Interview for The Republican • Sunday, September 25, 2005

Yesterday and Today - Rock's renaissance man is back on the road

Press interview • Interview of Paul McCartney
Published by:
The Republican
Interview by:
Kevin O'Hare
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Interview

After all, besides being one of the most recognizable faces on the planet, Paul McCartney is a singer, songwriter, painter, classical composer, avant-garde instrumentalist, occasional actor, activist, rich guy, family guy and keeper of one of the greatest musical legacies of the past century. Oh, and there’s that ex-Beatle thing. At 63, it seems Sir Paul has done it all, but McCartney is hardly slowing down, as he’s currently barnstorming around the U.S., touring behind one of his best solo albums in years “Chaos and Creation in the Backyard.” (His sold out tour plays the TD Banknorth Garden – formerly the FleetCenter – in Boston tomorrow and Tuesday). On a mid-September evening, three nights into the tour, McCartney spoke on a wide variety of subjects during an interview prior to a show at Atlanta’s Philips Arena. He’d just completed his soundcheck, warming up while rocking through songs like “San Francisco Bay Blues,” “Midnight Special,” “C Moon,” “Lady Madonna,” “Coming Up,” Carl Perkins’ “Honey Don’t” and “Matchbox,” and what he termed “a goofy jam about Atlanta.” Pondering his predilection for working almost continuously, McCartney said it really dates back to his family and his roots in England. “My Liverpool family – I ‘spose I saw so many people kind of out of work and I’d be lying on the floor as a kid and hearing parents and relatives talking about how they were getting a pension and how their job was really good and hearing about how somebody was out of work – all that working class stuff just made me think. And then I used to see a lot of people arguing and I figured out, I’m not alone. And what they’d argue about was money. So I tried to take that out of the equation. I just sort of grew up with the idea that working was a good thing. Luckily it translated into my hobby.” That hobby has taken him to amazing heights, first with John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr in The Beatles in the 1960s, then on to Wings in the ’70s, and now on his own. Where he once steered clear of performing old Beatles’ songs in concert, his recent tours have been loaded with them. Each time he hits the road for a new tour, McCartney digs out a few more Fab Four classics, many that he hasn’t played on stage for a long, long time. For example, during the early shows on this tour, he’s been doing songs like “Please Please Me,” “For No One,” “I Will,” and “Helter Skelter,” alongside the more obvious masterworks such as “Hey Jude,” and “Let It Be.” Asked what he remembered most about “Please Please Me,” which was released in England in 1962 – two full years before Beatlemania hit the U.S. – McCartney was at ease reminiscing. “My main memory was coming down in our very early recording days and (Beatles producer) George Martin asking us what songs we had to offer. John offered ‘Please Please Me.’ It was mainly his song, though I sang it with him. But his original version was quite slow. It was very much like a Roy Orbison song. (McCartney sings a verse in the original style) So it was very sort of Orbison, melodramatic. George Martin said ‘Let’s try it fast,’ and we all went ‘No.’ He said ‘Please let’s try it. We can always go back, if you don’t think it works.’ He was very diplomatic and very clever that way. So we tried it fast and thought, that’s pretty cool. And that became our first hit. And when we recorded it and had it in the can, George Martin said ‘This is gonna be your first No. 1.’ And that was very nice, and it was. He was right.” McCartney recalled writing “For No One” “in a Swiss chalet while I was on a skiing holiday.” He wrote it on guitar although it ended up being a keyboard-based song. He also said that the most memorable thing about that recording was putting the French Horn solo on it during recording sessions in May of 1966. The Beatles were slated to work with one instrumentalist but he died in a car accident a month before the studio session. Then they hired one of England’s finest classical players, Alan Civil. “I wrote out a little solo,” McCartney said. “And I had a note that actually was just out of the range of the French horn. And you get these great musicians that give you sort of a look and they go ‘Um, surely this is, um, um.’ And you give them a little look like ‘Can you do it?’ And they give you a little look like ‘Yes I can.’ It’s really a great moment. It ruins it for all the other horn players who can’t do it, but the greats will always go that little extra.” The Beatles’ massive influence on music and culture and fashion has never been in doubt, though McCartney was often considered the one who wrote the softer, more pop-oriented material, whereas Lennon was viewed as the tougher rocker. Yet it was the bass-playing McCartney who wrote what may have been the band’s most outrageous hard rock song and blueprint for the entire heavy metal genre, “Helter Skelter.” He’s doing that song on this tour too, even though the raucous vocal could challenge any singer, never mind someone in their 60s. “It’s pretty hard (to sing) y’know but I kind of enjoy it,” McCartney said. “We stick it near the end of the show so it’s an all-or-nothing kind of thing. So I just have a good old scream out.” Though he’s very comfortable doing Beatles’ songs on stage – and the audience loves them – McCartney generally steers clear of doing songs where Lennon sang the lead vocal. “It makes more sense really,” McCartney said. “There are a lot of the records like ‘Get Back’ which I mainly wrote and I sang. So it makes more sense ’cause I’m bringing the audience the voice that wrote and sang it … It’s OK to hear Harry Connick do ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco,’ but it’s kind of better to hear Tony Bennett do it. So it’s sort of for that reason that I do it.” However, he made an exception several tours back when he went back home to Liverpool and wanted to play something special in memory of his murdered bandmate. “It really was a tribute to John and I knew we were gonna go to Liverpool. It was our hometown, our final gig on that particular tour and I knew I wanted to do something of John’s. So we cooked up ‘Strawberry Fields’ and ‘Give Peace a Chance.’ We did a little medley of some of John’s stronger stuff. Of course you couldn’t get the Liverpool crowd to stop. It just went into the night ’cause the crowd kept singing.” Since the Beatles breakup in 1970, and especially now with Lennon and Harrison both deceased, McCartney doesn’t have the luxury of working alongside the people who knew him best. He’s recorded with contemporaries like Brian Wilson, and performed with acclaimed artists such as Neil Young, but when asked if there’s any one artist he’d like to record a full album with, he was blunt: “I doubt it,” he said. “I think they’d spring to mind fairly quickly if there was. It’s a funny thing. Having worked with The Beatles, having worked with Wings and now working with this band, the idea of working with someone other than your own people is something that appeals to me only on a kind of one at a time basis.” So he recently recorded a duet with George Michael for an album of Michael’s due next year, and McCartney also recorded “Too Much Heaven,” with Robin Gibb for a forthcoming tribute album to Gibb’s late brother and Bee Gees’ partner Maurice Gibb. “It was great to do,” McCartney said in reference to “Too Much Heaven.” “That’s one of the records when I bring it home, it’s very popular. It’s one of those ‘Put it on again, put it on again,’ things, so that’s a good sign.” Playing different songs is always a treat for McCartney, and sometimes they’re even his own. The man who gave away wondrous compositions like “Woman,” to Peter & Gordon and “On The Wings of a Nightingale” to the Everly Brothers has recently been heard rehearsing one of his best non-Beatles’ songs from the 1960s: “Come and Get It,” which became a huge hit for Badfinger. Might that make its way into this tour’s set list? “We were working it up,” McCartney said in reference to “Come and Get It.” “But suddenly you have like 38 songs, so we couldn’t stick it in …There are nice little things, but some others take precedent over them … OK, we’ll have to leave ‘Come and Get It’ out. But it’s nice to play them and reevaluate them and see if we get a buzz off of them. And anything we get a buzz off goes into the set.” He’s mixing the vintage material on tour with several tracks from “Chaos and Creation in the Backyard,” which has generated predominantly glowing reviews since its release. The disc was produced by Nigel Godrich, who’d been previously best known for his work with Radiohead and Beck. Given McCartney’s status, it’s sometimes tough for him to get straight opinions on his music. That was not the case when it came to working with Godrich however, and McCartney says he treasured that frankness. “That’s really where it’s at,” McCartney said. “That mainly used to come from your band members who would just sort of say, ‘Aw, let’s not do that’ or something. But the thing about Nigel, I knew from the minute I met him I could see he was conscious of that element and he wasn’t going to do it … He’s a very good producer and he brought honesty, he brought great sound and he brought very definite opinions on what he likes and doesn’t like. So that was good to have somebody with that absolute definite opinion.” One of the most uptempo tracks on the new album is the lead single, “Fine Line,” which many people have interpreted as being a political song. “It’s funny isn’t it? Because it was first inspired just by the idea that some people will jump off a cliff or drive a car off a cliff and think they’re courageous. When someone like me will think it’s actually just reckless. But I must say I was listening to it a couple of weeks ago and it suddenly struck me that it did have quite a political message. I suddenly realized you could apply it to troops serving abroad. ‘C’mon brother, all is forgiven/ We all cried when you were driven away.’ It’s strange. I hadn’t meant that, but that’s one of the things I think is very interesting about writing songs. Because you can write one way with one meaning, and suddenly they can become applicable in other ways. But I like that. I want people to be able to draw their own meanings from songs. I would never say ‘No it must mean this.'” The man who seems to never stop working has several other projects that have been on hold, that fans have been waiting years for. One is the expected DVD release of the Beatles’ 1970 film “Let It Be,” a documentary that vividly details some of the events that led to their breakup. “I understand they’ve been cleaning the film up and it’s looking great,” McCartney said. “I should think that is coming … but I haven’t asked how long it’s going to take.” Then there was the infamous “Hot Hitz and Cold Cutz,” an often rumored album of Wings and McCartney solo rarities dating back to the 1970s. It includes some extraordinary unreleased songs including “Tragedy” and “Cage.” “Those songs, I think they appear all on bootlegs,” McCartney said. “They’re all around, I just never got quite inspired enough. I remember somebody saying ‘Why would you call an album ‘Cold Cutz’? It sounds like a failure right there. That kind of put me off.” Told that others strongly disagree McCartney quipped, “Well you put it out then.” He added, “I know there are a lot of people interested in that kind of thing. I think someday when I have a little bit of time, I might sort of look around at all that stuff that’s been bootlegged or hasn’t been released and figure out some way of getting it out.” Finally, he talked about one of the last great mysterious “lost” Beatles’ tracks, a psychedelic era romp called “Carnival of Light,” that remains locked away in the vaults, heard by only a few insiders for decades. “Yeah, now that would be interesting. I know we were thinking of trying to get it on the ‘Anthology’ but it got voted off. It’s a little too avant-garde or something. But it was a nice piece to do. I think it’s kind of important in the scheme of things.”

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