I don't see how it isolates me. I feel once we've got
over the fact that I've come out of the television screen
and shook their hand, once we've got over that
little shock, then how it operates is just normal.
THE BEATLES BROKE UP MORE THAN A QUARTER-CENTURY AGO, YET PAUL remains as famous as ever. He has learned to deal with it; in fact, he knows nothing else. It doesn't disturb him unduly, though he has made greater efforts to achieve a certain normality than the other ex-Beatles. Certainly the advantages of fame far outweigh any inconven-iences that fame has brought.
PAUL: 'What happens is, you're trying to do your job well and fame comes as an ancillary thing to it; then it becomes a bit of a whirlwind that can take it over. You say you're trying to 'make it', but at that time you just mean 'do well', to get this music thing to feel good so you enjoy it and other people enjoy it, so you'll get asked back. That's really as far as it goes at first; it's just the satisfaction of building a chair that will stand up to a bit of kitchen wear. It's the straightforward craft of it. But then, after a while, another game creeps in, which is coping with fame. You still think you're just trying to make a chair, and - particularly if you have a little talent in that direction - you assimilate that, but now there's other things that attach themselves to it. That's what can get very difficult about fame: all those little barnacles of fame can sometimes actually outweigh the whole idea of being a craftsman.
Once, when he was out riding with his youngest daughter, she stopped and said, 'You're Paul McCartney, aren't you?' She’d heard about him at school as if this famous figure was a separate person. Paul, too, is aware of this other persona which is only part1y to do with him.
PAUL: I've always had this thing of him and me; he goes on stage, he's famous, and then me; I'm just some kid from Liverpool. At fifty-four this little being inside me still feels like this little kid who used to run down the streets in Speke, doing Bob-a-Job, collecting jam jars, damming up streams in the woods. I still very much am him grown up. I feel like the person I've been since I can remember, since I was five or six, I feel like that same guy: well of course, I am. All the stuff that's happened hasn't really affected him that much, it's affected the legendary figure I might be portraying.
Occasionally I stop and think, I am Paul McCartney, fuckin’ hell, that is a total freak-out! You know, Paul McCartney! Just the words, it sounds like a total kind of legend. But of course, you don't want to go thinking that too much because it takes over. There's a temptation to believe it all and be it and live it or there's this other temptation to use it rather than be it. When I go on tour, I'm glad of the legendary thing; I wouldn't want to try and entertain 60,000 people in a Texas stadium with just the guy next door. I'm glad they know me. When you're playing that you certainly want every little bit of help you can get. I have to be the big famous Paul McCartney character. It's not always possible to just compartmentalise it as easily as that - me as a person, and me as a Beatle - but I have had a certain ability in my life to do that. I think it helps keep you sane, actually, if your famous side is a little bit removed from you yourself; you can withdraw from it, you can go home after a Beatles session and switch off. I don't think we had any huge problems like some of the stars who couldn't switch identities off.
If I've got a couple of weeks off, a holiday, then I'll try and get away from everyone and get my own self back. I'm able to do that. I think that was the origin of all my little secretive trips with the false moustache and stuff; it allowed me to escape the persona that I had trapped myself in for money and fame and fortune. It was an idea that got carried through into Pepper too: the idea of the band being our own alter ego was the same thing: ‘Let’s liberate ourselves because we're getting too tied in.' And when the Beatles finally broke up, my feeling was for us to go back to little clubs again because I thought we'd got it too tight, we’d got it too precious. We'd forgotten what we were and I felt it was a good idea to bring us back to normal. From then, we could reinvent the band.
Periodically John would say, ‘I want to give it all up; that's what we should all do.' I always would think, no. What if in six months' time we want to pick it up again? It's like Elton's farewell tours, it just looks a bit silly after a while. I always think, if you're really giving it up, then you're really giving it up. I don’t like any half-assed giving-it-ups. I don't mean this in any 'Nyaaah, told you so' sense, but both John and George independently said to me at one time or another that they wanted to give it up. I said, 'Hey, the hardest thing for us guys to do would be to give up fame. To wake up the next morning and not be a star any more can't happen. What do you mean, you're nor going to be a star? You're going to be the retired star. And if that's what you want, then that's a different matter but don't get this idea that everyone's going to go away. Greta Garbo got more attention than ever with "I want to be alone". They were still trying to take topless pictures of her when she was seventy.'
After the group disbanded they all four launched solo careers. George, after tremendous initial success, gradually retired from the scene, as did Ringo who concentrated first upon a film career, then took life easy, content to be a jet-set celebrity. John, living in the USA, had an uneven solo career before leaving the music business to become a house-husband; he had just released a comeback album, Double Fantasy, when he was murdered. Paul, however, remained in the public eye. He fulfilled his ambition to go back on the road by forming Wings and playing surprise gigs at university dances. Before long Wings grew into a fully-fledged rock band of the seventies variety, undertaking enormous stadium tours of the United States, selling millions of records and ensuring that a new generation of fans grew up who would know Paul more as a former member of Wings than of the Beatles.
Throughout the seventies and eighties, Paul released dozens of albums, first of all with Wings, then as solo projects. After John’s death he stopped touring, and spent thirteen years off the road, though the hit records kept coming. In the nineties he did two more world tours, once again breaking attendance records, and this time playing many of the songs he wrote for the Beatles. Interest in the Beatles still remained high, and with the release of the three Anthology double-CDs of out-takes and unreleased songs, the group once again shot to number one on the charts, twenty-five years after disbanding. A television documentary series was screened all over the world and released as a boxed set of eight videos. It was if the Beatles had npm" been away: the magazines and newspapers were filled with intervierot with the surviving members and the instantly recognisable faces of their youth flickered across television screen once more. They had become a British institution.
Throughout the seventies Paul's life was taken up with Wings, with the legal wrangling which followed the breakup of the Beatles, and with his growing family. Their third child, the second child of both Paul and Linda, was Stella, born on 3rd September 1971, in Kings College Hospital, London. As Paul waited outside the operating theatre where Stella was delivered by Caesarean section, he thought of the name for his new group. Paul: 'I sat next door in my green apron praying like mad. The name Wings just came into my mind.' Their first son, James, was born on 12 September 1977, at the Avenue Clinic in St John's Wood, London. Bringing up a family, combined with touring, inevitably meant that he lost touch with many of his old friends. Several others died. The rock 'n1 roll business has a high mortality rate. Paul had already lost his mate Brian Jones, who drowned when persons unknown held him underwater in his swimming pool during a party on the night of 1 July 1969. And Hendrix, regarded by Paul as rock's greatest guitarist, died in his sleep on 18 September 1970, after inhaling his own vomit.
The first member of the Beatles’ inner circle to die - after Brian Epstein - was their roadie and bodyguard Mal Evans, who was shot to death by police in his rented duplex at 8122 West 4th Street in Los Angeles on the night of 4 January 1976. His life had been defined by his relationship with the Beatles and when the band broke up, Mal not only had nothing to do but seemed to lose his identity. He separated from his wife Lil, who reportedly had asked for a divorce shortly before Christmas.
Mal moved to Los Angeles, where he lived with his new girlfriend Fran Hughes and worked on the manuscript of his memoirs, Living the Beatles Legend, which he was supposed to deliver to his publishers, Grosset and Dunlap, on 12 January. The evening of the 4th Mal had been so despondent that Fran Hughes called John Hoernie, Mal’s collaborator on the book, and asked him to come over. Hoernie said he found Mal crying, 'really doped up and groggy'. Mal told him, ‘Please make sure you and Joanne [Lenard, Hoernie's assistant on the book] finish the book.' Mal and John Hoernie went to an upstairs bedroom and in the course of Mal's incoherent conversation, he picked up an unloaded 30.30 rifle. A scuffle ensued, but Mal was a big, powerful man and Hoernie was unable to take the weapon away from him.
Fran telephoned the police and told them, 'My old man has a gun and has taken Valium and is totally screwed up.' Four cops arrived shortly afterwards and two of them, David D. Krempa and Robert E. Brannon, went to the upstairs room. According to the police report, when Mal saw the police officers he turned and pointed the rifle at them. Lieutenant Charles Higbie of the LAPD robbery and homicide division said, 'Officers directed him to put down the rifle. He refused to put down the rifle.' The cops fired six shots at him, four of which struck Mal, killing him instantly. Mal was an honorary sheriff of Los Angeles County.
PAUL: 'Mal was a big lovable bear of a roadie; he'd go over the top occasionally, but we all knew him and never had any problems. Had I been there I would have been able to say, "Mal, don't be silly." In fact, any of his friends could have talked him out of it without any sweat, because he was not a nutter.'
Mal was cremated in Los Angeles on 7 January, with Harry Nilsson and other friends in attendance. His ashes got lost in the post on the way back to England and were eventually recovered from the Lost Letter Office.
Shortly afterwards, Paul's father, Jim, died of bronchial pneumonia at his home in Gayton in the Wirral on 18 March 1976, at the age of seventy-three. He had been ill for several weeks.
Some old friendships were renewed. Paul and Robert Fraser met again in 1978 and began seeing each other again. Linda got on particularly well with Robert as they both shared an interest in fine-art photography. There was a period when Robert stopped drinking, which made him more likeable and easier to be around, but then, on a trip to New York, a boyfriend got him started again.
PAUL: He was very clean, very sober, but I think he started to think, maybe I'm clean, maybe I'm sober, but I'm boring now. We would still buy the odd Magritte through him and he was very good to run things by, he always had a good opinion. Our kids didn't like him. He would come down to our house and he'd say, 'Put a log on the fire, will you?' and our kids would gesture behind his back as if to say, 'Who does he think we are?' But Robert just expected kids to do that. My kids don't do that, they're modem children - 'Get it yourself, mush.' They didn't like him.
The last time I saw him was outside Cecconi's, a posh Italian restaurant opposite the Burlington Arcade which has very good food. It's a bit of a watering hole. We'd had lunch with Robert and we were leaving. We were standing outside and he looked like he had little things on his skin, not pimples but dark marks on his face. I remember Linda touching and saying, 'What's that?' 'Oh! Thank God someone's finally mentioned it, it's uh, Kaposi's sarcoma…' I remember Linda kissing him, and this was the very early days of the AIDS epidemic and you didn't know whether you ought to. But Linda kissed him and we said, 'Okay, see you around.' He walked from Cecconi's down Burlington Gardens to Cork Street, and we just went, 'Bye!' I knew he wouldn't turn round to wave, and I got a feeling that might be the last time I'd see him. A strange, eerie feeling. So the last thing I remember is just his dark suit, rear view, turning the corner, right, into Cork Street.
Paul and Linda's friend, the painter Brian Clarke, remembered the incident:
Robert was really relieved, because Linda's very open and it meant a lot to him that Linda felt close enough to him to say, ‘What is this?' He said it so many times to me afterwards. Robert knew they loved him, and that was what was important, that his friends loved him. It supported and encouraged him at the end. Paul was incredibly kind to Robert. He bailed Robert out on many occasions and when he was ill, they provided Robert with a car and a driver to get him around, wherever he needed to go. They were very very supportive of him indeed.
Robert first got sick in 1985 in New York and on returning to London he gave up his flat and moved in with his mother Cynthia.
PAUL: There was a question of whether he wanted us to visit him. He was slaying with his mother at that time, and I don't know whether she acknowledged the fact that he had AIDS or whether it would be appropriate, but we'd get reports from our friend Brian Clarke. I remember sending him a photograph of a piece of pottery I'd done which was like a flat Duke of Edinburgh: Giacometti visits the Duke of Edinburgh. Linda had taken a photograph of it so we sent him some photos. And for the first time in my life I said, 'Cheers, Bob’. I'd never called him Bob. He wrote back: 'Bob? Bob? Who are you talking to?' Actually there was a joke going around then that he was going to open a gallery called Bob's Art Shop, so that's where it came from.
He eventually died at his mum's place. The lovely thing was that he eventually went home to mummy; which for a public-school boy was nice because he'd been separated from mummy aged six to go to prep school, then he went on to Eton. I thought that was good for him and Brian said, "He's quite enjoying it, actually. He's enjoying being spoiled.' His mum was pampering him. And so he went from the cradle to the grave, as it were. And then suddenly he was just gone.
Robert died of AIDS-related pneumonia and meningitis in January 1986.
Among the many people Paul got to know through Linda and her family was the painter Willem de Kooning, who was a client of Linda's father and lived at the Springs, East Hampton, near the Eastman estate on Long Island. Paul first met him towards the end of the seventies. Paul: 'Lee would say, "Do you want to come along and see Bill?" And Lee and Bill would sit in these two big ceremonial throne chairs, the two elders. He used to come to dinner and we used to go round to see him whenever we were on holiday there.'
De Kooning's wife, the painter Elaine de Kooning, told Art News:
Paul and Bill are very chummy. Paul and Linda always come to visit us when they're in East Hampton. We talk about a wide range of things, everything really. Paul and Bill don't talk about art or music. You wouldn't think Paul was a musician or Bill was a painter, but they like each other's work. They understand what the other does in terms of their own work. Paul reacts to Bill's painting in a visceral way ... The relationship is not paternal. It is a meeting of artists across one discipline to another.
PAUL: I saw him draw Linda and her brother and her two sisters, for a present to give to their dad on his sixtieth birthday. We went round to his studio and they knew him well enough to say, 'Would you do quick drawings of us to give to Lee?' and he did. He uses the edge of the charcoal to get an even rougher line. I was very impressed. You could say I’m just star-struck or something but he has influenced me. Seeing someone like him draw, seeing someone like him paint, being there in his studio, seeing his attitude, has given me quite a buzz. After a visit with him I would often be so fired up I'd go along to the Golden Eagle paint shop where he buys his stuff and buy a big canvas. I'd go with paints from the shop that Bill used, canvases that Bill used, and then I'd go back and stick a canvas up on the porch. I'm in the same area, in the same environment in the woods, twenty minutes away from where he is, so there's some motivation.
Paul did his first oil painting when he and Linda rented a house in Long Island for the summer. It had pure white walls, just begging for paintings.
PAUL: The previous people had taken all their paintings with them, so there were these painting hooks all around the walls. I thought, A big red painting would look really good there; and of course, you can't just stop there with red, you think, Why not add a bit of orange? I thought, I can afford a few canvases, why not? They were oil on canvas, then I found that they were all still wet after two weeks and had to have a special box made to carry them; so I switched to acrylics. They were abstract. You have to paint abstract after you've been seeing Bill de Kooning. You wonder why you bother when you see his work.
Once he gave us a picture. Because we were friends they gave us the choice of the whole studio. We could have had anything but it seemed the right thing to do was to take something a little more modest. It was a pull. He used the New York Times to pull excess paint off a painting, and he'd lay it on the floor and sometimes he'd like that as much as the picture, so this was one of them. He liked this one so he put it on a board and put it in a little wooden frame which he made himself. So I said, "That'd be great.' It obviously wasn't worth as much as the others but in friendship it was worth every bit as much. Anyway, I was talking to him and of course the question you ask the painter is 'What is it, Bill?' It was a big sort of purple thing in the middle in strong paint. He said, 'I dunno. It looks like a couch, huh?' Fuck me, any pretensions you had after that of 'What is the deep meaning behind all this shit?' Well, that was the painter himself saying, 'I dunno. Looks like a couch. Huh?' The 'huh?' was like I was just as free to offer an explanation as he was. I said, 'It looks a bit like a purple mountain to me.' He said, 'Hmmm.'
To those who knew him, it came as no surprise when Paul began to paint seriously. Like John, he had always been interested in painting and drawing; as a child he always drew his own Christmas and birthday cards and his school exercise books were filled with sketches. While living on the Speke housing estate he did a drawing of the newly built St Aiden's church which won him the art prize at school. In the sixties he designed wrapping paper and flyers for Indica Books and Gallery and drew the sleeve for a fan-club flexi-disc. Two of the Beatles' album sleeves, Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road, were based upon his designs. One of the main things holding him back was John Lennon.
PAUL: I felt in John's shadow because I hadn't been to art college. This was one of my biggest blocks, I felt that only people who'd gone to art college were allowed to paint. Then I suddenly thought, this is absolute madness, I'm sure a lot of the great painters didn't go to art college. And, hell, even if they did, fuck 'em all, I want to paint! I'm desperate to paint! Then I thought the only person not allowing you a canvas is you. That took me until the age of forty.
When Paul's pictures are finally shown they will inevitably be compared with the more familiar work of John Lennon; John was, after all, the Beatle who did go to art school, though in the fifties an schools were open to anyone with an interesting portfolio of work who came with a good recommendation from their headmaster. John was not an obvious candidate; he had failed his art 0 level and could not draw a likeness, but his cartoons and doodles were witty and had a certain charm. With the support of his Quarry Bank art teacher and his headmaster, Mr Pobjoy, he was enrolled as a student but did not qualify for a grant. John's studies did not last long. His work was not up to the minimum requirement and at the end of his first year he was told that he would not be admitted to the painting department. John was not a 'fine' artist. His drawings were more in the cartoon tradition of Hoffnung, Steinberg and James Thurber. There was a Thurber cartoon that both John and Paul enjoyed which showed a lawyer holding up a kangaroo in court with the caption: 'Perhaps this will refresh your memory!' They found it hilarious. John produced his best work many years later under the tutelage of Yoko: the Bag One series of lithographs and a 1977 series of line drawings illustrating a Japanese phrasebook. Yoko was able to bring out a visual sensibility in John that was lacking in the doodles and cartoons of earlier days. The new drawings were still infused with humour, but they had a sensitivity and a compositional awareness that his art-school tutors would have been delighted to witness.
PAUL: We used to have drawing competitions in the group where we'd sit down and say, 'Let's draw Mal,' and mine was often the likeness. I used to catch it. John's were often like crazy, because he couldn't actually draw like that. He did character drawing, he drew his little men, people with bulbous noses with hair coming out of them, bizarre character stuff, but he wasn't actually that good at representing something figuratively. I remember being quite surprised because I thought, Well, he goes to art college, what is it? Doesn't he want to do that or can't he do that? I never actually got the answer. I've never seen any really figurative stuff of John's. It's all little men, little drawings, it's jukes. I know he had a great eye.
Paul approached art from a very different direction. His early work, such as the line drawings illustrating the 1981 Paul McCartney: Composer/Artist, shows traces of a cartoon style shared with John but his paintings are much more informed by the American Abstract Expressionists and the psychological landscapes of Magritte, de Chirico and Ernst. He began painting seriously around 1983 and his first canvases show an obvious liking for Matisse, Bonnard, Chagall and the Fauves, consisting for the most part of decorative and colourful portraits and landscapes. His work developed over die years and his nineties canvases show a mature and individual style.
The influences are not disguised but nor are they ill-digested. Objects suspended in space always suggest Magritte, vigorous red-brown gestures are obviously reminiscent of de Kooning, and one particularly successful white canvas, with evidence of previous work showing through from below, has been scratched and worked on with words and small shapes in a manner very like that of Cy Twombly. In 1994 Paul began work on a series of pictures based on Celtic images. Working in series suits his style, with shapes and images being developed and modified from one canvas to the next. The Celtic pictures all feature thick paint lines squeezed straight from the tube across the top, a signature mark for the series. This technique may have been borrowed unconsciously from John Bratby; Paul sat for a portrait by him in the mid-sixties which is now in the National Portrait Gallery.
Some images have acquired iconic significance in Paul's work; for instance, a triangular woman's face with yellow hair is always Linda. His work is always contained within the frame, and is often 'supported' by a shape or mark attaching it, like a tree trunk, to the bottom edge. Sometimes a swirling of paint suggests an actual frame and in a few cases, a frame of sorts has been included in the image. Even in the abstract works, the picture plane tends to divide into earth and sky, usually indicated by the colours blue and brown/red; and much of the image is foregrounded as if based upon features in a landscape with a bush, tree or figure in front.
Paul's paint quality is very varied, from washes thinned with turps so that the pigment separates and forms rivulets, to scrubbed backgrounds, thickly applied strokes in the best Abstract Expressionist tradition, and impasto.
PAUL: I've always been inspired by de Kooning's brushstrokes he uses a big brush and he goes whooop! And I fall in love with his strokes because if you try to paint very accurately like Estes or Magritte, for instance, it's not the same, they don't come out the same, they lose that wild spontaneity that is very attractive. My problem was if I got a canvas and went whooomp! I didn't feel it was finished because it didn't have a background. So I came to the obvious conclusion: get a few canvases, paint one pink, one blue, one white and just leave 'em to dry, then it I want to go whooop, sword-fencing at it with my brush, I'll have a very spontaneous thing on a very proper background. So I found myself making these backgrounds. Talking to Chrissie Wilson, Peter Blake's wife, she said, 'That's great, that's called "killing the canvas".'
Paul draws on the canvas by scratching lines through the paint to reveal the white prime ground. He sometimes draws in charcoal, fixing it with turpentine to prevent too much dragging up and muddying his colours. The surface is often luscious with pure colour like the luminous candy-colour backgrounds of Andy Warhol's late portraits. Paul clearly loves the physical application of paint and his work from this point of view is pure tachism, suggesting Georges Mathieu, Pierre Soulages, Hans Hofmann. His pictures often have a depth of space that suggests the big sky and wide horizons of an Arizona landscape. A row of yellow dots suggests a town in the far distance at dusk. He has taken a number of emblems from this desert landscape, like the prickly pear, and made them his own; a simplified image of the pear appears in a number of canvases. After more than a decade of steady work, he is now ready to exhibit, though he has been understandably reticent in allowing the public to see his work.
PAUL: Outside of family and one or two mates I haven't had any feedback and I started to think, it's been ten years! If I'd been a painter for that long, I'd be expecting to exhibit, to sell, to do everything by now. I know inevitably, though, with the way my celebrity works, that the tabloids will pick up on the ones with tits in 'em: 'We got a psychiatrist to took at this little lot, and they said, "It's obvious what we have here is a very disturbed ...'’' I don't worn' about it at all, it's just a question of looking for something that feels comfortable. I could hire a gallery and have an exhibition, but I wouldn't want to do that because that's not what I'm into. I've always avoided exhibiting, because I'm trying to avoid the Tony Curtis actor-turned-painter syndrome. I was thinking something quieter, a little German gallery might be nice.
Aside from the tabloids, rock critics also rarely know anything about art and usually trivialise any art produced by musicians. Art critics, on the other hand, are a notoriously faddish bunch. They like their artists to come from the latest 'in' art school or country. A rock star producing paintings is an uncomfortable thing to deal with because they often come from an art-college background but didn't stay with it. It is easy to dismiss the bright, happy watercolours of Henry Miller, the whimsical fantasies of Kenneth Patchen or the hideous nudes of D. H. Lawrence, but the thoroughly competent work of Joni Mitchell, the abstract canvases of Captain Beefheart (who, as Don Van Vliet, has exhibited in Cork Street with the rest of the art establishment) and the multimedia concept art of Laurie Anderson, David Bowie, David Byrne or Brian Eno are much harder to get a handle on.
Paul did not stop with painting. In the nineties he began to branch out into numerous other an forms, confirming his reputation as a workaholic: he composed an oratorio for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society, which he followed with a ten-minute classical piano piece premiered at St James's Palace. EMI commissioned him to write an orchestral piece to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the company and he composed the score for an animated film, Daumier's Law, which he and Linda also produced. He wrote and published poems and made Grateful Dead: A Photofilm, an animated film based upon Linda's pictures of the Grateful Dead. He also spent six years getting the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts off the ground, a major project which occupied much of his time. In addition he squeezed in two world tours and a number of albums.
On Friday, 28 June 1991, Paul McCartney's Liverpool Oratorio was premiered by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra at Liver-pool's Anglican cathedral where, at the age of eleven, Paul once failed an audition to sing in the choir. It was written as a repertory piece to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society and was the culmination of a three-year collaboration with the American composer Carl Davis, who had made three previous albums with the RLPO.
The Liverpool Oratorio is in eight movements and lasts about 100 minutes. Paul chose his own life story as the loose basis for the libretto, and so it is more autobiographical than his usual work. In order to locate the scenario in Liverpool he has not universalised the experiences and we have descriptions of actual events from his childhood: 'Cross the road, and over the cemetery fence,/ Down the hill to where the gravestones/ Lie inviting in the sun.' Paul and John Lennon used to slip away from the Institute and go to the graveyard beside the Anglican cathedral situated in the quarry where the cathedral masonry was dug and shaped. They would spend the afternoon smoking cigarettes, talking and sunbathing beside the great cathedral, where thirty years later the Oratorio was premiered.
The four solo artists for the premiere were all big names, beginning with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, who has sung in every major opera house in the world. Her vast repertory includes the heroines of Mozart, Verdi and Puccini as well as classic musicals such as West Side Story and South Pacific.
Rehearsing and staging the Oratorio was as complex as putting on a major rock concert. As well as the four soloists there were 90 members of the RLPO and 160 singers in the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir, supplemented by 40 schoolboy choristers of Liverpool Cathedral, and 200 performers. In addition, the event was being recorded for a live CD release and filmed by a BBC television crew. 2,300 tickets were available for each of the two performances and were snapped up as soon as they went on sale.
The performance received an astonishing five-minute standing ovation: Liverpool businessmen in their best suits climbed on the wobbly folding chairs and bellowed their approval. Their wives kicked off their high heels to join them and the rattle of their gold jewellery added to the applause. McCartney fans cheered and hooted and local politicians and businessmen shouted out their congratula-tions to the local boy made good. Paul grabbed Carl Davis's hand and held it aloft in triumph. Neil Kinnock, then leader of the Opposition declared it was 'Bloody fantastic, bloody brilliant, bloody great music…’
The New York Times gave it a very positive review; other critics were not quite so enthusiastic but only one or two put it down. Paul actually wrote to the Guardian, whose critic complained that it never approached anything like a fast tempo.
PAUL: Because it does. There are quite a few metronome marks that are as fast as any piece is fast. Then he said, hasn't anyone told him that this kind of a piece needs recurrent themes to bind it together? But there are so many fucking recurrent themes I’m embarrassed. Really there are too many in my view. So I wrote a letter pointing out there were "a plethora of recurrent themes". I said I don't mind if he doesn't like it, but when he says there are no recurrent themes, this is misleading the readership and that's not what you're trying to do, is it? They published the letter with a cartoon of a couple of eighteenth-century guys and a caption saying, 'Mr. Handel's new work has a plethora of recurrent themes.' So it was a bit of a joke. But I don't normally respond. I had some great letters about it: 'It makes me laugh, it makes me cry, just like Liverpool.' That was a good one. Neil Kinnock wrote me a great letter talking about their 'sniffy snobbery'. He said, 'Perhaps they'd be happier if the words were translated into Italian."
Of course you know you're going to get criticised but it's interesting, it's good fun. It's great working with artists like that and you can see how you could do a lot more. I think they got pretty much good value for money for what they wanted, which, was a celebration piece.
EMI released the performance as a double CD and, not surprisingly, it entered the UK classical charts at number one. The recording uses mostly material from the second night's performance, which was the better of the two and four minutes faster, with almost all of the time being gained in the first few movements. Paul: 'It suddenly settled in like it wasn't a rehearsal piece any more.' One of the critics claimed that the piece was so much about Liverpool that 'it will never travel'. At the time of its 100th performance, at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall on 21 September 1996, it had been performed in twenty countries, from Finland to Venezuela, Japan to South Africa and in more than a dozen states in the USA.
In 1980, a Londoner called Mark Featherstone-Witty saw Alan Parker's film Fame at the Odeon Leicester Square and emerged from the cinema wondering why Britain didn't have a performing arts academy along the lines of the Fame school. Mark: 'At first I thought that somebody else must be setting something up in this country, but no one was, so I wrote letters to over two hundred people in the industry looking for support.' Alan Parker himself became the first patron and he quickly assembled a formidable list, from Joan Armatrading to Vangelis, Richard Branson and George Martin. In 1985, Mark was able to found the Performing Arts Trust.
The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts was founded in 1989, the result or a change in Liverpool City Council's policy on arts and culture to provide an initiative to capitalise on Liverpool's reputation as a centre for talent. In August 1988, Paul made a short film at his old school; the Liverpool Institute, which had closed three years before, and was depressed to see the magnificent old building falling into dereliction. He thought the Institute would be a perfect location for a school of performing arts. He had told the Performing Arts Trust that if they ever wanted to do anything in Liverpool they should contact him, and so Paul and Mark Featherstone-Witty began making plans. A feasibility study was launched, which included asking the people of Liverpool if they wanted such a school by running a poll in the Liverpool Echo.
1745 Liverpudlians voted in favour and only 48 called in against. ‘Now the hard work begins,' wrote Paul. A business plan was published and a campaign to raise £12,400,000 was launched, headed by Paul as 'lead patron', whose job it was not only to contribute money, but show politicians such as Michael Portillo MP round the building.
By the winter of 1992, more than £9,000,000 of the target figure had been raised. Paul and Mark hosted lunches for the Performing Rights Society, for EC officials in Brussels and representatives of trusts and foundations. The government City Challenge programme gave £4,000,000, matched by a similar figure from the EC. Paul wrote to the Queen and received a cheque drawn on the privy purse, headed Buckingham Palace. It was explained that protocol required that the sum itself could not be revealed, but the fact that the Queen had made a personal donation could be used in the fund-raising drive. Paul used his personal contacts to get backing from celebrities including Eddie Murphy, Ralph Lauren, David Hockney, Mark Knopfler, Carly Simon, Chevy Chase, Paul Simon and Jane Fonda. Many of Paul's fans donated seats in the auditorium (£50) and stair treads (£100) which would have their name inscribed upon them. Paul himself opened the fundraising by giving £1,000,000. A new roof was built and architect's plans for the centre were completed and submitted for planning permission.
The aim of the Institute is not to turn out pop singers - though some may appear - but to offer its 192 full time students degree courses in 'the realities of working in the entertainment industry'. As Paul pointed out, on his 1991 world tour there were six musicians on stage and it took 140 people to put them there. A career in the entertainment industry can involve anything from security to stage design, from driving equipment trucks across international borders to building an outdoor stage in a hurricane, from running a 4000-bulb lighting rig and 80-foot video monitor from a laptop computer to keeping the books.
There have been persistent criticisms from people in Liverpool that the Beatles never did anything for their home town (except put it on the map), but no rock 'n' roller has ever done anything as ambitious as this. Saving and restoring a significant 1825 city-centre building from inevitable vandalism and ruin would in itself have been an achievement but to start a new school there, the first in the country to offer degree courses in the profession that brought the Beatles their wealth and fame, has to be one of the most generous contributions ever seen in a business not known for its largesse.
It was a remarkable turn of the circle for Paul to be once more back at the Inny, which he first entered in 1953 as an awestruck, anxious eleven-year-old, this time standing on stage in the auditorium, now named after him, its most famous pupil, receiving a thunderous ovation from the assembled mayors and mayoresses of Merseyside and the grandees of the music business. He could barely hold back the tears. The building was officially opened by the Queen on 7 June 1996.
During his three years' work on the Liverpool Oratorio, Paul listened to many classical CDs, something that provoked him to write a prelude for solo piano. The piece was called 'A Leaf’, and had its premiere at An Evening with Paul McCartney and Friends, a fund-raising concert for the Royal College of Music which was hosted by the Prince of Wales, president of the RCM, in the Picture Gallery of the State Apartments of St James's Palace on 23 March 1995. At the front centre stood the Prince's chair, slightly larger than the others with arms and a plumped-up red cushion with tassels on. It was a black-tie affair and even Paul's road and recording crew had to wear full evening dress, the first time anyone had seen studio manager Eddie Klein in a suit.
'A Leaf’ had finished up a little too difficult for Paul to play with exactitude so he looked for someone else to perform it. The twenty-two-year-old Russian pianist Anya Alexeyev had won the gold medal at the Royal College of Music and was an obvious choice; when she showed up at MPL to audition 'A Leaf’ for Paul she played it faultlessly from memory. At St James's Palace Paul introduced Anya by saying, 'For me, this sums up what this evening's all about, giving young musicians like this an opportunity.' Anya's performance of 'A Leaf’ was perfect and EMI later released it as a live recording on their Classics label.
At the end of the evening, the Prince took to the stage and after the customary thanks, sprang a surprise on Paul by awarding him an honorary fellowship of the Royal College of Music, the highest award of Britain's premier music establishment. Prince Charles said the award was 'in recognition of the remarkable talents of Paul McCart-ney and for all that he has done for music this century'. Linda and everyone from MPL knew in advance, of course, as the Royal College had to be sure that Paul would accept. He is the first rock 'n' roller to receive the award.
Paul McCartney, MBE - holder of five Ivor Novello awards, listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the most successful popular-music composer and recording artist ever, with sales of more than 100 million singles and sixty gold discs. Freeman of the City of Liverpool, holder of an honorary Doctorate of Music from the University of Sussex, holder of the Guinness World Record for the largest stadium audience in history when 184,000 Brazilians paid to see him perform at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro in April 1990, as well as the world record for the fastest ticket sale in history when 20,000 tickets for two shows in Sydney sold out in eight minutes in 1993. Paul was the first rock musician to receive Chile's Order of Merit for 'services to music, peace and human understanding' and in 1992 he was the first recipient of the Swedish Polar Music Award ('the Nobel prize for music'). In 1993, 'Yesterday'' was confirmed as the world's most popular song, with a world record of 6,000,000 airplays in the USA alone and by being recorded by more than 2,200 other artists. And as further proof that Paul has fully entered British musical and cultural history, in 1996 the National Trust bought his boyhood home on the council estate in Forthlin Road to preserve it for the nation in perpetuity. However, the greatest honour was yet to come.
With the award of their MBEs in 1965, the Beatles were invited on a career path leading to further honours, awards and acceptance into the British establishment. This trajectory was stalled, in the case of John, Paul and George, by their remarks concerning drugs, and subsequent police actions.
The Honours system is a quintessentially British method of rewarding people for outstanding service to the country or to public life, and after a suitable number of years had passed since Paul's last drug bust, he was back on track again. His contribution to the British economy was not to be doubted; he has sold more records than any other artist, ever. Paul's insistence that his donations to charity remained anonymous went against him as someone in his position is expected to give rather conspicuously. This changed with the foundation of L.I.P.A. where the public could see his donation of over a million pounds. Moreover, he had become, more than any of the other ex-Beatles, an established and well loved figure in British public life.
In some ways Paul's fellowship of the Royal College of Music can be seen as a dry run to make sure that Paul was really suitable material for a knighthood. He carried the day well, and put on a fine charity show at St James's Palace. The way was clear for him to become Sir Paul. It came as little surprise, to the press at least, that Paul's name was down for a knight bachelor on the New Year Honours List released on December 31st, 1996. George Martin had received the same honour the previous year - but he had never been arrested for drugs. It was an award long overdue. Paul made sure that he was out of the country when the announcement was made, knowing that it would be front-page news. It was the lead story on the BBC radio and television news as well as the main headline in virtually all the daily newspapers, some of which ran special souvenir supplements. 'No one deserves it more,' editorialised The Sun, and a BBC radio news commentator said, 'This must be the most popular knighthood of all time: no other person has brought such pleasure for so long to so many millions of people.'
There were people who thought he was selling out by accepting it, but Paul's explanation was simple: 'It's like a school prize. You don't go after it but if you do some good drawings then you can get the art prize and they give it to you because they think you're alright. And that's the way I take it really. It's just something nice that's offered and it'd be rude to turn it down, wouldn't it?'
It was a beautiful day on 11 March 1997, when Paul, accompanied by his three youngest children, arrived at Buckingham Palace. There are so many people on the Honours List that they are each restricted to only three guests. Paul and Linda decided that Mary, Stella and James should be the ones and Linda and Heather would stay home. Once inside Buckingham Palace, Paul and his family were separated and he followed the arrow marked 'Recipients'. He was told to show his letter to the aide in the reception room. He reached in his pocket and found that he had forgotten to bring it but the woman didn't need it, she knew who he was. Paul and the other twenty-nine knights, many in full military uniform, were taken to a side room and given cushions on which to practise kneeling. 'Right knee, if you please.' The cushions were comfortably padded and there was a little hand-rail to hold onto. All the while the band of the Grenadier Guards played light music, including selections from South Pacific: ‘I’m gonna wash that man right outta my hair.'
When it was his turn, Paul approached the Queen and went down on one knee. She placed a medal around his neck and tapped him lightly on the shoulder with a ceremonial sword. In the audience Stella burst into tears. Paul: 'It's the sword of Edward the Confessor. It starts to come home to you. In the end I was much more impressed than I thought I was going to be.' The Queen had a few words with the recipients afterwards. It had not been long since Paul last met the Queen, at the opening of L.I.P.A. and she asked how the school was doing.
Paul told the press: 'This is one of the best days of my life. To come from a terraced house in Liverpool to this house is quite a journey and I am immensely proud ... You never forget the fans who put you up there . . . This brings back memories of 1965; it seems strange being here without the other three. George and Ringo keep ringing me up, calling me Your Holiness.
'The nice thing about it, really, when me and Linda are sitting on holiday, watching the sunset. I turn to her and say, 'Hey, you're a Lady.' It’s nice because you get to make your girlfriend a Lady - although she always was anyway.'
Linda died on April l7th, 1998, in the early hours of the morning, with Paul and her four children beside her. In December 1995 a small lump on her breast was diagnosed as malignant. She had an operation to remove it and was able to return home for Christmas. She had chemotherapy and for the next two years Linda battled with metastatic breast cancer, but in March 1998 it was discovered that the disease had spread to her liver.
They flew to Arizona, away from the wet British winter to the open desert country she loved, and it was there that she died. The end came quickly and she did not suffer. Two days before her death she and Paul had been horse riding together, one of her greatest loves. Linda was cremated and her ashes scattered half in Arizona and half at the family farm in the south of England. Paul's publicist, Geoff Baker, misinformed the media that she had died in Santa Barbara, California, in order to give the family time to conduct a private funeral and return to Britain before the press was able to intrude on their privacy.
Four days after her death, on the 21st, while his children slept in fee rooms above, Paul sat down at the kitchen table which was for so many years the centre of the McCartney family home life, and wrote a poignant tribute to Linda to be distributed to the world press:
This is a total heartbreak for my family and I. Linda was, and still is, the love of my life, and the past two years we spent battling her disease have been a nightmare.
She never complained and always hoped to be able to conquer it. It was not to be.
Our beautiful children - Heather, Mary, Stella and James - have been an incredible strength during this time, and she lives on in all of them.
The courage she showed to fight for her causes of vegetarian-ism and animal welfare was unbelievable. How many women can you think of who would singlehandedly take on opponents like the meat and livestock commission, risk being laughed at, and yet succeed?
People who didn't know her well, because she was a very private person, only ever saw the tip of the iceberg. She was the kindest woman I have ever met; the most innocent.
All animals to her were like Disney characters and worthy of love and respect.
She was the toughest woman who didn't give a damn what other people thought. She found it hard to be impressed by the fact that she was Lady McCartney. When asked whether people called her Lady McCartney, she said, 'Somebody once did - I think.'
I am privileged to have been her lover for thirty years, and in all that time, except for one enforced absence, we never spent a single night apart. When people asked why, we would say - 'What for?'
As a photographer, there are few to rival her. Her photo-graphs show an intense honesty, a rare eye for beauty.
As a mother, she was the best. We always said that all we wanted for the kids was that they would grow up to have good hearts, and they have.
Our family is so close that her passing has left a huge hole in our lives. We will never get over it, but I think we will come to accept it.
The tribute she would have liked best would be for people to go vegetarian, which, with the vast variety of foods available these days, is much easier than many people think. She got into the food business for one reason only, to save animals from the cruel treatment our society and traditions force upon them.
Anyone less likely to be a businesswoman I can't think of, yet she worked tirelessly for the rights of animals, and became a food tycoon. When told a rival firm had copied one of her products, all she would say was, 'Great, now I can retire.' She wasn't in it for the money.
In the end, she went quickly with very little discomfort, and surrounded by her loved ones.
The kids and I were there when she crossed over. They each were able to tell her how much they loved her.
Finally, I said to her: 'You're up on your beautiful Appaloosa stallion. It's a fine spring day. We're riding through the woods. The bluebells are all out, and the sky is clear blue.’
I had barely got to the end of the sentence, when she closed her eyes, and gently slipped away.
She was unique and the world is a better place for having known her.
Her message of love will live on in our hearts forever.
I love you, Linda.
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