Sunday, 22 September 2013

The McCartneys


I mean, I've admired Paul McCartney since he stood awkwardly on a round pedestal during a 'Please Please Me' session in Brian Matthews's Thank Your Lucky Stars.

He had charisma. He had a flimsy leg style. He had a cosy puddin' face more appropriate in an Ovaltine ad than a pop show. More importantly, he had me.

But when I met him for the first time this week I would dearly have loved to shove the cherubic smile right down his throat and maybe follow that up with a swift right to his rubicund cheek.

There's a very good reason for this sudden urge to indulge in unmitigated violence as I will now endeavour to explain…

So began my epitaph, my final interview for Record Mirror on 22 March, 1978 (at least, that’s what I thought at the time) which I’d joined at the tail end of 1976. 

An interview with Linda McCartney, with the chance of a few words from Paul. It was the one I’d been waiting for all my life. I always knew, deep down, the moment I heard ‘Love Me Do’, that I’d meet a Beatle. It was my destiny.

This was my chance to proclaim to the world my undying love for Paul McCartney and the purity of his voice, the bittersweet songs, the arrogance, the tenderness, the heart full of soul. 

So why the fuck did I write that?

Nobody knew if Paul would show but my stomach still floated like a butterfly on the off-chance that he would as I sat on the train heading south to Twickenham, where Wings were filming a video for the song London Town’. I looked at the other passengers and secretly gloated − I might be meeting a Beatle in half an hour, what will you be doing?

I’d been waiting days for this interview through endless postponements.   Okay, so it wasn’t Paul, but Linda was loved by a Beatle, and not just any old Beatle. It was the next best thing.

But I wasn’t going to give her an easy ride. I’d loved Wings for as long as I could but I’d been hanging out in Cynic City for nearly two years. If it wasn’t cool, slag it. Wings weren’t cool. Me, Mr- long-hair-and-shaggy-beard-living-at-home-with-his mum-and-dad-at-twenty-five Dude, what the hell did I know about cool?

Linda McCartney ruined Wings − that was the general feeling among those who considered Paul McCartney to belong exclusively to them −− fools like me. There were a few highs − he was a Beatle after all − but, according to us, the minute she walked into his life he died.

I’d compiled an impressive list of questions. Did you stifle a dream? Do you consider yourself a professional musician? Have you ever felt you were a burden to Paul? Were you a groupie? Did past members of the band leave because of you? Are you a hippie? A mover? A shaker? A manipulator?

When I reached the huge studio in Twickenham I was greeted by Paul’s PR, Tony Brainsby, one very smooth operator. He wore glasses, had shoulder length, straggly red hair and when he spoke you could hear the laugh in his words. He was one of the most cynical men I’d ever met with the confidence to be a complete bastard if the situation demanded. I once stood in his office waiting to interview Iron Maiden when he called his bank manager a ‘total cunt’ over the phone. Never mind the bollocks, here’s Tony Brainsby.     

‘Paul’s here,’ said Tony, matter-of-factly.  ‘Would you like to meet him?’

Would I like to meet him? I didn’t say, couldn’t say, anything.  I was about to shake hands with a living legend who had left his imprint on my soul.

Tony showed me to a table where two other journalists, veterans from NME and Melody Maker, sat drinking Coke. Denny Laine strolled in and we were introduced. ‘You’ve always been in my ears and in my eyes,’ I said to him in a lame attempt at a joke. I think he may have heard it before.

Tony handed me a Coke and I took a seat next to the vets who said they’d met Paul on numerous occasions. I already envied them.

‘I’ll go and find Paul,’ said Tony and my heart skipped a beat.

I could think of nothing else during the idle, Coke-infused conversation that lasted for five minutes. Then...

‘Paul, this is Barry.’ He smiled. He raised his hand. I reached out to touch the fingers that had shaped my thoughts, that had lifted me higher and higher with their heavenly power. I reached out to hear that

universal voice which, for the very first time, would say, ‘Hello Barry.’‘Hello Paul.’ I thrust out my hand and knocked an entire glass of Coke across the table, some of which ended up on his trousers.

‘Oh, shit!’ said Paul, and laughed

‘Oh shit!’ I said and didn’t.  

‘Linda is ready to see you now,’ said Tony who had realised I was in desperate need of rescuing. He gave me directions to her dressing room.

I left the bar as quickly as I could and turned right out of the door.

That was my first mistake.

It should’ve been left. Megan. Megan. Megan.

I got hopelessly, completely, depressingly lost. There wasn’t a soul around to ask the way and I walked up and down a maze of sterile corridors feeling like Arthur Clennam trying to negotiate the Circumlocution Office in ‘Little Dorrit’.  I should’ve reached Linda McCartney’s dressing room in absolutely no more than two minutes. It took me twenty-five.

‘Where the fuck have you been?’ Tony stood outside Linda's dressing room. He wasn't a happy man. ‘I got a bit lost.’

‘A bit lost? We’ve been looking for you for ages. You do know you only had an hour with her? You’re the last interview of the day, which means you’ve got precisely thirty-five minutes starting from now...’

He opened the door and pushed me inside.

‘Here he is! The man got lost would you believe?’

‘Lost?’ I loved the way Linda said it, like she was really concerned. ‘Lost? My God what happened?’

The first question was sublime. The second made me feel ashamed of myself.

‘Are you all right?’

‘I’m fine. I feel a bit stupid.’ A bit stupid? I’d just knocked a glass of Coke over Paul McCartney and then get lost on my way to interview his wife. That gives stupid a bad name.

‘Hey, Barry, don’t worry about it. Sit down. Would you like a drink?’

‘You probably think I’ve had too many already.’

She laughed. She looked nervous. She was lovely. She had to be. She was married to Paul McCartney. She wore multi-coloured socks, denim culottes, waistcoat and T-shirt, topped with a dollop of hair that looked like it had been squeezed out of a Mr-Softee machine. I guess you couldn't really call her stunning. She was, well . . . nice. A nice person. A person you feel at home with, like a newsreader. Nice Linda.

‘I’m really sorry about all this. It’s not exactly been my day. Did you hear about the −’

‘Yes.’ She laughed again. ‘I’m sorry but you do sound a little, uh, accident prone.’

‘I’m known as the Norman Wisdom of the music press.’

‘Norman Wisdom?’

‘Er, yeah. He was the poor man’s Charlie Chaplin. Very English.’

‘So was Charlie Chaplin, but I get your drift. Now what would you like?’

‘A Coke will be fine.’ I could have murdered a beer but it didn’t seem prudent in the circumstances.

‘Only if you promise not to spill it over me.’

She laughed as she got up to fix the drinks. This woman who had given birth to Paul McCartney’s babies was fixing a drink for me.

No interview had affected me quite like this.

‘I’ll leave you two alone now,’ said Tony. I’d forgotten he was there. ‘I’m afraid you’ve only got about thirty minutes.’

Just then a nanny came in carrying Linda’s six-month-old son, James. Linda took the baby and sat down, holding him like a bouquet of fresh roses. The nanny and Tony left together so now it was just her and me and sweet baby James in a dressing room with the name Sacha Distel smacked like a French kiss on the door. It's the good life.

Do you like being interviewed Linda?

‘I guess I'm not a great person to interview. I'm really ordinary, y'know. Ordinary and relaxed. I didn't do very well at school . . .

−−‘I'm not a showbiz person at all. I find it difficult to write about myself so it must be nearly impossible for anyone else to do so.’

But if you were writing about yourself what would you say?

‘Oh, that I'm very easy-going, nice ...’ See? Told ya, ‘’…and like life.’

Did Paul groom you musically?

‘Oh, no. More than anything he wanted a friend near him.

−−‘I do have an instinctive feel for music. I've always been a fan. I was a real New York fifties gal. I'd go and see Alan Freed's rock ’n’ roll shows and listen to Buddy Holly. That's where I got my musical training. To me the fifties was the best period ever for music.’

Linda refused to read the music press. ‘So much of it is untrue. When they slag off Paul it makes me sick.’

Aren't you a little biased?

‘Sure. But I'm biased for anyone I love. Paul is an artist, make no mistake.’

You once said, ‘John was my Beatle hero. But when I met him the fascination faded fast and I found it was Paul I liked.’

She smiled. ‘Well, John comes over on stage or record much heavier than he really is. He just isn't like what you think. In truth he's just a nice guy, not Mr-Cool.''

You've been married nine years. Don’t seem a day too long?

‘I feel newly married because it's all gone so quickly. There are some things I would’ve liked to change, like getting rid of all the pressures which drastically affect your home life. When you're famous, people need things from you. I've no regrets. I think in a marriage the essential thing is to be good friends − only then you can have a life. I take things less seriously now.’

It was like the perfect first date. My preconceptions were hideously wrong and when she said, ‘Hey, Barry, I get the feeling you like me and I think this is gonna be a great interview,’ the stars fell from the sky. But I needed to get to the nitty-gritty. We were fifteen minutes in already, which meant I only had another fifteen. 

There was a loud knock on the door and Paul came in…

To be continued.

© Barry Cain 2013


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