Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney - Howard Sounes (2010)
PART TWO. AFTER THE BEATLES
Chapter 21. TRIVIAL PURSUITS
THAT EXTRA 15 PER CENT
The new year started badly for Paul when, on 28 January 1983, the Sun splashed the story of a Liverpool typist who claimed the former Beatle was the father of her son. This was ancient history as far as Paul was concerned, dating back to 1964 when Brian Epstein paid off the girl in advance of the Beatles returning to Liverpool for the première of A Hard Day’s Night, though Paul never admitted paternity. The press had known about the story at the time, but hadn’t touched it for want of corroboration. Eighteen years later, the Sun ran with the tale thanks to one of Paul’s former employees, Peter Brown, who revealed it in his new memoir, The Love You Make.
Although Brown cloaked the girl in the anonymity of a false name, journalists soon found the real people concerned. The mother was now a married woman of 37 named Anita Howarth; her son, Philip, was about to turn 19. Both still lived on Merseyside. ‘I would have given anything in the world for this to have stayed a secret,’ Anita was quoted as telling reporters, adding that she never wanted to embarrass Paul and had hoped the story wouldn’t come out for the sake of her son, though she had told Philip ‘the truth about his father’, mother and son both giving journalists the impression they considered Paul to be the father. The story was common knowledge among their friends and neighbours, many of whom believed it, too. Anita and Philip said they didn’t want any money from Paul, who made no comment. Privately, however, he and Linda were furious at Peter Brown. When Brown sent them a copy of his book they burnt it ritually, Linda taking photographs as it went up in flames.
At the same time Paul’s other supposed love-child, the German Bettina Hübers, continued to pursue her paternity claim. Now 20, Bettina came before a judge in Berlin to plead her case, letting it be known to reporters that she intended to visit London to record a song entitled ‘Let it Be Me’. Bettina had also agreed to pose for a nude photo shoot for High Society magazine. Her lawyers apparently thought she was entitled to a pay-off of £1.75 million ($ 2.6m), a serious enough claim for Paul and Bettina to both undergo blood tests, Paul in London, Bettina in Berlin. The results cleared McCartney of being the father, but Bettina and her mother were not satisfied. They asserted that the test had been fixed - believing Paul had used a stand-in - and requested a second test, which the German judge ordered, telling Paul to pay Bettina £185 a month maintenance ($ 283) until the matter was resolved.
This unseemly court battle came as Paul lost a 14-year legal battle for additional back royalties from Northern Songs, rejected at London’s High Court in February 1983. On top of which the Sunday People published an exclusive look ‘Inside the Strange World of Paul McCartney’, based on interviews with Jo Jo Laine, who had never got on with the McCartneys. Jo Jo made much of the couple’s rustic domestic life, described Linda’s love of dope, and Paul’s dependence on his wife. ‘He enjoys Big Mamma Linda running the show.’ These were not particularly revelatory or hurtful claims, but Paul probably saw such tales as a betrayal and an intrusion into his privacy. In later life Jo Jo lived in a flat just around the corner from Paul’s London home in St John’s Wood and, according to her son Boston, Paul blanked his mother when he saw her. Where Paul’s private life started and ended was hard to say, for a man who included his family in his public life, working with Linda and often posing with the kids for photos, as well as talking in interviews about the phases the children were going though, such as Heather’s punk period, which one doubts Heather thanked him for. While inviting the press into his life in this way, Paul also wanted to deny the media access to his family when he wasn’t in the mood for publicity.
It was this craving for time away from public scrutiny that led Paul and Linda to buy another holiday home in 1983, their most remote and private getaway. This time they went to Arizona, where Linda had lived with her first husband Mel See. Marriage to Mel had been a failure, but it had left Linda with a love of the desert country around Tucson, where she and Mel had lived briefly, and which Mel had returned to since his African sojourn. After a period when the McCartneys had little to do with Mel, they re-established friendly contact for Heather’s sake, and started to visit Tucson regularly, staying initially at the Tanque Verde guest ranch, which lies 45 minutes east of Tucson in a desert landscape studded with cacti. This area is named after the Tanque Verde wash, a small river that floods during the summer monsoons, when the afternoon sky turns black and crackles with electrical storms, drying to a trickle in the remaining months of the year. Just across the wash from the guest ranch stood an isolated tin-roof house used by a Tucson banker as his weekender. The McCartneys bought the house, and the surrounding 107 acres, having the buildings painted pink and turquoise, and installing a heart-shaped swimming pool in the yard. Like their country retreats in England and Scotland, the ranch was a modest, even Spartan abode, but one off the beaten track in an area of great natural beauty.
As in Scotland and Sussex, the McCartneys conducted themselves in a friendly, low-key manner in Arizona, pottering around in an old car, Paul often neglecting to shave. ‘You can’t recognise him if he’s unshaven,’ notes neighbour Bob Bass. ‘When he’s on camera he puts on a face like he’s Paul! But if he looks normal, you’d never even recognise him.’ The McCartneys continued their habit of making friends of their neighbours and buying adjacent plots of land as they came on the market, gradually extending their Arizona property up to the top of the nearby ridge, where an abandoned school house became a special hideaway for Paul and Linda, who’d ride up there together like a couple of cowboys. Eventually the McCartneys came to own 1,000 desert acres, so much land that one elderly neighbour, whom the star did not bother to befriend, found himself marooned. ‘We’re enclosed here by Paul McCartney,’ notes retired forester Eldon Erwin, whose only access to his home became a road across Paul’s land. Mr Erwin discovered he was no longer at liberty to hike up to the old school house on the ridge for recreation as he once did. Paul’s caretakers told the old man the boss had said, ‘nobody goes up there’.
The Arizona ranch cost approximately $100,000 (£65,359), a price Paul could well afford. That autumn his duet with Michael Jackson, ‘Say Say Say’, went to number one in the United States, number two at home, earning a rich man more money. The album Pipes of Peace got no higher than fourth place in UK album charts, peaking at 15 in the US, which was slightly disappointing, considering the quality of the work. Made side by side with Tug of War, with the help of George Martin, the two albums share a sophisticated, mature sound, abounding with wellcrafted tunes that came close to the high quality Paul achieved with the Beatles. Yet Tug of War and Pipes of Peace must also be marked down for a surfeit of love ballads with lamentable lyrics. ‘I always think I am not that good with words,’ Paul admitted in an interview around this time, and who would doubt him with rhymes like this:
I know I was a crazy fool
For treating you the way I did
But something took hold of me
and I acted like a dustbin lid
(‘The Other Me’)
One wonders why Paul didn’t abandon this, and similar weak songs, or make the effort to rework them - a thought that has troubled his friends. Film-maker David Puttnam asks whether there may be a fundamental shortcoming in Paul as an artist.
I feel about Paul the way I feel about Ridley Scott: both men of immense, immense, immense talent who on their death bed are likely to look back on their career with some satisfaction, but with some dissatisfaction, in that I’m not sure that either of them - Ridley and Paul, both very wealthy and everything - I’m not sure either of them have absolutely delivered what was in them.
Lord Puttnam believes that, in the years since the Beatles, Paul has not been able to summon the crucial extra effort - he quantifies this as an additional 15 per cent - required to transform good work into something exceptional.
Was it that it was too hard, was it that it was too challenging? Or was it that he was a reasonably contented guy and he didn’t think it was worth putting himself through that amount of pain? But the difference between good and great is that last 15 per cent, and the really great artists aren’t artists who have one bright, brilliant moment in their lives.
In Lord Puttnam’s film analogy, Ridley Scott made at least one classic, Blade Runner, but directors like Akira Kurosawa are a class apart because they found it within themselves to make many important films over a long period.
Frank Capra is more like Paul - he didn’t ever really make a decent film by the time he reached 40, [and] if he’s the artist I think he is, if he’s as sensitive as I think he is, [Paul] will be absolutely aware [of this] and he will be troubled by the question. He won’t have any answer for it.
THE WORST MUSICAL EVER MADE?
The year George Orwell chose for his dystopian prophecy started well for Paul McCartney, then turned sour. After ringing in 1984 on Merseyside, Paul and Linda flew to Barbados for some winter sunshine, renting a beach house from friends in the Guinness family. Eric and Gloria Stewart were staying in a nearby house, so they spent time with the McCartneys. Paul received good news from home when he was informed that the Berlin judge had thrown out Bettina Hübers’ paternity claim, after Paul had passed both blood tests. He was not the father after all. Paul was magnanimous in victory, remarkably so considering how bothersome Bettina and her mother had been over the years, paying not only his own legal costs but also their £60,000 costs ($91,800), on the basis that mother and daughter would be ruined financially otherwise, and hoping they would now have the good grace to fall silent. On the contrary, Bettina took the view that Paul’s generosity proved his guilt, and continued to assert that he was her dad. ‘McCartney paid for everything, the tests, [his] legal costs, also my legal costs. No person does such a thing out of kindness,’ protests the woman who continues to argue to this day that Paul tricked the doctors.
A few nights after hearing he’d won the German paternity case, Paul and Linda were sitting on the veranda of their rented beach house in Barbados, chatting with Eric and Gloria Stewart, when they heard a tap at the door. Linda went to see who it was. ‘Christ, it’s the police!’ she exclaimed. There was marijuana on the coffee table. ‘My wife grabbed the bag, stuffed it up her skirt,’ recalls Eric. Paul asked Gloria to give him the bag back, not wanting her to get into trouble for his sake. Then the police came in. ‘They said, “We believe you have some marijuana here.” Paul said, “Yeah, I’m having a smoke. I buy it on the beach here. What are you talking about? You must know about this.”’ He showed the police the grass, as a result of which the McCartneys were taken to the police station. It transpired that their butler had informed on them. When Paul and Linda were released on bail, they didn’t feel comfortable returning to the Guinness villa, taking sanctuary instead with the Stewarts. The following Monday, Paul and Linda appeared before a magistrate in Holetown, pleaded guilty to possession, and were fined a nominal $100 each. But Paul was furious: furious at the butler for going to the police in the first place, and angry with the police for busting him for something sold openly on the island, complaining to his friends that he and Linda had become targets for harassment. ‘We’re going back. This holiday is over,’ he told Eric, booking the next flight to London.
The McCartneys arrived at Heathrow on Tuesday 17 January 1984, disembarking to go through customs before boarding a second, private plane. In the process, an item of luggage was held back. Linda was waiting for it on their private jet when a customs official came aboard.
‘Have you found my luggage?’ she asked.
‘Yes, and that’s not all we found,’ came the reply. Linda was under arrest for bringing cannabis into the UK.
Despite what had happened in Barbados, Linda had carelessly brought some grass back home, a tiny amount, less than 0.2 of an ounce, but enough to be charged. The following week Linda appeared before magistrates in Uxbridge to plead guilty to importing cannabis. It was explained in court that Linda assumed the Barbadian police cleaned out her stash when they searched her belongings, and didn’t realise she had a scraping of weed left in her bag. She accepted a £75 fine ($114), telling the press: ‘I am glad it is all over with. It is much ado about nothing … It is horrible to feel like a criminal when you know you are not.’ Be that as it may, the McCartneys had now been in trouble for drugs on six occasions in six countries, a record that casts doubt on their judgement and the example set to their children. Paul admitted this was a concern, saying he and Lin never smoked dope in front of the kids, or took hard drugs like heroin or cocaine,53 and that they had explained to the children their view that marijuana was less harmful than alcohol. British tabloid newspapers, staffed as they then were by journalists who drank heavily but took a moralistic view of other drugs, mocked the McCartneys with headlines such as THE PIPES OF POT (a pun on Paul’s new album Pipes of Peace). Then, much more damaging allegations were made by their old friend Denny Laine.
In an unremittingly negative series of articles headlined ‘The Real McCartney’, Laine told Sun readers that Paul and Lin habitually smoked two ounces of grass a day when he knew them in Wings and routinely smuggled their stash through customs. Laine said that Paul and Linda got a thrill out of cheating authority like this, laughing at the police who escorted them. He further alleged that the McCartneys, in their same thrill-seeking way, routinely stole small items from hotels. Habitual dope smoking, he suggests, had a detrimental effect on Paul’s music. ‘That’s why Paul’s albums take ages and ages to make. He just cannot be decisive about anything.’ He also described Paul as a tight-fisted, inscrutable man, with few friends, who liked the sound of his own voice and patronised those around him, including his brother; while some MPL staff lived in fear of their boss. Finally, Denny mocked Paul’s complex about his mother. ‘He’s a mummy’s boy who didn’t have a mummy after his mother died when he was 14. He would be lost without Linda now.’
These stories, published over four days in January/February 1984, constituted the most personal attack on Paul since John Lennon had savaged him in Rolling Stone in 1971. Like Lennon, Laine had been close enough to McCartney to speak with authority. Paul was furious, though he didn’t sue.
All of this trouble and bad publicity forms the backdrop to the completion of Give My Regards to Broad Street, the project that had ballooned from a TV special into a multi-million dollar movie. In the early part of 1984 Paul was shuttling between his home in Sussex, the MPL office in Soho, and Elstree film studios, where Peter Webb was directing production numbers on three sound stages.54 As a release date approached, executives from 20th Century Fox jetted in for meetings with McCartney and Webb, who had found directing a non-acting leading man ‘a problem’. Further complications were caused by the fact that Paul was simultaneously working on a soundtrack album, with covers of Beatles songs, new versions of recent solo material, such as ‘Ballroom Dancing’ and ‘Wanderlust’, and a terrific new theme song, ‘No More Lonely Nights’, which he’d written over a weekend in response to Webb telling him they needed an extra song to end the picture. Celebrity mates were roped in to play on these tracks, including Dave Gilmour, Ritchie and Eric Stewart, with the A-team of George Martin and Geoff Emerick in the control room. Such a gathering of talent created a soundtrack album far superior to the movie it rode piggy-back on.
Peter Webb flew to Los Angeles to screen a rough cut of Broad Street for Fox. ‘They had paid $6.8 million for a Hollywood musical and they got Paul McCartney’s home movie, albeit nicely shot,’ says the director, who recalls Harvey Weinstein leaning over his shoulder at the end of the screening and saying, ‘Next time show me the script.’ Editing was done in London, Webb commuting to Sussex to show Paul and Linda the result. ‘Linda was quite involved in giving it quality control … we’d meet at this secret recording studio. It was a bit too secret because we could never find it.’
The secret venue was Hog Hill Mill, a windmill Paul had bought a couple of years back, near the village of Icklesham, itself not far from Peasmarsh, subsequently having the mill restored and a recording studio, offices and living quarters built under its sails. The complex was surrounded by a dry moat so passers-by using the public footpaths over the hill could not see into the windows, and included a private museum of Beatles memorabilia, including the boys’ old Vox amps, Paul’s Höfner violin bass, the mellotron he played on ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and other pieces of vintage Abbey Road equipment, displayed behind sliding glass doors.
There was friction between the McCartneys and Webb at this late stage in the movie-making process. The director didn’t always feel his work was respected, ‘let alone appreciated’, by Paul, gaining the impression that the star wished he’d hired a name director; ‘we were in the big time, but we were the pub team [and I was] the pub director. I’m sure McCartney would have loved to have a Dick Lester.’55 Webb then suffered a serious personal setback. He says he was ‘hospitalised’, refusing to clarify whether this was for a mental or a physical problem, only going so far as to say guardedly that he was ‘removed from the frame’ and ‘hospitalised for a lengthy period’ towards the end of the production, with the result that Paul had to direct a final sequence of the picture himself. ‘I think he was concerned about “my health”. He must have been because there were [so many] flowers in my house,’ says Webb. ‘I thought somebody had died.’
This unhappy episode was a precursor to the premières of Give My Regards to Broad Street in October 1984. There were four major premières, Paul and Linda travelling first to the USA to open the picture in New York and LA, followed by a Liverpool screening. Before the première at the Liverpool Odeon, Paul was honoured with the Freedom of the City, a ceremony in the Picton Library - where he’d received his Coronation prize in 1953 - and a civic luncheon, during which Paul was reunited with Ann Ventre, the Forthlin Road neighbour he’d taken to the pictures as a lad. Nowadays Ann worked as catering manager for Liverpool City Council (a new name for the old Corporation). Although they hadn’t seen each other since he left home, Paul recognised Ann instantly, and asked after their old neighbours. The première that evening went better than in New York and LA. ‘The [audience] were polite. There was applause at the end,’ recalls BBC Radio Merseyside broadcaster Spencer Leigh. ‘It was evident there wasn’t much story, but you hadn’t seen the musical sequences before and they were OK.’
The London première was more important, drawing the national newspaper critics to the Empire Theatre, Leicester Square. The day started with a macabre ill omen when one of Paul’s Cavendish Avenue neighbours, a fellow musician named Wells Kelly, the drummer with the band Meatloaf, came home from a party, put his key in the front door of a house across the road from Paul’s, and choked to death on his own vomit before he could get inside. Neighbours passed by the house for hours the next day before anybody realised that the man standing rigidly at the front door was a corpse. That evening, the audience in the Empire watched another theatrical death.
Broad Street featured Paul McCartney playing himself in an old-fashioned jukebox musical, the scenes strung together by the thinnest thread of a story. Unless he got the master tapes of his new record back by midnight, Paul stood to lose his company. The songs were strong, the musical sequences attractively filmed, and Paul was adequate as a leading man, but the dialogue was witless, the supporting characters ill-defined, the story bereft of interest. Eric Stewart sat aghast in the audience with fellow members of 10cc.
I remember Kevin Godley turning round to me [at the end] and saying, ‘How could they spend that much money on a pile of crap like this? And why have they let it out?’ ‘Yes, well, are you going to tell Paul that?’ … There was a very embarrassing silence at the end.
Paul had committed to an intensive publicity campaign for this turkey, speaking earnestly in the picture’s defence to anybody who would listen while critics gave him a unanimous thumbs down. On top of a sheaf of bad reviews in the USA, Quentin Falk told readers of the Daily Mail: ‘this is a truly terrible movie’, the blame for which had to rest with Paul. ‘His screenplay is relentlessly banal, formless and, most unforgivingly, humourless.’ Met with scorn and mockery, Paul became defensive, then gave up the film as a lost cause. For his director, Peter Webb, making the picture was ‘a damaging experience in every way’. After getting out of hospital, he went back to making commercials.
There was a financial cost. Paul had struck deals with 20th Century Fox to the effect that the studio would lend MPL $5 million (£3.2m) to make the picture, secured on rights to the film. MPL was now obliged to pay this money back, as well as meeting a $1.8 million (£1.1m) shortfall. Consequently, MPL profits were significantly down for a couple of years. Some of the financial damage was offset by the success of the soundtrack album, Give My Regards to Broad Street, the rights to which Paul had wisely withheld. The album made number one in the UK, while the single ‘No More Lonely Nights’ was a top five hit in the USA and UK. The single might have done better still - it is one of his best post-Beatles songs - had it not been associated with such a bad film. All told, this celluloid adventure had been a calamitous mistake, one which Paul would excise from his CV, hardly ever referring to it, and, according to Webb, refusing permission for its DVD release in the UK. When Paul came to look back on the picture, he noted that Steven Spielberg required five drafts of every movie script. Paul acknowledged that he should have worked as hard: ‘you’ve got to have that fifth draft’. Unfortunately, as David Puttnam observed, Paul didn’t possess the will to make that extra effort, preferring to get by on talent. It is a character flaw that has marred his career.
There was some consolation in the animation short that accompanied Broad Street on its theatrical release. Paired with the picture was Rupert and the Frog Song, co-written and executive produced by Paul, and directed by Geoff Dunbar, as a pilot for their Rupert Bear movie. It was well received, winning a BAFTA. The theme song ‘We All Stand Together’, though often mocked as an example of McCartney at his most lightweight, should be heard as a children’s song, in the same tradition as ‘Yellow Submarine’, in which context it is perfectly charming. Released as a single in November 1984, the song made number three in the UK charts and won Paul his 18th Ivor Novello.
Paul felt encouraged to press on with the feature-length Rupert film. Then Geoff Dunbar received a call from the star. ‘I’ve got a bit of news,’ Paul told his animator. ‘We can’t do Rupert … He’s been stolen away from us.’ Having identified Paul’s interest in making a Rupert movie, another producer had acquired the option, informing Paul that he couldn’t proceed without his cooperation. So Paul pulled out. He and Linda had the animation bug, though, and continued to work with Dunbar on other short films, including one inspired by the squirrels they put food out for in their Sussex garden. To amuse his children, Paul made up stories about these engaging creatures, one of whom he named Squiggle, later becoming Wirral the Squirrel, in honour of Paul’s Merseyside home. We shall return to him later.
Having worked with George Martin since the Tokyo bust, Paul felt the need of a change of producer as he approached his next studio album. George wanted a rest from the demanding Paul, too. When everybody was sitting down at the annual Buddy Holly Week lunch in September 1984, George asked Eric Stewart if he would take the helm on the new record.
George said to me at this Buddy Holly Day dinner, ‘I think you should help Paul with his next album. I’ve got other things to do. I need a break and I think Paul needs a break as well. We’ve got two great albums there, Tug of War/Pipes of Peace, but I think some new blood should come in.’ I said, ‘He’s not asked me.’ He said, ‘Would you be interested?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’
Having established that Eric would accept the challenge, Paul invited his friend to Sussex to co-write some songs. It was a winter’s day when Eric drove to Peasmarsh, the snow thick on the ground. Although Paul and Linda were now living in their new farmhouse, Paul had arranged to meet Eric at Waterfall, the little round house in the trees which he still owned. The house was looking pretty as a picture when Eric came up the drive.
So I got there in the snow and I said, ‘It’s beautiful outside, it’s so beautiful, the sun’s out.’ He said, ‘That’s great, OK, [starts singing] It’s beautiful outside … Right, get it down, write it down.’ And we wrote the whole song within [minutes]. Simple as that.
This was ‘Footprints’ on what would be the album Press to Play. Another song, ‘Angry’, came with similar ease a few days later in response to Paul reading an unflattering article about himself in a newspaper. Stewart can’t recall what the story was, but it may well have been a negative article about the Broad Street débâcle.
I walked in another morning and I said, ‘You look a bit tense,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, I’m fucking angry.’ I said, ‘What’s the problem?’ He said, ‘The Press - look at this. [Holds up a paper]. What the Hell gives them the right to tell me what to do with my life?’ I said, ‘What? Hold it. Write it down,’ What the hell gives you the right to tell me what to do with my life? … And we’ve got ‘Angry’ started.
Eric and Paul swiftly completed eight songs in this way, then went into Hog Hill Mill to record them.
Although Eric had gained the impression Paul wanted him to produce the new album, McCartney had also hired the fashionable young producer Hugh Padgham, who’d enjoyed recent success with Phil Collins and the Police. Tensions soon developed between Padgham and Stewart, who seemed to be competing for the same job, with both men finding they had an even greater problem with McCartney himself.
At first, Eric had been delighted with the songs he and Paul had written at Waterfall, songs which came easily and sounded fresh to his ears. Then he started to have misgivings about the quality of the tunes. ‘I thought, Are they really good enough. Are they finished? I always thought when we get them in the studio we’ll finish them, but as we got in the studio and we started to record, I said, “This is not good.”’ One day Eric clicked the talk-back button and said: ‘Paul, that vocal’s not right.’
Paul asked Hugh Padgham his opinion. ‘Well, it’s OK, but I’m a sound man, Eric’s the musician.’
‘But what do you think?’
Hugh agreed with Eric. Privately, Hugh had been worried that the material was on the weak side, but assumed an artist of Paul’s stature, working in tandem with someone as experienced as Eric, would improve the songs in the studio. Unfortunately, this wasn’t happening. ‘I don’t think it’s good enough,’ he said, suggesting some more writing might be required. Paul’s response shocked both Hugh and Eric.
‘Hugh, when did you write your last number one?’ McCartney asked, nastily.
As Padgham says, ‘That one was a real kick in the balls, which you don’t forget.’ Eric switched off the talk-back and groaned, Oh shit! This is going wrong. ‘And it really did start to go wrong. There was this conflict there. And that was something that Paul could do. He could actually wither you with a sentence if he didn’t like what you’ve said.’ Eric later realised that he should have stood up to Paul at this point, and thrashed out whatever the problem was. But it was hard to argue with the man. ‘It’s difficult to tell Paul McCartney, isn’t it? He’s a great singer, he’s written the greatest songs of all time and you’re saying, “That’s not good enough”.’ John Lennon had been able to have those candid conversations; George Martin could tell Paul when he was wrong. ‘Could I do it? No.’ Despite the fact they had known each other since the Cavern, and had worked closely for five years, Eric was tongue-tied.
We never discussed it afterwards. But after about another week of this, I said, ‘Hold it, this is not working for me.’ I said, ‘You carry on with it. I’m just going to come down and pick my guitars up … I’m not really adding anything here but conflict, because it’s not good enough.’ Let Padgham carry on with it.
So Eric left, and Hugh found himself alone with Paul, renting a nearby beach house where he lived an increasingly miserable existence as work on this difficult album dragged on for an amazing 18 months, the producer becoming thoroughly fed up with Paul McCartney in the process.
At first it felt like a great honour to be asked to produce Paul’s new album, and Padgham had hoped that, after Give My Regards to Broad Street and Rupert and the Frog Song, he could give Paul back some ‘cred’ (credibility), ‘cred’ being a vogue Eighties term people like him were using. As work on Press to Play stretched on month after month, Hugh discovered what other producers had before him: he couldn’t tell Paul anything. Also, Paul’s charm wore off. Years ago Paul hardly talked about the Beatles. Nowadays he told the same old Beatles stories again and again, until they were frankly boring, and nobody had the courage to tell him he was repeating himself. Also, he seemed obsessed with what the public thought of him in relation to John Lennon. Outside of music, Paul’s conversation was banal, often about what he’d seen on TV, as Padgham recalls:
It was like he’d been up all night watching television, because he was like a walking version of the Radio Times. I think he would have literally gone home at six or seven o’clock and probably stayed up till one o’clock watching TV with a spliff, and a drink, and he probably didn’t really think anything of the album. He was just watching telly. He’d come in the mornings, ‘Did you see this last night?’
The producer was invited up to Paul and Lin’s new house, Blossom Farm. Says Hugh:
To start with I really thought he was this guy who was really normal, sent his children to the local comprehensive school, and lived in a pretty modest house, and seemed one of the lads, but by the end of 18 months I didn’t feel like that at all … It was either a façade, or he’s got many faces of which the charming one is maybe turned on when you’re new to the fold and impressionable. All the people who work for him, if he said jump they’d go, ‘From what floor? ’ … I’ve worked in this business for 30-something years with a lot of people just as famous as him and some are really nice and some are affected by it, and if you think that McCartney probably hasn’t been able to walk down a street without somebody wanting to kiss his arse from the age of 17, I imagine it would affect you, possibly in an insidious way as well where you don’t realise. But if he doesn’t get his own way, then he throws his toys out of the pram.
Paul sometimes showed his bad temper in public, too. One day, before driving to Hog Hill Mill to work with Hugh, he and Linda took seven-year-old James to the village school in Peasmarsh. They arrived to find that teachers on strike over low pay were protesting at the school gates. One of the teachers, Brian Moses, offered Paul a leaflet explaining their action. ‘Are you striking teachers? ’ Paul asked Moses, clearly unimpressed.
‘Well, yes, we are at the moment, because our pay isn’t enough for us to live on.’
‘Take a good look,’ Paul told his son, as if showing James particularly wicked people. ‘They are striking teachers.’
When he had taken James into school, Paul came outside and tore up the teachers’ leaflet ostentatiously, throwing the pieces in the road. ‘I just thought, You sod! If Lennon had been there, he would have been on the picket line with us!’ says Moses, who described the incident in a letter to his union newspaper, the Teacher, making the point that if Paul McCartney tried to support his four children on a teacher’s salary he’d be eligible for supplementary benefit. At the time an average teacher’s salary was £5,442 a year ($8,296). McCartney drew a basic salary from MPL of £200,000 a year ($306,000), which he used to cover his expenses. He received other, Beatles income above and beyond this, of course. Despite portraying himself as a normal bloke, Paul was therefore far removed from the lives of everyday people like Moses, whose school-gate confrontation with the star became national news. ‘I had always admired him for sending his children to state schools,’ the teacher told the Daily Mirror. ‘I expected more support.’
Back at Hog Hill Mill, Paul’s relationship with Hugh Padgham hit rock bottom. When Paul’s 43rd birthday rolled around in June, the producer gave Paul the music edition of the popular board game Trivial Pursuit. Over the weekend, Paul evidently had the game out at home. When he came back into work on Monday he complained bitterly that one of the questions in the game was about the death of his own mother, something he took amiss.
He really had a go at me as if it was my fault that it was in there, or my fault that I gave him this box of Trivial Pursuit questions that had this, as far as he was concerned, insensitive [question]. It was like, Fuckin’ hell, you know, it’s not my fault. Sorry! Ha!
As the two men struggled to complete this unhappy album, Paul was asked to support a charity concert at Wembley Stadium. Towards the end of 1984, Bob Geldof, leader of the new-wave band the Boomtown Rats, had been shocked by news coverage of a famine in Ethiopia into corralling pop stars together to record a charity single, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’, which surpassed ‘Mull of Kintyre’ as the best-selling single in the history of the British charts. A US version followed in the spring of 1985, after which Geldof organised twin concerts to aid Africa, a British show at Wembley Stadium and a sister show at the JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, with an integrated live telecast. Geldof felt he had to have McCartney headline in London, and wrote to the star asking him to perform ‘Let It Be’, explaining that ‘Beatles’ music for some reason evokes more emotional response than any other’. Although he hadn’t performed live since 1979, Paul agreed to do the gig, letting Geldof know that he didn’t mind if George and Ritchie were invited to join him on stage. Geldof called George Harrison at his holiday home in Hawaii, asking if he would play ‘Let It Be’ with Paul. ‘He didn’t ask me to sing on it  years ago, so why does he want me now?’ Harrison retorted, his own relationship with Paul at a new low ebb. The men had recently had a ratty telephone conversation during which George accused Paul of boasting to the press about how much money he made, though the reported £20 million a year ($30.6m) figure was an exaggeration.
The twin Live Aid concerts held on Saturday 13 July 1985 were the most significant live events in popular music since the Sixties. Not since the Woodstock Festival had so many first-class rock acts been assembled, the international telecast adding an extra dimension to what was a truly memorable day. David Bowie, Elton John, Queen, U2 and the Who all performed in London, highlights of the American show including performances by a re-formed Led Zeppelin, Madonna and Mick Jagger singing with Tina Turner. The weather in Philadelphia was muggy. In England it was cloudy with sunny spells and a short, hard shower in the evening before McCartney came on stage alone.
It was obvious that there was a serious sound problem as soon as Paul began performing ‘Let It Be’ on a white grand piano on the Wembley stage. His voice was heard briefly at first, then disappeared for eight verses. Only the piano and intermittent shrieks of feedback were audible. Paul struggled on, hoping everything would work out, apparently willing the audience to help him. Although the stadium audience was made up of predominantly young people, a generation younger than those who’d followed the Beatles originally, the concert-goers recognised the tune Paul was playing and began singing the lyric in his place. When Paul’s voice finally came through loud and clear the crowd gave a huge cheer, and sang along with ‘Let It Be’ enthusiastically until the end, David Bowie, Bob Geldof, Alison Moyet and Pete Townshend adding ragged backing vocals on stage. It was a shambolic performance, not helped by an overwrought Geldof shouting at the audience, ‘Come on!’, but the moment was undoubtedly moving, the strong audience reaction demonstrating the enduring power of the Beatles’ songs, and showing that Paul - despite his advancing years and recent failures - was by common consensus the figurehead of British rock, which with Live Aid, attended by the Prince and Princess of Wales, was beginning to be assimilated into the Establishment. From now on, Paul’s presence would be requested at virtually every large, set-piece music event of the kind, and many such concerts followed.
MIND THE GAP
A few weeks after Live Aid there was another difficult scene at Hog Hill Mill when Paul heard that someone he had considered a friend, Michael Jackson, had invested $47.5 million (£31m) of his Thriller fortune in ATV Music, making him the new owner of Northern Songs. When Michael had mentioned that he might buy Paul’s songs, McCartney had dismissed the comment as a joke, still thinking that he might somehow buy the company back for himself one day. Now Jacko had beaten him to it. ‘He was absolutely furious,’ recalls Hugh Padgham, speaking in italics. ‘Oh my God, the air was blue.’
The making of Press to Play dragged on into 1986, to the misery of the producer, who found that the lack of any financial concern about the cost of studio time (now Paul owned his own studio), twinned with Paul’s penchant for smoking dope, meant that recording a McCartney album could drift on almost indefinitely.
Sometimes it would be really tedious, like McCartney would put his bass on one of the songs and he’d get himself in a tizz about it. Then we’d stop for lunch and we’d have sandwiches, and he would go upstairs and smoke a joint up there, and he thought that we didn’t know what was going on, then he’d come down and sit there for hours trying to play the bass and you could cut the air with a knife with the tension sometimes. And the tedium. Oh!
To put the best gloss on weak material, Hugh called in crack session men and guest stars, including the New York guitarist Carlos Alomar, Phil Collins and Pete Townshend. Recalls Alomar, who is perhaps most famous for his work with David Bowie: ‘We sat down and talked, “How was your trip? ” Then he says, ‘“Let’s go upstairs.” We went upstairs. He rolled a joint. We smoked a nice big spliff, and then we started talking [music].’ The American stayed a week at the mill, eating with Paul, Linda and the kids, and visiting the local pub in the evening. One blustery day, he and Paul flew a kite on the hill. ‘It’s a simpler life than you would think of an ex-Beatle [living],’ says the musician, who felt like he was spending time with a farmer and his family, whereby the farmer’s daughter, Stella, would call for ‘Mr Alomar’ when Mum had dinner ready. ‘It’s like having a regular country dinner and then going to the local pub for a brew and coming back. It’s not a complicated life.’ Paul seemed confident he was making a good record. Indeed, he was so proud of the project he drew diagrammatic plans for the CD booklet to help the listener identify the musicians. ‘That’s pretty meticulous and it requires a certain amount of dedication and commitment, ’ comments Alomar. ‘I’ve looked at a lot of his albums and heard a lot of his music and I’ve never really [seen] things like that - I thought [he believed the album] was fantastic.’
The day finally came in the spring of 1986 when work stopped. The record was finished, for better or worse. Hugh Padgham was just relieved it was all over. Up in London, Paul’s manager Stephen Shrimpton was concerned that he couldn’t hear a hit on Press to Play. It may not be a coincidence that Shrimpton left MPL around this time. In April, Paul appointed Robert Mercer as his new managing director. He lasted just six weeks, leaving the company before Press to Play was released in the September, indicating turmoil within McCartney’s office. For want of anything better, Paul finally chose ‘Press’ as the single to launch this troublesome album. Like so many of Paul’s songs, it is catchy - with the light, electronic sound fashionable in the Eighties - but, in common with the rest of the album, the number also sounds overworked.
When he came to make the promotional video, Paul went for simplicity, taking a camera crew onto London’s Underground to film him miming to ‘Press’ as he rode the Jubilee Line. Looking happy and relaxed in light summer clothes, the star’s spontaneous interactions with the public had a natural, unforced charm that showed him at his best: shaking hands with an elderly lady, receiving a kiss from a girl, encouraging normally dour commuters to smile. At one stage a young man approached Paul on a platform. McCartney made wary eye contact, circumspect about people who came up on his blind side, even more so since John had been shot, only to realise the guy just wanted directions. Paul nodded him onto the right train with a Londoner’s insouciance. After all, the capital had been Paul’s home now for half his life. He knew the city as well as he did Liverpool. As he waved goodbye to his crew, and the audience, at St John’s Wood station, you had to like the man.
A strong video wasn’t enough to save ‘Press’ from bombing, while a second single, ‘Only Love Remains’, did even less well, Press to Play itself selling fewer copies than any of McCartney’s previous studio albums. When Eric Stewart received a copy, he felt he knew why it had failed. Fragments of their original collaboration were audible, in songs like ‘Angry’ and ‘Footprints’, but the simplicity of the demos was buried under 18 months of overdubs, with the result that ‘the album became meaningless’. Eric wished he’d been strong enough to stand up to Paul when he’d snapped at Hugh Padgham in the studio: ‘When did you write your last number one?’ That was the key moment. John Lennon would have challenged Paul and resolved the problem; George Martin could have stood up to the star; but Eric had been cowed by Paul’s status as a former Beatle, a legacy so enormous it inhibited both the star and those around him. ‘Where do you go from there?’ asks Eric rhetorically. ‘What can you achieve from there?’ Paul’s answer, as we shall see next, was to celebrate that legacy.