Mojo (UK) - - Contents - PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY MARY McCART­NEY

A fas­ci­nat­ing glimpse of the con­flicted man be­hind the Thumb­sUp Macca mask. And yes, he re­ally does have Bea­tles wall­pa­per…


ONE DAY IN JUNE LAST YEAR, PAUL McCART­NEY WAS SUP­POSED to be record­ing his new al­bum. In­stead, he was watch­ing tele­vi­sion. Flick­ing through chan­nels, he hap­pened upon Sgt. Pep­per’s Musical Rev­o­lu­tion, a doc­u­men­tary by com­poser Howard Goodall. “Oh,” thought Paul, set­tling into his arm­chair, “this might be good.” Goodall sought to re­cal­i­brate the leg­end sur­round­ing The Bea­tles’ Sgt. Pep­per’s Lonely Heart Club Band by em­ploy­ing rig­or­ous anal­y­sis of its sonic in­no­va­tion, as op­posed to airy the­o­ries about cul­tural sig­nif­i­cance. His ap­proach, both rev­er­ent and schol­arly, in­volved the fre­quent use of mu­si­co­log­i­cal id­iom: chro­matic scales, Ae­o­lian modal­ity and the like. “Which was very in­ter­est­ing,” re­mem­bers McCart­ney, “because none of us thought like that. I know for sure that John, Ge­orge and Ringo never thought like that. We just did it in­stinc­tively. We had no idea what we were do­ing, go­ing to a ma­jor tonic sev­enth, or what­ever. Gin and tonic’s all I know about…” By the time Goodall ar­rived at Penny Lane, the au­thor of one of the most cel­e­brated and minutely ex­am­ined of all Bea­tles songs was feel­ing be­wil­dered. “Here’s the thing,” said Goodall. “The pi­ano in Penny Lane isn’t just one pi­ano. On the record it’s four, and we can fol­low them by un­pick­ing the track layer by layer like an ar­chae­o­log­i­cal dig, in the orig­i­nal masters.” McCart­ney was in­cred­u­lous. “Four?! I’m not believ­ing him. But I fig­ure he’s worked it out – and, he’s got the tapes. ‘First of all, Paul played this pi­ano…’” Goodall re­vealed the mul­ti­ple parts which com­prise the sound that Paul McCart­ney had re­mem­bered as a sin­gle pi­ano. One by one, Penny Lane’s sonic dy­namic in­ten­si­fied. “I’m go­ing, That’s pretty cool,” says McCart­ney. “At the end, it just sounds like a pi­ano, so much so that I’d fooled my­self.” Then Goodall turned to the ad­di­tional in­stru­men­ta­tion added to the song at Paul’s be­hest: the har­mo­nium; the pic­colo trum­pet in­spired by Bach’s 2nd Bran­den­burg Con­certo… By the time Goodall had fin­ished de­con­struct­ing then re­assem­bling Penny Lane, McCart­ney sat back, stunned. “I’m think­ing, Wow – did I do that?!” By the end of Goodall’s en­tire pre­sen­ta­tion, he was feel­ing in­spired, en­er­gised. The com­plex­ion of his new al­bum, the record he’d been work­ing on pe­ri­od­i­cally with pro­ducer Greg Kurstin for the past 12 months, sud­denly be­came clear. “Watch­ing that doc­u­men­tary re­minded me of the frame of mind we were in: a very ex­per­i­men­tal, let’s-try-this ap­proach. When Howard Goodall pulled it all apart, I went, Oh it was great when we used to do that! Fab­u­lous!” The next day, McCart­ney ran into the record­ing stu­dio, and told Kurstin what he’d seen and heard, what this “damn good lit­tle band” from Liver­pool had done 50 years ear­lier, and what the pair of them were now about to do. “So then,” McCart­ney says, “we start.”

VIS­I­BLE FROM A QUAR­TER OF A MILE away, Hog Hill Mill seems to dis­ap­pear the closer you get. The nar­row roads and un­du­lat­ing con­tours of the East Sus­sex coun­try­side af­ford a mea­sure of pri­vacy to the 18th cen­tury wind­mill and its small neigh­bour­ing build­ing which has housed Paul McCart­ney’s stu­dio since 1985. MOJO un­wit­tingly drives past twice, be­fore stop­ping to call for di­rec­tions. There’s some­thing equally ob­vi­ous yet elu­sive about the stu­dio’s owner. Whether here or at home on the farm nearby, or at his of­fice in cen­tral Lon­don’s Soho Square, Paul McCart­ney hides in plain sight: no over­bear­ing se­cu­rity de­tail ac­com­pa­nies him, nor does he live in for­ti­fied seclu­sion. He deals with the dis­tort­ing glare of fame by pro­ject­ing it back in the pub­lic’s face. “I’ll go on the train, a crowded train, on my own,” he says. “Whereas Michael Jack­son would have taken 17 body­guards.” On the day of MOJO’s visit, McCart­ney is in full-on pro­jec­tor mode. A team from CBS’s 60 Min­utes, the US prime­time news mag­a­zine show, are film­ing him in the stu­dio, where record­ing ses­sions for his new al­bum, Egypt Sta­tion, be­gan in 2016. Given the prac­ti­cal con­fines of an 18th cen­tury mill out­house, the process in­volves much duck­ing of beams and shuf­fling around squint cor­ri­dors. The walls of the nar­row hall­way are dec­o­rated with a few pre­sen­ta­tion discs (Wings’ 2001 box set Wingspan is prom­i­nent) and a framed cy­cling mag­a­zine front cover, which ini­tially seems in­congr uous un­til closer in­spec­tion re­veals the win­ning rider be­long­ing to the Linda McCart­ney Foods road rac­ing team. No but­ton is left un­pressed as McCart­ney leads 60 Min­utes around the room where the magic hap­pens. Much of the equip­ment, he ex­plains, was res­cued from other record­ing stu­dios look­ing to cash in on an­tique gear. To prove the point, he hov­ers over the mel­lotron that once lived in EMI’s Abbey Road – the harp­si­chord and har­mo­nium are also here – and plays the open­ing bars of Straw­berry Fields For­ever. In the con­trol room, McCart­ney’s long­time en­gi­neer Steve Or­chard gives a shiv­ery smile. He’ll have seen the rou­tine be­fore, but you can’t imag­ine get­ting blasé about such mo­ments. Paul moves over to the Moog and es­says a bit of Lady Madonna, fin­ish­ing his tour on the drums. “Set up like Ringo’s – or ‘Sir Richard’ as we must now call him!” ➢


With CBS fi­nally sat­is­fied, one of the stu­dio staff rus­tles up the manda­tory Macca work­ing lunch of a hum­mus bagel, and Paul McCart­ney leads MOJO to the up­stairs sit­ting room. Cheer­ful clut­ter abounds: pho­to­graphs, books, and paint­ings, many of them McCart­ney’s own, though there is no sign of Egypt Sta­tion, the warm and colour­ful 1988 art­work that gave the new al­bum its ti­tle. Amid drums and bells, the most unig­nor­able musical in­stru­ment is the dou­ble bass that Bill Black played on Elvis Pres­ley’s Sun record­ings, a birthday pre­sent from Paul’s first wife Linda, and played by Paul in this very stu­dio in Fe­bru­ary 1995, when the three sur­viv­ing Bea­tles, with a lit­tle help from Jeff Lynne, recorded John Lennon’s Real Love. All me­men­toes of an ex­tra­or­di­nary life, lived by an or­di­nary per­son. McCart­ney and I pre­vi­ously met in 2005, when he was not yet 64 and just about still mar­ried to Heather Mills. To­day he’s less than a week away from 76, and in Oc­to­ber will cel­e­brate seven years of mar­riage to Nancy Shev­ell. He looks good on it. One of the key­note songs on his new al­bum, Happy With You, is strik­ingly open about his cur­rent emo­tional well-being, es­pe­cially as it sug­gests a past when things were not so great: “I sat around all day/I liked to get stoned/I used to get wasted/But these days I don’t – ’cos I’m happy with you/We’ve got lots of good things to do.” Although ob­vi­ously older, he ap­pears more com­fort­able than the man I re­mem­ber from 13 years ago. His hair, long no­to­ri­ously redo­lent of a bot­tle, or even a box, has been al­lowed to re­tire grace­fully to its nat­u­ral hue. His wardrobe choices say well-off, low-key, re­laxed: a long-sleeved but­ton­down T-shirt and trousers sit­ting snugly around a waist that be­trays a reg­u­lar gym rou­tine. As we set­tle on op­po­site so­fas, he re­moves his skater-chic slip-ons, re­veal­ing bare feet, and briefly grap­ples with his phone. It’s the same bog-stan­dard Nokia he had a decade ago, which in­spired the ti­tle of 2007’s Mem­ory Al­most Full. Some took that as a clue that the great­est pop song­writer of all time had an eye on clo­sure. The truth, says Paul McCart­ney, was more straight­for­ward. “You don’t re­alise what sig­nif­i­cance peo­ple will put on things: y’know, ‘Sounds like a fi­nal ges­ture – give it an­other year then jack it in.’ It was some­thing my Nokia phone said. I just thought it was cool.” So both you and the phone are still go­ing strong. “I love what I do,” he says, sim­ply. “But now,” he rum­mages in his pocket, “I’ve got an iPhone as well!”

How do you know when it’s time to make a new al­bum?

There comes a point when you’ve got too many songs. You need to do some­thing with them. Oth­er­wise my wife will go mad at me – “What are you do­ing with all these songs in your room?!” Some of these are from quite a while ago. I just stock­pile them. So I started to think: “I fancy mak­ing an al­bum, it’s about time.” There’s a good 10 songs we’ve left off this one.

Did you have a musical route map at the out­set?

If you want to get no­ticed these days, to get above the chat­ter, there’s two ways to go. One is to get a pro­ducer who’s just gonna do Top 10 hits. Like a Tay­lor Swift al­bum. And I thought, “I’m not sure I wanna do that.” Or, you can try and make an ‘al­bum’ al­bum. More like a con­cept, to set your brain to – any kind of song, doesn’t need to be a hit, some­thing you just feel that may or may not be com­mer­cial. So I se­lected the songs I liked best from what I had and we worked on them with this vague idea at the back of my mind that it was gonna be an en­tity. There was gonna be a one-ness to it. Mak­ing an al­bum, there’s a bit at the back of your mind – in mine, any­way – think­ing, “What’s this gonna be called? Abbey Road? No, that’s been ➢

done… ” I hap­pened to be think­ing about a paint­ing I’d done quite a while ago, called Egypt Sta­tion. “I like those words,“I thought. Then I saw a pic­ture of the paint­ing and thought, “That could be an in­ter­est­ing al­bum cover.” I’m not gonna do a big pic­ture of me on the front, smil­ing. I thought this paint­ing might be in­ter­est­ing: it’s crazy enough, and it’s a place. A mys­ti­cal place. So there we were – Egypt Sta­tion.

You’ve cre­ated your own world, even by the sim­ple act of giv­ing it a name.

That was the idea. So then we were work­ing with that in mind. I wanted to open it with sounds of the sta­tion – which is a nod to Sgt. Pep­per, [which opens with] the sounds of a con­cert hall. I played it to [Bea­tles en­gi­neer] Ge­off Em­er­ick ac­tu­ally, when we were in LA, and he said, “That re­minds us of some­thing, doesn’t it?” I said, “Yup!” So it’s a trib­ute to that. If you wanna do the head­phones-for-an-hour trip you can do it with this al­bum.”

ITH HIS CHOICE OF PRO­DUCER, McCART­NEY ef­fec­tively squared the ‘how to get your al­bum no­ticed in the 21st cen­tury’ equa­tion. Greg Kurstin is a con­ser­va­tory schooled jazz pi­anist. Since co-writ­ing and pro­duc­ing Adele’s Hello, he’s also become the most in-de­mand stu­dio al­chemist on the planet, bridg­ing the worlds of pure pop con­fec­tion and se­ri­ous rock artistry. The pair first worked to­gether in early 2015, when Kurstin pro­duced a day-long ses­sion with a large en­sem­ble, in­clud­ing Lady Gaga and Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready, record­ing a song McCart­ney had writ­ten for an an­i­mated film. The project stalled amid fund­ing dif­fi­cul­ties, but McCart­ney liked Kurstin and de­cided he’d use him for his next al­bum. In the in­terim, of course, Kurstin’s rep­u­ta­tion had gone the full Adele. McCart­ney fret­ted a lit­tle – “Ev­ery­one’s gonna think I’m only us­ing him ’cos he’s flavour of the month” – but af­ter suc­cess­ful ini­tial ses­sions in spring 2016, record­ing pro­ceeded over the next 24 months, with chunks of stu­dio time booked for pe­ri­ods when McCart­ney wasn’t tour­ing, while Kurstin jug­gled pro­duc­ing new al­bums for Beck, Foo Fight­ers and Sia. They worked at the Mill, then in Los An­ge­les at Hen­son (the for­mer A&M stu­dio). Some songs McCart­ney pre­sented to Kurstin in con­crete form, with full band or solo demos, at which point be­gan a process of de­con­struc­tion; oth­ers were brief frag­ments, voice memos on his phone. Fin­ish­ing touches were ap­plied at Abbey Road – a thrill for Kurstin, whose schol­arly fas­ci­na­tion with The Bea­tles’ sonic rad­i­cal­ism was com­ple­mented by the lat­ter-day McCart­ney’s rekin­dled zeal for ex­per­i­men­tal tech­niques. “These days, when I go into a ses­sion, I ei­ther bring in a fin­ished form, which would be my nor­mal method, or just bring in a gui­tar and think, ‘OK, now we’re gonna make up some­thing.’ Which at first I was a bit un­sure about. Why would we go in not know­ing what we were gonna do? But a lot of peo­ple work like that. I worked with Kanye and I didn’t think I even played a note, but I was chunter­ing away in the back­ground and he was record­ing it all, and cu­rated it into three songs. It’s some­thing I haven’t done. I’m all for that.” The only se­ri­ously awk­ward mo­ment arose when a sched­ul­ing mishap saw Kurstin dou­ble-booked and McCart­ney itch­ing to main­tain mo­men­tum. He went into the Mill with Ryan Ted­der, the MTV tal­ent show-win­ner and Tim­ba­land protégé-turned-se­rial hit­maker for the likes of Bey­oncé, Ed Sheeran and, some­what in­evitably, Adele. Af­ter two days spent ex­tem­po­ris­ing vo­cals over a succession of hooks – as per the proven Ted­der method – McCart­ney ex­ploded at the ba­nal­ity of the process. “I said to Ryan, ‘This is crazy. I’ve got a ca­reer where I’ve been in­volved with songs that have mean­ing, and this doesn’t amount to any­thing… Y’know – I wrote Eleanor Rigby! And now I’m singing “I’m a lover for you, I’m a lover for you, I love you baby yes I do…” I can’t get into this.’” Af­ter al­most aban­don­ing the ses­sion, McCart­ney de­cided to per­se­vere, with the caveat that he re­write the lyrics later. The re­sult is Fuh You, a sin­gle-en­ten­dre banger in the con­tem­po­rary tra­di­tion. Here There And Ev­ery­where it ain’t – but, its co-au­thor notes, that was never the ob­jec­tive. “On the phone be­fore we got in the stu­dio, Ryan said to me, ‘What do you want to achieve from this week?’ And I could be coy and say, ‘I don’t know…’ but no, I cut to the chase. I said, ‘A hit!’ He said, ‘Great, you’re talk­ing my lan­guage.

The world loves a hit!’ It’s only a fun song any­way. It’s not trying to be im­por­tant.” This de­tour aside, Egypt Sta­tion is strik­ingly suc­cess­ful in its for­mu­la­tion of an or­ganic for­mat for Paul McCart­ney, one where his eter­nal melodic virtues are tended with sen­si­tiv­ity. The depth and de­tail is in­tense, yet the can­vas is never over­bur­dened. The bu­colic joys of Happy With You’s new dawn are coun­ter­pointed by I Don’t Know, a plain­tive cry from the soul: “I got crows at the win­dow, dogs at my door/I don’t think I can take any more/What am I do­ing wrong?” Redo­lent of late-pe­riod Wings, Domi­noes is one of those ar­che­typal Macca in­sin­u­a­tions of philo­soph­i­cal in­sight around down­home choogle. Fi­nally, there’s De­spite Re­peated Warn­ings, the al­bum’s con­cep­tual cen­tre­piece: a multi-sec­tion suite, in the lin­eage of Band On The Run and Live And Let Die, right back to A Day In The Life, with metaphors (“The cap­tain won’t be lis­ten­ing”; “Those who shout the loud­est may not al­ways be the smartest”; “It’s the will of the peo­ple”) res­o­nant in the age of Trump and Brexit. Credit is due to Greg Kurstin, but the record’s strength stems from its core of ex­cep­tional songs, which shine a light with un­ex­pected di­rect­ness into their writer’s in­te­rior world, re­veal­ing pools of self-doubt – a qual­ity rarely ac­knowl­edged by the pop­u­lar im­age of Paul McCart­ney, or in­deed by Paul McCart­ney him­self.

Crows at the win­dow, dogs at your door – what’s go­ing on there?

That’s a grown-up song. Some­times in your life, you’re not a god on Olym­pus. You’re a real per­son walk­ing round the streets. I’m a grand­fa­ther, a fa­ther, a hus­band, and in that pack­age there’s no guar­an­tee that every minute’s gonna go right. (Laughs) In fact, quite the op­po­site. And there was a pri­vate oc­ca­sion – I’m not gonna get into it – that brought me down. “God, what am I do­ing wrong?” I’m not knock­ing it, I have a great life. But from time to time, re­al­ity in­trudes. This was one of those oc­ca­sions where it was like, “Oh, fuck me…” The only thing I could do was sit down at the pi­ano. (Mimes an­guished key thump­ing) “Got crows at the win­dow! Dogs at ma door!” It all spilled out in that song.

So it’s a pi­ano bal­lad in the blues tra­di­tion?

Well ex­actly, it re­ally is. “Ma woman left me!” It wasn’t that, but it was that sort of feel­ing. I didn’t re­ally know what to do about it, other than write a song. So I wrote the song and then felt I had more of an idea what to do. You write out your de­mons. It felt good to just say, “I don’t know what to do!” It’s like own­ing up.

You’re not gen­er­ally per­ceived as an emo­tional song­writer, even by other emo­tional song­writ­ers. When Kanye West was asked about his col­lab­o­ra­tion with you, he said: “I might be a lit­tle more angst than Paul. I’m angst a bit like John Lennon.” Yet even your most fa­mous songs surely qual­ify as ex­er­cises in “writ­ing out de­mons”. Yes­ter­day, for ex­am­ple.

Yeah. Or The Long And Wind­ing Road. That’s one of the great things about song­writ­ing – it’s like a ther­apy ses­sion. But the thing with me is, I’m an op­ti­mist. Just every day when I see peo­ple, I’m a very out­go­ing Liver­pool type. It’s very much how my fam­ily was. So it cre­ates a cer­tain im­pres­sion. (Tweaks from reg­u­la­tion gen­tle to broad Scouse) “Ar­right luv, how ya doin’, eh? Nice day, isn’t it?” That’s me. The bot­tom line is, it some­times gives peo­ple the wrong im­pres­sion: that I don’t care, that I don’t think about stuff, and that I’m just a jolly happy chappy. Which isn’t true. There’s a thou­sand other as­pects you don’t see.

Have you ever seen Jeff Lynne with­out his sun­glasses on?

Yes. And it wasn’t a pretty sight.

They’re his pro­tec­tive shield against the world. Do you have one?

I’m sure I do. I at­tack with hu­mour and bon­homie.

Which is one rea­son why I Don’t Know is such a great song, because it feels at vari­ance with your pub­lic per­sona, where of­ten you’re the em­bod­i­ment of great self-as­sur­ance.

Yeah. I have my mo­ments too. I felt OK about say­ing that. Peo­ple may not think I am like this, but they’ll sure as hell be able to re­late to it.

Like­wise Happy With You – it’s a pos­i­tive dec­la­ra­tion, but edged with dark­ness: “I used to drink too much/For­get to come home”…

It is can­did – I did used to get stoned, and wasted.

The im­pli­ca­tion being that you weren’t nec­es­sar­ily happy – whereas peo­ple might have as­sumed, Hey! It’s Paul, he wrote that ‘ode to pot’ Got To Get You Into My Life, he’s still liv­ing the ’60s dream, baby…

That’s right. Also… I’ve got a lot of friends who are sober. ’Cos they have to be. Like Ringo, Joe Walsh – because they just took it too far. When we were grow­ing up, ev­ery­one would be go­ing to the pub and drink­ing, but mostly it all seemed quite jolly. But when I talk to Ringo about it, he says “No, if you give me a vodka, I would have to fin­ish the bot­tle.” So that’s em­pathis­ing with Ringo: used to be do­ing crazy things, but you don’t now, ’cos you’re happy. And Ringo is – he’s very con­tent with his life.

It’s not nec­es­sar­ily au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal then?

I did used to get a lit­tle bit more crazy than I do now – I’ve got eight

grand­chil­dren, I haven’t got the time! Grandad can’t just be sit­ting (laughs) in his arm­chair with a great big doo­bie on and a bot­tle of te­quila. Con­se­quently, you are happy. It’s re­ally cool to hear a robin singing, see a stream rush­ing down a moun­tain. It’s good to take time for those things too. That’s more how I am now.

When you re­flect on your past, would you con­sider you had pe­ri­ods of self-med­i­ca­tion?

Def­i­nitely. Most par­tic­u­larly in the pe­riod right af­ter The Bea­tles, when I was bummed out and in the mid­dle of this hor­ren­dous shit where some­one was go­ing to take every penny we’d ever made. That wasn’t easy, and led to a very dif­fi­cult time in my life. I def­i­nitely self-med­i­cated there, and drank more than I ever had and prob­a­bly more than I ever have since. But you go through it.

You write out your de­mons…

And Happy With You is say­ing there’s this other thing too: “I lied to my doc­tor, but these days I don’t…”

Who hasn’t lied to their doc­tor?

That’s what I mean! “No, I’m fine, feel­ing great…”

“Just the one glass of wine a week…”

(Laughs) That’s the one! It’s a big glass! Yeah, these things creep into your songs. They’re not all au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal, but you in­evitably pull in bits from what’s hap­pen­ing to you.

THREE WEEKS AF­TER THE IN­TER­VIEW AT HOG HILL Mill, MOJO has a sec­ond sit-down with Sir Paul, this time amid the low-key art deco stylings of his MPL of­fice in Lon­don. Wear­ing a pale pink shirt, col­lar­less, and with a hint of stub­ble around his chin, he’s just back from hol­i­day with his wife and fam­ily. “On a boat in Greece,” he beams. “Re­ally cool, in the fab sense.” The in­terim also saw the broad­cast of his Car­pool Karaoke ses­sion with James Cor­den, which, al­beit sub­merged amid the pre­sen­ter’s ex­treme unc­tion, yielded one big re­veal: Paul McCart­ney went in­side 20 Forth­lin Road for the first time since he’d lived in this south Liver­pool council house – his home from the age of 13 un­til 1963, when he was swept away by the ma­nia of being a Bea­tle. When­ever he re­turns to Liver­pool, per­haps to lead a song­writ­ing men­tor­ing ses­sion at the Liver­pool In­sti­tute, his for­mer school, McCart­ney typ­i­cally fol­lows a rou­tine. Af­ter fly­ing up from Lon­don in the morn­ing, he’ll rent a car at the air­port, and the mem­o­ries start. “Me and John rid­ing our bikes along to the air­port to watch planes land­ing – of course, that’s now John Lennon Air­port. If only I’d been able to say to him, ‘They’re gonna name this air­port af­ter you…’ So who­ever I’m with, one of my mates, I’d nor­mally do a bit of a tour, drive my bus route to school: ‘This is where Ge­orge got on, here’s where the girls’ school was, here’s my old house, and this is where I wrote, “Woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head…”’” At 20 Forth­lin Road, he’d park out­side, point to his bed­room above the front door, and the down­stairs liv­ing room, where he and John Lennon wrote songs to­gether, from Quarry Men days right up un­til I Saw Her Stand­ing There in Septem­ber 1962. But not once did Paul ever go and knock on the door to see if he could look round his old house. “Well, be­fore it was a Na­tional Trust place there was some­one liv­ing in it,” he be­gins to ex­plain. “Ac­tu­ally, I did go to one of my old houses in Liver­pool, 12 Ard­wick Road. I was with my son. Some guy came out. ‘Eh, can I come in? I used to live here.’ He was very friendly and we had a laugh, show­ing my son around. But with Forth­lin Road I had never wanted to go in. I thought it might be a lit­tle creepy. But we went in with Cor­den and it was funny. All the in­con­se­quen­tial de­tails were the mem­o­ries that came back: the cup­board where we had the con­densed milk, how I mixed up the bot­tles of HP Sauce and Camp Cof­fee when I was mak­ing my dad a cup of cof­fee once. The cooker used to have a lit­tle grill on it, and I used to cook the evening meal ’cos I got in ear­li­est… It was good – it broke the spell.” Paul had been liv­ing at 20 Forth­lin Road for just over a year when his mother Mar y died, of cancer, in 1956. For that rea­son alone, his feel­ings about the place would be awk­ward. But as the cru­cible of so many piv­otal mo­ments in his sub­se­quent musical jour­ney, it must have cast an in­or­di­nately large shadow. “The main thing for me was just re­al­is­ing, Wow, I lived like that. As a real hu­man being, in Liver­pool, with all the con­cerns of a nor­mal per­son. And here I was, com­ing back, af­ter that amaz­ing tsunami of The Bea­tles. Here I was com­ing back to the same space.”

PAUL McCART­NEY HAS RE­CUR­RING DREAMS. “Fail­ing on-stage, or in the stu­dio. Just it go­ing wrong. We’re play­ing a dread­ful gig some­where and the au­di­ence are walk­ing out. That hap­pens a lot. But it’s kinda nice – I get to meet John and Ge­orge. So that’s kinda good. An­other one is I’ve got my bass and I’m trying to get ready to record some­thing and it’s got black gaffa tape all over it. So I’m rip­ping this black gaffa tape off the neck… Frus­tra­tion dreams. I don’t think any­one es­capes that stuff.” From the ev­i­dence of Egypt Sta­tion, this 76-year-old man is taking stock, both of his per­sonal land­scape and the big­ger pic­ture. Peo­ple Want Peace is his lat­est at­tempt to write an ec­u­meni­cal hymn-cum-an­them, partly in­spired by McCart­ney’s ex­pe­ri­ences around the con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sion to play a gig in Tel Aviv in 2008, which some friends had coun­selled him against. “They said ‘You can’t go’. The trou­ble is, when you say that to me, it makes me wanna go. I don’t like being told what to do.” He per­formed while en­dors­ing One Voice, a global ini­tia­tive sup­port­ing Is­raeli and Pales­tinian ac­tivists who seek a ne­go­ti­ated two-state res­o­lu­tion to the con­flict. “It was some­thing my dad had said when I was a kid,” he says. “‘The peo­ple want peace, it’s the politi­cians who mess it up.’ And that’s held pretty true.”

Macca and pol­i­tics don’t mix, at least not mu­si­cally. His po­ems, such as Big Boys Bick­er­ing, have a blunt in­stru­ment qual­ity which Harold Pin­ter might have ad­mired (“Big boys bick­er­ing/And so the game goes on and on/Big boys bick­er­ing/Fuck­ing it up for ev­ery­one/For ever yone!”). Then there’s his act of protest in 1982, when he tele­grammed Mar­garet Thatcher to up­braid her about the gov­ern­ment’s treat­ment of NHS nurses, on strike for a 12 per cent pay in­crease. “Give health work­ers a break,” he de­manded, warn­ing: “What the min­ers did to Ted Heath, the nurses will do to you.” Paul has for­got­ten ever writ­ing it, but seems pleased to be re­minded. “Good on me! Good on me. That’s pretty cool. My mum was a nurse. Around that time, and still to this day, nurses don’t get their due credit, or pay. It is a ma­jor prob­lem. Well I’m glad I wrote to her, though (laughs) un­for­tu­nately I don’t re­mem­ber it.” Few re­mem­ber his most no­to­ri­ous foray into protest song with much fond­ness, how­ever. Re­gard­less of any artis­tic mer­its, Wings’ 1972 post-Bloody Sun­day broad­side Give Ire­land Back To The Ir­ish failed to get heard, which has to be the prin­ci­pal cri­te­rion for ag­it­pop. McCart­ney agrees. “I don’t think I write bril­liant po­lit­i­cal songs. They don’t have the ef­fect of We Shall Over­come or Give Peace A Chance. But, as Linda would have said, ‘It’s al­lowed’. Some­times the sit­u­a­tion just gets too much. You write them out of frus­tra­tion.” By con­trast, De­spite Re­peated Warn­ings is spec­tac­u­lar mu­si­cally and af­firms the virtue of am­bi­gu­ity in a lyric. Who is “the cap­tain” and what is “his own agenda”? What is “the fool­ish plan” that “we” want to “stop go­ing through”. Can “the en­gi­neer” some­how save the ship? What is “the will of the peo­ple”? “Trump is in there,” McCart­ney agrees. “Not Brexit, it was writ­ten be­fore Brexit. But Trump, def­i­nitely. It’s more about any­one who would deny cli­mate change. Y’know, I’m mar­ried to an Amer­i­can, I go to Amer­ica a lot and I have a lot of Amer­i­can fam­ily, Amer­i­can friends… and we tend to be lib­eral. But there’s one or two that you don’t talk to if you’re out hav­ing din­ner, ’cos you know they’re gonna stick up for him. I don’t want to be an ac­tivist par­tic­u­larly, but if I feel there’s an in­jus­tice I want to make my­self heard. Putting this guy Pruitt [Scott Pruitt, US En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency ad­min­is­tra­tor] in charge of the en­vi­ron­men­tal agency, a guy who fought against it when he was in of­fice – it’s so in­sane. I know who the cap­tain is, I think most peo­ple get it.” McCart­ney didn’t vote in the 2016 EU ref­er­en­dum – he was on tour, in Europe. In an in­ter­view with the Wash­ing­ton Post shortly af­ter­wards, he ad­mit­ted to feel­ing con­fused, hear­ing “good ar­gu­ments on both sides”, but stated that he’d have “come down on the Re­main side, because peo­ple like the Gover­nor of the Bank Of Eng­land, a lot of fi­nan­cial ex­perts, were say­ing that.” Two years on, he’s no less equiv­o­cal. “I un­der­stand the frus­tra­tion with Europe. Because I run into it, cer­tain bits of bu­reau­cracy. I live on a farm and we’ve got sheep. When they die, I bury them. It hap­pens to be an or­ganic farm, so that makes sense to me. But there’s a rul­ing from Stras­bourg, Brus­sels, some­where, that these days you can’t bury them. When a rul­ing comes from Lon­don, that was bad enough for Liver­pool peo­ple. But when it comes from Stras­bourg, and it’s crazy… So even though part of me sup­ports Europe because there’s been a pro­longed pe­riod of peace, I get why peo­ple wanted out. But I also get why peo­ple wanted in. We just have to see what hap­pens.” De­spite the mas­sive wealth and the fame which af­fords him the priv­i­lege of easy – if not free – move­ment across the globe and through life’s en­tan­gle­ments, Paul McCart­ney still re­gards him­self as work­ing-class. “It’s noth­ing to do with me. It’s how I was brought up. I am work­ing-class. I like the work­ing class! They’re funny. They’re clever. And they work. Which is rather in­ter­est­ing. Because not ev­ery­one does that. I like work­ing.”

You’re a 76-year-old who’s about to tour the world yet again. Do you en­ter­tain thoughts of re­tire­ment?

In­evitably you do. I mean, I had those thoughts at 65. Which is a while ago. ’Cos 65 is the re­tire­ment age. In my world, in the work­ing class.

It’s 66 now.

Oh they moved it? Hey, they can move it as far as they like, I don’t mind. ’Cos my work is play. Seems to be work­ing OK.

The Rolling Stones are still out there – do you feel a com­mon cause with them, en­abling you to keep go­ing?

I’m giv­ing them the con­fi­dence to go out there. They’re look­ing at Macca and think­ing, “Well, if he can still do it…”! We’ve all re­alised we love play­ing. And we do hap­pen to be good at it.

HE OF­FICE DOOR OPENS: TARA, THE KEEPER OF THE McCart­ney diar y, is here to an­nounce the end of time. Paul gets to his feet and starts pad­ding around the dark blue art deco car­pet. MOJO asks if the vin­tage Wurl­itzer jukebox in the cor­ner still works? He fid­dles with a plug and the ma­chine’s lights come on, of­fer­ing us a dream se­lec­tion of foun­da­tional Macca: Fats Domino, Lit­tle Richard, Buddy Holly, The Everly Broth­ers, Al Jol­son’s Give My Re­gards To Broad­way… “We’d bet­ter hear some­thing, hadn’t we?” McCart­ney se­lects Elvis Pres­ley’s Hound Dog, and starts bop­ping around the room. I ex­pect him to usher me out af­ter the first cho­rus/verse, but he’s strapped in for the du­ra­tion, air-gui­tar­ing through both of Scotty Moore’s as­ton­ish­ing so­los. The sec­ond one in par­tic­u­lar, I ven­ture, sounds com­pletely im­pro­vised. “Oh I think so!” McCart­ney yells. “You could only ever play that once.” Af­ter two min­utes and 15 sec­onds of trans­porta­tion, he opens the door and we exit, back into the out­side world. On a sofa, be­neath Peter Blake’s ver­sion of Land­seer’s Monarch Of The Glen, lie the sleeve proofs for Egypt Sta­tion. It’s a real place now.

It’s never wall­pa­per mu­sic: Macca with his fa­mil­iar Hofner bass; (in­sets op­po­site) ini­tial ses­sions for Egypt Sta­tion, Hen­son Stu­dios, Los An­ge­les, Fe­buary 2016; the paint­ing that be­came new LP’s cover.

Time for re­flec­tion: “They’re look­ing at Macca and think­ing, ‘Well if he can still do it…’”; (op­po­site, bot­tom) McCart­ney in De­cem­ber 1965.

“I am work­ing-class. I like them. They’re funny, clever, and they work.” McCart­ney, at home, but not think­ing about re­tire­ment just yet.

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