Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney - Howard Sounes (2010)
PART TWO. AFTER THE BEATLES
Chapter 17. IN THE HEART OF THE COUNTRY
Paul led Wings out on a UK tour in the spring of 1973, playing to their largest audiences yet, including a show at the Liverpool Empire on 18 May. Liverpool had declined since Beatlemania briefly revived the city’s profile. The docks closed in 1972, primarily due to competition from more modern ports, the waterways soon silting up and the warehouses falling into desuetude, exacerbating unemployment. At the same time, the city centre was radically modernised, with the demolition of St John’s Market, through which Paul had wandered many a time to and from Lime Street Station. In its place was erected a monolithic shopping plaza, car park and hotel complex, surmounted by a 450ft ventilation tower known as St John’s Beacon. At the top of this concrete tower was a modish revolving restaurant. This monstrosity now faced the visitor stepping forth from Lime Street Station, and if one went looking for Mathew Street another rude shock awaited.
The Cavern had continued to operate into the early 1970s, with many good new acts gracing the stage, but the heyday of the Mersey Sound was gone, and nostalgic Beatles fans were not yet coming to Liverpool in great numbers to visit the places associated with the band, while the boys themselves were reluctant to dwell on their past lest it detract from what they were doing now. While he was in Liverpool in May, Paul didn’t even take the time to say farewell to the Cavern, which was about to be demolished to allow construction of an underground railway ventilation shaft. Liverpool Corporation could have saved the club, but Liverpool’s civic leaders lacked the foresight to see the importance of the Cavern in rock ’n’ roll tourism. Absurdly, the ventilation shaft was never actually needed. The last club night was 27 May 1973, shortly after which workmen bulldozed the buildings above ground, and destroyed the caverns below. ‘They should never have pulled it down. It was the most maniacal move possible,’ said Paul ten years later, when the magnitude of the vandalism had sunk in. ‘I think there was a bit of an attitude going around at the time which was, “Well, the Beatles left us. They hate Liverpool anyway.” We used to get an awful lot of that. If someone’s got to live somewhere else, it doesn’t mean he hates Liverpool.’
On the contrary, Paul remained deeply attached to his home town, visiting Merseyside frequently to see his relatives and take nostalgic drives around his old haunts. When Jim McCartney found the stairs at Rembrandt too tiring, Paul bought the house from Dad and moved Jim, Angie and Ruth into a bungalow in nearby Gayton. Paul kept Rembrandt as his own Merseyside base, though most of his time was necessarily spent in London, his main residence being 7 Cavendish Avenue, with High Park the principal family getaway. What with Scotland being so far from London, it made sense to acquire a second weekend retreat nearer the capital, and this is what Paul did in June 1973.
For some years Paul and Linda had been in the habit of driving out of London on impromptu mystery tours of the Home Counties, to get away from the pressures of their metropolitan life and enjoy the countryside. One such mystery tour took them 60 miles south of the capital to the village of Peasmarsh in East Sussex, not far from the historic town of Rye. Along Peasmarsh’s main road were arranged the village school, post office, the Flackley Ash Hotel, Jempson’s food store and a couple of pubs. The unmarked lanes that led off the A268 wound away through a green landscape of undulating farm- and woodland that had hardly changed in centuries. The primary sounds were still those of animals - bird song, the clip-clop of horses in the lanes, deer flitting through the trees, badgers rustling in the undergrowth - together with the grumble of farm machinery, the buzz of chainsaws and the distant popping of shotguns as farmers hunted for the pot. Tucked away in the woods off Starvecrow Lane, an eccentric circular house was for sale, built in the 1930s from oddments of older buildings. At the centre of this round house was a living room with a fireplace, off which radiated triangular rooms, with two bedrooms upstairs. A stream running through the wood led to a nearby waterfall, hence the house’s name: Waterfall. The property was only accessible via a private, 300-yard track, and completely hidden by the trees. At the same time London was only an hour away by car, with a convenient aerodrome at nearby Lydd, which Paul had used in 1966 to hop over to France. In a break in Wings’ 1973 UK tour, the McCartneys bought Waterfall as a weekender, soon expanding their landholding by buying additional neighbouring tracts and farms, creating an extensive country estate that eventually became their main home.
Waterfall cost £42,500 ($65,025) at a time when McCartney Productions was recording an annual loss of £110,742 ($169,435), but Paul’s company had assets of a quarter of a million pounds, in addition to the star’s personal fortune: that is to say the money he had tucked away in Coutts Bank and elsewhere; plus his property interests and his all-important stake in the Beatles. In fact Paul had so much money washing around that he was looking for investment opportunities. It was his father-in-law Lee Eastman who suggested Paul invest in song-publishing, which was one of Lee’s specialist areas.
Linda’s dad is a great business brain. He said originally, ‘If you are going to invest, do it in something you know. If you invest in building computers or something, you can lose a fortune. Wouldn’t you rather be in music? Stay in music.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’d much rather do that.’ So he asked me what kind of music I liked. And the first name I said was Buddy Holly.
That spring the Eastmans bought the Nor Va Jak publishing company, in which were held US rights to Buddy Holly’s biggest hits, making Paul the proud owner of ‘Maybe Baby’, ‘Not Fade Away’ and ‘Peggy Sue’ among other classics. The Eastmans went on to acquire more song catalogues for Paul, building a substantial publishing business that provided the star with steady additional income, though the songs he most wanted to own, those he’d written with John Lennon, remained stubbornly beyond his reach, either because they weren’t for sale or, when they were, they were priced too high.
Aside from publishing, cash and property, Paul owned a valuable and growing art collection, several luxury cars, including a Rolls Royce and a Lamborghini, and he gave Linda magnificent gifts, including an emerald and diamond necklace for her 30th birthday. The financial circumstances of the other members of Wings were in complete contrast to this lifestyle. Henry McCullough, Denny Laine and Denny Seiwell were all still being paid a paltry £70-a-week, with occasional bonuses (receiving £1,000 each [$1,530], for example, at the end of the recent UK tour). The musicians were all under the impression they would be cut in on the band royalties eventually. ‘That just never happened,’ says Seiwell,44 who had to get a bank loan when he wanted to buy a car, which was not the lifestyle the American envisaged when he and Monique came to the UK at Paul’s behest. ‘There was very, very little money that came down to the band. Yet we were working on a gentleman’s agreement that we would all be part-owners of [Wings].’ By the time the band convened at Paul’s Scottish estate to work on what became the next and most celebrated Wings album, Band on the Run, these financial complaints were starting to have a negative effect on morale, particularly on the spirits of Denny Seiwell and Henry McCullough.
Paul had written some good new songs which he wanted to work up as demos in Kintyre before cutting the new album abroad. The idea was to get inspiration from a different setting and culture, as Denny Laine recalls, though Laine also believes there may have been a tax advantage to recording abroad. Paul had discovered that EMI operated recording studios in countries as far-flung as Brazil, China, India and Nigeria. It would be a different experience to make a record in Africa, so Paul booked Wings into the EMI facility in the Nigerian port city of Lagos for September 1973. In preparation for the trip, Wings worked on Paul’s new songs in the barn on Low Ranachan Farm, just over the hill from Paul and Linda’s High Park cottage, and part of McCartney’s enlarged Scottish estate. Denny Laine and his pregnant girlfriend Jo Jo Patrie were staying in another cottage on the estate.
When Wings played at Low Ranachan, cows drifted over from neighbouring farms to listen; ‘they’d be craning their necks to this music,’ notes farmer Duncan McLean. Despite the charming rural setting there were fractious words in the barn. Money had become a critical issue with Seiwell and McCullough, while Paul seemed fed up with his musicians. ‘On occasions he would maybe go home early from rehearsals or something because maybe he was tired or something wasn’t working out,’ notes Henry McCullough, whose loose, improvisational style didn’t mesh with Paul’s systematic way of working. The men came to an impasse on 14 July when Paul told Henry once too often what he should play. Just as happened with George Harrison during Let It Be, this led to Paul’s guitarist walking out. Without saying anything to Paul, at the end of the day Henry put his guitar case in his car and drove home to London. He didn’t return. ‘I just had to move. If I hadn’t of moved at that time I think eventually I may have been sacked.’ Money was certainly part of the problem. ‘It’s all very well getting into a bloody Lear Jet and flying off to [Lagos], but at the end of the day when you get home you still have to [eat].’ When Paul came to the barn the next day to continue work, and was told by the others that Henry had gone, he continued as if nothing had happened, never discussing the matter with Seiwell or Laine, who defends Paul in this instance. ‘It’s not a matter of being told [by Paul] what to play,’ he says of Henry’s reason for quitting; ‘it’s just [Paul’s] personality. If you don’t come up with something, then he’ll suggest something, and he can be a bit overpowering like that. But at the same time if Henry had been a little bit more enthusiastic [then] maybe it would have been different.’
The next day Denny Seiwell returned to his London home to prepare for the Africa trip. Denny Laine and Jo Jo were packing up ready for their own departure to the capital, where Jo Jo was expecting to give birth to their first child, when Jo Jo realised she was about to go into labour. The couple dropped everything and rushed to the local Kintyre hospital, where they had a son (who they named Laine, rather absurdly). Oblivious to this family drama Paul and Linda rode over the hill on horseback to find Denny and Jo Jo’s belongings strewn about outside their cottage, like the remnants of a gypsy encampment. ‘What the Hell’s going on with this mess?’ they asked the farm-hands angrily, as Laine later heard it, not knowing about Jo Jo’s emergency. The way Denny Seiwell heard the story second hand the McCartneys were totally unsupportive to Denny and Jo Jo during the birth of their son, not visiting the hospital or even sending flowers when they found out about the birth. Laine himself doesn’t remember this being an issue, but Seiwell got it into his head that Paul and Lin had let his friends down and, even though he may have had the facts wrong, he added this perception to a list of grievances.
The band were due to fly to Lagos on 30 August. In the last few days before departure Seiwell talked to Paul on the phone about his concerns. Recalls the drummer:
I said, ‘Listen, can’t we just postpone this trip and break in a new guitar player, so we can rehearse a new guitar player, teach him Henry’s parts, teach him the songs, so we can go into this project and play it as a band kind of live and then embellish it?’
He said, ‘No, no, no, we’re just going to continue. EMI have set up the studio for us. We’ll do it like Ram. It’ll all be over-dubbed, but we’ll make it good.’ I thought, I don’t want to do that again. We had just spent all this time and effort becoming a real rock ’n’ roll band, and it was becoming very good. So between Henry leaving, the bad news of Denny and Jo Jo, no contract one more time, I just took it upon myself to say, ‘That’s it!’
Paul was ‘very angry and very upset’. He swore at his drummer, then slammed down the phone.
Linda called us back immediately and said, ‘How dare you inconvenience us?’ I replied, ‘I can’t even talk about the inconvenience. I’ve been inconvenienced for three years here. This just isn’t right!’ So that was it. There was no more. It was totally harsh, and then we didn’t speak for years.
Paul had lost two band members in a matter of a few days, but he carried on regardless, flying to Lagos at the end of August to make the new record with Linda, Laine, and Paul’s favourite engineer, Geoff Emerick. Like Paul, Laine was able to shrug off the desertions. ‘It didn’t bother me. When you’ve been through what we’ve been through with different bands, and different members, you just get on with it. It’s not like, “Hey! It’s the end of the world.”’
The actual recording sessions for Band on the Run were no less fraught than the build-up to the record. Paul discovered that Lagos was not a paradise resort where he and Linda could swing on hammocks under coconut trees, but a dirty, dangerous, disease-ridden city, stickily hot in the monsoon season. Villas had been hired to accommodate the McCartneys, Laine and Emerick, the latter alarmed to discover that his lodgings were alive with spiders, insects and lizards. The EMI studio was situated down the road in the port of Apapa, which had given its name to the SS Apapa, the ship Paul’s nefarious uncle Will Stapleton stole from in 1949, bringing disgrace on the family. Uncle Will had come ashore at Apapa to spend some of his ill-gotten gains. Odd to think Paul was retracing his uncle’s steps so exactly.
The EMI facility in Apapa turned out to be little more than a shed attached to a pressing plant. ‘When you opened [the back door] you saw a couple of dozen shirtless guys standing ankle deep in water pressing records in this small, steaming-hot room,’ Emerick remembered in his memoirs. The studio lacked basic equipment; Emerick had to hire a carpenter to knock up some acoustic screens before they could start. Then local Nigerian musicians made it known that they didn’t appreciate Paul coming to their country, believing the star was there to steal their music. The next thing Paul knew he was being mugged during an evening walk with Linda. As Lin screamed at the muggers not to hurt her husband, the men made off with his valuables, including the Band on the Run demo tapes.
When a writer loses his manuscript and is obliged to write a work over again from memory, as sometimes happens, the writing often comes more cleanly the second time. This seems to have been the case with Band on the Run. Forced to remember his songs after muggers stole his demo tapes, Paul laid down a series of minor classics, playing the drums himself and dividing up the guitar parts with Laine. ‘[We] made the album as though we weren’t in a band, as though we were just two producers/musicians,’ recalls his band mate, emphasising that Paul still made no allusion to the loss of McCullough and Seiwell, preferring to keep his own counsel on this as on other matters. Laine always found Paul a self-contained man. ‘Paul’s personality is that he likes to be positive, he likes to be up - and there’s a strength there somehow - he doesn’t like to share his down-time with other people. He likes to cope with it himself in private.’ The strain of it all got to the star, though. Halfway through the work he collapsed in the Apapa studio. Linda screamed that Paul was having a heart attack. It turned out to be a panic attack.
When Paul returned to London seven weeks later, he had the basis of the best studio album Wings ever made. Lyrically Band on the Run is slightly weak, as usual, but musically it has an energy and cohesive-ness lacking from McCartney, Ram, Wild Life and Red Rose Speedway. Apart from the fact that the underlying melodies were good, it seems that Paul’s desire to show Seiwell and McCullough he could do without them made him raise his game. Highlights included ‘Let Me Roll It’, an immensely exciting yet very simple song built around a hot guitar riff. The lyrics are of no consequence, other than to form the hub around which the musical wheel turns, yet the song works brilliantly, destined to become a staple of Paul’s live show. It must be galling, therefore, when Lennon fans observe that ‘Let Me Roll It’ sounds like a John rip-off. The title track ‘Band on the Run’, has a hokey but enjoyable desperado feel, also making one think of the band members who ran out on Wings; while other songs had diverse and often homely references. ‘Jet’ was the name of a black Labrador the McCartneys owned; ‘Helen Wheels’ was the family nickname for the Land Rover they used on Kintyre; ‘Mamunia’ was inspired by a recent holiday to the La Mamounia (sic) hotel in Morocco; while a Caribbean holiday gave Paul ‘Picasso’s Last Words (Drink to Me)’. The McCartneys were in Jamaica when they met Dustin Hoffman, who was in the islands filming Papillon. The actor challenged Paul to write an impromptu song based on a random magazine article, using a copy of Time. Pablo Picasso had just died, aged 91. In his Time obituary it was reported that the artist had been forbidden from drinking in his final days, telling his friends to drink for him. Paul made an instant song from the story.
Denny Laine contributed one song to Band on the Run, ‘No Words’, which Paul helped him finish. Paul was eager for Laine to share the burden of writing, and Laine says they increasingly wrote together from this point on, as Paul had written with John, citing the example of ‘Getting Better’ from Sgt. Pepper.
There’s a great line he says about John Lennon, you know, ‘I wrote “[I’ve] got to admit it’s getting better,” and John Lennon said, “It can’t get no worse.”’ There’s the two personalities coming out there. The cynical John Lennon line and then there’s the real positive, almost overly enthusiastic Paul line. That’s the way a lot of our lyrics went.
Laine found working creatively with Paul a pleasure. ‘The thing about Paul is, being such a famous person as he was, such a recognisable guy, that it was difficult to be his equal if you like as far as the public was concerned, but in the studio we were pretty much on an equal par.’ Paul was also very fair with song credits and the split of publishing income.
That autumn Paul went into AIR in London to add strings and horns to Band on the Run, hiring Howie Casey, whom he had known back in the days of Derry and the Seniors, to play sax on several tracks, most winningly on ‘Bluebird’. Paul then staged an elaborate Pepper-like photo shoot for the album, inviting a disparate bunch of celebrities to pose with him, Lin and Laine in a jail-break pose. The models included club singer Kenny Lynch, whom Paul had known in the 1960s, Liverpool boxer John Conteh, and the actors James Coburn and Christopher Lee. The resultant cover was fun to look at, while the music was good. Here at last was the old McCartney panache, proof that Paul hadn’t been lobotomised after leaving the Beatles, but had just lost focus. Band on the Run was a deserved number one album in the US and UK at the end of 1973, yielding several hit singles.
A BEATLES RAPPROCHEMENT
An element of routine creeps into most lives, especially when children are involved, and what might be termed the McCartney Year begins to evolve around the mid-1970s. The family (and Paul did most things with Lin and the kids) generally spent the working week in London, the kids in local schools and Paul in the studio much of the time. At the weekend they usually drove down to Waterfall, their new cottage in the Sussex woods. They went north in the school holidays, invariably visiting their relatives on Merseyside for Christmas and New Year, then spent a couple of weeks each summer in Kintyre in time for the annual agricultural show, properly named the June Show, but actually held in August when the weather was better, and consequently known as ‘the June Show in August’. Heather McCartney rode in the gymkhana while Paul and Linda had fun entering their livestock in competition. Paul would attend the judging, to see what rosettes they’d won, slipping away when the crowds arrived, though few locals bothered him. As noted, the McCartneys had made many friends on the peninsula, especially the Blacks at Tangy Farm, where Heather went riding with Lorna Black; and the Colvilles, whose property the McCartneys rode across to Westport Beach where Paul and Linda would often swim in defiance of the undertow and freezing Atlantic temperatures. When they looked out over the surf they could imagine Linda’s family in Long Island, on the other side of the ocean.
Apart from their horses and ponies, the McCartneys shared their Scottish holiday home with a pack of hounds led by the Old English Sheepdog Martha (My Dear), who was still going strong, and including Lucky the Dalmatian, Jet the black Labrador and a Golden Lab named Poppy. A canine romance in Kintyre led to Martha having a litter of mongrel pups, one of whom Heather named Captain Midnight, her special pet. One day the McCartneys rushed into their vet’s surgery in town cradling one of these mongrel pups. The pooch had been kicked by a horse, breaking its leg. ‘At that time it was beyond our capabilities to do any pinning, so it was arranged that it would go up to Glasgow Veterinary Hospital by taxi,’ says the vet Alastair Cousin. The injured pup was chauffeur-driven to Glasgow, where it was treated, returning to Campbeltown again by taxi, a 280-mile round trip, by which time the McCartneys had gone home to London, so the dog was flown down to the capital to join them, at considerable additional expense. ‘Only somebody like Paul could and would do that sort of thing,’ notes the vet, who recalls another memorable occasion when he was called to High Park to tend a duck with a broken leg. That’s right - a duck. ‘It was crazy stuff, but that was what they did - they were a bit sentimental about their animals.’
For some time now Paul had only been able to look out across the Atlantic towards the Americas, unable to visit because he’d been denied a US visa due to his drug convictions. In the spring of 1974 this visa problem was solved and Paul and Linda began going to the States again. Paul immediately took the opportunity to call on John Lennon, who was himself stranded in America.
After making the Imagine album in England, John and Yoko had moved to New York in 1971, living originally in the St Regis Hotel, then in a Greenwich Village apartment before moving into the Dakota, a grand old apartment building on Central Park West with fabulous views across the park, but a sinister aspect for anybody familiar with the horror movie Rosemary’s Baby, which Roman Polanski shot there. Because of John’s UK conviction for possession of marijuana, the US authorities wanted Lennon out of the country. John’s lawyers advised him to apply for US residency. While his application was in the pipeline, John was permitted to remain in the United States, but warned that he might not be let back in if he left the country, which meant he was marooned.
A degree of staleness had crept into the Lennon marriage, and in the autumn of 1973 John had left Yoko for their assistant May Pang (who was a childhood friend of Linda McCartney’s; they were both fans of the Young Rascals). With Yoko’s blessing, John and May conducted a 14-month affair, a period John later referred to as his ‘lost weekend’ in recognition of the fact he was drinking heavily. His drinking companion was the dipsomaniac singer Harry Nilsson, with whom he was also working. By March 1974, Lennon and May Pang were living in Santa Monica, California, while John produced Nilsson’s album Pussy Cats at Burbank Studios. One night, the McCartneys called by to say hi.
Considering all John had said about Paul over the past few years, the meeting was surprisingly cordial, the ex-Beatles feeling comfortable enough in each other’s presence to jam together. The time was right for a rapprochement. John and Paul’s contract with Northern Songs had expired, allowing them to benefit from their new songs via their respective publishing companies; both had enjoyed solo success; and John had come round to the view that Paul had been right about Allen Klein. In fact, all the Beatles had turned their backs on Klein and were now suing him. The boys had also agreed sensibly that their faithful retainer, Neil Aspinall, should head up Apple Corps, which he ran successfully until his retirement in 2007. Furthermore, John, Paul and George had contributed individually to Ritchie’s recent Ringo album, Paul giving his friend the hit, ‘You’re Sixteen’. In short, they were almost back to being mates. The day after the studio visit, the McCartneys paid a house call on John in Santa Monica, and this also went well. Before he left, Paul gave John some brotherly advice. He told him Yoko missed him and, if he felt the same, he should try and win her back, which is what Lennon did.
Making full use of his new visa, Paul decided to take the family and Wings to Tennessee for a working holiday. It was musical associations that drew Paul to the Nashville area, the family’s love of horse-riding leading the McCartneys to rent a ranch from songwriter Claude ‘Curly’ Putman Jr. Success with the tune ‘Green, Green Grass of Home’ had enabled Putman to buy a 130-acre property outside Nashville, which the McCartneys rented for six weeks, arriving with a newly configured version of Wings. Denny Laine was still in the band, but there was a new British drummer, Geoff Britton, and a new lead guitarist, a diminutive 20-year-old Glaswegian named Jimmy McCulloch, who’d already experienced success with Thunderclap Newman. Talented but highly strung, Jimmy had a tendency to become obstreperous when drunk. ‘He had a London accent, normally,’ recalls Howie Casey, who worked regularly with Wings at this time. ‘Soon as he had a drink he became Scottish. I’ll see you. It was all that.’
The Putmans went on holiday to Hawaii, leaving their ranch to Paul, who enjoyed playing at being a cowboy. He and Linda rode horses most days, while Paul also enjoyed riding a trail bike belonging to Curly’s son, Troy. They had a barbecue for Paul’s 32nd birthday, and invited Roy Orbison over for supper, rekindling an old friendship. Paul rehearsed Wings in the garage next to the ranch house and recorded with the band in a Nashville studio, laying down ‘Walking in the Park with Eloise’, a dance tune created by Paul’s dad, later released under the nom de plume of the ‘Country Hams’.45 Wings also recorded ‘Junior’s Farm’, inspired by their stay on the ranch, and this became a top ten hit in the USA.
Paul enjoyed riding Troy Putman’s motorbike so much he bought a bike of the same sort for himself and, at the end of his Nashville vacation, put it on a trailer and hauled it up to New York, where the McCartneys called in on Linda’s family. The visit was so successful that a new element was added to the McCartney Year. Each summer Paul and Lin would bring the kids to spend a couple of weeks with the Eastmans on Lily Pond Lane, East Hampton, where Lee and John Eastman both maintained summer homes. The McCartneys usually stayed with John and his wife Jody, partly so that their children could play together.
VENUS AND MARS
One of the early signs of a second, nostalgic wave of interest in the Beatles came in 1974 with the staging of John, Paul, George, Ringo … & Bert at the Liverpool Everyman. The author was Willy Russell, a local playwright who’d developed a love of the Beatles while watching them on stage at the Cavern as a schoolboy. The premise of his play was that a former member of the Quarry Men, an invented character named Bert, attends a Wings show and is prompted to reflect upon the history of the Beatles, which is told with music in flashback. The play benefited from a superb cast, including Trevor Eve as McCartney, and transferred successfully to London.
When excerpts from John, Paul, George, Ringo … & Bert were broadcast on BBC television around Christmas 1974, Paul was infuriated because the sequence he watched seemed to portray him as the one who broke up the band. ‘[The BBC] substantially showed the scene in which there’s the ultimate spat between John and Paul, and the scene was very specifically written to take account of the fact that-as history now acknowledges - the first person to announce he was leaving the Beatles was John Lennon,’ explains Russell, ‘but the way they edited the scene it pandered to the perception, as is still now the case, that Paul McCartney was responsible for the break-up of the Beatles … apparently Paul saw this and was incensed.’ As a result, McCartney blocked an attempt to produce a movie of John, Paul, George, Ringo and … & Bert. The success of the musical, though, and the interest in making it into a movie, showed how potent the Beatles story remained; while Paul’s strong reaction to the play demonstrated how deeply he felt about the way his part in history was represented, something that would become a veritable obsession. The affair also led to a meeting between McCartney and Russell, whom Paul would call on when he decided to make a film himself.
In real life, the Beatles partnership was finally dissolved in London’s High Court in January 1975, a quiet end to a long and public war, with Paul the clear victor. He had achieved everything he wanted, plus the satisfaction of knowing that the others had come to the conclusion that he had been right about Klein. And Apple was now in Neil’s safe hands.
A few weeks after the ruling, Paul and Linda took the children and Wings to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. The McCartneys had themselves made up as clowns so they could mingle with the crowd during the carnival. They also recorded tracks for their next album, Venus and Mars, the two dramatic opening tunes of which, ‘Venus and Mars’ and ‘Rock Show’, were created with a view to playing American arena shows in the near future. Taken together, the songs on the new album were much weaker than Band on the Run, with more than the usual amount of whimsy and silliness, including an arrangement of the theme to the television soap Crossroads. Apparently meant as a joke, choices such as this served to debase McCartney’s currency. He either didn’t realise this, or didn’t care. Probably the latter, judging by his decision to also have Wings record a commercial for a brand of white, sliced bread, as recalled by a friend from the swinging Sixties, Prince Stanislas Klossowski ‘Stash’ de Rola: ‘After a long time not seeing him, I went back to Cavendish Avenue once and Paul proudly said, “I’ve got something to play you,” and I was horrified because he had proudly played me Sgt. Pepper acetates [in the Sixties, and now] he played me a Mother’s Pride commercial that he’d composed!’46
Venus and Mars, however, yielded one good single, ‘Listen to What the Man Said’, with at least one other worthwhile song, though not written by Paul. ‘Medicine Jar’ was written and sung by Jimmy McCulloch, a young man of considerable talent, but challenging personality. ‘I liked Jimmy, but he was a lot of trouble,’ recalls Denny Laine. ‘He and Paul clashed quite a lot.’ Jimmy reduced Linda to tears with sharp remarks about her musicianship. One might think that crossing Linda in this way was a sure way to get fired from Wings, but Paul levelled similar criticisms at his wife. ‘I did once say to her in a row I could have had Billy Preston [on keyboards],’ Paul remarked in 1976 (Preston being one of the best keyboard players in the business as well as being a former Beatles sideman). ‘It just came out.’ Meanwhile, the new drummer, Geoff Britton, wasn’t fitting in. He was let go midway through Venus and Mars.
From New Orleans, the McCartneys flew to Los Angeles, renting an apartment in Coldwater Canyon as Paul put the finishing touches to Venus and Mars. On Saturday 1 March 1975, Paul and Linda attended the Grammy Awards, in which Wings were nominated for Band on the Run, winning two awards on the night, one for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Group, and another for Geoff Emerick’s engineering - a worthy winner considering the trying circumstances under which the record had been made. John Lennon showed up at the ceremony, pale and thin, to present the award for Record of the Year to Olivia Newton-John singing ‘I Honestly Love You’.
Forty-eight hours later Paul and Linda were driving back to their rented home in Coldwater Canyon when they were stopped by police for jumping a red light on Santa Monica Boulevard. As the officer wrote a ticket he smelt marijuana and ordered the family out of their Lincoln Continental (it was late and the kids were sleeping in the back). Sixteen ounces of grass were found in Linda’s purse. She was taken away for questioning, her bail set at $500. Like many very famous people, Paul didn’t tend to carry much if any cash, and certainly didn’t have enough in his wallet to make bail. Ringing round his contacts, he located former Apple executive Peter Brown at the Beverly Hills Hotel, drove over and got a loan. ‘Linda took the rap because she was an American citizen,’ explains Brown, who talked the matter over with Paul. ‘Therefore it wasn’t onerous to her … we got him the money, and he went back and got her out.’ Although the matter was quickly resolved, this was the McCartneys’ third drug conviction in two and a half years.
The next day Linda called one of her old journalist pals, Blair Sabol, whom she hadn’t spoken to since 1969, being one of the media friends Linda dropped when she and Paul got together. Linda’s former best girlfriend, the reporter Lillian Roxon, had never forgiven her for this slight, getting her own back on Linda by writing a catty review of Paul’s 1973 TV special, shortly after which Lillian died. No chance of reconciliation there. Linda had long ago made her peace with journalist Danny Fields, but Blair hadn’t heard from Linda until now, and like Lillian she got her own back on Linda in print, writing a caustic article about their reunion in the Village Voice. ‘Now you must understand the last time I knew Linda was in her groping groupie days [when] Linda was into photographing stars with little or no film in her camera,’ Blair later wrote.
I remember how impressed I was with her come-on talents as she sat in front of [Warren Beatty] in a mini-skirt and her legs in full wide-angle split for at least six rolls of Ectachrome. Warren ended up ushering me out of his Delmonico’s suite within 30 minutes and kept Linda for two days. Her pictures turned out to be mediocre to poor, but we became fast friends.
When Linda invited Blair to the LA studio where Paul was finishing Venus and Mars, Blair encountered a woman who seemed to have become totally false since her celebrated marriage, speaking in a faux English accent, also affecting a lazy rock ’n’ roll manner. ‘I mean Mahhhhhhn, I cahn’t stand this town,’ she said of LA. Linda shrugged off the latest drug bust: ‘Well, you know it happens to everybody and it’s time-consuming with the lawyers, but we’ll get it taken care of.’ Then Paul came in, wearing a hideous black satin smoking jacket with a dragon stitched on the back. ‘Linda’s told me so much about you. Really glad to meet you,’ he said politely. Whether he meant it, he made the effort. Blair warmed to Paul, but found Linda a complete phoney whose ‘manipulation of Paul’ was ‘obnoxious’; as if she was using him to make herself a star, which Blair seemed to think Linda had always wanted to be, though most people don’t see Linda that way. The prevailing view, rather, is that Lin was humouring Paul in trying to play the part of a band member.
Evidently, the journalist kept her thoughts to herself at the time, because she received an invitation to a party the McCartneys were giving to celebrate the completion of their album. ‘It’s gonna be verrrrrry private,’ Linda assured Blair, affectedly. ‘No press and just our immediate good friends. You know, nice and quiet.’ This intimate party turned out to be a blow-out for 350 people on the Queen Mary, the retired ocean liner docked at Long Beach. Some of the most famous names in show business attended including Bob Dylan, who treated everybody to a rare display of his disco dancing. George Harrison also showed up, looking a little drawn after a difficult period personally and professionally. In recent times George had scandalised the Beatles family, and enraged Ritchie, by having a fling with his wife Mo. Pattie then left George for his friend Eric Clapton, after which George embarked on a poorly received US tour. On top of everything, he’d developed a cocaine habit. George’s presence at Paul’s party, however, underlined the Beatles rapprochement.
In commercial terms, Paul had done considerably better than John, George and Ritchie since the break-up of the band. After a strong start with All Things Must Pass, Harrison’s career had fallen flat. Lennon had enjoyed chart success, but he’d also released flop albums, and he didn’t tour. After he returned to Yoko from his lost weekend, and they had their son, Sean, John essentially retired from public life, no further rival to Paul. And Ritchie was never going to be anything but a novelty act. Paul was leaving the boys in his dust. He had always been the most hard-working Beatle, the most prolific and focused. He was also the one who really enjoyed live performance, and he had the happy knack of being able to write hits whenever he pleased. His long-playing records were uneven, Venus and Mars typically patchy, with some tracks that are virtually unlistenable to today (try ‘Magneto and Titanium Man’), but this sort of soft rock was what the market wanted. The LP went to number one in the USA and Britain, with ‘Listen to What the Man Said’ a US number one. Sometimes an artist is in tune with his times. Paul had enjoyed that experience in the Sixties, spectacularly so, and his luck was holding into the Seventies. He capitalised on the success of his new records by taking Wings out on the road in the UK in the autumn of 1975, followed by an Australian tour, all part of the build-up to a major tour of the USA, where Wings songs were a staple of FM radio playlists. John Lennon might have scorned Paul’s material with some justification as Muzak, but millions of Americans happily tapped their steering wheels to the sound of Wings as they drove to and from their jobs in 1975.
That Christmas, John and Yoko were home in the Dakota with two-month-old Sean, and their photographer friend Bob Gruen, when the doorbell rang. They were startled. People didn’t just come knocking on the front door within the Dakota. Security was too tight. Anybody paying a visit reported first to the security man in a gilded sentry box at the West 72nd Street entrance, then went to reception where staff would ring up to check before allowing anybody into the elevator. For a moment, John thought they might be being busted. He asked Gruen to see who it was. As the photographer cautiously approached the front door of the apartment he heard somebody singing ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ outside. ‘So I called back to John and Yoko, “Don’t worry, it’s some kids from the building singing carols.’” Gruen then looked through the spy hole and saw Paul and Linda McCartney on the doorstep. The photographer opened the door and took the McCartneys through to John and Yoko, who were in their white bedroom, where they spent much of their time. Here, the two chief Beatles had another reunion which, according to Gruen, was a happy occasion: ‘they all seemed like giddy old school chums. Hugging, patting each other on the back… like high-school buddies who hadn’t seen each other in a long time and really liked each other.’
In the new year, John and Paul received the shocking news that Mal Evans had died, killed in bizarre circumstances at the age of 40. Along with Neil Aspinall, Mal had been a faithful Beatles courtier from the beginning. He had also been underappreciated. On one hand Mal was made to feel part of the Beatles family, yet the boys were always quick to put him in his place, with Paul being cold towards Mal when the Beatles fell apart, getting the roadie to fetch and carry for him while making his first solo album, but telling him curtly that he didn’t want him in the studio, because he was with Linda now. Mal became a lost soul after the Beatles disbanded. He separated from his wife, Lily, moved to Los Angeles, where he shared an apartment with a woman named Fran Hughes, and tried to write his memoirs. He was due to deliver his manuscript on 12 January 1976. Eight days before the deadline, Mal became stoned and depressed. His girlfriend called his collaborator on the book, who came over. When they tried to talk to Mal he picked up a rifle. The police were summoned. When Mal pointed his gun at the cops, they shot him dead. In many ways his death seems like a suicide. Mal must have known the Beatles wouldn’t want him to publish that book, and that the choice he faced was dropping the project, and losing money, or further estranging himself from the boys. Better perhaps to die.
Closer to home, Paul’s father was in failing health. For the last few years, Jim McCartney had lived as an invalid in his Gayton bungalow, nursed by Angie. ‘She was very nice, Angie … My God she looked after Jim!’ comments their neighbour Doug Mackenzie - a tribute worth bearing in mind given that Angie’s reputation would be blackened in the months to come. The other member of the household was Angie’s daughter, Ruth, now a teenager, with ambitions to go into show business. In 1975 Ruth auditioned successfully for a spot as a dancer on a TV show with Paul’s brother Mike, going round to Paul’s house to tell him the good news. According to a press interview Ruth later gave a Sunday newspaper, Paul was far from being pleased. In fact, he was furious. Ruth alleged that her stepbrother pinned her against a wall, with his left hand above her, and used his right to wag a finger as he delivered a lecture about people in the business only wanting to hire Ruth because she was his sister. Although she asserted in her interview that Paul had yelled at her, Ruth concluded that ‘he meant it for the best’.
Jim McCartney rarely left home now. When the weather was fine, he sat in his front garden watching the world go by. But most of the time he stayed inside, huddled by the fire, crippled by arthritis. A lifelong smoker, Jim also suffered from bronchitis. As his health deteriorated in February and March of 1976, there was tension between Paul and Angie over what should be done. On visits to the Wirral, Paul urged his father to be more active, as if Dad could will himself back into health. Then Jim developed bronchopneumonia, often a prelude to death in the elderly. Paul wanted Dad in hospital; Angie insisted she look after her husband at home. ‘We had a falling out as the rest of the family wanted Jim to die in hospital, where his life would have been prolonged by a few painful weeks. But Jim wanted to die in his own bed,’ Angie said, ‘so I kept him at home. It caused a lot of bad feeling at the time.’
Having lost Mum traumatically at a young age, Paul seemed unable to face the fact Dad was now going to die as well and carried on with his work as normal. Wings were about to embark on a European tour, starting in Copenhagen on Saturday 20 March 1976. Two days before the first show, Jim McCartney died at home at Gayton, aged 73, his demise attributed to pneumonia and heart failure, with bronchitis and arthritis underlying factors. Paul went ahead with a scheduled Wings press conference in London the next day, then flew to Copenhagen to open the tour on Saturday as if nothing had happened. He didn’t tell the band his father had died and, remarkably, he didn’t return home for the cremation at Landican Cemetery on the Wirral on Monday 22 March. Paul could easily have done so; Wings didn’t have a show that day, being between engagements in Denmark and Germany, so he could have hopped over by private plane. But Paul wasn’t at the cemetery, and he was in Berlin the next day when Jim’s ashes were scattered over the rose garden in front of the chapel. The spot, as with his mother’s grave, remains unmarked, which seems odd considering how very sentimental Paul is about his parents. It is possible he deliberately left these places unmarked to avoid fans finding them.
Members of the Beatles had chosen not to attend funerals in the past, such as that of Brian Epstein, for fear their celebrity would attract a mob of press and fans and detract from the occasion, which was a fair point. But to deliberately miss one’s father’s funeral - especially when, as in this case, father and son had been so close - is strange. Mike McCartney has written in explanation that ‘Paul would never face that sort of thing’. Denny Laine says he only found out that Jim had died when he was on a French TV show with Paul and the teen idol David Cassidy later that month. When the interviewer asked Paul about his parents, he said simply they were both dead. Says Laine:
I was physically shocked, on camera. David Cassidy said, ‘You should have seen your face when he said that.’ He didn’t tell me, and I wasn’t that close to his dad, but I knew him quite well. I suppose Paul felt, I’m not going to get into that. This is one thing you’ve got to remember about Paul: he’s a very, very private guy. He doesn’t like to be talking about his family, or anything to do with anything other than music, if he can possibly help it, in public. He doesn’t like to share certain things. He takes them on his own shoulders. And this may be part of his personality: he likes to stay positive, because if he gets negative he gets really negative, and he knows it, so he tries to rise above these things, and not have other people reminding him of too many negative things, or hurtful things, because of who he is. He has to be out there looking like he’s Paul McCartney, happy-go-lucky, and not bothering the world with his problems. You can understand that. [So] he probably thought, ‘Jesus, I can’t handle all that!’
Nevertheless, Laine was surprised Paul didn’t return home for the funeral. ‘I’m sure in his position he could have just jumped on a private plane and done it, but maybe he just couldn’t face the emotional thing of it right in the middle of having to go out and do a gig the next night, and pretend that everything’s fine.’
In the aftermath of Jim’s death, Paul’s relationship with Angie McCartney deteriorated. His stepmother went on holiday after the funeral, with what seemed to the ‘relies’ indecent haste. ‘She and Ruth had their suitcases packed going off on holiday to Spain, a plane to catch from Manchester Airport at half past nine, and the family hated her by then. God she’s upset everybody!’ remarks Mike Robbins, who’d introduced Angie to Jim. When Angie subsequently decided to go into theatrical management, and Ruth continued to pursue her show business dreams, there were further clashes with Paul, culminating in a blazing telephone row over money, according to an interview Angie gave the Sun newspaper. Ruth McCartney has alleged in a separate interview that Paul then stopped the £7,000-a-year pension ($10,710) that had formerly been paid by McCartney Productions Ltd47 to Jim. Increasingly hard up, mother and daughter moved out of their bungalow into a flat. A deep rift was opening up between Paul and his stepmother and stepsister.