McCARTNEY THE LAD: BUTLINS TO HAMBURG.
The first time I ever sang on a stage I did 'Long Tall Sally.' I must have been pretty young, probably 14. I might have been 11, I don't know. We went to stay with our parents at a holiday camp named Butlins, a branch in Wales. They used to have these talent shows, and one of my cousins-in-law was one of the red coats who had something to do with the entertainment. He called us up on the stage. I had my guitar with me. Looking back on it, it must have been a put-up job, I don't know what I was doing there with my guitar. I probably asked him to get me up. I went up with my brother Mike, who had just recovered from breaking his arm and looked all pale. He had his arm in a big sling. We used to do an Everly Brothers number, something like 'Bye Bye Love.' I think it might have been 'Bye Bye Love," in fact. We did that, and then I finished with 'Long Tall Sally.'
Ever since I heard Little Richard's version, I started imitating him. It was just straight imitation, really, which has gradually become my version of it as much as Richard's. I started doing it in one of the classrooms at school, it was just one of the imitations I could do well. I could do Fats Domino, I could do Elvis, I could do a few people. (Smiles.) I still can! "I'm walking, yes indeed, I'm . . ." (Fats Domino impersonation) ''Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen," (Elvis Presley impersonation) That's Elvis.
'Long Tall Sally' is all this stuff I used to do. I could never think of a better number to finish on. There was a time when we didn't do it, we used to do 'What'd I Say.' Then that ran out and I used to do a crazy version of 'Hey Bob a Rebop.' It was anything, really, to get the audience going. (Sings 'Hey Bop a Rebop.') The "hey's were like in 'What'd I Say.' "Ye-ahhh! Ye-ahhh!'' But none of them excelled 'Long Tall Sally,' which is why I still do it.
When you wrote 'I'm Down' you did it in Little Richard's style.
That was to replace 'Long Tall Sally' as a finisher, a big loud rocky number. That was, as a painter would say, after Little Richard.
Did many of those black artists appeal to you in the late fifties and early sixties? John did several Motown songs.
Yes, very much. I loved all that stuff. Those were my favourites, definitely.
Did the Cunard Yanks (Britons on Atlantic ship crossings) have anything to do with introducing you to these records?
I don't think so. They might have, but originally you just heard a few songs that came up. They were so different from what had gone before. In England, one of the guys who started it was a guy called Lonnie Donegan. He was doing it, and then simultaneously there was this music coming in from America, Chuck. Berry, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Elvis, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran.
Then we used to get a few films coming in, like 'Rock Around the Clock', 'Don't Knock the Rock', 'Twist Around the Clock', 'Girl Can't Help It', a few of them, and those were kind of, wow. In fact, I remember George and I going to see Blackboard Jungle. George was fifteen at the time and you had to be sixteen to go and see It. But I was sixteen, so I was all right. George's mum was saying "You'll never get in, you'll never get in," and we were saying "Don't worry, we'll get him in.'' We went out into the back garden and got a bit of mud. George had the buddings of a little moustache so he rubbed mud on his moustache. We went along to the picture house and we got in. "Sure, he's sixteen"... we spoke a bit deeper. The only reason we were going was because a Bill Haley song, 'Rock Around the Clock,' was in the film. That's the only reason we went to see the film, that one song.
You've mentioned being emotionally affected by music at the age of five. What were your influences at that time?
I used to listen to the radio a lot, so I used to like popular music. And I got all the old music from films, Fred Astaire and stuff like that, which I loved.
George Martin said that you sang 'Over the Rainbow' at one point.
Yes, I used to do all those kind of songs. I used to do 'Till There Was You,' I used to do 'Over the Rainbow.' I only did that because Gene Vincent did it and it was Gene Vincent's version that turned me on, not Judy's, although I knew hers from the film (Wizard of Oz starring Judy Garland).
From a very early age I was interested in singing tunes. I like a nice tune. You know, 'White Christmas,' 'Over the Rainbow,' the old stuff. My Dad used to play a lot, so I suppose I was quite influenced by him. 'Stairway to Paradise' and 'Chicago,' tunes like that, the old jazz tunes. He used to have a band, my Dad. He used to have a band called Jim Mac's Band. That , was when he was about 25. He had to give it up eventually because he got false teeth and couldn't play the trumpet.
When did you first think you wanted to be in a band?
I don't think I wanted to be in one. I wanted to do something in music and my Dad gave me a trumpet for my birthday. I went through trying to learn that. But my mouth used to get too sore. You know, you have to go through a period of getting your lip hard. I suddenly realized that I wouldn't be able to sing if I played trumpet. So I figured guitar would be better. It was about the time that guitar was beginning to be the instrument. So I went and swapped my trumpet for a guitar and I got that home and couldn't figure out what was wrong and I suddenly decided to turn the strings around and that made a difference and I realized I was left-handed. I started from there, really; that was my first kind of thing, and then once you had a guitar you were then kind of eligible for bands. But I never thought of myself being in a band.
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One day I went with this friend of mine. His name was Ivan (Vaughan). I went up to Woolton, in Liverpool, and there was a village fete on, and John and his friends were playing for the thing. My friend Ivan knew John, who waS a neighbour of his. And we met there and John was onstage singing "Come little darlin' come and go with 'me..." 'The Del Viking' 'Come Go With Me'?
But he never knew the words because he didn't know the record, so he made up his own words, like "down, down, down, down to the penitentiary." I remember I was impressed. I thought, wow, he's good. That's a good band there. So backstage, back in the church hall later, I was singing a couple of songs I'd known.
I used to know all the words to 'Twenty Flight Rock' and a few others and it was pretty much in those days to know the words to that. John didn't know the words to many songs, so I was valuable. I wrote up a few words and showed him how to play 'Twenty Flight Rock' and another one, I think. He played all this stuff and I remember thinking he smelled a bit drunk. Quite a nice chap, but he was still a bit drunk. Anyway, that was my first introduction, and I sang a couple of old things.
I liked their band, and then one of their friends who was in the band, a guy named Pete Shotton who was a friend of John's, saw me cycling up in Woolton one day and said "Hey, they said they'd quite like to have you in the band, if you'd like to join." I said "Oh, yeah, it'd be great." We then met up somewhere and I was in the band.
I was originally on guitar. The first thing we had was at a Conservative Club somewhere in Broadway, which is an area of Liverpool, as well as New York. There was a Conservative Club there and I had a big solo, a guitar boogie. I had this big solo and it came to my bit and I blew it. I blew it. Sticky fingers, you know. I couldn't play at all and I got terribly embarrassed. So, I goofed that one terribly, so from then on I was on rhythm guitar. Blown out on lead!
We went to Hamburg, and I had a real cheap guitar, an electric guitar. It finally blew up on me, it finally fell apart in Hamburg. It just wasn't used to being like that. Then I was on piano for a little while. So I went from bass to lead guitar to rhythm guitar to piano. I used to do a few numbers like Ray Charles 'Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying' and a couple of Jerry Lee Lewis' like 'High School Confidential.'
Then Stuart (Sutcliffe) left the group. He was the bass player. He lent me his bass, and I played bass for a few weeks. I used to play it upside down. And he used to have piano strings on it, because you couldn't get bass strings. They were a bit rare, you know, and they cost a lot, too, about two pounds for one string. So he would cut these big lengths of piano strings from the piano and wind them on the guitar. So I played that upside down for a while. I'm pretty versatile, I'll give that to myself. I wasn't very good, but I was versatile.
I'm in Hamburg, and I have a little bit of money together, and finally saved enough to buy myself a Hofner violin bass. It was my bass, then, that was the one. And I became known for that bass, a lot of kids got them. That was my big pride and joy, because it sounded great.
And that was it, basically. The rest you know.