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MINING THE FILM AND VIDEO ARCHIVE
A rare treasure from the McCartney film vault is exhumed by Mark Lewisohn
THE ICA REHEARSAL
Take a walk in Central London, just a few hundred yards from St James's Palace, scene of Paul's recent concert success described elsewhere in this Sandwich. Tread the better class of paving stone you will find on The Mall, that most well-heeled of London boulevards - boasting, as it does, Buckingham Palace at one end and Trafalgar Square at the other. And soon you will arrive at the glorious piece of Georgian architecture that houses the Institute of Contemporary Arts, or the ICA as it is more commonly known.
Step inside love, and step back 23 years from that Royal College of Music evening, and you have the setting for one of the juiciest of films, still unseen, that resides in the prodigious Paul McCartney movie archive.
Wings were just a few months old, and only a few days into becoming a fully-rounded quintet, when Paul led the band through a short period of rehearsals on the stage and behind the firmly-closed doors of the tiny theatre-cum-cinema inside the ICA. No one knew Wings were there - there were no fans outside the front door, and none of the passengers inside the taxis and chauffeur-driven cars heading towards Buckingham Palace knew either - but important ground-laying work was being done in this short period, cementing Wings as a unit, ready, with jack, to hit the road.
On one of these days Paul decided, at short notice, to have the rehearsal filmed, and remembered a sound recordist called Dick Spicer who had been up to the Mull of Kintyre recently to help film family man and guitarist Paul McCartney enjoying leisurely times down on the farm. Spicer had formed a business partnership with a cameraman, Phil Mottram, and together, calling themselves Tycho Films, they were invited by Paul to bring their equipment to the ICA for a day. In so doing, although they little realised it at the time, they shot the first performance film of Paul McCartney since the Beatles' Get Back/Let It Be sessions in January 1969, more than three years earlier. (Indeed, the feel of the ICA footage is reminiscent of that earlier production.)
"At first Paul wanted it filmed in 35mm," remembers Phil Mottram now, "but Dick and I persuaded him that we couldn't really lay that on at six hours' notice. We would have needed a larger crew and a major lighting rig. As it was, although I was nominally called the 'director', I was really the cameraman. And Dick, although nominally the 'producer', was really just the sound recordist. I also rigged up the lights. We had a basic three-man crew and what we shot was very much in the dnema-verite style. Basically, the end result was just rushes. I don't know if Paul had a long-term idea in the back of his mind for the film, but in this case he certainly didn't get around to doing anything with it."
Indeed he didn't. To view the ICA film today one has to wade through a mass of odds and ends of 16mm film, some of it synchronised to sound, some not. The film runs out in the most irritating - but unavoidable - of places, and the whole experience is rather trying. (Which is no less than the norm for watching any rough, unedited film material.) In short, the ICA footage would make for an excellent production when edited, but such a luxury has never come its way. There's always time, though.
One thing is for certain: if the ICA film was ever to be finished, the viewer would be in for a treat. Nowhere else can one see Wings taking flight in this way; nowhere else can one watch Paul & Co running through tracks like 'Lucille', 'The Mess', Wild Life', 'Bip Bop' and 'Blue Moon Of Kentucky', plus, so interesting that they deserve to follow this artificial and entirely redundant break in the list, 'Seaside Woman' and 'Give Ireland Back To The Irish'.
The inclusion of this last song neatly dates the session. Reacting swiftly to the sorry upturn in political events in Ulster, Wings had recorded Paul's Irish lament on 1 February 1972. A little over a week later, on the 9th, they took off on their now almost fabled university tour, traversing the highways of Britain while looking for places to play unannounced concerts. The ICA rehearsals fell in between these two events.
So while there's no known film of Wings on that college outing, the ICA rehearsal footage captures the band at this most interesting and pivotal of moments. It shows, too, the band's initial sessions with new guitarist Henry McCullough. Henry had not been a Wing when the band taped debut album Wild Life in the closing overs of 1971, but he provided a much-needed presence on lead guitar, obligatory for the anticipated stage work.
As for 'Give Ireland Back To The Irish', it's easy to spot that the cameras deliberately tried to capture footage for a promotional film for the song, ultimately never produced because its political nature led to an instant airplay ban. It's difficult to credit today the paranoia that banned records then generated, and as well to recall that the BBC not only forbade the playing of the record but the very mention of its name. As a consequence, the then Radio 1 disc-jockey Tony Blackburn, when reading out a Top 30 chart run-down in March 1972, had to stop himself when he said "And, at number 17, 'Give Ire...'" and replace it with "And, at number 17, a record by Wings". Those were the days, my friend - and thank goodness they're behind us now.
Viewed chronologically, which seems a smart idea, the ICA film opens with a shot of the exterior of the building, a scene-setting cornerstone on which everything else follows. Soon enough, three Wings - Henry, Denny S and Denny L - each buttoned up against the biting February wind and drizzle (silver rain was evidently falling down that day in London town), individually walk up to and into the ICA building. Then, without any warning, the viewer is thrust into a ballsy version of 'Lucille'. Like I said, this is raw footage. When the camera stops turning so the film ends. When it begins again, so does the image. There are no pretty fade-ups or neat introductions here.
'Lucille' is a blast, the sound cranked-up through outsize Fender amps that had become de rigeur in the few short years since Paul had last trodden a concert stage. (A case now, excuse me, of "those were the dais".) As cameraman, Phil Mottram was in