McCartney, Wings & Things
Wings, at last, are an established band — as well as an established fact. There is a difference. Beginning in 1972, Paul and Linda, Denny Laine, Henry McCullough and Denny Seiwell stepped into the charts with Wild Life. The creative balance was there, but tenuous, and by August of the next year, McCullough and Seiwell had left.
Breaking up isn't hard to do in the music business, but making up is. The departure of a fine guitarist and drummer (neither of whom, incidentally, have wanted for session work since the split) left Wings grounded, more a fact than a band.
After over a year of solo and duet efforts by the McCartneys, Wings reformed in July of 1974. Back came Laine, and the three were joined by Jimmy McCulloch, formerly of Thunderclap Newman, Stone The Crows, and Blue, on guitar and Geoff Britton, of East of Eden and The Wild Angels on drums. Impressive credentials, and Wings have again become an impressive, established band.
The result, besides some amazing music a la "Junior's Farm", is a very happy James Paul McCartney. The promise of 1974 looks very much like it will be kept in this new year, and McCartney radiated confidence when I spoke to him in his London office. I was reminded of something Jan Wenner wrote in 1968 — "All Paul McCartney has to do is wink or wave and he'll set the world smiling. It's a great power to have".
The McCartney power is more than that, although presence is part of it. Witness the unscheduled appearance of Paul and Linda on stage at the Lewisham Odeon with the Faces last Christmas. Even a lurching McCartney, it seems, can electrify an audience.
Paul smiled at the memory, "He (Rod) just announced 'We've got me brother and sister comin' on', so we just leapt on. Great fun. The only thing I worried about was that I was in me civvies, a big crazy jacket. I'd just turned up for a night out, unlike Rod, who was in all his gorgeous glamour. That's the only thing that I felt a bit daft about".
The song that Paul sang that night was, appropriately enough, "Mine For Me", one of his own compositions. It was written for Stewart, and as such it's neither the first nor last song which Paul has written to order. Far from avoiding work which others might shun for fear of distorting their creative drives, Paul actively seeks new avenues of expression, even including jingles for T.V. adverts. As he puts it, "the attraction of being a hack" refreshes and stimulates his drive, in much the same way that a classical composer might relish a commission to write for a patron or an event. McCartney's recent composition for a Mother's Pride advert may not rank with Handel's Music For The Royal Fireworks, but then neither the medium nor the sarcasm it generally receives bothers him much. On the contrary, writing to other people's specification is part of the way in which Paul sees himself. It's a fresh way of looking at things and only natural after ten years in the business.
"I originally came in on the wave of something that went right back to Billy Cotton. Just the idea of becoming 'The Professional Musician.' In short, screw the reputation, let's have a little professionalism, a little variety, and naturally, more than a little challenge.
"'Mine For Me' was easy to write for Rod's precise vocal requirements 'cos he's got such a distinctive voice. You can hear him singing it as you're doing it.
"I wrote it up in Scotland. Sent it to him on one of these," Paul continued, pointing to the cassette recorder. "With all the kids shouting and screaming over it".
There are more projects bubbling in the McCartney cauldron at the moment than there is time to do them. As he says, "I've got a few little things waiting to be finished. Did a thing in Europe with the first Wings. It's a film, quite nice, but I think it'll end up as a kids' programme 'cos it's not that great.
"It'll be nice for kids but for adult critical acclaim it's not quite good enough". There's also the new Wings album, and a film script to consider, under the direction of Joseph Strick. After successes with film scoring in Live And Let Die and The Family Way, Paul received a flood of scripts to consider. Until now nothing caught his fancy.
There is also television in the offing. In keeping with his professionalism, Paul is interested both in reaching his traditional audience and the man in the street. The James Paul McCartney special was just a taste of things to come. He's planning another, "straighter" show this year, featuring a Wings performance.
The personal freedom has been a long time coming. The seemingly endless litigation has indeed ended, and with it any personal animosity for John, George or Ringo.
"It was just like Big Joke Time for me," Paul says now. "Everything that you ever thought was wicked and evil in the world did come true. That's what I heard".
Those days are over, and with them the demands on Paul's mental and physical energy. For himself, of course, he's very pleased, but the greatest impact will be, predictably, on Wings.
Some of the tracks that Wings old and new have recorded before may be wrapped together after re-mixing. "We've got all Linda's stuff and we've got a few little pieces of freaky things, so at some time that just might materialise.
"I'm not that sure about it, but that's the idea behind it — to get the tracks together and do an album called Cold Cuts which in America is those plates of salami, bacon — hors d' oevres, I think we'd call it here. They call it 'Cold Cuts' so there's the double entendre, it's a nice title. We were hoping to get all the tracks together that have never been released".
Paul was also hoping to do it as a budget album, but there is considerable resistance to the idea in the States, where they view the marketing of anything below full price as an admission of waning popularity. But, as Paul says, "The main difficulty is how to get it out. We don't want to release it when we've got something new out." The new Wings, above everything else, preoccupies most of Paul's attention at the moment. After a stint in Nashville, they are tight both musically and personally. Paul learned a lot the first time around.
He was, he reckons wistfully, too careful to minimise his influence on the band. "I said 'Mary Had A Little Lamb' seems to me like a good single. I think I was wrong. But no-one in the band really had enough understanding of me to say "You're wrong, man". Those days are over — Paul says "I didn't feel too good, obviously, when that broke up.
"But I thought 'Well, that's too bad'... you just have to go through it, you know".
"I'm glad I did it now, with the second band we're much more into the idea of getting a good band and playing".
"Geoff Britton's got a good, strong beat, a nice heavy sound. And Jimmy's great. I think he likes his instrument, which is very important. He can do it".
And so, one suspects, can they all. 1975 could well be the Year of the Wings.
Interview by Michael Burgess