- Timeline See what happened in February 1972
- Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, UK
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Written by Mark Lewisohn and originally published in the summer of 1995 in Club Sandwich #74, the magazine from Paul McCartney’s official fun club:
Take a walk in Central London, just a few hundred yards from St James’s Palace, scene of Paul’s recent concert success described elsewhere in this Sandwich. Tread the better class of paving stone you will find on The Mall, that most well-heeled of London boulevards – boasting, as it does, Buckingham Palace at one end and Trafalgar Square at the other. And soon you will arrive at the glorious piece of Georgian architecture that houses the Institute of Contemporary Arts, or the ICA as it is more commonly known.
Step inside love, and step back 23 years from that Royal College of Music evening, and you have the setting for one of the juiciest of films, still unseen, that resides in the prodigious Paul McCartney movie archive.
Wings were just a few months old, and only a few days into becoming a fully-rounded quintet, when Paul led the band through a short period of rehearsals on the stage and behind the firmly-closed doors of the tiny theatre-cum-cinema inside the ICA. No one knew Wings were there – there were no fans outside the front door, and none of the passengers inside the taxis and chauffeur-driven cars heading towards Buckingham Palace knew either – but important ground-laying work was being done in this short period, cementing Wings as a unit, ready, with jack, to hit the road. Club Sandwich 74
On one of these days Paul decided, at short notice, to have the rehearsal filmed, and remembered a sound recordist called Dick Spicer who had been up to the Mull of Kintyre recently to help film family man and guitarist Paul McCartney enjoying leisurely times down on the farm. Spicer had formed a business partnership with a cameraman, Phil Mottram, and together, calling themselves Tycho Films, they were invited by Paul to bring their equipment to the ICA for a day. In so doing, although they little realised it at the time, they shot the first performance film of Paul McCartney since the Beatles’ Get Back/Let It Be sessions in January 1969, more than three years earlier. (Indeed, the feel of the ICA footage is reminiscent of that earlier production.)
“At first Paul wanted it filmed in 35mm,” remembers Phil Mottram now, “but Dick and I persuaded him that we couldn’t really lay that on at six hours’ notice. We would have needed a larger crew and a major lighting rig. As it was, although I was nominally called the ‘director’, I was really the cameraman. And Dick, although nominally the ‘producer’, was really just the sound recordist. I also rigged up the lights. We had a basic three-man crew and what we shot was very much in the dnema-verite style. Basically, the end result was just rushes. I don’t know if Paul had a long-term idea in the back of his mind for the film, but in this case he certainly didn’t get around to doing anything with it.”
Indeed he didn’t. To view the ICA film today one has to wade through a mass of odds and ends of 16mm film, some of it synchronised to sound, some not. The film runs out in the most irritating – but unavoidable – of places, and the whole experience is rather trying. (Which is no less than the norm for watching any rough, unedited film material.) In short, the ICA footage would make for an excellent production when edited, but such a luxury has never come its way. There’s always time, though.
One thing is for certain: if the ICA film was ever to be finished, the viewer would be in for a treat. Nowhere else can one see Wings taking flight in this way; nowhere else can one watch Paul & Co running through tracks like ‘Lucille’, ‘The Mess’, Wild Life’, ‘Bip Bop’ and ‘Blue Moon Of Kentucky’, plus, so interesting that they deserve to follow this artificial and entirely redundant break in the list, ‘Seaside Woman’ and ‘Give Ireland Back To The Irish’.
The inclusion of this last song neatly dates the session. Reacting swiftly to the sorry upturn in political events in Ulster, Wings had recorded Paul’s Irish lament on 1 February 1972. A little over a week later, on the 9th, they took off on their now almost fabled university tour, traversing the highways of Britain while looking for places to play unannounced concerts. The ICA rehearsals fell in between these two events.
So while there’s no known film of Wings on that college outing, the ICA rehearsal footage captures the band at this most interesting and pivotal of moments. It shows, too, the band’s initial sessions with new guitarist Henry McCullough. Henry had not been a Wing when the band taped debut album Wild Life in the closing overs of 1971, but he provided a much-needed presence on lead guitar, obligatory for the anticipated stage work.
As for ‘Give Ireland Back To The Irish’, it’s easy to spot that the cameras deliberately tried to capture footage for a promotional film for the song, ultimately never produced because its political nature led to an instant airplay ban. It’s difficult to credit today the paranoia that banned records then generated, and as well to recall that the BBC not only forbade the playing of the record but the very mention of its name. As a consequence, the then Radio 1 disc-jockey Tony Blackburn, when reading out a Top 30 chart run-down in March 1972, had to stop himself when he said “And, at number 17, ‘Give Ire…'” and replace it with “And, at number 17, a record by Wings”. Those were the days, my friend – and thank goodness they’re behind us now.
Viewed chronologically, which seems a smart idea, the ICA film opens with a shot of the exterior of the building, a scene-setting cornerstone on which everything else follows. Soon enough, three Wings – Henry, Denny S and Denny L – each buttoned up against the biting February wind and drizzle (silver rain was evidently falling down that day in London town), individually walk up to and into the ICA building. Then, without any warning, the viewer is thrust into a ballsy version of ‘Lucille’. Like I said, this is raw footage. When the camera stops turning so the film ends. When it begins again, so does the image. There are no pretty fade-ups or neat introductions here.
‘Lucille’ is a blast, the sound cranked-up through outsize Fender amps that had become de rigeur in the few short years since Paul had last trodden a concert stage. (A case now, excuse me, of “those were the dais”.) As cameraman, Phil Mottram was in no position to avoid the ear-perforating sound. “It’s 23 years since the shoot and, to tell you the truth, what I can remember most about it today is the earth-shattering noise,” he says. “It’s only a very small cinema at the ICA and Wings produced quite a sound. They had what I gather was a typical live rig, and I seem to remember trying to film them through the projection port at one stage, just to get away from the front of stage. We were at the ICA only one day but I couldn’t hear well for at least two weeks afterwards.”
Wearing a fashionable (honest, it was) woollen tank-top, shod in sneakers and fingering a four-string Rickenbacker bass, Paul brought ‘Lucille’ to end in his customary rave manner, and then led the band into ‘The Mess’, one of the more obscure, certainly the most disjointed, of McCartney song releases. (No studio version has ever been issued, and the world has to thank a live recording taped in Holland and released on the B-side of the ‘My Love’ single for knowing it.) This ICA rehearsal version didn’t get very far before Paul brought it to a shuddering halt, though. “Wait a minute, wait a minute,” he urged fellow Wings members. “Let’s all c-o-o-l down a little. We’re all a little excited and it’s a bit too fast. Let’s just sit back…and forget them.” (“Them”, here, meant the film cameras – Paul was instructing Wings to imagine that the film crew wasn’t present and play it like they had the day before.) Several takes of ‘The Mess’ were captured on film during this day, not all of them complete, and not without further positive encouragement from Paul to the band that they could “do it better”.
New songs? Wings were full of them at this time, Paul having decided to leave out the small matter of some 200+ Beatles recordings from his repertoire in order to, a) not re-tread old ground, and, b) give the new band a chance to build a canon of its own with which to blast the concert audiences. ‘Seaside Woman’ was very new, Linda having been inspired to compose her first song during the McCartneys’ pre-Christmas 1971 holiday in Jamaica. Only three years earlier she had been a New York-based photographer, now she was composer, singer and keyboardist in a hot rock combo – and, in the ICA footage at least, looking surprisingly at ease in her new guise. The available film includes two takes of ‘Seaside Woman’, possibly the only time that a band performance of it has been shot.
Not that the ICA film is always so eventful. Being a rehearsal session, there’s plenty of between-songs idleness, long shots of cigarettes being pulled and Cokes being drunk, roadies moving amps and drums and some fairly shaky camera work as Phil Mottram, moving as he filmed, bumped into people and pieces of equipment. There’s a brief jam session at one point featuring Denny Laine picking at his guitar whilst lying flat on the floor, Linda shaking a tambourine and Paul playing the drums, but, truth be told, it doesn’t amount to much.
But there are other surprises too: ‘Bip Bop’, a nice enough track from the Wild Life album which even Paul has since admitted he “didn’t really finish off”, comes across well in the ICA film, and there are some newly-arranged backing “oh-oh-oh”s behind Paul’s lead vocal on ‘Wild Life’, in which, also, Paul deliberately sings the word “aminals” at one point, as he did on the record.
Perhaps the most interesting bit of the film occurs near the end, though, as Paul leads the band into a rehearsal of’My Love’. Familiar to us again now following its popular revival on the New World Tour, the song is all of 22 years old, having been first issued in 1973. In 1972, then, using great powers of deduction, it must have been minus one, and was therefore something of a work-in-progress. Paul has since told the story of how, in the studio recording, with an orchestra waiting to strike up, guitarist Henry suddenly asked if he could change the long-arranged solo, duly going on to produce a stirring piece of playing that graced this already graceful McCartney ballad. The ICA film proves what the instrumental break originally sounded like. In fact, this February 1972 performance was one of Henry’s first ever stabs at the number, which explains why, in the film, Paul can be seen asking him, before they started, “How do you feel on ‘My Love’?” The answer is that Henry coped OK, sort of.. .but there’s little doubt that the studio version worked much better.
After about 85 minutes of film, including a rough-n-ready version of ‘Blue Moon Of Kentucky’, done again by Paul in the Unplugged show of 1991, and a brief jam of ‘Maybellene’, the day’s rehearsal was over. Gentleman McCartney helped his wife down off the high stage, looked into Phil Mottram’s camera and mugged “It’s been very nice being filmed today…thank you very much for having us.”
That said, the members of Wings went their separate ways until the morrow. Phil Mottram and Dick Spicer dismantled their equipment and went home, and the film, once it had been synced up, was consigned to the MPL vault for safe keeping. Roughly-produced papers stuck inside the film cans prove that someone has since viewed the material with an eye to its creative use, but this was evidently a long time ago because the notes are typed, with indentations made on the paper, and the machines that did this disappeared from modern offices some years ago.
With the exception of a very brief extract from the performance of ‘Lucille’ that was included in the 1978 TV special Wings Over The World and the 1986 programme The Paul McCartney Special, the ICA footage remains unseen. It deserves better and maybe, just maybe, one day, it will reap those desserts.
From WINGSPAN: PAUL MCCARTNEY’S BAND ON THE RUN:
We found a place in London called the ICA – the Institute of Contemporary Arts – where artists could practice; and there was a cafe so we could get lunch. I liked the place, and it allowed bands to rehearse. We went in and started working on some new songs. I’d just written one called The Mess so we rehearsed that. Above all, we tried to get the band together.Paul McCartney
Last updated on October 29, 2018