- Published by:
- The Times
- Interview by:
- Des Burkinshaw
- Timeline More from year 1997
- Album This interview has been made to promote the Flaming Pie Official album.
Songs mentioned in this interview
Interviews from the same media
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It has been an exciting couple of years for Paul McCartney. First, one of his old groups sold 40 million copies of the three double albums in their Anthologies series, making them the biggest sellers of the year in America. Bigger, in fact, than Alanis Morissette, Oasis and R.E.M. combined. But then, the Beatles have always been something of a special case. Then there was the knighthood, and now there is his latest solo album, Flaming Pie.
Not that he is exactly crowing about it. In fact, his record company is a bit worried about the lack of promotional effort McCartney is putting into telling the world that he, the world’s most successful writer of pop songs ever, has another bit of product on the way. He has agreed to just a handful of television, radio and press interviews. There will be no tour to back it up. And, frankly, Fab Macca doesn’t give a damn.
“I started to ask myself what’s it all been worth – the Beatles, the money and fame – if at some point I can’t go ‘Now can I have a good time?’ ” McCartney says. “It’s do or die. It would be great if Flaming Pie is a success, but I really won’t be frantic if it isn’t. If I keep on going like some manic preacher for the rest of my life, it just seems so pointless.“
It has been four years since his last pop album, Off the Ground , and those diehard McCartney fans who share his view that he “got a bum rap” in comparison with the deification of John Lennon will be hoping that Flaming Pie will be the great McCartney album for which they have been waiting ever since the Beatles broke up.
The good news is that Flaming Pie , written and recorded during the two-year Anthology project, is his strongest solo work for years. Oddly, the weakest track, Young Boy , has been chosen as the lead-off single in this country. That error aside, McCartney has made an album on a par with solo career high spots such as Band on the Run , Tug of War and McCartney , with a little help from friends old – Ringo Starr, George Martin – and newer – Steve Miller, Jeff Lynne.
That the quality of the songwrit ing has shifted up a gear or two should not perhaps be surprising, considering the turmoil of his life these past four years. Besides the return of the Beatles and the knighthood (“It would have been rude to turn it down”), there have been record-breaking world tours, the premiere of the Liverpool Oratorio , his first major classical work, and the writing of his second, Standing Stone (due to be performed for the first time at the Albert Hall in October). Most traumatic of all, he has supported his wife Linda through her fight against breast cancer.
All this has left McCartney more introspective than before. The musical result is an album streaked with melancholy. He tentatively agrees with the assessment. “Yes, Linda’s not been well the past year or so, although she’s doing very well now,” he says. “It’s very difficult when you get that kind of situation in your life. I’m sensitive enough not to repress it all the time, and that helps you to deal with it.“
Dropping his guard a little fur ther, McCartney confesses that his music has stopped him “going round the bend“. “Music has always been a consolation for me,” he says. “When you get the teenage blues, the great remedy is to write a song. I wrote Ebony and Ivory after a little marital tiff with Linda. It was like ‘why can’t we get it together – our piano can’.“
So a fly on the wall at home might catch him huddled over the grand piano having a good cry? “Yes. It’s an underrated aspect of songwriting. If you asked a lot of songwriters you’d find that what happens is that they have a bad day so they skulk off to hide from everyone. Instead of lying on a psychiatrist’s couch they talk to themselves in a song.
“I do that all the time. Half of my songs are very much me doing therapy with myself, and half of them I’m just writing about Desmond and Molly Jones.“
The new album contains Little Willow , one of McCartney’s most beautiful ballads since Waterfalls, written for the children of a close friend who died. “The morning I heard the news I couldn’t think of anything else, so I wrote this in the hope that I could somehow convey how much I thought of her. It’s certainly heartfelt.“
Thirty-five years after Love Me Do , the long shadow of the Beatles still dominates Flaming Pie . Even the title refers to a story Lennon once wrote about a man on a flaming pie who came to him in a dream and said: “From this day on, you are Beatles with an A.”
“Working on the Anthology reminded me of the Beatles’ standards,” McCartney says. “If you run down the tracks on a Beatles album, they’re all good little songs. So I thought I’d make an album where there wouldn’t be a stiff on the track list – as far as I was concerned, anyway.“
McCartney wrong-foots his critics by partially suggesting they were right to knock some of his early solo work. “It was all post-Beatles stuff, and the Beatles were possibly the hardest act of all to follow. So Linda and I fell in with everyone else’s opinion of it – which was that it was not as good as the Beatles, therefore it was no good at all. I hated a lot of songs from that period.“
But his son James, who plays guitar on the new album, recently jogged his memory by digging out some Wings albums, to hear what the old man had been up to in the 1970s. “I’d forgotten a lot of it and it’s really not as bad as I thought it was,” McCartney says. “But I feel quite good because although it was put down, it doesn’t go away. For anyone who does care to look at it, there’s a hell of a lot to discover from that period.“
His day may yet come. Part of his problem may have been to have had too wide a scope. With works as varied as Yesterday, the Liverpool Oratorio, Helter Skelter and Mary Had a Little Lamb under his belt, it is perhaps no surprise that he is misunderstood.
“Possibly. But not everyone is going to study you that hard. They go on first impressions. So if they see me singing Yesterday they go: ‘He’s a balladeer’. But that’s because there never was a video of me singing Helter Skelter .”
Last updated on March 9, 2019