Hitting the road at home and abroad
Our roadies happened to know Henry McCullough, who had been in Joe Cocker's Grease Band. They said he was really good so we invited him along to a rehearsal and we all got along well. He became Wings' lead guitarist, and so now we had a complete five-piece band ready to rock.
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We found a place in London called the ICA - the Institute of Contemporary Arts - where artists could practice; and there was a cafe so we could get lunch. I liked the place, and it allowed bands to rehearse. We went in and started working on some new songs. I'd just written one called The Mess so we rehearsed that. Above all, we tried to get the band together.
Give Ireland Back to the Irish was written after Bloody Sunday. British soldiers had fired at a crowd of demonstrators and there were deaths. From our point of view, looking at it on the TV news, it was the first time people questioned what we were doing in Ireland. lt was so shocking. I wasn't really into protest songs - John had done that - but this time I felt that I had to write something, to use my art to protest. I wrote Give Ireland Back to the Irish, we recorded it and I was promptly phoned by the chairman of EMI, Sir Joseph Lockwood, explaining that they wouldn't release it. He thought it was too inflammatory. I told him that I felt strongly about it and that they had to release it, and he said, 'Well, it'll be banned’. And of course it was - the BBC could not play it. But it was number one in Ireland, and in Spain for some reason. It was just on of those things you have to do in life because you believe in the cause. And protest was in the context of the times.
I knew Give Ireland Back to The Irish wasn't an easy route, but it just seemed to me to be the time. I had to say something. All of us in Wings felt the same about it. But Henry McCullough's brother, who lived in Northern Ireland, was beaten up because of it. They thugs found out that Henry was in Wings.
We had decided that we would go back to square one. We wouldn't book a big tour, we wouldn't even book hotels, we'd just go in a van - the band, the kids, the dogs - take up the motorway and find somewhere to play. We wanted to play at universities, where there was a captive audience, and our idea was to go in and say, 'Do you want us to play for you?' It was as simple and as mad as that.
Our roadie would go in, find someone from the Students' Union and say, I’ve got Paul McCartney in the van, with his band Wings. Do you want 'em to play for you?' 'Yeah, sure, pull the other one.' ‘No, really. Come and see’. The student would come out to the van and I'd say ‘Hello, yes, it's me. We'll play for you if you want’.
We didn't have many songs. To be precise, we had eleven, which - at about three minutes a song - is a 33 minute act. They wanted longer so we repeated things. 'We've had a request to do Lucille. We did it earlier but now we're gonna do it again for Jenny Babford on the science course’. Whatever. We just repeated things, especially our new single Give Ireland Back to the Irish. The gigs went quite well but it's funny to look back and realise that we had such little material.
The Students' Union in Newcastle had booked the City Hall, which was quite a big gig - a few thousand people. It wasn't big by today's standards perhaps, but it was big for us then. We went to play Wild Life and I said, ‘Ah one-two-three..’ Nothing. Just silence. I looked around at Linda and she mouthed to me, 'I've forgotten the chords. 'By this time the audience was starting to giggle, thinking we were doing a comedy routine. So I walked over to the keyboard and when I got there I also couldn't remember the bloody chords. By this time the audience were rolling with laughter. Then suddenly Linda remembered them and we went into the song, our hearts beating fast. There were quite a few moments like that. That was the problem of going back to square one - you've got to go through the baptism of fire. Eventually we got a bit better, started to actually know our songs and even perform more than eleven of them.
The university tour was really a public practice. The Beatles made all their mistakes in private, at the little clubs before we were watched by any critics. With Wings, I knew that when we went public all the critics would be sitting there with their sharpened pencils –‘Oh, he's not as good as he was.' It was like I had returned to amateur status, trying to relearn the whole game.
The Beatles were old and comfortable gloves - you just slipped them on and hey, it all happened. Wings was new gloves - you had to break them in. Before certain gigs Linda would suddenly think, 'God, what have I got myself into here?' From being a photographer she was suddenly in a band with me. Crazy.
Linda was pretty confident most of the time, but sometimes there would be a nail-biting moment. Everyone gets nervous and I knew she'd have to go through that - that's the reality of being in a band. But she conquered those nerves, got on with it and was really gutsy. By the later Wings tours she was the ballsiest one in the band, with no apparent nerves whatsoever.
I taught Linda the basics of the keaboard. 'There's middle-C and here's the chord of C, now get on with it!' She took a couple of lessons and learned some bluesy things. Eventually she had a lot of work to do - songs like Live and Let Die have quite complicated chords. But she did very well and made it look easier than it was.
The critics would say ‘She's not really playing' or 'Look at her - she's playing with one finger’. But what they didn't know was that sometimes she was playing a thing called a Mini-Moog, which could only be played with one finger. It was monophonic. You can use as many fingers as you want but there's only one of them going to work. She rode through all those storms; it didn't really bother her.
Linda got on very well with everyone in the band, although there were some tense moments because she wasn't as adept musically as they were. They had studied music or at least played for a long time and she was saying, ‘Wait a minute, let me get this right...', which led to one or two tense moments.
We thought we were in it for fun. This was music, not nuclear science The world didn't depend on it, it was just something we wanted to do, so if we got it wrong - big deal. We didn't have to justify ourselves. The good thing about music is that if people don't like it they don't have to buy it. If they do buy it, great that's the validation.
We got invited on a lot of TV shows, particularly the two of us together, as if we had to justify what we were doing, but we thought, 'Why should we? It's our life.' We didn't have to explain ourselves to anybody. And we were both so resolute that once we started a thing we were determined to finish it. Particularly when the critics kicked in and said we were rubbish - it made us more determined, it became a 'We'll show you!'
We knew we were going to tour in Europe, and that the weather would be nice, and the idea of being stuck in a bus all the time, going from city to city, hotel to hotel, wasn't too appealing. Not much quality of life there. So we decided to travel around in an open-top bus. We put mattresses on the top deck and got some sunshine as we traveled from one place to another. And we painted the outside psychedelic, like a magic bus.
If you look at it very straight, very conventionally, it was a quite mad thing to do, to put a playpen on the top deck of the bus and put all the children in there while driving around Europe. It was not what you'd expect from a normal band. But we weren't a normal band.
In the early days of Wings I wouldn't play Beatles songs. People would shout 'Sing Yesterday!' but I wouldn't do it. I didn't want to rely on all the old props because we were trying to build a new audience, not satisfy people who liked the Beatles and might have been coming to see us just for nostalgia's sake. We were trying for a new, young following, which eventually we got. But it took a while, and we had to fight a lot of prejudices to do it.
People would say ‘What's he doing with his old lady up there? 'Wives normally stay in the background and there she was, with me on stage. Now it's quite common to have all-girl bands, or bands with a girl in it, and it doesn't look the least unusual. At that time, it did look odd.
For me, now that I'd got this great relationship with Linda I didn't want to go off touring around the world and just say 'See ya in a few weeks, babe!'
Hi Hi Hi was a song of the times. As anyone knows about that period, drugs were fairly widespread. Looking back on it now I have a completely different perspective, but at the time it seemed to us that everyone was doing it. To me, Hi Hi Hi was a perfectly harmless little rock and roll song - 'we're gonna get high-high-high'. In my mind, if someone gets drunk then they're getting high. But because of the times it was equated with pot, and so, again, the bbc banned it. They played the other side, C Moon. That was a safer track, a nice track, but Hi Hi Hi used to go down better at concerts.
The drug scene was less harmful than it was going to get. Shortly after this period people were doing much harder drugs, and you were seeing casualties. Looking back on it, I realise we were lucky to get through it.
Quite a few bands around at that time were into drinking, and though it's not really my thing. Wings got shares into that for a while in the beginning. With the Beatles I've never drunk before going on stage - anything like that was done afterwards. But there was a little period in the 1970s where it seemed like a cool thing to do and we did it. It was I ike growing up, but I know we didn't play so well if we were drunk.
For me, part of the thrill of Wings was that it was Iike getting on a tightrope. It was challenging. After a while we had to work out what the heck we'd bitten off, and how we were going to manage. There were a few nerve-racking moments.
Anybody who's been in a band will tell you that it's quite a tricky thing to accomplish. You've got to blend all the personalities in a kind of marriage. It's not easy with any group of people, but doing it the particular way we did, with me having been in this other rather famous band, was especially difficult.
As a songwriter it was always one of my ambitions to compose a James Bond film song. I realised it wouldn't be easy but it appealed to me. Ron Kass, who had worked at Apple, knew the people at the film company and he asked if I would be interested in writing the theme for Live and Let Die. I said yes, and they sent me the lan Fleming novel and I read and liked it, and the next day I sat down to see if I could write the song. I got the fairly straightforward idea of 'live and let die and live and let live', and I also knew that I had to incorporate explosions. George Martin produced the session and wrote an arrangement for the middle, and Linda wrote the reggae bit. We recorded it with an orchestra and then George took it out to wherever they were filming, in the Caribbean somewhere. The producers listened to it and said, That's a great demo, who's going to make the real record?' George had to tell them this was the real record. They had thought I was going to write it for someone else to sing.
Raising kids isn't easy, as any parent knows. It's a lovely thing to do, but the last thing anyone would say is that it's easy. So combining that with being in a band, also not an easy thing to do, was difficult. But we loved it. It was what we wanted to do. I had earned my living from being a musician since I was seventeen so I didn’t really know much else. But combining it with raising a family was tricky. The children had to be educated and we had to take tutors with us on tour. They all turned out smart, though, so it must worked. People would say to us, ‘Oh, you're dragging your kids around the world - Australia, Japan, America - it's bad for them’. And we'd say, ‘No, it's a geography lesson..’
It wasn't always fun. There were difficult times, especially if any of the children were ill. And it would be a strain on our relationship. But, what isn't a strain on a relationship? I don't think there's any such thing as an ideal couple who breeze through life never having arguments and whose children never get ill. Life's not like that. But at least we were doing what we wanted to do.
I have to own up: I've not had a conventional life.
My Love was inspired by Linda. We'd been together a while and were having a great time, and as I sat down at a piano to follow the muse I was thinking about Linda and the song came. It was nice to be able to say, 'Here, I've written this one for you’.
We had an interesting moment on the My Love session. Instead of piecing it together and overdubbing I wanted to record it live with an orchestra. Everyone was ready in Abbey Road studio two, we knew exactly what we would be doing, and then just before the take Henry came over and whispered in my ear ’Do you mind if I try something different on the solo?' I had to make one of those decisions - to stick with what we'd rehearsed or to run with his new idea. At the risk of messing the thing up I went with his idea and he pulled a great new solo out of left field. He really rose to the occasion.
My Love crossed over into the black audience, which I liked because I've always admired black music so much.
My Love was always a very popular song in the live act. I'd see couples putting their arms around each other, which I always thought was a nice romantic moment.