Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney - Howard Sounes (2010)
PART TWO. AFTER THE BEATLES
Chapter 18. THE GOOD LIFE
LAST MEETINGS WITH JOHN
Despite a shaky economy, optimism, even a sense of celebration, returned to the United States in 1976. The Vietnam War was over, Watergate had forced Richard Nixon from office, with a benign young farmer from Georgia promising a brighter future. Many people wanted to believe in Jimmy Carter in the nation’s bicentennial year. In the two centuries since the Declaration of Independence, US relations with Britain had improved considerably, of course, a few Britons becoming as popular in the USA as they were at home. Dickens, Chaplin and Churchill spring to mind. The Beatles were in that same august company, Paul’s status in the USA remaining sky high, even higher than at home, having achieved four number one singles and four number one albums in America since 1970. Interestingly, he was yet to score a single number one in Britain, where, despite the generally good press Paul enjoyed, critics and audiences were more circumspect about his songs, often considering them overly sentimental, even vacuous. In April 1976, Wings released a single that answered such criticism in audacious style. In ‘Silly Love Songs’ Paul made his case plain. He liked writing love songs. If people had a problem with that, it was tough. He would continue to write them. The strength of the melody made ‘Silly Love Songs’ Paul’s fifth US number one, holding the top spot for five weeks, but again it failed to reach the top of the British charts, and was in fact mocked at home.
‘Silly Love Songs’ heralded a new album, Wings at the Speed of Sound, which showcased songs sung not only by Paul, but also by his fellow band members including the third Wings drummer, Joe English, a big, bearded fellow with a surprisingly sweet voice. This was the strongest line-up of Wings yet, but many of the tracks on Wings at the Speed of Sound were mediocre. No amount of production could disguise the fact that Linda’s ‘Cook of the House’, a nod to her culinary skills, was a weak song which she sang badly. The best track, ‘Let ’em In’ was a very different proposition, a catchy tune with a good, semi-autobiographical lyric delivered in one of Paul’s most persuasive vocal performances: insinuatingly dreamy, a touch melancholy, a whisper of past magic. It was another US hit, helping drive Wings at the Speed of Sound to the top of the American album charts.
Paul was in New York. Buoyed up by chart success, he and Linda dropped by the Dakota on the evening of Saturday 24 April 1976 to see the Lennons. John was home watching Saturday Night Live (SNL) and Paul sat and watched TV with him. So it was that the two ex-Beatles saw Lorne Michaels, the executive producer of SNL, and a personal friend of Paul’s from the Hamptons, jokingly offer to effect a Beatles reunion, something that was increasingly rumoured in the press, with wild stories going about as to how many millions such a gig would earn for the boys. Michaels announced that NBC could offer the Beatles the union rate of $3,000 for the performance of three songs. He held up a cheque, made out to the Beatles. ‘You divide it any way you want; if you want to give Ringo less, that’s up to you.’ John and Paul discussed going down to NBC there and then for a laff, but in the end it was too late.
The next night Paul dropped by the Dakota again. This time he met a less positive reception. As is often the way with men who have known each other as boys, then drifted apart, picking up an old friendship can be difficult. The initial, part-instinctive, part-merely polite warmth of ‘Well, hello, how are you?’ is replaced by an irritation that somebody from the past has come blundering in on the present as if nothing has changed, whereas everything has. At least John seemed to feel that way. He may also have been a tad jealous of Wings’ success. John had read that Paul was now worth $25 million (£16.3m), and complained to Yoko that they’d never be as rich as that. Yoko made a deal with her husband. If he stayed and home and looked after Sean, she would manage and build their fortune. Yoko proved a successful business-woman, though it is doubtful she ever caught up with Paul.
‘That was a period when Paul just kept turning up at our door with a guitar. I would let him in,’ Lennon later said of Paul’s 1976 visits to the Dakota, ‘but finally I said to him, “Please call before you come over. It’s not 1956, and turning up at the door isn’t the same any more. You know, just give me a ring.” That upset him, but I didn’t mean it badly.’
John’s friend, the broadcaster and PR man Elliott Mintz, believes the friendship had simply run its course. Mintz recalls another night with John and Paul at the Dakota (he can’t remember the date) when the Beatles apparently had nothing more to say to each other:
Think of yourself sitting in a theatre as audience, and the film stock that’s moving through the projector ran out, and instead of the lights coming on in the theatre and the curtains closing as they usually would, you just saw the white projection light on the screen, as if it had run out of film. It felt like that - they didn’t really have anything more to talk about.
Had history been otherwise, though, Mintz believes that John and Paul would have seen more of each other in the years ahead. ‘Today they would be men pushing 70 years old. Would they be sitting around bickering and sending nasty emails to each other over some infraction of their relationship that was conceived [decades] earlier?’ he asks rhetorically. ‘I don’t think so.’ As it was, John and Paul never saw each other in the flesh again after these last Dakota visits.
As John settled back into his quiet domestic life in New York, Paul began his Wings Over America tour in Fort Worth, Texas, on 3 May 1976. It was to be the most successful tour Wings ever gave. The first the audience saw of the star of the evening was when Paul stood spotlit on stage, in swirling dry ice, singing ‘Venus and Mars’, the lyrics of which begin with the narrator standing just so, waiting for his show to begin, red and green spotlights appearing on cue as McCartney sang. He segued from this introductory number into the faster ‘Rockshow’, also designed specifically for the arena stage.
As the lights came up, Paul appeared clean-shaven and fresh-faced, his hair cut short in a fringe over his eyes, worn long at the back. He smiled broadly, with frequent glances at Linda, sitting prettily at her keyboards on a riser, the base of which changed colour during the show. Lin looked happy and relaxed, not the nervous wreck of early Wings tours. Denny Laine stood to Paul’s left, wielding a fashionable double-neck guitar; young Jimmy McCulloch stood beside Denny, agape with concentration as he peeled off his solos; behind them Joe English thrashed his drums like Animal in the Muppet Show. Alongside Joe stood four horn players, featuring Paul’s old friend Howie Casey on saxophone, the brass section adding punch to Wings’ sound. This was a long way from the university tour of 1972. It was a big, expensive, state-of-the-art rock show with a laser light display during ‘Live and Let Die’. Most importantly, Wings was now tight. ‘It was the first time we’d really spent enough time on the road to get really good as a band,’ says Laine. And the sound quality was good. The last time Paul played the States was with the Beatles, when their inadequately amplified sound was drowned out by fans. The technology of the rock show had improved sufficiently in the ten years since Candlestick Park to enable everybody in the Fort Worth arena to hear the nuances of Wings’ sound. The show could be loud, as in ‘Rockshow’ and ‘Live and Let Die’, but it also featured effective quiet moments such as Paul’s acoustic set, when he played ‘Bluebird’.
Wings’ repertoire was impressive considering the band had been together less than five years. ‘Jet’, ‘Let Me Roll It’, ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’, ‘Listen to What the Man Said’, ‘Let ’em In’ and ‘Band on the Run’ all worked well in concert, better than on record where one tended to notice the paucity of the lyrics. Live rock music is as much theatre as a listening experience and the songs delivered drama. The undoubted highlight of the show came, however, when Paul sat at the piano and played ‘Lady Madonna’, the first of four Beatles songs in the set, having moved on from his original position of ignoring his past. Paul only performed Beatles songs he had written alone, and just a handful - ‘Lady Madonna’, ‘The Long and Winding Road’, ‘Blackbird’ and ‘Yesterday’- but each held his audience spellbound.
To transport Wings around the USA, McCartney hired a BAC 1-11 passenger jet, the Wings logo stuck to its fuselage, the interior transformed into an open-plan rock star lounge. There was a discotheque in the back for the McCartney children, who’d once again been taken out of school to be with their parents: 13-year-old Heather; Mary, almost seven; and four-year-old Stella. To cut back on travel as much as possible, and retain a semblance of normal family life, the McCartneys rented three regional homes for the tour: a house in New York for the East Coast leg; a home in Dallas for the Midwestern shows; and a third property in LA. When their jet landed, a limousine took the McCartneys to the relevant regional home. Driving to the Dallas house one day Linda spotted an appaloosa stallion (a type of horse distinguished by its spotted markings), stopped and bought it, having the animal shipped home to England. Lucky Spot became a beloved family pet.
Although the McCartneys commuted to concerts from their rented homes, there were still long hours in the air with the band and its entourage. Among others, the tour party included the McCartneys’ Cockney housekeeper Rose Martin, who minded the kids when Paul and Lin were on stage; an ex-FBI man who looked out for potential assassins and kidnappers; and a new road manager, 27-year-old Londoner John Hammel, who’d previously worked for Humble Pie. The term ‘road manager’ is a vague one under which somebody like Hammel acts as driver, bodyguard and all-round gofer. Hammel proved so satisfactory in the role that he has stayed by Paul’s side ever since Wings Over America, his job description evolving into Personal Assistant.
During the long intercontinental flights the horn players fell into an extended game of Ten Card Brag, betting nickels, partly because they were not well paid. After watching the game for a while, Paul sat in with the lads, borrowing his stake. The pot of money grew into a large pile of change. ‘Here you are, boys - four of a kind,’ Howie Casey announced one day, laying down his winning hand. ‘Thank you very much.’ As Howie gathered in his coins, McCartney went berserk, as if he’d been cheated out of a fortune, to the amusement of his sidemen. ‘I think it’s the winning. It’s not the money,’ says Howie, who notes that when he and others grumbled about the wages they were paid, Paul gave them a generous end-of-tour bonus. ‘He said, “Give them all $10,000 each [£6,535].” OK, that’s great. He did that sort of thing, but it would have been much better for all concerned if we’d have had a decent [salary in the first place].’
Howie asked for and received a bottle of Scotch in the dressing room before each show. Yet there was a predominantly family vibe during Wings Over America, as there had been on the double-decker tour of Europe. To unwind after the show, Paul and Lin screened a movie, and they liked the band to watch the film with them. Then Paul and Lin went to their rented home, where Rosie had already put the kids to bed. There was an official ban on drugs backstage, also on groupies. That way Linda kept Paul away from temptation, though he showed no signs of straying. ‘I never saw [Paul with another woman] and I never sensed any of it,’ says Denny Laine, who knew Paul as well as anyone during the decade. Indeed, Denny hardly ever saw Paul without Linda. If Paul walked into a room, you could bet Lin would follow. ‘He wanted somebody he could rely on,’ says Denny, explaining the attraction Paul felt for his wife. ‘She came from money, too, so he could trust she wasn’t after his money, [and] they had kids. The kids went everywhere with them. This was a life he hadn’t had much of and really loved.’
THE SUMMER OF 1976
After returning home from this hugely successful US tour Paul decided to celebrate the life of one of his musical heroes, Buddy Holly, with a luncheon party on what would have been Buddy’s birthday, thus also celebrating his ownership of a slice of Buddy’s publishing. The party was held at the Orangery in London’s Kensington Gardens on 7 September 1976, attended by MPL staff, Wings members, and musicians from other bands including Queen and 10cc, whose co-founder Eric Stewart had known Paul since Cavern days and would soon come to play a significant part in Paul’s career.
The lunch proved so enjoyable that Paul decided to celebrate Buddy’s life and music every September with Buddy Holly Week, featuring a lunch or party that Paul would attend, plus public events for fans - creating an additional fixture on the McCartney Calendar. The McCartney Year now invariably started with a family party in Liverpool, followed by a sunshine break in the Caribbean, with a two-week family holiday in Scotland in August, closely followed by another fortnight in East Hampton with the Eastmans, then back to London for Buddy Holly Week in September, followed by Hallowe’en and Thanksgiving, which the family tended to celebrate in London. Linda was largely responsible for introducing the American tradition of trick or treat to St John’s Wood and, before the McCartneys turned vegetarian, she cooked a scrumptious Thanksgiving turkey. Band members and friends were always grateful for an invitation to this annual feast, especially homesick Americans. In the days before cranberries were widely available in the UK, Linda cleverly made an ersatz cranberry sauce from English jam. At Christmas Paul hosted a jolly office party at MPL-one year hiring the actor Andrew Sachs to serve the drinks in character as Manuel from the TV show Fawlty Towers - before going back to Liverpool for New Year and starting over again. Recording and concerts were fitted in around this family-orientated calendar, and virtually everywhere Paul and Lin went the kids came, too. The McCartneys were a remarkably close family.
A couple of weeks after the first Buddy Holly luncheon, Paul and Linda took Wings to Venice to play a charity concert and celebrate Lin’s 35th birthday with a family party (naturally the kids came), after which Paul didn’t play live for three years. While he loved performing, Linda only did so to please him, so this was a welcome break for her, and of course the McCartneys didn’t need the money. Wings Over America had filled the coffers; MPL turned over more than £3 million ($4.5m) in 1976-7, out of which Paul paid himself a chairman’s salary of £96,500 (or $147,645) at a time when national average earnings in the UK were less than £4,000 ($6,120), and the company still cleared a £1.1 m profit ($1.68). ‘In the last two years I have earned more money that I have ever earned in all the so-called boom years [of the Beatles] put together,’ the star revealed in a 1977 interview. ‘I was sick with companies. But Lee [Eastman] told me that if I got an office and a couple of good people to pay out of my own pocket I could own my own material.’ Lee’s advice had proved sound. Some Beatles-related income is included in these MPL figures, which are a matter of public record, but the main royalty stream from the Beatles’ back catalogue does not appear in the registered company accounts, meaning that Paul had substantial additional earnings accruing elsewhere. The full picture of his personal wealth would emerge many years later, as we shall see.
After operating out of rented rooms in Greek Street, Soho, for the past couple of years, in 1977 MPL moved around the corner to Soho Square, at the centre of which is a small park popular with office and shop workers. Soho Square is in the middle of a very busy area of Central London, the large clothes shops of Oxford Street a few strides away to the north, Charing Cross Road to the east, with its book and music shops, the bustling life of Soho - with its bars, restaurants and clubs - all around. Paul had bought 1 Soho Square, a five-storey Edwardian townhouse, the ground floor of which resembles a shop, with large, curved, plate-glass windows. Stairs lead up from the reception to four floors of offices, Paul taking as his private study the front office on the second floor. Sitting at his desk, speaking on the phone, he could watch people in the park below, an interesting view for a man always on the look-out for song ideas. Before MPL moved into 1 Soho Square, Paul had the building gutted and redecorated Art Deco-style by the people who designed the celebrated Biba shop in Kensington, commissioning expensive blue carpets, curtains and upholstery, all woven with a music note motif, which was repeated in the hand-carved oak door handles and as a stencil pattern around the windows. Other bespoke features included an antique Wurlitzer loaded with Paul’s favourite records, valuable art works and a restored pipe organ on the first-floor landing. There was a penthouse flat at the top of the building, and space in the basement for a recording studio.
A small team of people worked full time for Paul at 1 Soho Square. The most senior role was personal manager to Paul. It is a reflection of how demanding Paul can be that there was a high turnover of people in this position. First came Vincent Romeo, then Brian Brolly, followed by an Australian named Stephen Shrimpton. Brolly stayed with MPL throughout the changes, looking after Paul’s money alongside accountant Paul Winn, both stalwart members of the MPL team. So too was the ebullient Alan ‘the Crowd’ Crowder, who served as office factotum. In addition there was a changing cast of receptionists and secretaries. Sue Cavanaugh ran the Wings Fun Club and oversaw its magazine, Club Sandwich, launched in February 1977 to ‘narrow the gap between the band and its audience’. Initially, Club Sandwich consisted of a single folded sheet of newspaper, printed in black and white like the music papers of the day, though it was less like Melody Maker in tone than a kids’ magazine, apparently designed principally for the amusement of the wee McCartneys, benevolent, informal and jokey, with room for fan drawings, a letters page (Sue’s Lettuce [sic]), and a crossword puzzle drawn by Paul’s cousin, Bert Danher, a professional crossword compiler.
The MPL building was Paul’s own, better-organised version of the Apple operation at 3 Savile Row, another handsome townhouse building, and one which Apple finally got around to selling in 1976. Looking back from a time when stars, for security reasons, are usually concerned that the public don’t know where they live and do business, the Beatles had always been refreshingly public about their place of work. They put themselves on the high street with Apple in the Sixties, and Paul did the same with MPL now. Anybody who was interested could find his new office easily, and even if fans couldn’t get past the girls on reception they could sit in Soho Square watching the building for Paul who was often to be seen walking about the area, using local restaurants and popping into the Nellie Dean pub. He still uses 1 Soho Square as his business headquarters and can be seen occasionally in the neighbourhood.
Likewise, Paul’s Cavendish Avenue address has always been well known to his fans, though the house has changed over the years. After his marriage to Linda, especially since they had children, Cavendish transformed from 1960s bachelor pad into family home, with a scruffy, lived-in feel, the kids hurtling about followed by their dogs, none of whom seemed house-trained, hand prints and crayon marks on the walls, often under valuable artwork, paw prints and dog mess on the rugs, while the McCartneys’ large back garden put the neighbours in mind of the TV sit-com The Good Life. In this popular Seventies’ comedy a middle-class couple turn their suburban garden into a small-holding complete with livestock. Similarly Linda had taken to growing vegetables in her back garden, which also included a small zoo of animals featuring rabbits, ducks and chickens, the latter roosting in Paul’s Rolls Royce after he carelessly left a window open. It cost £6,000 ($9,180) to have the Rolls re-upholstered.
The McCartney cockerel woke the whole avenue at dawn. ‘It wouldn’t just crow, it would escape, and you would see all the kids running down the street after [it],’ laughs Adrian Grumi, who grew up in Cavendish Avenue with the McCartney children. Adrian’s mother was less than impressed when Paul and Linda stabled four horses in their garden. Granted, the houses had been built with stables, to pull the carriages of the Victorian gentry who originally lived here, but it was an incongruous sight in 1976/77 to see the McCartneys clip-clopping out of their gate on Sunday mornings, under the mistaken belief they could go riding in Regent’s Park. ‘They had their helmets and all sorts of things, and the jodhpurs, just to go along the bottom of the street to the top of the street. They used to poo, the horses, and the neighbours went mad,’ says Mrs Grumi.
The McCartneys were in fact less often in St John’s Wood nowadays, spending more time at their Sussex bolthole, Waterfall, even though the house was too small for a family of five. As in Scotland, it was the privacy and simplicity of country life that appealed. ‘It was great [for Paul] to get away from being a superstar to being just a family man,’ notes Denny Laine. In September 1976, Paul began improving and expanding his Sussex property, making a planning application for the erection of a stable block and, unusually, for a 70ft observation tower, both of which were granted. The tower attracted a great deal of media attention, not least because it looked like something from a prisoner-of-war camp. Newspapers published pictures of the tower as part of fanciful stories about the high security at Paul’s Sussex home, which the neighbours were apparently calling Paulditz, a pun on another popular TV show of the day, the POW drama Colditz. In fact, Paul had little personal security and, rather than erecting the tower to watch for intruders, he wanted to be able to look out over the tree canopy. ‘You see, when you are right in the forest, there’s no views, no outlook, you were just in the trees,’ explains his neighbour Veronica Languish. ‘So when he had that tower built he could see further around.’ The Languishes were among the local farming families who had watched the arrival of the McCartneys with curiosity in the late Sixties, but grew to like the family. ‘He fits in. He is just like everybody else really to us now, he’s been here long enough,’ says Mrs Languish, having known Paul over 30 years. Like so many people, Mrs Languish was particularly fond of Linda, who made the biggest effort to meet and befriend local people. ‘She was a nice girl, Linda, she was a very friendly girl.’ And the McCartneys’ marriage was evidently solid. That Christmas, Linda bought Paul one of his best presents: the double bass Bill Black played on Elvis Presley’s Sun sessions, while there was further good news when a live triple album of their US tour, Wings Over America, went to number one in the United States.
In the first week of December 1976, the Sex Pistols had burst upon the consciousness of the British public with an outrageous appearance on tea-time television, the band members cursing and baiting the presenter on the show to the extent that they made front-page news the next day. Punk rock had arrived, and many young Britons took it to their hearts, feeling themselves to have more in common with scruffs like Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious than a millionaire rock star like Paul McCartney. Even Paul’s daughter Heather, now 14, had turned punk. Paul tried to write a punk-style song to entertain her, named, hilariously, ‘Boil Crisis’, but at the age of 34 he was too long in the tooth to empathise with rebellious teens.
In March, Paul had allowed the orchestral Thrillington album to be released, six years after he had recorded the curiosity, with a jokey promotional campaign that involved placing short, enigmatic items in the personal column of London’s Evening Standard, supposedly written by the fictional band leader, Percy ‘Thrills’ Thrillington. Releasing an album of tea-dance instrumentals the same month as the Sex Pistols’ ‘God Save the Queen’ showed how out of step with youth culture Paul had become. But did it matter? He and Linda were rich and happy. They were expecting another baby- Paul hoped for a boy- and plans were being laid to make the next Wings album in the Caribbean. No wonder punks resented him.
Ten years on from the summer of love, Great Britain was a much less attractive and confident place to be than in the mid-Sixties. As 1976 segued into ’77 high interest rates, strikes and mounting unemployment were all symptoms of an ailing economy, while the euphemistically termed ‘troubles’ of Northern Ireland continued to result in bloody murder both in the province and on mainland Britain, with bomb scares and actual blasts commonplace in the capital. In the music industry the talk was all about the Sex Pistols, the band having been sacked from EMI by its new chairman Sir John Read as too controversial for a firm that had built its reputation on making recordings of such great British composers as Vaughan Williams, Sir Edward Elgar and, well, Lennon & McCartney. Paul was a favourite son at EMI HQ, and continued to patronise Abbey Road Studios, which had become the most famous recording facility in the world thanks to the Beatles. The zebra crossing outside the studios had become a major tourist attraction in the few years since Abbey Road was released, fans coming from all over the world to have their picture taken walking across, to the annoyance of cab and bus drivers who were obliged to stop for them.
In the grey days of February 1977, Paul took Wings back into the EMI studios on Abbey Road to work on their new London Town album, named after the title song, which sought to express the feel of the capital in winter. While there is a definite gloomy charm to London at this time of year, Paul soon tired of the dark, damp days of winter. He announced to his band that, after a break in proceedings, Wings would resume recording London Town in the Caribbean (again probably partly for tax reasons). What’s more they would do so on a boat.
The McCartneys flew to Jamaica in April for a family holiday, before travelling to the US Virgin Islands where Wings’ advance party had hired three vessels, including the motor launch the Fair Carol, into the stern of which Geoff Emerick and Mark Vigars fitted a 24-track recording machine. Captain Tony Garton feared his vessel would sink under the weight. A trimaran, El Toro, was hired for the McCartney family, that is Paul and Linda, heavily pregnant with her fourth child, and the girls Heather, Mary and Stella; while a third vessel, Samala, accommodated Wings, the roadies and the engineers. The McCartney family came aboard at St Thomas, then sailed to St John to collect Denny, Jimmy and Joe.
This eccentric Caribbean adventure began well, with the band and crew diving into the water to swim from one boat to another, delighting in the coral and brightly coloured fish. Fun was had shouting ‘Shark!’ when friends were bathing. One day a dolphin rose to the surface, cocking its head as if to listen to Paul playing guitar. As the sessions continued, however, there were numerous shipboard mishaps. Alan Crowder slipped and broke his foot, returning from hospital on crutches like Long John Silver; Denny Laine got sunstroke; Jimmy McCulloch temporarily lost his hearing; and Geoff Emerick electrocuted himself. At night, with the three boats moored together, everybody would meet for a long communal supper under the stars. One night, Paul entertained everybody with a production of a story called The Two Little Fairies , narrating and playing piano, while his daughters Mary and Stella acted out the parts of the fairies. Too old for this sort of childish nonsense, Heather was to be found skulking in a corner listening to the Damned.
Drink and weed were part of the nightlife, and when the boats were moored in Watermelon Bay two US Park Rangers came aboard to remonstrate with Paul about the noise. The following day the Rangers delivered a letter, warning that if they came back and found drugs onboard arrests would follow. Spooked, Captain Garton tried to impose order on his rock star client, who told him he didn’t need the aggravation and hired a new boat, the Wanderlust. Later, a song of that name appeared on the Tug of War album, the lyrics making it clear that Paul considered hassles with the authorities over dope a petty matter.
When summer came, the McCartneys headed back to Scotland. Denny Laine and his partner Jo Jo were living at the time in a cottage on Paul’s estate so that he and Paul could write together. One afternoon Paul came over to the house with an idea for a song about their holiday home. ‘He had the chorus. He already had the “Mull of Kintyre” title,’ remembers Laine, referring to the tip of the Kintyre peninsula. ‘He wanted to write a song that reminded him of the area.’ The men had a couple of glasses of whisky, then sat outside Laine’s cottage and finished the song, looking at the scenery: ‘that was the way that song came about, looking around and seeing what was there. You didn’t have to come up with anything. It was just in front of you.’ The finished song was a waltz with good, poetic lyrics. The words are in fact noticeably superior to all Paul’s solo work to date, which is explained by the fact that McCartney didn’t write them. At least not all of them. While Paul wrote the chorus, and already had the title, Laine says he wrote ‘quite a lot’ of the rest of ‘Mull of Kintyre’, meaning that Paul has to share the credit for what may be his best post-Beatles lyric. Laine says his input is strongly felt, for example, in the following romantic verse:
Far have I travelled and much have I seen
Dark distant mountains with valleys of green
Past painted deserts, the sunsets on fire
As he carries me home to the Mull of Kintyre
The recording of the song was highly unusual, using the services of the Campbeltown Pipe Band, one member of which was Jimmy McGeachy, teenaged son of a piper of the same name. Aged 15 when ‘Mull of Kintyre’ was recorded, Jimmy was in his final year at Campbeltown Grammar School, after which he would become an apprentice fitter in the shipyard. In his spare time he played in the pipe band. The band members met at Castle Hill Church two evenings a week to practise, and when summer came they sallied forth in Royal Stewart tartan kilts, sporrans and feathered bonnets to perform in the streets of the town and at regional competitions. As with the Black Dyke Mills Band, there was considerable community pride in the band, with youngsters always eager to join. Jimmy saw no conflict between playing drums in the pipe band and drumming in his school punk band.
The Pipe Major was a former Scots Guardsman named Tony Wilson, a larger-than-life character often to be found in the pub. One day Paul invited Wilson up to High Park to play him his new waltz, asking if the pipe band, whom he’d last had up to High Park when he was with Jane Asher, would like to play on a recording. Wilson put the idea to his colleagues at their next meeting at Castle Hill. ‘We thought it was a wind-up, obviously,’ notes Ian McKerral, then a young piper. ‘We knew Paul had a farm in Kintyre and we used to see him around the town, he was quite regular, but Tony was a bit of a character and we thought he was having us on.’ Tony was in earnest, however. He chalked Paul’s tune on the blackboard, and they started rehearsing it.
On the evening of Tuesday 9 August 1977, Wilson took seven pipers and seven drummers, all dressed in tartan, to Low Ranachan Farm. Geoff Emerick and Mark Vigars were there to make the recording. ‘All of a sudden the dogs come on down, there’s the sheepdog Martha, and then the McCartneys. He’s there in front of us. “Hi, how are you going?” His family is all there, who were just kids at the time, Mary, Stella, and Heather was my age,’ recalls Jimmy McGeachy, who got to know Heather a little. ‘She was quite clingy, she was always at mother’s side …’ Denny Laine and Joe English were also present, but not Jimmy McCulloch. The volatile guitarist had parted company with Wings after a silly incident at the farm when, no doubt drunk, he’d thrown eggs against a wall. The eggs came from Linda’s pet chickens and she was upset. As a result, Jimmy left to join the Small Faces.
Wings had already recorded the basics of ‘Mull of Kintyre’. Now the pipers recorded their part, priming their pipes by inflating the sheepskin bags, then unleashing the fierce, weird, almost mechanical noise of the instruments. Paul counted them in, for the pipes aren’t heard until after the third verse. When this was done to his satisfaction, he went outside and recorded the drums, yelling ‘Whoo-hooo!’ at the end, as can be heard on the record. With the work done, Paul went away and reappeared with a wheelbarrow loaded with cans of McEwan’s Export beer, which the pipe band members drank while Paul tried on John McGeachy’s tartan and attempted to squeeze a tune out of the pipes, which was harder than it looked. Linda made sandwiches for the men. ‘She was a lovely woman,’ says John McGeachy, the town mechanic. ‘You could meet her in the streets of Campbeltown- I met her quite a bit-and she would always stop to chat …’ Young Jimmy McGeachy (no relation) wandered inside the barn and had a go on Joe English’s drums, Linda coming to join him for a jam session. ‘She makes you feel really welcome, you know. There [was] a warmth about her.’ Although eight months pregnant, Linda sneaked a cigarette from young Jimmy. ‘Don’t tell Paul,’ she whispered.
Although Joe English seemed on good terms with the McCartneys during the ‘Mull of Kintyre’ session, he left Wings soon afterwards, grumbling about money. Once more, Wings were the irreducible trio of Paul, Linda and Denny Laine, again putting a question mark against Paul’s relationship with his musicians. ‘Paul is wonderful but he can be pretty ruthless to people around him,’ comments former Apple man Tony ‘Measles’ Bramwell, who was doing PR for Wings nowadays. Band members came and went ‘without any sort of acknowledgement’. To be fair, Paul had more important things happening in his life. His dream of having a son was fulfilled the following month when, on 12 September 1977, Linda gave birth to a boy. They named the child James Louis, after Paul’s father and Linda’s grandfather respectively. In registering the birth Paul was obliged to provide Linda’s previous married name. He gave Lerch, though he knew full well that Heather’s father was Mel See; probably an intentional dig, the McCartneys not being on good terms with Mel at the time. So proud was Paul at having a son, he had his PR put out a press release. ‘I’m over the moon!’ Paul was quoted as saying. ‘When I knew the baby was a boy I really flipped.’
Paul had originally intended ‘Mull of Kintyre’ as an album track, but he had such a good feeling about the song he made it a double A-side single with ‘Girls’ School’, the salacious lyrics of which, concerning schoolgirls and their sexy teachers, sounded out of place coming from a father of three girls. ‘Girls’ School’ was, however, a conventional rock ’n’ roll song that might play well in North America, whereas ‘Mull of Kintyre’ was a Scottish folk song with bagpipes that almost certainly wouldn’t. Paul decided, nevertheless, to release it in the UK, shooting a promotional video with the pipe band on Kintyre. At the start of this video Paul is seen strumming his guitar outside a cottage, with Linda walking down to meet him babe in arms. The impression given is that we are looking at Paul’s Scottish home. In fact, he travelled several miles up the coast to Saddle Beach to make the video and the house is nothing to do with the family. Again, the pipe band members were charmed by the McCartneys, and happily signed away their rights to royalties for a modest one-off payment. By agreement with Tony Wilson, each man got £30 cash ($46) in a brown envelope on the night of the recording, and another £300 ($460) or so for the video, which they thought generous. Nobody expected what happened next.
Released in mid-November 1977, ‘Mull of Kintyre’ went quickly to number one in the British charts - the first and only Wings song to be a UK number one - then stayed there for what seemed forever. Paul, who was in the habit of calling MPL to ask about weekly sales, was given astonishing figures: up to 145,000 copies a day were being sold in Britain at a time when a good daily sale was 20,000. ‘Mull of Kintyre’ soon sold a million, and kept selling. Not since the Beatles had Paul shifted so much vinyl. He brought the Campbeltown Pipe Band to London, where they made a second video to give the viewers of the BBC TV show Top of the Pops something different to look at. All told, ‘Mull of Kintyre’ stayed at number one for nine weeks, selling over two million copies in the UK, the biggest-selling single in British history up to that time.
The song also did well in countries with a sizeable ex-patriate Scottish community, such as Canada and New Zealand, stirring feelings of nostalgia. As expected, it sold far fewer copies in the United States, as did its flipside ‘Girls’ School’, which Paul had hoped would do well in the USA. This disappointment contributed to Paul’s decision to end his long association with Capitol Records. A light, peppy synthesiser-based tune from the new album, ‘With a Little Luck’, did however make number one in the United States, after which Paul launched London Town.
The album cover, showing Paul, Linda and Denny posed by Tower Bridge on a cold day, was at odds with the fact that much of this record had been cut in the Caribbean, while the tracks were the usual mixture of catchy ballads - with one or two stand-outs - surrounded by make-weights and songs that sounded half-finished, such as ‘Backwards Traveller’. The words of ‘Children Children’, referring to a secret waterfall in a forest where children play, surely relates to the family home in Sussex; while it wasn’t clear whether Paul was being ironical or not when he sang in mockery of rock stars and their groupie girlfriends in ‘Famous Groupies’. After all, he’d married a groupie (Linda), and Denny was about to marry another one (Jo Jo). London Town also sounded distinctly old-fashioned in a year when most of the young record-buying public were either into disco or punk in Britain.
When Paul asked ‘Measles’ Bramwell what he thought of London Town, he didn’t like the answer he received. ‘I said, “Well, it’ll be all right when it’s finished.” He did one of his prodding things. You know, he prods,’ says Measles, explaining that if Paul was in a good mood he gave you his famous thumbs-up gesture, but if he was displeased with someone in private he would prod them in the chest while he told them off. ‘It was just Macca being Macca: thumbs up Macca or prodding Macca.’ As he poked Measles in the chest, Paul asked: ‘What the fuck do you know? I fucking brought you down from Liverpool.’ It was what he used to say in the old days at Apple, to Peter Brown and others, when he was pissed off. Bramwell was not given the job of promoting London Town and the men didn’t speak for more than ten years.
Although Paul was out of step with young Britons, he continued to command a large, older audience, and London Town went top five in the UK and USA. It may have done even better had its release not coincided with a classic spoof. The story of the greatest of all Beatles tribute bands, the Rutles, goes back a couple of years to when former Monty Python member Eric Idle and Bonzo Dog songwriter Neil Innes, both great friends of George Harrison’s, made a comedy series for the BBC named Rutland Weekend Television, satirising the conventions of television and spoofing Hard Day’s Night-era Beatles, because, as Innes explains, ‘it was a cheap visual gag - black and white, four guys in wigs and pointy shoes running around a field. It would do!’ When Idle presented Saturday Night Live in 1976, he showed a clip of the Rutles, receiving such a favourable response from American viewers that SNLcommissioned a full-length film of the ‘the prefab four’. All You Need is Cash is a documentary parody presented by Idle in the character of a humourless TV journalist whose cockeyed comments poke fun at both the Beatles story and the way journalists carelessly repeat the commonplace. The viewer is shown the Cavern and the Reeperbahn, ‘the world’s naughtiest street where the Rutles found themselves far from home and far from talented’; the Rutles making their first album ‘in 20 minutes; the second took even longer’; then falling into the clutches of a Klein-like manager whose ‘only weak spot was his dishonesty’. The Paul character was named Dirk McQuickly, played by Idle as a peppy Mr Showbiz always willing to talk to the press or write a quick song for another band. ‘Any old slag he’d sell a song to,’ sneers Mick Jagger in a delicious cameo, all the funnier because Paul gave the Stones their first hit.
NBC broadcast All You Need is Cash the day Paul was launching London Town, the parody airing on the BBC five days later, shortly after which a Rutles LP was released. As Paul tried to sell his own record, journalists asked him constantly about Rutlemania, a gag the media took to with alacrity even though it was partly at their expense. Paul was not amused. ‘I don’t think he liked Eric’s portrayal of him,’ says Neil Innes, laughing despite feeling bad about the Rutles clashing with London Town. When he met Paul at a party at George Harrison’s house he tried to apologise to the star. ‘I did take him to one side and said, “Look, old bean, I’m really sorry about [the] Rutles.” He said, “Oh no, I know it’s affectionate.”’ Still, Innes got the impression Paul was offended. ‘He suddenly started to look a bit edgy.’
BACK TO THE EGG
Paul attended the London première of Annie in May 1978, taking not only Lin and the kids to the theatre but 37 members of his extended family, partly to celebrate the fact that the Eastmans had bought the rights to the musical to add to MPL’s growing music publishing division. The show became a major hit, further enriching the star. The Eastmans were also in the process of renegotiating Paul’s record deal with EMI and Capitol, with the result that McCartney signed with CBS in America for a $22.5 million advance (then £10m). The size of the deal reflected his track record in the United States. The Beatles had been the most successful act of the Sixties, and it could be argued, on the strength of US singles, that Paul was one of the most successful acts of the Seventies. There were high expectations that he would continue to deliver hits for CBS with Wings.
First, Paul had to re-form the band. This time he delegated the job to Denny Laine, who picked two Englishmen in their twenties to replace Joe English and Jimmy McCulloch: drummer Steve Holley and guitarist Laurence Juber. The auditions were perfunctory. ‘We played some Chuck Berry tunes and some reggae grooves and they offered me the job on the spot,’ recalls Juber. Holley believes the almost careless choice was an indication that Paul was losing interest in Wings. ‘I don’t think they particularly wanted a long, drawn-out audition process, which I think Paul was bored with. I think Paul was probably getting bored in general anyway, to be absolutely truthful … Perhaps the responsibility of having a band was becoming a little tiresome for him.’
Previous versions of Wings failed partly because the musicians felt they were underpaid sidemen rather than full band members. Holley and Juber were essentially hired on the same basis, but the pay was better, and the terms of unemployment were explained more clearly during a business meeting with Paul’s father-in-law. Over iced tea on the lawn of his summer home in East Hampton, Lee Eastman spelt out the deal. ‘Basically there was an annual amount and it was paid on a monthly basis and there was a percentage of tour revenue,’ says Juber. ‘It was certainly a reasonable deal.’ As Paul’s lieutenant, Denny Laine had a different, enhanced deal, having finally been given a share in the band’s royalties - what Denny Seiwell had always hankered after, but didn’t stick around long enough to get. The Eastmans were also beginning to manage Laine’s financial affairs, alongside Paul’s, within MPL. Unfortunately, Laine had already got into the position of owing the tax man more money than he could pay. This became a serious problem for the guitarist.
That summer Wings convened in Scotland to start work on the new album, Back to the Egg, produced by Paul with Chris Thomas, who’d become a well-known producer since stepping into George Martin’s shoes on the White Album, producing Procol Harum, Roxy Music and, most recently, the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks. There was an attempt to introduce something of the energy of punk and new wave music - which was essentially the rediscovery of rock ’n’ roll - to Back to the Egg, the title indicating a return to basics. This is heard most clearly on ‘Spin It On’, with echoes of the Clash audible in ‘Again and Again and Again’. As always with Paul there were also plenty of catchy love songs, some filler, and forays into different musical styles, including the jazzy closing track, ‘Baby’s Request’, which his father would have loved.
Steve Holley realised that Paul missed working with John Lennon.
Actually it was the morning that we recorded ‘Arrow Through Me’. The night before had been a particularly long one, it was the only time he ever spoke about it, nothing about his relationship, it was just more of a feeling that I had than anything, that he just missed that closeness … just a perception, My God, he misses John - that it was a huge hole in his life.
Denny Laine suggests Paul was actually bored dealing with young musicians who didn’t know the ropes. Some of the elementary rock band stuff that went without being said between Laine and McCartney had to be spelt out to the new boys; ‘they were more like younger fans than old-school road warriors’. Yet Paul was talking about making a movie with them.
The movie project, which ultimately morphed into the execrable Give My Regards to Broad Street, began when Paul invited playwright Willy Russell to Scotland to hang out with the group to see if the experience might inspire a screenplay. There was inevitably a great deal of waiting around in what passed for a green room at Low Ranachan Farm, leaving Willy alone with the musicians and roadies. As others had before, the playwright noticed a sycophantic atmosphere around Paul:
Paul’s fame is such [that] everybody around him is affected in some way and the truth is not told. People would come out and moan about hanging around all day. People would come out and say privately, ‘Why is he re-doing that bass part when it was brilliant four days ago?’ And I’d go, ‘Why don’t you fucking say it to Paul?’ It’s not Paul who doesn’t want to hear those things. Paul would probably be the first person to accept that his life would be richer and better if the people around him would have that kind of dialogue with him, but this kind of deference infects everybody.
To kill time the boys played Scrabble. Denny’s game was let down by poor spelling. ‘[Denny] said to me one day when we were playing, he said [affecting a Midlands accent], “I’ve got a good one here. Do you owl think that, er, obscenity is allowed?” I said, “Yeah, it’s all right.” And he put down T-E-R-D.’
Willy had written a play, Stags and Hens, about a successful Liverpool musician who returns to Merseyside to take up with an old girlfriend. He thought this might serve as a basis for Paul’s movie, supplying a challenging but manageable part for him and a role for Linda. ‘What there wasn’t, really, was roles for the rest of the band and [the] brief was I had to keep the Wings thing intact so there had to be a role for Steve and Laurence and Denny …’ After a week in Kintyre, Willy went home to think about it further.
Shortly after Russell left the farm, Paul transferred the recording of Back to the Egg to Abbey Road Studios, then to Lympne Castle, a medieval mansion not far from his Sussex home. ‘Mostly we were there for convenience, because Paul and Linda were spending a lot of time down at Peasmarsh, and they didn’t want to have to be driving up to London quite so much,’ says Juber. Then Paul had the brainwave of cutting a track with a large number of rock musicians as an orchestra, a ‘Rockestra’. Superstar friends including Dave Gilmour and Pete Townshend agreed to play guitar on the session, while Gary Brooker of Procol Harum and John Bonham and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin also said they’d take part. As Paul was preparing for the session, Buddy Holly Week rolled around. This year Paul celebrated with a party at a London club, followed by the première of the movie The Buddy Holly Story. Many stars attended, including Who drummer Keith Moon, who told Paul he’d be happy to play drums with the other celebrities on the ‘Rockestra’ session. Unfortunately, Moon died in the early hours of the following morning, having swallowed what his girlfriend describes as ‘a bucket of pills’. Kenny Jones stepped into Keith’s place at Abbey Road on 3 October, Paul conducting everybody in a monster jam recorded as the ‘Rockestra Theme’, whooping with excitement throughout what must have seemed like a really cool idea at the time, but now sounds like bombast.
Along with the misjudgement of Rockestra, there were worrying signs of Paul wanting to rush into his new movie. He summoned Willy Russell and his collaborator Mike Ockrent to Abbey Road to tell them he needed a script post-haste. What with him and Mike being busy people, and Christmas approaching, Willy suggested that the only way they could do a rush job for Paul was to go away somewhere quiet with their families. ‘Paul said something like, “What, like you mean France? ” Mike went, “Far too cold this time of year. I’m thinking of the West Indies,”’ recalls Russell with a chuckle. ‘And I can see Paul going, You cheeky twat!’ Still, MPL booked the writers onto a plane to Jamaica, where a villa was put at their disposal. They returned with a screenplay titled Band on the Run, in which Paul would play a music star named Jet who, weary with his career, takes up with a scruffy young rock ’n’ roll band featuring Linda, Denny, Steve and Laurence, leading them to the brink of success, before going back to his old life. There was a read-through at Waterfall. ‘And Paul was, I think, very excited by the possibility, ’ says Russell, who got the impression McCartney intended to make the film as soon as he’d finished Back to the Egg.
‘I’ve cleared the slate for two months’ time,’ he told the playwright, with a sense of purpose.
‘But there’s been no pre-production,’ protested Willy, who knew a movie couldn’t be made like this, unless Paul wanted a disaster. ‘Look, you can’t do this like Magical Mystery Tour,’ he warned, realising he was sounding like ‘a suit’, as Paul and Linda termed company men. ‘Paul and Linda used to talk very disparagingly about the suits, you know. I started to sound like a suit.’ Still, there wasn’t even a budget. ‘How it was going to get made, I don’t know. I think the idea was, Look, when I turn my attention to it, it will get made. If you are that powerful, people will say, “Yes, we can do it. We’ve got two weeks, yeah we can do it …”’
Meanwhile, there were signs that, after eight years together, McCartney and Laine weren’t getting along. ‘I noticed that there were disagreements that sometimes became quite verbal,’ observes Steve Holley.
I suspect Denny felt that he should have more of a partnership than he actually had, and I think Paul was upset about his demeanour and the way he was carrying on. I also think there were personality clashes between the two of them, and certainly between Denny’s wife Jo Jo48 and Linda. They were poles apart. Jo Jo was a high-spirited party girl, and just loved the glitz and the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle, and Linda was much more down to earth.
Paul called a band meeting to decide what to do. The decision was that they needed a new single. The younger band members asked Paul what the Beatles did in situations like this. Less guarded about the Beatles now than he had been at the start of Wings, Paul replied: ‘Well, if we needed a single, we’d just write one over the weekend and record it on the Monday.’ So that’s what Paul did, writing ‘Daytime Nightime Suffering’, also completing a song titled ‘Goodnight Tonight’. The two tracks were intended as a double A-side. Written and recorded quickly, the songs have an immediacy and energy lacking from Back to the Egg, which was now so overworked it might more aptly have been titled Over-Egged. In April 1979, Paul brought the entire Black Dyke Mills Band down from Yorkshire to play on one track at Abbey Road.
Work on the album had been going on for so long that EMI told Paul they needed Studio Two back for other artists. So McCartney had a replica built in the basement of the MPL office on Soho Square. Replica Studio was an exact copy of the control room at Studio Two at Abbey Road, with a photo of the studio on the wall so that it felt like being in the control room at EMI. This was a great extravagance, on top of his new movie project, but Paul was richer than ever. In signing with CBS, he had recently been given a sweetener, the Frank Music Catalogue, making Paul the owner of the works of Frank Loesser, American author of Guys and Dolls, and adding to a publishing portfolio that included the Buddy Holly song book, and rights to a raft of hit shows including Annie, Hello, Dolly! and A Chorus Line, which were all earning him big money. Sometimes Paul wondered at his own good fortune. ‘Crazy, isn’t it?’ he remarked that year, ‘as well as gold at the bottom of the garden, he has oil running off the roof.’ But Paul’s luck was about to run out.