They’re the best band in the land
By Peter Erskine
Auditioning for that vital first job. Razor creases in suit trousers, hair greased and pressed, and starched hanky inserted in top pocket by a mum who keeps telling you she’s every confidence in you.
It was a bit like that, I mean, although you’ve got to be natural and pretend it’s just like exchanging the normal pleasantries with your metropolitan rock n rollers.
“Go on,” they said. “He’s okay. Just treat him like anyone else you’d interview.”
But Paul McCartney? As essential and instrumental as Farex and Marmite, that first pull on a Cadet and those quaking teenage bra-strap manipulations. I mean, an incredibly important and nostalgic chuck in everyone’s background. Warm and wonderful indeed. How can you express it?
You shouldn’t, but you can’t help letting it colour your vision a little, so that when they man said, “Yes, you two can go in now” (having stood fidgeting listlessly backstage in the scholarly green-washed Newcastle City Hall corridor)…the first reaction is one of almost energy draining relief, followed by a combination scrabbling and ferreting through one’s metaphorical life-bouy; a series of typed questions, to wit. Gosh, it is going great.
The atmosphere’s calm, relaxed and positive—Paul and Linda seem to exude those qualities these days – so that caught in the hazily pleasant air, one hardly realizes Paul’s adeptness at appearing loquacious and informative, yet retaining that seasoned ease of remaining entirely non-committal. Even evasive. Ten years of dealing with the Press has fostered that ability.
Even so, could you imagine Mick Jagger taking a little band out on the road, rumbling between the cities in a converted coach? It’s certainly odd to see Paul so accessible.
But the old aura still pulls. Fans still shin up drain-pipes and hang cat-like from window sills, poking little notes in through ventilation ducts, and they still congregate, autograph books a flap, hours before the band are due to file in through the stage-door.
But now it’s for Wings, and they deserve it, because they’re good. Possibly, the best live band we have, and that’s no hype – how could it be after the verbal pelting they’ve endured?
“I mean, “ says Linda, pressing against her old man back in the dressing room. “I was pretty apprehensive at first. I wasn’t good when we started and there were times when I really did sing flat. I know it…”
“That Press thing hit her pretty hard you know,” interrupts Paul. “Sometimes I had to stop her from crying before we went on and that why we started abroad – the first tour that is—and why we’ve concentrated on college and universities since…”
“How did you write Live and Let Die?” someone asks.
“Well, I sat down on the piano the next day and worked something out, then got in touch with George Martin, who produced it with us. We rehearsed it as a band, recorded it and then left it up to him.”
Was it just like writing another song for Wings, though?
“No, it was just a little bit different because it was a James Bond film and it had to be big. I didn’t have to keep to a schedule that was too tight, though. I think, originally, they asked for two minutes, 50, and I think it turned out two minutes, 52.
“I mean, I think I’d do it again. It was a good film, but I’m getting a bit choosy now, you know,” he says grinning, “Ah well, success has gone to my head, hasn’t it? Flushed with success, I am. I’ll only do big films now…or very little ones.”
There’s a disparity between the album, though “Red Rose Speedway” and the live act. I mean, the album’s okay. It has its moments, but nothing approaching the impact of the band in person.
Of course, I hadn’t the guts to say so, preferring instead the lighter more clichéd phrasing of that hardly annual” “What is your policy with regards to live and recorded work?”
“Well it should all be part of the same thing as far as we’re concerned,” returned a slightly side-stepping Mccartney.
I tried; is it just that you’ve been concentrating on pulling the band together first then?
“Well, no, it’s just that we’ve got an LP out. It’s selling and we’ve just had two singles kind of hot on each others’ tails. As soon as we’ve finished this (tonight being the last night of the tour) we’ll be starting on a new album. I don’t think one’s going to suffer because of the other – in fact it’ll be the other way round. I think the live playing’s helping for when we start writing again.”
Will Denny Laine’s songs be on the next album, then?
“Yeah, I think so. We haven’t got the songs together yet, but if he comes up with something good, he’ll get in…”
“You see ‘Red Rose Speedway’ was originally going to be a double album,” explained Linda. “And Denny wrote a song for that, and I wrote a song, but then we narrowed it down…”
And the interview veers off at a tangent again as someone asks how Paul feels about the recently televised TV special, which leads into a long and involved discussion relating to the need for a more musically-aware media, which we all know exists, but which helps keep things light and superficial and diverts attention from more probing issues, which, in any case, are blunted by a room full of people and three reporters going it at the same time.
Who knows whether it’s due to the lack of time, McCartney’s desire to avoid a more intense one-to-one situation, or a politeness on the part of the inquisitors?
“I think it worked for what it was, though,” continues McCartney, regarding the TV special. “It was a kind of Chevrolet show, and you couldn’t go too far or they wouldn’t show it. As far as we were concerted, it was a start. We all got on telly and we all got some experience working with cameras and stuff. But I think we could do better, to tell you the truth.”
And Paul says that he thinks there should be a separate BBC wavelength given over to music, 24 hours, piloted by such people as he refers to as “the music buffs”—Peel, Bob Harris, etc. and everyone, including Denny Laine, stopped by on his way back from the gents and a fresh bottle of brown, agrees that TV is on the decline universally.
“But, err, excuse me Paul, would you say that your attitude to lyrics has changed somewhat?” A bit like breaking wind rather loudly in one of the quiet bits of the opera, that one. A bit below the belt, what?
“No, my attitude hasn’t changed. Some of my songs have turned out as if my attitude’s changed, but it hasn’t. I’m just trying to write songs. I never thought of anything other than that.”
Even so, as an outsider, one detects a moving away, lyrically, from the kind of intensity of say “Eleanor Rigby,” to lighter, more easy-going things like “Big Barn Bed.”
Of course, comparisons are unfair and apart from being odious, unnecessary, but this seems to reflect, the whole philosophy of Wings. Play power. Fun. Or as the soap opera Jap says, “Be happy in your Work.”
Having a good time, but doing it well. I mean the whole Wings thing of spontaneity and a kind of unpredictability typified by their first real debut gig – a surprise appearance at London’s Hard Rock Café for a Release benefit.
“There’s no telling what we’ll do,” says McCartney breezily. “We’re very free now, you know. We don’t have an awful lot of pressures. If we feel like it we’ll do a 56,000seater gig, but then we may just decide to nip off and do a country little church hall, if that’s a good idea on the night…”
“That’s great, because the whole things become much too set. People get set ideas in their heads about who does what and where. With us it’s much more crazy. We’ll play any kind of gig. We’re just a band.
“I just think that there’s an awful lot of people getting taken over by huge machines…so I like not to be on the side of the machines. I like to keep more like the gypsies.” And, as you know, gypsies must be continually on the move, as their PR man indicated, nudging and furtively pointing to his watch. A roadie burst through the door and sound of the Brinsley’s second-to-last number welled in.
“I think they’d like to get ready,” he said, moving towards the door politely, ushering us out along the corridor, nearly colliding with a crusty old photographer cutting his way up from the front row like a Ronald Searle caricature, fingers-in-ears, making for the exit.
As Wings gets themselves together backstage and a man and wife performing poodle team take the stage, a familiar photographer sidles up and asks whether I know that these (gesturing with a sweep of an arm) are just about the finest, most restrained bouncers in the country.
“They’ve a great reputation,” he says proudly, going on to recount their admirable handling of the Bowie heavies at a recent concert. And a surprisingly mild-looking bunch they are too.
By this time, large balloons are being tossed across the rows and the man and wife poodle team are running through their final encore—a complicated combined handstand and canine hurdle.
The lights – a combination of gas and electricity – dim, a mighty roar rises from the rows, the ice cream ladies make their way to the back. And as the din escalates to a hollow thunder, as a washed-and-brushed Denny Seiwell makes his way to the kit, followed by Linda, crossing over stage right to the moog and electric piano, Denny Laine on guitar, Henry McCullough on lead, a pause, then insanity tears loose as McCartney fresh out of the “Keep on Truckin’” T-shirt and dancing shoes and into something silvery, walks over to Linda, plugs in and tunes up then leads the band, as sharp and clear as you like into “Sunny.”
Apart from the impact of the lights – casting an imaginative purple/green glow—the clarity of the sound is amazing. The balance is perfect, the delivery dynamic, and there’s not even a hint of distortion. Paul takes the vocals and Denny Laine plays electric/acoustic.
The number is greeted by the staccato level of applause usually reserved for a final encore. The first of many are on their feet, or balancing on the back of their seats.
“Big Barn Bed”—the opener on “Red Rose Speedway” follows and is equally tight and clean. The vocal harmonies are even better than those on the album, and it’s at this point that you realize how good Denny Seiwell really is.
As a drummer, he is surly underrated. Really. His playing is so damn forceful and incisive. He manages to combine an intrinsically-sensitive black style – that arrogant laid-back ease, say, of someone like Bernard Purdie, with all the edge and attack of the best white drummers – Aynsley Dunbar, for instance.
Linda played nice keyboards on “When the Night” also from the new album and Henry and Denny Laine duetted beautifully towards the end.
“Mercy bowcoup, muchas gracias common market,” McCartney replied to the typhoon-like applause, as the band went into Linda’s “Seaside woman” with fine vocal duetting from the McCartneys along with an especially-slicing bass figure form Paul.
“Wild Life” was magnificent. For me, the highlight. McCartney sang like a bitch and the five-part harmonies on the chorus were incredibly powerful. Stunning, in fact.
“C Moon” a stirring version of “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “My Love” followed, introduced by McCartney as “the most snoggable number of the evening,” and countered my McCullough who bellowed “Rip ‘em off!” then proceeded to play one of the finest solos of the night. “Live and Die” greeted with redoubled enthusiasm was followed by the old Moody Blues’ “Go Now” with Denny Laine on organ and vocals.
A roadie presented Denny Seiwell with a birthday cake and the band slashed through “the Mess” and “Hi Hi Hi” with Henry playing bottleneck, encoring with a magnificently ball busting out of “Long Tall Sally” with the Brinsley, the only concession to anything touching on the past, for, as Paul had said earlier, when asked if he deliberately avoided doing old numbers:
“Yes,” he had said, “because we don’t want to turn into a second-rate Beatles and be compared to all the groups up and down the Costa Brava. I mean we’ve come away from all that,” he had added “Although the others are more keen on the Beatles thing than anyone. Old Denny Laine there, is a total Beatles freak.”
“In fact, one night onstage he suddenly comes out with “When I was young and so much younger than today…” and I thought “God, there’s me trying to get away from it…”