Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney - Howard Sounes (2010)
PART TWO. AFTER THE BEATLES
Chapter 19. GO TO JAIL
DOWN ON THE FARM
Ever since she had been brought to England by her mother, Heather McCartney had experienced problems. At first the primary school kids in St John’s Wood made fun of Heather’s American accent (which she dropped); then Paul and Linda took Heather out of school to tour with them, which disrupted her education. When she turned 11, Heather went to a private secondary school in London where she mixed with the children of other wealthy people, her classmates apparently obsessed with status and fame. During an argument with her parents, Heather revealed that her school friends had given her advice about dealing with her famous father. ‘They’d said to her, “You’ve no need to worry about your dad … if he gives you any more trouble you can tell the papers.”’ So concerned were Paul and Lin that Heather was mixing with such children that they took her out of the school and moved virtually overnight to their country home in Sussex. They kept Cavendish as their London base, but the McCartneys’ primary home now became Waterfall, their round house in the woods outside Peasmarsh.
Linda put Mary and Stella into the village primary school, sending Heather to the state comprehensive in Rye. Many parents tried to avoid sending their children to such schools in the 1970s, believing ‘bog standard’ comprehensives produced children of limited achievement and ambition. Those who could afford to do so often chose to have their children educated privately, but Paul and Linda’s decision proved a wise one. It was Linda who initially met with the headmaster, Ray Fooks, at Thomas Peacock School, explaining that she and Paul had decided it would be nice for the family to live permanently in the country; she didn’t allude to the problems Heather had experienced in London. Says Fooks, who subsequently also admitted Paul and Linda’s three younger children to his school, finding the McCartneys model parents - caring without becoming meddlesome:
I think in a way that [it’s] a great compliment to Linda and Paul, because they made sure that their children were treated like everybody else, and their children came to the school, fitted in perfectly, were very cooperative, very pleasant people, and made the best of their education and moved on.
It was around the time of the move to Peasmarsh that the McCartney family made another life-changing decision. They all became vegetarian, a diet Paul and his fellow Beatles had dabbled with in the Sixties, but which now became a way of life and something of an obsession for the family. The epiphany occurred at High Park when the McCartneys were about to sit down to a Sunday lunch of roast lamb. They looked out of their windows at the sheep, grazing around their standing stone, and decided that eating the peaceful creatures that shared their home was wrong. Recalling the moment, Linda said,
we just looked at the leg of lamb I was cooking and realised where it came from and we couldn’t eat it any more. It was a couple of months before I figured out what to do about the gaps on our dinner plates where the chops used to be.
Linda was the driving force in the change to vegetarianism, with an ally in vegetarian guitarist Laurence Juber. His memory is that Paul wasn’t keen at first on the new menu. ‘I remember one occasion Linda wasn’t there so I gave Paul a bag of bean sprouts and veggie stuff, and he just left it in the back of the Rolls Royce and forgot all about it. A week later Linda finds this bag of goo in the back.’
As the McCartneys settled into life in Sussex, it became clear that Waterfall wasn’t large enough to be a permanent home for the family. Paul bought neighbouring Lower Gate Farm to remedy this problem, a 159-acre property costing £250,000 ($382,500) in 1979. The farm was bordered on the west by the same forest that surrounded Waterfall, and was served by the same unmarked and little-used public road, Starvecrow Lane. A 500-yard track led from the lane to a semi-derelict house on a hill. The elevated position gave the house commanding views across the countryside, which the McCar tneys didn’t have at Waterfall, while the trees, and the distance from the lane, meant the house was also very private. Originally the farm had been known as Blossom Wood Farm, a name the McCartneys reinstated. Paul planned to knock down the derelict farmhouse and build a substantial new home in its place. As we forge ahead with Paul’s story, Blossom Farm becomes the focal point of his domestic life.
There was a Beatles reunion that spring in the neighbouring county of Surrey, where Eric Clapton was celebrating his marriage to George Harrison’s ex-wife. After being married to George for eight years, Pattie had left the former Beatle in 1974 for his close friend, three years after which George married his secretary Olivia Arias. Eric married Pattie on tour in March 1979. Two months later, a marquee was erected in the garden of the Claptons’ Surrey mansion, Hurtwood Edge, and 800 people attended a belated wedding reception. The guests included the cuckold Harrison, whose friendship with Eric and Pattie had survived the changing of the guard, a testimony to the freewheeling spirit of the decade in which they’d all come to maturity. Also present were Paul and Ritchie.
The three Beatles got up on stage in the marquee and performed ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, the first time they’d played together since Abbey Road, all looking happy and comfortable in each other’s company, even though George had recently conducted an affair with Ritchie’s wife.49 John Lennon telephoned to tell Eric that he would have been there, too, had he known about the party, creating the tantalising thought that all four Beatles might have played together in the tent. Perhaps a Beatles reunion wasn’t so unlikely after all.
Certainly Paul was sick of Wings. The new album Back to the Egg had finally been laid, with a silly, egg-theme press reception in the summer of 1979, but it was not the smash EMI and CBS had been banking on. It proved a curate’s egg, good in parts, with token attempts at sounding contemporary. The disc was presented in an elaborate sleeve created by the design group Hipgnosis, a company associated primarily with progressive rock bands, thus putting off many young record buyers to whom this sort of music was now unfashionable. Paul simply moved on. Doing exactly what he had at the end of the Beatles he went home and made a DIY solo album, taking the tapes with him when the family went to Scotland for their summer holidays.
In September came news that former Wings guitarist Jimmy McCulloch had died in his London apartment at the age of 26, succumbing to heart failure brought about by over-indulgence. Though Jimmy had always been difficult, upsetting Paul and Linda with his comments and bad behaviour, Paul had come to see the Laine-McCulloch-English incarnation of Wings as the best version of the band, after which the group seemed increasingly tired. Nevertheless, McCartney went ahead with a series of Wings concerts to promote Back to the Egg, starting with warm-up shows at the Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool, to which Paul also pledged a charitable donation.
Before the first Liverpool show, Paul called Willy Russell, asking him to attend a press conference at the theatre. ‘Get down to the Court,’ McCartney told the playwright enthusiastically.
‘I’m having this press conference this afternoon, and we’re going to talk about the movie.’ Willy Russell was amazed. After the initial read-through of the Band on the Run screenplay, the movie project had fallen flat as far as he was concerned. Paul started changing things. Then came a very tedious day when Paul summoned Willy and Mike Ockrent to Sussex, and kept them waiting hours. ‘It wasn’t a good day. He was terribly preoccupied with something … I think we sat around for seven or eight hours before finally we got to see Paul and it was a perfunctory [conversation],’ says Russell, who’d dreaded days like this. Then Paul introduced Russell to his friend, the movie producer David Puttnam, who criticised the Band on the Run screenplay so comprehensively that Russell concluded Puttnam actually wanted to squeeze him out and work with Paul himself (Puttnam admits he had an ambition to film the Beatles story). ‘He patronised the fuck out of us.’ On top of which, Paul wouldn’t engage in discussions about pre-production, or budgets, or any of the other details to do with making a motion picture. Yet he now intended to announce Band on the Run to the press! Considering this ‘mental’, Russell sat uneasily next to Paul at the Royal Court, only to find the film was never mentioned. ‘No one asks a question about the movie, so Paul doesn’t say anything about the movie. It is the usual press conference, “Isn’t it great to be back in Liverpool?”’ McCartney assured Russell afterwards that they would make the movie. They would do it after he’d toured with Wings, giving the playwright the thumbs up as they parted company. It was at least preferable to a prod in the chest.
While he was on Merseyside, McCartney revisited the Liverpool Institute, renewing his acquaintance with his geography teacher B.L. ‘Blip’ Parker, now the headmaster. Paul invited Parker and the school’s entire complement of boys, plus the girls from the school across the road, to a free first-night show at the Royal Court, a typically generous and sentimental gesture from a man who looked back on his school days with affection, as opposed to George Harrison who made it clear in his autobiography, I Me Mine, that he’d had a miserable time at the Inny. Naturally, Paul’s relatives also got tickets to the Royal Court, a considerable contingent of ‘relies’ showing up on the first night headed by the elderly but still redoubtable aunts. Paul was always nervous before a concert - a healthy sign - but with all those eager and familiar faces out front he was more jittery than normal on Friday 23 November 1979. ‘Before we went on Paul was quite nervous and he said, “Oh Jeez, I don’t know if this is gonna go,”’ recalls Howie Casey. ‘I said, “Paul, this is going to be like the second coming … You just walk on there, and they’re gonna go nuts.” And they did.’ It helped that Paul treated his audience to some Beatles songs, including ‘Fool on the Hill’ and ‘Got to Get You into My Life’, which gave Howie’s horn section a chance to shine. ‘For a long time after I started this group, I was embarrassed to do Beatles songs because it seemed like a cop-out,’ Paul said afterwards. ‘But that’s long gone now. I wrote the songs after all …’
Wings proceeded to tour the United Kingdom until Christmas, playing relatively small theatres, like London’s Lewisham Odeon, which the Beatles visited in the Sixties, the shows helping shift more copies of Back to the Egg, and pushing a Christmas single up the charts, ‘Wonderful Christmastime’, which was no worse than most songs of its ilk, though it sounds tinsel-thin compared with Lennon’s ‘Happy Xmas (War is Over)’. The new members of Wings enjoyed the tour, their first chance to play live with Paul, but the boss seemed unenthusiastic. Notes Steve Holley:
I remember one show that I particularly enjoyed for whatever reason and bouncing into the dressing room and saying something [like], ‘Ah, great show, great show!’ His reaction was, ‘Yeah, it was OK.’ As I left the room I thought, Of course it was just OK. I mean, look at some of the places he’s been, look at some of the concerts and experiences he’s had … That was one of the first times it dawned on me - is there any way to top what playing a concert with the Beatles must have been like? And I can’t imagine there was. It was almost like that was omnipresent.
Eight days before Christmas, Wings played the Glasgow Apollo, a fine old theatre with a famously rambunctious audience. To give the Glaswegians a treat, Paul closed with ‘Mull of Kintyre’ accompanied by the Campbeltown Pipe Band who were bussed in from Kintyre especially. To keep this a surprise, Paul had the pipe band wait outside the theatre until the last minute. Then they entered via the fire escape in full regalia. ‘We come out the fire door, which is right at the front of the stage, up the steps and then formed a semi-circle behind him [on stage],’ recalls pipe band drummer Ian Campbell.
We rehearsed it during the day. He said, ‘Don’t just leave the stage [at the end]. Enjoy the adulation, because this song has been amazing.’ So we come out, he started ‘Mull of Kintyre’, which drove the crowd a wee bit [mad], and then when we came out I thought the roof was going to come off. Honestly, they went insane.
This concert yielded a live recording of an excellent new song from Paul’s solo project, the ebullient ‘Coming Up’, which became a US number one.
Less successful was a post-Christmas charity show at the Hammersmith Odeon in London. The Concerts for Kampuchea were three nights of music featuring a host of acts ranging from young artists such as Alison Moyet to old stagers like the Who, all intended to raise money for the former Cambodia, devastated during Pol Pot’s regime. Paul helped organise the shows and Wings headlined the last night, 29 December 1979, by which time there was widespread expectation of a Beatles reunion on the stage where they’d once given their Christmas shows. Rumours that the Beatles were re-forming circulated almost constantly these days, but this time a sense that it really might happen was created by the Secretary General of the United Nations, Kurt Waldheim, who publicly urged John Lennon to join his band mates at Hammersmith for charity’s sake. Even if John didn’t show up, it was noted in the press that his 16-year-old son Julian was scheduled to perform. Perhaps Julian might sit in with his Beatle uncles.
So much interest was generated by this rumour that when Wings arrived at the Odeon for the sound check that afternoon they found the theatre besieged by ticket touts, fans and press, and were consequently unable to leave the building until after the show, spending what seemed like an eternity cooped up backstage with their fellow artists. A good deal of drinking was consequently done - it being Christmas - and by the time Wings took the stage some musicians were the worse for wear. ‘It was a pretty messed-up deal,’ recollects Steve Holley. ‘I don’t think that performance was particularly good.’ And there was no Beatles reunion. John never left the USA. He didn’t want to play with Paul, and Julian Lennon was so discombobulated by speculation that he might help the Beatles re-form that he pulled out of the show altogether. Instead, Wings delivered its usual set, spiced up with a few Beatles tunes and a Rockestra finale featuring Paul’s superstar mates in silver stage suits and top hats, looking for all the world like Gary Glitter’s Glitter Band. ‘Thank you, Pete! The only lousy sod who wouldn’t wear a silver suit,’ Paul remarked sharply, as Pete Townshend sauntered on in his normal, scruffy attire.
PAUL McCARTNEY’S ANNUS HORRIBILIS
A major Japanese tour was scheduled to begin in January 1980, with tentative plans for more shows around the world if it went well. A return to the US was certainly overdue. Yet none of this was to be, the year becoming instead Paul’s annus horribilis. It started badly when Paul was criticised as mean by Liverpool councillors for only giving £5,000 ($7,650) to the Royal Court Theatre during his recent trip to Merseyside, a small matter, but the first in what became 12 months of almost unremitting bad publicity for McCartney, who now flew to New York with Linda in advance of the Japanese tour.
The McCartneys booked into the Stanhope Hotel, just across Central Park from the Dakota, Paul calling John Lennon’s private number to ask if he could come over. Yoko took the call, telling Paul it wasn’t convenient, which was a slap in the face. Paul then told Yoko that he and Linda were en route to Tokyo, where they would be staying in the presidential suite at the Okura Hotel, which seemed to offend the Lennons because it was the suite they used when they were in Tokyo. Guitarist Laurence Juber joined the McCartneys at the Stanhope and, after a couple of days, during which time they socialised with other friends, including the model Twiggy, the party flew on to Tokyo, where Wings were due to start their tour at the Budokan on 21 January.
Paul hadn’t played Japan since the Beatles visited in 1966. He had tried to get a visa to take Wings to Japan, but had been denied permission because of his and Denny Laine’s drug convictions. ‘I was looking forward to working Japan because five years earlier we were supposed to have gone there and we got our visas revoked,’ explains Laine. ‘He’d been busted in the past, and I’d been busted [for marijuana], or at least Jo Jo had and I’d taken the rap for it.’ The problems of drug use and associated crimes were not yet as pronounced in Japan as in Western countries, and the authorities were naturally keen to discourage any growth in the drug culture. As a result, foreigners with drug convictions were usually precluded from entering Japan for seven years. With Paul having been busted most recently in Scotland in 1973, and Linda in LA in 1975, on top of Laine’s conviction, the Eastmans had to work hard to get visas for the band in 1980, and it was made abundantly clear that the authorities wouldn’t tolerate any drug use on the tour. MPL staffer Alan Crowder reminded the tour party before departure to be extra careful. Everybody knew it was in their interest to heed Alan’s warning. In the first place, nobody wanted to end up in a Japanese jail; and, second, they didn’t want to miss out on what was set to be the most lucrative Wings tour yet, with everybody finally on a good wage. Even the guys in the horn section were, to their joy, getting $1,000 a night (£653) for the gig, and the longer the tour went on the richer they would get. ‘We knew that this was something that everybody had to be very responsible about,’ says Laurence Juber, adding with a hollow laugh: ‘or nearly everybody.’
Denny Laine and Steve Holley flew to Japan from London, arriving at Narita Airport ahead of the McCartneys on Wednesday 16 January 1980, travelling first class on TWA. The band members had all been furnished with multiple-use, first-class tickets good for any TWA flight anywhere in the world for 12 months. Recalls Steve Holley:
I remember Denny saying, ‘This happened before and probably what will happen is if the Japanese tour goes well he’ll say something like, “Take a vacation anywhere you want for a couple of weeks and we’ll regroup for rehearsals in Australia.” or whatever, which will hopefully turn into another world tour.’ So in the back of my mind I’m thinking I’m embarking on the beginning of a journey of a lifetime.
Holley and Laine were processed through immigration before the McCartneys arrived, the officials taking five hours to deal with Laine because of his drug history. Then they went and waited on the tour bus for Paul.
When Paul’s flight landed at Narita Airport, his party was also processed slowly through customs and immigration. ‘There was a lot of time spent with bureaucrats dealing with paperwork,’ remembers Laurence Juber, who was standing next to Paul as they walked through the customs hall. The McCartneys had a lot of luggage and a customs man was opening bags seemingly at random, ‘not pulling everything out,’ says Juber.
But he opened one of the suitcases and patted something, and then he got a quizzical look on his face, and he reached inside and pulled out a bag of marijuana. At that point Paul kind of turns white, and alarms started going off, and people came out from behind hidden doors and escorted him back, and me too. Because I was with him. And Linda and the kids as well. They took him off into a room and started questioning him.
In among Paul’s shirts the customs official had found a clear plastic bag containing just under eight ounces of marijuana, worth about £1,000 ($1,530). Having made this discovery the Japanese went through all the luggage again, even taking musical instruments apart in case there were more drugs hidden inside. There weren’t. Laurence, Linda and the kids were allowed to leave.
Tired of waiting for Paul, Laine and Holley had gone ahead to the Okura, where they checked into their rooms expecting to meet Paul, Lin and Laurence later in the hotel restaurant. Steve took a nap, woken by the bedside telephone. It was Linda calling to say that Paul had been arrested at the airport for possession.
I thought she was joking. I said, ‘Yeah, good one. I’ll see you down in the restaurant,’ and my wife and I went downstairs. As soon as the elevator doors opened on the main floor, and the press greeted us with a million flashbulbs, I realised that something had happened.
As almost the whole world now knew, Paul had been taken in handcuffs from Narita Airport to Kojimachi Police Station, where he was locked in a cell for the second time in his life (his first experience behind bars being in Hamburg in 1960 after the Bambi Kino fire). And of course it wasn’t the first time he’d been fingered for drugs. It was, though, the most serious. Paul’s tour managers hired an English-speaking Japanese lawyer and contacted Eastman & Eastman in New York. Lee Eastman threw a fit. ‘When Paul got busted in Tokyo for pot - I was around - my father was furious. Furious! He went nuts. He was ballistic,’ recalls Philip Sprayregen, who explains that his stepfather’s rage was partly due to his fear that the bust would jeopardise Paul’s chance of a knighthood. ‘He said, “My God, my daughter could have been a [lady], and he blew it!” He was very upset because he thought his daughter would be Lady Linda [sic].’50 John Eastman was despatched to Tokyo to try and rescue his brother-in-law. Less reassuringly, Kenneth Lambert, a deranged American, tried to set off from Miami Airport on a self-appointed mission of mercy. When he started waving a gun about at Miami, demanding to be flown to Paul’s side, Lambert was shot dead by cops. Meanwhile, Paul went to sleep in his Tokyo cell with his back against the wall, fearing he might be raped.
Things always look brighter in the morning, and so it was in the land of the rising sun when Paul woke to news that he had a visitor. McCartney was shown into an interview room, partitioned by a glass screen, on the other side of which stood the reassuringly urbane figure of Britain’s consul to Japan, Donald Warren-Knott, whose embassy was located next door. The Warren-Knotts had been getting ready for bed the previous evening when they received a courtesy call from the police to inform them that a distinguished British citizen, Mr Pori Macatnee, as the Japanese tend to pronounce his name, had been taken into custody. The consul was told that marijuana had been found in amongst Mr Macatnee’s shirts, and he’d admitted the drugs were his, saying they’d been packed accidentally. Now the star and the consul met. ‘He sat down, I sat down, and we began to talk - to my pleasant surprise he was very relaxed,’ says Warren-Knott, who’d feared that such a celebrity might try and demand special treatment, which would have been a mistake.
Nothing of the sort. He took it quite calmly. Yes, OK, he knew the packet had been found. Yes, it was his. And it shouldn’t have been there. I didn’t press too closely, because it’s not my business to enquire into those sort of details. I suspect - personal view - that a package was slipped in while they were packing. I don’t know whether he fully intended to use it while he was in Japan. If he did, he’d be very foolish, given the circumstances of his previous arrests.
Paul said the Japanese were treating him well, and he was reassured to hear that his family were safe at the hotel, with his brother-in-law on his way from the States. He would wait to see what happened. Paul had one request. ‘He said he was a vegetarian and he would be grateful if we could give any help in making sure that he did get a reasonably vegetarian diet, including fruit.’ Apples, oranges, pears, and bananas would all be acceptable. The consul said he would ask the guards.
It was clear that the tour couldn’t go ahead. The shows were cancelled and Wings’ equipment was shipped back to the UK. The musicians were told to go home, or anywhere they liked on their round-the-world tickets. Despite the prospect of a free holiday, and the fact that they were all paid what they would have got had the Japanese shows gone ahead, the band members were upset. Says Denny Laine, who flew to France:
I wasn’t cross with him, but I was disappointed, I must say. It meant now we wouldn’t be able to go to Japan and tour, we wouldn’t be able to go a lot of places and tour, because once you get busted it’s hard to get visas and stuff, so it was all that kind of thing. It was a let-down.
Laine later discovered that Paul was angry with him for leaving Tokyo. ‘He was a bit upset because we left early, but we were told by his office to leave, because security people were watching us all the time.’
There was much debate within the tour party as to how and why Paul had got himself in this mess. Steve Holley wondered, as others have, whether Paul meant to get busted: ‘He may not have wanted to go and do that tour in the first place … [that’s] my guess.’ Although Paul had shown signs of weariness with Wings, this surely cannot be true. Paul enjoyed performing and was, in any case, somebody who could be relied upon to fulfil his commitments. Denny Laine dismisses as ‘ridiculous’ the notion Paul would get arrested deliberately. Howie Casey believes that Paul may have taken the rap for Linda, who’d been careless before with drugs. Some reports stated the marijuana was found in Lin’s make-up bag, but the British consul recalls being told the drugs were with Paul’s shirts. Later came the absurd conspiracy theory that Yoko Ono spitefully tipped off her contacts in Tokyo that the McCartneys had drugs with them, because Paul and Linda intended to use what she and John considered their hotel suite. Perhaps the most likely explanation is that Paul had taken a chance. ‘I believe it was just something he thought he could get away with,’ says Laine.
There was consternation in the penthouse suite of the Okura Hotel when Linda McCartney was informed that, if tried and found guilty of possession, her husband could face a prison sentence. She and the kids were virtual prisoners themselves, unable to go downstairs for fear of the press, scared to turn on the TV in case they saw distressing coverage of the case. The children were upset. ‘The only one unaware of the situation was little Dee Dee,’ Linda said, using the family name for toddler James McCartney, and even Dee Dee kept asking where Daddy was.
Over at Kojimachi, Daddy was getting used to prison life. He was obliged to sleep on the floor on a thin mattress, Japanese-style; rising at six a.m. with other prisoners, sitting cross-legged while he was interrogated; given half an hour to exercise and - until his fruit was delivered - eating a bowl of rice for supper. Sitting on the floor, watched by Japanese men in uniform, Paul felt like a character in a POW movie. He picked pieces of plaster off the wall and used the flakes to tally his days inside, almost starting to enjoy the experience. By the specks of plaster on the floor Paul calculated that his incarceration had exceeded a week. He was starting to smell. The police said he could have a bath, in private if he wished. Paul chose instead to bathe with his fellow detainees, a tough-looking crew whom he charmed by leading them in a bath-time sing-along, including a rendition of ‘Yellow Submarine’. Donald Warren-Knott popped in regularly to ask if Paul was OK, also asking the guards if they had been able to supply Mr McCartney’s vegetarian diet, with apples and oranges and so on. Yes, they nodded. And bananas? The mention of bananas was met by silence. ‘My questions had been embarrassing. I couldn’t think why. This was a very Japanese response to embarrassing questions. A sort of shutter comes down while they try to work out just what they are going to say, but they are obviously embarrassed. So why bananas?’ It turned out that regulations forbade detainees from having bananas. ‘It seems remarkably silly, but I was told that a man might peel his banana, throw the skin on the floor and a prison officer might slip and fall!’ When the consul relayed this information to Paul, he roared with laughter. ‘He promised that he wouldn’t demand bananas. They were perfectly free never to give him a banana.’
When Linda was given permission to see her husband for half an hour, she took him a welcome cheese sandwich. Although they tried to joke about the situation, this was the longest period Paul and Lin had ever been apart; virtually the only time they had slept apart in their 10-year marriage, and it was not certain what the outcome of this situation would be. The offence was serious. After John Eastman arrived in town and started talking with the local lawyer and the presiding magistrate, it became clear that the Japanese didn’t want a trial any more than Paul did. The authorities were primarily concerned that the local promoters, and the Japanese people who’d bought tickets for Wings’ concerts, wouldn’t be out of pocket. Refunds were swiftly arranged. ‘With that little financial problem out of the way, they wanted to get rid of him as quickly as possible,’ comments Donald Warren-Knott, who sat in on the legal conferences.
I think they all realised very shortly, on the basis of their advice from the Japanese lawyer, and the presiding magistrate and so on, that provided there was a full confession and a full admittance of guilt the [Japanese] would like to get rid of Mr McCartney and the Wings group, [and] please don’t come back again [for] seven years. I think they wanted to tidy it up, as was feasible under Japanese law.
So it was that after nine nights in a Tokyo cell Paul was taken under escort to the airport and put on a flight to Amsterdam, reunited with his family in the airliner’s cabin, and thereby deported from Japan. The McCartneys disembarked in Holland, where Paul spoke briefly to the press, still arguing that marijuana should be decriminalised. ‘I have been in jail for ten days, but I didn’t go crazy because I wasn’t able to have marijuana. I can take it or leave it.’ Paul and his family were then flown by private plane to Lydd Airport in England, finally driven down the familiar country lanes to their house in the Sussex woods. Seldom had Paul felt so glad to be home as he did when he stepped inside his own front door and found himself surrounded by his things again, greeted by their dogs, the horses whinnying hello from the nearby stables. It was the end of a draining, expensive and embarrassing experience, one that had damaged Paul’s image. Blip Parker, headmaster of the Liverpool Institute, made public his personal regret that Paul had let his fans down, so soon after treating the schoolboys to a show: ‘It is hard enough nowadays trying to keep youngsters away from drugs without having people they look up to involved in something like this,’ Parker told the Daily Telegraph. Paul’s young cousins also looked at Uncle Paul askance. ‘You take drugs, don’t you?’ one asked, the next time Paul was on Merseyside. Paul found himself struggling to explain.
‘IT’S A DRAG’
Because of the phenomenal international success of the Beatles, and the success Paul had continued to enjoy since the fab four split up, together with the way he conducted himself, for the most part, Paul McCartney had come to hold a special position in British public life. In an era when rock stars were typically excessive and often vulgar in their behaviour, Paul McCartney MBE was an intelligent, polite, civilised family man, whose devotion to Linda and their children was plain to see. He was a phenomenal earner for Great Britain, a cultural ambassador, and figurehead for the nation’s recording industry. Lee Eastman was right in foreseeing that his son-in-law would one day be knighted. Ultimately, Paul might even be granted a peerage in recognition of the status he enjoyed. Yet McCartney had also got himself into a remarkable amount of trouble.
Twice Macca had been banged up in a police cell, twice deported from a foreign land. He had been refused visas, been convicted of drug possession in a UK court, fined for drugs in Sweden, and narrowly escaped a prison sentence in Japan. Taken together, this was a record that put Paul in the rackety company of such bad boys of rock as Keith Richards. The Bambi Kino incident aside, Paul’s basic problem was that he liked to smoke grass and was too pig-headed to moderate his behaviour. The Japanese bust didn’t change him. He came out of the experience with the same cocky attitude. He never explained, let alone apologised to his band members for the inconvenience he had caused them in Japan, showing the lads instead a prison diary he wrote and had privately printed. Japanese Jailbird by Paul McCartney didn’t reveal a man chastened. ‘There wasn’t a great deal of soul-searching involved,’ says Laurence Juber, who read the little book. ‘It was more of a narrative of his experience in jail.’ And a couple of months later, when Paul’s new solo album appeared in the shops, he appeared to make fun of the Japanese. The cover of McCartney II featured a grainy image of Paul by Linda in the style of a prison mug shot, while inside the album were photos of Paul pulling faces in impersonation of Japanese officials, with an instrumental track titled ‘Frozen Jap’.
These puerile details aside, McCartney II was an improvement on recent Wings albums. Paul sounded contemporary again on synthesiser-based songs such as ‘Coming Up’ and ‘Temporary Secretary’, a witty, sexy number about asking Mr Marks for a secretary to sit on his knee (at a time when Alfred Marks was a well-known temping agency). ‘On the Way’ had an attractive wistfulness, while a lovely melody underpinned ‘Waterfall’, the lyrics of which appear to refer to the family home of that name in Sussex. The song can be read as Paul’s advice to his children not to play in the waterfall at the head of the deep-cut stream in the forest, across which the young McCartneys had no doubt tried to leap. The warning in the song about not getting into strangers’ cars seems to express another parental fear, that of the kids being kidnapped. Other good songs included ‘Bogey Music’, written for a proposed film of Raymond Briggs’s children’s book, Fungus the Bogeyman. A generally strong album, with less filler than one had become used to, McCartney II was a deserved UK number one.
It wasn’t of course a Wings album, and Wings was now all but defunct. Denny Laine badly needed income to pay his back taxes. Unable to tour with Wings, he went out on the road that summer with Steve Holley. This small tour did little to alleviate Denny’s problems. It looked like he would have to start living abroad as a tax exile. Paul, whose own financial affairs had been run with exemplary efficiency since he left the Beatles, had no such problems, and stayed in London, working with George Martin on ‘We All Stand Together’ and other songs intended for the long-planned Rupert the Bear movie. Paul had commissioned a succession of artists to create drawings for this picture over the past few years, but none had yet captured the snug family life depicted by Alfred Bestall in the Rupert stories Paul had grown up with, and remembered with particular fondness from the Rupert annuals published at Christmas. Bestall’s ursine characters were the image of a contented, traditional British family of the day, ‘mother baking, always rolling out something, father always reading the newspaper,’ as Paul described the world of Rupert, relating the bear’s family to the McCartney idyll at Forthlin Road before Mum died. ‘It’s a fantasy from the past. Very secure and cosy, which I think is nice.’ The film project only began to take shape when Paul met animator Geoff Dunbar, who shared his vision for a Rupert film. ‘I remember he asked me to write one paragraph of how I saw Rupert, and I said, “Well, it should stay in the 1940s, you shouldn’t change it, every endeavour should be made to keep it sacrosanct to Alfred Bestall’s world,”’ says Dunbar, who thereby became Paul’s collaborator on this and other animation projects.
Just as Paul took comfort in the Rupert project after his Tokyo humiliation, it was soothing to work again with George Martin and Ritchie. In July, Paul went to the South of France to contribute to Ringo’s Stop and Smell the Rosesalbum, bringing Laurence Juber and Howie Casey with him, also Howie’s fiancée Sheila McKinlay, who had sung on the same bill as the Beatles in the Sixties. Sheila would sing backing vocals on Ritchie’s new album. A couple of months later, Howie and Sheila married, which leads to a nice story showing how generous Paul can be, despite his reputation for being tight with a buck. Around this time Howie asked Paul if he could help him and Sheila buy a house. McCartney agreed to lend the Caseys £10,000 ($15,300). A couple of years later, Paul Winn from MPL rang Howie to point out that he hadn’t repaid any of the loan. Howie said that he was broke. The only way he could repay Paul was to sell the house. McCartney then called Howie personally and told him to consider the loan a gift. ‘He said, “Look, it’s a wedding present.” Thank you very much!’
In the autumn of 1980, Paul gathered Wings together to rehearse again after a long lay-off, playing in a barn belonging to a friend in Tenterden, a small town near Peasmarsh. Wings then went into a local studio to work on a compilation album for CBS, which was still counting the cost of the failure of Back to the Egg. CBS wanted a Wings greatest hits album to recoup some of the millions they had advanced Paul. The star suggested instead that he revisit his archive of Wings demos and finish off songs that had not quite made it onto previous albums, releasing these, together with a selection of Wings hits, as a double album titled Hot Hitz and Kold Kutz. One of the songs that emerged from this process was the single ‘Goodnight Tonight’, which made number five in the US. CBS didn’t share Paul’s enthusiasm for the Hot Hitz and Kold Kutz album, however, which was never released.
Paul segued from this aborted project into making what would become his new studio album, Tug of War. George Martin had agreed to produce, the plan being to make the record at George’s AIR studio in London and his new AIR facility on the Caribbean island of Montserrat. The album proved the death knell for Wings. ‘So what happens then is we do a bunch of rehearsals for Tug of War and the material just didn’t necessarily lend itself to Wings,’ says Laurence Juber. ‘Paul called one day and said, you know, “George is going to produce this and he doesn’t want to do it as a Wings album, so thanks but we don’t need you right now … “At that point I saw that the writing was on the wall.’ Paul was breaking Wings up, though Denny Laine stayed with him for a little while yet.
Around this time an unwelcome ghost from the past emerged in the form of Erika Hübers (née Wohlers), the Hamburg barmaid who had claimed back in the Sixties to have given birth to Paul’s child. Although Paul had never admitted paternity, a lump sum had been paid by Brian Epstein to Erika plus maintenance for her child, Bettina, until she was 18, on the basis the family wouldn’t go public. Bettina was due to turn 18 on 19 December 1980. A couple of weeks before her birthday, the Sunday People newspaper splashed with ‘I AM BEATLE PAUL’S SECRET CHILD’, naming Erika and Bettina for the first time. Looking at the published picture of Erika - a plain, heavy-set burger-bar worker - it was hard to believe Paul had ever had a fling with her, while Erika’s contention that her daughter looked like the star stretched credulity. The girl had already started cashing in on her supposed link with McCartney by singing in clubs as ‘Bettina McCartney, the daughter of a Beatle’. Now she seemed to see a chance for a big pay day. Paul didn’t comment, but the matter refused to go away, adding to what had been a difficult year all round. It was about to get worse.
Another echo of the past came from across the Atlantic in the form of John Lennon’s new studio album, Double Fantasy, his first for five years, and a solid collection of simple, muscular rock songs as far as his half of the record went. (Yoko had an equal number of tracks, and hers were less impressive.) The first single, the rockabilly-influenced ‘(Just Like) Starting Over’, was released in October 1980, and did reasonable business. It was still bumping along in the lower reaches of the charts when Paul began work on Tug of War at AIR in London that December. Once again, John’s distinctive voice was on the car radio as Paul was driven up to town from the Sussex farm each day by John Hammel, punching through the years with lyrics that had an emotional weight and a sense of personal honesty - qualities too often lacking in Paul’s work. That didn’t necessarily translate into sensational sales. Double Fantasysold modestly in the run-up to Christmas, and received some negative reviews. Still, Paul knew there was good work here. It was the first time for years that John had made a real effort with his music, challenging Paul as he used to.
McCartney was at home at Waterfall on the morning of Tuesday 9 December 1980 when the telephone rang. It was his manager Stephen Shrimpton calling to inform him that John had been shot dead in New York, gunned down overnight outside the Dakota building by a man who’d previously asked for his autograph. Neil Aspinall had been on the telephone disseminating the news, it being his unenviable task to inform 74-year-old Aunt Mimi that she would never see her nephew again. Neil always got the dirty jobs. Paul was in the house alone when he took the call; Linda was out doing the school run. When he saw Lin’s car coming back up the drive Paul walked outside to meet her. ‘I could tell by looking at him that there was something absolutely wrong. I’d never seen him like that before. Desperate, you know, tears …’
Paul had a session booked at AIR in London, with Paddy Moloney of the Chieftains flying in from Ireland to play on a track. Denny Laine was also going to be in the studio. George Martin telephoned Waterfall to ask Paul if he wanted to cancel. He said he would rather come in to work. With the press gathering outside his gates, the London studio looked like a convenient bolthole.51
Paul arrived at AIR at the same time as his record plugger Joe Reddington. As the men walked through the lobby to the lift, a journalist tried to follow them in and had to be ejected before they could ascend to the fifth-floor recording studio. Paul then attempted to do a day’s work. ‘He was just very, very quiet, and upset, as we all were,’ recalls Denny Laine. ‘He said to me, “I’m never going to fall out with anybody again in my life,” which is impossible to do, but that’s the way he felt. I knew he felt that maybe they didn’t make up like they should have done, so therefore he felt a bit guilty …’ As the musicians stood looking out of the window, they saw a furniture van below on Oxford Street with the name Lennon’s on the side, a type of van neither man had seen in London before. ‘We looked at each other and went, “Uh-ho! That was an omen.”’
The phone rang. Joe Reddington picked up. ‘Can I speak to Paul McCartney?’ asked a woman.
‘He’s busy at the moment. Who’s calling?’
‘It’s Yoko.’ Joe knew instinctively it really was John’s widow, rather than a hoax. He told everybody to clear the room. ‘And [Paul] took the call. I just closed the door and he was crying - he’d lost his best friend.’
Throughout that short winter day, journalists besieged AIR Studios. There were photographers waiting for Paul down at the entrance on Oxford Street, with snappers clambering over the rooftops to try for pictures through the windows. In these extraordinary circumstances, Paul’s office arranged for a private security firm to help Paul when he was ready to leave the building, employing a driver in a blocker car to get between the press and Paul’s Mercedes estate, which was brought round to the front door on Oxford Street. As always, Oxford Street was thick with traffic. It being nearly Christmas, the pavement was also crowded with shoppers.
It was dark when Paul came down in the lift, surrounded by employees including Joe Reddington. As McCartney stepped out of the lobby onto the pavement, journalists clustered around him. Paul stopped obligingly so they could take pictures and ask him questions. Television crews were also present. Technicians switched on their special lights. ‘I was very shocked, you know, it’s terrible news,’ Paul said, when asked for his reaction to John’s death. He was usually relaxed with journalists, having dealt with them all his adult life, but this evening Paul was distinctly edgy, his hazel eyes darting about, a touch of Scouse truculence creeping into his voice. He was also chewing gum, which gave the unfortunate impression that he wasn’t taking the matter as seriously as he might. Passing shoppers stared, a few members of the public stopping to watch and listen from behind the scrum of journalists. One of the TV reporters asked Paul when he’d heard the news John had been killed. ‘I got a phone call this morning,’ Paul replied, giving clipped answers.
‘From a friend of mine.’
‘Are you planning to go over for the funeral?’
‘I don’t know yet.’
‘What were you recording today?’
‘I was just listening to some stuff, you know. I just didn’t want to sit at home.’
Bridling at the impertinence, Paul replied: ‘I didn’t feel like it.’ When the reporters began repeating their questions, Paul concluded the interview with an offhand rhetorical question. ‘It’s a drag, isn’t it?’ he asked the newsmen, still chewing. ‘OK, cheers, goodbye …’ - after which he got in his red Mercedes and was driven away.
The clip was used prominently in news broadcasts around the world that night, including Britain’s News at Ten. ‘“A drag” isn’t how the world will see it,’ commented the ITN newscaster sternly, highlighting the crassness of Paul’s remark. Just as when his mother and his father had died, and when Stuart Sutcliffe passed away, Paul had reacted awkwardly to death, saying and doing the wrong thing. Whatever he really felt - and of course he was shocked, and in time would feel genuine grief - he gave the impression on the day of not caring, which was very unfortunate because in death John Lennon was transfigured into a tragic hero, seen by many as a much greater man than Paul. On top of the Japanese bust, this was a dreadful end to a horrible year, as well as being one of the defining moments of Paul’s life. His partner in the Beatles, his best friend, with whom he’d fallen out and never been fully reconciled, was gone, and Paul had sent him on his way with a stupid comment. Perhaps it was true what people said of Paul, as he himself thought when the Beatles broke up, perhaps he really was a shit.