Chaos in Lagos for a band on the run
I'd written a lot of our next album and felt I had some nice songs, and I was looking around for somewhere exciting to record. I asked EMI, our record company, for a list of all the studios they had around the world. We usually worked at Abbey Road and I knew they had a studio in Germany. It turned out they also had one in Rio and, I think, China, and they had one in Lagos, Nigeria. Being a fan of African music I thought it would be cool to record there. Linda, Denny Laine and I were up for the idea, but Denny Seiwell and Henry, it turned out, were not.
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A band is a democracy. Everyone gets a say and you've all got to agree on things. One person can say, ‘No, I'd like to do it like this,' and one person can lead it, but, basically, people have to be happy for a band to work. It's like any sports team or group of actors - they've got to feel good about each other for it to work.
We were due to fly out to Africa on a Saturday, but - the night before - Denny and Henry phoned and said, 'We're not coming... and we're leaving the band.' At first it seemed like a tragedy for Wings but then I turned it around. Out of that tension I was determined to do the best album we'd made. The next day, as planned, we went to Lagos, but just the three of us - without a drummer and lead guitarist.
I thought Lagos was going to be gorgeous but I'd overlooked the realities of going to somewhere like that - the studio wasn't built properly and it was like monsoon season. Again, though, out of adversity came something good.
The studio was interesting. We wanted vocal booths - isolation booths - but the people didn't quite know what these were; so we drew pictures, explaining how booths are made of wood and glass, and they made them for us.
It was so exciting to be in Africa - the music, the culture.
People who lived there told us that under no circumstances were we to walk on our own - we must drive everywhere - because it wasn't safe. So, of course, we thought, 'What do they know? We'll do what we want...' After spending one particular evening at a friend's house we decided to walk back to our place. It wasn't too far, about half an hour away, and we knew the route.
As we walking along, carring a cassette recorder and cameras, a car pulled up, a guy would down the window and offered us a lift. I have an innocent attitude - like, we're all friends, we're all brothers - so I thought, 'What a nice guy!', thanked him and said we were happy to walk. The car drove off, went about twenty yards and then stopped again, and as we walked alongside the doors opened and five guys jumped out, holding knives.
I'm going, "What do you want? Cameras? Take 'em. Money? Here!' Linda was screaming, 'Leave him along, he's a musician!' then they jumped back into the car, slammed the doors, and vroom, it roared off.
It was only then that we started shaking. We got back to our place about half an hour later and there was an a immediate power cut. in our screaming paranoia we thought the robbers had followed us. We got into bad, pulled the covers up and went to sleep, hoping we'd wake up the next morning.
Next day we went to the studio, still crazed from it all, and were told how lucky we were not to have been murdered. Apparently, we weren't killed because we were white - the muggers must have reckoned that we wouldn't be able to identify their faces. If we'd have been black they probably would have killed us. As it was, they took the cassettes I was carrying, which had demos of the new songs. Luckily, I remembered them. We joked later that they might have recorded over them, thinking let's get some decent music on here.'
We carried on making the album but the stress caught up with me because a couple of days later I began to feel a bit odd and then fainted. Linda thought I had died. She had a point - when I came around even I was convinced I was going to die. We got a cab to the hospital where the doctor said I had been smoking too much and suffered a bronchial spasm.
The top local musician, Fela Ransome-Kuti, who performed amazing live shows with his thirty wives dancing in topless grass skirts, showed up at the studio one day and accused me of being a Westerner out to steal black music. It could have been quite dangerous because he was a powerful local figure. So I played him our recordings and said, Tell me if you think I'm stealing your music. If you think I am then I won't use that track.' I knew we'd be all right - we hadn't gone there to steal the local rhythms, we had gone there because we thought it would be a cool place to record. He calmed down once he heard the tracks.
In among all these horror stories there were some really good moments, and we had a lot of fun. People say that adversity and tension can make something better - that if you really have to sweat then the end - result is often sort of enhanced. Band on the Run certainly proved it. It was Wings' best album and won a Grammy.
On one of our Jamaican holidays we had heard that Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen were around, shooting the film Papillon. We were invited to visit the set and Dustin asked us back to his house for dinner. He was asking me how I write songs; I explained that I just make them up. He said, Tan you make up a song about anything?' I wasn't sure, but he pulled out a copy of Time, pointed to an article and said, 'Could you write a song about this? It was a quote from Picasso, from the last night of his life. Apparently, he had said to his friends, 'Drink to me, drink to my health, you know I can't drink anymore,' and then gone to bed and died in his sleep. So I picked up a guitar, started to strum and sing 'Drink to me, drink to my I health...', and Dust in was shouting to his wife, 'He's doing it! He's doing it! Come and listen!' It's something that comes naturally to me but he was blown away by it. And that song became Picasso’s Last Words.
A song like Let Me Roll It came about by playing around with a little riff; if I'm lucky the rest of the song just comes to me.
Mrs. Vandebilt was a good one. I didn't know anything about her but I just knew she was like... a rich person.
When we got back to England I saw a letter from emi that said ‘Cancel your trip to Lagos - there has been an out break of cholera.'
After Band on the Run we had to address the fact that Wings was just me, Linda and Denny again, so we did our usual thing of holding drum auditions, this time in a London theatre. We saw a lot of guys, from which we picked Geoff Britton - a good, solid rock and roll drummer who also happened to be a major karate expert. And then I remembered a great young guitarist who had played on a late-1960s record, Something In the Air, by a group called Thunderclap Newman. Pete Townshend had had something to do with it. It was a really cool record - it still sounds good today - and the guitarist was a whizzkid named Jimmy McCulloch. He was still young, I liked him, we asked if he wanted to be in the band, he said yes.