Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney - Howard Sounes (2010)
PART TWO. AFTER THE BEATLES
Chapter 15. ‘HE’S NOT A BEATLE ANY MORE!’
GOING ON AND ON TO GET HIS OWN WAY
When Paul McCartney heard what Phil Spector had done to his Let It Be songs - to ‘The Long and Winding Road’ in particular - he dictated a stern memo to Allen Klein, copied to his brother-in-law[yer] John Eastman, making it clear that he disliked Spector’s embellishments; explaining that he’d already considered orchestrating ‘The Long and Winding Road’ and chosen not to, so he wanted the strings, horns and choir reduced, the harp removed, his vocal brought up, and the original piano reinstated. McCartney ended his note with the cold authority of somebody used to getting his own way, ordering: ‘Don’t ever do it again.’ Klein paid not a blind bit of notice, and the Spector-produced Let It Be was readied for release. George Martin and Glyn Johns were as dismayed as Paul by what they heard. ‘It’s revolting, the Spector thing. It’s just like puke,’ says Johns, still sounding angry.
McCartney’s mood wasn’t ameliorated by the critical reception of the McCartney LP, released in a sleeve featuring a singularly uninteresting photo, by Linda, of cherries. The record sold very well, going to number one in America and number two in the UK, but the reviews were poor. ‘For most of the trip it’s just a man alone in a small recording studio fiddling around with a few half-written songs and a load of instrumentals,’ opined Melody Maker, then the Bible of British pop. ‘With this record, his debt to George Martin becomes increasingly clear,’ the critic went on, suggesting that without the producer’s input Paul’s work sounded thin. Most listeners agreed then as now that ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ was almost a classic, but Melody Maker found ‘sheer banality’ elsewhere on the album. An irritated Paul responded with a note to the letters page of the music paper, in which he appeared to misunderstand the reference to George Martin. ‘It’s obvious George Martin had a lot to do with it,’ Paul wrote sarcastically. ‘In fact if you listen carefully to the end of the third track played backwards, you can almost hear him whistling.’
Next came the movie Let It Be, which had been bowdlerised by Paul, George and Ritchie inasmuch as they insisted Michael Lindsay-Hogg reduce the screen time given to John and Yoko. Other sequences that Lindsay-Hogg had expected the band to veto were left in, including the Twickenham confrontation between Paul and George, as well as Paul’s attempt at Savile Row to persuade John to get the Beatles back on the road. ‘I was surprised that the thing between Paul and George got in, and I’m surprised that Paul talking to John stayed in, [because] they didn’t want any kind of washing of dirty laundry in public,’ comments the director. Over time George Harrison at least came to regret passing the movie for release. It was Harrison who blocked Apple from reissuing the movie on DVD, which is why it is now virtually impossible to obtain other than as a bootleg. The glimpses into the fraught relationships within the band were in fact the chief interest of Let It Be; that and the rooftop concert, which was a joy to behold, helping make the film and album a success in 1970, the LP going to number one on both sides of the Atlantic, Spector’s embellished version of ‘The Long and Winding Road’ becoming the Beatles’ 27th and last number one single.37
McCartney would never be happy with the single or the LP, and 33 years later he contrived to have the album remixed as Let It Be … Naked. There were losses and gains, with changes to the running order that reinstated a welcome ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ from the rooftop concert, yet dispensed with John’s celebrated ‘I hope we passed the audition’ comment. By 2003 the whole matter of what was the best version of this album was moot because the world had long got used to the Spectorised Let It Be; while the producer himself had bigger problems to deal with, notably a murder charge.38 As he said, ‘[Paul] gets me mixed up with someone who gives a shit.’
Paul turned 28 in June 1970. When the schools broke for the summer holidays, he and Linda took Heather and baby Mary to Kintyre where Paul had the brainwave of making an animated musical of the Rupert the Bear cartoon. The drawings had been running in the Daily Express newspaper since the 1920s, the Rupert Christmas annual being one of the delights of Paul’s childhood. Paul wrote to Derek Taylor at Apple to ask him to investigate optioning the rights to Rupert, emphasising that he didn’t want the other Beatles to know. This was one of the first bits of business McCartney Productions did, with Paul taking over a decade to bring Rupert to the screen. More immediately, he wanted to make another solo album, and in October he and Linda took the kids to New York to start work on the project, staying at Linda’s old apartment.
Session musicians were called to blind auditions at a basement studio a couple of blocks west of Times Square, none told the identity of the artist who wanted to hear them play. One such was 27-year-old Denny Seiwell, a tall, lantern-jawed ex-Navy drummer who was active on the local session scene. Seiwell was amazed to encounter Paul McCartney in a West Side basement. ‘I went right into my Ringo impersonation, ’ says Seiwell, figuring he’d play what Paul knew. Paul duly booked Seiwell and a guitarist to work with him and Linda at the CBS studios in Midtown. Having got used to recording in big rooms at EMI, Paul had asked for and got a similarly commodious studio, one usually reserved for artists like Tony Bennett, who recorded with a full orchestra.
Beatles fans soon heard about the McCartney sessions and gathered at the studio door. They included 16-year-old Linda Magno, a Brooklyn schoolgirl proud to call herself a ‘first generation fan’ in that she caught the Beatles bug when the boys came to the USA in 1964. ‘They don’t sing about violence really, it’s all love, peace,’ she says, explaining her attraction to the group. ‘And if you’re down in the dumps - this is what I’ll tell anybody - if you are having a bad day just turn on a Beatle album.’ Linda started following Paul during his 1970 visit to Manhattan, and continued to do so for years afterwards, becoming perhaps his most devoted American fan. She learned at the outset that Paul had his ‘rules’, about where and when he didn’t mind signing autographs and having his picture taken, and when he definitely didn’t welcome such attention, and if you wanted to have ‘a good experience’ with Paul you paid attention to his rules. In return he would be friendly and cooperative, saying ‘Hi!’, giving the thumbs up, posing for photos and signing memorabilia.
During the New York sessions, one of Paul’s rules was that he didn’t want fans coming round the studio in the morning when he and Linda had Mary with them, because he didn’t want Mary photographed. As soon as he started to have children Paul became mindful that his family might be the target of a kidnap gang, such as the one that infamously snatched the son of the aviator Charles Lindbergh in 1932. Even though a ransom was paid, the kidnap gang murdered the child. ‘[Paul’s] always had [this fear] of some bugger snatching [his kids],’ reveals his cousin Mike Robbins.
Thank you very much, I’ve got Paul McCartney’s baby, I’ve run off with it, and that will cost you four million to get it back. And there are nutters around. His own children, when they were very small, he was watching them like a bloody hawk … He’s always a little bit edgy with strangers round him.
If fans came to the studio in the afternoon, when Mary was with a nanny, he would pose for pictures. So long as fans complied with rules like this they found Paul and Linda reasonably affable, though Linda could be a little short with them sometimes. ‘He’s not a Beatle any more!’ she snapped at fans one day.
In the studio, Paul began to record what became the Ram album, working with Denny Seiwell and session guitarist Dave Spinoza. Linda was there, too, but she spent most of her time minding the kids in the control room. As we have seen, Paul’s début solo album had been a homemade record of fragmentary songs that, upon release, didn’t find favour with the critics. As a result, Paul was determined to make his second solo record more professional, putting more work into the songs, some of which seemed to express his feelings about the break-up of the Beatles, notably ‘Oh Woman, Oh Why’ and ‘Too Many People’, which could be read as an attack on John and Yoko. ‘I really think that Ram was all the angst coming out,’ comments Seiwell. ‘A lot of these tunes were written at the end of the Beatles period and there was a lot of emotion in all of the writing, and the preparation for the tunes, and I think he was getting a lot off his chest.’ There were other musical textures. ‘Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey’ was a song suite with sound effects, strings, comical voices and a tempo change, all features reminiscent of the Beatles. Other songs celebrated family life (‘Eat at Home’). ‘Ram On’ punningly recalled Paul’s stage name for the Scottish tour with Johnny Gentle (Paul Ramon), with Linda singing backing vocals. ‘She wasn’t spot on a lot of the time. But we would just work with what we could, and she did improve over the years,’ says Seiwell, who didn’t view Paul’s wife as a fellow musician, but nonetheless admired her ‘spirit’ in pitching in with them. Paul had originally intended to play with Seiwell for a week, then try out a different drummer, but they were getting on so well they kept recording together, starting work each day around 10:30 a.m., playing until 2:30, then breaking for lunch before continuing into the late afternoon.
Working with the Beatles at EMI, where the band had been cosseted and indulged to a rare degree, Paul was used to having everything and everybody at his disposal when he wanted to record. He didn’t seem to understand that the new people he was working with in America might have other things to do as well. When Dave Spinoza excused himself once or twice to fulfil other commitments, Paul was not pleased, and replaced Spinoza with guitarist Hugh McCracken. McCartney, McCracken and Seiwell worked together until 20 November, by which date Paul had the bulk of Ram, plus an additional catchy love song, ‘Another Day’, which would be his first post-Beatles single.
The McCartneys then returned to Scotland where, as 1970 drew to a close, Paul put his mind to resolving his relationship with the Beatles, telling a reporter:
I think the other three are the most honest, sincere men I have ever met. I love them, I really do. I don’t mind being bound to them as a friend - I like that idea. I don’t mind being bound to them musically, because I like the others as musical partners. I like being in their band. But for my own sanity we must change the business arrangements we have. Only by being completely free of each other financially will we ever have any chance of coming back together as friends …
John Eastman came to Kintyre to discuss the options. The brothers-in-law went for a walk, climbing a hill near the farm, at the top of which Paul reached a momentous decision. ‘We were standing on this big hill which overlooked a loch - it was quite a nice day, a bit chilly - and we’d been searching our souls. Was there any other way? And we eventually said, “Oh, we’ve got to do it.”’ They would go to court to ask a judge to dissolve the Beatles partnership and appoint a receiver to run Apple until a new manager could be agreed. Allen Klein would oppose this, and John, George and Ritchie would line up behind Klein. So Paul would have to sue his band mates.
At the time it looked to many people as if Paul was acting selfishly, motivated by pique. Paul had never liked Klein. He was bitter about Let It Be and the way the release of McCartney had been handled. His character was such that he would never tolerate being told when he could release his records. So in order to win his creative and financial freedom he took his friends to court. In years to come he would argue that the court case was in fact to the ultimate benefit of all four Beatles; by going to court he rescued the band from Allen Klein. ‘I single-handedly saved the Beatles empire! Ha! Ha! He said modestly. I can laugh about it now; it was not so funny at the time,’ McCartney told Barry Miles for his authorised biography, going so far as to comment in Rolling Stone, in 2007, that the court case was the ‘worst moment of my life’. This was surely an exaggeration, bearing in mind the traumatic loss of his mother, and his calamitous second marriage, but the court case was, nevertheless, ‘a horrific thing to go through’.
John, George and Ritchie received letters from Paul’s lawyers informing them that they were being sued by the guy they’d worked with like brothers for years, by their own Macca. It came as a profound shock. ‘I just couldn’t believe it,’ said Ritchie.
The writ was issued on the last day of 1970 in the Chancery Division of the High Court at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, a fantastical Victorian-Gothic building on the Strand. In a preliminary court hearing, McCartney’s barrister, David Hirst QC,39 informed the judge, Mr Justice Stamp, that the Beatles’ finances were in a mess. With the group earning vast sums by the standards of the day, between four and five million pounds sterling in 1970, the Beatles now faced an income tax bill of £678,000 ($1.03m) plus surtax and corporation tax. ‘The latest accounts suggest there is probably not enough in the kitty to meet even the individual Beatles’ income and surtax liability,’ Hirst warned His Lordship. Moreover, the company books were in a lamentable state - McCartney had never been given audited accounts - and Allen Klein was ‘a man of bad commercial reputation’. The matter was adjourned, with Klein issuing a statement that the Beatles’ accounts were not in bad shape, and there was enough money to pay the taxman.
Paul was in Scotland when the initial legal skirmish took place, his attention diverted by the latest issue of Rolling Stone which carried the first sensational instalment of a two-part interview with John Lennon conducted by the magazine’s Editor, Jann Wenner. Under the influence of the new Primal Scream therapy, pioneered by American psychologist Arthur Janov, which encouraged one to let it all hang out, Lennon had given Wenner the unexpurgated scoop on the Beatles. McCartney read with horrified fascination how he’d taken over the leadership of the Beatles after Brian Epstein died, only to lead the band ‘round in circles’ while John, George and Ringo had been made to feel like his sidemen. McCartney ‘thought he was the fuckin’ Beatles, and he never fucking was … none of us were the Beatles, four of us were,’ John growled. Lennon complained about Let It Be. ‘When Paul was feeling kindly he would give me a solo,’ he said of his guitar part on ‘Get Back’, while he asserted that the movie was edited to Paul’s advantage, with scenes involving him and Yoko cut ‘for no other reason than the people were orientated towards Engelbert Humperdinck …’ It was this comparison, to the middle-of-the-road balladeer of ‘Release Me’, that cut McCartney most deeply; that and John’s assessment of his first solo album: ‘I thought Paul’s was rubbish,’ opined Lennon, saying that he (like most people) preferred George’s All Things Must Pass. McCartney studied the article with the morbid fascination of a jilted lover receiving a kiss-off letter. ‘I sat down and pored over every little paragraph, every sentence. “Does he really think that of me?”’ Paul said a couple of years later in 1974. ‘And at the time I thought, “It’s me …That’s just what I’m like. He’s captured me so well; I’m a turd …” [Then] Linda said, “Now, you know that’s not true …”’
Paul came down to London to attend the opening of his court case on 19 February, the first part being an application to appoint a receiver to manage the Beatles’ affairs. Heavily bearded and wearing the same suit he’d worn for the Abbey Road cover, Paul was accompanied by a protective Linda, who clutched his arm as they entered Court 16 of the Royal Courts of Justice. Inside McCartney’s QC listed reasons - including tax offences in the USA - why Klein was not a man to be trusted, and told the judge Paul had never agreed that Klein should represent him. In reply Klein said he was appealing against convictions of having failed to file tax returns, and McCartney hadn’t complained about the enhanced royalties he’d negotiated for the band. The Beatles’ income had increased to £4.3 million a year during his tenure ($6.5m). Now McCartney was trying to extricate himself from the partnership so that he could benefit from his solo career.
The court heard from Lennon, Harrison and Starkey in the form of written affidavits, read aloud by barristers. In his statement, Lennon revealed the chaotic manner in which Apple Corps operated. He had only recently discovered that two company cars Apple had bought had ‘completely disappeared, and that we owned a house which no one can remember buying’. Lennon described fractious business meetings with Klein and the Eastmans, describing Paul’s brother-in-law as ‘excitable and easily confused. Lee Eastman was more impressive at first sight, but after five minutes’ conversation he lost his temper and became quite hysterical, screaming and shouting abuse at Klein’. In his affidavit, George Harrison contrasted a happy, relaxed time he’d spent recently with Bob Dylan in upstate New York with working with Paul, who, he said, had always shown a ‘superior attitude’ to him. George believed, however, that the showdown at Twickenham had cleared the air. ‘Since the row Paul has treated me more as a musical equal …’ In perhaps the most revealing affidavit, Ritchie said: ‘Paul is the greatest bass player in the world. He is also very determined. He goes on and on to see if he can get his own way. While that may be a virtue, it did mean that musical disagreements inevitably arose from time to time.’ On Friday 26 February, as ‘Another Day’ went to number two in the UK charts, Paul went into the witness box to answer these affidavits, telling the court, among other things, of a conversation he’d had with Allen Klein in which Klein blamed Yoko for the discord within the band, saying, ‘The real trouble is Yoko. She is the one with ambition.’ Paul wondered aloud what John would have said if he’d heard that basic truth. He had now.
Leaving the lawyers to get on with the case, Paul and Linda flew to Los Angeles to complete Ram. Despite the good work done in New York, Paul had become bogged down in indecision, unable to select between the 20 or so songs he had recorded. To try and help his brother-in-law finish the record, John Eastman introduced Paul to the fashionable producer Jim Guercio, a fellow Eastman & Eastman client who’d won a Grammy for his work with Blood, Sweat and Tears. Guercio was so keen to produce Paul that he cancelled his honeymoon to help out with Ram, laying down a new track, ‘Dear Boy’, and working to make a final selection from the songs Paul already had in the bag. It was clear McCartney felt under pressure to do better than his début album, partly in answer to Lennon’s criticism of McCartney as Engelbert Humperdinck music. Yet the pressure had a paralysing effect on the star. Instead of finishing Ram in LA, Paul kept fiddling with it, block-booking a Hollywood studio and insisting Guercio was there every day from 10:00 a.m. so they could record, though Paul rarely showed up before mid-afternoon. Then he’d smoke a joint and jam. Guercio tried to assert some discipline, but could not guide or control his star: ‘Paul is not an artist you can direct or collaborate with. You kind of have [to] support his ideas.’ As weeks passed, and the album was no nearer completion, Guercio gave Paul a suggested track listing and told him the engineers could do what was necessary. He had to go. ‘I think he took offence. I said, “No, no, this isn’t personal, Paul, you don’t need me. I can’t come in here every day. We’ve got to finish … I have other obligations … I gave up my damn honeymoon here!’
The McCartneys were still in LA when, on 12 March 1971, Justice Stamp ruled in Paul’s favour at the High Court in London. ‘The appointment of Abkco [Klein’s company], without the concurrence of Paul, was in my judgement a breach of the terms of the partnership deed,’ said the judge. There was no evidence Klein had stolen money from the Beatles, but he had received excessive commission, and McCartney had grounds to distrust the American, whose statements read ‘like the irresponsible patter of a second-rate salesman’. Under the terms of the Partnership Act, the judge appointed an accountant, James Douglas Spooner, to manage the Beatles’ affairs until a full hearing on the issue of dissolving the partnership, which was McCartney’s ultimate goal. The judge expected Paul to be successful, saying: ‘The Beatles have long since ceased to perform as a group.’ McCartney had conducted his case well, with the help of a first-class legal team, showing himself to be a formidable courtroom adversary, one whom judges tended to side with in the future, appreciating his sensible, civil responses to difficult situations. When he went to law, McCartney usually got what he wanted. That evening a thwarted John Lennon threw bricks through the windows of Paul’s London home in a childish attempt to get even with him.
James Spooner therefore became the Beatles’ new, court-appointed manager, though his role was strictly that of a disinterested professional, rather than pop Svengali. He didn’t move into the Apple Building, but undertook his duties from his usual desk in the City of London. Spooner (later Sir James Spooner) got on well with Paul, the little he saw of him, and tended to agree with McCartney’s view that Allen Klein was a crook, while the accountant considered John Lennon simply impossible. ‘John Lennon was a popular hero, a brilliant man, but terribly tiresome,’ he observed, likewise declaring McCartney was correct to sue his band mates. ‘They’d have been bust otherwise. The [others] foolishly took on this crook called Klein as a manager and Klein firstly ripped them off something shocking, by taking a percentage off the gross, rather than off the net, after expenses.’
Sir James alleges that when McCartney failed to sign with Klein in 1969, his signature was actually forged. ‘They wrote some document which they claimed Paul had signed as a partnership deed, or new partnership deed, or new partnership agreement. In fact he wasn’t in the room when it was signed … it was a very crooked piece of paper, as far as I recall.’ Sir James concedes that Klein negotiated an advantageous royalty deal with EMI, ‘the percentage that the Beatles were getting out of EMI was far higher than anybody had ever achieved before, but the trouble was that Klein, as I say, took his cut before any expenses of any sort, or tried to do so’. If Paul hadn’t sued the Beatles, Sir James believes the band would have drowned in debt.
If they hadn’t been a success they’d all have been bankrupt because they had huge tax liabilities on previous years, which nobody had ever helped them [with], or told them how to meet or reserve for. But happily they were earning a million a year each even then, and going upwards, so they were able to pay past tax liabilities out of the current income and future income.
Having won the first round of his legal battle, Paul retreated with Linda to High Park, where he atavistically enjoyed the rural life his Irish forebears had led before Owen Mohin crossed the Irish Sea. Unlike his ancestors Paul was a millionaire smallholder, one who commuted to his steading in a convertible Rolls Royce, or private jet, depending on how much time he had, shearing a few sheep for recreation before leaving the farm in the hands of his estate manager Duncan Cairns, disappearing back down to London or abroad. Neighbours were amazed at the way Paul and Linda flitted about the world. Alec McLean, who farmed adjacent High Ranachan Farm with his brother Duncan, was cutting thistles one afternoon in May 1971 when he saw Paul and Linda driving down to the main road. The McCartneys stopped to say hello, and mentioned that they were on their way to a wedding. Alec wished them well, imagining this was a local wedding. When he turned on the television that night, he discovered that in the few hours since he’d seen Paul and Linda they’d flown to France to attend Mick Jagger’s nuptials.
Despite the remoteness of High Park, fans increasingly found their way to the farm. One morning the McLeans were getting their cows in when their dog started sniffing round the sheds. Duncan discovered five hippies inside. They wanted to practise their yoga near a Beatle. The hippies turned out to be nice people, but other fans could be worrying. ‘I’ve been working at the sink and looked around and somebody was peeking in the window, thinking this was maybe [Paul’s house],’ says Alice McLean. One Christmas Day a man came to the door asking where Paul lived, saying he had to see him. ‘He said he wrote songs and the more I engaged him in conversation the more I realised he was quite cracked - he was a musician, and he was victimised.’ When the McCartneys became aware that such people were in the area, or if they knew the press were up, Linda would ring round and apologise for any inconvenience, reminding her neighbours to please not tell strangers where they lived. Linda proved adept at befriending local people, fitting surprisingly snugly into Kintyre life. The American particularly enjoyed hailing Scottish neighbours with the local cry of ‘Hoots happenin’ in the wee toon? ’,40 which sounded very amusing coming from a foreigner.
One of the most bothersome fans was a Mormon girl from Utah. She camped with a friend on the edge of a wood within 100 yards of Paul’s farmhouse, watching the McCartneys from the trees. ‘And they couldn’t move them,’ recalls neighbour Rory Colville, ‘as long as they didn’t intrude they could sit there all day with their binoculars and watch Paul.’ In the summer of 1971, the Mormon complained to the local police that Paul had assaulted her: ‘Paul came out of the house and drove up in his Land Rover. He jumped out and began shouting and swearing. I don’t remember much about what happened, but my nose was bleeding. ’ Paul confirmed that he had confronted the girl, but denied assault. ‘For three years now I have been asking her politely - pleading with her - to leave me and my family alone. She refuses to recognise that I am married with a family.’ Nothing came of the complaint and Paul ultimately solved the problem by buying the wood in which the girls had camped. This was the start of a process of purchasing adjacent tracts of land, indeed whole farms, as they came on the market, to gain privacy. When Archie Revie at Low Ranachan retired, Paul bought his 304 acres, plus his farmhouse, which the star began to use as a rehearsal space and accommodation for visiting musicians. Next he bought Low Park Farm from the McDougals, by which time it was difficult to gain a glimpse of Paul’s cottage without straying onto his land.
Despite the occasional intruder, Paul and his family continued to enjoy High Park, and their happy life there is commemorated on Ram, particularly the song ‘Heart of the Country’, while the album cover features a photo Linda took of Paul shearing their Black Face sheep. Inside, the album was illustrated with a collage of snapshots, many of which were also taken by Linda on the property, emphasising the fact that, although they had employed session musicians and indeed an orchestra to make Ram, this was another homemade McCartney production, one in which all the songs were credited to Paul and Linda McCartney. This may have been a ruse. Under the terms of the contracts he had signed as a Beatle, any songs Paul wrote until 1973 were owned by Northern Songs and an entity named Maclen Music. By crediting new songs to Paul and Linda McCartney, he clawed back half the royalties. How much writing Linda actually did is questionable, and indeed Paul’s publishers took the view that his wife wasn’t capable of being his co-writer, suing him on that basis (the dispute was later settled out of court). Paul said in their defence (making one feel somewhat sorry for Linda):
You know - suddenly she marries him and suddenly she’s writing songs. ‘Oh sure (wink, wink). Oh, sure, she’s writing songs.’ But actually one day I just said to her, ‘I’m going to teach you how to write if I have to strap you to the piano bench.’ … I like to collaborate on songs [and] if I can have Linda working with me, then it becomes like a game. It’s fun. So we wrote about ten songs [together].
For many people, Ram is one of Paul’s best solo albums, with a Beatles sparkle, notably on ‘Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey’, which became a hit single, as indeed Ram was a very successful album, reaching number one in the UK, number two in the US charts. Ram is certainly more highly finished than McCartney and it has an abundance of catchy tunes. Despite all the prevarication over the final song selection there was, however, a sense that Paul had released a record that still needed work. The lyrics are so-so, ranging from veiled sarcasm (‘Too Many People’) to simplistic celebrations of love (‘Long Haired Lady’) via novelty (‘Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey’). Taken as a whole, there is a lack of discipline and focus as there was on McCartney, as well as a sense that, without a strong collaborator like John Lennon, or an authoritative producer like George Martin, Paul struggled to distinguish between what was good enough to release and what would be better cut.
Although frequently derided, the rock music of the early 1970s was often superb. Recent months had yielded Bridge Over Troubled Water (Simon and Garfunkel), Hot Rats (Frank Zappa), All Things Must Pass (George Harrison), Tapestry (Carole King) and Blue (Joni Mitchell); with Who’s Next (The Who), Led Zeppelin’s untitled fourth album, and David Bowie’s Hunky Dory soon to follow. All these records had a musical and/or intellectual weight that made them great in their day, and marks them as classics now. Ram is not and never was in the same class, which is concerning because there was much more of this sort of music to come from Paul McCartney. All such judgements are, of course, subjective. Many fans loved Ram. Other listeners wondered what had happened to the man who had been a prime mover in the world’s greatest pop band. While it had been ridiculous to suggest in 1969 that Paul McCartney was dead, one might wonder if he’d undergone a lobotomy before leaving the Beatles.
Whimsy had always been one of Paul’s musical moods, as it was one of John’s. In the context of the Beatles it was charming - Paul’s ‘Yellow Submarine’, for example, John’s ‘I am the Walrus’ - but in Paul’s solo career whimsy too often became annoying. There is a surfeit on McCartney and Ram, and in June 1971 Paul indulged this side of himself to the full by hiring session musicians to record light orchestral versions of the Ram songs. One of the musicians hired for the gig was Clem Cattini, who’d known Paul when the Beatles were playing the ABC Blackpool and Clem was drumming with the Tornados on the North Pier. ‘I crapped myself a bit when I walked in[to Abbey Road] and I’m doing a session for Paul McCartney.’ Paul wasn’t going to play on this new record himself, just direct. To play bass, he hired Brian ‘Herbie’ Flowers. Also on the sessions were the Mike Sammes Singers, a vocal group who sang on ‘I am the Walrus’, but more typically emitted the oohs and aahs on television commercials. Partly as a result, the record they made at Abbey Road sounds like incidental television music, with a soupçon of the tea dance. Jim Mac’s Band must have sounded similar. While Paul naturally enjoyed hearing his tunes orchestrated, with the help of the arranger Richard Hewson, one suspects he may have made these curious recordings primarily to please his father. In short, this was an indulgence. It was also an anachronism in the context of his career and it wasn’t released for six years. When Paul did finally put this odd record out, he did so as quietly as possible under a pseudonym, titling the album Thrillington after an invented character named Percy ‘Thrills’ Thrillington ‘Born in Coventry Cathedral in 1939’. Somehow this wasn’t as amusing as Paul obviously thought it was.
More importantly, in the week of the Thrillington session, Paul formally adopted eight-year-old Heather See as his daughter. Although a couple of hippies in many respects, there was a traditional parental firmness to Paul and Linda McCartney. ‘We explain to Heather that she can’t have too much ice-cream or that sweets will ruin her teeth - that sort of thing,’ Paul said. ‘She’s going to get the lot when she’s 21 and I want her to have learned how to cope when that time comes. I don’t want her to be a spoilt little brat. We’re really quite strict with her in some ways.’ Indeed some observers felt Paul was stricter with Heather than his own natural children. As yet, Heather could only be measured against Mary McCartney, who was coming up for two, but Lin was pregnant again.
Having begun to extricate himself from the Beatles, and having released two exploratory solo albums, Paul’s next move was to form a band. He intended to develop the group slowly, as the Beatles had been able to grow naturally, enjoying the process of playing small shows again, and making records in a relaxed collaborative atmosphere.
When it came to choosing the members, Paul first telephoned the New York session men he had been working with on Ram, Denny Seiwell and Hugh McCracken, inviting the guys and their wives over to Scotland. ‘I thought he meant take a vacation,’ says Seiwell, who arrived in the UK with his wife Monique on 23 June 1971. ‘That’s when he says, “Yeah, I’ve invited Hugh up here as well. I’m thinking of putting together a band.”’ Seiwell hadn’t been to the UK before, and its Scottish extremities were a culture shock. ‘It wasn’t as much fun as I thought it was going to be.’ He and Monique, and Hugh and Holly McCracken, were put up at the Argyle Arms Hotel in Campbeltown, where they found the food disappointing while the nights were so cold they had to go to bed with hot water bottles. And this was supposed to be summer!
Although it was only a short drive from the Argyle Arms to Paul’s farm, High Park seemed incredibly remote and basic to the New Yorkers, who wondered, as many others would, why such a rich man chose to rough it like this, not appreciating that Paul and Linda enjoyed a rustic contrast to their metropolitan life. ‘Two bedrooms and a kitchen, a cement floor. The walls were finished in unpainted pine. It was very, very bare,’ says Seiwell, ticking off the primitive features. Recording equipment was set up in an adjacent lean-to shed, which Paul named Rude Studios: a nod to reggae influences (Paul and Lin had recently started to holiday in the Caribbean and loved reggae music). The McCartneys showed their American friends over the farm, and had a few drinks with them in the evening. Relaxed and convivial though Paul was, one subject was obviously out of bounds. Paul did not mention the Beatles, and without anything being said the American visitors understood that they shouldn’t ask him about the band.
Music-making started awkwardly. ‘As we were leaving, Linda said, “Would you mind coming back tomorrow and maybe leaving your wives at home? We’re going to spend the day playing some music,”’ Seiwell recalls. This didn’t go down well with Monique and Holly. Having come to Scotland with their husbands for what they thought was to be a vacation, the American women were obliged to entertain themselves at the Argyle Arms while their menfolk made music with the McCartneys up at High Park. After a few days of this, Hugh McCracken told Paul that he and his wife had to go back to New York. Hugh didn’t want to be in Paul’s band. The Seiwells were also going back to New York, but Denny told Paul he would return if he wanted him.
The nucleus of the new group therefore became Paul, Linda and Denny Seiwell. As yet Linda didn’t play an instrument. Paul was sure she could pick up keyboards, so when they got back to London Lin went for lessons with an elderly Cavendish Avenue neighbour named Mrs Matthews. The lessons didn’t go well. ‘Mrs Matthews gave up. She said, “I can’t teach you any more!”’ recalls Evelyn Grumi, whose family occupied the apartment over Mrs Matthews’s basement flat in Cavendish Avenue, across from Paul, and were thereby obliged to listen to Linda plonking about on the piano. ‘Mrs Matthews said, “I’ve had enough of her, she’s stupid, she doesn’t even know her right hand from her left.”’ So it was that Paul found himself in a band with a woman who could neither sing nor play. As George Martin remarked drily, ‘I don’t think Linda is a substitute for John Lennon.’
To be fair, Linda never pretended to be Paul’s musical peer. She didn’t really want to be in the band at all. It was Paul’s fancy that his wife should work with him. He found it ‘comforting’. Professional sidemen would cover Linda’s bum notes. Her value was the moral support she gave Paul. More than a wife and band member, he saw Linda as his career partner now, using her as his link with the world, which is to say that Mrs McCartney was the one who made calls on Paul’s behalf, getting information he wanted, screening out people he didn’t want to speak to, making the peace with those he’d upset, and dispensing hard news. It was of course Paul who wanted Monique Seiwell and Holly McCracken out of the way so he, Denny, Hugh and Lin could jam together at High Park, but he delegated the ticklish task of telling the women they were surplus to requirements to Lin, a tough broad who grew tougher during their long marriage.
Still, Paul also felt the need of a more experienced musician in the band, someone he could write with, play with and sing harmony with, as he had with Lennon. He chose Denny Laine, a musician he’d known since the early 1960s when Denny had fronted the Midlands band the Diplomats. The musician’s given name was Brian Hines, born in Birmingham of Romany Gypsy descent in 1944. He took the stage name of Laine in honour of Cleo Laine and Frankie Laine, two singers he admired. Denny was a childhood nickname. A friendly, easy-going guy with a broad Birmingham accent and a wide love of music, particularly jazz and blues, in 1964 Denny co-founded the Moody Blues, who supported the Beatles on tour and went to number one with ‘Go Now’. Denny knew the Beatles well by this stage. ‘All the boys were friends of mine … I used to go to the clubs with Paul and Jane Asher, and we used to talk forever about music … I used to go to the parties, I went to Abbey Road to some of their Sgt. Pepper sessions.’ As a result, Denny was relaxed around Paul, not somebody who would ask a lot of star-struck questions about the Beatles. ‘I think that’s why Paul wanted me in the band - because he knew I wouldn’t bring up all that stuff. That’s kind of boring for him.’ In 1966 Denny left the Moodies to form the Electric String Band, after which he played briefly with Ginger Baker’s Air Force. Always bad with money, Denny was unemployed, broke, and sleeping in his manager’s office when Paul called offering him a gig. ‘Hey man, how’s it going? Long time no see. Fancy putting a band together?’ McCartney asked, as Denny recalls their perfunctory conversation.
‘Yeah, great. That’s perfect timing. I’m doing nothing … I’ll see you tomorrow.’ Denny flew to Scotland the next day, meeting Linda McCartney and Denny Seiwell at the farm.
Confusingly, this meant there were now two men named Denny in the band, both hired on a salary basis and initially paid a retainer of £70 a week ($107). This was a reasonable wage in 1971, when you could rent a house for £5 a week ($7.65), but certainly not riches, especially not for Seiwell who had the additional expense of relocating from New York to the UK. He and Monique rented a farm near the McCartneys initially, Laine staying as their house guest. Money soon became an issue with Seiwell, whereas happy-go-lucky Laine was more relaxed about it. ‘I wasn’t looking for anything more than that to start with, because I knew there would be a deal along the line, that it was just a retainer so we wouldn’t go off and do something else.’
Not long after the formation of the band, the McCartneys returned to London so that Lin could give birth to her third child, Paul’s second. She went into labour at King’s College Hospital and it was a long and complicated labour, Linda finally giving birth on 13 September 1971 to a daughter the couple named Stella Nina McCartney. So anxious had Paul been about the difficult pregnancy, and so thankful was he that mother and daughter had come through OK, that he imagined a guardian angel with wings standing over the family. It was this image that gave him the name for the new band. They would be Wings.