A fascinating glimpse of the conflicted man behind the ThumbsUp Macca mask. And yes, he really does have Beatles wallpaper…
THE GREATEST COMPOSER OF POPULAR MUSIC OF HIS GENERATION IS STILL WRITING, STILL TOURING, STILL RECORDING, STILL DRIVEN TO SCORE HITS AND GRAB PEOPLE BY THE LUGHOLES. BUT WITH EGYPT STATION, HIS NEW ALBUM, THERE'S ANOTHER PAUL McCartney IN VIEW - ONE WHO ADMITS TO DOUBTING HIMSELF, GETTING "CRAZY" AND "WASTED", A "REAL" PERSON WITH REAL PROBLEMS TO SHARE." YOU WRITE OUT YOUR DEMONS," HE TELLS KEITH CAMERON.
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!” ➢
"SOMETIMES IN YPUR LIFE, YOU'RE NOT A GOD ON OLYMPUS.YOU'RE A REAL PERSON WALIKING ROUND THE STREETS."
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.