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The following interview was conducted at his studios where paul – on his own – was laying down drum and backing tracks for new songs
Q: A year on from the start of the tour, you’re a changed man aren’t you?
A: I’ve got a completely different way of looking at things now. When you get on the road and see see what your audience is actually like, it changes your perception of your own music. It feels different, it reminds you of what sort of stuff audiences really like and then it reminds you of what you’ve done. So with the new album I’m doing now (to be written and recorded from November) I can guage from stuff in the live set what was more popular and so that is the sort of stuff I might write for the new album, so the tour and the audience gives you clues to write to. The other thing is that just reviewing your own work through the tour is healthy. We did more than two hours a night of my stuff and it surprises me how simple the songs are. Before doing them live I thought some of the songs were quite complicated but they’re not. It gives you a good view of what it is you’re doing.
I just feel clearer now about what I’m doing – because I’ve now seen how the songs I’ve done in the past have gone down and also I’ve seen what people really like.
Q: Are you more excited generally now?
A: Yeah, I like going on the road again. There’s a danger in this business – you start off hungry and then get a bit of fame, then get a lot of fame and you start to rest on your laurels a little bit. And with fame comes money, so you buy a nicer house. So then you don’t have people bothering you all the time and there’s no traffic noise – but while you can be gaining stuff by just being better off you can also be losing stimulus – the stimulus of just being in the city, seeing all the other bands. And, you don’t always realise that you need that stimulus, I find:
You come to the country, loving the air and the animals – and I DO love that side of my life a lot – but what the tour showed me was that I need a balance with that life. It needs some stimulation.
I think playing to a crowd of 184,000 in Rio is certainly stimulating. Going on stage every night after 13 years is certainly stimulating – because you’ve just got to do it.
Q: You said towards the end of the tour, backstage in private, that it had reminded you of The Beatles, How?
A: The tour itself reminded me in a lot of ways of The Beatles. One thing was the build-up – we started off little in Oslo, off Broadway – it’s not little for everyone, 5000 people – but for us it turned out to be a small gig. Because it was a new band you couldn’t just go rushing in; so you had to start little and build up – now THAT reminded me of The Beatles because The Beatles’ whole thing over the 10 years we existed was a build-up; from little clubs to bigger clubs to ballrooms to theatres in Peterborough, then to Sunday Night at the Palladiums and then to TV and recording, you built and built and built until you finally went off to America – so we did that and the tour just reminded me of the way The Beatles’ campaign worked; small, getting to know each other, getting more confident with what we do, and then increasing the whole thing – so by the time we were in the States and playing the 50,000-seat stadiums, that whole year had felt very much like a Beatles build-up.
And the other interesting thing was going back to the States a few times during the tour, that was like The Beatles; you went and got a certain reaction and you went again and it grew and the TV stations started doing these specials on you and then the Press Conferences.
I remember telling our tour publicist at the beginning of the tour I was a bit terrified at the Press Conferences in case they threw me a googly or a spinner or whatever you call a dodgy question that would catch me out. At the end of the tour I’d be just the opposite; I was HOPING they’d throw me a googly, just so it’d stop all the boring questions coming. So when you look at it all, it’s just that my confidence has increased.
So to sum it up, it reminded me a lot of The Beatles, this tour; a new band, growing steadily and finally getting to the biggest gigs going, in America, finally getting to peak TV time.
Q: So are you going to capitalise on this new wave of confidence?
A: That’s the idea now; once you’ve been playing like this you get to almost Olympic level, compared to an athlete, this is our Olympic level, playing the biggest stadiums in the world -but to do that, to get in on, you have to keep yourself in training and be able to do it without even thinking, like a great track runner. But when you’ve finished your Olympics, the natural thing is to go and have a long time off. The trouble with that is that you get a bit ring-rusty or arena-rusty or whatever athletes get – athletes’ foot – without even realising it, because you’re enjoying yourself. You think this is great, oh, I deserve a rest now, this is lovely. And so many people come off tour and say ‘ ooh it’s nice to relax’ and all that – but in fact to totally hang for three years, man, and then try to pick it all up – I think that’s difficult. I think you set yourself problems you don’t even need – it’s like if you can stay at a certain level without having to play ALL the time then why not do it?
My feeling now is that we’ve got to a good level and maybe what we need to do now is to start stabbing little gigs in little clubs – there’s plenty of small places we can go without having to have the organisation we had last time; there’s many exciting little gigs and I’m into that really, just to keep our hands in, just to keep our musical muscles in tone -instead of just slacking off and having to rebuild the whole thing.
So I’m quite charged up about it all – the band, the next album, the live album AND maybe just stabbing at little dates; like popping over to play Prague for the day, there’s millions of things like that – we can play one night in Paris, do the 100 Club, the Marquee – it’s a publicist’s dream; I mean let’s go and play The Cavern, that new replica one they built in Liverpool. Why not? We could do it.
So I’m looking forward to that basic idea – to keep it all going now.
And then the pencilled-in plan for the end of next year, after the new album is ready, is to tour the world again.
That will be after the Liverpool Philharmonic thing, which is also exciting me a lot because although it’s all a symphony, some of the numbers in it I’m looking at closely because although they are all written for a philharmonic orchestra and a cathedral choir, they could take on different treatments. We could – as the band – do a few of them on stage. A few of them are straight songs and we could do a band treatment on them, which is interesting.
Then there’s the new studio album and I really like the idea of combining songs from that on a tour with some of the Beatles stuff that we haven’t done yet. Songs like Here There And Everywhere, Blackbird, Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, She’s A Woman – there’s great numbers still to be done live – Rocky Raccoon…what about I’m Down or Helter Skelter, which all the punk bands do.
There’s some really exciting things. Some people said to me ‘You’ve done Rio, you’ve done the biggest things in the world, there you go, what more do you want to do now?’
But the interesting thing to me is that there’s STILL another bunch of Beatles numbers that we didn’t do.
And, interestingly enough, when our manager Richard Ogden was down in Rio recently the rock promoters were saying ‘Well, when’s he coming back?’.
Richard said ‘What do you mean? He’s done Rio, he’s done the biggest gig here’. And they said ‘No, that’s not the biggest – the biggest is in San Paulo’.
We could do 200,000 people in San Paulo, apparently. We could go back because there’s a record to be broken – so that’s very interesting to me.
Although one thing we didn’t do last time was tour a new album; Flowers In The Dirt was a bit old by the time we went out, it would be nice to go out the next time with a completely fresh album, a whole new vibe. So I’m getting quite excited about the next album; which I’m writing for now and, if THAT could be great that would add it’s own vibe to the tour, that album could colour the tour. So there’s that, there’s records to be broken, there’s Beatles’ songs we haven’t done. And then, of course, there’s doing the favourites from this show consuming again. You couldn’t lose Pepper – you might just slightly vary it a bit – you couldn’t lose Hey Jude. So I think all that’s enough of an exciting prospect for me to be dying to get back out on the road again.
But you can’t just slave your life away. I’ve gotta have a break at some point.
Q: But you haven’t had a break yet, have you? You came straight off tour and went to work.
A: I know. I don’t have breaks. Everyone else has breaks, everyone else goes on holiday. I mean I didn’t MEAN to go back to work. But it’s kind of a holiday. Writing for me is kind of a holiday. I’m off. I’ve always said if they didn’t pay me and they didn’t record me, I’d still write.
So that means writing must be a hobby. I like doing it, it’s like painting, just something I enjoy. So in a way I’ve had time off. But the trouble with this time off is that I’ve been working on this big thing with Carl Davis and that is really a lot of work, to get it right. We’ve written the whole thing, first draft. And then you go through it in the second draft, and third, and fourth and fifth etc – just orchestrating it and arranging it and finding the exact right keys for the soloists. So there’s a lot of practical belt and braces stuff to be done here and it’s just very time.
You just can’t shirk on it. That’s one of the reasons I’ve had no holiday.
So, as I say, I write as a hobby anyway. I might have a day or two off but after a coulple of days off I want to be back writing again.
And also, with the tour it somehow positions you and charges you up for the next thing you’re doing, because now I’ve got the feedback of the reception on tour and you think – how would this have gone down on tour? You can sort of gauge it like that. Like with Birthday, we only threw that in at the last moment – towards the end of the tour – but people were saying oo, that’s good’.
Q: How did you come to write Birthday?
A: We were at Abbey Road, we . all showed up for an evening session and a lot of guests came around – like Patti Boyd and other friends – there were a few friends and liggers and it became a little bit of a party. So rather than get too serious, I just said to John ‘Let’s just make something up’. He was always game for that and John and I always had such a good reading of each other that we could make something up. We could pretty much think on our feet and sort of edit as we played. We had enough instincts that we’d built up over the years to do that and not be too scared.
So we based it around that riff and then we just thought of this idea Birthday because I remember saying ‘well some songs are kind of useful’. Songs like ‘White Christmas’, very useful; if you want to get in a Christmas mood, whack that on. Easter Parade, if you want an Easter mood, whack that on.
Irving Berlin was the great expert at all of that.. God Bless America and all that. He’s got a song for every occasion going; The Anniversary Waltz 1 think he wrote. He’s the boy.
So going on that kind of vibe I kind of thought well there’s been a Christmas song, there’s been an Easter song, what about a birthday song? Instead of Happy Birthday to You we were going to have a rock song for people who were into rock and roll as just another way of saying ‘it’s your birthday’.
So we came up with this real simple lyric – ‘they say it’s your birthday, well it’s my birthday too yeah’ – that sort of stuff and that ‘were going to a party party’, just a few little bits, a riff in the middle and a little instrumental break and 1 think we got all the crowd of people there to sing along the chorus, y’know “BIRTHDAY…I want you to dance…BIRTHDAY”, just a little easy part for them, which we often used to do. And by the end of the evening, we’d done it. We just left it to be mixed and went off to a club.
Q: It’s amazing that that song was never before released as a single.
A: I know. But The Beatles were funny about that, releasing singles. I mean in England we never released Yesterday or Michelle as singles. So it’s not that surprising, with us often the most obvious singles didn’t get released.
Maybe it was because Hey Jude was going on at the time, a stronger contender.
But that’s what’s nice about doing Birthday now. As you know, on the tour doing all these songs was nice for me because I’d never done them live before. I’d never done Birthday, only the night we recorded it. I’d never done Hey Jude, or Pepper. A lot of those songs were really good to do because they were just totally fresh for me.
So in a way it’s fun that Birthday was never a single because now it can be useful; it can be a useful song now – if you’ve got a friend who’s got a birthday you can whack that song on ’em. Or play it at a birthday party.
Q: Was that one of the last songs you wrote with John?
A: No, one of the last things I ever wrote with John was The Balad Of John and Yoko. He’d just got married in Gibraltar or somewhere and he showed up at my house in London one day saying ‘look, man, I’ve got this song I’m dying to record and basically it was all there, I just helped a little bit.
And he said ‘why don’t you drum and play bass and I’ll play guitar and 111 sing and we’ll run round the corner to EMI studios. We can knock it off in half an hour’….
John was very impatient and it’s great, actually, for creativity to have someone who’s impatient because they will NOT sit around and twiddle their thumbs. He couldn’t, he just couldn’t.
So we fixed a couple of words, went round to the studios, ran in and did it. It must have been a bit awkward for the other guys; I think John in his impatience just didn’t want to have the bother of ringing George and Ringo and getting a whole session together. He figured I’d be there, I was always like a couple of hundred yards away from the studio, always ready…y’know, plectrum in hand type of thing.
Q: It’s interesting you saying that because you’re the one still like that, aren’t you, still ready with the plectrum in hand.
A: Yeah. Well, y’know, I’m a ham. There’s no doubt about it; as much as I TRY to retire I keep thinking well this isn’t me. I LIKE getting out there. It’s not that I get bored at home; really the oppositie, it’s great, being with the kids and Linda; homelife is a doddle, it’s bliss, being in the countryside and free like that, I’m well into farming, organic farming.
But I do think that I’ve now set my character to the extent that I can’t JUST do that. Linda’s different; she could do that. But the musician in her isn’t ingrained as much as it is in me. That’s really all I’ve done from the age of 14 really; I wrote my first song at 14 and ever since that bug bit me I’ve been infected. And it’s gone all of that time; through the Beatles period, through the Wings period, now through the solo period and I still love getting together with a little bunch of musicians. It can be hard work at times but I’m always glad 1 did it after it. And this tour has proved the point yet again. Much as I’m not into schlepping around all the Holiday Inns in the world the stimulus of your audience and the band is considerable.
Q: The album of the live show will also show people how much of a rocker you are, don’t you think?
A: Yeah. Images are a funny business. You see George Michael talking about it on telly. He’s a real good writer but he’s thought of as a stud. It’s the razor he uses, I think.
Obviously the closer you can get to what you want to be, the more sense it makes in life. And for me my image has tended to go towards the more lyrical, the smoochy and all that just because my biggest successes have been with Yesterday and Hey Jude, The Long and Winding Road, Let It Be….ballads. Now I love that and they may even be my favourite thing, it may be what I’m best at…but it is always refreshing for me to remember that I wrote Helter Skelter.Or that I also wrote I’m Down, She’s A Woman, Can’t Buy Me Love, Got To Get You Into My Life; a lot of the rocking stuff we do on the tour.
So that is another good thing about going on a tour like this, one, it reminds you of what you do – otherwise I would just sit on the farm and start to believe my own image …Yeah, I’m just a balladeer aren’t I?’ but it’s good if you can get out on the tour and somebody on the tour or some fan starts saying ‘yeah, man, you’re ROCKING’.
‘You’re singing your tail off, somebody said, and I thought ‘Yeah, man, that’s what I loved’. So it helps get your sense of proportion back somehow, that I’m not just a love song balladeer, there’s more to it than what my critics say.
I mean it’s always nice to think I wrote Why Don’t We Do It In The Road? That’s very un-me, that’s very un-my image. Although it’s funny because one of the guys on the farm came up to me before the tour and said ‘Paul, I’ve been listening to that White Album and what does that mean, that Why Don’t We Do It In The Road? I said I’ll tell you when you’re 21.
Q: There’s also a new generation of fans out there for those songs now. I know that some of the younger girls on the crew, 11 and 22, really got off to Birthday but they’d never heard it before. They thought you’d done a new song.
A: I know and a lot of friends of my kids loved Got To Get You Into My Life the first time they saw it on the tour. It’s great, I really love that. I really love seeing the younger generation get off on the older stuff. And that’s even with my own family. There was a time a few years ago when we went on the Wogan show and the only thing my son James had heard me do live was Jet and Listen To What The Man Said. And they suddenly became his favourite songs and I realised then that it was just because he’d been exposed to them. It wasn’t anything more, to him they were new they were hot, new songs to him.
And on the tour a friend of my daughter’s came up and it was ‘Got To Get You Into My Life, man, that’s my favourite song’ and then suddenly Pepper was his favourite song – Sgt. Pepper. I’ve had guys say to me ‘Man, Sgt. Pepper, it’s like Acid House isn’t it? ‘
I say ‘What do you mean it’s like Acid House – it is Acid House, it’s the start of Acid House is Pepper, it’s where it all came from’.
But that is such a buzz, seeing all that happen all over again. And what I love about it is that it’s held, the music, it’s held it’s own. Strawberry Fields, the lyrics are still as far out now as they ever were – ‘I mean, I think, uh yes, it’s me, I think, uh no, is it…’ you know, it’s always going to be far out.
And some of the songs improve, some of the sadder songs get more meaningful when you get older and you’ve had kids and all the worries of that.
You know – ‘I’m not half the man I used to be’…well I remember singing that on the Ed Sullivan Show when I was only 20….talk about half the man, you’re barely a man, son, never mind half of one.
Now, there’s a good few years gone by since those times and to sing those lines means something more.
Q: But don’t you think that the success of the tour, the hugeness of this tour, your biggest ever, belies those lines?
A: That’s a cool idea, I like that thought…’I’m not half the man I used to be’ – what do you mean, you’ve just played to more people than you’ve ever done before? What do you mean, they LIKE you.
Q: In terms of numbers, it’s the most successful tour….
A: ….That I have ever done. I know. It’s wild isn’t it? I must say that I never ever thought that I could out-sell The Beatles. But with Mull of Kintyre I did. And I never thought I could play any bigger venues than I did with The Beatles, but with the Rio thing we did. And the great thing is, there’s still more to come.
Q: And then there was Liverpool…
A: That was the greatest for me. The greatest thing about Liverpool for me has always been the people. I know people say that’s a cliche but the great thing is that why it’s a cliche is because it’s true. I know that I can go to Liverpool more than anywhere in the world and I just know I’m amongst me own. I’m amongst people and we share a secret. I don’t know what the secret is even, but we share something, this humour and all that from where we were brought up. So the greatest moment for me was when we introduced the medley for John – Strawberry Fields/Help and Give Peace A Chance – which was great to do anyway, to introduce it at that gig, not just for me but for all of us on the tour – but when the crowd wouldn’t stop singing at the end of Give Peace A Chance – we had the ending planned but they kept chanting ‘all we are saying is give peace a chance’ and we had to re-start the song when they wouldn’t stop, that was one of the greatest moments of my career. It’s moments like that that make you go ‘God this is it, god this is live, god this is why I like it…’ I talk about stimulation, THAT’S what it is. And the thrill of them, that crowd keeping on singing and us, the band, having to restart Give Peace A Chance , that thrill is what you do it all for.