- Published by:
- Club Sandwich
- Paul Gambaccini
- Timeline More from year 1980
- Album This interview has been made to promote the McCartney II Official album.
Songs mentioned in this interview
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P.G. I don ‘t know if you’ve noticed this coincidence, but after seven years of Beatles albums you released “McCartney”. Now, after seven years of Wings albums, you release “McCartney II”! I’m wondering if you have a seven-year itch?
P.McC. Well, I suppose it could be, you know! I think what it is, is after I’ve done albums for a while I get fed up and want to do something different. I made a couple of albums, the normal way you make albums, and I felt like doing it the home-made way again because I quite like recording like that — where I play all the instruments. It’s almost like a hobby to do it that way. And so, yes, I suppose it is a seven-year itch — every seven years making a little home-made thing. I had fun doing it, anyway.
P. G. Was the album recorded mostly in Scotland or down in the farm in Sussex?
P.McC. It was split between the two places. I started it down in Sussex, then during the summer I went up to Scotland so I just carried on doing it up there. I hired a 16-track machine and got an engineer friend, Eddie, to fix me up a thing where I just took one microphone into the back of the machine direct, so we didn’t use a big console. It’s very difficult if you’re trying to work on your own with a big console, so we bypassed it and just went directly into the back of the machine.
P. G. So this album is not an accumulation of things you ‘ve been doing over a couple of years? This is actually recorded since the last Wings album?
P.McC. Yes, I started doing this right after the last Wings album.
P. G. The album begins with “Coming Up”, which I’m sure surprised everyone the first time they heard it, regardless of whether they loved it or loathed it. Nonetheless, it’s a bit different for you and I’m wondering how you achieved that unusual voice and whether you had set out to do so in the first place?
P.McC. Well, the whole thing about all these tracks was to do something different. “Coming Up” was done as all the tracks were. What I did was to just go into the studio each day and just start with a drum track. Then I built it up bit by bit without any idea of how the song was going to turn out. It’s like a reverse way of working. After laying down the drum track I added guitars and bass, building up the backing track. Then I thought, “Well, okay, what am I going to do for the voice?” I was working with a vari-speed machine with which you can speed up your voice, or take it down a little bit. That’s how the voice sound came about. It’s been speeded up slightly and put through an echo machine I was playing around with. I got into all sorts of tricks, and I can’t remember how I did half of them, because I was just throwing them all in and anything that sounded good I kept: anything I didn’t like, I just wiped. It is very much like sitting down with a few lumps of clay and putting down one after another until it makes itself into a face or something. In this case it just made itself into the song “Coming Up”. The only song that was written before I came to record it was the track “Waterfalls”.
P. G. I first heard the track “Coming Up” at Lewisham Odeon during Wings’ British tour. Did you seriously consider using Wings’ version as the A-side?
P.McC. No. I always thought the single was going to be the solo version. We did the song on the tour because we wanted to do something the audience hadn’t heard before. The live version on the B-side of the single was recorded on the last night of the tour in Glasgow. However, in America a lot of the DJs on the top-40 stations picked up on this side and, so, it became the A-side in the States. It’s the B-side in the rest of the world. P. G. There are two things that interest me about the second track on the album, “Temporary Secretary”. Again, it shows instrumental experi- mentation, particularly with what sounds like a keyboard synth, and also it seems a little Ian Dury influenced. P.McC. Oh, I know the bit you mean — the middle bit. That is exactly what I thought and I always had in mind to change it so it was not quite like him. But it’s one of those things, it never changed. That sound, which is sort of like a space typewriter, is a sequencer machine. I used that to give me a tempo and, again, I just made the song up as I went along. And that was the only sort of thing that suggested itself at that point, and it was a little influenced by Ian Dury . . . All right, Ian?
P.G. I think, perhaps, for those countries who don’t have temporary secretaries we should explain what the track “Temporary Secretary” is all about.
P.McC. “Temporary Secretary”… It’s like a disposable secretary, and it struck me as being funny. The song is written from the point of view of a feller who just wants a disposable secretary, and he’s writing to a bureau to try and get one. I just like the idea, I just thought it was funny — you know, asking for a temporary secretary rather than a secretary.
P. G. I think many people would be curious to know what is happening to Laurence, Steve and Denny. What did they do while you were recording this album?
P.McC. When I started on this last year we were all taking some time off. Denny started to get a solo album together, I started on this, and Laurence did his own solo album. And now, with Wings not touring, and the solo albums beginning to emerge, it appears as if no one is doing anything. But it doesn’t mean Wings are going to split up, it just means that for the time being we’re doing solo things rather than a group project. The way it works with a group is that sometimes you’re playing with the group and rehearsing with it, sometimes you’re not and you’re just doing your own stuff. Most people do it, you know. Townshend does it with the Who and Gilmore does it with the Floyd. We just each got into these solo things, and really that’s all there is to it.
P.G. The third track on side one is “On The Way”. How did this one come about?
P.McC. I put down a drum track and some bass and that was that. It sat around for a month or so. The day before going back to it I had seen Alexis Korner on a TV programme about the blues, and I thought ‘ ‘Oh, I’ve got to do something like that because it’s the kind of music I like … the blues.” So that’s how that one came about. I just made it up into a bluesy type thing.
P. G. I think it ‘s incredible that if we had never spoken about that track, Alexis Korner might never have found out that his programme helped influence someone else ‘s record.
P.McC. Well, I’m very much like that. If I see a programme where I see something on it that I like, that’s the kind of thing that gets me going. I don’t set out to copy it, but I might set out to do something like it. Or if I hear a great kind of record, like a Michael Jackson, then I might want to do stuff in that vein. It’s always been the same. Lots of Beatles songs came about from watching something like “Top Of The Pops”. It’s what inspires me half the time.
P.G. The track “Waterfalls” is the one which leapt out at me, as I imagine it will to other people, as a possible single. This was the one that was written before you started on the album, wasn’t it?
P.McC. Yes, that’s right. Halfway through making the album, making it all up as I went along, I got a bit bored — I had finished about eight tracks by then — and I thought I would do something different. So I decided to do a song that was already written, and that was my favourite at the time. That’s why it’s included.
P.G. I want to ask you about the animal references which have been coming into your songs lately, like “Say You Don’t Love Me My Salamander’, and now, on this one, “Don’t Go Chasing Polar Bears’?
P.McC. I heard a programme in America on one of the FM stations, where they took all the Beatles’ songs and did things like “Piggy, Rocky Racoon”, and it just seems like I’ve been doing it forever. It is just one of those things that creeps in, references to animals. I think I’m ecologically minded.
P.G. Do you think “Waterfalls” will be single?
P.McC. I think it might be the next single after “Coming Up”. I’d like it to be. A lot of people have rung up about that one and said that it’s their favourite. So when you get such a good feeling you think that perhaps it should be a single. It would be a big change from “Coming Up”, so, hopefully, it’ll do all right. I like the song anyway.
P.G. I believe the next track, “Nobody Knows’, was also inspired by Alexis Korner’s TV series.
P.McC. Yes, that also came about after watching the blues series. I’m a big fan of a lot of the blues players. One of the funny things for me is that in blues you’ll get what is supposed to be a 12-bar blues, then you get odd timings come in. For instance, sometimes they just hold over on one chord — like one bar longer than you should or that most people would do. On many blues records, they’re never very exact so, on this track, I do the same thing. That was the basic inspiration behind it.
P.G. You have a couple of instrumental tracks on the album, one of which is called “Front Parlour”. Am I led to believe that is because it was recorded in afront parlour?
P.McC. Yes. That song was the first thing I did on the album, and it was done in the front parlour of an old farmhouse. It was empty at the time so we just brought the recording machinery in and used the kitchen as an echo chamber. It was a big echoey kitchen so I didn’t have to use echo or any gimmicks on the sessions. I had to make do. If I wanted any kind of echo I’d just have to stand in this big kitchen with a snare drum and belt it! That’s how I got an echo snare. This little front parlour, which has still got the old wallpaper on it and a little fireplace, was where the main track was recorded. So I called it “Front Parlour”.
P.G. You used a lot of synth on this track.
P.McC. Synthesizers are amazing things. Instead of spending hours scoring string sections, you can just sit down at this machine and get a very similar sound immediately. It’s a bit more spacey than a real string section, but you can do your own writing as you go an experiment more easily. That was what really got me into synths.
P. G. I think on the next track, “Summers Day Song”, the intrumentals are fascinating. They sound like a combination between a brass band and Brian Eno.
P.McC. Yeah? It’s a funny one. Again, I’d heard a piece of music that I liked — a very classical sounding piece. So, that day when I went into the studio I thought it would be a nice change if I tried something sort of classical. I built it up, wrote a couple of words and put a few vocals over the top, so it does sound like something classical come something else.
P.G. The following track was originally called “Frozen Jap”. I understand now you may be changing the title.
P.McC. Well, for Japan its had to be changed to “Frozen Japanese” —there’s a crazy story about that one. What happened, originally, was that I was working around on synths, again, experimenting and I suddenly got something which sounded very oriental. When the track was finished I tried to think of a suitable title and things came to mind
like the ice-capped Mount Fuji, or a snow scene in the Orient. But all the titles sounded clumsy. Then I thought of “Frozen Jap” as a working title — frozen being the ice bit for the snow scene idea, and jap meaning oriental and somewhere over in that part of the world. And the title stuck. It was recorded in the summer of 1979, but I’m sure people will think it was recorded after that incident in Japan. We decided to change the title to “Frozen Japanese” for the album release in Japan, since we did not want to offend anyone there.
P.G. The track that follows is called “Bogey Music”, and I have to confess that I wasn’t really sure if you were making a pun on boogie music, or referring to Colonel Bogey or some other use of the word “bogey”.
P.McC. No, what it is is there’s a book called Fungus the Bogeyman, for kids and grown-ups, too, which was sent to me by some fellow who’s making it into a film and who wanted to do some music for it. The story is a bit bizarre, and the basic idea is that the bogey men are the people who make bumps in the night. They live beneath the ground and come
out at night and frighten people, and they like everything that’s opposite to what we like. If we like warm dry clothes, they like wet slimey ones. If we like pictures of live animals, they like pictures of dead sheep, and if we like music they hate it. And they’ve got all sorts of crazy books in their library, like Lady Chatterley’s Bogey. It’s a great book, you know,
but it’s crazy and it just tickled my fancy when I got it. I had that book in the studio one day and opened it to a page where the young people in Bogeyland rebel against the old people who hate music. They all start to get dressed in warm clean clothes kind of Ted’s outfits! Then they start to actually take baths, which is unheard of, and get into rock and roll. So I just took that page, looked at it a bit and just thought: “Well, it looks like a bit of rock and roll.” So, I made up the track and called it “Bogey Music”. It’s a crazy fantasy, really, but that’s what I was thinking of when I did it.
P.G. The fifth track on side two is called “Darkroom”, and one can’t help but think you might have been spending some time in Linda’s darkroom ?
P.McC. Well, it wasn’t that definite, you know. It actually wasn’t to do with Linda. Somehow I just heard the word “darkroom” and thought that it had lots of connotations. It could be a dark room, a photographic darkroom or just a room which is dark. And, you know, a fellow saying to a girl, “Come to my darkroom” is a bit like a “Let me take you to the casbah” kind of thing. So I thought of this double meaning and it’s just like a chant that says, “Comma, come along to my darkroom.” And then I added a sort of atmosphere thing in the background and that’s it. It’s supposed to sound like a sort of freaky darkroom or something. But that’s one you can really tell I made up as I went along. Originally
“Darkroom” wasn’t going to be on this album because we had to knock off about eight or nine tracks as at the beginning we had planned a double album then it came down to a single album. So I was going to lose “Darkroom” because the original version is a very long track and goes on through all sorts of little crazy noises. But I edited it down
because I like it, and now it’s on the album.
P. G. It’s interesting you saying that you have some tracks which haven’t been released, because I remember once asking if you had any Beatles or Wings material which you hadn’t released, and you said “no” at the time. And now here you have these extra tracks.
P.McC. With the Beatles we were careful about not having unreleased tracks lying around. We used to dig into all the old tracks — like “You Know My Name, Look Up The Number”, which was an unreleased track for a long time. We dug it out and finished it and released it, so that by the time the Beatles finished there weren’t any unreleased things hidden away. But with Wings there are quite a few .. . a few from the “Ram” sessions, which strictly speaking wasn’t Wings, and quite a few off “RedRose Speedway” that didn’t get released. And there’s been the odd songs that just didn’t fit for what people wanted them for – like a film or something. I still say that I’d like to get it all together, finish it all up, and release an album called “Cold Cuts” which would just be all the things that didn’t get released. Some of them are pretty good tracks, some of them are almost better than the ones that did get released!
P.G. The last track on the album is “One Of These Days”, which is, again, a ballad. When you were doing this album, were you concerned with the balance of up tempo numbers, instrumentals and ballads?
P.McC. No, it was really, as I said in the beginning, doing it like a hobby. I wasn’t thinking anything technical about balancing it all out. I left all that until later. In fact, I wasn’t even thinking of it being an album until I got all the tracks together and played them on a cassette in my car; it started to sound like an album. “One Of These Days” all happened when a Hare Krishna bloke came round to see me. He was a nice fellow, very sort of gentle. After he left, I went to the studio and the vibe carried I started writing something a bit more gentle that through a bit particular day. The song seemed right as a very simple thing, and it basically just says: “one of these days I’ll do what I’ve been meaning to
do the rest of my life.” I think it’s something a lot of people can identify with.