The Paul McCartney Project

Meet The New P.M.

Interview of Paul McCartney • June 1997
Published by:
Q Magazine
Timeline More from year 1997

Album This interview has been made to promote the Flaming Pie Official album.

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Interview

John Lennon? Pah! Weekender! It was Paul McCartney who was experimenting with “loops” and going to student gigs in ’66! Sick of being seen as “the soppy one”, and re-energised by Anthology and the Oasis Effect, Sir Paul is at one with his past, and mad for the future. In this exclusive tète-à-tète, he tells Andrew Collins, “You don’t retire. That’s boring!”     Hastings is abuzz. They’re opening a new shopping centre this very weekend, and none other than Her Majesty The Queen is coming down to cut the ribbon. It is a momentous retail occasion, and big, traffic-slowing news in the half-picturesque, half-rubbish coastal town of some historical significance.    

Negotiate the modest town centre jam, drive 15 minutes inland, away from what the locals probably regard as bustle, down a short and winding road past a number of far-apart houses with dove coops in their gardens, head towards Rye, and you’ll be able to pick out a Camberwick Green-style windmill perched on a hill. Which, in the late ’70s, is exactly what Paul McCartney did. Then, he bought it – after an associate posing as an Australian tourist had enquired about the price, like it mattered. It’s since been converted into a recording studio and crash pad, with adjoining rehearsal barn, and, if The Queen had but known it when she rolled into Hastings with the large, comedy scissors,she could easily have taken apleasant detour and dropped in on an old pal. Or, more specifically, an old Paul.    

Hastings was only featured on ITV’s Wish You Were Here a week back (they cunningly missed out the slot-machine end and concen-trated on “the old town”). Some viewers no doubt wished they were here. Paul McCartney, Lord Of Round These Parts,has no need to wish. For anything. He’s here already padding around the place in couldn’t-give-a-hoot brown sandals and denim casuals, nibbling at moreish dried apple pieces from a bowl, and getting ready to do a spot of “jawing”, as he’d quaintly have it, about his new album. He used to be in The Beatles, you know. Younger than John and Ringo, older than George. His first instrument was a trumpet, his third was the bass, which he took up when no-good-at-it Stuart Sutcliffe bailed out in Hamburg. He once appeared as half of The NerkTwins in Caversham with John. Although George looked great during Let It Be,Paul consistently looked the best out of the lot of them during the three-year transition from lightly psychedelic popsters to hairy old nutcases, despite the grandad shirts. He was the second Beatle to leave Rishikesh in India in March 1968. He married Linda Eastman on March 12, 1969 and, within the year, had effectively broken up the band by favouring a management deal with her dad over one with Allen Klein. Of the 211 songs The Beatles recorded, approximately 56 of the ones he co-wrote will simply live forever and ever (and that’s if you’re in a mean-spirited mood), and he sang lead vocal on 28 of them. He co-presented Disney Time with his wife in 1973.    

Flamine Pig, McCartney’s ninth album as himself, was recorded right here in the Sussex hideaway, for the most part, and with precisely the sort of people he might nominate for BT’s excellent Friends And Family offer, should he actually need to save money: the wife, his 19 year-old son James, Jeff Lynne, and even the drummer out of his old band from the ’60s.    

As if to neatly express Macca’s at-oneness with the Fabs legacy, post-Anthology, post-Threetles, post-Yoko-hug, Flaming Pie refers to John Lennon’s supposed “vision” in which a man standing on said overdone pastry decreed that the band’s name should be “Beatles with an A”. And Ringo drums on two tracks (not to mention co-writing Really Love You, the first appearance on record of the McCartney-Starkey credit).    

There’s a line in one of Flaming Pie’s finest songs, the American single The World Tonight, which runs “I go back so far I’m in front of me.” In his notes for the album’s lyric booklet, the author muses,”If I’d been writing with John he would have gone, OK, leave that one in; we don’t know what it means but we do know what it means.” This is entirely significant: that Paul McCartney is this comfortable and forthcoming with reminiscences about – indeed, comparisons to – The Beatles on his own record. Anthology was possibly the grandest, most hands-on and love-lubricated rock’n’roll band compilation in the histofy of repackaging. The TV series! The “director’s cut” video! The three double-CDs of out-takes, re-takes, first-takes and piss-takes! A marketing extravaganza, it lasted a year, and re-established The Beatles as Kings Of Rock & Pop Forever.    

It also marked the culmination of the Fabs-Ono peace process (Yoko handed over the tapes of John’s voice; Free As A Bird and Real Love were the splendid results) and coincided with the rise of the Post-Fab Five, Oasis. George Harrison gritted his teeth and saw the Threetles circus through (stopping only to allegedly object to the working title, Long And Winding Road, because he hadn’t written that song). Sir George Martin accepted a Q Award on the project’s behalf. Anthologies 1, 2 and 3 became The Beatles’ 16th, 17th and 18th US Number 1s. Director of the TV series, Geoff Wonfor, got on so well with McCartney that they agreed to do another one, this time based around the making of the solo album duly inspired by Beatles memories.    

In March he went back to Buckingham Palace, 32 years after the first time, and became Sir Paul McCartney. Truly, he’d gone back so far, he was finally in front of himself.    

“People say, God! That was 20 years ago! I say, Everything’s 20 years ago, luv!” muses McCartney today in the photo-lined living room above his Sussex studio, clearly chuffed that the world does, indeed, still feed him and need him now he’s 54. “Boy, do we go back!”    

He relaxes his remarkably lithe frame into the sofa, no indication of any trouble at this particular mill, and with a “Right, whaddya wanna know? If anything?” makes himself amicably available for questioning.

Q: Was Anthology the almighty purge that it seemed?

A: Well it’s good that it worked, because a lot of people went, Oh no! I remember looking on Ceefax, and it said “Cynthia Lennon says,They’re just doing it for the money” Now Cynthia’s a friend from way back … but, like, doing Lennon’s Lounge wasn’t? (his joke name for her part in the Lennon’s restaurant venture) Excuse me, Cynth! And then there’s David “The Child” Jensen saying, They shouldn’t do this, Free As A Bird, they’ll never pull it off. I thought, Fuck you! Well fucking show you! It’s fatal if they come out in the papers and say we shouldn’t do it,because I want to do it even more.

Q: The reason it worked was because you three actually got involved, hands on, rather than just sit back and rake in the cash.

A: We wanted to know the story as well. I mean, there were certain elements of fudging things here and there,just because there were too many people involved – if it’s just one person’s angle, you can tell “The Truth”, but when it’s four-sided, you’ve gotta, like, compromise a little bit. But we wanted to get the story down because there are so many books. People have always said to me, Have you read the Chris Salewicz hook about you? And I’ve said, No. Have you read Blackbird about you? And I haven’t. I don’t even know what they think of me. And I’ve never wanted to do a memoirs. I always thought you’ve got to be over 70 to do that. It’s not really true, I suppose. It’s like getting a Lifetime Achivement Award. And then Debbie Gibson gets one the next week.

Q: The “victims” on This Is Your Life get younger and younger…

A: I know. They’ve asked Linda about me over the years. I’ve always said, If they ever ring you up, don’t! You’re not allowed to!

Q: So, the way you actually made Flaming Pie was inspired by the Anthology experience?

A: Yeah .The record company said they didn’t need a record off me because of all this other stuff comingout.so that gave me a window of laziness. Great,I don’t have to do anything! I’ll just wander into Abbey Road, see what George Martin’s doing, come home, doss around a bit. Nice work if you can get it. But you can’t stop the songs coming, you don’t want to stop ’em, so they do, and I stick ’em down in one of these little cassettes. There was a power cut when we were staying out in Long Island, and nobody could have any music for the whole week, except what me or my son James played on guitar. So it was quite productive, that week. And it took me back; the last time I’d done that a lot was when Linda and I first got married, because The Beatles had finished and I had a lot of time on my hands – too much, in fact – and all I did was sit around playing. And the time before that was teenage years, when me and John used to sit around in the vestibule of his house,or the dining room – dining room? Sounds very posh – of our house in Allerton. So it just started to gather and I suddenly had a few songs. And I’d enjoyed working with Jeff Lynne… although I had been a bit worried about working with him. As I said to him, A lot of people are very wary of your sound. I said, You’ve got a sound. He said, Oh, have I? George Martin remarked that Free As A Bird was Very Jeff Lynne. He’s got a way of working, but it’s very similar to some of the ways we worked in The Beatles. I said to Jeff, Look, it’s gonna get boring if the whole album is a Jeff Lynne album, I’m not gonna do it like that, I’m gonna throw in some solo stuff, some stuff with George Martin, some stuff with Steve Miller, but come on over… He said, how long do we need – a couple of months? I said, Come over for two weeks, I’ll be bored with you after two weeks, and you’ll be bored with me. Then we can split and go on holiday, it’ll be nice. So that’s how we did it. It meant that we didn’t have to do that terrible thing where it’s all put off until we go in for the very serious mixing session. I always remember Michelle (Rubber Soul, 1965) whenever we talk about mixing. There were four faders and we’d come in, and I remember seeing the guy go (mimes pushing all four faders up at once), and he just sat back and it mixed itself. And then he put it onto a quarter-inch tape, put it in a little box, and put it up on the shelf. If you listen to Michelle today,it’s that little bit of tape! So I thought, let’s do that! It was always mixed at the same time or the next day, while it was hot.

Q: It’s been 25 years since you worked with Steve Miller. (McCartney recorded My Dark Hour with Miller in May 1969 at Abbey Road, after a Beatles tiff; Macca was credited as Paul Ramon, a pseudonym from The Silver Beetles’ 1960 Larry Parnes tour.)

A: He’s cool, Steve, but he’s got a vocal warm-up technique! We’d make fun of him. I shouldn’t tell you this, but you’d hear him with his headphones going, Ba-ha-doo-dah-doo-dah-doo-hee! A-dee-doo-dah-hee! We’re going (mimes sniggering behind hand), Fucking hell! I’ll tell you who I saw doing that once: Jagger! That really gave the game away for me – Jagger doing vocal warm-ups! Anyway… I kind of rushed Steve. His roadie, Dallas Shue, said Steve’s very fussy about what guitar he uses – because he’s got a huge collection of guitars – and it’d take a long time. So I said, Choose your favourite, Steve. And to give him his due, he will be produced by me, although you get the feeling he wouldn’t be doing it for anyone else. So he did a take, and I said, That sounds really good, a little bit more treble, great! And we used it. And Dallas said, Gee, man, thanks, that could’ve been three, four hours, and I woulda had to tune every single one of them!

Q: So how was working with Jeff Lynne?

A: Pretty much on the same basis as I’d worked with Steve. He’d play a guitar riff, I’d play bass, and then he’d sing harmony with me. It’s good having somebody like that who’s a guitarist-singer. When you think about it, it’s ‘cos it’s John really.

Q: Does Jeff not feel self-conscious about being the surrogate John Lennon?

A: I think he might’ve, but he got over it, because during Anthology we realised that that’s what he was: he was being the Fourth Beatle.

Q: That’s a hell of a mantle to carry.

A: Yeah, well, you know, he wanted to. I’m funny about The Beatles; even when Billy Preston came in (keyboards, Let It Be, 1969), I was in two minds. The others were so definite that I went with their thinking, as I always did, because I knew they had right-on opinions. But George H had said that we ought to use Jeff as a producer rather than George Martin, and I had a struggle there, but George M was giving up production largely because of his hearing. I’d said to him, George, you’re the talent-spotter, you don’t need ears! But George H suggested Jeff, who has good ears. He’s got perfect pitch… (comic pause) Anfield. (Waits for unforthcoming Q laugh) No? Alright. While the three Beatles were working on Free As A Bird, it came to backing harmonies, and George H said to me, Jeff is such a big Beatle fan, he’d love to get on this record, he’d just die! Even if he goes “Hey!”, he can then say he was on it. And I was a little bit reluctant. I’m a bit sort of precious, a bit private about who’s in The Beatles – the Yoko thing, and all this – and we didn’t do too badly on that philosophy. So we got Jeff on Free As A Bird, and he’d got over all that by the time we came to do my stuff.

Q: Shared opinion is that ELO were simply The Beatles with more instruments.

A: Well Ringo says, You know why ELO broke up? They ran out of Beatles riffs. One of Jeff’s great prides is that he met John once – obviously a huge fan of John’s – and John said, I really like all that ELO stuff, man. That was the highspot of Jeff s life! He was vindicated. John said it was alright! He’s a smashing guy. Beer and football

Q: Flaming Pie is an unselfconscious record.

A: Yeah, I’ve said to people in meetings. I don’t give a shit if this album is a hit. And of course, the marketing people go (mimes face dropping), but my rationale is, we had so much “hit” off Anthology, I want to have a bit of a good time. I’ve just been reading Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. And I brought it to a meeting and said to these guys, He’s got this shop called Championship Vinyl and they sort of don’t care if they sell a record – and I identify with that! We’ve got to do that with this album.

Q: Whatever you say in meetings, this unselfconscious record now goes into the mill and become “product”.

A: I know. I call that The Wall – like in a marathon, the pain barrier. And I really hate it. EMI took it quite well, actually. There’s this phrase I’m using, and it dates back from when we were in The Beatles, endless aeons ago, and our van slid into a ditch off the motorway as we were coming back from London. There was no retrieving it, so we were stuck in the middle of this British winter, and no-one was stopping. One of us, I can’t remember who it was, said, What’s gonna happen now? And again one of us replied, Something’ll happen. Immediately, a lorry pulled up: “Where you going, lads? Liverpool?” And it was, like, Wow! So we always kept this naive answer to everything – something’ll happen. So I said to the guys on this campaign, if I don’t go to Cologne, something’ll happen. It’ll be alright. They’re saying, This documentary won’t be out in time. So I say, It’ll be out just after time then. Something’ll happen! It’s an amazing mantra. I do believe in magic – it sounds a bit ’60s to say it, but I do. I always think this with computers, when it says, “You have filled up nearly everything, please erase something”, and it seems to me that that’s what you’ve gotta do in life: erase a bit of discipline and thought.

Q: How are EMI? They must love you.

A: Well, they’ve got to love The Beatles! There is a graph that I think The Sunday Times did years ago: the success of EMI and the success of The Beatles are directly correlated. My brother-in-law, John Eastman, is a lawyer for Disney, and they were trying to buy EMI but it was around the time of Anthology, and so the price went up too much. And he said, Do you know how much you’ve cost me? Millions! I said, Too bad. The only other company I’ve been with has been CBS (he signed to Columbia in 1979), and I once went to the big, black skyseraper in New York where they live. It could’ve been anywhere, any office. It certainly wasn’t Championship Vinyl. There was no smell of anything to do with records. You just went up to the sixtieth floor, carne out, Oh God, where are we? It was like Hell – a record-lover’s version of Hell.

Q: Did you feel sad when EMI moved out of its Manchester Square offices?

A: No, I didn’t really spend too much time there. I’d be sad to see Abbey Road go, but Manchester Square was occasional. Outside of the two cover shoots, we didn’t have a deep affection for it. It was a place we had to go. Whereas Abbey Road was somewhere we loved to go.

Q: Abbey Road seems to be virtually unchanged since the golden days.

A: It’s strangely unchanged. Studios One and Two are largely unchanged. But Three is modern. Two, well, they don’t wanna change the room that “got” The Beatles. And it got a lot of Cliff s early good stuff, Move It, Living Doll. And now Oasis have just checked out… EMI is like the Beeb, it has rules, and I guess younger bands are not used to having rules – but Oasis were making a lot of noise. And we used to make a lot of noise, doing things like Helter Skelter or a loud track anyway, and you’d always get the classical guy next door – in our time, it was Daniel Barenboim’s producer – going, (mimes knocking the door) Bang bang, we’re doing a quiet classical piece and we can hear you through the walls. The walls obviously aren’t that good for soundproofing. And we’d be, going, under our breath, Fucking bastard classical, we subsidise them! However, we would turn it down a little bit, pull out a bit of a sulk, put the acoustics on. We lived with it. But apparently, the same thing happened to Oasis, and it was the same producer who’s worked on my new piece (a symphony for EMI’s 100th birthday), John Fraser. He said, Would you mind turning it down? But they’ve gone, Fook off! I’m fooking leaving this place, you fooking bastards! And they’ve walked out. He’s probably lost EMI an awful lot of money!

Q: Oasis recording in Abbey Road. Did they really have to take it that far, do you think? A: Well, they do, don’t they?

Q: Did you enjoy working with Noel Gallagher on the Help album in 1995?

A: Yeah, it was good actually. I’ll tell you what I liked – their equipment! ‘Cos it’s copies of ours. They’ve got the same gear as we used. Same amps, Marshalls and stuff. So I love that, very at home. People say to me, You must hate Oasis, and I say, Nah, they admire us, and they could admire anyone in the world, they could be copying anyone, they could be derivative of any artist who’s ever been. They could be like Tommy Steele! It’s funny, you see, because I’m not seeing photos of myself, so I feel their age. When I see the photo afterwards, I’m, like, Oh gosh! I appear to be older than them! Must be some quantum leap or some time warp or something. I was ten stone ten doing Pepper, ‘cos I was living on my own and not eating, basically. Doing a lot of this (mimes smoking “cigarette”). I never had time to eat. Just buzzing. So I ended up in these very thin suits. It’s all turned to muscle now. It’s all outdoor activities now and eating.

Q: You’re a pretty healthy bloke aren’t you?

A: I suppose so. Veggie’s cool, that’s a good thing. It’s over twenty years now. It’s a compassion thing, it’s a moral thing. There were some lambs playing in the field while we were eating a leg of lamb. And we said, Maybe we won’t do it.

Q: It’s very easy to see it that way if you live out in the country.

A: Alright, it’s like, I live about 20 minutes away and there’s quite a few woodlands around. And on our farm I’ve got some woods. I’m being accused now of harbouring killer pigs! It turns out there are killer pigs from Ashford, thirty miles away. These wild boar got away from a zoo, and they’re flourishing, They have this thing called Chestnut Coppice, where you put it down every twenty years, and then you don’t go in there for twenty years, it just grows up – so the boar love it. Anyway, I won’t shoot ’em. Because  I don’t fancy shooting them. Plus I haven’t got a gun! I could snare them, but what you find is that local people get really crazy, like as if I’ve invented these pigs! They say they kill lambs, but I’ve got a lot of sheep and I don’t think they’ve killed any of mine… But a fox’ll kill a sheep. It’s nature. Even though I’m a veggie, I understand that a hawk kills something. I don’t go, Oh you naughty hawk! It’s his gig. But it’s not necessarily mine.

Q: OK. You see a homeless person in the Street with a dog. Who do you instinctively feel most sorry for, the bloke or the dog?

A: Equal. Both of them really.

Q: Surely, for you, it’s the dog every time?

A: Ah, but he’s more used to living on the street. The thing for me is sussing out whether they’re genuine or not. Does he just come here in the morning and have a nice day out with a sleeping bag? I always buy The Big Issue and stuff. Q: Has anyone called you “Sir Paul” yet? A: Only like official people. An airline pilot: “Welcome, Sir Paul.” And I had a doctor’s appointment. and they went, “Sir Paul’s here.”

Q: It’s a bit weird, then?

A: It’s extremely weird, not just a bit. Because I kind of value that… it’s not anonymity, but it’s a private life, an on-the-groundness – that’s why I keep trying to tell people I’m ordinary, ‘cos I feel ordinary. I live sort of ordinary. But there’s this huge phenomenon that keeps getting on telly and stuff. He’s not really me. I play him and I enjoy it, but this is me. He’s done very well.

Q: So he’s the one who’s been knighted?

A: Yes. It was a brilliant day. I’m two-sided about things, I can easily be cynical about stuff like that – it’s not hard, you just use your intellect, and if you’ve been around a bit, you can see what’s happening. It is a very convenient way to reward people, and not a very expensive way either. Anyway, having said that, the other side of me says it’s a big deal. It’s a schoolprize. I went in for the art prize but I didn’t expect to win it. And then suddenly something like this comes… My kids have this expression – rude not to. Are you going to have that last piece of toast? Rude not to. Do you accept it? Rude not to. Someone said there’s a certain cachet to turning the knighthood down! I looked into it, and Paul Schofield was the only cool person who’d turned it down,and I thought, Well, great actor, but he doesn’t look the world’s cheeriest chappie! When I was at school I always wanted to be a Catholic lorry driver in my mind – so I’d have a direction, literally, and a faith. And I never had it — so it was a great day. It’s amazing, you forget that you’re gonna go down on one knee before the monarch of Britain and she’s gonna put Edward The Confessor’s sword on your shoulder.

Q: Was the first time you met Her Majesty at the Palace in 1965?

A: Yes, I get them a bit mixed up. Mark Lewisohn (Fabs chronicler) knows! One of the first times we met her … I hate to tell you this, I hate to tell her, in case she reads Q, but we quite fancied her at school! She was a lot younger and she was, like, quite (holds hands out in front of chest) big. Seriously, George and I really quite fancied her, young princess, come back from Treetops to assume the crown of Hngland. She’s become more of a sort of mum figure now. But there was always a bit of a thing going on about her – teenage fantasies.

Q: Anthology has tied up The Beatles for good, and it sold loads into the bargain, the nod from Oasis and co. has restored you to cool icon status for a new generation, your solo work is re-energised, and they’ve knighted you. Is this, would you say, the best time to meet Paul McCartney, now that you’re famous and…

A: Famous and acceptable? Yeah, I know exactly what you’re talking about, I’ve lived through it. And you’d be a fool not to enjoy it.

Q: People have a clear picture in their minds what the four Beatles were or are like. Does it bother you that they have John down as the arty, experimental one, when you were just as arty and strange as he was?

A: Well, the difference was, I always used to feel that all of that was like my private life and I’d bring some of it into The Beatles. By the time we got to Sgt. Pepper, it started to emerge, but it would be John who’d want to do something like Revolution 9. If anything exciting happened, he wanted to get it out immediately. He wanted it to be frontline. When he met Yoko, she gave him the green light for all of that. She’d say, Oh yeah, you should do that. He’d do it – bang! I did get a bit pissed off that John became The Avant-Garde One, because two, three years before John got loose, I was going to a lot of concerts – he was living out in Weybridge, pipe and slippers time. I didn’t wanna say, I did it first you know, but it was niggling me a bit that it was going down in posterity that John was the cool one, and Paul was a bit soppy. When I was doing lots of these little crazy loops, I did a loop symphony. I was going to all these concerts, Luciano Beno, Cornelius Cardew (modem composers in the John Cage experimental mould), and we’d go down amongst all these students, and the loops would find their way onto Tomorrow Never Knows – but the symphony was just for me and my mates getting stoned round the corner. I said to John, I’ve got all this stuff, and I’m thinking of putting it out as an album called Paul McCartney Goes Too Far! He said, Brilliant, man.’ Fucking do it! Please! But I don’t mind keeping something up my sleeve, whereas John had nothing up his sleeve. I’ve been painting for about twelve years, and I’m finally gonna get an exhibition later this year in Germany, but do I really want to say to people, hey, I’m a Renaissance Man? I just let it out in dribs and drabs.

Q: When’s the worst time to be Paul McCartney Famous?

A: At the end of The Beatles. Because I was like, redundant. Still famous but feeling terrible, and I knew that if I did an interview, which was still on the cards, one of the first questions would be “Are you happy?” And I wasn’t. And I couldn’t bluff it, so I got out of it for a while. That was a bit of a bummer. I thought, I’d like to have no persona for a couple of years. But I try to handle the fame. I don’t mind the autographs, because I used to collect them, at the Liverpool Empire stage door – I met The Crewcuts, and they talked to me and I’ve loved ’em ever since – and I sort of knew then that there was a game afoot. When my kids got to be teenagers, they wanted me to get Phil Collins’s autograph,so there was another wave of it then. and I had to ask Phil for his! So I do understand it. But I won’t sign people’s hands, I won’t stoop to that. Never, ever sign body parts. They say, I’ll never wash again! I say, You will, you know, it rains some days…

Q: Where do you divide your time?

A: Here is a big, popular venue for me. London, if there’s something like a bigger recording to do, like I’ve just done something with the LSO and I couldn’t fit them in here – luckily, because it’s a good excuse to go up to Abbey Road. I try and get outdoors a lot. My hobby, and I did it yesterday actually, is getting out in the woods and making trails for riders, so I’m Chainsaw Man – no tree is safe! I apologise to them, though, and I point out to them, There’s an awful lot of ‘you, it’s virtually a thicket! I like that. Me on my own. I do a bit of sailing, just me in a twelve-footer, mainly on a reservoir, it’s incredibly relaxing. It’s something I never did as a kid. “They” sailed, we didn’t. “They” rode horses, we didn’t. There were huge gaps. I changed a lot of that, consciously.

Q: Many of the songs on Flaming Pie were inspired while you were on holiday.

A: I know.The guy from Billboard said to me,you’re not supposed to work on holiday, Paul. But I split the day into two. There’s a little bit of the afternoon, after lunch, that can get a bit boring for me, where people have a kip or another sunbathe, but I’ll do all that in the morning – instead of crashing, it can be me sitting with a guitar. I do it as a hobby. To call it a profession sounds a bit gynaecological. I point out to people that you play music. It’s only playing.

Q: So you cant retire then?

A: Not really, no, but I don’t fancy it. You don’t retire, that’s boring. Because what could I do? I couldn’t stop a song coming. If a tune hits me, what am I gonna do? Go, Get thee behind me, tune?

Q: You like travelling, though?

A: Yeah. I’m hooked on it from The Beatles. When we as a family go to a hotel, Linda’s not that keen on it, but I sneakily like it. Because I was on tour for all those years. I know my routine: get my shaver,get my toothbrush, (rubs hands with glee), get the telly, check out this. I’m Hotel Man. When we were on tour with The Beatles, I used to take a sun lamp! (Laughs to himself) Much to the others’ hysteria. I used to sit on the bog with this sun lamp. ‘Cos we only had five minutes between things – a quick scrambled eggs and grilled tornato, and a sit on the bog!

Q: Tell us about your symphony.

A: It’s not actually a symphony, it’s a symphonic poem. Symphonies are in four parts, but they tend not to have a story. Once it has a story it gets called a tone poem. But a lot of people I know would think it was just a poem if you called it that, so symphonic poem suggests that there’s some music in it. It was commissioned, four years ago, for EMI’s 100th birthday, and it’ll be performed at the Albert Hall by the LSO on October 14.

Q: What would you say if someone carne up to you and said “The Beatles were shit”?

A: I’d say, Fuck off, you twat. And so, in effect, we must. Sir Paul McCartney has some important padding around in his sandals to be getting on with. Here’s the deal: there’s no point in wondering what John Lennon would be like today if he hadn’t been shot (he’d be 56, divorced, and like Ivor Cutler in Central Park). There’s no point in wondering what The Beatles would sound like today if they’d all signed up with Klein and stayed together (they’d sound like The Bee Gees). Would Paul have done The Frog Chorus if he’d been the only one to take LSD? (Yes.)    

Try to calm down. The Beatles story is interesting enough. Eight videos interesting. And McCartney’s solo life has been, in the final analysis, by far the most successful – commercially, and, on occasion, critically. Asked on Channel 5, who was best out of The Beatles and Oasis, American stand-up comic Greg Proops spluttered, “Oasis have made two records!” Quite.    

At 54, and £420 million, Paul McCartney is still singing about “peace, love and understanding” (he talks like Neil from The Young Ones: “Cool… right on… bummer!”). Flaming Pie might not sell like hot cakes, but he doesn’t care! The thumbs might have flown at half-mast while Linda was unwell, but she’s on the mend, and better than that, she’s singing on his latest record – and if its closing track, Great Day, is in fact 25 years old, its sentiment is as “Paul and Linda” as it was when they used to perform it “sitting around the kitchen or when the children were dancing”: “When you’re wide awake / Say it for goodness sake / It’s gonna be a great day.”    

As Q idles in Paul McCartney’s kitchen, preparing for the imminent ride home, our host insists we take some cheese and pickle sandwiches for the journey.    

“Wrap some up in a napkin,” he orders, “You’ll thank me for it when you’re halfway back to London…”    

And he was right. The way things are going, they’re never gonna crucify him.

Last updated on September 6, 2020


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