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Saturday, August 17, 1974

Interview for New Musical Express

Right, now let's number that beat McCartney...

Press interview • Interview of Denny Laine

Last updated on August 14, 2023



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Right, now let’s number that beast McCartney…

. . . ‘Fraid not, kids. Seems like, despite everything, Wings are still fluttering along. Sure, DENNY LAINE and Macca slag each other off, but Papa Paul is keeping his happy family together despite all rumours to the contrary. JAMES JOHNSON reports.

IT HAS always seemed a shade out of character for such an unblemished family man like Paul McCartney to be so dictatorial in dealing with his musicians.

Denny Laine has been. with the McCartney family team for three years now and though he actually hasn’t been employed to sweep up the studio, his role has never aspired much beyond that of an efficient side-man.

This may be the ideal working setup for McCartney, but what price Mr. Laine’s feelings, especially as he’s proved in the past that he’s far from a nonentity?

By now he’s used to being asked exactly that. Even on London’s Capital Radio last week he was questioned on how he found the McCartneys and, sensing the questioner’s possible expectation that he might wish to put them down, replied, “Horrible…” then laughed for a while to ensure the air was cleared. You see, he’s never allowed his loyalty to slip up in public.

Nevertheless, it’s not hard to remember the last time when he conducted some interviews – a year ago – at a large and spectacularly impersonal London hotel. It only took whiff of conjecture to deduce from his bedraggled appearance and the vodka and tomato juice for breakfast that he wasn’t altogether content. Certainly, you could sense the hesitancy with which he spoke about Wings, the care he took to avoid saying anything that might contradict standard McCartney policy.

This is a different story altogether.

Last week’s news was that Wings had split since McCartney had decided he didn’t want to be tied down to a permanent band, and Laine had left because of “personal difficulties”. According to the man himself, this story of him splitting is all incorrect.

In the last two months Wings put in six weeks of rehearsals and recording in Nashville. During this time there were various arguments/discussions, the outcome of which had become a more stable band and a more equal position for Laine.

In one sense the band has more strength, more fluidity, since it was agreed that McCartney can bring in any other artists he chooses without causing any bruised egos among the resident musicians. Otherwise, it appears relations couldn’t be better. McCartney is even producing Laine’s next solo album.

MOST OF the above information comes first from a gentleman from McCartney’s organisation on the journey down to Chertsey, where Captain Laine lives aboard a converted torpedo boat on the Thames.

On arrival Laine, dressed in appropriate sea-faring gear skims up alongside in a speed boat. It is to be noticed that he hasn’t opted for the usual nouveau riche, leather and persian carpet style of accommodation used by most well-to-do rock musicians.

In fact, there’s a slight air of decay on deck, with peeling paint, an abandoned fishing line hanging over the side and various old chairs rotted by the rain. Only below decks is the ambience more cosy.

However, first stop is the local pub, one of those grandiose Thames-side Tudor buildings. where we plant ourselves on a window seat in the main bar and the supposedly errant Wing attempts to “make the situation clear” over a pint of local brew.

Despite the McCartney man’s comments, the situation still seems confused. The confrontations in Nashville appear to be the only key.

“That was the first time we’d all been together in one place – and with two people we didn’t know too well (the latest Wing, Jimmy McCulloch, and drummer Jeff Britten). It was trials for all of us,” intones Laine with a soft Birmingham accent.

“It gave everybody a chance to say his piece and for a while, it was so pressurised that for the first time I really began to think seriously about leaving.

 “As it turned out I’m still with the band and I think we all realise things are a lot better now we’ve been through all that.”

The trouble was partly prompted by us having a number one. Things start coming out when that happens – you’re more inclined to be positive when you’re there than when you’re trying to get there, Now we’re more… I mean, I know I’ve gotta write more songs… and we’re more disciplined. 

“In Nashville, it got to the point where we used to rehearse every day, which we’ve never done before except perhaps for a couple of weeks before a tour. We almost had to keep working to keep out of each other’s hair, but that was the best thing we’ve done and from how on we’re always gonna work that way.

This sounds like Denny Laine really feels part of the band, which might not have been true before? “Yeah,” he agrees, “I was always uncertain. because things were so confused.

Also it seems a turnabout from the early days of Wings. and perhaps even a turnabout in McCartney’s band-running philosophy. Previously Wings have always been notable for a certain casual, free-wheeling attitude initiated right back on their first tour of Europe undertaken aboard a double-decker bus.

Now Laine says he’d like to see Wings move towards the tour-album-tour-album ritual undertaken by the more average, run-of-the-mill band. It appears some of the earlier light-heartedness has been exchanged for what one might hesitantly call professionalism.

D.L. agrees: “Again, Nashville worked it out for us, because were surrounded by all these musicians who were great – but who wouldn’t have been in work if they’d turned up late for a session or something. It helped to bring it out in ourselves – or at least, we’d be an hour late instead of three.” He laughs. “All of us needed that.

“When the band started the attitude was, “Look, there’s no rush, we’ll do it in our own time’, because at that time we didn’t want to be down each other’s throats or see each other every day. We thought we’d edge our way into it, and that’s what we did.

“The trouble was, it meant things took longer than they should have done writing songs, presenting ourselves to the public… I mean, we should have played more gigs. If we had we’d have got better quicker. But that was the way Paul wanted it and I just sort of went along with the idea y’ know, he’s done it all before, and so ‘ve I so why panic? Now T think, we should have panicked more than we did.

“It only happened when Henry and Denny left because then we knew we had to better what we’d done before, so we came up with ‘Band On The Run’. That made it, so now we’ve got the force to achieve something else. We can’t afford to be casual anymore.”

 If this is the case, on what level do the two latest Wings McCulloch and Britten fit into the scheme of things? One of the points of contention in Nashville was whether or not they and Laine should be given a two-year contract. After discussion, all parties decided against it, which probably more than anything else contributed to the ‘Wings split’ story.

“The idea was really designed to make the other two guys feel more secure, but first of all, I decided I didn’t want to sign it because I’d never been on that kind of relationship with Paul anyway. Then it seemed like there was no point in having Wings on the basis of “You’re in the band sign here”.

“We’ve got to have that fluid thing. Like, in the studio, we might want to bring in other musicians, and maybe the other two guys won’t be on every track.

“Also with the three of us having been together for such a long time you can’t expect the other two to be so established. They’ve got to grow into it just like we’ve had to.

“For myself, it’s better because I’m treated more like an equal – which I wouldn’t have been if I’d signed a contract. I didn’t want to sign, so I had a chat with Paul and found he didn’t want to bother with it either.”

Altogether, Laine’s stronger position in the group is liable to show itself on Wings’ next album.

But how frustrated was he before?

“Well, I was frustrated…  I’ve always wanted to get more songs in, but that’s partly down to me writing them. I tended to let things take care of themselves for a while because of all the problems that existed with the organisation – the right roadies, the right equipment and so on.

“Paul had so many things going on that it was difficult to get together to write. But when we did we always came out with a song.

“After Nashville, I felt I had more to say in the group, because it kind of turned out to be Paul and I telling the others what was wanted.”

Ultimately though, Laine must surely be on the losing side in any policy disagreement, simply because Paul and Linda happen to be married and therefore likely to side with one another. Perhaps this is the basic difficulty facing any likely Wings musician.

“I used to think it would be like that but it’s not that way at all,” says Laine. “We’re too honest with each other to let that come into it now.

“For instance, if I don’t like the way someone’s singing I’ll tell ’em. If Paul comes on strong with me I’ll just tell him, ‘Hold it, there’s no need for that’. Neither of us has got that hang-up. And then Linda’s always been the one we’ve kind of had to help, so she’s never been too strong with either of us.

“I mean, she’s been held up in lots of ways because she’s got some great ideas but still needs to gain a lot of confidence, to learn to be more of a solo artist.”

Has there been a determined policy to bring this out? If so, how does it work?

“By speaking the truth. If she’s singing out of tune you have to tell her and not let it go like some people would. And in fact, she’s improved a hell of a lot.”

SINCE LAINE constantly refers to a new feeling in the band and is generally enthusiastic about the rehearsals and the possible tracks they’ve recorded for their next album, obviously Jimmy McCulloch and Jeff Britten have won their spurs.

McCulloch is well enough known already, but Britten is. more of an unknown quantity previously with The Wild Angels of all things, and joining Wings after lengthy auditions.

“Basically we picked him because he was a heavy drummer, a good rock drummer. He has a lot to learn in other styles but he’s a lot tougher than Denny Seiwell. Denny was good, knew all his stuff, all the musical terms but in my opinion didn’t have the fire that Britten has.

“As for Jimmy, it’s not that he’s a better guitar player than Henry McCullough but he’s more together. He can listen to what we want and play it quicker without putting it through any changes.

“Like Henry always took a long time to get exactly what he wanted. He liked to go through all these trial things and we couldn’t afford that.

“In a sense, it was a relief when they left… there was all [CONTINUES OVER PAGE]

Paul McCartney writing

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