be doing this interview today.”
Paul was tickled by Nurjan’s requesting signed photographs for his three girlfriends and promised to oblige, before introducing ‘Ain’t That A Shame’.
A young-sounding Olga popped up next: “Paul, what do you think of today’s youth and what would you like to wish the young people of today?”
“Well, I’ve got four children of my own and, looking at them, I think the children of today are great. They seem to be very interested in all the issues…to want a good world…to be very interested in peace and ecology…so I like them a lot…most of the young people I meet are great and very good spirits. It gives me hope for the future.”
Olga again: “You’ve never been to the Soviet Union-how did you come to write a song called ‘Back in the USSR’?”
“Well, actually there’s a song written by Chuck Berry called ‘Back in the USA’. He talks about how great it is in the USA…so it’s really a parody on that song. I took American things like the Beach Boys (all that ‘Woo-oo-oo’) and made an American-sounding song, but changed the whole idea to a Russian going home, to kind of show how similar people are, because we never thought of Russia as a rock ‘n’ roll place.”
“What is the most important thing in life for you, except music?” asked Rudolf from Latvia.
“My family: even above music, in truth. That’s the most important thing to me, it’s as simple as that.”
“Why have you decided to dedicate Choba B CCCP to the reforms in the Soviet Union?” continued Rudolf. “What’s really in common between music and politics?”
“I don’t know if they’ve got that much in common…but to a lot of people over here, when we see that the attitude from Russia is warming up… and we’re able to talk like this… I wanna do something to help it. All my records are normally released over here in the West and then Russia gets them a little bit later… We decided it’d be a great idea to take a record and just release it specially for Russia, because then they’d at least know I was making a definite gesture.”
Sam too was warming up: “Have you heard of a band called Wings? What was the band called that played in the ’60’s?”
“They’ve escaped me,” replied Paul.
“Beat-lay, something like that? Cut the comedy, Sam-play the record!” (‘Band on the Run’ followed).
A chap called Slava asked: “Which were the happiest days of your life and why were they the happiest?”
“It’s a difficult question, because I’ve had many happy times. I think really these are the happiest days of my life now, because of my family… but, looking back, I think when the Beatles first started to become successful: those were fairly crazy times and we had a lot of fun then, y’know. Maybe that’s the second happiest period.”
“Which do you like better,” continued Slava, “to write words or music?”
“I find it easier to write music than words, but when I write a song it can start either way. Normally the music, and then I fill in the words later; but if I’m lucky I get the two together.”
Next up was Yevgeny, presenter of a local rock show in Kurzestan: “Do you think the music of the ’60’s is better than the music of today?”
“A lot of people think that: in the ’60’s there was a lot of original invention. Maybe that way the music was a bit better; it was stronger. But I think
there’s plenty of good music being made today: I don’t think it’s all rubbish. I think there’s some very good people like Stevie Wonder-“
“That’s not really the music of today,” chipped in Sam.
“He wouldn’t be pleased to hear you say that! I mainly like the bands that can really play: somebody like U2 has a bit more spirit-they are a bit like a ’60’s band. I’m not so keen on the synthetic stuff, where the machine played it all.”
Yevgeny came back for more: “The rumour is that there are many songs in the vaults of EMI which are not released. Is that true?”
“There are one or two Beatles songs, yeah. Not many, because we were very careful to finish off everything we did. There are some good songs: ‘Leave My Kitten Alone’, which John sings… I think we have to ask the record company to hear them.”
(Here Sam introduced ‘Kansas City’.)
“Paul, we’re forming a fan club for the Rolling Stones and the Beatles,” announced a chap from Moscow called Jeny. “We want to have an official one, if you can help us with it.”
“Yes, we can help you get in touch, sure. Write a letter to Sam, maybe.”
Natasha from Kiev wanted to know how Paul first met John Lennon.
“Well, when I was about 14 I had a friend that knew John – he lived near John. This friend invited me to a fair where John and his band the Quarrymen were playing. That was where I first met John, in a place called Woolton in Liverpool, and I wasn’t very impressed because he was a bit drunk. But he seemed pretty sweet… and later on they asked me to join the group.”
And, well, Paul could be rapping to Russia still, but all good things must come to an end. As with so many things in his career, the reverberations were tremendous. (Those in the USSR we can only guess at). For a start, he was interviewed on both TV news programmes that night. “I haven’t enjoyed a phone-in so much for years”, enthused Gillian Reynolds in the Daily Telegraph. “The callers sounded genuinely excited”.
The same paper’s Peterborough column had a nice postscript on 8th March: “A Moscow pensioner is suffering an identity crisis…” A Russian magazine “printed Vassily Ryazanov’s number by mistake, and the shy war veteran’s telephone rang round the clock… Many callers refused to believe they had rung the wrong number, so Ryazanov and his wife have spent days…denying that they had ever fallen out with someone called John, or felt nostalgic for a place called Liverpool.”
So even those who phoned Vassily and his wife benefited indirectly from this pioneering broadcast. The inspiration felt by those who listened or contributed to the real Paul McCartney phone-in cannot be estimated.Club Sandwich N°52
BBC World Service headquarters
This was the 1st and only concert played at BBC World Service headquarters.