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In a remarkably varied career, Paul McCartney has done some surprising things – some we all know about, some we may not. Exclusive to Club Sandwich he tells Mark Lewisohn about some true identities behind the masks
For a great many McCartney fans the big question of the past 15 years is: were you PERCY THRILLINGTON?
Yes, it’s been a bit of a mystery for a long time. We always told people that I wasn’t Thrillington and really kept that one going.
It all came about because I wanted someone to do a Big Band version of Rain – but seeing as there were no takers I thought that I’d better be that someone! So we invented it all, Linda and I, and we went around southern Ireland and found a guy in a field, a young fanner, and asked if he minded doing some photographic modelling for us. We wanted to find someone that no one could possibly trace, paid him the going rate and photographed him in a field, wearing a sweater and then wearing an evening suit. But he never quite looked Percy Thrillington enough…
Then we started this whole business in the Evening Standard ad columns, which was the really fun thing, putting in things like “Must get in touch with … Thrillington”, as a result of which the newspaper columns picked up on it – “Has anyone seen this rubbish going on in the Standard about Percy Thrillington?” – and it was good publicity. It was one of our madcap publicity schemes as if we were managing this character called Percy Thrillington. But it was really just an excuse to do a Big Band album. And now the truth can finally come out.
In a way, because it was a Big Band, and you weren’t playing in the band, and Richard Hewson did the arrangements, you weren’t really the artist anyway, you were the producer.
That’s right. You could say that Percy Thrillington was Richard Hewson, or just a fictitious leader of the band who never appeared anywhere. We’ve put out some weird and wonderful things like that occasionally. We would put clues into songs about certain things, because if people are going to play mind games with our lyrics then we can play mind games with them. Thrillington was one of those.
It took a long time to happen – the album was recorded in 1971/72 but not released until 1977.
Well, what I didn’t realise is that nobody would want to release an album like that! Not even then. And no way would you get it released now. It was just a little bit of indulgence, a little bit of fun. I quite like to do silly things.
You recorded your first album (McCartney) under the pseudonym BILLY MARTIN.
Well, sometimes if you don’t want people to know that you’re recording at a place – it’s quite widely done now – you use a fake name. For two reasons, really: fun and privacy. I think there’s a big character in American baseball called Billy Martin so that’s where the name came from.
You’ve twice used the pseudonym PAUL RAMON.
Yes, Paul Ramon was the original pseudonym, when I was in the Silver Beetles, and we went up to Scotland to tour with Johnny Gentle. We thought we were showbiz people and, as it was a Larry Panics tour and all of his people changed their names – Wilde, Eager, Fury, Pride, all of that – we changed ours. Not that it ever occurred to us that his real name wasn’t Johnny Gentle, and that the woman he said was his wife may not have been. We treated her with the utmost of reverence, calling her “Mrs Gentle”! Ramon was French – my idea of what a French name might be, like Monsieur Ramon!
Did you ever think of it years later, when you were writing ‘Ram On’?
Yes, it did occur to me. Ramon seemed to me like a sexy French name, and I remember little Scottish girls asking “Is your name really Ramon?” George became Carl Harrison, after Carl Perkins, our drummer Tommy Moore became Thomas Moore – he used to sign autographs “Thomas Moore, drums” – and Stuart became Stuart de Stael, after his favourite painter Nicholas de Stael, and John was Long John Silver for a very short while! It made us seem like great London showbiz guys, so that when we were in Fraserburgh instead of saying “I’m just a kid from Liverpool” it suggested that there was something more to us. It’s an old trick.
We fairly soon got rid of that, though, and I remember much later being in the back of Brian Epstein’s Zodiac, his big, posh Ford car, talking about whether Paul McCartney was the right name. He and I both felt it was a bit of a mouthful and we wondered how people would ever remember it. People at school never could. So I was going to become Paul James, from James Paul. But then we thought “No, let them remember our names”. Which is good, because there are no two Lennons out there, no two McCartneys, Harrisons or Starkeys.
Ringo was the only one who stayed with a stage name, Ringo Starr, because he’d been to Butlin’s holiday camp. This was the big difference between Ringo and us – it actually made a difference in a man’s life, in those days, whether or not you’d been to Butlin’s. And this was actually a true claim to fame: having done a complete season at Butlin’s he was the consummate pro. We were scruffs compared to him – he had a beard, suits, shirts, ties and matching handkerchiefs. He had the lot, a total dude, and he even had a Ford Zodiac – though it was probably a paint-job knock-off. I bought a Ford Classic on the never-never and was always very worried about making the payments. So he could handle being Ringo Starr, with his rings. But the rest of us ditched our names.
Then, nine years later, in 1969, you did a session with Steve Miller and again called yourself Paul Ramon.
That’s right, that was during the tense Apple time. We had a Friday-night session at Olympic studio in Barnes and Allen Klein showed up with all the guys. It was a big showdown. And my lawyer was Jewish so he didn’t work on Friday nights. But there was Klein, he was Jewish and he was working, so he had a big advantage. Maybe he knew my lawyer was Jewish. Anyway, they all showed up at Olympic and there was a big row – they all accused me of stalling; in my mind I was actually trying to save our future, and I was vindicated later, but at the time I was definitely “the dark horse, the problem”. And that was actually the night we broke the Beatles, that was the big crack in the liberty bell, it never came back together after that one.
So we were stuck, the session was over and the studio was free. I hung around a little bit and met Steve Miller, who was in one of the other studios. We got chatting and he was an “up”. After the big downer I needed an up, so he was my security blanket. I stayed chatting for a while and then he suggested cutting something. I asked what and he said “We’ll make something up!”. I asked if I could play drums and just thrashed around. He called it ‘My Dark Hour’ and we recorded it, just the two of us. I overdubbed a bit of bass and some guitar and we sang it all. We stayed there all night. We just had to do something.
And why did you use Paul Ramon?
I was probably worrying about contractual matters. I’ve never insisted on having credits. I said “Just put me down as Paul Ramon”, remembering the previous time.
You produced the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah band as APOLLO C VERMOUTH.
Yes. I loved the Bonzos: I’d been to see their show and they’d been in Magical Mystery Tour, in the strip scene at Raymond’s Revuebar. Viv Stanshall used to go to the clubs a lot, like I did, and we’d often meet all the guys late-night, chatting over a drink. He said that they really needed a single to establish them and I said, “Well what have you got? I’ve seen your act and you haven’t really got singles there.” Viv then asked if I’d produce them and I said “Yes, if you get something together.” So they sent a demo and I showed up at Chappell Studios one afternoon, talked to the engineer and got them a good sound, a bit of compression, a bit of this and that, and produced it. Within two or three hours they’d cut the track, ‘I’m The Urban Spaceman’, which turned out to be their only hit. I said “Just put me down as anything” and Viv made up the name Apollo C Vermouth. A lot of people still don’t know that I produced that track – they say “What – you produced the Bonzos? Never!” And it was fun session. I still like Viv a lot, and I loved the radio show he did.
You wrote ‘Woman’ for Peter and Gordon as BERNARD WEBB.
Well that was the first pseudonym I used for secrecy reasons. I was a bit annoyed that anything by Lennon-McCartney was being a hit, particularly by Peter and Gordon, and…I don’t know, I just got an attack of morals or something, but I felt it was a bit much that automatically having our name on something made it do well, and I wanted to see if I could get around it. So I asked our music publisher, Dick James, if I could use a pseudonym. He was a bit jittery – “It sells better if your name’s on it!” – so I said “Yes but Dick, look, you’ve got all that money, you’ve got ‘Yesterday’, we’re doing great, I really am keen on seeing this happen”, so he gave in. Bernard Webb was the name I chose, and the nice thing was that shortly after that we went on tour to America and someone was holding up a big sign saying “Long live Bernard Webb”! I didn’t really mind when people found out. The release suggested to me that my name didn’t need to be on things – but then, it wasn’t as big a hit as some of their other singles so it sort of proved a point. I quite like the song, actually. People say to me now, “Is that song really yours?” because it doesn’t sound like one of mine.
In America, the credit was B Webb-A Smith.
I don’t know why that is – it may have been a contractual thing, or John might have caught onto the joke and taken a pseudonym too.
Were you CLINT HARRIGAN, who wrote the sleeve notes for Wings Wild Life?
Yes. I like sleevenotes, especially Derek Taylor’s sleevenotes – I like something to read when I’m listening. You see, I come from the time when you used to buy a record and then have a half-hour bus journey home, and so it was always very important to have a note. The Sgt Pepper sleeve was packed with stuff for that very reason. Every album had sleevenotes once, and then suddenly everyone stopped having them, especially in the early 1970s. So I decided to re-invent them: for Wings Wild Life I drew that little cartoon and wrote some words.
Like “Can you dig it?”
Yes, even “Can you dig it?”! Then I thought, I can’t just sign it Paul McCartney, having written about how great the group is, so I made up the name Clint Harrigan. It was the easiest way of doing it, to put someone else’s name there, do a little cartoon and put it out.
And then Clint re-surfaced some years later writing an MPL press release.
That’s right. You can always tell it something is mine because it’s badly written! I’ve got a definite schoolboy writing style. I remember when I was in hospital once, aged 11, I did this pretty good essay about something and then totally blew it at the end by saying “So if you’re ever there, remember to go along and pay a visit!” – it suddenly became a travelogue. I always think back to that, even now, when I’ve got to write anything. There’s something incomplete about the way I write prose. I always stick in some terrible little line that’s a dead giveaway, but I’m working on it.