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indentation and when you're in that hard area these words start to creep in. I'm certainly not a great user of swear words in front of the kids but occasionally - like in 'Looking For Changes' - it's essential to the plot.
            The only strange thing is that I haven't done it before. I mean, I played 'Big Boys Bickering', with the "f' word, to Paul Simon and he said "Have you ever used that word before?" and I said no. But that doesn't matter - I think I'm allowed to use it once in every 50 years, don't you? Once in every 50 years I'll use that word - stick around for the next time.
            People seem to think of you as being all sweet hut a lot of
Off The Ground is sexy, gritty. Did you consciously think about being grittier this time? Club Sandwich 65
            No, not really. I'm never really aware of what my image is, but when you've done songs like 'Yesterday' and 'My Love' and 'The Long And Winding Road' an image sort of grows on you. I think the truth is, though, that anybody who really knows what I've done over the years doesn't think of me like that at all. People who know me well know that I wrote 'Helter Skelter', 'Why Don't We Do It In The Road' and all sorts of disgraceful stuff. I've done some gritty things! I tended to be known as the cute one in the Beatles and these things stick, but I don't mind - it's just an image and you've got to have one image or another. But I am glad that this album doesn't adhere to that, and maybe gets me away from it. I mean, when I did the Russian album someone said to me "I didn't know you sang like that" and I thought "Where have you been for the last 20-odd years?"
            Tell me about the song 'Get Out Of My Way'.

            That was really an attempt at writing a straightforward rock and roll song. A lot of people will tell you that they're often the hardest songs to write, even though they sound very simple. To get them to sound authentic is difficult. So I just put the character in a car and he's basically talking to the blues - saying "get out of my way, don't tell me what to do, I know what's happening, I'm going to see my woman tonight". So it's a kind of rock and roll love song.
            Let's talk about 'The Lovers That Never Were', one of two songs on this album that you co-wrote with Elvis Costello.

            A few years ago Elvis and I got together to see if we could write a few songs. First of all, just to see if we could stand the sight of each other, or if we annoyed each other too much, I fixed one of his songs up, then he fixed up one of mine. That led us to find that it was quite easy and we enjoyed it, so one day we decided to write one from scratch. The question then was, where do we start? We had the whole musical universe to choose from - a rock and roll song, a love song, what would it be? - so I said, "Well, let's start with Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Let's think of them", so we started off and 'The Lovers That Never Were' came out. It was our first song together.
            We did a nice but very, very rough demo of it, just Elvis and me, but when we tried to record it properly it didn't really work out. So I ignored it for Flowers In The Dirt and decided to try it again for this album. And we thought of bringing in a 4/4 bass drum over a 3/4 song ~ this is for the musicians among you - which just makes it swing. It's an old rhythm trick but it made it come alive, and we then had a version that we liked.
            What's the story behind the album cover?

            Once we had the title Off The Ground I kept getting this image in my head of a very plain cover, perhaps a landscape or something. But I wanted the band to be in it too, because it is a band album rather than a Paul McCartney solo album, so instead of having us all just standing there I had this idea of everyone vanishing off the top of the CD cover, so that you just see the feet. Then I thought that if we all took our shoes off and were photographed with bare feet it would show that Blair is black - there'd be five pairs of white feet and one pair of black, which I thought would be one in the eye for anyone who is racist. Clive Arrowsmith took the photograph - we all got up on a little scaffold and the feet dangled down. Later, when we looked at the photos, we couldn't even see which one Blair was, which is a nicer pay off...it shows what rubbish racism is.
            Please give me a thumbnail sketch about the band members, beginning with Linda.

            Linda's in the band as a friend, really, not for some high degree of musical prowess, but that's alright because you can sometimes get too slick and too professional, and a lot of the music I like, particularly early rock and roll, is very unprofessional really, simple stuff simply recorded. Linda plays the keyboards and does harmonies - her voice blends very well with mine and also Hamish's. Even when I worked with Michael Jackson he would request that Linda did the harmonies. People make fun of her and she gets easily picked on because the others are real professionals but I like the quality and the special little ingredient she brings.

            Robbie is a really good guitar player who I've noticed for a long time and who I think really comes to the fore on this album. He's very good, very enthusiastic, very funny - I mean, he knows the complete works of Tony Hancock or any British television series, particularly the obscure ones. And what's very handy is that he knows all the Beatles songs because he was at just the right age to learn them all in the Sixties. So sometimes I'll ask "What's the chord...?" and he'll say "I always thought it was A minor" and I'll reply "Yes, that's right!".

            Hamish is a really good soul singer. I think our voices blend amazingly well together when we sing harmonies. He's also a really good guitar player, so if I'm ever looking for some rhythm guitar parts he's the obvious person to give them to. He used to play a lot of the rhythm riffs in the Average White Band. And again, he's really keen, he's always up for whatever you're doing. He's good to work with and he's a good friend.

            Wix is technically very good and also a really nice bloke. All of the people in the band are really nice, actually, which is something I tend not to mention but is certainly a key factor. We all get on very well. Wix is like our MD [musical director], so if we have to rehearse he'll take us through it. He's like the boss "when it comes to rehearsals because I'm a bit lax - any excuse to have a cup of tea, I will, so he's our slavedriver. He's also a great pianist and comes up with some very original ideas. On 'Hope Of Deliverance' he's playing guitar too.

            Blair is a really smashing drummer. He comes from a long line of drummers, all his brothers are drummers and all his nephews are going to become drummers! We met his mum, actually, in LA, and she's really nice too. Blair doesn't try to get too complicated with big solos, and his feel is great. He also has a great personality, he's always smiling and willing to work, and that means a lot.
            And then there's Paul. How do you see his role?

            Well, he's not much good. I think he lets the band down and we'd be a lot better off without him.
            After so many years of touring what is it that makes you want to go back on the road again?

            I think it's the audience, because when you write a song you do it on your own. Similarly, with recording, you just do it with a few friends and there's no big reaction. But when you get out in front of an audience and they like something it's very obvious because they'll cheer or clap or smile or weep, and that's the pay off. You get the feedback. They say that showbiz people like applause but I think that everyone does. It's like your boss saying "That's great, that's fantastic". It's an affirmation that what you're doing is OK.