Interview for Let It Rock • September 2008

Interview with Paul McCartney

Interview of Paul McCartney
Published by:
Let It Rock
Interview by:
Dmitry M. Epstein
Read interview on Let It Rock
Timeline More from year 2008

Songs mentioned in this interview


Officially appears on The Beatles (Mono)

Monkberry Moon Delight

Officially appears on Ram

Rock Show

Officially appears on Venus and Mars

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“Hello, Dmitry! This is Paul McCartney calling from London…” Oh yes, that’s him. A dream come true? – asked the wife. Uh, well… There was a dream! A couple of months ago, I woke up and told my other half that in my dream I was just interviewing Paul and then went to his concert. A good sign, she said, but we forgot about that and didn’t even remember the dream when it was announced that McCartney would play Israel.

All the puzzle pieces came together when my not so little effort for the paper I work for brought about the interview opportunity, and this was a puzzle called The Grand Scheme Of Things. Could I, as a Soviet teenager enamored with THE BEATLES, ever dream of attending the show of one of them – even in Perestroika times? But then, could I dream of the sci-fi tales of little, button-like phones fleshed out by reality? The times have made it all real, and the conversation with Paul, too.

But… Over the years, while interviewing great musicians I call “unsung heroes” – among these, John Gustafson, McCartney’s old friend whose name cropped up in our warm-up chat – I used to say, “They’re interesting people, while I wouldn’t have known what to ask Paul McCartney about! Everyone knows everything about the man!” Yet when the ex-Beatle called, there were much more questions than time allowed for. Maybe next time. This time, though, Paul McCartney said, “Over to you”. All right, then.

First off, Paul, I’d like to thank you for your music that’s been soundtracking my life since I was growing up back in the USSR…

Uh, that’s great! Thank you, it’s my pleasure entirely.

Now, on with the action. Your Israeli show is called “Friendship First”: what’s next, then?

Peace! The origins of this [title] is this is it’s my first visit to Israel, and that’s the word “first”, so instead of just calling it “The First Concert”… And also, the other idea was to call it “The Friendship Concert” because, you know, my theme in coming to Israel is one of friendship and peace, and humanitarian outreaching to all people, as I think we all want peace. So I’ve put the two together: “friendship” and “first” meaning my first concert. And then that has the third meaning which is, to put friendship first, before anything else. So that was the meaning behind that – to indicate the peaceful outreaching nature of the concert.

What is your own personal relation to Jews in common? I mean Linda was from a Jewish family…

Oh, that’s good. I know a lot of Jewish people, I have a lot of Jewish people in my family, I have a lot of Jewish friends. But to me, that’s not really important what religion people are attached to, because by the same argument I have a lot of Christian friends and Muslim friends. It’s just happened that I do have a lot of relatives and friends who are Jewish. They’re wonderful people. And, as you say, because Linda was the mother of my children, they’re Jewish – half-Jewish – and that’s great! I mean I think it’s fine. As long as people are good people that’s all that matters.

Being, perhaps, not so religious but spiritual person, what do you feel before playing Israel?

Well, the main reason when I give a concert is to bring my music to any region or any country. So to me, emphasis is on the music. And because the atmosphere at my concerts – because of music! – is often great and warm and very strong, loving it’s what happens, normally. And I like to think there’s a chance that we can all be uplifted by the concert. Again, the emphasis really is on the music, but if the music brings some uplifting feelings, then that’s important, too.

But that’s to people. And what about yourself?

You know, I’m a part of it, I’m just a part of it. I love coming to play my music. This year, I’ve been in Liverpool, Kiev in Ukraine, Quebec in Canada, and now Tel Aviv in Israel. And to me, there’s a lot of similarities between the people: they all love music, they mostly love [their] family. So I come just as one of those people, I just happen to be the guy who’s written the music and sings the songs. And it’s important to me that I’m the same as the other people in the audience on many levels – I’m a family guy, I love peace, I love music. So we have a lot in common, and that’s one of the things I enjoy about facing this concert.

Are you going to visit Jerusalem?

I don’t think I’m going to have time but I’d really love to! I’m going to be on a little bit of tight schedule. So many of my friends say, “You must visit it!” But what happens for me is I come to a place and realize that I have to come back because normally there’s never enough time to see everything I want to see.

How did this idea of “hit and run” concerts rather than proper tour come about?

It’s just my personal situation at the moment. I’ve just finished a divorce situation, so I’m very keen to put my family first. This means that at the moment rather than do a lengthy tour which will take a lot of organization and scheduling worked out, what I’m doing what is easier – just do one-off things. And I must say, I rather enjoy it, it’s a kind of nice way to do it, really. It’s just as exciting but it doesn’t present too many problems to me as a full-length tour would. But I will do full-length tours – but maybe next year.

The terrorists’ threats you’re receiving… You were in such a situation before, after the “BEATLES more popular than Jesus” remark. The times are different, though. Isn’t it scarier now than back then in 1966?

There’s always an element of that to most things you do, and I think it’s something that you just have to ignore. I think you have to remember what you’re doing it for. You know, when I went to Quebec recently there were people saying very strongly that I shouldn’t have come because the British defeated the French [four hundred years ago], and they didn’t think it was appropriate for me to play there. But I tend to… It’s not the point. I play to all people, and I play to people not governments, and I believe strongly that all people are peaceful and would want peace. So that’s the thing. I don’t worry about that [danger], I know what my motives are, and I think that a lot of people understand that my motives are peaceful ones.

Talking about British. You’re still speaking Scouse. So what does being a Liverpudlian mean to you?

Oh, it’s very important to me, you know. It’s my hometown, it’s the city I love. I return there quite a bit because I have my own school there which is called LIPA, the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, which is the school that George and I – George Harrison and I – attended when we were teenagers. We attended that school from the age of eleven on. I obviously have many relatives there. So it’s great, I love it, and I always fall back into all the old habits, and it’s good. I think what is good in it for me is it reminds me that I’m just a person like anyone else.

It’s not that often that you play lead guitar on-stage but when you do it’s just great. Don’t you think you’re underestimated as an instrumentalist?

I don’t know. I don’t really read a lot of the feedback. But I started off originally on guitar and then moved on to bass when THE BEATLES needed a bass player. So guitar was my first instrument that I learnt, so I love playing guitar. I didn’t use to play much lead guitar because, obviously, in THE BEATLES we had George and then in WINGS we would always have two lead guitarists, so my main thing was bass or a piano. But because I love it so much, I now like to play it. And if I’m underestimated that’s okay, that means I’m better than you think.

Then, you poetry. Everybody’s saying John Lennon was a great poet – and he was, indeed – but nobody says this about you. My favorite piece of McCartney music is “Monkberry Moon Delight” which has fantastic lyrics.

Thank you. That’s very surrealist! I’m glad you like that. Well, I like that, too. I think what it was was when we were in THE BEATLES, in the very early days John had a book of his writings, “In His Own Write”, published, and I think that set it all, that single event made people think of John as a poet. I think if I had had a book of poetry then, it might be the other way round. But I don’t mind, you know, I don’t mind really what people think. I think John was a great writer, so it’s okay for me that my poetry has been published much later. I’m happy to have things like “Blackbird” and, like you said, “Monkberry Moon Delight” published – probably in time, when the people have time to analyze the whole thing and sort of realize that we both are pretty good writers.

By the way, there’s a lyric in “Rock Show”: “a man movin’ cross the stage, it looks like one used by Jimmy Page”. Who did Jimmy use?

You know what? It’s fictitious. It’s really just a general song. I think I was just talking about a guitar used by Jimmy Page of LED ZEPPELIN.

I heard you’re open to collaboration. If I’m, being a lyricist, will send my writings to Paul McCartney, would he consider using it?

Oh, I don’t know, I would probably look at it. Obviously, many people do send lyrics but… it’s not how it normally happens. I normally know someone [to write with], it’s not normally done through the post.

What about your recent collaborations with Brian Wilson and Yusuf Islam?

Well, it’s not so much a collaboration as I’ve sung on their records. They’re friends of mine, and I often… As a friend of mine he says to me, “Would you sing on my new record?”, as Brian Wilson and Yusuf have said. And they’re such friends that I’m happy to do it. It’s always a fun thing. But I wouldn’t really call it a collaboration, I’d say that I’m a guest appearance on their records.

Starting anew with WINGS, you tried to not rely on the BEATLES legend – if it was legend already in 1971. When did you accept, and was it hard to accept, that no matter what you’d do, there’d always be comparisons to what you’d done with them?

I always knew that. That was one of the difficulties with WINGS that I could see that the things we did would be compared [to THE BEATLES], so I specially didn’t play the BEATLES’ material, but once WINGS was established in its own right and once we had great success with tours and records, then I thought it was okay then to play anything from my repertoire. So nowadays I play a lot of BEATLES songs, and some WINGS and some solo, but I do play many more BEATLES songs than I ever did because now I feel I’m established more than when WINGS started.

The “Mojo” magazine broke the news that THE BEATLES’ remastered catalogue will be finally made available next year. Are you excited about the prospect?

Yeah, sure. That’s going to be great, yeah. I’m looking forward to it. We are working on some things, you know. I think it’s very good as there’s a demand for it. People still love BEATLES’ music, so it’s always exciting to work on that.

And then there’s the “Let It Be” DVD everyone’s waiting for.

All these things will happen it time because you just can’t do it all at once. We are preparing these things, there’s work that people have done, but I just don’t want to flood everyone with THE BEATLES’ products. I think it’s a question of releasing things in a long time. But that will come!

Speaking of time. Isn’t it the time to write a “bus” song? I mean you’re always telling stories about riding on a bus – there’s a snippet on the “Live At The BBC” CD and your recent New York ride. Sure, there was the middle eight of “A Day In The Life”…

Exactly! That’s what I was going to say, in the middle eight of “A Day In The Life” I’m riding on a bus. Eh, yeah, you know I like buses, that’s a very good form of transport. As to write a song about it, you have to just see what comes out. Because I love the bus it doesn’t mean I’m going to write a song about it, but often your memories come into your songs and that’s why that happened in the middle eight of “A Day In The Life”: it was me remembering getting to school each morning. I was always being late, and I had a half-hour bus journey, but that was great. As to whether I’ll write more “bus” songs, we’ll have to wait and see.

Unlike many other stars, you’re always being “humane”. How different is McCartney the man from McCartney the legend?

Ah! To me it’s all the same, you know. I’m just very lucky I’ve been very successful with my job, but here I’m sitting in the car here, in London, at the traffic lights, so I feel just the same as I’ve ever felt, I feel like a normal guy in many ways. So my private side is very normal, while my public side is much bigger and much more visible. But I like to keep my feet on the ground, so much so that I’ve actually got to get off the phone now. Are you okay with that?

Of course! But to sign off… Success, fame, riches, knighthood – you more than deserved all of this. But is there still anything you’d like to achieve in life?

Yeah. I always try to do something better. I never know what that might be – I have many interests that I still haven’t properly tried. I love photography, for instance, so maybe one of these years I will have a photographic exhibition. I have many things like that, but basically, I’m always just trying to write a better song, play a better concert. So we’ll see how it’ll go in Tel Aviv. I hope it’ll be the best concert yet. Listen, Dmitry, send my best wishes to your readers, to your audience, and I hope you’ll enjoy the concert.

As for the concert, it was great. Of course, it was great, even though there was no surprises. But who cared? It was Paul McCartney after all – after all these years of speculations and rumors of the Israeli ban which seem not to be grounded at all. We said goodbye, but he said hello. A pity, my 1y7m old boy wasn’t able to watch the show. But then again, maybe next time


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