Tuesday, September 23, 2014

One fan's secret Paul adventure

Buried in an article about the Beatles stop in Baltimore in 1964 was a photo of Paul outside the green gates of Cavendish Avenue in 1975.   I was intrigued, as I am sure you can imagine, and so I dug deeper into the abyss that is the Internet and found an article written in 2002 in the Baltimore Sun about the fan who met Paul.  

photo by Al Cunniff

Yesterday, phone guy was such an easy role to play

With a tinge of guilt, fan confesses a secret McCartney adventure

First Person


Written by Al Cunniff

April 21, 2002



A visit to Paul McCartney's house wasn't exactly what you'd expect. Then again, neither was I. A young Baltimore reporter and Beatles nut, in London to research a few feature stories, I was standing in the kitchen of the ultimate singer / songwriter, in a telephone company jacket, holding the back end of a ladder, and in a tizzy.

It's a long story ... one untold until now.

In the late summer of 1975, songwriter and producer Tony Macaulay agreed to an interview at his home in St. Johns Wood, a comfortable upper-middle-class suburb of London. Macauley was super-hot then, with the hits "Build Me Up Buttercup," "Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again" and "Baby Now That I've Found You" to his credit.

St. Johns Wood was an attractive place to visit for two additional reasons. Abbey Road recording studios, where the Beatles had recorded throughout their career, was in the neighborhood. And just a few short blocks from Abbey Road was McCartney's house.

A friend had provided McCartney's address. This was in the dark ages, before personal computers and the Internet, so you had to have "connections" to get a celebrity's home address.

It would be a St. Johns Wood three-fer: interview Macaulay, visit Abbey Road studios, and research a story on what it's like to be a neighbor of Paul McCartney. The Beatles had broken up only a few years earlier, and unless you lived through those times, it's hard today to describe how hot McCartney was as a news item then.

McCartney's home, No. 7 Cavendish Ave., was a big, three-story brick and white-stone house, comfortable but unassuming. The only tip-off that the occupants weren't entirely conventional were the bright yellow columns, red door and blue window trim that contrasted with the plain white stone.

The first neighbor to chat was Gillian, a friendly teen-ager who lived next door to McCartney. She said she enjoyed sipping tea in the bay window of her living room as she listened to Paul -- a few feet away near his bay window -- playing "Yesterday" or composing a new song on his piano.

In the village center, local merchants told of McCartney often stopping in their stores. Employees in the wine shop, restaurant, grocery store and other village businesses all said Paul was a regular customer, a real down-to-earth guy.

A wave and a talk

Then the interviews were finished, and it was time to catch the train back to London. Cavendish Avenue is not directly on the way to the station, but it was worth walking a couple of blocks out of the way to get one more look at McCartney's house.

On the walk along Cavendish Avenue, a red Lamborghini appeared and slowly approached McCartney's home. The Lamborghini turned into the driveway and stopped at the green metal security gate. The passenger door opened and Paul McCartney stepped out. Linda McCartney was behind the wheel.

He walked up to a security speaker-box mounted next to the gate, pushed a button and asked someone inside the house to buzz the gate open. As the gate slowly swung open, Linda McCartney drove the Lamborghini into the small courtyard ... and then the unimaginable happened.

Paul McCartney waved across the street, motioning with his arm for me to join him. The notepad and the camera around my neck made it not too difficult to see that I wasn't a local.

For the next 20 minutes or so, Paul McCartney offered an impromptu one-on-one talk on the grounds of his home. He apologized for not offering a look inside the house, saying he had just finished a band practice and that Linda was picking up the kids so they could go out to dinner. But he chatted as long as he could before they had to leave.

Believe it or not, the specifics of the interview I don't remember. I didn't have any hardball questions ready -- just stuff like, 'What songs are you working on? How are preparations for the Wings tour going? Yadda, yadda." McCartney was slender, about 5-foot-10, dressed mostly in black. He was friendly and polite to a fault.

Here was a living piece of history, someone who might be remembered a few hundred years from now for the mark that the Beatles made in the timeline of our music and culture. And he was worried about the comfort of his starstruck guest.

"Are you gonna use that?" McCartney asked as we walked to the gate.

"Use what?" I asked.

"That," he said, pointing at the camera.

Duh. My hands were shaking a bit, so it wound up being among the poorest celebrity photos ever taken, but hey, I got the shot. Still forgot to ask for an autograph, though.

The story got even more amazing from there.

The next day, hoping that lightning would strike twice, I again visited St. Johns Wood. On Cavendish Avenue, in front of McCartney's house, sat a phone company truck. A phone worker in a white lab jacket was lifting a metal plate from the sidewalk.

Asked if he knew whose house it was, he answered, "McCarthy, innit? In the music business?"

"Would you like to have a look inside the house?" he asked. "Tell you what, pop 'round the back of the truck, put on one of these coats and grab the back of the ladder. Just don't muck around with anything once we're inside the house."

So I put on the coat (with my camera not too well concealed under it), and walked into McCartney's house holding the back end of a British phone company ladder.

Children's artwork hung on the walls and above the doors. He was a guy who could afford Picassos, but chose to display his kids' finger-paintings. A big jukebox shone from his sitting room.

On the bulletin board in the kitchen were personal photos of McCartney with John Lennon, on what appeared to be the back porch of a Liverpool rowhouse. McCartney looked about 15, so the pictures must have been taken shortly after he and Lennon met for the first time in 1957.

Rose, McCartney's housemaid, was stern-faced at first, and probably couldn't figure what to make of the guy in the ill-fitting phone company get-up. Still, after a while she agreed to ignore the picture-taking as long as I didn't, well, muck about. (Beatles trivia: red-haired Rose was said to be the inspiration for McCartney's album Red Rose Speedway.) McCartney's kids were watching TV, and the family's sheepdog Martha (who inspired the song "Martha My Dear") wandered about. It was a warm, happy domestic scene.

This is where the guilt comes in. Seeing as how entrance to McCartney's house wasn't gained totally on the up-and-up, it immediately seemed out of the question to reproduce the photos or publish the story of how I got them. It still doesn't feel quite right. But with McCartney coming to the area and with so much time having passed, it seemed time to let that skeleton out of the closet.

Linda died a few years ago, I'm not sure whether Rose is still living, and I doubt dear Martha has made it this far. But the pictures I have from a 1975 visit have preserved a warm moment from what was a very happy time in Paul McCartney's life.

And a dizzying, special moment in one fan's life as well.

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