Interview for Sounds • Saturday, June 26, 1976

A pilgrimage to see St Paul

Press interview • Interview of Paul McCartney • Recorded Jun 01, 1976
Published by:
Interview by:
Al Rudis
Timeline More from year 1976
Chicago Stadium, Chicago, USA

Related concert

Chicago • Chicago Stadium • USA

Jun 01, 1976 • USA • Chicago • Chicago Stadium

Songs mentioned in this interview


Officially appears on Help! (Mono)

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This is Utopia, karma, nirvana, heaven. Wings hit Chicago and AL RUDIS was there to talk to Paul McCartney.

THE BEATLES may have been a British band, but don’t tell that to the United States of America. The coming of Paul McCartney and Wings has been heralded and celebrated like the second coming of Christ. Yes, the Beatles were – are more popular than Jesus – at least until the latter does his own comeback tour.

How do I know? Ticket scalping tells me so. In Chicago, where three concerts sold out 60,000 seats as fast as the money could change hands, £5.70 seats were going for £30 minimum, and according to one person who waited until after the concert began to make his purchase at a lower price, even then the lowest price he could get was £15. And remember, that’s just for Paul McCartney. Good seats for a live Beatles reunion could easily go for £300 and more.

Don’t tell the fans screaming their bloody heads off that they’re silly. The Beatles have gone beyond music in the United States, even beyond legend. They are a religion, an ideology, and Paul McCartney is the most visible icon. The Wings concerts are like pilgrimages: Once the exalted one is in their presence. many of the believers go into spasms of ecstacy.

Over and over, even among the calmer members of the audience, you hear the same words spoken: “It’s the greatest concert I’ve ever seen.” Forget that many haven’t been to a concert since leaving school 10 years ago. Forget that any other rock or pop music ever existed. This is the Beatles or at least the cutest of the Beatles and this is Utopia, karma, nirvana, heaven.

IT IS to Paul’s credit that he does his best to ignore the mass madness. Only after the number ‘Yesterday’ does he briefly give the audience what they really want: a strutting. mugging, hamming Beatle-thing, waving his guitar in the air and brazenly glorying in the adoration. Otherwise, it’s a similar situation to David Essex and his teenybopper hoardes (though McCarntey’s audiences range from teenies to forties): the performer goes about playing good music while the audience raves on almost oblivious to the performance. 

Denny Laine introduces ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ by saying, “Listen and you’ll recognise the into to this one,” but the audience doesn’t. They’re not there to recognise songs, other than Beatles songs, or participate in a musical experience. They just want to worship.

McCartney may not like it, but he knows what’s going on, and even in interviews, he always graciously answers the question, ‘Will the Beatles ever perform together again?’ He even thinks of slightly different ways to say “maybe” each time. He also knows how to deal with other manifestations of Beatlemania.

He and Linda and the children, all of whom are along, seldom stay in a hotel. They rent or borrow houses far outside the few key cities where they headquarter. Each afternoon, they fly out in their private plane to the town they are playing that night, then return by plane to the home base following the concert.

Interviews are granted immediately following the concerts because the McCartneys view them as “work”. They do their hard day’s work at the concert venue and then escape to the bosom of the family. No late-night looning or club-hopping for them. Although it’s the impossible dream, Linda and Paul are trying to live like regular people while all around them America is in a frenzy because of their presence.

The night of my interview is their second of three nights at the 20,000-seat Chicago Stadium, and having attended the show the night before, I am to merely show up after the concert for a chat in the dressing room.

Afterwards, they will be spirited by limousine to a farm in the countryside outside Chicago where they have been enjoying a bucolic existence, including horseback riding.

But getting to the interview is not simply showing up at the stage door as it would be for most bands. The security at the Chicago Stadium is the tightest since Elvis Presley played there, and outside the wire fence a mass of Beatlemaniacs presses forward looking for any movement in the hall’s private parking lot that might mean their god was coming through. It is like a scene out of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’.

I push my way to the front and look worriedly at my watch. It is fast approaching the time scheduled for the interview, and I don’t see any way of getting past the gatekeeper to the stage door, where my name has allegedly been left on the access list. A scene out of Kafka’s “Trial” springs to mind as I realise the absurdity of my situation. Everyone around me would use any ruse in the book to get by that guard and up to the stage door. Why should the guard believe me?

Then I see a portly figure come out of the door and walk to one of the limousines. It is a chauffeur who drives almost every celebrity in town. including a lot of rock stars. and I have gotten to know him during many a long backstage wait. I yell out his name and he recognises me. I ask him to go inside and tell my McCartney contact that I have been unavoidably detained. A few minutes later McCartney’s publicist comes out and has the guard open the gate for me.

INSIDE THE backstage area, I see things have changed a bit since the days of the first Beatlemania. A cadre of policemen is waiting, nightsticks and weapons ready, for any sign of trouble.

But instead of facing the mob outside face to face, their eyes are glued to a closed circuit television camera aimed at the crowd. And a hidden microphone is picking up all the schemes and plans being made by the fans to get a glimpse of McCartney. Somehow it doesn’t seem to be right this way. 

I sit down backstage as people scurry this way and that around me. I don’t have to wait long before the publicist comes to fetch me and leads me down a flight of stairs to the dressing room, an athletic dressing room used by the Chicago hockey and basketball teams. whose home is this arena.

A carpet has been laid on the floor, the lighting has been dimmed and comfortable sitting room furniture set up, but in the middle of the room, you can still see the tiled way into the showers. I walk in on a discussion of that evening’s concert with an earnest man who has a strong Texas accent. He is apparently the head of the Showco sound crew, which McCartney (taking a cue from the Who and many other big groups) has hired for the tour. The publicist leads me to the couch where Paul and Linda are sitting and interrupts the conversation to introduce me to the couple. Paul gives a friendly greeting and handshake and motions me to sit down next to him while he finishes with the sound man. But his first order of business is a ciggy. Seems he’s in the mood for a Senior, and there are none to be found.

“Do us a favour,” he asks the publicist, “and see if Trevor’s got the Seniors. Only Trevor… Trevor’s the only person on earth…”

The fellow with the Texas accent waits until he has Paul’s attention and then addresses him in a very self-important tone of voice: “Let me just mention briefly about the consistency that you related to him. Did you mean like consistency throughout the show?” He sounds as if he were speaking of a matter of life and death. “Consistency like tonight, having the very same sound?”

Yeah,” says Paul, “same sound every night.” 

I need to agree on what sort of sound…” begins the Texan.

“Like tonight’s will do,” says Paul quickly. “tonights – an all-the-time kind of thing. You know, really all it is, Morris, is kind of just having just enough of the brass so they can hear themselves coming in, and we can hear ourselves coming in. It’s just having enough of everyone. No one really needs to be loud or overpowering or anything.

“And then, sort of on the top of all that, it would be nice just to hear the vocals just slightly clearer than the backing. Which was sort of what we were getting tonight. only I could use a little bit more vocals. A touch more. I sometimes noticed that my lead vocal isn’t as loud as the backing vocals. I’m hearing all the harmonies in ‘Band On The Run’, but not the main vocal.”

But the harmonies don’t hear themselves,” says Morris.

“That’s what I mean, you see,” says Paul. “It’s just because I don’t shout as loud as the harmonies. I just keep saying fine. Because I’m used to working with like no monitors. So, as I say, that takes over with me as soon as I get up there. All my instincts take over, and I’m working with what you give me. So that will do it – like tonight.”

THE CONVERSATION about sound continues among Linda, Morris and Denny Laine as Paul turns to me and gives me the sign to shoot the first question. I ask him if he has a session like this every night.

“Yeah, most of the time,” he says. “It doesn’t go beyond this. Just a little chat to check out how it was, you know.” 

And in between he reads his fan mail? I ask, pointing to the packet of letters by his side. He tears one open and glances at it.

“And then you try a bit of your fan mail, and then you try and get home. Yep. And you got to do interviews at the same time.

The last time he performed in America he didn’t have any problems with monitors because, as he said, there were no monitors. It seems that even from just the equipment aspect, rock shows had changed tremendously since the Beatles toured.

“Technological kind of thing yeah, very different,” he says. “Totally different. But you know. I think the main difference is this system copes with the hall a lot better than the systems used to.”

Even if they scream, Wings can still play above it. 

“Still louder than them, yeah. But that’s not what it’s for. It’s just that hopefully even the people right at the back of the thing can hear exactly what you’re doing, the little nuances.

Why did Paul wait so long to bring Wings to America? He knew they have a tremendous audience here. Was he scared of something?

“Well, I mean, any one reason is too sort of definite and too general. really, you know. But a lot of things: I didn’t think we were ready as a band. I thought we needed to sort of play a few more places and sort of get to know each other more. Cause that’s one of the big things you forget about a band. When a band’s really playing well together it’s because it sort of understands what’s going on between each other and it just gets very easy. And for that only time is the answer. Time is the only thing that can get that together.

“There’s nothing else, except maybe you can have everyone being a total genius and some great stroke of luck. But in our case, it was definitely just time, you know. When you think about it, the Beatles were going eight years before they even got noticed worldwide, or even in England. So that’s it in this case. You know we’re a very new group, really.”

It sounds strange to hear the familiar litany that I’ve come to call “the British band syndrome” coming from his lips, but then again, the Beatles were the band that started it all. It seems that almost every British band since then has had this kind of inferiority complex about America.

The theory goes that America is a much harder place to play, that listeners here are much more discerning than in England. Therefore a band had better do its homework and polish its act in front of British audiences (who apparently do not realise they are being used for this purpose) before it can get into the real thing over in America. 

That this attitude is silly is easily demonstrated by listing a few of the bands who ignored it – Led Zeppelin and Bad Company come immediately to mind – but Paul is still of the old school.

“I mean, America is the sort of biggest place on earth that you can go to play, outside of sort of China and Russia, and they don’t know about it, you know. So America is the biggie, there’s no doubt about it.

“You’re an American, so it’s not such a big deal to you, but to anyone else, you know. America is it. And in fact, even to Americans. To Sinatra, America is still, I’m sure, the big kind of concert tour place. So we just took it kind of logically. We played England first. Then we played Australia, cause…

He’s interrupted by the publicist, who tells him, “No Trevor.

At first, Paul doesn’t understand.

“What? He’s got some. Didn’t you find Trevor? Hey, Morris, could you give Trevor a shout if you see him, please.”

He’s left,” says Morris. “Has he? Oh. Alan will have some. Thanks anyway, man,” he says to the publicist and then turns back to me, with a quizzical expression on his face.

I remind him he was talking about playing England first, then Australia.

“Yeah, to me it’s very natural to do it that way. think it would have been silly to do it the other way round, to come into sort of your biggest halls. I mean, to play 20,000 people you’ve got to have it together. About 14,000 was kind of the top we played in Australia.

“In England, you see, you can play certain special halls, but the normal venues in England are like 3,000. You just go to a town to play unless you’re playing in London and play to about 3,000 people, and that’s just about the right kind of thing.

“So very naturally we started off with the 3,000 people, and then we went to kind of 5,000, 6,000, 14,000 in Australia, and then we played some bigger halls in Europe, which were more sort of towards 15,000 and that kind of thing. And now we’re playing here and it’s sort of up in 15-20,000. And we’re playing a place in Seattle which holds 65,000, I think. 

“For me, I like things sort of like that. I like things step by step, you know. Maybe I’m square. Seems easiest. The thing is, say, we’d have come and not been very good. Well, you totally blow the whole thing then, you know. We’d have come and just not quite known what tunes we were gonna do or sort of not really worked on what we wanted to put over. So anyway, as I say. it seems very natural to me just to do it that way. Seems like the easiest way, and I always go for the easiest way.” 

The musical scene is quite different from when the Beatles first came over, isn’t it?

“True. The whole terrestrial scene is different… not only music.”

Where does Wings fit into today’s scene?

“I don’t get into that, you know. That’s for people to decide. I don’t particularly think it’s ummm…” Paul’s voice trails off and he thinks a moment. “I think,” he says after a while, “that just people come to a show and they decide that. And I think that for me to tell them where we fit in is silly, really. I don’t need to sort of have a pigeonhole for myself. As far as I’m concerned, we’re just a band.

“I don’t mean that kind of very sort of I’m-trying-to-play-it-down. I mean, Zeppelin’s a band. The Stones are just a band. For me, we’re just a band. The Beatles were just a band. You have to think of it like that, you see, if you’re a musician. Otherwise, you get too hung up in the legend and you start forgetting what it’s about. Like Marilyn Monroe ended up thinking it was about that, instead of just playing acting, or whatever.” 

Does Paul listen to a lot of other music besides his band’s?

“Not that much actually. I listen to the radio quite a bit and listen to some reggae and quite a bit of black music. And the occasional album.

By black music, does he mean old rhythm and blues or more recent soul music?

“No, I sort of listen more to the sort of new stuff, really. I get the soul singles sent from America to England every week. And I just kind of, you know, get into the B sides and stuff.”

Just like he used to.

“I just like good music, you know. And you gotta search for it. It’s not just every track on every album. Gotta search it out and stuff.”

Does he like disco music? 

“Yeah, but not totally. I don’t like any of those kinds of trends or anything totally. I just like a touch of them. I just like good sounds, you know.” 

How about some of the British groups?

“I like the Pink Floyd, I like Led Zeppelin. I like the Rolling Stones. I like quite a few of the English groups. I can’t particularly think of which ones. A lot of them. I see a few people. Just the occasional thing that I really want to go and see.

“But I’m not as much of a music fan as I was. That’s definitely true. I just don’t know why, or whatever. But I just don’t play as much music all the time as I used to. Maybe I haven’t got time or something, or maybe it just wears off after a while. But I like what I like.”

Being that he’s kind of an elder statesman on the rock scene…

“Elder statesman of British music yes,” Paul picks up the line in a pompus put-on matter, “ambassador to the Pope.”

How does the British scene compare with what it was when you were first coming up?

“I don’t think there’s half as much sort of exploding as there was then. There was a big wave of stuff then, you know. Everyone was just ripe. Everyone and his brother were in a group. And these days I don’t think there’s as much. Not in Britain particularly. I think probably it is more in America now.”

Do you think it’s harder for an unusual group to break out of the scene than it used to be?

“No. I think it’s easy for an unusual group to break out of it. I just don’t know meself if there are that many unusual groups. Maybe there isn’t a great wave of talent on at the moment. But that doesn’t make me think it’ll never happen. I think it’s possibly a bit of a slack period, but I think there’s a lot of good stuff happening in America, in Jamaica. I think kind of quietly in England there’s a lot of good stuff.”

You have been accused of being lightweight since the split of the Beatles, I say, holding my breath. Is it that you are scared to have the power you once had? Have you tried to withdraw from being special?

“I don’t know,” says Paul thoughtfully, ignoring the remark about his music for now. “I think it is a thing that does happen, unless you’re a politician. See, you’ve got to remember. musicians just come in to play music and do a few songs. And they can end up like politicians, whereas politicians come in to be that. From the word go, that’s what they’re working for. And so I think it does take a lot of people by surprise when they suddenly find themselves as elder statesmen, as you said.

“I think there is a tendency to kind of play it down. Myself, I don’t think I play it down that much. I mean, I wouldn’t do ‘Yesterday’ if I was totalling playing it down. I wouldn’t answer any kind of questions about the Beatles. I’d just say, ‘Hey, man, dig me for what I am now.’ you know. But I’ll talk about anything really.”

HE MAY be willing, but he is not able. Because all of a sudden a swarm of people with microphones and tape recorders invade the dressing room, and the interview is turned into one of those mass press affairs so scathingly portrayed in ‘A Hard Day’s Night’.

A moment after the publicist introduces the new assemblage to Paul and Linda he is at my side telling me that my time is up and I’d better prepare to go. I exchange goodbyes with Paul and Linda and tell her that I’m sorry I didn’t have a chance to ask her a few questions. She says that’s all right because her throat is sore from the show anyway. With a wave, I’m out of the dressing room.

As I leave the arena, I see the policemen still watching the television monitor. And as I pass through the gate, some of the fans crowd around and ask if I saw Paul and how was he.

Very nice, I tell them. And clean.

Last updated on August 29, 2023


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