Interview for Sounds • Saturday, August 31, 1974

Showdown in Nashville Tennessee?

Press interview • Interview of Denny Laine
Published by:
Sounds
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Interview

WAS IT a showdown? Wings went to Nashville to rehearse a stage show. They came back with rumours of a split. But there’s still a Wings — a band with Paul and Linda McCartney, Denny Laine, Jimmy McCulloch and Geoff Britton. At least, there’s as much of a band as there ever was.

No split – not as far as Denny Laine’s concerned. Not today, anyway, though as Denny says, who knows what happens tomorrow? He’s not being evasive as much as realistic. Facts are that they’re heading for the studios this week, that they’re planning to tour — America certainly, the world maybe — later in the year. Jimmy McCulloch was down on Denny Laine’s houseboat last week, soaking the summer sun and seeming friendly. There’s Wings.

But Nashville — there were arguments, there was getting-it-off-your-chest time. Was it a showdown?

“No, that’s a bit dramatic because it’s not that these things hadn’t been said before. Various things were said, like they’re said in any group — you can’t deny that. You know how it is you say something and if someone else doesn’t respond to what you’re saying then you’re walking out, but the next minute you can be walking back. People have been thinking that finally I’ve said my piece, but that’s not true – I just said my piece about what was happening at this time.

“I was on the verge of signing a contract with Wings as a kind of business deal — but I didn’t want that. I’ve been in this business long enough to have my own set-up, I can do it in my time, my own albums, whatever. I still earn enough money to do OK — not as well as I’m doing with Wings, but still OK. I would never have stayed with Wings if it was a job where I was just a musician… I’m too selfish, too something to be in a group where I’m just a sideman.”

You want a nutshell analysis? You don’t know Denny Laine and really you don’t know musicians. Laine has never been a man for the cut’n’dried, he’s a man who knows his objectives, broadly, and follows them in the way that feels right at the time. At the moment, Wings feels right…. sod the nutshells, Denny’s rap wanders all over the place, perhaps never arrives at a conclusion: but it tells you what’s happening.

A sideman? He says he wouldn’t be a sideman, but the recorded evidence so far shows him as just that.

“Oh yeah — I wasn’t really doing enough. I was probably being lazy in those days. See, getting back into it via Wings” (for a few years he’d turned his back on bands and business, he was just forming his own band when McCartney called with an offer) “has only given me back the kind of energy that I could put into my own thing anyway — it’s not that I couldn’t do it, it was that at that time I didn’t feel like it. I didn’t have enough contact with people I could work with, I had contact with people who I didn’t know well enough — it was too disjointed. Wings had the same thing, but at least I knew with Wings that we were going to be more productive than I would be.

“I was laying back because I was just a bit fed up — fed up with going on the road to start with. I didn’t have THE group — if I’d gone on the road probably I would have found THE group to work with, but I was thinking of it the wrong way, wanted to get THE group first and then go on the road, which I really couldn’t afford to do, financially and in every other way. I tended to do it on the cheap, and slowly — and with Wings of course we wanted to do it that way as well, slowly, but at the same time there was enough money around. That put me in the same frame of mind as I was in before I joined — it was a slow scene.

“It’s not the money, I realise that… we were making records, but there was still a lot more we could have been doing, and that was because there weren’t enough people in the group feeling settled enough. It was Paul’s group, and there was no getting away from that.”

Lean on me… You’re beginning to get the picture? Panacea out, frustration sets in.

“I felt frustrated for Wings, I still am frustrated for Wings — I don’t consider myself as a solo artist, that’s not what I want to be. I’m a natural group man… I’m not going to be in any group that’s just doing it a certain way because they can afford to, I don’t want it to appear that way, that’s like rich kids getting together — they don’t make very good rock groups. There’s a struggling thing about it, and we’ve still got that in Wings — it’s a lot more down to earth than a lot of people seem to think, judging by some of the questions you get asked.”

Misunderstanding the way Wings works is easy though — partly because Wings present a public face that is often very bland. McCartney particularly is very reticent about the way he works — understandably, justifiably when you think how the shit has been raked over the cogs and wheels of his last band: and anyway why should he open the lid to reveal spots of rust on the machine? The only problem is that people then assume the whole machine is rotting to pieces.

“Sure — I’m pushing for the same kind of groove I like to put out in the studio, which is a lot freer. I don’t care who walks in the studio, because if I happen to get in a bad mood with what I’m doing, people can understand what’s going on, and they’ll probably leave anyway, or try to help it. It doesn’t hang me up. It hangs Wings up — or it used to, it doesn’t half so much since the Nashville sessions. The closed shop kind of thing is very professional, and it works — you can’t put it down. I’m not putting it down, but I’m just the kind of person who likes to get a bit more feedback from people on what we’re doing than we were getting. We weren’t that confident as a group to be able just to be ourselves in front of other people, so we closed people out for a while.

“I’ve just become frustrated enough to say that I want the gig to become freer, a bit more interchangeable with musicians without anyone getting hurt. I mean if I don’t play on a track, I’ll sit in the control room or go and have a drink or something. Doesn’t bother me. There’s very few tracks I haven’t played on — but I don’t mind if I don’t. You can get a great musician to join the group, but he’ll get hung up by wanting to get more involved when really he can’t get more involved, not all at once, until he’s been in the group as long as the first member, if you see what I mean…”

Hang on. Yes, I suppose I do. Putting it another way then, it must be an extraordinary barrier for anyone joining Wings, joining a group started by Paul McCartney.

“It is a barrier. The barrier was there with me – was – because circumstances just meant that he couldn’t be my equal. It wasn’t that I couldn’t talk to the bloke. I know for a fact that Paul’s always liked “Go Now” and the things I was doing, that’s how we got pally in the first place because he liked what I was doing and I liked what he was doing: we knew, between ourselves, that we could be honest with each other. But the public, and the people that did our album sleeves and God knows what else, didn’t know. I’ve had to prove myself in this group just as I’ve had to prove myself in any other group — you always do. And he’s had to re-prove himself.

“There’ll always be a difference between my status and Paul’s status, because Paul is a household name, which I ain’t, and which ninety-nine and three quarter per cent of the musicians in the world ain’t either.”

There, as we wise old Hertfordshire saws are wont to say, is the rub. so does he, Denny, find that a problem? Yes, he says, and typically turns it around into a problem for Paul.

“Of course it’s a hang-up, because the bloke can’t come out and see as many bands as we can, he gets too much pressure — it’s just physically impossible for him to have the freedom that we’ve got. We can mix with people without getting the star treatment, still feel pretty ordinary. Obviously, Paul can’t. That’s the only problem there’s ever been in the group, really, because musically we’ve got on great, but when it comes down to puttin out records and all those things, it had to be done a certain way, which is out of the group’s control.”

OK then, let’s take “Band On The Run”: there’s just the three of them – Paul, Linda and Denny – away in Lagos, where it was possible for Paul to get robbed in the street and not get recognised. He wasn’t hounded whenever he stepped out the front door. No pressures in that way then, yet it still came out very much Paul’s album.

“I played on it, a lot, but they were Paul’s songs. The only thing that’s going to make it more your album is that you write as many songs, and I don’t write as many songs as Paul, my output isn’t that many, never has been. I’m not that much of a songwriter — I don’t get off on that as much as I do say on playing live gigs.

“If I was running this band I’d do more live gigs — I’d have to for a start, whether I wanted to or not, but I’d want to. I’d love to do all kinds of gigs, pub gigs even… and Paul would love to too. But how could he? It’s impossible. He can’t go back to being Paul McCartney as he was before the Beatles made it, which is probably when he had his most fun as a musician…

“But — oh, I dunno. I dunno what the truth is — I don’t know how the bloke is really. He’s got his own mind and his way of doing things. It’s impossible to get so close to a person that you could sit down and do a whole personality thing on him, a psychiatrist job. And l would never want to do that. I hate to know people too well – there’s always got to be some element of competition, as long as you all know it’s going on, as long as you know the guy well enough to know he respects you competing.

“No, it’s not competing its… if he feels that you can do as well as him in your way. That’s what you’ve got to have in a group, people with the quality of having their own pride, and their own thing that they do and the other people accept that, respect that. You can’t squash it all for the sake of the group”

As you can gather, Denny’s not the kind of guy to demand the star role — he’s realistic. Equally, he doesn’t want an employer and a rule book. He sees what he does as his job, it’s a job he enjoys, and he wants respect for what he does and for his view of how to do it. It seems that in the present Wings arrangement he has that – he’s his own boss, within a band which he is quite content to accept is led by Paul McCartney.

“We went to Nashville with the idea that we’d get this group together and we’d all sign contracts and be Wings, as a business thing. All going out under the same roof… but then it all seemed as if it was being a bit rushed. I thought, ‘hang on – let’s make sure that this is the right group’. Then I started thinking about contracts, and I decided that I could be in any group without signing contracts – I never did it with the Moody Blues, never a piece of paper to say I’d stay with them for so many years, so why should it be that way with Wings? I think if you don’t like what’s going on, you should just be able to leave — pick up your money, clock out, and that’s it, just like anybody else is able to do in their job.

“It just didn’t seem necessary to me, and the minute I said this to Paul he said ‘great, that’s the way I want it too’, and then I realised that we were only going through this thing with contracts because we’d all been advised to do it. It wasn’t what we wanted. Mind you, I’d always known that to a point, but I feel l had to say it then because I could see myself suddenly having to become a worker in Paul’s group, and I just thought no — no way. And I wasn’t the only one saying it, believe me.

“Contracts tend to make you lazy, I think. Anyway — we sorted that out.”

And the result is a band of five people — five independent people, as Denny puts it, who will work together. They’ll be recording an album soon, though whether all five will be On every track is “doubtful”. But that’s not a problem — that’s not the point. There is a Wings, but there’s also a Denny Laine. The two can live together.

“I like this being on my own for a while – away from the group. I’m always thinking about the group as well, but I can think about myself as well, it brings out the cheek in me. I get time to get things right in my mind so I can go and say it to everybody else without upsetting anybody too much, hopefully. Because when I’m away from Wings I just do this all day” (he waves his hand towards the boat, the river… ‘this’ is his home life as a family and friends man) “and you go back feeling good to do that again, But if that starts getting heavy again, I’ll be back here. Money’s very important to me, and I’ve always got to keep earning, every bloke has or you die, but I’ve earned enough now to set myself up in a way. But I’m also very lazy at times and I know if I want to I can take it easy for a while — I can always go back to it, and if I’ve got enough to tide me over, even cheaply, then I’ll do it.

“I’ve got all these motors and things, things that cost money, but if one of them stays by the side of the road and rots because I haven’t got the money to keep it up… I’ve done it before. I left a car at London Airport once and never went back for it — and that was when I was broke. I’ll do it again.

“If I never get away from that part of my personality, then I’ll be OK – that’ll see me through I think. I don’t like being rushed, you see. I love rushing about when I’m doing it naturally, but I don’t like to be hustled.”

But next week, there’s Wings again:

“Obviously, when you’ve got five people together who’ve been through what we’ve just been through in Tennessee, we’ve got a certain understanding that’s going to be valuable. We want to do it — everybody wants to. We’ll leave it at that.”


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