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Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Interview for Today

Interview with BBC Radio 4's Today programme

Radio interview • Interview of Paul McCartney

Last updated on July 2, 2023


  • Published: Jun 13, 2023
  • Show: Today
  • Published by: BBC Radio 4
  • Interview by: Martha Kearney


  • Interview location: National Portrait Gallery, London, UK


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During the promotional campaign for his photography book “1964: Eyes Of The Storm” and the related photo exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, Paul McCartney participated in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, hosted by Martha Kearney. In the conversation, she inquired about advancements in Artificial Intelligence, to which McCartney revealed breaking news that a new Beatles song would be released before the year’s end, utilizing this very technology. He referenced Peter Jackson’s use of AI in “The Beatles: Get Back” TV series released in 2021. The speculated song to be released is “Now And Then,” a demo originally recorded by John Lennon that the Beatles had contemplated including in the Anthology project of 1995, but ultimately decided against.

Martha Kearney: Hello, and welcome to this best of today Podcast. I’m Martha Kearney. Sometimes in this job, you get to interview one of your heroes. And this has just happened to me. My father was from Liverpool. And so the Beatles have, well, they’ve always been part of my life. When I heard that Sir Paul McCartney was having a photography exhibition, I was so keen to talk to him. And to my great delight, he said, Yes. We met at the National Portrait Gallery in London, to talk about the exhibition and the book which accompanies it. These are photos taken in a very intense three month period at the end of 1963 and early 64, when Beatlemania was taking hold, and the band went on tour to the United States. The photos were only recently discovered, and I asked Sir Paul what was it like to find them again.

Paul McCartney: It was really, really good, actually, because I thought I’d lost them. And I assumed that, because the 60s was so loose, and doors were left open, and, you know, I would invite everyone in and stuff, you know, and a lot of stuff went missing. So I thought this would all be missing. But my photo archivist who mainly deals with Linda’s work, she said, No, we’ve got them all. And so I thought, well, let’s get them out. Let’s have a look at them. So I was very pleasantly surprised.

Martha Kearney: Well, let’s have a look at some of them now. And these are pictures, I think that really only you could have taken because they’re so intimate. I mean, there’s George Harrison, fast asleep…

Paul McCartney: That’s right. Yeah, that’s true. You know, the thing is, we had photographers around with us, but they couldn’t get this kind of access. Also, you know, George would go asleep, because it was just me. Whereas if it was a photographer, you might try and stay awake.

Martha Kearney: He could really relax. And John Lennon wearing glasses, which we’d never have seen that in public at the time.

Paul McCartney: No… Up until the advent of Buddy Holly, he would never be seen out with glasses. But Buddy Holly, who was a big favourite of ours, wore glasses. So John felt a bit better about wearing the glasses. But normally it was like, well, this girl’s around, glasses came off.

Martha Kearney: And he looks slightly nervous there, like…

Paul McCartney: I don’t know. It’s just one of his habits, one of his little things. And I was very pleased to see that, because I’d forgotten that. It’s not the kind of thing you remember about people, their mannerism. But that was… I don’t think he was nervous. He’s just thinking. Yeah, and here he is, again, doing the same thing.

Martha Kearney: And over here, there’s a kind of playfulness, which is very typical of the time. So this is George.

Paul McCartney: Yeah, with two hats. We have just been in some costume fitting and stuff. And he spotted these two silver top hats. So he’s decided to put them both on. And then with George, he keeps the deadpan expression, which really makes him much better…

Martha Kearney: … much better for the comedy effect. And then there’s an unusual one for this exhibition. It’s all four of you. Together, it looks like all on top of each other.

Paul McCartney: Yeah. Well, sometimes I’d have the camera with me, but then I’ll just ask our roadie “just take a quick pic of this”, you know, for souvenir kind of thing. And why you did that was like all on top of each other, or the other way was peeking around a door. So you’re all in line. It was because the newspaper editors sometimes would have filled the whole page, but they didn’t have room for a big photo split, they could use a single column. So that’s what the photo journalists would get us to do this. So then they can sell it to the papers.

Martha Kearney: And these are all from the very early days and I think you’ve got George’s parents just next to him.

Paul McCartney: Yeah, Harry his dad and Louise his mom were great people. Harry was a bus driver. Louise was a very formidable housewife. She was great. You wouldn’t want to mess with Louise. Somebody had come to the door once at their house. And she didn’t like whoever it was, a salesman. So she poured a pocket of water over him from the upstairs window. That was Louise, but they were great people you know.

Martha Kearney: And then the lovely, joyous picture of Ringo at the top, slightly kind of blurred….

Paul McCartney: Yeah, with the movement. Yeah, it’s just blurred.

Martha Kearney: And the photographs in these rooms are from some of the early shows in Liverpool. And then in London, he is behind the scenes at the Palladium.

Paul McCartney: Yeah. I like this one of John sort of screwing up his eyes, he’s obviously got trying to knock at soap, he’s washing his face, trying to not have soap in his eyes. But again, you know, that’s the kind of thing he’d let me take that picture. Because it’s just me. He knew… Well, he thought it was never gonna get publicised. Sorry, John. But no, you had that access and that intimacy, just because you lived on top of each other, you know. So it was really nice looking back at the photos, and reminded me of those days.

Martha Kearney: And there’s one of you here engrossed in the newspaper.

Paul McCartney: Yeah. You know, you’re just sitting around, and you know, my camera is there, and someone’s picked it up, and just taking a shot. So you never quite know who took these, it would have been something like Mal, our roadie, or Neil, another road manager. Or maybe one of the guys, one of the other Beatles. We were all very keen on photography, actually. Because the new modern cameras then came out, the reflex cameras, like Pentax and stuff. And we all had one. So we all liked to take pictures. Ringo has a book recently of his pictures. So yeah, it’s pictures of an era. So when you are taking them, you don’t ever think obviously that it’s going to be historical. Because you just taking a snapshot. But then this long after you look back and say, Wow, that really captured the look, how we dressed, how we looked, the hotel rooms, the style of the hotels, and so it brings the whole period back.

Martha Kearney: And when you look at this picture of the young Paul McCartney, what do you think?

Paul McCartney: Good looking boy. You know, I do. I liked that about all these pictures, you know, we were sort of young and beautiful. And you didn’t know it. You know, that thing of people will say, Oh, I don’t like having my photo taken. I look terrible. And then 10 years later, oh, I didn’t look too bad. 20 years later, I was gorgeous. So all this time after, you know, I think we were good looking boys.

Martha Kearney: Well, let’s see how the good looking boys took Paris by storm as we come into this next room, and the show in Paris was just two years after you and John had gone there hitchhiking. Those two trips must have been incredibly different.

Paul McCartney: Oh, yeah. I mean, it was just the two of us. And we didn’t know Paris. So we just wandered around, and went to various things, went to the cinema. We just did a lot of stuff together. You know, we went to the cinema, it was an old film called The Time Machine, the original one. And what was amazing for us, the kind of thing that builds a friendship, we were up in the balcony upstairs. And two French guys came in and sat right in front of us. And we thought they got out some gum to share. But it was a piece of garlic. I mean, oh, God, the smell. And we feel like Liverpool people is like, no, that’s not good. And they just share in a little clove of garlic each you know. So you know, all those kind of memories come back when I see these pictures.

Martha Kearney: I think it was also in Paris where you had the famous haircuts first of all, isn’t it?

Paul McCartney: Yeah, yeah. We knew a friend from Hamburg, who we met up with later in Paris called Jürgen Vollmer and we knew he was a photographer and an artist. And it was a group we’d fallen in with, mainly Astrid, Jürgen, and Klaus, who were three students and lived in Hamburg. And we really got very friendly with, we were very impressed with the style. It was a kind of a very cool modern style. So when John and I met Jürgen in Paris, we said, Would you cut our hair like yours? And he said, No, no, no, no, no, no. He said, You are rockers. I like it. He liked the sort of quiff and all that. We said, no, no, we have enough of that. So will you do it? So, after much, you know, complaining, he did it. And we went back to Liverpool with this Beatle cut. And we all go, what are you doing? What’s up? What’s wrong? Yes. Funny. Yeah. It’s the latest thing.

Martha Kearney: I just looking round at all the photographs in this room, the black and white photographs. Do you think the style has changed? Do you become more influenced or interested in French cinema, the new wave…

Paul McCartney: My style when we get there? Well, I think so. I think there is that. But I think more importantly, you’re in Paris. So the style changes just because it’s Paris, as opposed to London. So the buildings are different. The people are different. You know? I mean, I will often joke when I go to Paris, I’ll say to my wife, “look at all those people, they’re all thinking in French”. It’s like, yeah, even that dog is thinking in French. Like, how did they do it? You know, just the change is kind of exotic.

Martha Kearney: The French crowds, with the fans, are a bit more cool. There wasn’t quite the same level of hysteria.

Paul McCartney: Yeah, there weren’t many girls in the audience, and we say why. So apparently, the moms would say “you have to be chaperoned if you go into something like that”. So there weren’t that many, they were mainly guys. And gradually, we were there for a little while, so we gradually won them over. So much that they got a bit crazy. And they’re all jumping up and down. And the police gendarmes are coming around with sticks and hitting them, and we were going “No, no, no, it’s okay. It’s just exuberance, just a bit of excitement”.

Martha Kearney: We’re gonna move you into this next room now, which I thought was really interesting. It’s called behind the camera, and it’s about photography. But it tells us a lot about your family and your family’s interests. So this first photograph here, this is your dad, isn’t it?

Paul McCartney: That’s my dad, yeah, Jim, Jimmy Mac…

Martha Kearney: … in front of a house that your early success had bought him…

Paul McCartney: Yes, I bought him. Yeah, it was. It was a nice thing to be able to do, you know. Because he’d lived over in Liverpool and this was now the posh place, it’s the way we call it, over the water, in the Wirral. So yeah. So I got him this house and he lived there. With my brother, Mike.

Martha Kearney: There’s a picture of Mike just next along. And your family had a box camera, so many families did, that brownie. We had one.

Paul McCartney: Yeah. And you learn to use that and, you know, try to make some interesting pictures. But it was normally just when you’re on holiday. You know, that’s the only real time you’d get them out. We went to Butlins. And I’m thinking now, we didn’t have sort of a groovy change of clothes. I think it was just the money wasn’t there, you know. So I mean, we went my brother, we went in our school uniforms. I’ve got my school hat on the blazer. That was like, my coolest outfit. Whereas now, you know, kids will have like, the groovy thing and the jeans and everything, you know, but anyway, but to get a good picture, even on the brownie, you know, I hung off the diving board, and my brother took a picture of me here. We were thinking of, you know, trying to do something a little bit different here.

Martha Kearney: Your brother, in the book that he’s written, talks about that interesting kind of photography. He describes a family photo taken by you with the box camera, and a piece of cotton that you used in order to take the picture. And then he says nearly every time you pulled it, the camera fell over.

Paul McCartney: To weigh you down with a brick or something. I’d forgotten that till now.

Martha Kearney: I might have that photo here actually somewhere. Yeah, there it is. I don’t know if you can see, it’s not that brilliant.

Paul McCartney: Oh, look at that. Cousin Jean, Ted, Mary, me and Mike, my dad. So hilarious. You know, finally we’ve got a shot. The camera didn’t fall over.

Martha Kearney: It couldn’t have been that long after your mom died, but you look like a happy and a warm family there?

Paul McCartney: Well, yeah, you know, that was half the story, it wasn’t all that, because you know, it was a huge blow to us losing our mother, me and Mike losing our mum, when we were like, 14, he’d be 13. So there was all of that, you know, and all the terrible bits of that kind of grief that you got to get through. I mean, you know, here’s the first time I’d ever heard my dad cry. And you heard him, he was in the next room, but he’s sobbing. And our whole lives, you’d never heard that. I don’t really think I ever heard it again. But it wasn’t all laughs, there was the tragedy that befall on us. She died of cancer. So but you had to get through it. And you did. And being from Liverpool, it’s a very sort of get-up-and-go attitude. And also they, my mum and dad, had to now get over the war. Because this was just post war, all this stuff.

Martha Kearney: And Liverpool have been very badly bombed.

Paul McCartney: So you know, when people are moaning these days, I’d say, “imagine this, these bombs falling”. You know, now you get an idea of what they went through. Yeah, nobody had to be strong, and they had to be resilient. So you know, they use music, and jokes. And you know that’s how you got through it. So it was good. It was great to see that. It was a great lesson in life, to see how to deal with bad times.

Martha Kearney: And your dad encouraged you with the music and the photography in the house.

Paul McCartney: Yeah, yeah. Well, he’d been an amateur musician himself. So he didn’t mind us coming around to our house and rehearsing. And me and John coming around and writing there, he was very supportive. So that was very helpful. And there was a piano in the house because he played so I would noodle around on it. So that’s kind of how I learned to play a bit of piano. Yeah, so all these little things mounted up, you know, and added to the success we were about to have.

Martha Kearney: Well, let’s see where all that noodling around, ended up. Because we’re going to hear a bit more about that very intense three months when all these photographs were taken. And let’s go through, there’s a really spectacular photo we’re about to see, which has been blown up. And it covers one whole wall of the exhibition.

Paul McCartney: Yeah, that’s really nice that you can blow because these pictures were taken on film. You can blow them up really big and they don’t pixelate.

Martha Kearney: So we should say, this is your American tour with incredible Beatlemania. And this entire wall is filled with a picture of you arriving at Miami Airport.

Paul McCartney: Yeah. This is what greeted us. So you know, it’s great. I’m so glad I took a picture of it because I wouldn’t remember half of this. I mean, we’ve got the two bathing beauty queens, in the swimsuits looking good. And then just to the right, there’s someone who’s got a chimpanzee and he looks like a guy. I think he’s got a rather jaunty little white hat on, and then a kind of leopard skin. Dress, mini dress, or blouse on with these shiny sparkly… Is that trousers?

Martha Kearney: Yeah, I think they are trousers with sparkly boots as well. But that’s so bizarre, as you say, with a chimpanzee. I mean, it’s really a circus.

Paul McCartney: Yeah. What’s going on? And then you look up, right over the top row. There’s all people on the top deck of the airport. And then I love this, even in these windows. Yeah, so it was like, wow.

Martha Kearney: And I was interested to know, you were in the midst of all of this, but you were taking photographs of it. You wanted to chronicle it in some way? Or was it a way of distancing yourself from all the fame? What was going on in your head at the time?

Paul McCartney: I think one of the things about travelling somewhere, when we were like young 20 year olds, was “wait till I tell the people back home about this”. “Wait till I tell them there was all these people, and they were all that”. And so you took a picture. And you know, later you’d it show it, “this is what we did you know, this is what…”. And then you wouldn’t look at him ever again for like 60 years, until… This is lovely having these memories.

Martha Kearney: Well, let’s go through and hear more about all that time in America. So let’s go through I’m gonna move you through here. We’ve got a picture of the crowds running down the street, in New York, around the time of the Ed Sullivan Show.

Paul McCartney: That’s 58th Street and Avenue of the Americas.

Martha Kearney: And there’s a picture over here that I think, well, let’s begin with this one up here, where you’re in the middle of a press room. And it’s a really great picture seeing you. And you remember what was going on there?

Paul McCartney: No. I mean, that would appear to be journalists talking to us.

Martha Kearney: They didn’t know your individual names, did they?

Paul McCartney: Most of them didn’t know. It’d be like, “Hey, Bill”. “Hey, Bill, one more for the West Coast”.

Martha Kearney: This is a very striking photograph over here. Again, black and white railway worker in front of a railway car. Why did you take him?

Paul McCartney: Well, you know, I’m interested in photography, and anyone interested in photography tends to be interested in characters. Also, being from the working class, and being very proud of it. I like these kinds of people. So if I spot this guy who’s got a big shovel on Pennsylvania railway station, I see he’s amused at what he’s seen. He’s seen these crazy Beatle people going past on the train. And I’m amused, I’m looking at him and sort of wondering what his life’s like. What is it? What’s he was he using that shovel for? Cleaning the snow? There was a lot of snow around. But yeah, and I can relate to those kinds of people.

Martha Kearney: I think it’s hard looking back to that time that America was so different, so glamorous, so exotic, and particularly for the world of music.

Paul McCartney: Yeah. Well, it was where all the music that we loved had come from. You know, the Blues have come from America. Rock and roll came out of that. And we heard it, and it changed things completely. Because the music scene that we’d grown up listening to was old fashioned. It was standards. And it was a lot of comedy records a lot of sort of gimmicky. Gilly Gilly Ossenfeffer Katzenellen Bogen by the Sea was one of the songs. Then suddenly rock and roll came in. It was like, wow, it’s a bolt out of the blue. And so we were so excited. So here we were, in America, the land of all this music. And we were very excited that they liked us, because we were kind of selling it back to them. And a lot of them didn’t know what we knew, because we were big fans of the music. So a lot of people wouldn’t know who wrote Twist And Shout. They just assume we did it. But we don’t know. It’s these people called the Isley Brothers. They’re great. You should listen to them. So it was really nice, just being able to educate a lot of the white people mainly.

Martha Kearney: And you wouldn’t, at a time where there were still some theatres playing to segregated audiences, only play to white houses or whatever, you refused to play in segregated places.

Paul McCartney: Yeah, we did it, I’m very proud of that. I’m very happy that we were sensible enough to say no, you know. We were down, I think, it was Jacksonville, in the Southern States of America. And they said, “Yeah, it’s a segregated audience, but don’t worry about it”. We said, “What do you mean?” Like black people all there and the white people all there. We said, “well, we’re not doing that”. Because, you know, we had loads of mates in Liverpool who were black. And so it never meant anything to us when you didn’t get segregation, where we’re from. So now we just refused to do it. And they had to back down. So there were quite a few people there. One girl, who I remember hearing the story, who said, she’d never sat with white people before, as a young girl, sitting with young white girls, who’s a black girl. And she just loved it. They just loved the Beatles concert experience. So I was very proud of all that, you know, that we naturally wouldn’t go along with the segregation rubbish.

Martha Kearney: We’re coming into the final room of the exhibition, which is the photographs taken in Miami, and you’ve gone from black and white photography to this explosion of colour. And you’re just all obviously having the most fantastic time.

Paul McCartney: Yeah, well, you know, if you’re lucky, you end a tour, somewhere, sunny. We often used to try and end in LA. But this was sort of the first time we’d ever been to Miami. And yes, I had to get the colour film out. And yeah, it just shows you’re just having a great time. There’s a picture there of John walking on water. Proof. It’s all I say.

Martha Kearney: He’s just jumping into the pool. Looks like walking on water. That’s brilliant.

Paul McCartney: No, but you can see we’re all having a great time, just having this much time off.

Martha Kearney: There’s George having a wonderful time with a very young lady…

Paul McCartney: This is the most exotic picture in the whole exhibition, yeah. This is George looking very handsome. He’s got his shades on. He’s just been given a drink by this good looking girl, I think, you can’t see her face.

Martha Kearney: You have rather focused on the bikini, I have to say.

Paul McCartney: Well, I’m photographing George, don’t give me that. But I think I liked the composition, actually. I think it works nicely. But you know, he’s living the life, this was, we suddenly had more time off than we ever had, in this place where we were working. We weren’t actually on holiday, but it felt like we were. It was great.

Martha Kearney: And is there ever a poignancy for you looking at these photographs of these young men, some of whom aren’t here anymore? George Harrison, Brian Epstein, John Lennon.

Paul McCartney: Yeah, it is a very poignant, yeah. It’s great, because, you know, whenever you lose someone, I think the natural thing is, well, we’ve got beautiful memories. And you hold fast to those memories of the good times. I don’t tend to dwell on the fact that you’ve lost someone. After a while, maybe take a year or two. But then you can look back. And so yeah, I’m looking at George, and it makes me think God, I met him on the school bus. And he’s just my little mate. One little brother, you know, similarly with John, you just remember where you met them, things you did. We went hitchhiking together. George went down to Wales once. And then another time, we went down to Exmouth, and we just hitchhiked, so, we were really close, you know. And then when it came to The Beatles, and you’d have this sort of overwhelming stuff happening to you, you knew each other so well, that you could lean on each other. So yeah, that’s what I see in these pictures. But yeah, it is sad. Because, you know, I prefer him to be here.

Martha Kearney: What do you think about efforts that are being made through technology, through artificial intelligence, to recreate the early Beatles, making your voice sound younger [and] bringing those voices back from the grave?

Paul McCartney: Well, it’s a very interesting thing, you know. It’s something we’re all sort of tackling at the moment and trying to deal with. What does it mean, you know? I don’t hear that much because I’m not on the internet that much. But people say to me, “Oh, yeah, there’s a track where John’s singing one of my songs.” And it isn’t, it’s just AI, you know. So all of that is kind of scary, but exciting because it’s the future.

We were able to use that kind of thing when Peter Jackson did the film Get Back where it was us making the Let It Be album, and he was able to extricate John’s voice from a ropey little bit of cassette where it had John’s voice and a piano. He can separate them with AI. They tell the machine “That’s the voice. This is a guitar. Lose the guitar.” And he did that, so it has great uses.

So when we came to make what will be the last Beatles record — it was a demo that John had, that we worked on and we just finished it up and it’ll be released this year — we were able to take John’s voice and get it pure through this AI, so that then we could mix the record as you would normally do. So it gives you some sort of leeway. So there’s a good side to it and then a scary side, and we’ll just have to see where that leads.

Martha Kearney: So this is a question that I’ve wanted an answer to pretty well all of my life. And it’s about the song “Martha My Dear” that people have sung to me over the years. And then I found out that it was supposedly written about your dog.

Paul McCartney: It was. You thought it was about you.

Martha Kearney: I wasn’t quite that mad, but I’d hoped it was some young love of your life called Martha.

Paul McCartney: Yeah, well, it was my little dog. I I’d never had a dog as a kid. So I eventually, when we started with the Beatles, got a little dog and holding a sheepdog called Martha. And one day the inspiration came to write “Martha My Dear” and yeah, so it’s an ode to sheep dog. Not you. I wish it was right now. I wish it was.

Martha Kearney: I shall try and calm down. I have blushed actually. Yes. It doesn’t happen very often. Sir Paul McCartney, many thanks, indeed for talking to us.

Paul McCartney: Oh, you’re welcome. Thanks, Martha.

From Martha Kearney (@Marthakearney) / Twitter – Coming up Paul McCartney on his own photographs from the early days of the Beatles in a new exhibition and book #EyesoftheStorm @npglondon @BBCr4today
Paul McCartney writing

Talk more talk, chat more chat

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