- Interview by:
- Paul Du Noyer
- Timeline More from year 2012
- Album This interview has been made to promote the Kisses On the Bottom Official album.
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The album offers some classic vintage songs and a few Paul McCartney originals. How did the general idea come about?
For years I’ve been wanting to do some of the old songs that my parents’ generation used to sing at New Year. What would happen is us kids would arrive at the ‘do’, the carpets would get rolled back, all the women would sit around with their little drinks of rum-and-black, gin-and-it, Babycham; someone would play the piano and it was normally my Dad. They would sing these old songs all night: When The Red Red Robin, Carolina Moon. And I took all of that in.
So I met with Tommy (LiPuma), and we just hung out, talking about the old singsongs, and we found we had a lot in common. But we tried to work out a slightly different approach, and used a selection of songs that wouldn’t be the obvious ones, like The Way You Look Tonight, songs that everyone tends to cover. We looked for songs that were a little more unusual. It’s a good idea to go slightly off-piste. Even to the extent where I didn’t know some of them.
And he suggested Diana Krall, who he knew very well. We ran through a couple of my selections, a couple of Tommy’s, a couple of Diana’s, and we just threw a lot of songs into a pool.
Were songs like these among the first you ever learned to play?
No, I never learned how to play them. All I ever did was sing them, at the family sing-songs. They’re quite complicated, the chords and things. I’d have a bash, and I did eventually become the sort of family piano player, at New Year, as my Dad got a bit older and I got a bit more capable. But I was always busking it; he knew the real chords, and I had to busk my way around. But it was good enough for the family sing-song. A lot of these songs, like Bye Bye Blackbird, were ones that I’d sung along with.
There’s a track called Home that I actually used to do an instrumental version of, before The Beatles. I liked the chords, so I used to play a little guitar instrumental when me and John were just getting it together. So I had nice memories of that one.
But some of the songs we’ve done on the album are songs that I didn’t know. Like, More I Cannot Wish You, is actually from the stage show Guys & Dolls; it didn’t make the film. But I thought it was such a poignant little song. And what totally did my head in is, it’s a guy, the grandfather, singing to a young girl. With me having a young daughter it’s very poignant.
Tell us a little about the making of this album.
The great thing about working with someone like Tommy, and it reminded me really of working with George Martin, is that he’s a knowledgeable guy. He’s a veteran, in the nicest possible way, of the recording business, so he has a great lineage. And, like George, he knows all the good players. That was very helpful.
We ended up at Capitol A Studio, in that very iconic building (Capitol Records Tower, Hollywood), where Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, even Gene Vincent recorded. I was thrown in the deep end, because I’m not a jazz player. I didn’t have a guitar or a piano to hide behind. I was just put on what the engineers told me was Nat King Cole’s mic, which was amazingly intimidating! In front of jazz musicians, which again was pretty intimidating. I just had to find my way through this. And once I’d got over the intimidated feeling, it became a very pleasurable way to work.
There’s such a high level of musicianship on there. And the nice thing for me was, other than going in to do the vocals, I didn’t feel like I had to do much hard work. The players did all the hard work, and I was just in the booth, singing. There was one moment when we were having a puzzle over some slight problem, and I said, “I don’t mind. I’m in LA. I’m British. I’m a tourist. I’m in Capitol A Studio, I’m singing on Nat King Cole’s microphone – I’m on holiday!” So, coupled with the fact that we were not working from musical charts, there is a very relaxed approach to it all.
One of the nice things that I realised afterwards, I thought, “You know what? That’s exactly how we used to work with The Beatles.” John and I would come in on Monday morning with a song, that George Martin hadn’t heard, George and Ringo hadn’t heard. We’d play them the song and we’d all kick it around until we had an arrangement that we were satisfied with. Then we’d record it, quite quickly, without too much fuss. That was very much the way we did this, which was a great pleasure for me.
What about the track, My Valentine? That’s one of your own, albeit in the same general style.
I was in Morocco with Nancy, who’s now my wife, and we were having a nice holiday but it was raining rather a lot. I said, “A pity it’s raining” and she said “It doesn’t matter, we can still have a good time.” And I’m like that, too, I don’t mind at all. So there was an old piano, slightly out of tune, in the foyer of the hotel. And there was this lovely Irish guy who knew so much old stuff, like Beautiful Dreamer, If You Were The Only Girl In The World … Again, stuff from my Dad’s era. I used to enjoy listening to him and he put me in mind of that genre.
So one afternoon, when it was raining, I was in that foyer, and without anyone noticing except a couple of waiters who were clearing up, I sat at the piano and started knocking around with this little tune: “What if it rained? We didn’t care. She said that someday soon the sun was gonna shine … ” So we did that one and eventually I had the pleasure of working with Eric (Clapton), who put a lovely acoustic guitar part on. And by the way, I forgot the important ingredient, the day I wrote it was Valentine’s Day, a fairly important fact! It was our first dance, very romantic.
The songs of that era were very often on the smoochy side.
Exactly, they’re pretty romantic. The way I figure it, a lot of it was post-War. My parents’ generation were just recovering, when I grew up, from World War II.
In Liverpool they’d all been bombed. so they were now determined to have a good time, and they latched on to these very positive songs. They didn’t have expensive entertainment centres. Basically, many of the houses in those days, and I understand it was the same in America, had a piano. No matter how poor you were, most people managed to get a piano. It’s funny, the one we had in our house, my Dad later told me he’d bought off Brian Epstein’s Dad, in NEMS. People wanted positive songs to lose the memory of the War. And I grew up with that. I think it really gave me a deep love of that kind of thing.
Did it shape you much? We think of The Beatles as springing up with rock’n’roll, but you personally had been around for some years before Elvis came along.
Yes, we’d actually grown up with songs from that era. Two of John’s favourite songs, when I met him, were Close Your Eyes (by Bernice Petkere, 1933), which is very much of that era, and the other was Little White Lies (by Walter Donaldson, 1930). Those were the kind of songs that we’d been listening to and that attracted me to him. And I do think they did have quite an influence on us melodically. A lot of these old songs had what they called a “verse”. Anyone else would call it an introduction. It’s always the bit that you never knew.
You include one here on Bye Bye Blackbird.
Yeah. Then it goes, “Pack up all my cares and woe” and you go, “Oh, I know this song!” You finally recognise it. John and I liked that. We used to talk about that as one of things it would be good to do. We gave a kind of nod to it on Here,There And Everywhere: “To lead a better life, I need my love to be here … ” Whereas in the old days they would have extended that: “She was here, and I was there, and I think she’s everywhere … “
It’s an era you’ve often revisited, isn’t it? Honey Pie, You Gave Me The Answer, Baby’s Request…
It’s a style that appeals to me. People will often say “What songs do you like? Who are your favourite composers?” And I say Cole Porter, the Gershwin brothers and people like that, because the songs are very skilled. Cheek To Cheek was always one of my favourite songs, I love the way it returns to its opening. It’s a simple little trick, but as a writer I always loved that. And someone pointed out to me that I kind of did that in Here, There And Everywhere. So all these influences were definitely in a lot of what we did in The Beatles.