Paul McCartney On His Not-So-Silly Love Songs (cont.)

Back  -  3 of 5   -   Next

Young Paul with cousin Bett Robbins
YOUNG PAUL with cousin Bett Robbins
Denny Laine you had known [from the Moody Blues], but did you previously know Denny Seiwell?

I auditioned drummers and guitarists when I came to New York to do "Ram" [1971]. I knew I wanted to work in New York, because Linda was from New York and fancied spending some time here, and I liked the idea of working with American musicians, so I just put the word out through my office that I was in town and wanted to look at drummers. People like Bernard Purdie came along, but I was looking for a new band rather than the Blind Faith thing, so I didn't really want heavyweights.

Denny Seiwell came along, and he was just great, the best. He had a great attitude, and we got on great; he was a real good all-arounder and he was funky, and we had a laugh. Then Hugh McCracken came around as a guitar player, and we worked on "Ram" together. He nearly joined Wings, and he came to Scotland. But I think it was all a little bit too distant from his New York base, and so I don't think he wanted to go that far out with his life. I worked also with Dave Spinozza, a New York cat. But then eventually we got Denny out of that as the first Wings drummer.

The college tour was crazy. I hadn't got a [booking] agent, and I was really working from home, just doing stuff for myself. So I thought that we'd just get a van, and like a little, nondescript, unknown group we did exactly that. We just went up the motorway; we thought we'd go to look for universities because there are captive audiences there.

So these were all surprise dates?

[Smiles] Yeah! We didn't book 'em! We literally went up the M1, which is the big central motorway, and we said, "Let's go north." So we went far enough away from London to be "away," and then we'd just turn off the motorway and look for a gig. We saw a sign that said Ashby-de-la-Zouch, and we asked, "Have they got a university or a college here?" and they said no. So we were near Nottingham, and we said, "Have you got a university?" They said yeah, so we said, "Where is it?"

We just showed up, and our road manager went in and met the guy from the students' union. He said, "I've got Paul McCartney outside in the van." The guy said, "Sure. Pull the other one" [laughs]. Then the students' union guy came out to the van to verify it, and I was sitting in the van and said, "Hello! Do you want us to do a gig?" So we sent him into a blind panic, but we would always help arrange. We said, "How about tomorrow at lunchtime? We'll go and find a hotel now, and we'll come back tomorrow at lunch, and you've got time to stick up posters and put the word 'round the university, and we'll have an instant gig."

Then we went to find a hotel. It was that disorganized; it was a surprise hotel tour as well. And we often couldn't find them, because if you haven't been there before or go to a town where there's conferences going, you'll have to go to some pretty crappy hotels. There was a place called Preston Park, and the guy called the police, because our two roadies got in late and there was only one room and they had to sleep in the bed, so the guy reported them to the police -- he thought they were homosexuals, and he didn't like that. They weren't, but the police did have to come and investigate. It was a real little place, and the guy was weird; it was like suddenly being in one of those old British movies.

Like "Carry On, Road Manager" [as if part of the '50s/'60s British "Carry On" comedy film series].

[Laughs] It really was, man! Honestly, there were people we found on that tour who were like British character actors! It was wild, but we just went 'round, and with some people [at certain colleges], we got turned away because they had exams, so they couldn't have us. And at some places, there were power cuts [outages], so it was like a minefield we were going through.

Is that where the song "Power Cut" came from [on Wings' 1973 "Red Rose Speedway" album]?

[Nods] Yeah, uh-huh. So we just hopped from here to there, wherever we could find a gig, and the idea was to break in the band. The joke was we only had 11 songs! We were hoping to do an hour [set], but 11 times three [minutes], which is the average length of the songs, is only just over half an hour, so we had to repeat the songs, which we did often. But we had to draw on all our resources, so we'd say, "We've had a request" -- and we'd just find somebody's name -- "from somebody in the physics department to do 'Give Ireland Back to the Irish' again, because it's such a controversial song!" We'd always do that twice, and [Little Richard's 1957 hit] "Lucille" twice, because we were pretty good at "Lucille"; it was a stormer, so we'd open with that and close with it [laughs]. It was like a remix; you got the song twice in a slightly different version.

What would be the earliest live stuff from Wings that was kept?

There's some stuff in the TV special which is from our early rehearsals at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, where you get rehearsal space if you qualify as an artist, so it was a nice room, and we used to go along there. And that will probably get in the box set -- some of those outtakes, some of those early recordings.

We were asked to do a lot of Beatles songs on the Wings tours. The promoters would say, "Wouldn't you do some Beatles songs?" We said, "Nope." It was like a rule, even if we've only got 11 songs. Obviously, we could have packed the act out with plenty of Beatles songs, and the audience would have loved it. But we just thought that it's not down to what the audience loves, even though that's part of it. It's down to what we're trying here, and we're trying to make a band called Wings. And it's just got to do its own thing, even though there's this legendary past that I was connected with.

So we just went out on our own, and it doesn't always work, and I've often gotten a lot of criticism for it [smiles]. But I'm still here.

Yet, along the trail, it must have been hard.

Sure. I even changed my writing style. I could have, obviously on the first Wings record, had a number of tracks that were "Eleanor Rigby"-esque. I could have done that thing. I would see other people do it, and there's always been people who've done Beatle-y type things. Look at some of the bands who came out in the last five years; there's a lot of Beatle-ish stuff. It's good that they like it. I had to move on, but there were many people saying, "Don't do this, stick with your old stuff, don't take a new road." To us, that seemed like a cop-out.

As time went by and the pressure was off, I could nod and wink at the Beatles stuff, so I could now do "Yesterday" on a Wings tour [as preserved on the 1976 live "Wings Over America" album], and it didn't hurt. But until we had enough Wings songs and an identity as a group, I didn't do any of that, even though the promoters were weeping, "Please finish with 'Yesterday.' " And I'd say, "No, we're not even gonna do it."

We really were trying to get good as a band, and we really never thought we did, because everything was always stacked up against the Beatles. So it was, "Well, that's not quite as good as the Beatles tour" or "That's not quite as good as a Beatles record."

I remember meeting up with David Bowie, and we were looking through one of those Billboard chart books that shows you what record was a hit when. After being coy and looking up people like James Brown, we looked up ourselves, and when it came to Wings, I said, "Shit, I didn't know we were that successful." I'd been slightly embarrassed by it, because the critical furor was something you do sometimes listen to. You try not to, but you can't help it if it's loud enough.

But it's great looking back on it now with this kind of record and thinking, "Hey, we did OK."

Back  -  3 of 5   -   Next