Sunday 11 March 2007

Wings: 'She's A Good Cook, Eamon'

Sounds, 30 October 1976


The large, widely spaced, easy to read letters are to be the first words of Eammon Andrews' interview with Paul McCartney.

They march down a narrow strip of paper strapped flat to the surface of the prompting machine, disappearing into a bog roll of speech on the side. A little above them, positioned so it sits under the lens, where it's picked up and thrown onto monitors and the teleprompter, someone has written the salutary message, 'Hello Eammon, you turd'.

Eammon is interviewing Paul and Linda and the band for Thames TV's Today. He is broadcasting live.

At 4.30, Wembley is like a roadie's convention, more right-hip key rings than you've ever seen in your life. A couple of platoons work for Wings, the rest of the battalion for Showco, handling the sound and lights. Around them lounge a brace of security people. From everywhere is noise and bustle, platforms being hammered together, seats bolted to the floor, packing cases moved. There are enough packing cases to kit out half a dozen lesser bands.

Onstage, the amps are strung in a neat line, a battery of expensive guitars reclining with similar precision in front of them. The drums sit on a high riser between Paul's and Denny's amps. The keyboards complex is front right. Behind it, highest of all, is a glistening ebony Steinway. On the other side of the stage, behind Jimmy's amps, stands the brass section. The quartet are playing 'Silly Love Songs' for the benefit of the sound man. In front of them, the stage is like Piccadilly Circus at rush hour. Roadies check mikes and tape cable, TV klieg lights are erected at the front of the stage, TV cameras are trained and focussed, TV personnel move around looking busy and important.

The action abates. People wander around, bored. By the telephone booth behind the stage, one American roadie tells another how one of their compadres went out to the lobby and was asked by a Wembley security officer to remove himself, as he was lowering the tone of the place. They guffaw.

"Lower the tone of a gymnasium?!?" drawls the storyteller incredulously.

"Christ," sneers the other, "Yuh'd need two tons of cowshit to lower the tone of this place."

Suddenly there is a flurry of activity on stage. In the middle stands the star of the show. Hands in the pockets of a large navy overcoat, chewing gum, he surveys the scene. Surrounding him, like Indians around a wagon train, a five man camera crew records every nuance. Except for the eyes, his face is blank. Just the jaw, going up and down.

Joe English climbs behind his drum kit and initiates the sound check. He views the world through orange tinted specs. The bass drum is stuffed half full with carpet underlay. While he pummels away, Linda checks her keyboards for the benefit of the cameramen. The lapels of her black jacket are dotted with Wings badges. She chews gum. Then the crew homes in on Joe. This is the McCartneys’ film crew.

Jimmy McCulloch plugs in and liberates some overkill guitar. Macca is now sitting at the mixing desk halfway down the Pool, leaving the centre stage to Mike McGear, resplendent in a blue jacket with ornate french cuffs and painted wings on the lapels. McGear, with no function, just stands and watches. While Denny checks his double neck Gibson, McCartney photographer Bob Ellis snaps Linda at the Steinway. Then she descends to her ivories tower and checks the instruments.

Paul sits and watches, jaw moving incessantly. He nods his head, tries to twirl the ends of his moustache in vain, rolls a ciggie between his fingers. Occasionally he leans over to the balding, moustachioed sound man and makes a comment. They sit at a desk that wouldn't disgrace a recording studio. Next to it is a replica for the lighting. The sound issuing from the black cloth draped p.a. is just like a McCartney record.

Now it is Paul's turn. He walks to the stage, climbs up to the piano, whips off a trill, smiles, jokes. He is ON. He runs quickly through 'Lady Madonna' while Ellis and the camera crew record it for posterity. McGear is still centre stage, watching. Taking off his coat, Paul straps on a Rickenbacker. He is wearing a blue shirt buttoned at the neck, dark brown trousers and a fawn double breasted jacket – high fashion from the local charity shop. A Wings badge is pinned low on the lapel. After some brief warm up funk the band run through 'Letting Go'. Paul hams it up for the camera, holding his axe vertical, pointing to his fingering. He sings and chews simultaneously. McGear, still centre stage, is the only one to clap.

As they try a relaxed 'Band On The Run', the BBC2 news interviewer tries to think of some questions. "What do you ask someone who's been interviewed as often as he has?" he asks Ros, the publicist’s assistant. She fills him with facts: 62 concerts in 10 countries in 13 months, the re-establishment of Paul McCartney as a major force of the 70s, the Russian connection...

"The only place they haven't been is Japan," she comments.

"Oh, why is that?" asks the Beeb.

Simple, bud. The same as Mick and Keith and John and George. Cannabis conviction.

"Umm..." replies Ros. "...A legal problem. His visa wasn't right...But he did Australia," she continues brightly, successfully averting the crisis.

While they wait for Eammon, Paul sits at the Steinway and tunes an acoustic guitar.

Eammon makes his appearance. Standing between the drums and keyboards, face a make-up tan, he checks his view to the two TV cameras. Out of camera range the stage is packed with technicians and sound crew, the McCartney camera crew, the McCartney photographer, the McCartney band. Macca descends and greets Eammon. Linda is introduced and they stand next to him chewing gum. The interview is largely inaudible to anyone over five feet away. It's like watching telly with the sound down, Paulie and Eammon being jolly while Linda watches attentively. Paulie keeps calling him Eammon with over-familiarity – eee, wot, we're all chums 'ere, eh mate? He's donned his one-of-the-people mask, just another berk from the dole queue slipping into his first pint of bitter. All except the eyes, which dart everywhere, tracking and cataloguing the activity around him. Eammon asks daft questions. Paulie describes their world tour, from Amarillo to Zagreb. Eammon keeps asking daft questions. When he turns to Linda it's to ask how being in a top rock band interferes with being a housewife. Not at all opines Linda.

"She's a good cook, Eammon," confides Paulie. "You should come around for a nosh."

This is a former spokesman of his generation? A man who changed the world? And he presents his wife not as a photographer, composer or musician – an artist, say – but as a cook? And she lets him?

Eammon hands the show back to Alan Hargreaves, who has bad news about public transport. "Don't worry Alan," grins Paulie with a thumbs up to the camera.

"Ohh, the fares are going up again," brays Linda. One wonders when she last used public transport.

Round two is with two Wings fans and two bodyguards who look like they moonlight as steamrollers. Paul crouches nearby, where he can hear. As the interview finishes he rushes forward and wrestles his personal bodyguard to the ground.

"That's what's known as a karate chop," exclaims the surprised Eammon.

"No, a Za-grab. A Za-grab."

"Oh, a joke. A joke," deadpans McGear from the side of the stage.

Round three presents the band. It's still like a telly with the sound down, still largely silly, though perceptive questions do appear. After a brief run through with the other members Eammon returns to Paul. The theme is Russia; Band On The Run is the USSR's first official rock release, and gentlemen from Tass and Ruskie radio will be seeing the concert the next evening. Paul hopes for a tour next year, reminding us that the only drawback is that of course, you can't take your profits with you. Linda inserts an ignored desire to visit China.

And then it comes, the most boring, redundant question outside the Bamboo Curtain.

"Will the Beatles get together again," asks Eammon as if he'd just thought of it.

Paul gives him a once over. "The Beatles split in '69, and since then they've been doing fine." He's doing his best Muhammed Ali impersonation. "An' if that question doesn't cease, ain't no-one gonna get no peace. An' if you ask it jus' once more, I think I'll have to break your jaw."

Everyone applauds.
Hovering around the edges, the camera crew film, Bob Ellis snaps. Out in the auditorium, discreet behind his 400mm lens, Ron Gallico, papparazo to the Queen, snaps.

There's a wait for the BBC2 news team to organise. Paul sits on stage fiddling at the piano, the safest place. This interview is conducted in the dressing room. This interview is a proper interview. Except that the entire band is talking with Scottish accents.

What effect, BBC2 wonders, has a world tour had on the group?

"We're a lot tighter," replies Paul. "It's all the drink." He is holding a wine cork. For this interview he has assumed an intelligent persona, lacing the inanities and jokes with sensible answers. "And we've gotten to know each other. Of course, tonight we'll probably be terrible."

"And they'll say, 'It's the loosest group we've ever heard'," slurs Linda in her best burr.

"Yes," rejoins Paul." " 'They were tight again'."

How do you feel about being home, enquires the Beeb. Are you nervous?Paul runs on about showing nerves doesn't improve the situation, so you pretend it's hunky dory. Fifteen minutes ago Eammon asked the same question and got the same reply. This time, however, Joe adds a dry postscript.

"After 62 concerts," he says, "You're not too nervous."

WHEN WINGS walk onstage just after 8pm, it is the first time Macca has played at Wembley since Christmas, 1965. Supporting them then were the Moody Blues with Denny Laine. Ah, coincidence.

The opening is like Supersonic, all dry ice and soap bubbles, and like that show, McCartney betrays an incredibly naive appreciation of rock in the 70s. The tension mounts you score an ounce Ole! Since when could anyone even afford an ounce, let alone find anything at a concert? Temperatures rise as you see the whites of their eyes. From where I'm sitting I can't even see their eyes.

The sound is excellent. Paul's playing is a dream, ably matched by Joe, who is consistently the most exciting person on stage. Denny is a competent rhythm support, and Jimmy makes all the right noises without actually challenging Paul. This is the most annoying feature of the evening: no-one challenges Paul's supremacy, no-one pushes him (and the band) into taking risks, taking that step beyond excellent playing and recreation into innovation. As an exercise in reproducing both the sound and arrangements of Wings records the concert is an unqualified success. Paul is an excellent producer, and it's to Showco's credit they can reproduce it in a gymnasium like Wembley. It is to Wings' credit, too, that they can reproduce a complex arrangement like 'Live And Let Die' with note perfect precision. But why is Linda inaudible except when absolutely essential to the sound?

The audience is a mixture of young and middling, nearly all representatives of clean living. Although they've come to see their hero, the mood is restrained. The hall lights half-on doesn't help the atmosphere. Halfway up the bleachers, it's like watching TV with the living room lights too bright.

'Silly', the second encore, is the only unabashed excitement. Jimmy ODs on the guitar intro, Paul is screaming and hoarse. It rocks like a bitch, the only time you can't hear the words because the music is so fucking loud. Linda dances, and it's a pleasure to see that she can now dance. She leaves the stage arm in arm with Paul.

THIRTY MINUTES later it's time for the next round of interviews. The after-gig press conference/interview has become a tour tradition, 15 minutes in which about half a dozen journalists and radio men vie for some golden words. Publicist Tony Brainsby reckons Paul doesn't have to give in-depth interviews any more, but to this mind that means he can satisfy the daily/international press without awkward questions. While a trouble-maker like myself wants to ask if Macca was so concerned about the plight of Venice why didn't he just write out a handsome cheque instead of doing little beyond attracting attention, the Daily Blah Blah is more concerned with Linda's ability to cook not only on stage but in the kitchen and bed, and whether the (yawn) Beatles are going to (zzzz) reform.

We’re back in the same concrete box dressing room that housed the BBC2 interview. On one side of a wooden trestle sits Wings. On the other, John Blake (Evening News), who takes notes and asks no questions, myself (Sounds), Paul Gambaccini (Radio 1), Paul Tilsey (Radio 1 Newsbeat), and Vincent McGarry (Independent Radio News). In the background are the publicist, manager, bodyguard, and sundries.

Paul and Paul sit opposite Paul. It's a three-way conversation, non-Pauls need not apply.

Paul G. opens questioning with a request for details on the imminent live album. Paul McM relates how 800 hours of tape have been reduced to the five best takes of all 31 tracks, how it's likely to be a triple, how they're working overtime to have it ready by Christmas...

"Are you going to be in England for Christmas?," asks Paul G.

"Ummm," thinks Paul, then switches into Liverpudlian. "I don't know Paul, we'll have to see how yon cookie crumbles..."

"A lot of artists don't like live albums," opines Paul T. He obviously hasn't talked to Peter Frampton. "Are you worried about loss of quality?"

"I don't think it's a loss of quality thing. If you liked the show tonight, then you'll like the live album, because that's pretty much what it's going to be. Umm, so if the two million people who came to see the show all over the world buy a record each – " He chuckles and switches into Upper Crust " – Then we'll be okay."

Paul G. asks about re-touring America, giving Paul McM an opportunity to unveil his ability with Brash American.

Paul T. is next into the breach. His Upper Crust is not affected. "What do you think of the British audience?"


Hmmm. Yes. Revelations-a-go-go. Paul T does not let go of the reins. Questions about establishing Wings, questions about doing old Beatles numbers, questions about maintaining privacy on the world tour."Are you mad that Capitol are going to release a live 1964 Beatles album," Paul G interjects finally.

"Are they going to do that? No, if a company's going to do that and they have the right, then there's nothing you can do. For me, I wish they hadn't released all the singles in one bunch like that. I thought it would have been better to treat them all as a new single, to find something a little obscure, like 'Baby You're A Rich Man' or 'Hello Goodbye', which still fits with the mood of today. To tell you the truth, once it's over you don't really care what they do with it. You're more interested with what they do with your new stuff."

Throughout, Linda and Denny are a Greek chorus of "Ooh, ah lahk that one," "Right, Jimmy," and other assorted laughs and noises. Linda also spills some beer on Paul's jacket. "Now you'll have to wear another badge," she says. The odd positioning of the badge on his other lapel takes on new significance.

The waffle continues for some 15 minutes. There's the occasional perceptive comment. Paul shows himself to be intelligent beneath the veneer of 'jokies' and 'thingies' and Linda also, when allowed to give a coherent answer instead of ignored inane one liners scattered through her husband's answers. But mostly it's the throw-away simple sentences so beloved by Fleet Street.

With one question left before we are separated, Vincent McGarry finally beats Paul and Paul. "What do you think," he queries, "of people who ask you whether the Beatles will reform?"

"It's alright," sighs Paul. "If they have to ask it then that's alright. I'll answer any question."

"I won't take responsibility for asking it," says Tilsey. (Coward). "But when are the Beatles going to reform?"

Paul delivers his Ali poem.

As the conference disintegrates the others flock around Paul. Linda has twice mentioned China and going there. I ask her why.

"I like their peasant way of life and their farming," she replies. "They're not as materialistic as we are. I'm interested in going as a photographer, really. This was all before Mao died. Now that he's gone I don't know what's going on there. What worries me is that all the good work that Mao did with the people – that's what interests me, the way he got – I think, anyway – all those people working together."

Her interest in China's simple life coincides with earlier comments about growing vegetables and their three room cottage in Scotland.

"It's funny, but I'm not that interested in money. And everyone can say, 'Oh, you can say that, you've got it,' but I know – because I've done it – I could go up to our house in Scotland and grow vegetables and never long for the big cities, no newspapers, and be happier, I think. Really."

So what keeps her onstage?

"Him," she replies, looking over to Paul explaining his tax position to the microphones.

"He couldn't go running all over the country, and I like being with him. But money isn't everything...and this country – " She grimaces. "If people only became self sufficient, they'd be a lot happier, I think. We should all get more in tune with what God gave us, rather than the Industrial Age. There's a million ways of getting this country together. They could give people jobs tearing down all the factories, and then jobs planting the ground. They could, though."

In spite of her amazingly naive idealism, there is something very likeable about Linda.

"Okay, it's crazy – you're really going to laugh when I say this – but I think we should go back to dirt roads, walking to work or riding a horse or a bike – " Yes, Linda, it's crazy. " – saying hello to their neighbour. We're covering the world with concrete and not getting anywhere. Where are we going to go when there's no more earth?"

This kind of thinking pervades her conversation for the next five minutes. Where would Wings be, I wonder, without electricity and technology?

"Well, if we went to China we'd probably just take ourselves. Play acoustic."

Well if that's the case, when the object of the Venice gig was to make money to save the city, why –

" – Did we take 65 tons of equipment so we could crack paving stones and sink it a little further into the mud?" She smiles.

"We had no idea. Lorries drive in there every day. Anyway, when you get there! The decadence – it's all palaces. It was all princes and feuding then, wasn't it?"

What – you think that it should be allowed to sink?

"I think it should be made into a fucking museum."

It's a tossed off answer. A minute later Tony Brainsby finally dissolves proceedings. Wings retire to their dressing rooms and supper. Thirty minutes later, Jimmy leaves with his brother and ladies in a Ford Escort. Three Rolls-Royces await the rest of the band.

© 2007 J Ingham

1 comment:

jimmymccullochfan said...

Great article. I am a huge Jimmy McCulloch fan who is in the beginning stages of researching information for a biography and film documentary on Jimmy and I was wondering if you would be interested in participating in the project?