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The quaint early ’60s custom of ‘going the rounds’ was revived last week – by none other than Paul McCartney. With wife Linda and baby Stella, he popped up to Melody Maker and spoke to Chris Welch about the upheavals in Wings, the band’s new album and Eric Clapton…
When the Prime Minister, royalty or a Rear Admiral makes a tour of inspection of a naval establishment, there is a flurry of activity. Flags and bunting are flown, everything is given a fresh coat of paint, and the men lineup to salute.
When Paul McCartney, Linda and their baby Stella visited the MM offices this week, half the staff had disappeared, smitten by food poisoning and a plate of assorted crisps and meat sandwiches were offered for the visitors’ delectation. “We were expecting lunch,” said Paul hopefully. But he accepted this Fleet Street-style kwik-snak in good humour.
In order to chat, of Wings and records and Africa and things, the family outing adjourned to the imperial Melody Maker boardroom, where great decisions affecting all our lives are made. Paul in his bright red drape jacket looked like a cheerful teddy boy and Linda carefully divided her time between backing up Paul and preventing their child from scribbling on the wallpaper.
“We couldn’t think of anywhere else to do the interview,” says Paul. “We thought we might as well come to you. It takes me back ten years at least, when we used to come touting ourselves round, although this time we’re not touting ourselves.”
The last time we had heard from Wings, they have been riven by splits, when drummer Denny Seiwell quit along with guitarist Henry McCullough, just prior to the group’s trip to Lagos to record. What caused all that, and how were the McCartneys received in Nigeria?
“We enjoyed it eventually. We’re all a bit British, y’know. You’ve the different food and climate and stuff, so you’ve got a lot of adjusting to do. It was at the end of the rainy season when we went. We thought it was going to be tropical, warm and fantastic. It turned out to be a torrential monsoon.
“And we got robbed while we were down there. Some guys robbed us – with a knife. We got held up walking out at night – you’re not supposed to do that. They took our tape recorder and cameras and gear. So that didn’t help.
“And then Fela Ransome Kuti accused us of trying to steal black African music. So I had to say, ‘Do us a favour, Fela. We do all right as it is, actually. We sell a couple of records here and there’. He’s welcome to their music. It’s very nice. I love it and I wish I could do it, but he’s welcome to it.
“But he does have a fantastic band out there, one of the best live bands I’ve ever heard. It’s funky and not very sophisticated. You saw it in Ginger Baker’s film, but it didn’t come off at all well in the film.
“There was one and a half weeks of pretty bad vibes. It felt a bit dangerous and raw and you’re not sure how you’re going to figure.
“The press were fine, very charming. But it’s funny what they pick up. They picked up that I was ‘the one who introduced drugs to The Beatles’.”
What lured them to Africa?
“Sunshine,” said Linda.
“We got a list off EMI of all the studios around the world. It’s a big company. We checked on the availability of Lagos and it turned out to be free for the three weeks we wanted to record. So we thought, ‘Great – lying on the beach all day, doing nothing. Breeze in the studios and record.’ It didn’t turn out quite like that. But that was why we went – it was for an adventure. We did seven tracks there and came back and did a couple of tracks and mixed here.”
How did they get on with, er, the insects?
“Oh, not too bad. It does bother some people. We’re not creepy-crawly freaks. Linda and lizards – great. She doesn’t mind. But somebody else, for instance the engineer (Geoff Emerick) we took out, who did ‘Sgt Pepper’ and ‘Abbey Road’, he couldn’t stand them. So a couple of the lads put a spider in his bed. It was all a bit like scout camp.
“The worst a lizard can do is bite you, so we’re not freaked out by that, not like Ringo’s wife who can’t stand a fly in the room. She has all their positions charted, and if one comes near her, she freaks.”
HAVING JUST HEARD a portion of the album, it didn’t sound at all African influenced. “It isn’t,” agreed Paul. “Well, it is, but you wouldn’t be able to hear it.
I know it was influenced by Africa, just because of the atmosphere rather than the music. In Africa I felt like you had to come-on.
“In England you can lay it back, and be timid and you get away with it, because nobody minds. Out there, you’ve got to be very forward. And there’s no way you can lay on the modern Western liberal crap. So in a way we were influenced by the challenge of the people and country.
“Linda thought I had died one night. I was recording and suddenly felt like a lung had collapsed. I went outside to get some air and there wasn’t any. It was a humid, hot tropical night. So I fainted.”
Said Linda: “I laid him on the ground and his eyes were closed and I thought he was dead!”
Paul went to the doctor who advised he had been smoking too much. When the McCartneys got over their initial worries, they found Nigeria was an exciting friendly country. But only three of Wings made the trip, What happened to the others?
“Only Denny (Laine) was with us. You know two of them left? Denny (Seiwell) and Henry quit – Denny rang up an hour before we left from Gatwick, to say he couldn’t make the album, so that was panic time.
“Henry left over what we call ‘musical differences’. And it was actually that. We were rehearsing and I asked him to play a certain bit, he was loath to play it and kinda made an excuse about it couldn’t be played. I, being a bit of a guitarist myself, knew it could be played and, rather than let it pass, I decided to confront him with it and we had a confrontation. He left rehearsals a bit choked, then rang up to say he was leaving.”
How did they make up the numbers?
“There was just the three of us, on the album, except for the orchestral overdubs, which we didn’t play. We got Tony Visconti to help with the arrangements.
“One guy, Remi Kebaka, who is from Lagos, ironically, turned up in London for a loon and we got him on one track playing percussion. He’s the only other person on the entire album, except for the orchestra. I played all the drums and bass. Denny sometimes doubles on bass.”
When did Paul first get into playing drums?
“For years I, like, suggested to Ringo a lot of what he might play. I first got into it listening to ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’, where there was a drumbreak around the kit. I would ask Ringo to play some variation on that. And at sessions I would climb on the drumkit and start having a go.
“In Hamburg one week Tony Sheridan’s drummer got sick and I drummed for him for the extra cash for a week. So I’ve done a bit of drumming, including a couple of Beatles tracks, but nothing much that I can remember. We always used Ringo because he’s a real drummer. There’s nothing flash to the drumming on the Wings album, nothing difficult.
“But I can hold quite a good beat. Liking drums anyway, it gave me a chance to fulfil an ambition.”
MOST OF THE songs on the album, called ‘Band On The Run’, incidentally, were written in Scotland, at the McCartney retreat. “It’s a collection of songs, and I’ll leave it to you to say if they are good or not. The basic idea about the band on the run is a kind of prison escape. At the beginning of the album the guy is stuck inside four walls and eventually breaks out. There is a thread, but it’s not a concept album.”
Does it apply to Wings escaping from The Beatles?
“Sort of, yeah. I think most bands on tour are on the run.”
How much satisfaction has Wings given the couple since its inception?
“Got us on the road,” said Linda. “Which is what it’s all about.”
“I wanted some way I could feel easy about appearing live again,” explained Paul. “It was very difficult after The Beatles, because at the time, they weren’t interested in going live except on really big gigs. I was more interested in playing smallish things and getting near audiences again. Like the pub rock bit.
“It was selfish reasons really, I just wanted to play live! But we got a good British tour out of it and the second half of the European tour was good. And we loved the University tour because that was really down home.”
What kind of market is Wings aimed at?
“General market really. We’ll turn up at Butlin’s, anywhere people want to listen to some music. We’re not directed at any one audience.
“But we’re just quietly looking around for a really nice guitarist and drummer. I still don’t know in my mind yet exactly what I want.
“We just took Jimmy McCulloch from Blue, who’s rehearsing with Chris Stainton, and we did a couple of tracks with Jimmy in Paris. We’re just playing with people to get the feel of what we want, and what they like.
“We had one track of Linda’s which we tried to include in our albums but it never seemed to fit. So, what we’re going to do is a bit like Derek And The Dominos. We’re doing a thing with Linda, not like, ‘I am Linda McCartney, come and listen to me, I’m going to be a big star,’ and all this big hype. That she doesn’t want and I don’t fancy either because it’s too pompous. She’s not ready for it, she’s still an apprentice, which is cool because she doesn’t mind. So we’re doing this thing called Suzie And The Red Stripes. And she is Suzie!
“We’re not trying to hide the fact that it’s her, but it’ll be like Derek And The Dominos, a slight anonymity.”
PAUL BEGAN TO recall the great days of the discotheques, when raving was the nightly routine and stars flocked together. Did he miss those days?
“I feel a lot of the community spirit in rock has gone, but it’s changed. You meet people for dinner a bit more. We went out for dinner with Elton John the other night and I see people around studios and they ring up. You don’t seem to meet anyone down at clubs, although if you happen to be at Tramps you might see Gary Glitter, Rod Stewart, Keith Richard and myself looning around. Or Mick’n’Bianca.
“Rod Stewart asked me to do a song on what’s supposed to be his last solo album… wink. I don’t think it will be. So I did a song for him and apparently it’s really great, although I haven’t heard the track yet. It’s called ‘Mine For Me’. It’s a custom-made song for him. Those are the kind of ways you meet people now.
“He’s cheeky but a nice lad. And being a hack, I’ll write a song for anyone. I always have seen myself as a hack. That’s why I did the Bond theme, it only has to appeal for me and I’ll do it. I don’t like to be ‘a major influence on the music scene’, I don’t believe that and it would be unsafe if I ever did. But I must say, I still love the scene. We were even thinking of opening a club. We stayed up one night in Scotland, and designed it and everything.
“It would have been a fantastic place. And I must say, hearing the discussion on the Old Grey Whistle Test the other night about pub rock, I thought everyone was wet, except the one with the fly-away collar from Melody Maker. He seemed to actually know what was going on.
“Kilburn & The Highroads were on and I got the feeling the cameras were putting them off and they hadn’t been filmed a lot. The singer was trying to get it on despite the BBC film team and big lights. I imagine a lot of gutsy, raw music will come out of that scene. I’d like to have the freedom to play in a pub. I’d still like to play to, say, 56,000 people and then the next night go play a pub.
“I don’t care if it’s Jagger, Rod or Bowie. They’ve all got a pub rock band inside them. And why else would Led Zeppelin wanna go and do the Marquee that time? Or David? Gigging is the whole trip.”
But when an artist achieves fame and success, isn’t there always the danger of a reaction against the scene – of not wanting to do anything or speak to anybody? Didn’t this happen to Paul?
“Well, immediately after the break-up of The Beatles and not because of any of the other reasons, but just because a good band had broken up, I felt, ‘What am I going to do?’ I needed at least a month to think a bit. I went into a period of what everyone called being a recluse, a hermit in isolation. All sorts of little snide articles appeared saying, ‘He’s sitting up in Scotland, looking into his mirror, admiring his image.’
“It was not at all true, I was just planting trees. I was just getting normal again and giving myself time to think.”
Did you feel… abnormal?
“Yeah. I’m sure about the time Eric was being called God, I’m sure it got to him. You can’t help it, you do have a reaction, like George Best, against the pressures, y’know?
“I never used to understand when they used to say, ‘What are you going to do when the bubble bursts?’ A joke question and we always used to say, ‘Ha, ha, we’ll burst with it.’ I never once took that question in. What did they mean ‘bubble burst’? And the pressures – what about the pressures?
“While I could see there were pressures, I couldn’t feel them. I was just a rocker, doing my business. But if something dramatic like The Beatles breaking up happens, that’s when you can begin to feel pressures.
“I don’t know if that’s the problem with Eric, but he should just play and not give a damn. It doesn’t matter anyway. Then you can start to come out with music and enjoy things. That’s the way I feel now, so that’s why I’m not sweating about turning Wings into an almighty supergroup.
“One chapter is finished now, we just want to take it easy, still do music, still play live.”
Hasn’t Paul now created his own environment, which he can control more than the old Beatles-Apple set-up?
“No, that’s just journalese. We were always pretty in control as The Beatles. People used to say that we were manipulated. We were never manipulated.
“Maybe subtly and in the business sense because we didn’t know anything about business. Brian Epstein came to us once and said, ‘I’m going to sell you to Bernard Delfont,’ although he put it nicer than that.
“We said, ‘Right man, if you do that, we’ll never play another note. We’ll just play ‘God Save The Queen’ on every record and see how you like that.’ That was an instance of attempted manipulation That was a long time ago, about halfway through The Beatles. We were big and it was getting a bit too much for Brian, so he thought, ‘I’ll sell out,’ and put us with a good pro agency, which they still are. But we just didn’t like the idea of being sold.
“Eventually we got Apple and gave it all away, as Roger Daltrey says.”
Did Paul read Richard DiLello’s The Longest Cocktail Party, about Apple?
“Yeah, but he didn’t know. It’s entertaining and good and it’s about what went on in the press office. In fact the book’s almost about Derek Taylor really, because it’s Derek’s whole personality that Apple office. ‘Oh Paul can’t make it. Tell ’em we’ll give ’em Ringo.’ Actually it was only half of the truth. In the other room, there was all other stuff going on.
“It’s a long weird, and involved story, and if anyone ever gets it down, it will be very interesting.”
Is Paul completely in control of his own affairs now?
“Not completely, but beginning to be, and I advise anyone who’s going to sign up with any agency to take a look if there’s a possibility they can own it. Because there always is and no-one ever knows it. Particularly with songs. If you write a good song, I maintain, you should own it totally. But no publisher will let you own the copyright.
“I’m always harping on about ‘Yesterday’ because it is a big song of mine and probably the only big song I did on my own. Well, I don’t own the copyright of that, that’s been sold and lost in the mists of time. Lew Grade owns it. No fault of his, he’s a good businessman and heard it was up for sale. But that’s why I say to anyone new coming into the business, check it out with an accountant or lawyer.
“I’d always trust rockers with my money, rather than sharks. George, for instance, just gives a lot of it away because he actually has got morals. Whereas certain people tried to put the Bangla Desh concert money straight into their pocket.
“During two years, none of The Beatles took anything out of Apple except expenses. All the money had to go into the company. At least some of the newer ones are hip to all this. I think Paul Simon owns ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and that’s fair enough.
“The old trick is to say, ‘We’ll set up your own company,’ and they set one up that gives you small rights and, not knowing anything about companies, you think you have your own company and they let you name it after yourself and you think, ‘I’ve got my own little office, my own little secretary,’ but if you ever check into it the actual money isn’t coming your way, and you’ll be getting like five per cent.”
Meanwhile Stella was growing impatient and bored the with MM conference room. She let out a petulant yell.
“Stop that!” warned Dad. “Do you want to go to bed? That’s the ultimate deterrent y’know.”
Paul, Linda and Stella decided it was time to end what had been a fascinating and surprising interview. But not before a tea lady had burst in, ostensibly looking for cups, but actually taking the opportunity to embrace the couple.
“Thanks for all the pleasure you’ve given us,” she said.
“Well,” smiled Paul through his last egg sandwich, “we must come and do this again.”