‘I thought, ‘I’ll make this best record since leaving The Beatles’, Paul McCartney on Band On The Run’s 50th anniversary

‘I thought, ‘I’ll make this best record since leaving The Beatles’, Paul McCartney on Band On The Run’s 50th anniversary

EVEN before he turned up in Africa and was robbed at knifepoint of his precious demo cassettes, Paul McCartney was up against it.

Rarely during his storied career were the odds stacked against him as much as they were on August 29, 1973.

‘I thought, ‘I’ll make this best record since leaving The Beatles’, Paul McCartney on Band On The Run’s 50th anniversary

Paul McCartney recounts time with post-Beatles band Wings, fifty years on from album Band On The Run[/caption]

Wife Linda was well known during this point of his career

The next day, he was due in Nigerian capital Lagos to begin recording an album with his post-Beatles band Wings.

“A couple of the guys rang me,” recalls Sir Paul today, a little over 50 years on.

“Our drummer, Denny (Seiwell), and Henry (McCullough), the guitar player, just said, ‘We’re not coming’.

“I never quite worked out why. Perhaps they thought Africa was a long way to go!”

Suddenly, Wings had been clipped to a trio — Macca, his inexperienced but endlessly supportive wife Linda and Denny Laine, a multi-instrumentalist who used to be in The Moody Blues.

But, by summoning the indomitable spirit which helped carry The Beatles through the Sixties, he decided to board the flight.

This was the era of sonic explorers. The Rolling Stones had, as McCartney puts it, “wandered off” to the South of France to record Exile On Main St and he had the travel bug . . .  “Wow! Africa! Lagos! Adventure! Let’s do it!”.

‘Prison escape’ concept

“I’m the kind of person who won’t go, ‘Oh my God, I’ve got to rethink this.’ If I’m going somewhere, I like to stick to the plan,” he continues in a candid interview for his label, seen first by SFTW.

“I thought, ‘Well, we’ve got Denny’s guitar, Linda’s vocals, Denny’s vocals, my vocals and I’ll drum because I drum a lot anyway.

“Then I thought, ‘I’ll make this the best record I’ve made to date since leaving The Beatles.’”

True to his word, Macca returned to the UK on September 23 with the bulk of one of his defining albums, Band On The Run.

The timeless songs laid down in Lagos included the shape-shifting title track, Let Me Roll It “with vocals that sound a bit like John (Lennon)”, and a grand finale, Nineteen Hundred And Eighty-Five — all live staples to this day.

The album’s other big song Jet, named after the McCartneys’ black Labrador puppy, was recorded back in Abbey Road, where else?

The Band On The Run LP was housed in a memorable sleeve, inspired by Macca’s “prison escape” concept and realised by the creatives at Hipgnosis who were behind Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon iconic prism.

Caught in a spotlight against a brick wall was an unlikely assortment of renegades all dressed in black . . . Paul, Linda, Denny, Michael Parkinson, Kenny Lynch, James Coburn, Clement Freud, Christopher Lee and John Conteh.

To mark Band On The Run’s 50th anniversary, new vinyl and CD sets match the original LP with a raw “underdubbed” mix which comes minus orchestrations and various other embellishments (in vein of stripped back Let It Be . . . Naked).

The releases are tinged with sadness because soon after they were announced, Laine died aged 79 in his adopted hometown of Naples, Florida.

The passing of the Wings founder member, a pivotal contributor to the band’s phenomenal Seventies success, brought an emotional response from McCartney.

“I have many fond memories of my time with Denny, from the early days when The Beatles toured with the Moody Blues,” he wrote on his website.

“Denny joined Wings at the outset. He was an outstanding vocalist and guitar player.

“He and I wrote some songs together, the most successful being Mull Of Kintyre, which was a big hit.

‘Peace and love Denny’

“We had drifted apart but in recent years managed to re-establish our friendship and share memories of our times together.

“Peace and love Denny. It was a pleasure to know you. We are all going to miss you.”

Now let’s get back to late August, 1973, and the arrival of Paul, Linda and Denny in Lagos to more adversity.

The depleted band, accompanied by former Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick, pitched up at the ramshackle EMI studio on Wharf Road in the city’s Apapa district.

“It was crazy. The circumstances were just wild,” says McCartney.

“Anybody else might have given up because, when we got there, the studio was only half built. We had to figure it all out.”

He adds: “They make great music in Africa but, back then, they were not as technologically savvy as we were used to.

“We expected it to be a proper EMI studio but they didn’t have vocal booths.”

That said, he soon realised there was an upside to their unlikely surroundings.

“The homemade vibe of the studio found its way into our attitude,” he affirms.

“We adjusted our recording techniques and got it done.”

Wings were fortunate not to face another major problem which could have scuppered their trip and endangered their health.

Macca says: “When we got back home, there was a letter from EMI which said, ‘Dear Paul, under no circumstances go to Lagos. There’s been an outbreak of cholera in Nigeria.’”

Had he seen the letter before their departure, he doubts they would have made the trip at all.

As if that wasn’t enough, Paul and Linda endured a terrifying, life-threatening encounter in the early days of their time in Africa.

“We’d been visiting some of our crew at their house and someone said, ‘Do you want a lift home?’ We said, ‘It’s such a beautiful night, we’ll walk.’”

Adopting the reckless spirit of “desperados” in a foreign land, they ventured into a no-go area with “cameras, tape recorders, all my cassettes in a bag, and Linda’s photographic equipment”.

A car approaches, “a guy winds down the window” and the McCartneys think they’re being offered a lift.

Macca vividly recollects the moment: “I just say, ‘No, listen man, very nice of you but we don’t need a lift.’”

The car containing “five or six local guys” drives off but suddenly stops again.

“All of them get out. I said, ‘Holy cow. Wait a minute, they’re not offering us a lift.’ The penny drops. One of the guys is holding a knife at me.

“We give them all our stuff and they get back in the car. Screech off. They go the wrong way. They come back and we’re going, ‘Oh no, they’re going to finish us off!’

“Anyway, they zoomed off. Eventually Linda and I walked home. We just got into bed and said, ‘Forget it.’

“The next day, we went to the studio and the manager said, ‘Man, you’re lucky you’re white. If you were black, they could have killed you because you might have recognised them.”

As it turned out, McCartney didn’t need to be too bothered to lose his Band On The Run demos.

“It meant I had to remember the album,” he says, a task in keeping with “a rule John (Lennon) and I had always had”.

‘Anything for easy life’

“We didn’t have cassettes or recording devices back then (in The Beatles).

“We used to say, ‘If you can’t remember it, how will the people remember it?’”

Band On The Run has laidback music as well as a very Beatles-sounding number
Linda McCartney

If the circumstances around Band On The Run were fraught, it’s hard to tell from the sublime, playful, laidback music.

Aside from the songs already mentioned, we have the rich harmonies of Bluebird, Mrs Vandebilt with its “ho hey ho” chorus, the rhythmic pleasures of Mamunia and the most Beatles-sounding number, No Words.

McCartney is asked whether the setbacks he relates actually pushed him to greater heights of artistic achievement.

“I’ve never liked that thought,” he answers. “Anything for an easy life with me.”

While accepting that Band On The Run turned out rather well despite whatever conspired against it, he draws attention to stress-free successes such as his monster-hit Bond theme, released a couple of months before the Lagos odyssey.

“Live And Let Die was made with no struggle. That came easily and was a big success,” he says.

“With a lot of The Beatles’ stuff, there wasn’t an awful lot of tension. When there was, I’m not sure better tracks came out of it.”

Crucial to Band On The Run’s creation was budding musician Linda.

By the end of the Sixties, she had become a renowned portrait photographer, having trained her expert eye on the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger and Aretha Franklin.

After The Beatles split in 1970, Macca taught his partner to play keyboards and she threw herself into a second career alongside her superstar husband.

She is co-credited with 1971 album Ram and became a fully-fledged founder member of Wings, contributing vocals and keys to their debut Wild Life (1971) and Red Rose Speedway (1973).

When it comes to Linda’s part in Band On The Run, McCartney provides telling insights.

“If I got stuck, I’d ask her for a suggestion so we ended up co-writing the songs,” he says.

“We didn’t actually sit down with pencil and paper and write them bit by bit.

“The lion’s share of the composing was probably mine but, if I needed a collaborator, Linda would be there. I could say, ‘What do you think of this? What’s another word for that?’

“It was good fun to have someone to bounce off. But she wasn’t a writer like John — it wasn’t that kind of collaboration, obviously.”

McCartney also acknowledges Linda’s growing stature and confidence as a member of Wings.

“Her synthesiser part on Band On The Run, her vocals on Jet — they’re such integral parts of the songs,” he says.

“She’d really grown as a musician at this point, but she really played instinctually.”

He adds: “The thing about Linda is she really knew virtually nothing when we started.”

He likens the early days of Wings as “almost like a college band. We just said, ‘Do you want to go on the road? Yeah, sure.’

“When we started The Beatles, that’s kind of all it was, too. We made it up as we went along and we got better together.

“Linda was a quick learner. I’d give her a vocal part and she’d take it, maybe massage it a bit.

“She was particularly fond of the Moog (synthesizer). It’s right back in vogue now. She loved all that funky stuff.”

McCartney is also full of praise for Linda’s vocals: “By Band On The Run, she was singing great and very distinctively too.

“I remember years later when I worked with Michael Jackson, he said, ‘Who sang those harmonies?’

“I said, ‘Well it’s me and Linda basically. And Denny some of them.’ He said, ‘Oh they’re great.’ She gained more confidence as she went on.”

In summing up feelings about his first wife, who died tragically young from cancer at 56 in 1998, McCartney says: “We always said she would have been a good punk rocker: she had the edge.

“In fact, we ended up giving ourselves punk rock names. She was Vile Lynn, violin, and I was Noxious Fumes — but it never came to anything.

“As we went on, she learned a lot and became a good player and an integral part of the band.”

Today, as he looks back across 50 years, McCartney assesses Band On The Run’s place as a key milestone in his long and winding road after The Fab Four went their separate ways.

He says: “My big aim after The Beatles, once we decided to put a band together, was to do something different.

“That was difficult because, for all those years, I’d been training Beatle-style.

“So I had to avoid anything that sounded too Beatle-y and make a new style, which was to become the Wings style.

“By the time we did Band On The Run, I felt we’d got it. It had echoes (of The Beatles), maybe inevitably because it was me, but we had established our own style.

“Years later, I was doing an interview. We were talking about Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and they said, ‘My Sgt. Pepper’s was Band On The Run.’”

When McCartney performed at Glastonbury in June, 2022, days after his 80th birthday, he turned to Band On The Run for four of the 38 songs.

Foo Fighter-in-chief Dave Grohl joined him for a rousing rendition of the title track. “He sings it great,” says Macca.

“And it’s great for me to see that song thrive — the final validation of what we were trying to do back then.”

’Hoffman dared me’

I’LL never forget the moment a Beatle began writing a song in front of me.

It was in 2008 when I met Paul McCartney at his Soho offices to talk about his second album with producer Youth under the moniker The Fireman.

To illustrate how he could improvise on the spot, he leapt up, grabbed a travel book about East Africa from a shelf above me and started feverishly thumbing through it.

For a few moments, Macca stared at a picture of a snow-capped peak before reading the accompanying text.

“Majestic mountains, all right!” he exclaimed, putting down the book.

Then he picked up an acoustic guitar, conveniently to hand, and began to strum and sing.

“I climb majestic mountains, I’m travelling to your heart,” he crooned.

And I was left thinking, “Did that really happen? Did a Beatle really start composing a song right there in front of me?”

The reason I’m mentioning all this is because McCartney has form, notably around Band On The Run track Picasso’s Last Words (Drink To Me).

He says the song was “a dare”. “Dustin Hoffman said to me, ‘Could you write a song about anything?’

“I said, ‘I don’t know, maybe.’ He ran upstairs and came back with a newspaper article about the death of Picasso.”

It included the artist’s last words: “Drink to me. Drink to my health. You know I can’t drink anymore”.

Macca continues: “So Dustin said, ‘Can you write a song about that?’

“I did happen to have my guitar with me. So I hit record and started singing a melody to those words. He was flabbergasted.”


50th Anniversary Edition with unreleased “Underdubbed” mixes, out now


Band On The Run has received a re-release after 50 years
And it includes previously unreleased mixes

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