Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney - Howard Sounes (2010)
PART TWO. AFTER THE BEATLES
Chapter 24. A THREE-QUARTERS REUNION
For years the press had speculated about a Beatles reunion. The boys themselves said it would never happen, and indeed how could it with John dead? Yet the impossible now came to pass, in a partial sense at least, thanks to the band’s old friend and servant, Neil ‘Nell’ Aspinall, who ran Apple on their behalf.
Since the Sixties, Nell had been collecting footage of the Beatles for a documentary film. He first edited the clips together after the band’s break-up, creating a 16mm flick he called The Long and Winding Road. ‘But then the Beatles’ manager, Allen Klein, wanted to take it to America. He wanted his own in-house people to expand it into a social commentary of the Sixties. So I took it all to pieces again,’ Aspinall recalled. ‘I remember him coming into the editing suite in Savile Row and saying, “Where is it?” I pointed to the whole library, and said, “It’s all those cans.” Was he furious? Yeah.’ After the Beatles parted company with Klein, Aspinall remade the film and sent copies to the individual band members for old time’s sake. Nothing more was done on the project for two decades, during much of which the Beatles were arguing between themselves over money, most recently the extra one per cent royalty Paul was being paid by Capitol Records.
When all lawsuits were resolved, around 1990, Aspinall raised the idea of a definitive television history of the Beatles using the old footage he had collected. The unique selling point would be that the Beatles would tell their own story. ‘I said to the guys, “Well, we’re going to have to interview you,”’ notes Aspinall. ‘There were varying degrees of enthusiasm for that suggestion.’ The three surviving Beatles were like brothers who have grown up and left home, still seeing their siblings occasionally, feeling affection for their brothers naturally, but quick to be irritated by them. Relations between Paul and George were particularly prickly, George being the least inclined to look back on ‘the mania’. The excessive devotion of the fans in the Sixties had genuinely freaked him out, and he had never forgotten Paul’s condescension towards him. Although the men still saw each other socially, George had a tendency to snipe at Macca in interviews, complaining about him to others, and ignoring Paul’s calls and letters. Nevertheless, Harrison now had a compelling reason to work with Paul.
Although he’d made millions, George Harrison never earned as much from the Beatles as the two principal songwriters, and while his solo career got off to a promising start in 1970 with the acclaimed triple album All Things Must Pass, flop records followed, with George suffering the indignity of being sued successfully over his biggest solo hit, ‘My Sweet Lord’, which infringed the copyright of the Chiffons’ ‘He’s So Fine’. The latter song belonged to Allen Klein, to whom Harrison had to pay a humiliating $ 587,000 compensation (£383,660). Harrison’s one major tour, his 1974 jaunt across North America, had been a failure, after which he retreated behind the high walls of his Oxfordshire mansion, becoming a hermit gardener. In addition to the upkeep of Friar Park, George had expensive tastes for cocaine, motor racing and movie-making. In 1978, he bailed out his friends in the Monty Python troupe when EMI withdrew financial support from the heretical comedy Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Harrison advanced the Pythons the money to make the picture, which proved a commercial and critical hit, encouraging George to invest in more movies via his company HandMade Films. He enjoyed further success with The Long Good Friday (1980) and Withnail and I (1986), but lost big money on Water (1984) and Shanghai Surprise (1986), with the result that HandMade Films was mired in debt by 1989, undermining George’s financial security and leading to an expensive legal battle with his business advisor. A Japanese tour with Eric Clapton raised some needed cash, but George’s best chance of a substantial pay day lay in the Beatles.
Ritchie could always do with a little extra. He’d earned far less in royalties than John, Paul and George, and had the least successful solo career, yet he pursued a relentlessly expensive jet-set life, moving so frequently even he found it difficult to keep track of his homes. Cautious, hard-working, consistently successful Paul was far richer than George and Ritchie combined, and those close to Paul talk of him agreeing to a three-quarters Beatles reunion partly to give the other two some of what he already had: ‘serious money’. Despite being the Beatle who most needed the favour, George’s old niggles about Paul resurfaced almost immediately. Harrison vetoed The Long and Winding Road as a title for the documentary project, because it was a Paul song, with the result that the reunion gained the unimaginative umbrella name of the Anthology.
After considering a range of directors for the documentary, the Beatles selected a big, bearded Geordie named Geoff Wonfor, who had worked with all three previously, most recently with Paul on a film of his Liverpool Oratorio. A production office was established, with the band’s old PR man Derek Taylor (now white of hair and reedy of voice) brought in to advise the film-makers; another old friend, Klaus Voormann, was commissioned to create artwork for the packaging; while the musician and broadcaster Jools Holland was engaged to interview the Beatles. The interviews would also form the basis of an Anthology book. It was decided almost as an afterthought to compile a series of complementary CDs containing rare and unreleased Beatles recordings, out-takes, rehearsals, live performances and demos, starting with what George Harrison described as ‘the most ancient Beatles music possible’, which was the shellac disc Paul had recently bought back from John Duff Lowe. The ageing George Martin - now in his late 60s - would take charge of this aspect of the project, listening to the significant takes of every Beatles track recorded, 600 items in all, with Geoff Emerick at his side.
Work on the Anthology began in earnest in 1991, with Paul, George and Ritchie interviewed multiple times over the next few years, with the result that their appearance varies considerably during the series. Hair changes colour and length. Beards come and go. The men age before our eyes. Paul proved the most consistently entertaining interviewee, whether reminiscing at sound checks, in the studio, sitting at a camp fire on his Sussex estate or piloting his boat, the Barnaby Rudge, on the water near Rye. He enjoyed indulging in nostalgia, especially about the early days on Merseyside, and though he had told his stories until they were worn smooth as river pebbles, they were still good to hear. George was less inclined to look back and was more sardonic in his comments, but exhibited a wry sense of humour and had a knack for a good phrase, while Ringo unfortunately felt the need to hide behind dark glasses and suffered memory lapses. They all forgot things to a degree. Moreover, as Jools Holland questioned the men, it became apparent that each Beatle remembered their story differently, not necessarily because drugs had addled their minds, or they were dissembling, but in the same way that any group of people interviewed after an event will give contradictory accounts of what they did, said and heard.
Work on the Anthology reached a peak in 1994, which Paul began by inducting John Lennon into the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame, making Lennon one of the first artists to be inducted as both a band member and a solo artist, which the McCartneys’ friend and nominating committee member Danny Fields considered a mistake as it set a precedent for other multiple inductees.56 Paul’s induction speech was in the form of an open letter to his old pal: ‘Dear John, I remember when we first met, in Woolton, at the village fête,’ he began, telling the audience how John had made up words to ‘Come Go with Me’. Later they sagged off school to write new songs together. George joined the band, they played the Cavern, went to Hamburg, and became stars in Britain and the USA, where they met Elvis, ‘the first person I ever saw with a remote control on a TV. Boy!’ Paul recalled the excitement of that LA visit. Then came drugs. ‘I remember writing “A Day in the Life” with you, and the little look we gave each other as we wrote the line, “I’d love to turn you on.”’ John met Yoko, the Beatles went through ‘all our business shit’, eventually reaching a point, in the late 1970s, where ‘we were actually getting back together and communicating once again …’ That gave Paul ‘something to hold onto’ when John was killed in 1980. ‘So now, years later, here we are … John Lennon, you’ve made it. Tonight you are in the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame. God bless you.’
Yoko came on stage and Paul hugged her, as if they were great friends. Apart from honouring John, Paul may have had one or two other motives for helping his former partner into the Rock’n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Almost immediately the McCartneys got back to England, Danny Fields started receiving calls from Linda asking when Paul was going to be brought into the Hall of Fame as a solo artist to gain parity with John. ‘All the time she was saying, “What do you think Paul’s chances are this year?” They were asking Jann Wenner the same thing.’
There was another reason for Paul doing John’s memory a good service: he, long with George and Ritchie, wanted Yoko to give the Beatles some music. In working on the Anthology, the three surviving Beatles decided it might be fun to record some incidental music, but it didn’t seem right without John. ‘If we were to do something, the three of us, as interesting as it may be, and as nice as we could make it, to have John in it is the obvious thing,’ George said. So Yoko was asked if she had any recordings of songs John had been working on which the other three could complete as a ‘new’ Beatles record. When they met in New York, she gave Paul a demo tape of ‘Free as a Bird’, an unfinished song from the late 1970s. The following month the surviving Beatles reunited discreetly at Hog Hill Mill to complete it. The men who met at Hog Hill almost a quarter of a century on from the break-up of the Beatles were naturally changed. George Harrison, the youngest, turned 51 during the reunion and looked the oldest of them all, having allowed himself to gain a few pounds in a life spent mostly away from the spotlight, and his hair having grown long and grey. Scruffily dressed, he looked like what he was these days: a gardener. Paul had also gone grey in the 1980s, but had cheated time by having the grey dyed out of his hair, with the result that four months before his 52nd birthday he possessed a thick mane of light brown locks. Still, the lines around his eyes gave his age away. At 53, Ritchie continued to hide behind dark glasses, longish hair and a beard, which he too must have had coloured, for he’d had a streak of white as wide as a skunk’s when the Beatles met him, and yet there was no trace of it now. To help deal with the fact that they were making music without John, the trio told themselves that Lennon had already recorded his part of ‘Free as a Bird’ and then popped out of the studio. ‘And once we had agreed to take that attitude it gave us a lot of freedom, because it meant that we didn’t have any sacred view of John as a martyr, it was John the Beatle, John the crazy guy we remember,’ Paul commented. ‘So we could laugh and say, “Wouldn’t you just know it? It’s completely out of time!”’
Building the song up from John’s scanty demo tape was a production challenge, not one that was overseen by George Martin, surprisingly, even though George was in overall charge of the Anthology CDs. The Beatles turned instead to Jeff Lynne, Birmingham-born leader of the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) who co-produced Harrison’s 1987 album Cloud Nine, and its hit ‘When We Was Fab’, going on to join George in the Traveling Wilburys, whose records the musicians co-produced, achieving a smooth, commercial sound. ‘I think George Harrison wanted Jeff Lynne to do it … because he had been working with Jeff in the Wilburys,’ ventures Geoff Emerick. Martin insisted he was not unhappy about being passed over in this way, saying in polite explanation: ‘I’m now quite old.’57
When Lynne had fixed the underlying tape, Paul and George added acoustic guitar to ‘Free as a Bird’, Paul doubling John’s piano part and adding the bass, Ritchie playing drums, naturally, and George slide guitar. Paul risked another Let It Be-style row by saying he didn’t want George’s guitar to sound like ‘My Sweet Lord’. It had to be Beatley, so Harrison was prevailed upon to play a simpler blues lick. In return, Paul allowed George to cut some of the words he had written to pad out the unfinished middle-eight. At times it all ‘got a little difficult’, as McCartney later conceded.
On a gorgeous summer’s day two months later, Paul and Ritchie came to Friar Park to talk with George on camera about the old days, McCartney clearly being careful not to say anything that would upset his touchy friend. Footage was shot by George’s lake and in his home studio, the boys trying to recreate the repartee of their early days, but appearing awkward in each other’s company, and again forgetful. Stories were begun, then trailed off into silence. As with Let It Be, it was when the men started playing old tunes, like ‘Raunchy’ and ‘Thinking of Linking’, that they looked happiest, smiling at each other in enjoyment of their musical youth.
BACK AT THE FARM
Hardly a year had passed since Paul signed with EMI that he hadn’t put out a record, with multiple releases some years. Now came a sabbatical. Following the release of Paul is Live and the first Fireman album in 1993, Paul didn’t release a new record for three and a half years, partly to avoid competing with the Anthology. Yet once Paul had recorded ‘Free as a Bird’ and filmed his interviews for the documentary, there wasn’t a great deal for him to do on the Anthology except wait and see what Geoff Wonfor and George Martin came up with. Along with the other Beatles, Paul viewed early cuts of the documentary programmes, sending the production office meticulous, typewritten notes of comments and changes. If any Beatle was unhappy with any detail, it was excised. There were inevitable clashes with the programme-makers, who found it virtually impossible to win an argument with a Beatle, and the Beatles themselves clearly still had unresolved issues. Recalls series director Bob Smeaton, who admits he found the project so frustrating at times he almost quit:
Paul and George sat in the editing suite with Ringo looking at the last programme. George was on the screen, talking about the split, and Paul turned to George sitting next to him and said, ‘I didn’t know you felt like that. Is that really how you felt?’ George said, ‘Of course it was.’
Watching the Anthology footage proved emotional for Paul. ‘I get to see my dad again. I get to see my mum again, I get to remember what she did again,’ McCartney explained to readers of his fan magazine, Club Sandwich, still hyper-sensitive about anything to do with his parents. Listening to the tracks selected for the Anthology CDs also brought back memories, not always pleasant ones.
In volume one there are a few songs that I would have preferred not being there, like ‘Besame Mucho’ which portrays me as a cabaret artist, whereas in my soul I am a rock and roller … But because the others wanted it in, because George Martin wanted it, I could put down my slight reservation and say, ‘Cool. If you guys like it, then it’s got to be alright.’ And it’s a very nice feeling to be on a team like that. The minute a thing is done and it’s the Beatles, I’m happy with it.
With no touring commitments in 1994, and no new solo album to worry about, Paul used his free time to enjoy life with Linda at Blossom Farm, the couple celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary in March. He wrote some new songs and composed some more orchestral music, sat for interviews with Barry Miles for their forthcoming book, and did lots of painting, a hobby Paul had become increasingly passionate about, spending many afternoons in his Sussex studio and working on pictures when he was in the United States on holiday. During his annual summer break in the Hamptons, Paul took inspiration from visiting the elderly artist Willem De Kooning, a Long Island resident and fellow client of Eastman & Eastman. Fired up with enthusiasm after his meetings with ‘Bill’, Paul bought art materials from the same local store De Kooning used, then went home to paint. His pictures were often inspired by objects he picked up on the beach.
Stories about Paul’s painting got into the press and in response he was contacted by a German curator, Wolfgang Suttner, who said he wanted to show Paul’s pictures at the municipal gallery he ran in Siegen, the birthplace of Rubens. McCartney invited Suttner to Sussex to discuss the idea, meeting him in the estate house he used as his art studio. The German found room after room of the farmhouse filled with Paul’s pictures, stacked up and hung on the walls. Paul explained that he’d always drawn and painted pictures, from when he was a boy, that he had won prizes for his artwork at school, but he suppressed this side of himself when he met John because John was the art student. After the Beatles broke up he had made one or two pictures. Paul showed Wolfgang a 1971 drawing, Hooray for Stella, which he made to celebrate the birth of his youngest daughter. He also revealed that he’d covered the kitchen door at High Park in Scotland with pictures. But it was only after John had died, and Paul himself had turned 40, that he began to explore this side of himself properly, painting large, colourful semi-abstract portraits and landscapes. Paul was wary of showing these in public in case he was mocked. To make him feel more relaxed about the idea of putting on a show, Suttner invented a fiction whereby Paul was a young artist named Paul Miller whom Suttner had discovered and was going to introduce to the German public via his provincial gallery. That way there was less pressure. McCartney fell in with the idea and began to talk with enthusiasm to Wolfy, as he addressed his new friend, about staging their exhibition, though, as with many of Paul’s projects, there would be a time-lag before he got around to mounting the show.
Linda, who regularly staged exhibitions of her photographs these days, as well as publishing books of her pictures, was increasingly busy with her vegetarian food empire in 1994, opening a dedicated veggie factory in the UK, and going to the USA with Paul to try and sell veggie meals to Americans, who proved more resistant than British consumers.
Paul’s parallel pet project continued to be the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, which was at last under construction, Mark Featherstone-Witty having lined up the necessary £12 million ($18.3m) funds. Roughly a third of the money was coming from the European Union, a third from the British public sector, the final third, including Paul’s £1 million, from private donations. ‘And then we discovered we got the figures wrong,’ groans Mark. ‘It was a very sticky moment.’ The problem was that putting a new roof on the Inny proved more expensive than expected, prompting a lecture from Paul about financial prudence, not long after which Mark had another in a series of angry confrontations with his Lead Patron.
The conversation took place before a luncheon in London in October 1994. ‘At some point I’d mentioned my mother was Jewish, probably to try and cement some sort of solidarity with Linda, mistakenly,’ says Mark Featherstone-Witty, who says he then listened with bewilderment as Paul told him that his late father had once advised him that Jews made good businessmen, but he hadn’t found it invariably true. ‘He went on to note a line of Jews who had failed him in his business life, notably Brian Epstein and Allen Klein,’ Mark recalled, ‘and rounded the list off by saying, “And now I’ve got you.” I wondered what had prompted this reflection and concluded that it was probably the overspend on the building, which was clearly worrying him more than I had anticipated.’ Paul’s comment was odd, especially so considering he’d married into a Jewish family and benefited from the Eastmans’ advice all these years. His comments also seemed to echo the time Paul’s manager had apparently harangued Mark for bringing a ‘gay’ friend to an MPL party.
Reflecting on the luncheon conversation about Jews, Mark says he hasn’t ‘got the foggiest’ idea whether Paul is anti-Semitic, noting that it would be remarkable if he was. If one took Jews, and gays, out of show business the industry would be seriously depleted. Thinking over what Paul had said, Mark could only conclude that his Lead Patron was just looking for ways in which to vent his doubts about LIPA, and about Mark himself, while Mark had no choice other than to take the abuse. ‘I’m always conscious you’re not nasty to people who can’t answer back [and] I couldn’t risk him backing off from it. It was a sort of nightmare really if he did decide that [he wanted to pull out].’ Mark got his own back in a small way when he published a little-read 2008 memoir, Optimistic, Even Then, in which he recapped these awkward moments with Paul and his staff. He sent Paul a copy. In reply, McCartney acknowledged that he could be ‘a right bastard’ sometimes, which Mark interprets as an apology. ‘That doesn’t stop him being a right bastard, of course.’ Despite awkward moments like this, Paul continued to help Mark raise money for LIPA, bending his own rules to accept a £25,000 cheque ($38,250) from the Hard Rock Café, something he fretted about because the restaurant serves meat. Fortunately, veggie burgers were also on the menu. Paul agreed to receive the presentation cheque when the words ‘in recognition of the sale of Linda McCartney’s veggie burgers’ were added.
Paul would have to re-open his own cheque book to make LIPA a reality. Although he was keen to raise as much money from others first, his underlying commitment to LIPA shows a generous side to his character that is often overlooked or underplayed by his critics. Paul is tight-fisted, they say. There are in fact numerous examples of the star being very generous, such as when a call came through to Hog Hill Mill in 1994 from Horst Fascher, the German pugilist the Beatles had knocked about with in Hamburg. In recent years Horst had taken up with a Hungarian girl, who had given birth to their daughter, Marie-Sophie, that February. German doctors warned Horst that Marie-Sophie would not live long because of a heart defect. Horst had already suffered the death of one child. ‘So in my angst that I lose a second child I called Paul. I thought Paul has better doctors in England,’ says Horst, who wept on the phone to one of Paul’s assistants, saying he had to speak to the star. ‘Then after 20 minutes he called me back. And he said, “What’s happened?” I said, “Paul, can you help me?” He was saying, “Horst, whatever I can do for you, I do for you.”’ True to his word, Paul arranged to have the Faschers flown from Hamburg to London in January 1995, and accommodated in the capital while 11-month Marie-Sophie was admitted to Great Ormond Street Hospital. A team of American surgeons were then flown in to operate on the child. Despite the best treatment, she died 13 days later. ‘Then it came to the payment. Paul said, “I take care of everything. You don’t have to [worry],”’ says Fascher. ‘And he flew us back and all of that.’ Horst believed the whole thing cost about $190,000. ‘I said, “Paul, how can I pay you back?” He said, “Horst, forget it. Only don’t tell anybody, because I don’t want the big Can you help us?”’
This wasn’t an isolated example of Paul’s philanthropy. For some time Paul and Linda had backed a campaign to re-open their local NHS cottage hospital in Rye, which had closed in 1990 when a new district hospital opened in Hastings. Local people thought Hastings too far to travel and, after Paul and Linda had marched with their neighbours, and donated almost a million pounds to the cause, a new 19-bed cottage hospital and care centre was opened in Rye, with a ‘Strawberry Fields’ day room. In a quieter way, Paul and Lin helped out with many local charitable causes, in Sussex and Kintyre, earning respect and affection in the communities.
A year on from recording ‘Free as a Bird’, Paul invited George and Ritchie back to Hog Hill Mill in 1995 to record another ‘new’ Beatles song, based on a second demo tape Yoko Ono had supplied, Jeff Lynne again producing. ‘Real Love’ was another slow love song, this time with all the words in place, which made it less of a challenge and thereby less fun for Paul, who nonetheless wanted to continue with this reunion project, eager to complete a third Lennon track. George Harrison said no. He wasn’t even sure ‘Real Love’ was good enough to release (he was right, but it was nonetheless in 1996) and he didn’t want to make any more records with Paul and Ritchie, which Paul thought odd considering the Anthology had been created partly to help George. So the three-quarters Beatles reunion was over. But now that the grave had been exhumed, the ghosts of the past were not easily put back to rest.
James McCartney had reached an age when he was asking his father about the Sixties. A discussion about the song ‘My Dark Hour’, which Paul had made with Steve Miller during the rancorous end days of the Beatles, led McCartney to hook up with Miller again, at his home studio in Sun Valley, Idaho, to record a song titled ‘Young Boy’, the lyrics of which express the sort of conversation Paul and Lin may have had about their son as he approached adulthood. The track worked well. Later in the year, Miller came to Hog Hill to record a second song with Paul, a sloppy blues they named ‘Used to Be Bad’. This also turned out successfully. Paul brought Jeff Lynne in to produce a series of other new songs he’d been working on recently, including ‘The Song We Were Singing’, which described Paul’s working relationship with John, and ‘The World Tonight’, which also referred to their past. These were some of the best songs Paul had written in years, though it would be some time before the public heard them.
At the same time, Paul was continuing to compose orchestral music, no longer with Carl Davis, but with a friend and colleague of Davis’s, the English composer and arranger David Matthews. ‘I know after Liverpool OratorioPaul felt he’d like to do more things himself,’ says Matthews. ‘Carl felt perhaps [he] wasn’t sufficiently acknowledged as a co-composer … they did have a slight falling out.’ As a young man, David worked as an assistant to Benjamin Britten, whose music Paul enjoyed, Matthews becoming a prolific and well-regarded composer in his own right, publishing a number of symphonies and concertos, and working on a celebrated arrangement of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony, which Mahler left unfinished at his death. Matthews strove to make his additions to the score sound like Mahler, rather than his own work. This was also true of his collaboration with McCartney.
Their first meeting, at Hog Hill Mill on 17 January 1995, was very pleasant. Says Matthews, who was a year younger than Paul and had developed an appreciation and respect for the Beatles’ music in his youth, as many serious composers did in the Sixties:
Well, certainly he’s very nice and very friendly, and very easy to talk to and very modest. I remember him saying, ‘I’m Paul McCartney.’ I thought, Well, yes, I do know that! [laughs] He would say things like, ‘We did an album called Sgt. Pepper.’ ‘Oh yes!’ … I learned he was writing a symphonic piece of some kind, which at this stage he was quite vague about.
It gradually emerged that Paul was working on a piece titled Spiral, inspired by his interest in Celtic mythology, a subject he also explored in painting; the history fascinated Paul because it was the story of his own ancestry. Paul had recorded a demo on piano, getting an assistant to transcribe the music. He now wanted to develop the score with Matthews. Creating orchestral music in this way was slow work. And what exactly was McCartney trying to achieve?
‘When I met him I thought, What does he really want to be? He wants to be a composer. OK. See if I can try to get him to do it all himself …
My business was writing the score down and suggesting things that he wouldn’t necessarily think of,’ explains Matthews.
I had to make him aware of the whole range of dynamics, how a [piece of music] can be phrased. Take this, [hums a piece of orchestral music they made together] da-da-dar, how is that to be phrased? Should it be da-da-dar[staccato] or should it be dar-larrrr, and if it’s da-da-dar you put staccato dots over the notes and if it’s dar-larrrr you put a line over it, and you see that’s not something he would know from playing music by ear.
Paul was also using other arrangers. The result of a collaboration with the American composer Jonathan Tunick resulted in a piano prelude titled A Leaf, premièred in March 1995 as part of An Evening with Paul McCartney and Friends in front of the Prince of Wales at St James’ Palace. The event was in aid of the Royal College of Music. In a varied programme, Paul also performed ‘One After 909’ with Elvis Costello, and new arrangements of ‘For No One’, ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and ‘Yesterday’ with the Brodsky Quartet. At the end, Prince Charles awarded McCartney an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Music, further assimilating him into the English Establishment and the classical world Paul clearly aspired to join. ‘Unlike most people in the rock world he’s ambitious to do new things all the time,’ says David Matthews, comparing McCartney approvingly to rock stars who ‘are content with recycling their early stuff …’
Paul didn’t confine himself to conventional orchestral music. Reminiscing with Barry Miles had re-awakened his interest in the avant-garde, with the result that he accompanied their mutual friend Allen Ginsberg on guitar at a poetry reading at the Albert Hall in the autumn of 1995. Ginsberg came down to see Paul at Blossom Farm first. During their rehearsals for the show Paul asked Allen if he could recommend someone who might help him polish up an epic poem he had written on a Celtic theme, a work titled ‘Standing Stone’. Ginsberg referred McCartney to the British poet Tom Pickard, who took on the job, which would form the basis of Paul’s next major orchestral work.
More in the mainstream, Paul found time to record a charity cover of ‘Come Together’ at Abbey Road Studios with Paul Weller and Noel Gallagher of Oasis. The record did well, reminding Paul that working with John at Abbey Road had been his peak. ‘I think he always realised that the really great days [were with] the Beatles - he’s always talking about the Beatles - [and] it’s never been quite the same since he stopped collaborating with John,’ observes David Matthews, who was spending a lot of time with McCartney now. ‘That produced all their really great work and I think he must know that really. Nothing’s quite been the same, has it?’ There was another reminder of that career-defining partnership in the spring of 1995 when two Liverpool brothers, Charlie and Reg Hodgson, were clearing out their mother’s house in Allerton, just around the corner from where Paul used to live in Forthlin Road, and found an old Grundig tape recorder. Many years ago Paul had borrowed the machine from the Hodgsons to make home recordings with John, George and Stuart Sutcliffe. There was an ancient tape with the machine. When the brothers played the spool, they heard McCartney singing ‘The World is Waiting for the Sunrise’ and other songs. After making contact with MPL, Reg’s son Peter was invited to Hog Hill Mill with the tape so Paul could listen to it. ‘I still remember him standing there singing to the [songs],’ says Peter of the moment McCartney heard his teenage self again. ‘He remembered the words to songs he hadn’t sung in years [like] “I’ll Follow the Sun”.’ There was a banging in the background. ‘That’s Our Mike banging [his] drum,’ explained McCartney, who bought the tape from the Hodgsons for £260,000 ($397,800).
Making orchestral music became easier for Paul in May 1995 when he acquired a computer that generated sheet music from notes played on a keyboard. Paul gave reams of print-out to David Matthews, who dutifully transcribed them. Paul’s compositions became increasingly ambitious and eccentric from this point, as if he wanted to reach back beyond the conventional orchestral music he’d made with Carl Davis to his more experimental Sixties self. One of the first works McCartney and Matthews produced with the aid of the computer was what David describes as ‘a crazy piece’ Paul titled Pissed, possibly because ‘he was pissed when he did it’, then renamed Inebriation. It is challenging music, sounding like discordant Erik Satie. ‘Not your normal McCartney, is it?’ asks Matthews, playing a section on the piano at his London home. ‘That’s the most extreme he got, I think.’
As they worked together, Matthews found himself drawn deeper into Paul’s world. One night he and his wife were invited for supper to Blossom Farm, where they got to know Linda a little: a strong woman ‘obsessed with her vegetarian ideas’. That said, it was a delightful evening, Linda serving dinner at the kitchen table in what was a remarkably unostentatious family home. The McCartneys were almost like any other middle-class, middle-aged couple, if one forgot their fame and their wealth, and the thousand private acres outside the window with estate workers watching for the determined, sometimes crazed Beatles fans who regularly came down the lane from Peasmarsh looking for Paul.
The kids were growing up and becoming more independent of Mum and Dad. Heather had moved into a cottage on the southern border of the Sussex estate, with an outhouse in which she did her pottery. She established a company, Heather McCartney Designs, in 1995. Sister Mary was still working for Dad at MPL in London, while Stelly graduated from St Martin’s College with a degree in fashion design in 1995, her clothes modelled at her graduation show by celebrity friends Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss. Paul and Lin came to support their daughter along with the rest of the family and the veteran model Twiggy, one of their oldest and closest friends. Paul created a celebratory piece of music, ‘Stella May Day’, helping launch his youngest daughter on what became a very successful career in the fashion industry.
Their youngest, James, was still living full time at home. A quiet boy of 17, with Paul’s cherubic features and his mother’s straw-blond hair and pale complexion, James frightened his parents again in 1995 when he overturned a Land Rover on the Sussex estate. He got trapped underneath and had to be rescued by the Fire Brigade. In other words it was normal family life at Blossom Farm, the kids both a source of delight and worry to Mum and Dad. Above all the McCartneys were a close family. ‘To see them together with [their] kids, I’ve never seen such a loving family,’ comments Barry Miles, recalling his visits to Blossom Farm around this time.
They would all hug each other and stuff. It was a very touchy-feely kind of family. They were always telling each other they loved each other. When the girls left to drive back to town or something they would all [wave them off]. It seemed pretty good actually. Obviously tempestuous, you know, four kids and that rock ’n’ roll lifestyle, so obviously there were problems from time to time, but I would have thought a very happy marriage.
The Beatles’ Anthology premièred on ABC television in the United States on 19 November 1995, and five days later in the UK, then in 100 countries around the world. The original TV series ran to approximately five hours, long by normal standards, but nevertheless perfunctory for such an epic story with so many fascinating characters and incidents. The story was better told in subsequent, expanded video and DVD releases, the final version stretching to more than 11 hours. Well received at the time, the series remains the definitive televisual history of the Beatles, as Neil Aspinall had set out to make it, even if sensitive parts of the story were soft-pedalled to appease the protagonists. Paul didn’t want to go into the whys and wherefores of who broke up the band, for instance, so there wasn’t a word about his High Court action to dissolve the partnership. As with any ‘authorised’ biographical project, including Paul’s forthcoming book with Miles, the Anthology was a glossing over of the truth, with key areas of the story ignored. But to hear Paul, George and Ringo talk directly at length about the amazing experiences they had shared was compensation.
A couple of days after the show was broadcast, the first of three double CDs of hitherto officially unreleased Beatles music went on sale. This included what George Martin termed a ‘rather grotty’ home recording of ‘Hallelujah, I Love Her So’, ‘You’ll be Mine’ and ‘Cayenne’, all featuring Stuart Sutcliffe. These were the tapes found recently in a Liverpool attic. Beautifully produced, with excellent liner notes by Mark Lewisohn, Anthology Vol. 1 quickly sold more than two million units in the USA alone. One of those who benefited from the runaway success was Pete Best who, like Stuart Sutcliffe, appeared for the very first time on an official Beatles record. Pete was on tracks recorded in Hamburg in 1961, at the Decca audition in London on New Year’s Day 1962, and at EMI that June. As a result, Pete - who had worked in a Liverpool unemployment office in recent years, as well as playing his drums for Beatles fans - received his first substantial pay day from the band who sacked him, making him a rich man finally at 54. There was, however, a last indignity. The cover of the first volume of the Anthology features an early band picture of the Beatles. Pete’s face had been deliberately torn out, replaced by that of Ringo Starr.
The opening track on this double CD was not an old recording, or at least not in the same way these museum pieces were old. It was the ‘new’ Beatles song ‘Free as a Bird’, released as a single in December 1995. ‘It sounds like them now,’ said George Harrison enthusiastically, but in truth ‘Free as a Bird’ was a disappointing dirge. Jeff Lynne’s production was part of the problem. It gave the Beatles the same smooth sound as ELO. Also, the basic song wasn’t very good. Even though EMI gave ‘Free as a Bird’ a massive launch it failed to hit number one in the UK, kept off the top spot by Michael Jackson’s overblown ‘Earth Song’, to McCartney’s chagrin. The Anthology project as a whole generated a mountain of money, though. MPL turned over £ 6.4 million ($ 9.7m) in what had otherwise been a quiet year, with Paul paying himself £1.9 million ($2.9m), including pension contributions, with theAnthology continuing to earn the boys millions for years to come. Two further CD sets were to be released in 1995/96, with a VHS box set of the documentaries retailing at £99 in the UK, and an expensive Anthology book in the works. All of this, however, was of little account to Paul, for he now faced the terrifying news that Linda had cancer, the same cancer that had killed his mother.