Club Sandwich, 1994
Bored with celebrity interviews? Sick of those professional journalists who can never seem to ask what you really want to know? Exasperated by the colour-supplement purple prose that seems to accompany every encounter with a superstar?
The staff of the official Paul McCartney fan club magazine, ‘Club Sandwich’, felt the same way. Luckily, they had an antidote. They encouraged their readers to send in questions they wanted McCartney to answer, presented him with the best of them, and left the rest up to the man himself.
The resulting interview, conducted by ‘Club Sandwich’ editor Mark Lewisohn, was printed in the Winter 1994 issue, and made fascinating reading. What did Paul think about the Beatles’ reunion? Does he read books about himself? And did he really make a Christmas album back in 1965? All these questions, and many more, were put to McCartney, and answered in style.
With grateful thanks to ‘Club Sandwich’ and to Paul for his co-operation, we’re delighted to be able to bring you these extracts from “The Club Sandwich McCartney Interview” this month.
In return, a couple of plugs. Paul McCartney is closely involved in the launch of the pioneering Liverpool Institute For Performing Arts (LIPA), which will be opening its doors to its first intake of students this autumn. More details from LIPA, Mount Street, Liverpool LI 9HF.
Meanwhile, Linda McCartney has donated photos for a 1995 calendar in aid of War Child, the charity set up to assist deprived children in Bosnia. The calendar’s in the shops, and you can send donations to War Child at 7/12 Greenland Street, London NW1 0ND.
Q: What did you, George and Ringo do to the demo of John’s “Free As A Bird” which Yoko Ono gave you?
A: We fixed it up. We took the attitude that John had gone on holiday saying, “I finished all the tracks on my album except this one. I’m sorry that I can’t make the last session but I leave it to you guys to finish it off. Do what you’d normally do. Don’t get fussy, just do your normal thing. I trust you.”
And once we 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. So we could laugh and say, “Wouldn’t you just know it? It’s completely out of time!” So we fixed the timing and then added some bits. John hadn’t filled in the middle-eight section of the demo so we wrote a new section for that, which, in fact, was one of the reasons for choosing the song: it allowed us some input.
This question will be answered in more depth when we release it, though. I don’t want to appear coy about the subject but we are having to sit on a great track for the first time in our lives and it’s not easy.
Q: What was the first song that turned you on to guitar and vocal harmony?
A: “That’ll Be The Day” by Buddy Holly & the Crickets.
Q: You often seem to dismiss, or at least gloss over, the Wings period of your post-Beatles career. How do you really assess the music of the 1971-79 period?
A: It’s very difficult for me to assess Wings because they came after the Beatles. So, to me, there was always a feeling of let-down because the Beatles had been so big that anything I did had to compare directly with them. And I was still in shock anyway, after the Beatles broke up.
But I remember, years later, being with David Bowie and looking through one of those chart facts books. First we looked up James Brown and then somebody else until, finally, we admitted that, really, we wanted to look up our own entries. And when we looked at mine I saw that the albums I thought had died a death, like “Wild Life” and “Back To The Egg”, had got to something like No. 8 in the States. And I thought, “My God, people would give their right arm to have that sort of ‘failure’!” That’s a very successful failure.
But I must admit that the whole period was always mixed with the feeling of comparison to the Beatles. I would have felt much better about Wings if it had just happened on its own, either before the Beatles or with a decent interval afterwards. But it happened straight after the Beatles, which was unfortunate. I know why though — I needed to continue in music. I didn’t want to retire or do anything else.
Wings did have a lot of success, but also an awful lot of criticism. And you can’t help it: it always gets through. Even Van Gogh, with all his criticism, was bound to conclude that he never painted a good picture.
Q: Did you appear in George Harrison’s video for “When We Was Fab”? There were stories that it was you inside the walrus costume.
A: No. George wanted me to be in it but I wasn’t available. So I suggested that he put someone else in a walrus costume and tell everyone that it was me. We’ve always had fun with the walrus thing. We don’t lay many false trails but the walrus has always been one of them.
Anyway, though it was me in the walrus costume in ‘Magical Mystery Tour’, it wasn’t me in “When We Was Fab” — it was a joke between George and me, which we purposely decided not to tell anyone.
Q: Apart from the 1958 disc of “That’ll Be The Day” and “In Spite Of All The Danger”, which we’ve known about for years, did the Beatles, the Quarry Men or whatever, cut any other private recordings in Liverpool or the north-west before signing with a record company?
A: I don’t think so. We helped out on a recording of “Fever”, with Lu of Rory Storm & the Hurricanes. That was done in a little demo studio in Hamburg, where you could go in and make your own record. This was before the Bert Kaempfert/Tony Sheridan recordings.
“That’ll Be The Day” and “In Spite Of All The Danger”, which we made in 1958, was our first session, but there were some other recordings that we made at home, which will be included in “The Beatles’ Anthology”. Sometimes I’d borrow a tape recorder — a Grundig with a little green eye — or John would manage to borrow one, and we’d go around my house and try to record things. I seem to remember recording “Hallelujah, I Love Her So” because I had the Eddie Cochran record. They were very much home demos, very bad sound quality.
Q: In terms of atmosphere in the studio and relations within the band, what were the happiest and least happiest Beatles albums to record?
A: It’s a good question, but also a difficult one because time is a great healer, and looking back on the Beatles I tend to think that it was all great fun. And that’s not whitewash, it’s just the way that memory goes. You can have a terrible holiday, it might rain all the time, but years later if someone asks, “Did you ever go to the south of France?” you would say, “Oh yes, I had a great time …”.
So, relatively speaking, they were all great to record, and I wouldn’t take one degree off any of them.
But, to answer the question, “Revolver” and “Rubber Soul” were especially nice. It was still early days and we were coming good as an album band, so they felt very fresh. On the other hand, the “White Album” and “Let It Be” had to be the most difficult because the group was starting to break up.
I suppose what I’m saying is that the earliest were the best and the later ones weren’t. But, as I say, I wouldn’t take anything away from any of them, not even the “White Album” or “Let It Be” — I think they’re great albums, it’s just that they were just done during a tense time. But, who knows, that may make them better, because it’s difficult to say what works in creativity.
Q: The book about the Beatles’ reeording sessions says that you recorded a demo of a song called “Etcetera” during the ‘“White Album” era. Whatever happened to it?
A: I offered it to Marianne Faithfull and Mick Jagger, who were looking for a song for Marianne to record, but it wasn’t what she wanted. I think she was looking for an “Eleanor Rigby” and instead I offered her an “Etcetera”. I’ve got a lot of those silly little songs — they can’t all work out well, and sometimes when people ask me for one I’ll pull out one of those.
Q: Would you over consider releasing a compilation of your promotional videos?
A: Yes. We’ve been planning it for years but it’s the sort of thing we hold back for when nothing else is happening. This year, for example, there’ll be “The Beatles’ Anthology,” in 1993 there was “Paul Is Live”, last year we left it too late. So it won’t be for a couple of years yet but, yes, we do have definite plans to do it.
Q: Is it true you and John Lennon recorded together in L.A. in 1974? John once mentioned something about you and him plaving on “Midnight Special”. How did this happen, and do you have a tape?
A: It’s very difficult to remember those days because it was all a bit crazy and everyone was getting ‘out of it’, but, yes, John was doing some recordings in L.A. and I showed up. It was a strange session. The main thing that I recall, apart from the fact that Stevie Wonder was there, is that someone said “What song shall we do?” and John said “Anything before ‘63. I don’t know anything after ‘63”. Which I understood because it’s the songs from your formative years that you tend to jam. I’m always doing old Bo Diddley tunes, or Elvis songs like “That’s All Right Mama”. Anyway, it wasn’t a very good session, and I don’t think we recorded much of interest, but I ended up on drums, for some reason. And no, I don’t have a tape of it.
Q: Is it true that you can be heard munching vegetables on the Bcaeh Boys track “Vegetables”? The CD liner notes say so.
A: Do they? Well, I was certainly at a few Beach Boys sessions, and if I someone gave me, say, an apple, I would have munched it, and if there’d been a microphone nearby I suppose it might have gone down on tape. But I don’t remember doing it knowingly.
Q: What happened to the “Cold Cuts” album project?
A: It became a bootleg, which put me off the idea.
The project originally started out as “Hot Hitz And Kold Kutz”, with two k’s and two z’s, but then someone at the record company said “Why have cold cuts on a hot hits album?”, as a result of which it became simply “Cold Cuts”. So it went on the back-burner and cooled off, to mix a few metaphors, and then went even cooler when I discovered that it had become a bootleg.
I still have a lovely unused cover for the album, drawn for me by Saul Steinberg, best known by the public for his ‘New Yorker’ drawings. I got to know him and for many years was asking him to draw me a cover, and eventually he carne up with something. This is probably the most compelling reason to issue the album, actually: just to use his cover!
Like the promo video compilation, though, these things can get in the way of other projects. I mean, if you’ve got a ‘real’ album already out then to issue another one can be confusing. I’d love to release millions of things but it would mean issuing about 12 albums a year, and the powers that be don’t like that because you spread yourself too thin.
Q: In your world tour magazine you hinted at a possible future collaboration with Paul Simon. Is this going to happen?
A: It might. We know each other as friends and we keep up with what each other is doing. The truth is, though, that I’m a bit wary of collaborations. I had one of the best collaborations of the century, I think, with John. There was a special chemistry between us. And I have collaborated with some other very good people too - Elvis Costello is good fun to work with, and I don’t give up the idea of working with him again.
So, yes, it would be very rewarding to work with Paul Simon, but … and I don’t know what that “but” is, except that I am, generally, a bit wary of doing collaborations.
Q: Have you considered writing a book detailing your recording sessions?
A: No, not really. The only recording session I’ve written about was the new record the Beatles made this year, “Free As A Bird.” It was an exciung week, and then, shortly afterwards, Linda and I went on holiday to America, and on the plane I wrote down what had gone on at the session. I did it just to remember the facts, really, before they were forgotten.
Q: Was “Dear Friend” about John Lennon, and “Let Me Roll It” a deliberate Lennon pastiche?
A: “Dear Friend” was written about John, yes. I don’t like grief and arguments, they always bug me. Life is too precious, although we often find ourselves guilty of doing it. So after John had slagged me off in public I had to think of a response, and it was either going to be to slag him off in public — and some instinct stopped me, which I’m really glad about — or do something else. So I worked on my attitude and wrote “Dear Friend”, saying, in effect, let’s lay the guns down, let’s hang up our boxing gloves.
“Let Me Roll It” was not really a Lennon pastiche, although my use of tape echo did sound more like John than me. But tape echo was not John’s exclusive territory! And you have to remember that, despite the myth, there was a lot of commonality between us in the way that we thought and the way that we worked.
Q: I’ve heard you tell how you came upon the name Rigby, for “Eleanor Rigby”, above a store in Bristol. But did you know that there is a 19th century gravestone in the church grounds where you met John Lennon, St. Peter’s in Woolton, with that name? Is it possible that you saw it as a teenager and your brain subconsciously retained it?
A: Yes, I do know about the grave, and someone has also told me that if you pan right a few yards there’s another gravestone that says McKenzie on it. The only answer I can give is that “we are living in the twilight zone”! I have no other explanation because I definitely remember McKenzie coming out of a phone book at John’s house. It was originally going to be “Father McCartney” but we didn’t want that so we looked in the phone book and found the nearest name that we liked, which was McKenzie.
I don’t even remember visiting the graveyard, but it’s possible that I did. Pretty spooky stuff, eh?
Q: Are there any Paul McCartney compositions which you feel have not recieved due recognition or have gone unnoticed?
A: Yes, I suppose there are one or two. “Daytime Nighttime Suffering” is the main one, which was the B-side of “Goodnight Tonight”. “Waterfalls” also - fans know about it but not many other people do.
Q: You are rumoured to have recorded a special album at home one Christmas in the 1960s, in which you sang, acted and performed sketched, only three copies of which were said to have been pressed - for John, George and Ringo. Is this true?
A: Yes, it’s true. I had two Brenell tape recorders set up at home, on which I used to make experimental recordings and tape loops, like the ones in “Tomorrow Never Knows”. And I once put together something crazy, something left-field, just for the other Beatles, a fun thing which they could play late in the evening. It was just something for the mates, basically.
It was called “Unforgettable” and it started with Nat ‘King’ Cole singing “Unforgettable”, then I came in over the top as the announcer: ‘Yes, unforgettable, that’s what you are! And today in ‘Unforgettable’ …”. It was like a magazine programme: full of weird interviews, experimental music, tape loops, some tracks I knew the others hadn’t heard, it was just a compilation of odd things.
I took the tape to Dick James’s studio and they cut me three acetate discs. Unfortunately, the quality of the discs was such that they wore out as you played them. I gave them to the fellas and I guess they would have played them for a couple of weeks, but then they must have worn out. There’s probably a tape somewhere, though.
Q: You’ve occasionally referred to some of your early post-Beatles music as “unfinished”. If you were to re-make any of those songs which would they be?
A: “Waterfalls” comes immediately to mind because that’s a song which could take a little more of a finished treatment, whereas the “McCartney II” recording had a very thin treatment, even though a lot of people like it for that. So although I don’t have any regrets about the way I did it that’s the one I’d jump at first.
Going back to earlier songs, “Every Night” could stand up to being re-made. Other people have made good recordings of it, and I remember that when I played the “McCartney” album to Ringo he said that he preferred my original solo version, when I had first sung it to him.
Generally, though, as I say, I don’t have any regrets about the way I’ve recorded songs.
Q: I’ve read about your forthcoming authorized biography of the 1965-68 London ‘avant-garde’ period, written by Miles, but have you given any thought to writing a life-long autobiography, or a series of autobiographies?
A: I’ve always thought that you needed to be at least 70 hefore vou considered writng your memoirs. It always seemed to be the province of old general, sitting in their houses after they had retired. Now I’m not so sure.
The Miles book was occasioned by my realisation that I don’t always remember things as crystal-clear as I used to believe. You cannot remember everything. I liken the human mind to a computer, where a message will appear saying “You have used 99 per cent of the available memory, I cannot proceed unless you wipe something”. And I always feel like I’ve wiped certain bits in order to leave space for new events.
Q: If you could go back to 1962, would you still choose to become famous or would you opt for an “ordinary” life?
A: No thank you! I had “an ordinary life” for 20 years and this one’s better.
Q: Have you written any songs to express thoughts or feelings that you could not verbalise in any other way?
A: Yes, “Here Today”, which was written for John. It was always a very difficult question, after John died, to deal with the finality of it. He had been making digs at me, in “How Do You Sleep” and all of that stuff, and I’d not really addressed any of those comments. But we had settled our differences before he died, we enjoyed good fun phone conversations.
So I addressed them in “Here Today”, saying, in effect, “If you were here today you might say that such and such a thing is a load of bullshit but you and I both know that it isn’t.”
Q: Are there any of the very early small-time shows with the Quarry Men which particularly stand out in your mind?
A: The two I remember most are the Wilson Hall in Garston, which was one of my first shows with the Quarry Men, and which was great fun, and also my very first, at the Conservative Club in Broadway, Liverpool. That night was a disaster because I got sticky fingers and blew the solo in “Guitar Boogie Shuffle”, which is one of the easiest things in the world to play. That alone made me resolve never to become a lead guitarist.
Q: Do you read books about the Beatles, and if so, what do you like and dislike?
A: I don’t really bother these days. My system is to open new books at random and read one page. If I find a mistake on that one page then I assume that there must be more, that I haven’t found the only mistake.
People write such wild stuff these days — I recently read that I was supposed to have given John a painting and he was supposed to have come around to my house and put his foot through it. Well, I never did give John a painting, and if I did he never put his foot through it. So, no, I don’t really read them.
There’s so much fantasy in books now, and they’re mostly written by people who weren’t around when the things happened. The funny thing, though, is that when George, Ringo and I got together recently at George’s house, to be on camera together for the first time in the “Anthology”, even we couldn’t remember anything the same! Even the three of us who definitely were around when the things were happening now have completely different recollections of events. In fact, the director of the “Anthology” suggested that it was the perfect way to end the series: the three of us sitting there disagreeing on what had happened. “It was in June.” “No it wasn’t, it was in February.” “No it wasn’t, I remember it being quite hot so it must have been August.” It was hilarious!
Q: Every major artist these days is putting out beautifully produced and designed boxed set retrospecives of their career. Have you considered doing this? You should consider CD-ROM too. The scope is awesome.
A: For the Beatles there’ll be the “Anthology”, but for me, solo, I haven’t considered it yet. And we do know about CD-ROM but still the answer is: not yet.
Q: What’s the story behind a song called “Penina” which I believe you wrote for a Portugese band leader in 1968? Might you ever record it yourself?
A: I went to Portugal on holiday and returned to the hotel one night slightly the worse for a few drinks. There was a band playing and I ended up on the drums. The hotel was called Penina, I made up a song with that name, someone made enquiries about it and I gave it to them. And, no, I shouldn’t think I’d ever record it myself!
Q: What piece of music moves you the most?
A: Quite a wide range of music moves me and can make me cry, but what comes immediately to my mind is not actually a piece of music but a musical situation. We were in Africa once, listening to Fela Ransome Kuti, and when he and his band eventually began to play, after a long, crazy build-up, I just couldn’t stop weeping with joy. It was such a fantastic sound, to hear this African band playing right up your nose, because we were sitting right by them. The rhythm section was so hot, so unusual, that it was a very moving experience for me.
Hearing the “Oratorio” done for the first time in public, at the Liverpool premiere, was another moving moment, especially the a cappella “Mother And Father” section at the end of “War”, the first movement.
Q: Over the last 30-plus years of your career, is there one piece of criticism that really sticks out in your mind?
A: Yes, too many pieces, actually, although I have to say that the most hurtful stuff carne from John. It was like a mate betraying me. But I don’t hold any grudges.
There’s been a lot of stuff in the newspapers. I remember one piece that was so bad that Linda wrote to the journalist and asked him how he could have written such cruel off-the-cuff comments. He wrote back saying “I never thought you’d read that …”.
The saving grace in it all, though, is that not one of the great artists, painters, ever got a good review in his lifetime. Van Gogh never sold a picture during his life, not even to his brother who was an art dealer. Stravinsky’s “The Rite Of Spring” was booed off the stage. Mozart was criticised — “too many notes”. And these are the greats, whether you like it or not.
So I take a philosophical attitude and, ultimately, conclude that, in a way, criticism suggests that I’m better than “they” think!
Q: Did you have to eat meat when you were imprisoned in Japan in 1980?
A: No, I didn’t have to. The food was really strange in there, actually. In the morning we got seaweed soup, which was like a broth, together with one of those white bread rolls that are used for hot dogs and a little sachet of marmalade. It was a combination that almost made me throw up a few times. But I learned to pick at it because I wasn’t sure how long I was going to be in there and I didn’t want to lose too much weight.
I was very keen to be just one of the crowd in there, so when they offered me a Western-style bath, in private, I said that I’d rather go for the communal bath with all the others, which was a rather funny experience because the female guards were watching.
© MPL Communications Ltd. ‘Club Sandwich’ is published by the Paul McCartney Fun Club, P.O. Box 110, Westcliff, Essex, SS0 8NW.