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February 1978

Interview for Trouser Press

Interview for Trouser Press

Press interview • Interview of Paul McCartney


Details

  • Published: February 1978
  • Published by: Trouser Press
  • Interview by: Ray Bonici

Location

  • Interview location: EMI Studios, Abbey Road

This interview remains the property of the respective copyright owner, and no implication of ownership by us is intended or should be inferred. Any copyright owner who wants something removed should contact us and we will do so immediately.


Down at Abbey Road Studios, Paul McCartney and Wings are finishing their new album.  That’s only part of their current actcity, though they’ve been involve din numerous other projects. Of course, they recently released the Double-A single recorded on a mobile studio at Paul’s farm in Scotland; they’re also busy editing film material shot during their American tour last year for eventual use on TV. To learn more about these so called projects and also about the band’s present situation now that two of its members, Jimmy McCulloch and English have left Wings. I interviewed McCartney at Abbey Road. 

Inside one of the studios, the very same where the first Beatles album was cut. Paul greeted me warmly. On this occassion the studio was packed with hundreds of gas lanterns scattered around the place, creating an oriental atmosphere. 

“Powercuts, you see; we’ve got to be prepared,” Paul explained rather calmly. Despite the minor policial upsets affecting this country right now, Paul is still as cheerful as ever adn he’s got every reason to be because only recently the McCartneys have added baby James Louis to their clan. Somehow, Paul manages to still look very young and he is still as talkative and humourous as ever. 

As an opening subject, Paul explained why 1977 was merely a recording year for Wings. 

PM: We’ve been doing mainly recordings and other studio stuff this year because we had the baby, as you know. And we didn’t wanna go out doing live stuff because that is very hectic. If you got to leap off stage and say “Sorry folks, we just got to have our baby, excuse us for a minute, you know.” So I didn’t want Linda to be in the middle of all that craziness while she was having a baby because it’s hard enough for a woman. Also, we spent that time recording so that when we go out live, hopefully in early spring, we’ll have a new bunch of stuff to play, and you need that anyway. By keeping things like that under our control, we can concentrate more on these new tracks we’ve got. So far, these tracks sound great. They’re coming along very nicely. 

TP:  How did you get the idea to record your new album on a boat off the Virgin Islands?

PM:  Well we originally started the recordings here at Abbey Road Studios in London coming in for the usual album sessions and it was pouring rain as usual and things were becoming a bit boring. Geoff Emerick, our engineer, had just returned from Hawaii, where he’d been working on America’s latest album, and he was telling us how beautiful and sunny it had been around those parts. So we got a bit jealous about the weather, and I thought maybe we could fix a little excursion and record in a foreign place. We like recording abroad because it brings in all new influences and makes you less bored about the whole thing. So Denny, who earlier this year had visited a floating studio in the States owned by the Record Plant, thought that maybe we should try and record on a boat somewhere. At first I didn’t quite like the idea because I’m not that keen on boats and I somehow also thought that the whole thing might not work out. But when we started talking bout it every day it was becoming more exciting, and so I thought “Well, we need a break.” So we fixed up to go on a boat, and we charted it just like any other ordinary boat in the Virgin Islands. In all, we chartered three boats. One for the crew, one as the studio and one for ourselves. Then the Record Plant brought over tons of equipment from the States, and they lashed it all up on the boat. 

TP: Did you record less tracks than you expected?

PM:  No, not really. I mean, we didn’t go out there with the idea of just lying about in the sun all day. Just because it was raining in London. We didn’t go crazy about it. We recorded nine tracks during our month’s stay out there, and that’s not really fast because the first Beatles album was made in this very studio in a day: in fourteen hours we made the whole album. But that was a different kettle of fish anyway because we were mainly putting down our live act, so that was a lot easier. Nowadays, to record nine tracks in a month isn’t bad at all. We wrote most of the stuff before we took off on our journey, so that made it easier still. We wrote one number one there while we were banging around one night, and that came out well. 

TP: Do these songs from the Virgin Islands have a live feel to them?

PM: I don’t know, really. I suppose you’ll have to tell me after you’ve heard the album. A few peple working on the album say its got an up feel about it that thereis a different feel than the one you get in a normal studio. It did give us a lift going out there though and it’s good that it did. Some people will say, “What the hell did they do that for? Just so they could have a holiday?” But that’s the point, really. If you’re doing something creative, you’ve got to really be into it, and the more you’re into it, the better result you can get in the end. So we decided to go out there and I think it has helped. We’re back in England now and I suppose we are going to ruin itand dull it all down, now that the rain is back. I hope not (laughs). We’ll finish it by the end of the month and then think about mixing it somewhere after that. I think that if things keep going this way, we should be able to release the album by February. 

TP:  What about the Wings Over America film you’re working on?

PM: We’re working on it with Chris Thomas. During our American tour last year they shot a lot of film. That was good, but the sound wasn’t that excellent. And one can’t re-record a soundtrack; it’s not like recording an ordinary record. I heard Jimmy Page say that their soundtrack was from the same show they captured on film, so they had to go with the sound that was recorded during that particular performance. You see, if you try and re-record the sound again, you’ll lose the whole atmosphere. So now we’re working with various electronic equipment, trying to better the sound quality. It will be put out as a documentary film on TV. If the stuff looks good, then we shall put down more material for a possible concert film. 

TP: One side of the new single is “Mull of Kintyre,” which you and Denny wrote. What inspired you to write a new Scottish traditional-type song?

PM: I don’t know, really. I started off with the basic idea, because I thought that most Scottish songs you hear these days are either old tunes that people redo, or comedy songs about football or something like “Up Your Kilt.” So we decided that we’d get something together that was a new song with a modern feel to it, and see if we could make it sound as traditional and Scottish as possible. I wrote the melody in the summer of ’76 and added a few words. I sat with Denny for an afternoon and we finished it all up, and then we got the local pipe band in for an evening. 

TP: The Campletown Pipe Band. Was it difficult to get them together?

PM:  No, they were brilliant, actually. I just gave them a little tape with a rough recording of the song. It is difficult with bagpipes because they can’t always play any note you want. they’ve got their own scale, so you’ve got ot write the whole thing in certan keys that they can play in. But they did it really quickly an got the whole thing together in no time at all. 

TP: The tune, as all other traditional songs, is very catchy. Do you think it will become a standard as many of your songs have in the past?

PM: I don’t know, really. I’ve given up tring to work out which ones are gonna because standards next. We just did the song and we liked it and then we thought that it would make a great single. We thought we would do something a bit different for a single, you know, rather than come out with something that was very much like everything else being put out. But I suppose there will be a few people who will choose to sing it. 

I would like to hear the football crowd at Hampdon Park sing it. That would be good. 

TP: “Mull of Kintyre” is a very non-Wings sound. Were you hoping to surprise some fans?

PM: I hope that they will be a bit surprised because that’s the whole idea, really. I mean, I heard a fellow on the radio the other day saying while he played it, “There you go. Paul, you keep them guessing.” And I think that’s great. 

TP: On the other side of the double-A single, you have “Girls’ School” which is totally different than “Mull of Kintyre.”  Was that the reason for a double-A?

PM: The idea there is that if people buy the record and wanna dance and leap around, they can just flip it over, and they’ve got something completely different, rather than two of the same kind of thing. There might be a few people who will prefer the more rocking side, “Girls’ School.” So for those people we made it a double-A, just in case. You see, B-sides get swallowed. You do a B-side, but they never get played on the radio. So you’ve got to say that it’s a double-A even if you think it’s an A and B. That always gets everyone crazy in the record world because they say, “Oh, you split your plays, you know.” You’ve heard all that talk before. We thought it didn’t matter. 

TP: Is that why you’ve also edited both songs on this single?

PM: The record you have at the moment and the ones the radio people have are edited, but the ones that people buy in the shops are the full versions, which is just over one minute longer. You see, the radio people won’t like it because the programmers will always go mad and say, “It’s too long for us; we can’t handle it.” I mean, “Hey Jude” was seven minutes long, but we never thought about it in those days. These days, it’s different. The programmers have a bigger hold on the radio stations, and they can kill you if they don’t like the amount of time you’re making them give to you. We thought that by editing the two sides we would make it more comfortable for them and people listening to it will still get a good enough idea of it. When they buy it, it will almost be as long as an album track. 

TP: “Girls’ School” made me wonder all about those innocent schoolgirls in uniforms. Were you referring to a particular girls’ school or something?

PM: No, actually, I wasn’t referring to any school. That song came about when we finished the tour of Australia and we were coming back via Hawaii for a holiday after the tour. you see, we were supposed to play in Japan, but the Japanese Minister of Justice decided we couldn’t go in because we had been a bit naughty. So we went to Hawaii for a holiday instead, and while I was there, I looked through these American newspapers. In the back pages they have an entertainment section with all of these porno films advertised. I basically took the titles and made a song, “Girls’ School,” out of them. So it’s supposed to be like a pornographic St. Trinian’s.

TP: Now that we’re on the subject of singles, what was the whole idea behind the other Wings single, which came out under the name of Suzi and the Red Stripes.

PM: Well, you see, Linda never liked the idea of coming out front and really doing tracks. I mean, she did “Cook of the House” on Speed of Sound, but she didn’t like the idea of saying, “Hello, here I am; I am a lead vocalist,” because she was getting well criticized at that time. She doesn’t think of herself as a lead vocalist, anyway. The idea was to have her do something and not publicize it so that she could have a go at it. We did it and brought it out in the States as Suzi and the Red Stripes.

TP: Looking back at your albums, nearly all of them were subject to heavy criticism, especially Wildlife. How do you cope with being a target for critics?

PM: I suppose you’re right. But the funny thing when looking back on albums like that is that whereas at the time I didn’t seem to sell much or get a good critical reaction. I quite like having a couple of albums that didn’t do that well. The thing that made Wildlife okay for me was one time when we just happened to be driving around Sunset Strip in LA, and there were a couple of guys in a camper heading for the hills. We pulled up to them, and one of them just happened to be holding a copy of Wildlife in his hands. That’s great, really, if just one person appreciates it like that. I heard it a couple of years later because I can never really tell right at the time, and I found it interesting. When Wildlife came out, all the critics said that it was rubbish, so I started thinking like them that it was rubbish. But when I heard it later, I really liked it and I still think it’s quite good. Okay, I didn’t make the biggest blockbuster of all time, but  I don’t think you need that all the time. We did Wildlife very quickly. you see, Wildlife was inspired by Dylan because we heard that he’d just been in the studios, and he just took one week to do an album. So we came in and thought “Great, we’ll do it a bit like that and we’ll try to get just the spontaneous stuff down and not to be too careful with this one.” So it came out like that, and a few people thought that we could have tried a bit harder, but I’d like to see them do it. 

TP:  Is Band on the Run still your best seller?

PM: Yes, it still is. 

TP: Do you think Wings Over America could have done better had it been a double album instead of a triple?

PM: It did very well, you know. It sold about four million copies, and with three albums, that is something like twelve million copies. I wouldn’t wish for any better than that. 

TP: What about the criticism of your other albums? Do you think some critics were unfair?

PM: Everyone has got their ups and downs and people have certain favorite albums, but you know that for each thing you’ll do there will always be lots of pros and cons.  There’s always one little thing, though, that makes you think, “Well, that was worth it.” We got this letter from a therapist saying that he worked with handicapped children and that Wings Over America was the one record that really lifted the children, and for that only, he wanted to thank us. So, someone somewhere liked it. That’s the funny posistion you’re in really, because you never know who likes your stuff. Let’s face it, critics never liked all the big stuff in history. They never liked Van Gogh’s pictures ever, and he only sold one picture to some old woman, didn’t he?  And has he got a name?

You can’t get involved with criticism. You’ve got to think that somebody likes it somewhere. Unfortunately, you don’t meet all those people all the time because you can’t just walk down  the street asking, “Do you like my record?” It’s got to come in little dribbles and drabbles. I heard Venus and Mars at a party one night, and everyone was leaping around. Believe me, I never liked that record more than I did at that party. I remember after my first album McCartney came out, there was a lot of criticism about it, and very few people said they liked it. At that time the Faces were about to beging working with Rod and they told me, “We were up in our little hideaway and we played that album all week.” That made it okay for me and gave a whole other side to it, which made me think, “Great if they got into it, there’s no way one can tell who is into it.” I remember somebody else telling me that when they were traveling through Russia, they played the McCartney tape, and that sort of got them through. Things like that are just great. I generally try and pick up on all the positive stuff like that and forget all the negative stuff. Bloody critics. 

TP: Mentioning Russia, you were interested at one time in playing there?

PM: I still am. Not that interested, but it would be nice to go out and do it because no major rock band’s ever done it. It’s the same with China. There are these big places in the East that have no idea what’s happening in the West. 

TP:  Just imagine if everybody in China buys your next album?

PM: Yeah, that would do well, wouldn’t it? Mind you, if a record of mine is released there, it will have to be all acoustic and all about farms and communes and living together in harmony under the Great Chairman Mac.

TP: Okay, Chairman Mac, you must have been tired after the World Tour last year. Would you do that type of thing again?

PM: Oh yes, I’ll do it again. It wasn’t that tiring really, and it was a good tour for us. All tours are a bit tiring because you’re playing nearly every night and you’re traveling the rest of the time. But we all enjoyed it, and we all thought we were playing well. There’s always that thing at the end of the tour where you’re very well oiled and you can use that to compensate for feeling a bit tired. 

TP: Jimmy McCulloch seemed as though he was gonna stick after tour years with Wings. His departure came a bit of a surprsie. 

PM: Jimmy’s a long story, you know. It was just one of those things. When you think about it, it’s really difficult to set up something like a stable group because, in my position, you get all sorts of weird little problems that you can’t really do much about. Say, I decided to do it one way, and a guitar player wants to do it another way. It becomes very difficult then, unless he comes up to me and tells me, “Look, I wanna do it this way.” What was happening was that tension was just building up a bit, and we didn’t really feel like we were quite fitting. It was just getting to the point where we were either gonna do another album that was gonna be really hard to do and keep on arguing, or else we were just gonna decide that we didn’t need all that stuff and get on with the music. That’s exactly what happened. Jimmy decided to leave and go with the Small Faces. Luckily he’d done all the required stuff on the album that wanted him to do, so it worked out quite well for us. 

TP: What about Joe English’s departure?

PM: Joe’s thing was completely different. He just wanted to spend more time with his family in Georgia. He just wanted to go back home, really.  He had enough of England after four years. Even Joe had done all the required stuff on the new album. 

TP: So now you’re back to square one again like you were on Band on the Run. Are you looking for a new guitarist and drummer?

PM: No, not really. We’ve had some nice offers from people, some really interesting ones, but I can’t mention any names. But we don’t want to go out live anyway yet because it’s pointless going out on the road without new material. So we are just gonna finish the new album and see what happens. I mean for recordings, Denny and I both play guitar and we can do a bit of lead. And also I can play drums as I did on McCartney and Band on the Run. I am not an excellent drummer, but I can keep a steady beat, and I think that’s what drumming is all about. But anyway, when the gigs start coming up, we just call a drummer and guitarist. No panic. 

TP: So, do you now see the permanent basis of Wings becoming just you, Linda, and Denny, and the others fitting loosely in the band?

PM: At the moment the basis is that and that is how it has been in the past, like on Band on the Run. At that time one member left and the other just didn’t turn up. So we’re getting a bit used to all that now. Whereas it used to throw us in the old days. We used to say, “Oh, God, what are we gonna do?” We just thought, well, we’ll finish the album, and if we ever need somebody, we just call them in. But there has been no panic and it has worked out well this way — with just the three of us — because we sit around and talk about it and we all know each other well by now. On the other hand, Denny could just be a sideman if he looked upon himself as that. It is really up to the people who join. It is a very difficult thing because you join some established group, and you’ve just got to fit in and feel like you’re one of them. Anyway, as we are now things are working out just great and we’ve got some plans for the future. 

TP: During Wings’ live gigs, you tend to lay a few Beatles numbers. Do you think it’s because of this that so many journalists insist on asking you about a Beatles reunion?

PM: Well, I’ll tell you this. I was reading one of the books written about us that come out occasionally. A couple of fans brought on ’round for us to sign and stuff, and I had never seen the book before, so I asked them to have a peep through it.  In it, you’ve got quotes from the Beatles over various periods of time when each one of us was feeling good. And there is like a quote from me saying, “I don’t see why we shouldnt’ record together.” And then there is a quote from John saying “We might easily record together.” And then the book goes on to say, “Well, it never really happened.” So now I think that the main basis for Beatles reunion rumours is that at any given time, one of us will say, “Yeah, I wouldn’t mind doing it,” and that will start the rumour rolling again. I don’t think it will ever happen, really, and we always come back to that. 

TP: You might say, “With a  band like Wings, who needs the Beatles?”

PM: Well, it is not so much that for me. It’s not that we have to get on with Wings. It’s just that the Beatles situation did go full circle and it did come to an end. It is like trying to revive a dead person, and it is weird trying to spend all your lifetime trying to do that — it’s boring. Then you just think, “Let’s get on with the new stuff.”  The Apple thing is very complicated, and it has been like that for years. Ringo came to see me when we had the new baby, and we were just chatting around and having a great time, polishing off a bottle of wine that he’d brought ’round. We were having a great time until we started talking about Apple, and the minute we started talking about it, it was like UUUGGGHH! and the atmosphere went, and we thought, “Christ, we better stop talking about this right away.” So we just got back to chatting about the light stuff, and all was all right again. But we find that the dispute anyone brings up the word Apple with the four of us, there are these incredible sorts of rows, and it’s like some kind of divorce or something. “Well I’m not letting you have that unless you give me this…” and it just gets so daft that you end up thinking, “Who needs it. Pointless.” I want really nothing to do with what it was ever to do with.

TP: Let’s talk about the light stuff then. We are obviously going through very hard times here in England…

PM: With what? Power cuts? Unions? Yeah, that’s pretty hard. 

TP: No, no. Musically, I mean. 

PM: I don’t think so. I think it’s great at the moment. It seems very healthy to me. Just a few years ago, it was just the older established groups, while now we are getting a whole younger wave of people coming up, and I think that’s good. Don’t you think so?

TP: Yeah, I think so, but I thought perhaps it might not appeal to you.

PM: Oh, I like punk. I think it is very healthy, though I’m not that into it. We learn mostly via Heather, our daughter because she’s into it and plays it all the time. I regard it as another style with a good fashion and a good attitude. Yeah, I like their attitude.

TP: I heard that you have a reputation for writing stuff very quickly.

PM: Well, sometimes. But they’re not always easy. Every song is different. you may think that you have a formula down and then you might get fed up with it and the way you’re writing it, so obviously you then try something different. But I suppose we were just playing around here the other night, doing one of those Virgin Islands songs, and while we were waiting for Geoff to get ready, we started writing a lot of things. Denny and I were just jamming. So then Geoff just switched the tape on, and we got that one down. I suppose that was a song written really quickly, but by the time a song gets finished, it will have taken a fair amount of time. 

TP: Are you still influenced by Motown bassists and singers?

PM: Not so much now because you don’t hear as much about Motown as you used to.

TP: Do you play any other basses at the moment?

PM: No, I just stick to my Rickenbacker. I’m not really interested in achieving different styles or anything. My attitude to bass playing is a bit like Ringo’s attitude to drumming always was. People would come up to Ringo and say, you can’t do a roll; therefore, you’re not a good drummer. My thing is that I enjoy playing bass and I know how to do it up to a point, but I can’t do a lot of the stuff that somebody like Stanley Clarke, who is totally technically trained does. I think he’s best on a stand-up bass. I’ve heard him play a four-string electric bass, and I didn’t think it was that amazing. I think he goes on a little bit too far on it, myself, but that’s for my taste, you know. No doubt he is technically brilliant, and I definitely know he is by far a better bass player than me, but I don’t think that is what makes a bass player incredible because, often, in bands, they just want you to come out too far in front, because a lead guitarist or a vocalist wants to come out there. I like Willie Weeks a lot, and I think he’s great. I like that type of bass playing, though it is not exactly my style. I wouldn’t really try and change my style to be like them. I let them just be the best at that, and they can win all of the polls, etc. I’m quite happy with that. 

TP:  Talking about the polls, were you at all surprised that you didn’t get any mention in any recent polls?

PM: No, not really. I didn’t buy enough copies of the papers (laughs). Our office didn’t buy enough copies. It’s funny, all that, you know. I mean, I’ve been in and out of polls for years now. I keep winning things like Playboy Bass Player of the Year, and I keep writing back to them telling them, “No, I’m not the bass player of the year, lads. You’ve got it wrong and I’m just the person you know plays bass, and when you see a form you just put my name down.”  But I’m not necessarily the best by a long shot. I don’t bother about that, really. I tell you what I bother about and that is, do I like the stuff I put down on record. Then I’m happy. 

TP: What do you think when people hail you as a legend at such a young age?

PM: The thing is, I joined this whole trip with a group for a bit of fun. I was asked one day on my bike if I’d like to be in a group. I said yes, and I never looked back, really. The Beatles split, as you know, but we did a hell of a lot with it before it broke up: we did a lot of good stuff. I suppose everything has to come to an end — that’s life. Those are just the cycles we live in. But as for the legend bit, I just think, “Well, I’m still me, and I just get on doing what I do.” I try to play it down a bit, really, because I don’t want to become some great, incredible superstar. There are no big kicks in that for me. You perhaps saw Howard Hughes on TV recently; that’s the thing I’m trying to avoid. It was becoming so encapsuled that you go a bit crazy with it all. If anyone says I’m the bassist or singer, or player of the year, I accept it even though I might not agree with it. I recently read that I’ve got my name on more hits than any living writer. I love it, of course, but I don’t go wild about it and keep thinking about it all week, because you start to believe your own legend and that’s the danger. If you believe your own legend and then release an album like Wildlife that doesn’t sell, it can really affect you. 

TP: Did you find that when you reached that status, people started expecting too much from you?

PM:  People, especially critics, are never satisfied. One critic came to our London concert, and he wasn’t pleased with the hard seats in the auditorium. God, you can’t please those guys. But the nice thing is that whereas that critic got a free seat, the kid in the street would give his right arm to be where the critic was. I remember when I was in the audience, and there was something I liked, I would give anything to go and see it. Our daughter Heather went to a concert and the following week she read the review, which said, “Boring, Boring, Boring..Stranglers Rubbish.”  She said to me, “It wasn’t like that at all; you should have been there. It was the most fantastic show ever.” What I flashed on recently is that people who do these reviews are employed because they are good writers, not for their intelligence or knowledge of music. It is just that they write sentences well. I can tell you what I thought of a concert, but I couldn’t write it as well as they write it. So people like me ignore them; we just have to remember that they’re writers and not some God who’s telling you how you are. They’re not a true reflection of what’s going on. 

TP: Bing Crosby once said that regardless of who appears on the scene, your music will live through the years. 

PM: Yeah, I think some of the tunes will live. some of them have lived a few years already. I agree with you, Bing, wherever you are.


Paul McCartney writing

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