WINGS IN FLIGHT: BAND ON THE RUN.
Is Band on the Run a concept that refers to the band?
Our band? I've been thinking about that since you asked me yesterday. I don't really know, to tell you the truth. It's just a good flow of words. I really don't analyze stuff, and if I do I kind of remember what it meant about three months later, just lying in bed one night.
It started off with 'If I ever get out of here.' That came from a remark George made at one of the Apple meetings. He was saving that we were all prisoners in some way, some kind of remark like that. "If we ever get out of here," the prison bit, and I thought that would be a nice way to start an album. A million reasons, really. I can never lay them all down. It's a million things, I don't like to analyze them, all put together. Band on the Run - escaping, freedom, criminals. You name it, it's there.
Some of the people on the cover, like (BBC talk show host and author) Michael Parkinson, aren't known in America. How did you design that?
We were just lying in bed at night, as is our wont, thinking what shall we do for the album cover.
As is -
As again is our wont, every year, every album you go through it. We thought Band on the Run, let's have a group of people caught in a spotlight as if they're trying to escape from jail. We thought, well, we'll use actors, and then we thought, no, that's not really going to mean much, so we thought, let's try and get different people who are personalities from various walks of life.
So it's just a group of personalities who all look like they're prisoners escaping, but when you look a little closer you find James Coburn's in there and John Conteh, who's a British boxer from Liverpool. Just various people, just for the lark.
People you liked?
Sort of. They're not necessarily our favourite people in the world.
I didn't mean this was another Sergeant Pepper cover...
No, no, it's not that kind of thing at all. It's not cult idols, it hasn't anything to do with that. It's just a group of people, and if you're going to have a group of people, why not make them interesting? So we rang all the people up and Coburn said ''Sure, man, be real pleased to do it." He was great.
Were you planning originally to play any drums?
Not at all. Our drummer rang up an hour before we left for Lagos to record and said "I can't make this Africa trip," so we said "Oh, I see, thank you very much, cheerio." We just trucked off to Lagos and I thought, "Christ, what are we going to do now? Well, I fancy playing drums anyway, I like playing drums," and Stevie (Wonder) had just dune a couple of albums playing drums, so I thought I'd do it.
Am I correct in assuming he's your biggest idol, as it were?
He's one of them. I think he's great, I really do.
Did you ever get any feedback on the album cover of Red Rose Speedway, the message to him ("We love you" to Stevie in braille)?
Just that he knew about it and he dug it. You know, nods and winks.
So our drummer [Denny Seiwell] didn't want to come to Africa. I don't know quite why. We're all going to Africa to record and if the drummer won't come, what do you do? You don't say "Well, we'll see you when we get back, thanks a lot, we understand." You say "Well, er,
ummmmm," and he leaves.
I think (guitarist) Henry McCulIoch came to a head one day when I was asking him to play something he didn't really fancy playing. We all got a bit choked about it, and he rang up later and said he was leaving. I said, "Well, OK." That's how that happened, you know, with the kind of music we play, a guitarist has got to be a bit adaptable. It was just one of those things. I don't think there was anything wrong with them as musicians, they were both good musicians, but they just didn't fit in.
Then there was trouble in Nigeria with Fela Ransome Kuti (ex-Ginger Baker's Air Force).
You heard about that? All it was was we were recording In Lagos. Lately we've gone to two different places to record, just for the fun of it. We've been to Lagos and to Paris and in both of the places they say, "Why did you come here? You've got much better studios in England or America, you must be daft!" And we say, "Well, it's just for the fun, it's just to come somewhere different for a different type of turn-on, that's all.'' They never really seem to be able to understand it. I think old Fela, when he found us in Lagos, thought, "Hello, why have they come to Lagos?" And the only reason he could think of was that we must be stealing black music, black African music, the Lagos sound, we'd come down there to pick it up. So I said, ''Do us a favour, we do OK as it is, we're not pinching your music."
They felt that they have their own little ethnic thing going and these big foreigners are taking all their bit and beating them back to the West with it. Because they have a lot of difficulty getting their sound heard in the West. There's not an awful lot of demand, except for things like, what was it, "Soul Makossa." Except for that kind of thing they don't really get heard.
And they arc brilliant, it's incredible music down there. I think it will come to the fore. And I thought my visit would, if anything, help them, because it would draw attention to Lagos and people would say, "Oh, by the way, what's the music down there like?" and I'd say it was unbelievable. It is unbelievable. When I heard Fela Ransome-Kuti the first time, it made me cry, it was that good.
Can you tell the story about Dustin Hoffman and 'Drink to Me?'
Sure. We were in Jamaica on holiday and we were staying in a little house outside Montego Bay, and we read in the local newspaper, The Daily Gleaner, that Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen were in town filming Papillon. They were just along the coast from us. We were saying it would be great to meet him, have dinner with him, so Linda rang up. She's good at that, I'm always a bit embarrassed. So Linda talked to his wife and suggested having us for dinner. So they said, great, love to see you, they were a bit bored, they weren't too keen on Jamaica, so we went around to their house one night.
We got friendly and were chatting away. We'd been talking about songwriting, and Dustin was saying he thought it was an incredible gift to be able to write a song about something. People think that, but I always maintain it's the same as any gift. It probably is more magical because it's music, and I think it is more magical. But take his acting talent. It's great. I was saying it's the same as you and acting, when the man says "Action!" you just pull it out of the bag, don't you? You don't know where it comes from, you just do it! How do you get all of your characterizations? It's just in you. The same with me. With a song, I just pull it out of the air. I knock a couple of chords off, and it suggests a melody to me. If I haven't heard the melody before, I'll keep it.
So he says, you mean you can just do it, like that? He was lovely, Dustin. (Does Dustin Hoffman impersonation.) "You can just do it?" I was saying, I think so. We went back a couple of days later and he said, '"I've been thinking about this I've seen a little in Time magazine about Picasso, and it struck me as being very poetic. I think this would be realty great set to music." It was just a little piece out of Time. It was one of those Passed On bits, you know, Transition or whatever they call it. (Sees unusually dressed studio assistant.) Transvestite... So he says, there's a little story here. In the article he supposedly said ''Drink to me, drink to my health, you know I can't drink any more." He went to paint a bit, and then he went to bed at three in the morning. He didn't wake up the next morning and they found him.. dead. Dustin thought "Drink to me, drink to my health, you know I can't drink anymore" was a great parting remark. They were Picasso's last words. So he said "Could you write something to that?"
I happened to have my guitar with me, I'd brought it around, and I said, yeah, sure. I strummed a couple of chords I knew I couldn't go wrong on and started singing "Drink to me, drink to my health,' and he leaps out of his chair and says "Annie! Annie!" That's his wife. He says, "Annie! Annie!" The most incredible thing! He's doing It! He's writing it! It's coming out!" He's leaping up and down, just like in the films, you know. And I'm knocked out because he's so appreciative. I was writing the tune there and he was well chuffed.
Then we went to Nigeria and we were working in Ginger's studio, Ginger Baker/ARC Studio in Lagos, nice studio down there. We thought we'd do this Picasso number, and we started off doing it straight. Then we thought, Picasso was kind of far out in his pictures, he'd done all these different kinds of things, fragmented, cubism, and the whole bit. I thought it would be nice to get a track a bit like that, put it through different moods, cut it up, edit it, mess around with it - like he used to do with his pictures. You see the old films of him painting, he paints it once and if he doesn't like it he paints it again, right on top of it, and by about twenty-five times he's got this picture. So we tried to use this kind of idea, I don't know much about it, to tell you the truth, but what we did know we tried to get in the song, sort of a Cubist thing.
So Ginger, he helped on a few little things of it. At the end, where we go "Ho, hey. ho." We did the cutting up there. Then we got Ginger and a couple of people from around the studio and we got little tin cans and filled them with gravel from outside the studio, and used them as shakers, so at the end you hear this (makes shaking gravel noise), and that's Ginger and a big mob of us going (gravel noise again). So we just made it all up and then edited the tape. There were about four or five big edits in it, really.
'Jet' comes back in.
'Jet' comes back in, right.
Any reason for that?
Just the idea of his different periods, this comes back in, it's all a big muddle. We were just making it up as we went along. We didn't have any big concept of it in mind at all. I just thought, we'll mess it up, keep messing it up until it sounds good, like Picasso did, with the instinctive knowledge you've got. So that's how that one came about.
You mentioned Ginger. I just read a rumour a few days ago about Cream reforming. The rumour happens to be false. But why do you think so many people want the big groups to reform?
A lot of people do. I think if you've got a band together that works, I don't think people ever see why you break it up. In the case of those three, if they're not doing much in other people's minds, there's no reason why they shouldn't be back together, as far as those people are concerned. It's always a nice idea.
You've said 'Jet' is a puppy. Whose puppy?
We've got a Labrador puppy who is a runt, the runt of a litter. We bought her along a roadside in a little pet shop, out in the country one day. She was a bit of a wild dog, a wild girl who wouldn't stay in. We have a big wall around our house in London, and she wouldn't stay in, she always used to jump the wall. She'd go out on the town for the evening, like 'Lady and the Tramp'. She must have met up with some big black Labrador or something. She came back one day pregnant. She proceeded to walk into the garage and have this litter. How many, nine?
Seven. Seven little black puppies, perfect little black Labradors, and she's not black, she's tan. So we worked out it must have been a black Labrador. What we do is if either of the dogs we have has a litter, we try to keep them for the puppy stage, so we get the best bit of them, and then when they get a bit unmanageable we ask people if they want to have a puppy. So 'Jet' was one of the puppies. We give them all names. We've had some great names, there was one puppy called Golden Molasses. I rather like that. Then there was one called Brown Megs, named after a Capitol executive (Laughs.) They've all gone now. The people change the names if they don't tike them.
The "suffragette" business has nothing to do with Jet.
No. I make up so much stuff. It means something to me when I do it, and it mean's something to the record buyer, but if I'm asked to analyze it I can't really explain what it is. 'Suffragette' was crazy enough to work. It sounded silly, so I liked it.
Where were the orchestra bits on the album done?
In London. They were done with Tony Visconti. He does a lot of people. He's married to Mary Hopkin... or Mary Hopkin is married to him. He was nice, he came around to the house one day and we worked out the arrangements. We just did it one day at Air London Studios, all the overdubs.
The noises at the end of 'Mrs. Vanderbilt' -
The laughing? It started off in Africa. We were doing sort of daft laughs at the end. When we got back we eventually overdubbed this crowd of people who were laughing. It was great listening to the tapes, trying to select the little bit of laughter that we would use. Most of it was us, but we need a little bit to cushion it up. It was great listening to a roomful of people laughing in stereo. They were getting into all these laughing bits, and we were on the floor.
Is Helen Wheels your land rover?
Helen Wheels is our land rover. It's a name we gave to our land rover, which is a trusty vehicle that gets us around Scotland. It takes us up to the Shetland Islands and down to London. The song starts off in Glasgow, then it goes past Carlisle, goes to Kendal, Liverpool, Birmingham and London. It's the route coming down from our Scottish farm to London, so it's really the story of a trip down. Little images along the way.
Do they "play the West Coast sound" in Liverpool?
Liverpool's on the West Coast of England, so that's all that means.
Is merchandising why 'Helen Wheels' is on the American Band on the Run and not the British?
Yes. We got a call from one of the Capitol executives saying "Paul, you know we took 'Money' off the Pink Floyd album (Dark Side of the Moon) and after it became a hit single the album did so many extra units. What do you say we put 'Helen Wheels' and we'll do so many extra units. So I phoned him back the next day and told him it sounded OK to me.
Did you choose 'Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five'' because that's one year after 1984?
No. You see, with a lot of songs I do, the first line is it. It's all in the first line, and then you have to go on and write the second line. With 'Eleanor Rigby' I had "picks up the rice in the church were the wedding has been." that was the one big line that started me off on it. With this one it was "No one ever left alive in nineteen hundred and eighty-five.'' That's all I had of that song for months. ''No one ever left alive in nineteen hundred and eighty... six?" It wouldn't have worked!
You said you didn't intend to make 'Let Me Roll It' sound like John.
I still don't think it sounds like him, but that's your opinion. I can dig it if it sounds that way to you. I listened to that album last night over at Linda's sister's place. We had a little sit-around, a little get-together there.
I love the album, I must say. When you make an album you're waiting for everyone to criticize, waiting for everyone to put it down. You're living on your nerves, really, for the first couple of weeks, wondering if it's going to be the biggest blow-out of all-time, or whether it's going to be as good as you think it is. Having listened to it last night for the first time in a couple of weeks and having forgotten it almost, I must say it's great, I love it. I really got off on it last night.
You've given identity bracelets?
It's for all the people who worked on the album. They haven't got them yet, but they're in the post. It's nice after you've done something that everyone's enjoyed to give them a little souvenir of it. We copped one each for ourselves, too.
Are they credited on the sleeve?
No, they just get bracelets and we say "Thanks to EMI, Lagos." They're not playing on the record. In fact, the only other musician on the album, other than the orchestra, is, funnily enough, African! We were gonna use African musicians, but when we were told we were about to pinch the music we thought "Well, up you, we'll do it ourselves then, so there's no question about it." Then we were back in London working at Air Studios and this old friend from the past named Remi Kabaka turns up. And he's from Lagos! He played on one of the tracks, he plays a bit of percussion on 'Bluebird,' so he's the only one who ended up doing anything on the album.
You're playing what sounds like kazoo on 'You're Sixteen,' Ringo's song.
It's not kazoo. It sounds like a kazoo, but it's me doing an imitation. (Does imitation of a saxophone.) It was put through a fuzz thing. It's a bit daft, really, because it winds up sounding like a kazoo. I could have just done it on a kazoo. The idea was to make it sound like a great big funky sax.
The song is a big hit now.
It's nice, I heard it a lot last night on the radio.
Did you overdub your part on an already-finished vocal?
Yeah, I went down to the session one night when I was doing 'Six O'Clock,' on the same album, at the same time. At the end of the session they were playing it back and they said "We need a solo here."
Which of your songs do you think you'd do if you toured now?
I must say I wouldn't mind doing Beatles songs, but it's just a little bit funny. People might want to hear Beatles stuff out of nostalgia, but you don't want to just live on your laurels. You want to try and create a whole new thing, so you can say, "Well, this is me.'' Then, once you've established yourself, you can do the Beatles stuff. That's the way I felt, really. It's good now, because we've got a good mixture. I could do 'Blackbird,' or 'Let It Be,' or 'Long and Winding Road,' something like that.
Do you ever think of your contributions to music?
I don't analyze it, I think about it.
What do you think your contribution has been?
I don't know, you know. I just figure I can do it, quite well. He said, attempting to be modest! But I think I can do it quite well. If you have a song you want me to write, I can manage it. I'm quite proud of the fact that I can do it. It's like someone who can strip a car down. I'd be just as proud of that. It's just that music is the same for me as any talent, it's no big deal. I'm glad I can do it.
Do you think there is life after youth in rock? Can someone rock in their thirties?
Sure. (Linda starts to dance.) Definitely. The question is really whether you do it when you're in your thirties. What happens is that when you reach your thirties you may feel a little less like doing it. But you might feel more like doing it. I mean, Jagger's leaping around more than he's ever leapt around. So it just depends on yourself. I'm sure there's no big thing about being through in your thirties, the twenties were it. You've got Fred Astaire, he was forty and nipping around like a lad of twelve.
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