THE MEAN SIDE OF PAUL McCARTNEY
Reportage of John Lennon’s murder was the most excessive coverage of the death of a pop star since Elvis Presley died three years previously, a sensation that lasted weeks. Yoko had her husband cremated privately on 10 December 1980. Mass public memorials were held in New York and Liverpool four days later, while John’s songs played seemingly constantly on the radio into the new year, the singles ‘(Just Like) Starting Over’ and ‘Woman’ both posthumously going to number one in the USA, as did Double Fantasy. John’s death also created a huge revival of interest in the Beatles, selling truckloads of the band’s albums on a wave of nostalgia that hasn’t abated. ‘It was John’s death that reignited the whole thing,’ notes Lennon’s college friend Bill Harry, who points out that the civic leaders of Liverpool had hitherto ignored the Beatles.
Liverpool refused to do a Beatles statue. They refused to have Beatles streets named after them. Liverpool councillors [said], ‘The Beatles, we don’t want to know them, they were drug addicts … they brought shame to the city. We don’t want to have anything to do with the Beatles.’ [This attitude] was transformed after John’s death.
All the surviving Beatles benefited from renewed sales of their back catalogue, leading to an ongoing, lucrative programme of repackaging and reissuing their records and films. While John’s death helped make Paul even richer, it also served to elevate his friend into the company of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, show business idols who died young and were revered as a result like secular saints. This was absurd, and over the ensuing years McCartney tried to persuade the public that John wasn’t a saint, and that it was unfair to label Paul as a platitudinous balladeer in comparison to Lennon the intellectual and musical heavyweight. But if John wasn’t a saint, there was a grain of truth in this characterisation of their respective roles in the Beatles, and Paul’s attempts to adjust the public’s perception tended to make him look insecure.
Having uttered his regrettable ‘It’s a drag’ comment the day the world heard John had died, Paul kept a low profile during the mourning period. He and Linda visited Yoko at the Dakota briefly, then returned to England where Paul resumed work with George Martin on the Tug of Waralbum. Another old friend joined the team at AIR. Paul had known Eric Stewart since the Beatles and Eric’s first band, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, were playing the clubs. ‘It was always Paul who would come out and say “Hi, how are you doing? How’s it going?” So we sort of kept in touch in that way, just crossing paths on gigs and things like that, for a long, long time.’ In the 1970s Eric enjoyed success with 10cc, creating such distinctive hits as ‘I’m Not in Love’, which he co-wrote, sang and produced at his Lancashire studio, named Strawberry in honour of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’.
Eric owned a second Strawberry studio not far from Paul’s estate in the south-east of England. Driving home from this studio one winter evening in 1979, Eric’s car came off the road and hit a tree. The musician was lying semi-comatose in Redhill General Hospital when Paul rang and asked the nurse to put the phone next to his friend’s ear.
She said, ‘There’s somebody on the phone to speak to you. It’s Paul. Paul wants to speak to you.’ I said, ‘Who? What?’ I was full of drugs, a drip, not really caring much about anything, but completely oblivious, amnesic. ‘It’s Paul McCartney. He wants to say hello to you.’ And she put the phone next to my ear, and I said, ‘Hello?’ He said, ‘Hi, Eric, it’s Paul.’ And I said, ‘How are you? How are you doing?’ He said, ‘Fuck me! How are you? What have you been doing? It’s Paul.’ I said, ‘Paul? Paul! Right, Paul. Great. How are you? Fantastic. Yeah, I’m in … I’m in a hospital. Oh my God, how are you?’ It just woke me up … I don’t think I’d have been a cabbage, but it certainly did take me out of whatever state I was in at that point in time.
In fact, Eric came to feel that his friend’s call helped save his life.
When Paul began recording Tug of War he invited Eric to sing and play guitar on the record, beginning a five-year collaboration. Eric celebrated his 36th birthday as they started the project and Paul got their working relationship off to a nice start by giving his friend a drum machine as a present. ‘He’s incredibly generous, always has been,’ says Eric, who went on to play on many of the tracks on the new LP, including the title song, a ballad with a metaphorical lyric about the struggle of life, lifted enormously by George Martin’s production, as was the whole album. The record purred like a Rolls Royce under the hands of the master after years when Paul had been turning out old bangers that coughed and spluttered.
Having started Tug of War in London, Paul transferred the work to Montserrat where George had built a studio complex on a farm overlooking the sea. Apart from the pleasant Caribbean climate, part of the attraction of AIR Montserrat was that everybody could be accommodated in private villas within a secure compound. Security seemed important after John’s death. Paul had worried in the 1960s about being shot by a maniac, when such fears had seemed like the paranoia of a young man who’d read too much about Lee Harvey Oswald. After all, who’d want to kill a pop star? When Mark Chapman murdered John Lennon, apparently to achieve fame, it became painfully obvious to PaulI and other leading rock stars that there was a real danger of being targeted by a copy-cat killer. (Bob Dylan gave a member of his road band a bulletproof vest in case he took a bullet for his boss on stage.) The fact that Ringo Starr was coming down to Montserrat to play on Tug of War made it doubly important to have good security at the studio, which was fenced and guarded, members of the press buzzing around the perimeter in hire cars trying to get pictures of the Beatles together. One day when Paul was driving his children around in a Mini Moke he had a run-in with two such photographers. ‘The man is definitely scared,’ commented the Daily Express snapper afterwards, claiming Paul rammed their car with his jeep.
Part of George Martin’s strategy for Tug of War was to surround Paul with new and more notable musicians than he had used in Wings, complementing a brilliant talent as a jeweller selects emeralds and rubies to set off a diamond to its best advantage. Although Denny Laine came to Montserrat, George Martin recruited new players to work alongside Paul, such as the bass guitarist Stanley Clarke and drummer Steve Gadd, two of the best session musicians in the business, as well as being close associates of Ringo’s.
John’s death cast a shadow over Paul and Ritchie’s reunion on Montserrat. ‘It was a little bit heavy,’ recalls Steve Gadd. ‘If they wanted to get back together again they couldn’t now.’ Paul had a song he’d originally intended to give Ritchie for his new album, titled ‘Take It Away’. Now the guys recorded the song as a Tug of War track. Ringo and Steve Gadd both played drums, helping to create a swinging hit sound. When Ritchie, Steve and Stanley left Montserrat, Carl Perkins flew in to play with Paul on the likeable ‘Get It’. Then a still bigger star arrived in the form of Stevie Wonder, who’d agreed to sing with Paul on a song McCartney had written inspired by the black and white keys on a piano keyboard, from which he’d created a musical metaphor for racial harmony. Many listeners find ‘Ebony and Ivory’ annoyingly simplistic, but it possesses the ineluctable power of McCartney’s best tunes and became a massive hit. As much a musical genius as McCartney, and even more of a perfectionist, Wonder admonished Paul during the recording for being out of time with his handclaps. His claps were not ‘in the pocket’. ‘And you better believe I got it in the pocket,’ recalled McCartney. ‘He gets results and he knows what he’s doing.’
McCartney and Wonder continued their collaboration in England, going into Eric Stewart’s Strawberry South Studios to work on a co-written song, ‘What’s That You’re Doing?’ During the session Paul fell into a lugubrious mood. Recalls Stewart:
He said, ‘I’ve just realised that John has gone. John’s gone. He’s dead and he’s not coming back.’ And he looked completely dismayed, like shocked at something that had just suddenly hit [him]. I said, ’Well, it’s been a few weeks now.’ He said, ‘I know, Eric, but I’ve just realised.’ It was one of those things maybe he wanted to say something to him, but it was too late to say it then. I think personally that Paul seriously missed John’s input, even when the songs were written by one or the other … You didn’t have John saying, ‘That’s not good enough,’ and I think on a lot of tracks Paul has lacked that brutal honesty.
Paul had written a new song with John in mind, ‘Here Today’, in which he sang about no longer holding back the tears. George Martin graced the number with a Beatlesque string arrangement.
A few weeks later, in April 1981, Ritchie married Barbara Bach at Marylebone Register Office, where Paul and Linda had married in 1969. The McCartneys were surprised to see that the registrar was the same Joe Jevans who’d married them. Anybody watching Paul and Linda at the ceremony would have to say they looked as happy together as they did on their wedding day 12 years before.
The wedding reception was at Rags, a West End nightclub, with George and Olivia Harrison joining the Starkeys and McCartneys in a Beatles reunion. Other guests included Neil Aspinall and their former press officer Derek Taylor. The musicians gathered around the piano, Paul leading the company in a singsong. Everybody was having a great time, the kids digging into the star-shaped wedding cake. Paul’s four children had Beatle cousins to run around with in Ringo’s kids, Zak, Jason and Lee, aged 15, 13 and 10; while George’s son, Dhani, was still only two.
Despite the warm family atmosphere at the reception, this proved a particularly challenging afternoon for Paul. Denny Laine chose the day to announce he was leaving Wings, which was not much of a surprise, but ended a chapter in Paul’s career on a not entirely happy note. Denny had been grumbling about tax problems that Paul’s office couldn’t seem to sort out for him, despite having offered to manage his affairs, and moaning about the tour revenue he’d lost because of Paul’s Japanese bust. He went off to concentrate on his solo career, which soon petered away into negligible record sales and melancholy guest appearances at Beatles conventions.
More upsetting than Denny’s departure, Paul heard some home truths about himself at Ritchie’s wedding reception. He said some disagreeable things, too. Talking with his fellow guests Paul gave the impression he was unhappy about a memoir his brother Mike had recently published, the book Thank U Very Much. It included a lot of family history and many personal photographs that Paul apparently felt would have been best kept private. Looking at Derek Taylor, Paul made a critical comment equating Mike’s new book with Derek trading on his friendship with the Beatles for a radio interview back in the Sixties. ‘It’s always a bit funny when someone you know well does something like that,’ Paul remarked sharply, censuring Derek and Mike. Then Neil told Paul that Aunt Mimi was upset Paul hadn’t called her since John’s death. It hadn’t crossed Paul’s mind to do so. He had only known Mimi briefly when he was a kid, and she hadn’t been particularly welcoming towards him. It surprised Paul that Mimi wanted to hear from him now.
Paul was also thrown into confusion by a conversation he had with Cilla Black, a friend since Cavern days who had gone on to have a successful career as a television personality. Paul told Cilla how much he liked her husband, Bobby Willis, who’d managed her since Brian died. ‘Bobby’s a nice bloke,’ he told Cilla.
‘Ah, but what do you really think, Paul? You don’t mean that, do you, you’re getting at something?’ replied Cilla quizzically. It was as if everybody believed Paul spoke with forked tongue.
The weirdest conversation of the day took place in the gents’ toilet at Rags, when Paul found himself standing at the urinals next to Ritchie himself.
He said there were two times in his life in which I had done him in. Then he said that he’d done himself in three times. I happened to be spitting something out, and by chance the spit fell on his jacket. I said, ‘There you go, now I’ve done you three times. We’re equal.’ I laughed it off. It was affectionate. It wasn’t a row … But now, I keep thinking all the time, what are the two times that Ringo thinks I put him down …?
Paul asked this question in a peevish telephone call to the writer Hunter Davies shortly after Ritchie’s wedding reception. He also complained to Davies about Philip Norman’s new book, Shout!, a lively history of the Beatles which left the reader with the impression that Paul was a shallow young man compared to the more substantial figure of Lennon. This was all part of the problem of how the public perceived Paul vis-à-vis John. Paul reminded Hunter grumpily that John had hurt his feelings many times, noting that Lennon could be a ‘manoeuvring swine, which no one seemed to realise. Now, since his death, he’s become Martin Luther Lennon.’ When Hunter put these injudicious comments into print, they served to do Paul’s image further damage. The mainstream press in Britain still liked Macca - they always would - but there was a sizeable minority of the nation’s media and public that had an increasingly low opinion of Paul.
There was more bad publicity for the star that summer when Angie McCartney sold the story of her relationship with her stepson to the Sun - a three-part serial headlined ‘The mean side of Paul McCartney’. Angie described how she tried to make a living as a theatrical agent after Jim died, but soon got into debt. When she wrote to Paul to say she would have to sell her home in Gayton and her possessions to clear the debts, he showed little sympathy, and when she tried to get him involved in a charity concert she was promoting in 1978 they had a heck of a row, Paul accusing her of using his name and interfering in his career, a conversation that ended with Angie putting the phone down on him. As she sank deeper into financial difficulties there were further unpleasant conversations with Paul, who advised Angie, then almost 50, to pull herself together and make a fresh start. ‘I was tempted to remind Paul that Jim McCartney had told me in the past that Ruth and I would be looked after for the rest of our lives.’ When Angie sold Paul’s birth certificate to a Beatles collector some years later, Paul washed his hands of his stepmother. ‘I consider that she married my dad for money. There are some people you just don’t bother with,’ he said coldly.
Many friends knew a different Paul to the controlling, penny-pinching character described by Angie, someone capable of spontaneous acts of generosity - helping Howie Casey buy his house, for example, giving Eric Stewart an expensive drum machine for his birthday - and indeed Paul had been generous with Angie and Ruth McCartney, as he continued to be with other family members. If he suspected he was being taken advantage of, however, he could become implacable. An instance came in the summer of 1981 when a former member of the Quarry Men tried to sell the first record Paul ever made.
The reader will recall that back in 1958 Paul, John and George, together with their drummer Colin Hanton and occasional pianist John Duff Lowe, chipped in their pocket money to cut a 78 rpm shellac disc, making a recording of Buddy Holly’s ‘That’ll Be the Day’ and Paul’s ‘In Spite of All the Danger’. This disc was passed between the boys so each had a chance to play and enjoy it at home. As Paul recalled for the Beatles’ Anthology, John had the disc for one week. ‘I had it for a week, and passed it on to George, who had it for a week. Then Colin had it for a week and passed it to Duff Lowe - who kept it for twenty-three years.’
As John Duff Lowe moved from job to job, got married, divorced and married again, he took the shellac disc with him. For almost a quarter of a century the record languished in a succession of drawers. In 1981 John contacted Sotheby’s, who offered to put ‘his’ shellac disc into an auction of rock ’n’ roll memorabilia. In advance of the sale, a story about the disc appeared in the Sunday Times, upon which Paul telephoned John Duff Lowe’s mum, who still lived in Liverpool, asking John to ring him. Guessing what McCartney wanted, Duff Lowe didn’t respond immediately. The next thing he knew he received a hand-delivered letter from the London law firm Clintons to inform him that Paul could take legal action to prevent the sale of the disc, urging him instead to contact Paul personally ‘so that the matter can be discussed and settled in a friendly way’. Duff Lowe called the Sussex number he’d been given. ‘I ring and Linda’s there. She says, “He’s not in. He’ll be in about 7:30.” So then Paul rings me and we have a long discussion about the record, and about old times …’ Paul said John would probably receive letters from his lawyers, but he should ignore them. ‘It’s just the way these guys write. It’s not me!’ John took this with a grain of salt, gaining the impression Paul was trying to charm him into giving him the disc for free, asking if he’d like to come to London and go out on the town. No. The disc was for sale, and John wanted to know what Paul was willing to pay for it.
The former friends negotiated over the shellac disc, the price soon reaching into the thousands. John Duff Lowe could hear McCartney becoming annoyed at the other end of the line. At one point it sounded like he’d snapped his pencil in frustration. Finally they agreed a price. Duff Lowe won’t say how much; he promised Paul he wouldn’t, but it seems to have been in the low five figures, which is to say the price of an average family home in 1981. A couple of days later, Stephen Shrimpton of MPL, accompanied by a lawyer from Clintons, came to meet John Duff Lowe in Worcester. He took the men to his bank, where he had the disc in a briefcase in a safe deposit box. ‘I opened the case, showed them the record, and obviously they saw it was in one piece. It was all that it was expected to be. The deal was done and they went off to London.’ The next day John rang Paul to ask what he thought of the record. ‘But the phone had been cut off.’ Having got what he wanted, Paul clearly didn’t want his old friend to contact him again.
That summer Paul applied for planning permission to knock down the derelict farmhouse he’d acquired in Sussex, and build a new five-bedroom family home. At present the McCartneys were squeezed into a two-bedroom cottage, which was far from ideal considering they had four children, aged between three and 18, a slightly mad arrangement bearing in mind how rich Paul was, but illustrative of his desire to maintain a tight family unit away from public life. Paul had tried as far as possible to bring the kids up in the way that Jim and Mary McCartney had raised him and Mike. In fact, he’d modelled the new house on 20 Forthlin Road: drawing up plans for a much larger but nonetheless modestly proportioned brick dwelling, the hub of which was the kitchen. Paul then handed his drawings to a firm of architects to create detailed plans. The proposed house was by no means extravagant, and notably lacking in rock star accoutrements. It included a master bedroom and sundeck upstairs for Paul and Lin, behind which were four bedrooms for the children. Downstairs there would be a series of interconnecting living rooms, leading to a large kitchen, with a semi-circular wall of windows overlooking the fields. There were no guest rooms, interestingly. Although a sociable man, outside of family and work Paul and Linda didn’t have many close friends, and in any event there were other properties on the estate where guests could be accommodated. Built in red brick, with a steep-pitched tile roof and two tall chimneys, the house was slightly ugly, especially from the back, which most resembled a corpy house. In this sense the new home was an expression of Paul’s nostalgia for his Liverpool childhood, a time that had become golden in his mind. It was therefore especially disturbing for him to see news coverage of riots in Liverpool in 1981.
Urban riots occurred across England that summer, during a period of industrial unrest and rising unemployment, with the young and disaffected attacking property and the police in London, Bristol, Birmingham and Chester. Some of the worst scenes were in the Toxteth district of Liverpool, not far from Paul’s old school. Long-term unemployment and racial tensions in the inner city contributed to two intense weeks of trouble resulting in many injuries, one fatality, and £11 million worth of damage ($16.8m). In the aftermath, Paul resolved to do something to help the regeneration of the city, though he was not sure what. In time his philanthropy was channelled into the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA), an institution that would cater to talented young people, such as Paul and John had been, who wanted to make a career in show business.
At the same time the old issue of who owned the songs Paul and John had written together re-emerged, with McCartney given a rare opportunity to regain control of the Beatles’ catalogue. For the past few years Northern Songs had been in the hands of the mogul Lew Grade, who’d struck up a friendly rapport with Paul, giving him to understand that he would have first refusal if Grade ever wanted to sell. In the autumn of 1981, the recently ennobled Lord Grade offered Northern Songs to Paul for £20 million ($30.6m). Paul suggested to Yoko Ono that they put up half the money each. John’s widow thought the price too high and tried to get the company for £ 5 million ($7.6m). Lord Grade considered the offer insufficient and decided to include Northern Songs in the sale of his much larger organisation, Associated Communications Corps (ACC), which made acquiring the songs much more expensive. Even at this stage, Paul would have been wise to enter the bidding for ACC. Instead he conflated business with justice and complained publicly about the unfairness of what was happening. ‘[Lord Grade] should not screw me for what he could get from somebody else,’ Paul moaned to The Times. ‘I’m not interested in buying his whole company. I just want my songs. Give me back my babies, Lew!’ Grade subsequently sold ACC to the Australian businessman Robert Holmes A’Court for £45 million ($68.8m), making him the owner of ATV Music in which Northern Songs was held. In the years to come the value of the song catalogue would multiply, making even £45 million look a bargain. It was a missed opportunity.
This problem was on Paul’s mind when, on Christmas Day 1981, as he was unwrapping presents at home with the family, the telephone rang. An unfamiliar, high-pitched voice asked for Paul. ‘Who is this?’ asked McCartney gruffly, suspecting a female fan had got his number.
‘It’s Michael Jackson.’
‘Come on, who is it really?’
‘Oh, you don’t believe me?’
Although Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney were 15 years apart in age, and totally different in almost every respect, the artists stood shoulder-to-shoulder in their careers in 1981-2. Both were prodigiously talented stars who’d enjoyed huge success in their youth. Both were now working with favourite producers on solo albums: Jackson with Quincy Jones on Off the Wall; McCartney with George Martin on the soon-to-be released Tug of War ; and they intended to repeat the formula with their next albums, Jackson working with Jones again on Thriller, McCartney with Martin on Pipes of Peace. It made sense for the musicians to do one another a good turn by co-writing and duetting on songs for their respective LPs, creating the funky ‘Say Say Say’ (and less significantly ‘The Man’) for Pipes of Peace, while ‘The Girl is Mine’ would find a home on Thriller, the most successful album in pop history. By associating himself with a hip young star, Paul also hoped to reach a younger audience, while working with an ex-Beatle flattered the American’s vanity.
Jackson came to England in the spring of 1981 to meet Paul, checking into a fancy Central London hotel. Paul invited his young friend to the country for the weekend, asking Michael if he would like to go riding with him and Linda in the Sussex woods. The American said he couldn’t.
‘I’m not allowed to get dirty,’ replied Jackson, a peculiar reply which rang alarm bells with the McCartneys. Jackson was clearly strange. Paul did get Michael down to Sussex, and delivered him back to his hotel after the weekend safe and sound, save some Sussex mud on his shoes, the American proclaiming that he’d had a great time. During his visit, Michael asked Paul disingenuously if he had any career advice for him. Paul suggested Jackson might invest in song publishing, as he had done so successfully. ‘I’m going to buy your songs one day,’ Michael told the older man cheekily.
‘Great, good joke,’ Paul replied, little thinking this might actually happen.
Paul brought Jackson into AIR Studios in London, telling Eric Stewart and his other sidemen that they would have to clear out while Michael recorded. Jacko didn’t want to see or talk to anybody bar Paul and Lin and their four-year-old son James. Between takes Jackson played on the floor with Dee Dee. The guy was weird, but he sang like an angel.
Paul’s other collaboration with an American star, the Stevie Wonder duet ‘Ebony and Ivory’, proved a massive hit in the spring of 1982, reaching number one in both the UK and USA where it held the top spot for seven weeks, partly thanks to a well-produced video in what was now the video age, MTV having been launched the previous year. Tug of War proceeded to the top of the album charts in both territories. This was in fact the high-water mark in Paul’s post-Beatles career. Though he had enjoyed simultaneous number ones in the UK and US many times, Tug of Warwas his last post-Beatles album (to date) to achieve the double. All successful show business careers have a golden period, and Paul had been doubly fortunate in reaching the top with the Beatles in the Sixties and again with Wings in the Seventies. Paul would remain a great star during the decades ahead, but he would never sell as many new albums again.
With clear evidence that a duet with a major American artist was a winning formula Paul and Linda went to LA to work further with Michael Jackson on ‘The Girl is Mine’, which led to a reunion with Peggy Lipton, the actress who’d set her cap at Paul in the Sixties. Peggy ultimately lost out to Linda McCartney at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Fourteen years on, Peggy was married by coincidence to Michael Jackson’s producer Quincy Jones who, knowing of his wife’s history, insisted they all meet to show no hard feelings. McCartney was relaxed about it, greeting ‘Mrs Jones’ with a friendly peck on the cheek, Linda saying how nice it was to see her again, all of which Peggy found so overwhelming she went home and cried.
Over the next few days Peggy adjusted to the idea of the McCartneys being around, even babysitting Mary, Stella and James, now aged 12, 11 and four. The eldest, Heather, was now a young woman of 19 and something of a worry to her parents.
After leaving Thomas Peacock, Heather McCartney had taken a photographic course at the London College of Printing and started an apprenticeship as a photographic printer, winning an award in 1981 for a picture she’d taken of Steve Gadd in Montserrat. Mum’s career as a photographer had been revived in recent years, with photo shows and the publication of a book, Linda’s Pictures, but Heather, after initial enthusiasm, drifted away from photography; her sister Mary would be the photographer. For Heather, taking and printing pictures was only one of several phases.
Heather’s teenage years were difficult. ‘I was the most chaotic, clumsy teenager,’ she admitted. Her appearance changed with the fashions, dressing by turn as a Punk, New Romantic and ordinary, middle-class young woman, maturing into a hippie throwback. Heather dated a number of boys, including the punk singer Billy Idol briefly, to Paul’s dismay, and seemed to want to be independent of her famous family, while being too timid to stray far from Mum, who was very protective. ‘Linda used to keep her sort of separate from the madness,’ notes Tony Bramwell. The other McCartney kids were more robust and outgoing, especially Stelly, who was a real livewire. Heather seemed to clash with Dad sometimes. She confided in Cavendish Avenue neighbour Evelyn Grumi that she wanted a flat of her own, asking if she could rent the Grumis’ basement, giving Mrs Grumi the impression that Heather and Paul didn’t get along. Then, in an unfortunate and unrelated incident in May 1982, when she was riding in the Sussex woods, Heather was thrown from her mount, suffering a broken leg and collar-bone. After visiting Heather in the Royal East Sussex Hospital, Paul spoke to the press in a strikingly sombre way about his adoptive daughter. ‘The family has been struck down by bad luck,’ he said. ‘It’s our personal tragedy, a family matter, and I’m not going into details about how the accident happened.’
BACK IN THE PICTURE
Paul turned 40 in June 1982 and made some changes to his life. To help stave off middle-age spread, exacerbated by Linda’s cooking, he took to jogging around the country lanes in Sussex, and he quit smoking cigarettes (but not dope). He also took up painting. As a boy, Paul showed considerable artistic talent, winning an art prize at school. The only A-level he received was for art. When John Lennon entered his life, and especially when John’s artist friend Stuart Sutcliffe joined the Beatles, Paul’s artistic ambitions were overshadowed. Thereafter his talent was mostly expressed in sketching ideas for stage suits and album covers, and doodling on postcards. Now he bought canvases, paint and brushes and turned one of the old farmhouses on his Sussex estate into an art studio, spending hours creating large colourful abstract pictures that gave him a sense of fulfilment and helped him relax. ‘I discovered that I really enjoyed it … what painting gives me is very similar to what music gives me.’
Now he’d reached middle life, Paul also determined to make the movies he’d been talking about for years, commissioning his animator friend Geoff Dunbar to go ahead with a pilot for the Rupert the Bear movie, the pilot based on a 1958 story in which Rupert visits a grotto inhabited by frogs. Rupert and the Frog Song would start with a scene showing Rupert at home with his mother and father in what Dunbar - mindful of Paul’s sentimental feelings about his childhood - drew as a cosy post-war domestic setting, reminiscent of Alfred Bestall’s illustrations; ‘there is a thing of Mum being this central figure,’ says Geoff, who was similarly sentimental. For the underwater sequence Dunbar took additional inspiration from a series of Matisse paper cuts Paul and Linda were in the process of buying.
Rupert and the Frog Song would take two years to make, and would feature a new song, ‘We All Stand Together’, which Paul had already recorded with George Martin. Apart from authorising the money for the film, which he was financing entirely, the project didn’t require much of Paul’s time. So while Geoff got on with the slow work of animation, Paul pursued his other movie-making ambition: that of bringing a live action musical adventure to the screen, the project which had begun life as Willy Russell’s Band on the Run.
The last Russell had heard from Paul on the subject of the film was just before the star went on his ill-fated trip to Japan in 1980: he assured the playwright that they’d make their picture when he got back. After the drug bust Paul fell silent. ‘Occasionally Linda would ring and we’d have a blather and she’d say, “Oh God, I wish he’d do that movie,”’ says Russell. ‘Next thing we heard he was making a movie called Give My Regards to Broad Street.’ This was an almost totally different film, borrowing only one or two ideas from Russell’s script. Part of the thinking was that Paul would, for the first time, try serious acting, in the sense of being a leading man. One of the first people he consulted was David Puttnam, now Britain’s leading film producer, having enjoyed success with Midnight Express (1978) and Chariots of Fire (1981), for which he collected the Oscar for Best Picture. Like many of Paul’s acquaintances, Puttnam was used to McCartney tapping him for advice. Linda would typically make such calls on Paul’s behalf, to the point where David’s wife would groan when Linda called. As the film-maker, ennobled in 1997 as Lord Puttnam, recalls: ‘She said to me one day, “Why don’t you pick up the phone and say, ‘Yes, Linda what do you want?’”’ So it was no surprise when the McCartneys called for advice on making their new movie.
Paul explained his vision for Give My Regards to Broad Street to Puttnam over supper with their wives at the Savoy Grill. The film was to be a ‘musical fantasy drama in the classical [sic] tradition of The Wizard of Oz’, the title being Paul’s laboured pun on the George M. Cohan song ‘Give My Regards to Broadway’ and the fact that the dénouement would be shot at Broad Street train station in the City of London.52 The plot - completely different to Willy Russell’s script - had come to Paul while sitting in his chauffeur-driven car in a London traffic jam: what would happen if the master tapes of his new album were stolen? He had written the screenplay himself, and what he had written bore little relation to a professional script; it was too short, just 22 pages, and brief though it was the script was fatally flawed, as Puttnam saw from the first page:
The script started with Paul in the back of a Rolls Royce complaining bitterly about the emptiness of his life. I said, ‘Look, let me tell you on page one you’ve already got a problem. People see you, see a Roller, and you’re moaning? … They might eventually, by the end of the film, come to understand some of the pressures and problems you are under. Not on reel one! They’re going to hate you. You’ve got everything they want, and you’re moaning about it.’
Paul disagreed and, worryingly, he seriously underestimated how much time this project would take.
My impression was he thought it was something he could do in three months, a bit like an album. I remember saying to him, ‘This is not an album. This is a massive commitment. Time, effort, energy and maybe money.’ So, yes, I did forewarn him.
As in so many aspects of his career, having flirted with working with professionals, Paul decided to do everything himself, or as much as he could, asking Puttnam to recommend a director who’d be a cinema-graphic amanuensis, enabling him to make his own film. This was just like the approach he had taken in the Sixties with Peter Theobald on Magical Mystery Tour. ‘He was asking me to introduce him to a director who would basically be prepared to do what he, Paul, wanted to do,’ says Lord Puttnam, who suggested Peter Webb, a 40-year-old photographer who ran an advertising agency. Webb had made a series of popular adverts for John Smith beer and won a BAFTA for a short film. He was ambitious to get into movies, though Webb’s memory of his early meetings with Paul is that the star didn’t say he wanted to make a movie at first, rather a ‘one-hour TV special based on Tug of War’. Paul put up the equivalent of half a million dollars of his own money and, with this financing, Webb started shooting sequences, including Paul driving through London at night.
Along with Paul’s 22-page outline there was a note that the project would feature music. Peter Webb called Stephen Shrimpton and asked what music this would be. ‘Anything you want, mate,’ replied Paul’s Aussie manager. So they decided to film Paul singing a version of ‘Eleanor Rigby’, while dressed in the style of a Victorian costume drama for reasons unclear. When Lee Eastman saw how much money his son-in-law was spending he decided Paul needed a major studio behind him. Footage was shown to the American producer Harvey Weinstein, whom Paul had known for some years, with the result that 20th Century Fox bought into a ‘Hollywood musical with happy ending’. Peter Webb claims he only discovered he was shooting such a picture when he came home from work one day, around Christmas 1982, to be told by his babysitter that Paul had called and left a message that he and Peter were ‘going to the Fox’. The babysitter assumed this was the name of a pub.
Suddenly, Webb found himself nominally the director of a $ 6.8m (£4.4m) Hollywood movie, starring Paul McCartney. ‘I think he got over-excited, ’ says Webb. ‘Once he was in a movie with a Hollywood studio, then he was a Hollywood movie star.’ So, apparently, was Mrs McCartney, though what Linda was doing in the picture, other than filling the role she did in Paul’s daily life, Peter never understood. Likewise, parts were found for other members of the McCartney circle: studio engineer Geoff Emerick, roadie John Hammel, George Martin, Ritchie Starkey and Eric Stewart were all called upon to play themselves. Ritchie’s wife Barbara came along for the ride. A professional actress, Barbara played a press photographer, a character so poorly realised as to be risible. Having acted in a flick or two himself, her husband noticed something elementary was missing from the production. ‘Ringo came up to me once,’ recalls Peter Webb. ‘He said, “So where is the bloody script?”’ There wasn’t one.
As the shooting progressed, a cast of professional actors were also hired, including Bryan Brown, who played a character obviously based on Paul’s Australian manager; Tracey Ullman played the girlfriend of a roadie who disappears with Paul’s master tape, the McGuffin around which the action revolved; while the elderly Sir Ralph Richardson concluded his illustrious career with an absurd cameo as a publican. Sir Ralph died shortly thereafter. ‘I hope it wasn’t his last film because it was my film,’ muses Webb.
The warning signs that should have prevented the project going further were ignored because Paul McCartney was involved. ‘The Three Mile Island or the Chernobyl safety net to prevent a film going into production was side-stepped,’ says Webb, comparing his picture tellingly to the worst nuclear disasters in peace-time history. ‘You must have a screenplay.’ They didn’t. ‘It must be read by the cast.’ It wasn’t. Having fallen flat on his face with Magical Mystery Tour, Paul was heading for another cinematic pratfall.