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MEET CHRIS WHITTEN
Of Paul's current band, drummer Chris Whitten has been playing with Paul the longest. There he was, minding his own business whacking the skins for Julian Cope, when one day he arrived home to a pleasant, if unnerving surprise.
"It was Sam and there was a message on my answerphone asking me to contact Paul McCartney's office. I was so excited I couldn't sleep until office hours began and I could ring back!"
But we anticipate. Chris took his first serious steps towards a career in music during four years at Leeds College of Music from the age of 16.
"The course was jazz and light music-based, so I could have drum kit lessons as well as learning the tympani and all that."
On finishing the course, Chris spent most of 1980 in New York.
"I did bits and pieces at Max's Kansas City and CBGB's, but it was all low-key as I didn't have a work permit. It was valuable experience: I'd held American jazz musicians in high esteem at college and now I was able to see them. People like David Sanborn would play jazz gigs after recording sessions. I was in a three-piece basically copying the Police, who were very big at the time. But I didn't want to break the law by working seriously without a permit, so I came back in September to build a career in London."
In fact, the next step in Chris Whitten's career took place in Italy, through producer Simon Boswell.
"I would go out for a month at a time and ended up doing three or four albums. That's how I learnt about studio work: the Italians think British musicians are the bee's knees-the grass is always greener. I was recording with really big stars: people were always coming up for their autographs when we went out to eat after a session."
Two tracks with Tracey Ullman preceded a frustrating period for Chris. He was generally busy, but with little to show for it. Bands would split up after sessions when deals failed to materialise. Then (circa 1983) our drummer man worked with Julian Cope for the first time, purely on a session basis.
"I regarded myself as a studio musician. It was my interest in Julian's music that led me to join his band later."
1984 saw Mr. Whitten join his first name band, or at least one with a growing, devoted following: The Waterboys.
"Karl Wallinger joined them on keyboard and he got me in-the others weren't too keen at first. We started This Is The Sea just after I joined: it was difficult to slot into a settled band; also, Mike Scott, the leader, was used to drum machines.
"I was with them for 18 months to two years, in fits and starts. I would do my drum parts, then go off and do sessions during the overdubs. Mike Scott is the band: he calls the others up as he needs them.
"We supported U2 in Britain and America after the Band Aid record-it was good fun. They were decent to be on tour with, though we didn't see them that much: they were under pressure, as they were becoming really big. Then Karl and I fell out with Mike Scott and left. He formed World Party and I went back to sessions. I was out of touch."
Chris may have felt that way, but he recorded with ABC and was soon in demand. Hipsway's album followed, though ironically the hit single 'Honeythief featured a drum machine.
"They were produced by Paul O'Duffy, who's used me a lot since. I was on the first Swing Out Sister album and did the new one in October, when Paul (McCartney) was on holiday. It keeps me on my toes, trying out new things, but I won't be doing much of that in the next year or so."
And our modest man hasn't even mentioned his work on Edie Brickell's album... He also got the call from Julian Cope for what became St. Julian, a big hit in 1987.
"He was great, very professional: always gave his all. We all enjoyed working together and in the end he said, would you like to tour? We toured Britain and America and the band became well thought of."
MPL had heard of Chris through Simon Boswell and Jeremy Jones, husband of MPL's Shelagh: hence the Sam message. Rehearsals at Woolwich followed.
"They flashed by, I was in such a nervous state. I was called up again soon after, with people like Mick Green and Nicky Hopkins, who was a big hero from his work with the Steve Miller Band. (My brother is seven years older than me and got me into the Beatles and Hendrix as well.) Then Richard Ogden phoned to say they were going to record the oldies and I was wanted.
"Those sessions were a new thing for me and fairly hectic. It was all nervous energy again; I was on the edge of my stool trying to keep up. After the first session, I decided to try and enjoy it, in case I never worked with Paul again."
Urgent messages from MPL during his last tour with Julian Cope (America, summer '87) showed that the Whitten approach had worked. Would he be back in time for the 'Once Upon A Long Ago' video and the promotional appearances for All The Best? He certainly would. In January came the invitation to do an LP with Hamish Stuart and Paul.
"The Elvis Costello sessions were the first major ones I did. I just kept quiet if Paul and Elvis disagreed and some good stuff came out of it. The Trevor Horn/ Steve Lipson sessions were the way I was used to working. They wanted to use a drum machine, but Paul insisted on using me, so I had to live up to that.
"Hamish was a very good choice. The Average White Band's white album with 'Pick Up The Pieces' was a very big influence on me at school. I like everyone involved: everyone has something to contribute. Paul Wickens (Wix) has been seriously involved only in the last month or so, though he was on a new version of 'Figure of Eight' produced by Chris Hughes and Ross Cullum. Robbie suggested Wix — I'd worked with him on the Hipsway sessions."
'Wix' is keyboardist extraordinaire Paul Wickens: you'll meet him later.
How did Chris feel about playing synth drums on 'How Many People'?
"I used to play quite a lot of synth drums on sessions. We used them as it was a reggae track."
The singing drummer is a rare breed, but the Whitten voice is heard on Flowers In The Dirt.
"I did a lot of vocals with Julian Cope, as the others didn't sing. Paul cajoled me into it - I was nervous. I'm in the 'choir' on 'Don't Be Careless Love' with Paul, Elvis and Hamish and very much in the background on 'How Many People' with Paul, Linda and Trevor Horn.'
That's the Chris Whitten story up to date. It started in Wimbledon in 1959, not far from the scene of Robbie Mclntosh's childhood. The family then moved around, to Newcastle and then South Wales, Chris getting his general education in both places and emerging with 'O'-levels.
"I saw Help at six and said, 'I want to be a pop musician'. I got music 'O- and 'A-levels and was good at history and art, but hopeless at maths, science and games. My Mum follows pop and dabbles at the piano.
"Music is my hobby as well as my job, but I like cooking, especially Italian. I'm vegetarian and have been since long before I met Paul. Italian cooking's great for vegetarians, because there's so many things you can do."
Chris has a South London flat to himself and gets out to the pictures when he can.
"I like a dangerous type of film... serious, art films. Scorsese's my favourite director, and I also like Fellini, but I've been a workaholic for the last two years."
Happily for all of us, there seems little sign of that changing.