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In 1971, you formed Wings. What were you missing about being in a band? The camaraderie?
Camaraderie was one thing, musical turn-on was another. Being in a band’s a very cool thing. I missed it like mad. The idea was just to get a bunch of mates together and take off in a van and make yourself into a group. Quite daring, really. We didn’t even have hotels. By the time we found them, they tended to be bedsits. Weird little places. Pearson Park in Hull, some weird old guy got very annoyed with us because one of the roadies was smoking something. It was just a bunch of nutters on the road. I wasn’t interested in putting it together professionally.
But it was always hard for you to lock a line-up with Wings. Was it a benign dictatorship?
That’s what they thought it was. The thing is, if you come out of The Beatles and you go in another group, you’re not just anyone. You’re the guy out of The Beatles. So, y’know, if anyone’s gonna make a decision, it should probably be him. But I mean, having said that, it was a team thing. Y’know, if anyone didn’t like stuff, we didn’t do it. You could never force musicians to do stuff. But you’d suggest strongly.
You took a lot of flak for having your wife in the band. You’ve always insisted that the criticisms of Linda as a musician were like water off a duck’s back to you. But they must have hurt a bit?
It was like oil off a duck’s back [smiles]. Bit harder to shift. Y’know, it wasn’t easy. But she was tough. The thing is we wanted to be together and we said, “What right has anyone got to say we shouldn’t be together in a band?” And the world seemed to think it was its affair. So we had people like [Mick] Jagger saying [Cockney croak], “He’s got his old lady in the band, oh fucking hell.” I know Mick, he’s sort of a mate, y’know. I would think, “Oh, fucking thanks a lot… tosser.”
Your ‘70s singles career – Mull Of Kintyre, Silly Love Songs, With A Little Luck – was viewed as being light and melodic compared to what Lennon and Harrison were doing. Did that get on your nerves?
Pff. Yeah, a bit probably, yeah. But I have to admit, some of it was, y’know. It was just what I was doing. I was bringing up little kids, so I did Mary Had A Little Lamb. And I can’t believe that now. Can you imagine doing that as a single? Yeah, some of my stuff was kinda lightweight, but a lot of it wasn’t – the background stuff wasn’t. There was enough good stuff to counter all those accusations. I must say one of the problems for me about doing the DVD was that [lightweight] stuff you’re talking about. There’s a lot of dubious stuff in there. But then the guy putting [together] the DVD said, “No it’s great, check it out.” He’d play it to me and I’d say, “Shit, that actually doesn’t look so bad now.”
Which songs in particular did you worry were a bit dubious?
I’m not damning myself, haha! Like I say, Wings was an experiment. We couldn’t replicate The Beatles. They were The Beatles and nobody is ever going to replicate The Beatles. End of story. We were just too different, too something-that-you-never-could-put-your-finger-on. We had to strike out on another path.
Do you believe, post-Beatles, you’ve had the respect you deserve?
[Pauses] I dunno. I think on and off, yeah. Sometimes I think, yes I have, sometimes, I haven’t. But I don’t necessarily think I deserve anything, y’know? [Adopts posh voice] “How dare you? Do you know who I am?” I’m not one of those people. It’s like, “Hey man, if you don’t dig it, fine by me.” You don’t have to like me. But if you do, I’d probably prefer it. Like anyone.
The 2D caricature of you has been the wacky, thumbs-aloft, happy-go-lucky guy. Is that quite a handy public image because it doesn’t portray the guy who gets annoyed or angry or tells people what to do?
It’s just how you’re brought up. I’m from Liverpool and a lot of Liverpool people will do a thumbs-up, like [exaggerated Scouse] “Alright, alright, eh?” And also I am optimistic and want to remain optimistic. It seems natural to me, y’know. And by the way, I don’t always do it, I’m not always feeling in that mood. And I have been chastened by the world opinion on that and you will not actually see me do it. Have you seen me do it in the last 10 years?
Actually, no, that’s true.
Because I’m suitably chastened by people saying, “You shouldn’t do that.” [Launches into comedy rant] It’s like fucking school! “One thing you must not do it put your fucking thumbs up, you twat!” So much of what happens reminds me of school. And I think my attitude’s the same as it always was. “Yes, sir.” Waits until sir has gone out of the room and then goes, “Fuck off!” Y’know, that’s what we really think. Anyone dares to tell us we’re… cunts… is a twat. [Calms down] Excuse me, I’ve just gone all sweary. You said I was wacky, thumbs-aloft, you see.
Is it weird for you to consider the fact that after you’re dead and gone you’ll be remembered for decades, possibly centuries? Or can you just not get your head around that?
No, I don’t think about that. I won’t be here to watch it.
But most of us don’t make our mark on this world and you’ve certainly done that…
I was kind of aware of that in The Beatles. And the more legendary the whole Beatles thing becomes, the more conscious you become of that fact. I tell you, man, I get people coming up to me in the street and they’re often very emotional and they just say, “Look, I don’t want to bother you, but I just want to thank you for what you’ve done for my life with your music.” And I just go, “Yeah, man, my pleasure.”
Your albums in the early ‘80s particularly – McCartney II, Tug Of War – were strong. But when people think of Paul McCartney in the ‘80s they tend to remember The Frog Chorus. Is that unfair?
Well, when you say it’s unfair, they’re allowed to think what they think, y’know. I mean, I’m always surprised with Frog Chorus, cos to me, I don’t realise I’m stepping outside the box. I used to like Disney when I was growing up and I see that kids enjoy it, so it doesn’t seem like a taboo subject to me. But then people view me and have their perception of this guy who shouldn’t be doing that.
What would you say is the public perception of you?
[Bemused laugh] Oh, I don’t know, man. I suppose if you look at it historically, you think, “Oh, here’s a guy who was in The Beatles… he’s now doing a kid’s song, that’s kind of weird.” To me, it didn’t seem weird at all. It was written specially for kids, in the same way as Yellow Submarine. I don’t embarrass myself by stepping out of the box. I almost don’t notice myself doing it.
You don’t seem particularly self-conscious about your career…
The stuff I do is kind of high-risk. But I don’t even know I’m risking anything, y’know. I don’t think of myself as someone with a career. I just think of myself as someone who likes to have a go at various things.
You collaborated with Michael Jackson in Say Say Say and The Girl Is Mine in the early ‘80s. Did you hang out?
He was like a family friend. Bite to eat, hang out and all of that. I got to meet his mum and his sisters and things. We fell out once he got Northern Songs. I put it to him and said, “Look you are now historically placed to really give the Lennon/McCartney writing duo their just desserts. They’ve been working for this company for 30 years, they’ve never had a rise.” I must have put it to him about three times. And I just never heard back. So it was like, “Oh well, fine, if you’ve not any comment on that, then I’m afraid I sort of become a disgruntled employee.” It wouldn’t have needed much, it was just a kind of gesture of goodwill. So… I just changed my mindset, said, “You know what? I’m fine, I’ve got enough.”
Later on in the ‘80s, you co-wrote songs with Elvis Costello. Were you looking for a new musical foil?
Sure. But what I realised – and that I sort of knew all along – was that John is an impossible act to follow. He and I were just so natural and read each other and did such good work… He said modestly.
The Britpop era and the Anthology series brought The Beatles to a new generation in the mid-’90s. Did it remind you how great The Beatles were as well?
Yeah. That’s one of the big things for me. Enough water’s been under the bridge for me to be able to not re-evaluate, but relisten to The Beatles and go, “We were shit-hot-23-year-old kids.”
In 1997, you went back to the basics with the Flaming Pie album. Everything you’ve done since has seemed more vital. Did it reinvigorate you, revisiting your past?
Yeah. It was good… what do you call it? Benchmark, watershed. Watermark. Benchshed. After that I think I got, like you say, a bit inspired. Thought, “OK, I get it, I remember.” Whenever we went in to make the next Beatles album, I always used to listen to the one we’d done previously to remember where we were up to. Just look and say, “OK, that’s where we set the bar, now let’s make a better one.” Flaming Pie might have had that kind of effect, where it was like, “OK, right, now let’s take it from there.”
Also, you did your trance albums with Youth under the name The Fireman. Was that to push yourself further out?
There was a period when people had a real big bland overview of me. And I’m sort of sitting there thinking, “Wait a minute, didn’t I do, like, Helter Skelter and Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?” But that was the overall perception. All along I’ve known that that wasn’t so.
You talked – or maybe joked – in the late ‘60s about doing a record called Paul McCartney Goes Too Far…
I was just thinking that the other day, still gotta make that record. John used to say, [uncanny Lennon impersonation] “Make it, man! That’s a great fucking title! That’s the record you’ve gotta make” I mean, I’m not sure you can go too far, actually. From the ‘60s, I was doing quite a lot of experimental stuff. So, for me, to do something like The Fireman was just a natural follow-on. It was really cool to work with Youth, who’s a great head. I used to say to him, “This is exactly the opposite of how I normally am in the studio.” We were just throwing stuff at the tape.