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2001-Apr-23: It All Began with a Toss of a Coin

Sir Paul fondly recalls the spontaneous early days of Wings in an interview with Patrick Humphries of the Sunday Express. It all started in front of their London home when the McCartneys flipped a coin to determine if the band would travel north or south for their first gig.  North won the call, so the band drove up to Ashby de la Zouch "but they didn't have a university, so we proceeded to Nottingham and they did have a university, so we played there - 50p on the door!" Sir Paul recalls.   Following the bitter breakup of the Beatles, he wasn't quite sure how to get stared again:

"I wanted to continue doing music but I didn't want to do a Blind Faith-type supergroup.  I don't know why - that would have been easy, and more profitable probably. I didn't know how you got a group together because I'd always joined a ready-made one, but it seemed to me the best way was to start something just for fun and see if anything serious developed. So I got together a bunch of mates, including my wife, that I thought I'd feel comfortable with.

"I wanted to tread the path that would remind us where it was all at rather than the cosseted, 'Why don't you start at the London Palladium with an orchestra, or with some famous people alongside you?'  It wasn't like going back to square one. At least at square one we'd gone home at night and had something to eat. It was very strange - we had dogs and children with us but it got a great camaraderie going within the band, so we had some laughs."

Sir Paul also recalls the harsh criticism Linda attracted:

"She would sometimes cry before the shows, which was nerve racking. But if you want to go back to square one you have to brave it. I use the word brave because there is fear involved but alongside that fear was also a lot of hysterical laughter.  There were some great moments, such as the night she forgot the opening chords to Wild Life. I went '1-2-3 1-2-3 ' and there was silence from the back of the stage. I looked back and she gave me a look of blind terror. The audience tittered a bit and I thought, 'Well, I remember them' so I went back and stood at the keyboard. Now it was beginning to look like a comedy act.
It was beginning to look good - the best bit of professional business we had. And then I couldn't remember them either!

"The tittering was growing, so I walked back to the microphone thinking we'd better do another song and suddenly she said, 'I've got it'. The audience cheered loudly and loved that song. Actually, I think audiences like that because it shows you're human."

Sir Paul is pleased that his new Wingspan CD will give him the opportunity to recognize Linda's important contributions to the band:

"Her original panic gave way to learning chords and she became very capable. People prefer to hold on to their first impression that she couldn't do it but she became very good at harmonies and keyboards.

"We started out knowing we wouldn't be very good, and that we'd have to make our mistakes in public. But she got much more confident as her abilities improved. She became the ballsiest member of the group. Very upfront, really relating to the audience. So many of the things people would say to put her down came full circle. They made fun of her fashions but she was a huge influence on Stella - Stella will tell you that. How's that for full circle?"

Linda also served as the inspiration for one of Wings' best-loved songs My Love:

"Whenever you sit down to write, you want to write the best song you've ever written. I don't think you ever want to write the second best or the worst. So I sat down wanting to write a great ballad for Linda and was very happy when that one popped out."

And then there's the Picasso story:

"We used to go to Jamaica a lot because we really loved reggae and the whole musical atmosphere. It just so happened that Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman were filming Papillon near where we were staying. We got spotted by someone on the film crew and became friends with Dustin and Steve, and Dustin asked us back to his house.

"His lawyer was rewriting the script, which struck me as a bit funny but apparently they do those kind of things in Hollywood.  We were having a drink and I was sitting around strumming my guitar when Dustin said, 'Can you write a song about anything? What about this?' and he pulled out the Newsweek report about Picasso's last night on Earth and the last words he'd said to his friends before going to bed: 'Drink to me, drink to my health, you know I can't drink any more'.

"So I just strummed a G-chord and started singing them. It was a great moment. He started yelling to everyone, 'Come and listen to this, he's making up a song about this. I just gave him the words and he's done it'. You know, if you're a songwriter and you can do that kind of thing, it's a bit of a party trick. I'm very glad he inspired me to write it - although Picasso gave me the lyrics. That's a nice lineage: Picasso via Dustin Hoffman via me."

Despite enjoying great success with both Wings and his solo career, the Beatles still remain Sir Paul's ultimate triumph:

"That's my problem, following on. In my case, a lot of it is following on from John, and, in Wings' case, following on from the Beatles, which we all knew was impossible to do. But I'm happy to be the person who followed on from John. I think it's a privileged position but it does mean some people dismiss the stuff I do.

"It is an unfortunate fact for people who don't like me that I wrote the majority of that album ('1'). It's not something I want to boast about but in my own mind I'm satisfied that I did OK - and that John did OK too, but not appreciably better than me. That's a difficult thing to say because he got murdered. And he's so well thought of - mostly by me - but I think when it comes to a sort of boxing match, you've got to put your dukes up.

"John had an upbringing that caused him to be fearful of the world, and his answer to that fear was to get a very hard shell. But John was great - a soft guy, in the nicest sense, a great lovable guy. People who really knew him, not people who just knew his hard-hitting image, knew that, and that was actually what you ended up loving about him.

"John would like to have time off - as would I - but if he heard me doing something he thought was good, he felt he had to wake up and go to work. That was the great thing about the Beatles. We woke each other up occasionally.

"I heard a great story, that one of John's mates was in New York and brought him Coming Up, and John said, 'Oh f***, I've got to go back to work!' Now, I love that. That rings very true and I think in many ways sets the record straight. He was a very insecure guy as well as being massively talented."

Then in 1977 there was the huge success of Mull Of Kintyre which became the biggest selling single ever released in the UK, replacing the previous record holder, the Beatles' She Loves You:

"Yeah, I had a hand in that one, too. I shook my head to that - and I wiggled my sporran to this one. But it wasn't my answer to punk. It wasn't planned. I just happened to be spending quite a bit of time in Scotland and it occurred to me that there hadn't been any new Scottish songs for a while, so maybe I should try and write one.

"I asked the local head of the pipers up to the farm and we sat in the garden because the pipes were too loud for the kitchen and I wrote Mull Of Kintyre like a little folk song. Then the pipers came up and we had a fantastic evening - with McEwan's beer. By the end of the night, they were all very red-faced and beaming. And they said that's a #1, that is. I thought, well, it does sound good but I don't know about #1. "

There were dark times as well, such has his arrest during the 1980 Japanese tour:

"I do surprise myself how silly I was. But after having been warned by everybody not to take dope into Japan, I took a very big bag and put it right on top of the suitcase.

"Maybe I'm mad, maybe I'm perverse, or maybe I'm amazed. But when I see that film it brings back how embarrassed this Japanese guy is opening my suitcase and right on top of it was this very big plastic bag of this herbal-looking substance. I still can't believe it.  I had plenty of time to reflect but not to be rehabilitated, unfortunately, during my nine days in jail. I was just left to reflect."

About recording his new album in Los Angeles he says, "I've just had a really cool couple of weeks." And what about Heather Mills?  Is she more of a Wings than Beatles fan?

"Yeah, definitely, she's more Wings. She didn't hear much Beatles stuff when she was growing up. She had a very strange childhood, involving all sorts of deprivation and stuff, so she didn't have much chance to hear the music then. But now, having heard quite a bit of it, she still likes the Wings stuff.

"It is a generational thing and I like that layering of generations. It's great for me to realize that I've spanned quite a few - and now, with the Beatles' 1, it's come full circle. People say to me, 'You know, my eight-year-old loves you...'."

(kindly submitted by PLUGGED correspondent Joan M. Hopkins)


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