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Paul's historic phone-in to Russia

"The mere fact that Paul McCartney was able to broadcast to the USSR on 26th January, let alone speak to its citizens, was an indication how far glasnost (openness) had progressed. The Soviet authorities had systematically jammed the BBC's Russian Service for 24 of its 43-year existence, ending finally (we trust) in January 1987.

Since then an audience 18 million strong has enjoyed a 46-hour weekly output, including classical music, jazz and pop oldies. Granny's Chest, the oldies show, suggests P. Cook and D. Moore, but in fact is chaired by the deceptive Sam Jones. Deceptive, because this ultra-British name conceals the name of Sam Yossman, born in Soviet Lithuania. After working as a civil engineer, technican and journalist in the USSR, Sam left for Israel, a kibbutz and Israel Radio in 1971. He joined the BBC Russian Service on reaching London in 1975 and, in addition to GC, has presented Rolling Stone, featuring Russian emigre singers, since March 1988.

Until October 1987 there were no phone calls from the Soviet Union. By January 1988, 112 people got through one memorable afternoon. In July last year, Mrs Thatcher (despite technical difficulties) generated 250 calls. For Paul, the figure was 1,000 or so, from all over the USSR. Bear in mind that a call costs some three roubles (about £9, or the average weekly wage), that most listeners don't have direct dialling, that many others have to queue in post offices to make a call, and this is quite a figure.

Your editor joined two dozen-odd (very odd) journalists in listening to a live relay of the programme that memorable Thursday, in an adjacent room at London's Bush House, aided by some of the Service's 35 Russian-speaking staff. (Highlights of the 55-minute session \yere broadcast next day in Sarah Ward's regular English Service programme, Multitrack Three.) Simultaneous translation was available to both Paul and the listeners: Sam, as you will see, proved an enthusiastic link, making Mike Read sound positively reticent.

"Hi, Paul. Welcome to Granny's Chest!"

"Priviet, Sam."

"Ok, how d'you wanna start it?"

"Priviet, Russia." (Cue 'Back in the USSR'.)

"Ok, we have Slava from Minsk and his question is, which musicians of the '50's have influenced you most?"

"Priviet, Minsk! The main people that influenced me was Elvis, Little Richard and Buddy Holly...I learned to sing a little bit like Elvis, some of the time like Little Richard, and we all loved Buddy Holly."

"The next call, Paul, is from Sacha in Leningrad, and Sacha is only seven, would you believe it? Sacha's question is, what music did you like when you were seven, Paul?"

"Well, Sacha, the main music I used to like when I was seven, I heard from American films... People like Fred Astaire: he was a great dancer and a great singer, too. Also, I listened to British radio and they had a programme by a fellow called Billy Cotton, who was the father of the fellow who runs one of the departments of the BBC." (Sam vainly tried to get back to Sacha for her reaction.)

"Paul, would you like to introduce the record?"

"OK. One of my favourite Little Richard tracks: it's called 'Lucille'." (From Choba B CCCP.)

"Let's rock!"

Paul then revealed as untrue a newspaper item Sam had read, stating that Paul had visited Little Richard in hospital.

"Paul, we have Vladimir from the Black Sea. It's a good question: Paul and Linda, you've been married 25 years -"


"What's five years?"

"Not a lot," agreed Paul, laughing.

"The question is, is that a creative marriage, or is it just happiness?"

"Well, I don't think anyone knows the secret of a happy marriage. You're just lucky if you have a happy one. We spend a lot of time together and we have a lot of things in common — music, all sorts of things-and maybe that's what does it. How do you do it, Sam?"

"I don't know! You'd better write a song: how to be happy in a marriage without knowing it."

"Yes. I'll go and write it now." (Sam getting giggly.)

The next question, from Veronica Gagarin: "Do you prefer making music which is close to your heart, or music which is popular?"

"I think you always try and make music which is close to your heart, and then you hope that it's gonna be popular. I think it's a mistake to make music which you think is gonna be popular, but which you don't like. People can tell if you're foolin' 'em or not."

Andrei Barkovsky (12) was next: "Are you now working on new songs which will be performed this year?"

"Yeah. After this interview I go back to the studio, where we're finishing up some songs. I'm just mixing an LP at the moment, which should be out in the middle of the year. Some new songs, which I hope you'll like, Andrei."

"Are you going to come to the Soviet Union this year?"

"I'd like to...at the moment I'm just putting together a band, so we've got to do a little rehearsing and learn some stuff first...I am hoping to go out on tour this year. If that transpires, then I'd love to come to Russia...Other people go to Russia and sing 'Back in the USSR': I think it's about time I went and sang it."

"I reckon it's about time: in the early '60's there were quite different opinions about the Beatles in the Soviet Union. Now it's changed and they're more favourably disposed towards the Beatles and Paul McCartney, but yesterday it was quite different... Let's have 'Yesterday'." ('Twas done.)

"Yesterday, when we were young," quipped Sam.

"Not so long ago," replied Paul, catching the mood.

Then came Nurjan, speaking in English: 'Good evening, Mr McCartney... I heard you have launched an initiative of forming the Beatles again and you have found a man who is nearly the same as John. Is that so?...And what do you think about our country and its people now?"

"I think you've heard a false report...George, Ringo and me could play together, but to find a replacement for John is impossible...The decision not to let us play there didn't put us off Russia, because in those days most of the things between Russia and the West weren't allowed: it wasn't just music...We always heard that the young people were buying our records... so that made me very optimistic about the relations between our countries. That's why I'm so happy to be doing this interview today."

Paul was tickled by Nurjan's requesting signed photographs for his three girlfriends and promised to oblige, before introducing 'Ain't That A Shame'.

A young-sounding Olga popped up next: "Paul, what do you think of today's youth and what would you like to wish the young people of today?"

"Well, I've got four children of my own and, looking at them, I think the children of today are great. They seem to be very interested in all the issues...to want a good world...to be very interested in peace and ecology...so I like them a lot...most of the young people I meet are great and very good spirits. It gives me hope for the future."

Olga again: "You've never been to the Soviet Union-how did you come to write a song called 'Back in the USSR'?"

"Well, actually there's a song written by Chuck Berry called 'Back in the USA'. He talks about how great it is in the USA...so it's really a parody on that song. I took American things like the Beach Boys (all that 'Woo-oo-oo') and made an American-sounding song, but changed the whole idea to a Russian going home, to kind of show how similar people are, because we never thought of Russia as a rock 'n' roll place."

"What is the most important thing in life for you, except music?" asked Rudolf from Latvia.

"My family: even above music, in truth. That's the most important thing to me, it's as simple as that."

"Why have you decided to dedicate Choba B CCCP to the reforms in the Soviet Union?" continued Rudolf. "What's really in common between music and politics?"

"I don't know if they've got that much in common...but to a lot of people over here, when we see that the attitude from Russia is warming up... and we're able to talk like this... I wanna do something to help it. All my records are normally released over here in the West and then Russia gets them a little bit later... We decided it'd be a great idea to take a record and just release it specially for Russia, because then they'd at least know I was making a definite gesture."

Sam too was warming up: "Have you heard of a band called Wings? What was the band called that played in the '60's?"

"They've escaped me," replied Paul.

"Beat-lay, something like that? Cut the comedy, Sam-play the record!" ('Band on the Run' followed).

A chap called Slava asked: "Which were the happiest days of your life and why were they the happiest?"

"It's a difficult question, because I've had many happy times. I think really these are the happiest days of my life now, because of my family... but, looking back, I think when the Beatles first started to become successful: those were fairly crazy times and we had a lot of fun then, y'know. Maybe that's the second happiest period."

"Which do you like better," continued Slava, "to write words or music?"

"I find it easier to write music than words, but when I write a song it can start either way. Normally the music, and then I fill in the words later; but if I'm lucky I get the two together."

Next up was Yevgeny, presenter of a local rock show in Kurzestan: "Do you think the music of the '60's is better than the music of today?"

"A lot of people think that: in the '60's there was a lot of original invention. Maybe that way the music was a bit better; it was stronger. But I think