Interview for Record Collector • June 1997

Paul McCartney exclusive interview

Press interview • Interview of Paul McCartney
Published by:
Record Collector
Timeline More from year 1997

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

Master release

Songs mentioned in this interview

Bip Bop

Officially appears on Wild Life

Calico Skies

Officially appears on Flaming Pie

Helter Skelter

Officially appears on The Beatles (Mono)

I'm Down

Officially appears on Help! / I'm Down

Long Tall Sally

Officially appears on Long Tall Sally

My Love

Officially appears on Red Rose Speedway

Some Days

Unreleased song


Officially appears on McCartney II


Officially appears on Help! (Mono)

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October 2005 • From Record Collector

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Q: You’ve played most of the instruments on Flaming Pie yourself, so is it back to the all-does-everything days of McCartney and Ram, then?

A: People often say we want to hear YOU on a record, we don’t want to hear you and lots of other people. I thought, well, great, I’ll do that, I’ll drum then. As you say, I did it on those other albums. One of my great compliments was from Keith Moon, when he and John and others were going through that manic lost weekend episode. I went out to see them, and Keith Moon asked me who drummed on Band on the Run. I said it was me, and Keith said “f***ing great!”. Coming from Keith, that was high praise for me.

Q: So was it a conscious decision to drop the band you used on Off the Ground?

A: It wasn’t really planned that way. Normally, you’ll have contracts, retainers and everything, but I knew I wasn’t going to tour for a couple of years, ‘cos we’d been round the world twice, and it had been a lot of fun, but there’s a limit to how many times you can enjoy it. When you’re sitting in the St. Louis Holiday Inn ordering up scrambled eggs again, you start remembering you’ve got a nice home.

I said to the band “Let’s just leave it. If we ever want to pick it up again, we won’t be on retainers or anything. If we like each other as musicians, we’ll do it again some time.” It’s been left that loose. But when I came to record, having done the last album Off the Ground, with them, I decided I wanted more freedom this time. These days, I’m very much in a try-to-remember-how-you-did-it-without-pressure mood, which is not always that easy to do.

Q: Surely you’ve always been under pressure?

A: Sometimes you’re not. Occasionally things happen because of that. McCartney wasn’t. That was just me in my living room when Linda and I had just got married, and I was knocking that together for fun ‘cos all hell had broken loose with The Beatles. Music for me has always been a consolation. When I was a kid I would often just wander off to the bog (NOTE FROM LYNN FOR NON-ENGLISH READERS: HE MEANS LOO/BATHROOM/MENS ROOM OR WHATEVER YOU CALL IT!) with my guitar, because the acoustics are good, and write songs to stop myself going round the bend! When you get the teenage blues, the great remedy is to write a song. I’ve always done that. It’s amazing therapy. I wrote Ebony & Ivory after a little marital tiff with Linda: it was like “why can’t we get it together – our piano can”. You just grab any old idea to get yourself out of it.

Q: So do you ever find yourself sitting hunched over the piano having a cry?

A: Yes I do. I think it’s very useful. It’s an underrated aspect of songwriting, and I think if you asked a lot of songwriters you’d find that often what happens is that if they’re not having too good a day, the skulk off somewhere to hide from everyone. Instead of lying on a psychiatrist’s couch, they tell themselves via a song. I know, I do that all the time.

Q: Half your songs have a personal feel, but the other half could be about anything.

A: You’ve hit it on the head. It is very much half-and-half. Some of them are very much me doing therapy with myself, and half of them are, “I don’t give a sh**” and I’m just writing about Desmond and Molly. I’m sure a psychiatrist would look at it, and find that Desmond and Molly are just both halves of my alter ego (silly voice) “My feminine side was Molly, and he’s a singer in a band”. It’s all very complex. The truth about it is that I don’t think about it. I’ve always seen the whole songwriting process as being magical. I try not to mess too much with it. It’s something I’ve been able to do for a while and I don’t ask myself too many awkward questions about “where does it come from” or “how do I do it”.

Q: So have you ever written a song and thought afterwards “That’s too personal, too embarrassing”?

A: No, unfortunately not. The more embarrassingly personal they are, they somehow seem to be alright. You can get away with things in songs that you couldn’t actually say to people, because, by the nature of them, they’re a little more poetic. I veil things in songs – I’m very conscious of doing that.

Q: Is there any one album that you can look at now and think “God, I must have been so miserable”?

A: It happens every now and again. Some of the songs on this album are just frivolous fun. On others, I’m just writing to enjoy writing. But some of them are a little deeper, like Some Days, which is a bit more introspective, and the one called Calico Skies. There’s always a couple in every batch. But once I’ve got rid of that feeling, the next song can quite often be the opposite. I don’t like to do the same thing twice, I get bored with myself. So if I’ve had a heavy, introspective day, it’s likely that the next day I’ll want to have a bit of a laugh. I like the idea of to-ing and fro-ing … I’ve no idea if that’s my Gemini personality. But I hear it’s quite a good thing. A friend of mine is a psychiatrist, and he told me that if something terrible happens, you should grieve, stop grieving and act like it’s nothing and have a laugh, then grieve, laugh. The two together is the idea. If you grieve too much you do in a downward plunge. The other one way, you’re just repressing it, but a little combo of the two … I suspect I do that naturally. I tell my troubles then get away from that the next day. I suppose you have to make up your own mind on the album.

Q: I thought there was a melancholic feel about it.

A: Yes. Linda’s not been well the past year or so, although she’s doing very well now. It’s very difficult when you get that kind of situation in your life. I’m sensitive enough not to repress it all the time, and it helps you deal with it.

Q: Are you a misunderstood songwriter?

A: Possibly. Not everyone is going to study you that hard. They go on first impressions. So if they see me singing Yesterday or My Love, they go, “OK, he’s a balladeer”. There never was a video of me singing Helter Skelter – you get terrible little things where history plays tricks on you. In the film Backbeat, they gave Long Tall Sally to the John character to sing. There’s revisionism as we speak. No wonder I get a bum rap.

Q: Does it hurt?

A: To some small degree. I’m quite resilient. I always end up rationalising it and saying to myself “You’re doing OK. Don’t panic.”. Yeah, I was really pissed off when the John character sang Long Tall Sally. There’s no need for that. I sang Long Tall Sally. There are a million songs that John sang just as well, which they could have given him. But they just didn’t bother … it was just slack of them really. It’s not too clever, a young kid watching that will think “Yeah, John did sing Long Tall Sally. Great!” It’s a bit of a nuisance … they’re robbing you of your history. I think, on the whole, that anyone who takes the time to study the whole thing will see that we were surprisingly equal and that, in many ways, John was very soft and vulnerable, and in many ways he was very hard and acerbic. But he’s got the rap as being the hard, witty one, though I think it’s actually changing. There is a little more perception. People are now saying “Oh no, that’s too cheap a shot”. The idea that George did nothing but wait for a solo … it’s too easy. George was a very important influence in The Beatles, as was Ringo – but they choose to forget that A Hard Day’s Night was his malapropism. Once you actually study it you realise we were four corners of a square and all vital to the plot. I do like it when people mention I’m Down or Helter Skelter.

Q: But no one seems to talk about Wings. What do you think now of all those albums you made in the 70s?

A: I was talking to my son and, you know what? It’s his generation which is discovering them. It’s amazing actually. He started to play all these old albums, just to check ’em out for his own interest, ‘cos he’s a pretty good musician. He was playing them, and I said “What’s that?” ‘cos I’ve forgotten a lot of it. And it’s really not as bad as I thought it was. Because it was post-Beatles, and the Beatles were the hardest act to follow, Linda and I fell in with everyone else’s opinion of it, which is that it’s not as good as the Beatles, therefore it’s no good. We had an album called Back to the Egg, which I always thought was the world’s greatest disaster but, actually, my son has been playing it and it’s very interesting. I discovered Back to the Egg went to No.8, but we thought it stiffed and didn’t even enter the Top 100! Such was the climate that we were believing other people’s myths.

Q: Would you consider a Wings/solo equivalent of the Anthology?

A: The nearest we’ve come to it is a Wings retrospective, which my daughter and her boyfriend, who is involved in film, are researching at the moment. That could be interesting in the light of what we’ve been saying, too. I guess you could go further than that, and pull bits off my solo work. I’ve got a little studio in Scotland where I made a lot of tracks and demos; it’s called Rude Studio, like rude reggae rather than rude bawdy. It’s a four-track studio with a little Helios desk that Dick Sweat, the guy who built Olympic Studios, built for me. It’s a real crazy little antique. But it sounds so cool. There’s a good thing in that, ‘cos I’ve written a lot of tracks in there over the years which never got released.

Q: So we might one day see a solo Paul McCartney box set?

A: There’s a lot happening at the moment, what with Anthology, Flaming Pie and the orchestral work (Standing Stone) so nothing will come out this year. There’s a lot of interesting stuff, but because it got overshadowed by the Beatles – and quite rightly, really. But I feel quite good, because although it was put down or mis-perceived, it doesn’t go away. It’s still there. It’s cool because for anyone who does care to look at it, tehre is a hell of a lot to discover from that period. I remember saying to Trevor Horn that I really hated the songs from that period. And he asked which ones. “There’s a terrible little thing on Wild Life called Bip Bop”, I said, “It’s just nothing”. And he said “You’re kidding, man, that’s one of my favourites!”. My son’s been playing it recently and I think it’s a cracking little track. I’d gone with the current opinion at the time, that it wasn’t much good.

Q: A couple of tracks from McCartney have been included on the soundtrack for the film, Jerry Maguire.

A: Yeah, I noticed that. They sounded great, too. I saw that film, and that little love scene is beautiful where they used Junk. The kind of thing that happens to me is that I get letters off fans, and they say “My favourite song in the whole world is Waterfalls.” Yet, it was never released as anything ….

Q: Er, it made No.9 in 1980 …

A: Oh, my God! This is what happens. I don’t even remember releasing the bloody thing! I’m not being blasé, but I have released an awful lot of songs. You know when your computer says you’ve loaded too much in here, please erase something? My mind’s like that. I’ve still got new stuff coming on top of all this. I’ve got this orchestral piece for the Albert Hall in October, which is a major thing.

Q: How’s it going?

A: I’m very pleased with it. I’ve been working on it for three or four years, off and on. It’s like, they used to give me six weeks at school to do an essay, I used to finish it in the last week, you know, and get very bad marks. I once had to do American humorous writers, and I was doing Leacock, Thurber and people like this. I stood up in class and the teacher said “Go on, McCartney” and I said “Possibly one of Steven Leacock’s best known books is The Bodley Head”. The teacher said “Sit down, McCartney – that’s the bloody publisher!” I’d just looked at the cover. To this day, I know that publishing house! (Record Collector note: There is in fact a book called The Bodley Head Leacock). Standing Stone has taken a long time, but it’s been a fascinating process, ‘cos I’ve written it on a computer. Then, with the aid of some friends, who are arrangers, I actually got it to the final score stage, because I can’t read music. I use the Cubase programme, which isn’t really ideal because it’s more of a pop programme. But it’s nice and easy for me. These friends had a lot of hard work making sense of it, but they have eventually done it and I just signed off on it the other day. We’re recording it in May with the London Symphony Orchestra. It was a really big stretch for me and I’m very pleased. And, as I say, my computer’s pretty full at the moment.

Paul then goes on to talk about his relaxed attitude to the marketing of  Flaming Pie, talks a little about doing War Child with Paul Weller and Noel Gallagher (“I haven’t taken it any further: (adopts silly voice) they’re all too young, love!”). He then says he’s happy to go back to doing his own sound since many of today’s younger groups like copying it and so he thinks it’s good to do it himself. Right, back to the interview …

Q: You’ve recorded a few songs on the album with Steve Miller. How did you get to work with him?

A: Well, I hadn’t seen him since one night in the 60s when, in the middle of all our troubles, there’d been an unfortunate Allen Klein meeting with the Beatles. I didn’t want to sign some deal, and it all got a bit heated and they all went off with Klein. I was left in Olympic Studios in Barnes, and Steve stuck his head round the door and said “Hi man, does that mean the studio’s free?” I said: “Let’s do something, but let me drum”. I wasn’t in a very good mood, and I just wanted to give something a good thrashing. The track was called My Dark House, and when I played it to my son, James, recently, he really liked it. We met Steve again in 1993, when we did the Earth Day show at the Hollywood Bowl, and our friendship got going again. It was good, actually, just like falling back into an old habit.

Q: And Jeff Lynne?

A: Normally, you ring a producer up and say “Right, put aside two months, six weeks at the least” to get it together. And then there’s the mixing, and then there’s the overdubbing bit – and it can get very boring. It can get horrible, actually … you just keep thinking “I wish I could have a bloody day off”. But I rang Jeff and told him I had a bunch of songs. And he said “How long? A month, or six weeks or so?” I said “No, two weeks. We might get bored with each other after that!”

Q: Sounds like the really early Beatles days.

A: Yeah, me and John started off writing songs and didn’t know how to do it. We just tried, and the first few songs you can tell that we were trying, because they weren’t that good. We had to learn. I use that primitive approach because it makes it more exciting. We were just winging it, just flying out there and having a bit of fun!

Q: What do you think John would have thought of all the Anthology stuff, and the National Trust buying your old house in Liverpool and so on?

A: If you’d ever said to me and John as kids, wandering around with guitars slung over our shoulders walking down Forthlin Road to Menlove Avenue, that one day it’d be a National Trust house … well, the idea is still fairly laughable! The last time I was in Liverpool with the kids in the car, I drove down Forthlin Road, and I pulled up outside the house and told the kids “That was my room, there. Dad planted a tree there. He used to have a lavender bush right there, and the ginger tom from next door used to come and pee in the bush … ” Then some bloke walks past, leans down to the car window and says “Yeah, he did used to live there!”.

Last updated on August 14, 2022


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