In 1974 Mike McCartney got together with brother Paul, and Wings, to record an album, McGear. After successful musical outings in the 1960s and early 1970s with The Scaffold, McGear and McGough and Grimms, the McGear album would ultimately be Mike’s last long-player. When I met with Mike in the summer, in his West London flat, and sat down to discuss the record, it was clear he loved working with ‘our kid’ (how Mike refers to Paul for most of the interview). “These songs that have longevity and they transcend all of the other stuff I did,” he tells SDE…
SuperDeluxeEdition: So, the McGear album was originally released on Warners.
Mike McGear: In 1974, yes.
SDE: That’s right. And, my understanding is that Cherry Red did some kind of a deal with Warner, so they’ve got access to …
MM: …Two groups, an LA record company and Esoteric at Cherry Red, both wanted this album. I said, “why, it’s been out before?” They said, “no, we want to do it properly”, Both of them wanted to do luxury vinyl, super deluxe, etc. I said, oh, that will be good for America, because they only ever got the single sleeved album [not the gatefold edition]. When I went over there they went apeshit… “what is that?” I said, “that’s my album.” They said, “no, it isn’t, we’ve only got a single gate.” And then, I opened it up and there’s me breaking out of my bounds sitting on the River Mersey with my leg in the water, and they just couldn’t believe it!
SDE: How did the collaboration with your brother come about?
MM: I’d finished with Scaffold and Grimms and our kid [Paul McCartney] said, “what are you doing?” and I said, “bugger all.” He said, “well, shall we do something, get some money into the family coffers to feed your 5,000 children”. And, I said, “yes, smashing.” So, I came down here to London and we did a single called ‘Leave It’, which he sent to New York, and Linda’s dad, Lee Eastman and his son John said, “We’ve been playing to people and this is really very different, very original, it stands out. Why don’t you do an album?” And so, that’s where it started.
Then, coming right forward to today, these two companies wanted it, so I went to MPL – because, the rights have reverted back to me now, I own it – and said “can I have my tapes please?” They said, well, Warner Brothers will have that. “Oh, have they?” Apparently we leased it to them, but okay… And, they ummed and ahhed for a month, two months, and then six months. I said, this is ridiculous. So I said to a nice young man at MPL, “what’s happening? I keep asking and they keep putting it off.”
In the end it appears that they’d lost the master tapes. What!? So I said, I’d look in the roof [attic], I know there are old tapes there, I’ve seen some big boxes. So, I went up. These things have been there for 20, 30, 40 years in my roof. I found two boxes, one said, “McGear master tape copy 1”, the other box said, “McGear master tape copy 2”. And, in fact, one of them, when it comes to ‘Leave It’, there is this ‘AP’ next to it, which I then found out was Alan Parsons, who was the engineer on ‘Leave It’ – I never knew! Looking at these I thought, bloody hell, wow, that’s an amazing find.
SDE: That must have been a big relief you had all the tapes.
MM: At the same time, while I’m doing this, I’ve got these other tapes that I’ve found that I recorded all around the same time; a couple with Billy Kinsley from Merseybeats, a couple with Pete Wingfield, and a couple done with our kid in Savile Row, at the old Apple Studio. And so, the record company said, “bring them all down and we will bake them” [‘baking’ tapes is a process that helps ensure old tapes don’t fall apart when you try to play them]. So, I did. I brought a suitcase, a bloody heavy suitcase full of tapes. I brought them down, and trusted them, because god knows what was on them. And, there are little gems of us talking in the studio, like Paddy Maloney, Viv Stanshall…
SDE: The bit [bonus audio on CD2] with Paddy Maloney having a little chat with Linda is very sweet, isn’t it? He’s asking her where she came from…
MM: Yes, he says, “oh, you come from New York, I’m going to New York, I’m going to do a tour now. ” And he plays this beautiful song. His penny whistle. If anybody can ‘bend’ a penny whistle, that man can.
SDE: But, listening to all that must have really taken you back into the room at the time, remembering those sessions.
MM: Oh, absolutely magic. Actually, to tell you the truth, not all of them took me back into the room. One particular one with Pete Wingfield, [1976 single] ‘Do Nothing all Day.’ I always loved that, that is the summer song, ‘Do Nothing All Day’.
SDE: That was a bit later, wasn’t it, that song. it was a few years after?
MM: Oh, yes. It was later, yes, with Peter. And [‘Do Nothing All Day’ B-side] ‘A to Z’ was for Sesame Street, it was teaching children the alphabet.
SDE: It’s funny, because when I listened to that I immediately thought of Sesame Street, but I didn’t realise it was actually connected to that.
MM: Yes, that was the idea, although I never sent it. And, this other one that was on the same box was labelled ‘Girls on the Avenue’. Now, I thought, I know that’s a Pete Wingfield song, he sang that, so what the hell is that doing on this? ? Why is Pete singing his song on my tape, I didn’t understand. So I played it, it’s me singing! [laughs] I’d forgotten that I sang it, and it’s magic. It’s a wonderful little pastiche and full of little musical tributes to different genres. It’s a real tribute to a certain era of pop and I’m singing and I’m thinking, oh, god, that’s a lovely little song. Certain things like that were a joy to hear.
And, likewise when you talk about ‘in the room’ then the other one was ‘Let’s Turn the Radio On’. That was done in the room, live, in Savile Row. When I play it now I think of New Orleans. There’s Viv [Stanshall] on ukulele, it was going to be John Bonham on drums. Linda, I think, rang him. I said, “who?” “Oh, John Bonham from Led Zeppelin”. I said, “okay, yes, I’ll go with that. I’ve had Jimi Hendrix play on my stuff…so yes, John Bonham from Led Zeppelin, that will do, good”. And, at the last minute he couldn’t make it so our kid said, “I’ll go on drums”.
SDE: You were on Island Records, weren’t you, I think, just before you signed to Warners. Did that just come to a natural end and you had to sign with a new label?
MM: Island came about because EMI….[what happened is] I went off and did the Woman album, and that’s why we recorded the McGear album in Strawberry [Studios]. Because, I’d just come off from Scaffold, I’d done the McGough and McGear – so that was two from Scaffold – and then I thought, I enjoyed the musical aspect of that and tapping Jimi Hendrix’s knee to tell him when to come in for his solo. It was a very lovely experience… so I thought all these people are great. Because, I don’t play a musical instrument except maracas and tambourine. Sorry, and the cowbell.
SDE: But Woman came out on Island Records, but obviously the second record…
MM: …well no, the story behind that is that I recorded it for EMI….I’d been with them all my life, you know, from originally with NEMS, Brian Epstein’s NEMS…. Brian had said, “Michael, do you want to be a pop star?” And, I said, “no, Brian, I’m working with these two men and we do these satirical sketches and poetic wording and things like that – and one pop singer is enough in a family – so that’s what I’m working on…. but I said to the boys [The Scaffold], look, what do you think? And, they said, yes, okay, yes, let’s try. And so, we went with him, and we did try, we recorded in Abbey Road, did almost everything up in Abbey Road, we did ‘2 Days Monday’ and ‘3 Blind Jellyfish’ with George Martin there. Then, we recorded everything there, so we were an EMI group. We then broke off, did the McGough and McGear album, and then I said to EMI, look, I want to do some tracks on my own, can you support this? Then, the big boys said, “yes, we’ll back it”. So, I went up to Strawberry [Studios] and got all my friends, Andy Roberts, Dave Richards and Gerry Conway – the drummer off McGear – all these lovely people, and we just went into Strawberry and did the album [Woman, 1972]. It was all very satisfying, very musical, because I’d never been a singer, I just wanted to try, I didn’t know if I could do it, because our kid is a singer, I’m not a singer.
I was dead chuffed with the result, because these beautiful musos, you know, painted my songs. I knew how they go in my head, but I couldn’t play the instruments, I’d just sing it. That was the joy of working with musos and it is lovely, a love experience, and I thought we had lovely tracks.
So, I came down [laughing] – I’ll never forget – to Manchester’s EMI headquarters and they were all waiting for this, this album I’d been working on for quite some months up north. So, I came in and I put the two sides of this album on and I’m watching them, and I can see that they’re not tapping their toes, a few of them were glazing over looking at their watches. I just had the feeling that they don’t understand this, really. They weren’t loving it as much as me. But, they listened very politely, they listened to all of it, and it came to the end, there’s ‘Tiger’ at the end… boom, boom… some heavy stuff, and so it came to the end and, “oh, yes, great, Mike,” the room said.
But I thought it’s not the reaction I wanted. And then, what finished me off, we were walking down the corridor and the boss of EMI at that time, I said, what do you think? He said, “very good, Mike, very good, but could you give us another ‘Lily the Pink'”. Right, okay, I thought you didn’t understand it, now I know you didn’t understand it. So, I just was, you know, all that time wasted.
So, I just had my heart ripped out. I thought “Michael, stop there, you try and find somebody that understands it, that gets it, and then gets behind it – and pays for it – that was interesting” [laughs]. So, I let a few people hear it then and the one that was most interested were Island. So Island Records said, yes.
SDE: They were quite a new label at the time, weren’t they?
MM: Yes, they were, brand new. And, this guy called Chris Blackwell, he had all these albums of Bob Marley, and Toots and the Maytals – I preferred Toots and the Maytals to Bob Marley – but he gave me all the posters of Bob and it was great, very good, because my wife is a big Bob Marley fan, so that went down well. So, Island, listened to it and liked it and said, “yes, we’ll have this. How much?” I said, “oh, I’ll ask EMI”. So, I said, “okay, EMI how much do I owe you for the Woman album?”
SDE: They’d paid for all the sessions, obviously.
MM: EMI had paid. And, they said, “we’ll call it £10k”. In those days, of course, a lot more than now. So I went back to Island and they said, “yes, we’ll take it, no problem”. Oh, good. Okay, I rang EMI, and said “yes, smashing, can you give it to Island Records?”. “What, what do you mean Island Records? Not for you?” I said, “obviously, I want somebody who understands it”. “Oh, if it’s not for you…” and suddenly the new bill came in, £15,000 – £20,000. I thought, you bar stools.
So, I went back to Island and said, “I’m so sorry, they’ve just killed it in the water. They’ve just doubled the price”. They said, “we’re still having it, Mike, we like it”. And, oh, god, it’s so lovely when you hear these things. Putting your money where your mouth is. So, that was a lovely feeling, and that’s why I was with Island.
SDE: But this [McGear] came out on Warners. You did the Woman album and then there were a few things with the Scaffold after that, wasn’t there?
MM: Yes, different companies. Yes, just anyone who would take it. And, Scaffold existed only when people asked us to do things; we weren’t a working entity. After GRIMMS had finished, who I did two GRIMMS records [both 1973], and I can’t remember what company that was with.
SDE: I think that was Island.
MM: Oh, was it, that’s good. Oh, that’s good, Woman, Island, GRIMMS, that’s lovely, I didn’t realise. Smashing. And so that was that. Then I left GRIMMS, I had an altercation with a poet, and then I’m with nobody. So, our kid [Paul McCartney] said “what are you doing after you finished GRIMMS?” I said, nothing. And then, “right, come down, we’ll do a single” etc. And MPL paid for Leave It.
SDE: Do you remember exactly when you recorded ‘Leave It’, because obviously it was done earlier than the other tracks. I mean, was that early 74 or something like that?
MM: Yes. It must have been late 73 or early 74.
SDE: Because, you know what gives it away… I was trying to work out which version of Wings you were playing with and Leave It features Denny Seiwell on drums.
MM: That’s right.
SDE: So, Denny must have left after you finished ‘Leave It’, but before you continued with the rest of the album.
MM: Ah, yes, that’s right.
SDE: That’s why Gerry [Conway] carried on…
MM: I probably finished him off. He probably came into Abbey Road and thought, my god…
SDE: [laughing] He said, “your wife is in the band, your brother is in the band, what’s going on?”
MM: Yes. Sod that, I’m out of here. So, therefore, we didn’t have a drummer and so our kid he doesn’t want to his ‘Band on the Run’ drumming, and so, right, who do we get on drum? I said, “well, Gerry Conway”.
SDE: He’d played on Woman, hadn’t he?
MM: He had done the whole Woman in Stockport, so he knew the place and I could vouch for him. So, our kid said, “okay, yeah, I’ve heard his stuff, so he’s good”. But it was just the basics of me, Lin and Denny Laine, and then Gerry Conway, that is now Wings. And we needed another guitarist, so we’ll try out Jimmy McCulloch.
SDE: The Wings timeline in terms of when this was recorded… it was after Band on the Run and before Venus and Mars wasn’t it?
SDE: I’ve got a theory, you see, because Paul was, obviously, quite busy trying to start again after The Beatles, wasn’t he, building his career again, and Band on the Run was, of course, a massive global success for him…
MM: A lot of hard work…
SDE: Yes, but he must have been very satisfied by that success, and felt like he could relax a little bit and maybe have the time to work with you. Do you think that’s correct?
MM: Yes, I’ll buy that.
SDE: Did you have any reservations about working with your brother, because you know what families are like…they can fall out.
MM: I certainly do. Have you got any brothers and sisters?
MM: Any of them older than you?
SDE: No, actually, I’m the eldest. But you’re only a year and a half younger than Paul…
MM: Indeed, but still… if you’ve got an elder brother then they are the bosses, always have been and always will be, of any siblings in any family.
SDE: You witnessed Paul have all that massive success in the sixties. How did that affect you?
MM: Bloody fantastic! Can you imagine little boys in Liverpool having no hope of going anywhere, our father in a trade that was dying – the cotton business – our mum dying when we were 12 years of age… we were on a hiding to nothing. Liverpool was not in a good place, the bottom fell out of the cotton industry, mum dying, so that was no money coming in, just one parent surviving. And, there was nothing you could compare it with, because it was the upper and the lower classes, it always had been, and for us, we thought it always will be. That’s why my dad always had this respect for the upper class posh London accent, and we all went along with it because they were control. People that have no chance of getting any further than… like the Indian class system, right, everyone accepts their place. And then suddenly in the lower class Indian system somebody gave the lower class a little magic wand and they were suddenly upper class. Now, that’s what happened with us and suddenly there, this thing called ‘Mersey Beat’.
We would go down to London in parties. I always tell the story, it happened virtually like this. The week before Merseybeat broke down here [London], or a couple of weeks, I’d was just down with friends and you would be at a posh party and they’d come up to you [adopts ‘posh’ voice] “hello, how are you?” “Great, thanks.” “My name is Peregrine and this is Cecilia..” “oh, great, hi” “and where are you from?” “Oh, from Liverpool…” “Anyway, Cecilia, you were saying…” And they just turned their backs on you because, it was very simple – you were no good to them, no use to them. Anything north of the wash was hinterland, it was jungle. So, they didn’t give a shit.
And then, the week after, suddenly Merseybeat becomes ‘wham!’ It’s down to London before it took on America and the world… and the same kind of party “oh, I’m Sebastian and this is Claudia, what’s your name?” “I’m Mike.” “And, where are you from?” “Liverpool.” “Liverpool, my God, chaps get over here, look, these chaps are from Liverpool, absolutely marvellous.” And then, they would do the Liverpool accent, and so it always came out Brummie [Birmingham] because they couldn’t do a Liverpool accent. So, yes, you were nothing and suddenly it all changed.
SDE: So, how did you get on with the sessions with Paul, what was the working practice because obviously you wrote a lot of songs together, did you come in with lyrics and ideas?
MM: He said, “right, now, the Eastmans have said to do an album, have you got enough stuff for an album?” I said, I’ve been writing for years, quietly in the background with my own ideas. With the Woman album that got me going and I kept going, so I’ve got lots of ideas for songs, but I was going to work and do another Woman album at some stage, you know, when I could afford it. So I had lots of ideas that I was going to do in the future, but I just couldn’t afford to do them. So I said, yes, I’ve got loads of stuff, it’s not finished. He said, “well, that’s great because we’ll work on it together. So, I’ve got Denny and you’ve got your drummer and we’ve got another guitarist which I’m thinking of, so what we’ll do is go into … down here in London, Abbey Road, is too expensive, and so that place you recorded the Woman thing, Strawberry [Studios, in Stockport], sounds great. So we’ll just go to there from our houses” – which were only three quarters of an hour away in Heswall on the Wirral – “and we’ll see what comes out”.
So, that’s what we did, I had all these ideas, I said, right, here’s the lyrics for this one, and here’s the song for this… and we just worked on them together, with Denny. So, these things started to magically come together, with Gerry Conway and then Jimmy [McCulloch]. It was a labour of love, it wasn’t like a nine-to-five. With our kid, his business was always with love, with his chums, and then going into Wings. You don’t do things for sessions, you do it for the love and the communicate and spread the love. So, to work in an environments like that is so much freer and far more productive. I listened to this after 40 years, this McGear album, and I suddenly realised how important it is in terms of music – how relaxed, how together, how professional, how joyous, how unique it was.
SDE: Did you get on well with Denny Laine and Jimmy McCulloch, were they a nice group?
MM: We were all as one. I was like a member; I was a member of Wings for a bit! Because, you were all there for the same reasons, you were all there for the love of music, and so that is a very strong powerful concoction, and that’s what produces these songs that have longevity. They transcend all of the other stuff I did, all The Scaffold stuff, if you listen to it, the majority of it – unless it’s things like ‘Liverpool Lou’ which was Wings [anyway] – but all the Scaffold stuff is all manufactured, all session people, and so there’s very little … I mean, one good one, again was [1971 single] ‘Do the Albert’, we did that with Mooney [Keith Moon] on drums. We did that in EMI [Abbey Road] in studio one, where we did ‘Lily the Pink’. Mooney was there early morning, and I remember him lining up his stuff, his drums, his side drums, his bottle of brandy [laughs] this was in the morning… absolute magic.
SDE: The McGear album starts with ‘Sea Breezes’, which is the cover of the Roxy Music song.
MM: That was our kid’s song, that was our kid’s idea. I’d never heard of it. He’d heard it and had an idea how to do it. To tell you the truth, I haven’t heard the original.
SDE: The original one is very long and very slow, a very slow build up, it takes a very long time to do anything, it’s quite different.
MM: So, that’s why Ferry liked it, because it was condensed.
SDE: Given that ‘Liverpool Lou’ was recorded during these sessions, didn’t you think of putting it on the bonus disc of this reissue?
MM: I was [going to] and in America, they were saying lots of things like that… ‘All The Whales In The Ocean’… things that had been out and that people didn’t know with regard to me….’No Lar Di Dar (Is Lady Di)’ and ‘Liverpool Lou’….
SDE: But, especially ‘Liverpool Lou’, because it was this band, wasn’t it?
MM: And, indeed, I would have done but in the process of finding all these old tapes and playing them and thinking, “bloody hell, I like that”. And, therefore, all these other songs – ‘All The Whales In The Ocean’ made it – but songs like ‘No Lar Di Dar (Is Lady Di)’ and ‘Liverpool Lou’ went on the back burner because I had enough to fill the bonus CD with brand new stuff [i.e. unheard outtakes].
But the big question you have to ask yourself and prove it is, whatever you’re putting on CD2, you are putting music on that everyone is going to compare to your brother and his chums and to Wings. And so, if it jars, and in fact one of the sessions in Savile Row did jar – it just didn’t make it, so we threw it out. But, the other tracks, like Billy Kinsley’s [‘All The Whales in the Ocean,’ ‘I Just Want What You Got – Money!’], Pete Wingfield [‘Do Nothing All Day,’ ‘A to Z,’ ‘Girls on the Avenue’], and then the Savile Row [Let’s Turn The Radio On], all the musos that came along were of the same ilk.
I’ve listened to CD 2 several times and every time I hear it, it’s a joyous occasion. Most important, it all fits in, nothing jars, you know, nothing grits your teeth, it all flows. And, that’s the secret of good musicians and people putting their heart into it and love…
SDE: ‘Leave It’ was the first single and like you say, it’s a fantastic tune and a fantastic song… but were you a little bit disappointed it wasn’t a bigger hit, because it only got to number 36 in the charts?
MM: It’s weird. It’s history repeating itself, it happens the second time out. Everybody that hears that loves it, and it’s a well crafted little song. That’s why it’s great having that six minute version – over six minutes – on the bonus disc.
SDE: Is that the same as the master version but just edited down?
MM: That is the whole of the original tape, and our kid plays guitar on there, this crazy guitar, and Tony Coe [on Saxophone] does these mad little bits in it. I do different words, you will hear little different words, and all of it is the original, that was the absolute master. It’s great listening to that because you realise that any record that goes on for six minutes, that’s stretching it a bit, but it doesn’t, you can keep listening to it, because it’s cleverly crafted.
SDE: The other one that I really like is, ‘What Do We Really Know’, that’s got a punky spirit, hasn’t it?
MM: Yes. It was one of those things where, you know, what the hell do we really know? I mean, my dad used to say, “here we are, where are we?”and it’s the same thing. We know that this and that, but what do we really know, we know bugger all. What is the answer, the answer is, there is no answer.
SDE: Tell us about the song ‘Norton’
MM: That is a little sketch, the little sketch is Denny coming in as the soldier, our kid is the officer, quite rightly, and I am the Sergeant.
SDE: ‘Simply Love You’ is a beautiful little ballad.
MM: What I love, certain of these things our kid and I used to sing together as brothers in Forthlin Road, before either of us went into show business. And, because our mum died so young, and she would have never… she would have insisted there would be no music in the house. There would have been music, but not to that extent; she would have wanted us to go into the professions. I would have been in front of you, you’d have been talking to Dr McCartney, or Father McCartney.
SDE: And, that song, you can hear the backing vocals really well; Paul and Linda and the harmonies. It’s really quite sweet, isn’t it?
MM: Beautiful. And, what is lovely about it is the harmonies we used to do, equally, the ones on that, our kid and I, in Forthlin Road… we used to be the Everly Brothers. Our kid said the other day about something, “oh, god, you know, are we going to be the Everly Brothers again” because, like the Everly Brothers, we were brothers. And so, the big thing in the McCartney family was, whenever we got to family parties, New Year’s Eve, weddings, funerals, whatever… it would get to the evening and immediately dad was commissioned to the piano, and they would line up halves of bitter on the piano. Then, Uncle Joe, mainly, was the leader of the singers, and we would all sing and harmonise. The big thing in our family were harmonies, that’s why all those things, the harmonies are so important to us, and if you could get a better harmony than Uncle Joe, my god you were doing well.
‘Simply Love You’ takes me back, that is family, and that is my brother and I, with simple harmonies. Every now and then on the McGear album you will just hear the two brothers going back as brothers. And, of course, with brothers – like the Everly Brothers – you have a natural common denominator in your voices, they’re very similar. On the phone sometimes people would ring the house and they would think we were each to her, they’d say, hello, Mike, and he’d say, hello, Paul, it’s me – because we were family, we were brothers. So, that to me is the most important thing on the harmonies, is the two brothers, and simple harmonies. And, to me, I love the simplicity, often in life it’s the simplicity that is the answer, it’s the strongest.
SDE: It was so long ago, but it must be nice for you to have that captured on tape, forever.
MM: That’s what the great joy about listening to this album was, I’d forgotten the joy of listening to those simple things, and the power of it. I hadn’t realised how good it was, and that was a great thing. Esoteric/Cherry Red sent me the first pressing and I’m thinking, well, you know, good luck, Mike [laughs] this is, what is it, 1974…. so 45 years. Good luck, Mike, in today’s market!
And, I’m listening to this bloody thing, “oh, that’s good, that’s good, wow, listen to those guitars…. bloody hell, oh, that’s nice and simple, oh, fascinating….oh, well, look where that goes.” And then, I came to ‘God on the Moon’ and the way it goes in and out…. and all those little stories, all blending together. I got to the end of it and I was, like, gobsmacked, I thought, bloody hell, this is a good album, and that was the greatest wonderful surprise for me.
SDE: There was a non-album single, ‘Dance the Do’. You’ve got that and the B-side ‘Sweet Baby’ at the end, so on the CD version it doesn’t end with ‘The Man Who Found God On the Moon’. Were you not tempted to put those two tracks on the other disc, or did you think those were strong enough and belonged with the main album?
MM: That was the record company’s idea, to put them on the CD we will do the original album, but we’ve got to give people something different. So, they have little bonus tracks of ‘Sweet Baby’, which people always loved that, simplicity again, and ‘Dance the Do’, so just give them that, it’s a nice idea.
SDE: Warner released quite a lot of singles from this record. Did you ever have any plans to go out and support it and do some live gigs, or anything like that?
MM: You could only go out with that record with Wings as your backing group, and our kid was a bit busy – still is! And so, no, the idea didn’t even enter my mind.
SDE: Did you know at the time it was really a one-off thing?
MM: Yes. It could have led to anything and that would have been fine, but it was so strong as it was to try and emulate it, to try and do it live would have been stupid, because you haven’t got our kid, or Denny, or Lin, or Jimmy because they were unique. That was a unique happening that album, so to try and copy it, try and do it without them would have been stupid.
SDE: Tell me about the fantastic artwork and the album cover, which depicts you as a Gulliver figure
MM: I had drawings that I did for the record company Warner of me tied down and me breaking out of my bonds, and sitting on the Mersey. And, I was talking to somebody, like I’m talking to you, the other day and I said, but you can see them in the booklet [for this deluxe edition] and I suddenly realised, they’re not in the book! I’ve just told the record company, I said, “Jesus…”
And then somebody said, how did you get to ‘McGear’ and I said oh, that was the last thing to call it McGear, I said, but you’ll see in the book that I’ve done this thing, a folder of all the suggestions, ‘One of the Relationships’ was one and all these crazy, wonderful ideas for the album title. And then, in the middle, you fold it out and there is a girl that I wanted the McGear to look like her, because it was all sprayed and a bit like Roxy, I wanted it to be that false thing like Elvis, when we first got his albums, it was always this glamour thing, and I wanted me to be that. So there was this girl with a funny hat, sprayed with think trousers and long boots up to here there, you opened it up and you find her. And, I suddenly realised, that’s not in the bloody booklet either!
SDE: Why aren’t they in the booklet?
MM: Good question. But you’ve got to do them quickly. And, he’s a good man [designer Phil Smee]. He’s a great man, but I gave him so much to get it all in a little book, you’d have to do a bloody bible to get all that in!
SDE: On the original release the record company played down the fact that it was your brother and Wings and all that; they didn’t shout it from the rooftops, it wasn’t on the front cover or anything like that. Was that how you wanted it?
MM: Yes. Oh, yes. Being related to one of the best known people in the world is why I changed my name. I didn’t want to look as though I was cashing in. I wanted to stand up on my own two feet, that’s why I recorded McGear, and that’s why we played down our kid, the fact that he’s the producer is quite enough, thank you. And, sings and plays throughout the blood thing, that will do you, that’s good enough for you.
SDE: Paul McCartney is one of these people that has musical ideas coming out of every pore. That tap must be quite hard to turn off. I’ve spoken to some people who have worked with Paul and the question I always ask is, how do you say ‘no’ to Paul McCartney. I mean, how did you do that?
MM: It’s interesting you just said things come from, ideas, you’ll love this, it’s a great story, I’ve only just found this out too. Music pours out of him. Because, we came from a musical family with my dad, who was a pianist, he had his own band, Jim Mac’s Band, and played the cornet and the piano, and so we came from musical background. So, the other day a French guy, from a big French magazine, rang me to do an the interview. His name was Jerome something or other. And so, he rang from France and he said [Mike puts on a French accent] “hello, is this Mike?” I knew it was him because he rang on time. So, I didn’t say anything, he just said, “hello, hello, is this Mike?” I sang [the Bo Diddley song] “All you pretty woman, bring it to Jerome…all you pretty woman bring it to Jerome”. He said, “my god, that’s extraordinary”. I said, “yes, and I am extraordinary”. He said, no, no, I only ever had that ever sung to me like you did then once in my life, and you know who sang that to me?” I said, “no”. “Your brother”…
~ As if on cue, at that moment Mike’s phone starts pinging with text messages. On the day I met with him it had been announced that he had just been awarded a British Empire Medal for his service to the community in Merseyside. One is from Paul McCartney ~
MM: Our kid [reads text message]: “there’s no stopping you now.”
SDE: You’ve obviously listened to the album again recently due to this reissue. What’s your overall emotions, feelings about that record?
MM: It’s very simple, all I’m doing is dying for people to hear it, and if they get the same joy out of it that I got after so many years. I am my worst critic, you know what I mean, so the idea if people like it and, indeed, love it as much as I do. And, for me the exciting thing is that CD2, because it was great hearing the old ones again, as I said, I was very pleasantly surprised at how they all held up, extraordinary. But then, to have those other ones, I’m dying for people to see what they think of that, I love that ‘Do Nothing All Day’, and I love ‘Let’s Turn the Radio On’ – they would be wonderful summer singles.
SDE: The good thing is, it’s no longer 1974 so it’s not a big secret that Paul McCartney and Wings played on this record. So, I think there’s quite a lot of fans out there that might be discovering this album for the first time, fans of Paul McCartney and fans of Wings – it could reach a whole new audience, potentially.
MM: Yes, absolutely.
SDE: In a way, it’s like a lost Wings album, in some respects, obviously, with you singing…
MM: Or a ‘found’ Mike McGear McCartney album!
SDE: Exactly, you can look at it in two different ways, can’t you.
MM: There’s your title!
SDE: But Mike, it was your last album as a solo artist…
MM: I think it was, yes. A nice way to bow out.
SDE: Definitely, but explain to me why that happened. You had a few singles in the late seventies, but why did you decide just to knock the music on the head?
MM: A natural process, it was just one of those things. I’m not a musician, I don’t play a musical instrument.
SDE: How come you don’t play a musical instrument because your dad did and your brother does?
MM: I’ll tell you how I didn’t play a bloody musical instrument, because I was learning the drums, I had an accident in a scout camp – we won’t go into that – broke my arm, my humerus – which wasn’t very – and resulted in that [Mike shows his wrist and hand] it died – my left hand died. Now you try and play a guitar when you’ve got a dead hand.
SDE: Blimey, I wasn’t aware of that
MM: That was it… when I was a young man. We had a set of drums in Forthlin Road and, in fact, to tell you the truth, I only found this out years later, but I was the original Beatles drummer. Because, the Quarrymen used to come around to our house, and I’d forgotten, but they tell me that, Mike, we used to come to your house with John and the Quarrymen and your kid, and you played drums for us. I said, did I? So when I broke my arm the hand took a couple of years to get back, even now it’s not the same.
SDE: Has Paul heard all the bonus material, have you sent him that?
MM: I don’t think he has. I don’t think so; I’m dying for him to hear it. He won’t remember, because I don’t remember, so he will never remember, the little tracks [from 1973] when I asked “is your Saville Row Studio still going?” and he said, “I think the studio is still going but upstairs [Allen] Klein has ripped it all out.” And so, we were went there… ‘Let’s Turn the Radio On,’ ‘Blowing in the Bay,’ and there was another one, I can’t remember what it was called, but it wasn’t good enough to go on the McGear project [Paul McCartney played drums on both those tracks]. Far more interesting is for him to hear the songs I recorded with Billy Kinsley. He is from The Merseybeats and they were big fans of the Beatles. Also, the Peter Wingfield tracks. I will be dying for him to hear because he will never have heard those.
SDE: You said earlier on that Paul’s still very busy, he’s still making new records.
MM: He’s non-stop.
SDE: Does that mean you don’t get to see him as much as you would like, because he’s always out touring and doing whatever?
MM: I’ll be seeing him in a minute, because he’s coming off his tour to do the LIPA – the Liverpool Performing Arts. It is our old school. And, in fact, did you get the DVD of this album? We included the film for the original ‘Leave It’ Single.
SDE: I’ve never seen that.
MM: You’re going to love it. It’s me poncing around in a black fedora hat, and my wife is not enamoured, because there’s a girl with very little clothes dancing around, going backwards and forwards with a diaphanous white gown on. And, there’s me in my old Alvis [vintage car], posing in this manner, down south somewhere. Jim Goddard did it, he did the wonderful Kennedy series [1983 TV miniseries] , with that famous actor (Martin Sheen]. He did one that he wasn’t that enamoured with Shanghai Surprise, with Madonna.
SDE: Of course, Linda played keyboards on this album, doesn’t she? That must have been quite interesting, you know… she got a bit of a hard time at the beginning but she went on tour and played with them.
MM: Yes, she bloody did it. The big thing is you can talk, but you listen to those harmonies, there are some lovely harmonies. And, it’s like her photography, I mean, people like us [i.e. Mike and Linda] when you are compared to an ex-Beatle. Of course, I will have that all my life and so did she. And so, always people put us down as, they’re just relatives, they’re not important, like all the Beatle children… Sean and Julian and all these kids, Ringo’s kids, etc. They put it down as … it’s a bit like ‘the poshies’, they’re no use to us, they don’t look at us as human beings and as artists in our own right. They just put up with us, they listen to us and so I had a bad time, Yoko had it bad, worse, my god, did she have a bad time. And, it’s so unfair, that when you think of the things that they’ve done, I knew Yoko before John, she came to Liverpool with her husband and some American bloke.
SDE: Oh, that’s interesting…
MM: Yes, she was in the Bluecoat [Chambers], we went to see her in the Bluecoat in Liverpool because we’d heard about this Japanese artist.
SDE: He was putting on an exhibition or something?
MM: She did these wonderful exhibitions. In fact, we got thrown out of one of them because we were satirists…
SDE: You weren’t taking it that seriously then?
MM: We didn’t… Yoko, I’m sorry, now! I don’t know whether you remember this, but she did this thing where she would get people on the stage – and thank god she didn’t ask us to get up – and she would wrap them in bandages. You know, what I mean? She’s taking it so seriously, and we’re scouting you know. Then, “any suggestions from the audience” and there’s these people wrapped up in bandages and John ‘Tiswas’ Gornman did a ‘mummy’ joke. And, we were thrown out – “you’re not taking this seriously”.
SDE: Paul must obviously know that you’re reissuing this record, so what’s he said about it? How does he remember it? Is he really proud of it?
MM: Oh, yes. “Great idea”. One of the first things I said was that a record company wanted to do this again – because we’d done it already – and he said, smashing, great, good luck. But, as we just discussed, what I’m dying for him is just to hear the things that he hasn’t heard. Actually, he will have a nice pleasant surprise listening to McGear again, because he will forget, like, little things like his bass solo in ‘What Do We Really Know’. Gerry Conway’s drums are beautiful, right across your brain…. this album is great
Our kid gave me an acoustic chair, have you ever sat in a real acoustic chair? They’re like an egg, but he had a couple of these acoustic chairs, as they’re called. The speakers are built into the side of the egg, and so you sit in it and you put your record on, and the McGear album plays and all these stereo bits… it’s like the difference between headphones over your ears and speakers in your room – but you’re in the egg. And so, when it goes through the stereo it goes right thought the middle of your head. That is an experience, I can assure. I’ve still got it at home, one day I will wire it up and have the same joy. And, the McGear album sounded unbelievable in an acoustic chair.
Paul Sinclair, Mike McCartney (and Bowie!) – June 2019
Thanks to Mike McCartney who was talking to Paul Sinclair for SDE. The McGear reissue is out now as 2CD+DVD super deluxe (with the bonus material discussed) and as a remastered gatefold vinyl edition.
McGear / 2CD+DVD deluxe
DISC ONE: CD
- Sea Breezes
- What Do We Really Know?
- Leave It
- Have You Got Problems
- The Casket
- Rainbow Lady
- Simply Love You
- Givin’ Grease A Ride
- The Man Who Found God On The Moon
- Sweet Baby
- Dance The Do
DISC TWO: CD
McGEAR: OUT-TAKES & EXTRAS
- Sea Breezes (Without Orchestra)
- Leave It (Extended Version)
- Dance The Do (Rough 1st Mix)
- What Do We Really Know? (Monitor Mix)
- Paddy Pipes 1
- Do Nothing All Day
- A To Z
- Girls On The Avenue
- Paddy Pipes 2
- All The Whales In The Ocean
- Blowin’ In The Bay
- Keep Cool (Version 1)
- Keep Cool (Version 2)
- I Just Want What You Got – Money!
- Paddy Pipes 3
- Viv Stanshall Sings
- Let’s Turn The Radio On
- Dance The Do Radio Ad 1
- Dance The Do Radio Ad 2
DISC THREE: DVD
- Mike (Mcgear) McCartney Reminisces At The Liverpool Institute For Performing Arts
- Mike (Mcgear) McCartney Interview At The Everyman Theatre, Liverpool
- Leave It Promotional Film 1974
- Sea Breezes
- What Do We Really Know?
- Leave It
- Have You Got Problems
- The Casket
- Rainbow Lady
- Simply Love You
- Givin’ Grease A Ride
- The Man Who Found God on The Moon