by Barry Miles
"I'll give you it as I remember it . . . a sequence of things that did all happen within a period. So, it's my recollection of then . . ."
Based on hundreds of hours of exclusive interviews undertaken over a period of five years by Barry Miles and on complete access to McCartney's own archives, this is Paul McCartney in his own words.
It is a history from the inside of one of the greatest songwriting partnerships of the century, the story as never told before. At its center, of course, is Paul McCartney's relationship with John Lennon. They were friends and collaborators as "Lennon/McCartney" - the two young guys from Liverpool who went on to change the world - and finally bitter rivals in a struggle for the soul and the business control of the Beatles. McCartney recalls the genesis of every song he and Lennon wrote together and talks in fascinating detail about how they worked and who was responsible for which line, which melody.
There have been countless words written - and more than a few sung - about Paul McCartney. Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now is the book that, at last, sets the record straight.
"A must-read for anyone interested in the Beatles, the '60s or, for that matter, modern culture itself."
BARRY MILES (known as Miles) has known Paul McCartney for many years. A cofounder of International Times in the sixties, he also ran the Indica Bookshop/Gallery, where John and Yoko met in 1966. His other books include biographies of Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs and the forthcoming Jack Kerouac: King of the Beats.
When four people create music together it is difficult to determine which individual is responsible for what and the tendency is to attribute everything you admire to the Beatle you like. Thus, for example, Sinatra regularly introduced George Harrison's 'Something' as a 'Lennon and McCartney' song. Everything remotely experimental or avant-garde is always attributed to John Lennon, including Paul's loop tapes and orchestral experiments on 'A Day in the Life'. In fact John was deeply suspicious of everything avant-garde, saying, 'Avant-garde is French for bullshit.' He only began to revise his opinion when he got together with Yoko Ono in 1969 and then he had to make a conscious effort to overcome his reservations.
This book is an attempt to sort out these attributions, to dispel some of the inaccuracies which are passed on from biography to biography, and to give a close-focus portrait of Paul and his circle in sixties London. Paul was the only Beatle living in town, the only one who was nominally single, and he was to be found at the gallery openings and first nights, the clubs and late-night bars, the Happenings and experimental events that so characterise the mid-sixties. He did his own experiments in the field of loop tapes and film superimpositions, which found their way into the Beatles' work but are usually attributed to John. Because he did not publicise it, this is a little-known side of Paul and one that this book hopes to reveal.
Unfortunately, subsequent to John's murder, any attempt at an objective assessment of John Lennon's role in the Beatles inevitably becomes iconoclastic. He has became St John, a role which would both amuse and horrify him. Though John is no longer here to tell his side of the story, the sheer volume of existing Lennon interviews means that he already covered much of the contentious ground. From 1968 onwards, at the onset of their peace campaign, John and Yoko did as many as ten interviews a day, whereas the other Beatles rarely spoke to the press at all, so we have John's views on most subjects of importance, including, fortunately, his comments on a great many of the Lennon and McCartney compositions.
In the course of writing this book, Paul and I talked about every Lennon and McCartney composition, including those recorded by groups other than the Beatles. Paul purposely did not read John's comments beforehand but in only two cases out of more than eighty songs was there a serious disagreement about whose composition it was. (John had claimed more than 70 per cent of the lyrics to 'Eleanor Rigby' and Paul remembered writing the music to 'In My Life'.)
PAUL: I'd like to say this is just as I remember it, if it hurts anyone or any families of anyone who've got a different memory of it. Let me say first off, before you read this book even, that I loved John. Lest it be seen that I'm trying to do my own kind of revisionism, I'd like to register the fact that John was great, he was absolutely wonderful and I did love him. I was very happy to work with him and I'm still a fan to this day. So this is merely my opinion. I'm not trying to take anything away from him. All I'm saying is that I have my side of the affair as well, hence this book. When George Harrison wrote his life story I Me Mine, he hardly mentioned John. In my case I wouldn't want to leave him out. John and I were two of the luckiest people in the twentieth century to have found each other. The partnership, the mix, was incredible. We both had submerged qualities that we each saw and knew. I had to be the bastard as well as the nice melodic one and John had to have a warm and loving side for me to stand him all those years. John and I would never have stood each other for that length of time had we been just one-dimensional.
Paul and John's songwriting partnership elevated the Beatles far above all other rock 'n' roll bands and this book attempts to explore both that relationship and the genesis of those songs. It was a friendship initially disapproved of by both Paul's father and John's Aunt Mimi, and might at first have seemed an unlikely alliance.
PAUL: Whereas my upbringing made me the reasonably secure baby-faced product, John's was the opposite, the very insecure aquiline-nosed product, the angular, angry face, but it was easily explained. His father left home when he was five and never saw him again till John got famous and then was discovered washing dishes at the Bear Inn in Esher by a newspaperman. John had to deal with all that shit. John had massive hangups from his upbringing.
It was a love of rock 'n' roll that first brought together these boys from disparate backgrounds: John middle-class, the product of a broken home, and Paul from a warm working-class family. Their friendship came first from playing together in a group - the Quarry Men - and was then strengthened by the formation of the formidable Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership. It was a close, protective friendship that would last a dozen years and was renewed once more before John's tragic death in 1980.
The pressure on the Beatles was at its most acute in the early days of Beatlemania. Then they were literally followed everywhere by the press, constantly demanding interviews. It is from these garbled quotes, lies and utter fabrications that much of the received knowledge of the Beatles' story is taken.
PAUL: We often used to say to journalists, 'Look, I haven't got time for the interview, just make it up.' So some of it's arrived that way ... you know, if it's a good story, it sticks. Or we may have felt like joking that day. It's summer and you're in a pub having a drink and there's a guy with a little book and he's going 'yayayayayaya' so to alleviate that pressure, we started to try and plant lies to the press. We used to award each other points for the best story printed. One that George got in was that he was Tommy Steele's cousin. That was a nice early one. It was wonderful because it turned it all around and the press stopped being a pressure and became a fun game. They didn't mind. Anything to fill a page. I remember John saying to me, 'God, I remember walking behind a group of press and you at some cocktail reception. I was just hovering near, and you were giving them the world's greatest bullshit! Not a word of it was true,' he said. 'I loved it, though, it was brilliant.' We did do that, so of course one or two of those stories have stuck.
With the exception of Hunter Davies's 1968 biography of the Beatles, and George Harrison's 1980 autobiography, there has not been a full-length authorised study of this period; all the existing Paul McCartney biographies rely heavily on the sort of press sources described above. In the case of popular music, most of the usual sources of information - journals, correspondence - are absent. There are news clips, films, printed sources and the memories of the participants. Most of the events described in this book took place more than thirty years ago and memories become coloured or dim. I have attempted to check facts but this was not always possible.
PAUL: One of my sixties memories is about a fan in the street. I ran up to her and pulled her jacket off and said 'That's my jacket!' because we'd had a burglary and it was like one of mine. But it actually wasn't mine, there were more in the shop and she'd bought one. She said, 'It's the wrong size, it's mine.' So 'Oh, God, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!' Put her down. And I was talking about it to Neil Aspinall years later and I said, 'We jumped out of the taxi and I grabbed her,' and he said, 'Yeah,' and I said, 'And it was in front of Savile Row,' and he said, 'No. It was in Piccadilly.' To me, when the complete background of the memory had schisted, you go, 'Oh, fuck, I'd better start talking to somebody.' So I'll give you it as I remember it, but I do admit, my thing does move around, jumps around a lot. But the nice thing is, we don't have to be too faithful, because that's not what we're talking about. We're talking about a sequence of things that did all happen within a period. So, it's my recollection of then ...
The core of this book is based upon a series of thirty-five taped interviews with Paul McCartney conducted over a period of six years, from 1991 to 1996, as well as from information gathered in the course of many other conversations with him at events, rehearsals, concerts and get-togethers.
I first met Paul in the summer of 1965 and saw a great deal of him throughout the latter half of the sixties. Together with John Dunbar and Peter Asher, I started Indica Books and Gallery in Mason's Yard and Paul was very involved in painting the walls and putting up shelves. Paul designed and had printed the wrapping paper for the bookshop and helped design advertising flyers.
Later, when John Hopkins and I started International Times (IT), Europe's first underground newspaper, Paul was again involved, helping to lay out ads and providing emergency financial aid. When the staff of IT ran the UFO club, an all-night underground club featuring the Pink Floyd and Arthur Brown, Paul was often to be found there, sitting on the floor along with the rest of the hippies. We attended lectures and concerts and went to films and plays together. Paul often came to dinner. In 1968 Paul asked me to become the label manager for Zapple, the experimental and spoken-word division of Apple Records, and I recorded a number of albums for the label, some of which I edited at Apple headquarters in Savile Row, which I got to know pretty well.
The descriptions of the Asher household, Beatles recording sessions from Revolver onwards, most of the scenes in nightclubs, the Indica Gallery and Bookshop, Paul's experimental recording studio, Marianne Faithfull and John Dunbar's apartment, Robert Fraser's home and gallery, are all based in part upon journal notes I made at the time, though in some cases John Dunbar has jogged my memory. These are my descriptions of places and events and not necessarily how Paul remembers them. Paul's quoted memories are his.
In order to present a more rounded picture I talked with other people who were involved in the London scene at the time and would like to thank the following for allowing me to interview them: William Burroughs, Brian Clarke, David Dalton, Felix Dennis, Donovan, John Dunbar, Marianne Faithfull, Christopher Gibbs, Allen Ginsberg, Linda McCartney, Peter Swales and David Vaughan. I have also drawn upon interviews I conducted prior to this project with George Harrison, Mick Jagger, John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
I have been given enormous assistance by the staff of MPL, in particular Sue Prochnik and Shelagh Jones. I am also grateful to Mary McCartney in the London office and Eddie Klein, Keith Smith, John Hammel, Louise Morris and Jamie Kirkham at the Mill. Thanks also to Zoë and Sylvie at Linda's Pictures.
In a project such as this, many people inevitably contribute ideas and information, often inadvertently in the course of a conversation, at other times by active assistance. I would like to thank Steve Abrams for his considerable help on the section concerning the 'pot ad' in The Times; John and Marina Adams; Gillon Aitken at Aitken Stone & Wylie; Anica Alvarez at Secker; Neil Aspinall at Apple; Mike Arnold at Merseytravel for details of Liverpool bus routes; Geoff Baker; Peter Blake; Victor Bockris; Pete Brown; Simon Caulkin; Chris Charlesworth at Omnibus Press; Dave Courts; Andy Davis at The Beatles Book Monthly; Paul DuNoyer at Mojo; Robin Eggar for sharing his McCartney interviews with me; Mike Evans; Anthony Fawcett; Raymond Foye; Hilary Gerrard; the late Albert Goldman; Jaco and Elizabeth Groot at Die Harmonie in Amsterdam; Michael Henshaw; John Hopkins; Michael Horovitz; Jude at Vibe; Harold Landry for various key magazines; Christopher Logue; Tony Lacey at Penguin; George Lawson at Bertram Rota; Mark Lewisohn for many useful insights as well as for his invaluable chronologies; Gerard Malanga; Gerard Mankowitz; Sue Miles, who was there for much of it; Laury Minard at Forbes; Hervé Muller; Jeremy Neech at Apple's photographic archives; Richard Neville; Alan Nichols at NatWest; Pierce and Jackie O'Carroll in Liverpool; the late David Platz; Victor Schonfield for his memories of our visit to AMM; Paul Smith at Blast First; Mat Snow at Mojo; Peter Stansill; Martha Stevns; Lionel Tiger; Harriet Vyner for her notes on Robert Fraser; Peter Whitehead; John Wilcock; Peter Wollen; the staff of the London Library and the Liverpool Record Office.
Thanks to Dan Franklin for signing the book and to my editor Max Eilenberg for the laborious task of knocking it into shape. Thanks to Ingrid von Essen for detecting numerous embarrassing errors. Many thanks to my friend and agent Andrew Wylie, who first proposed the idea, and, as ever, to my wife and in-house editor Rosemary Bailey, for her invaluable suggestions and support. And to Paul, whose life it is.
BEING BORN IN
LIVERPOOL BRINGS WITH
At all seasons, at all states, the River was beautiful.
At dead low water, when great sandbanks were laid
bare, to draw multitudes of gulls; in calm, when the
ships stood still above their shadows; in storm, when
the ferries beat by, shipping sprays, and at full flood,
when shipping put out and came in, the River was a
wonder to me.
John Masefield, New Chums, 1944
ON 28 AUGUST 1207, KING JOHN GRANTED THE CHARTER THAT MADE the small fishing village of Liverpool a free borough; a second charter, granted by Henry III in 1229, gave the merchants the privilege of buying and selling without paying government dues: thus was the port of Liverpool born. It acquired a castle and a chapel on the quay, both long since gone. But it was not until trade with the New World developed in the latter part of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I that Liverpool's fortunes noticeably improved, when its geographical position established it as the main port to the North American continent. After the Great Plague in 1664 and the Great Fire of 1666, numerous London merchants moved there and the port flourished. Many ran plantations in the New World, highly profitable enterprises which gave rise to the iniquitous triangle route: British ships laden with manufactured goods sailed for west Africa, where their cargo was bartered in exchange for slaves. The human cargo was then transported across the Atlantic to be sold in the established slave markets in the Caribbean or America. The huge sums of money raised enabled the ship's captains to return to Liverpool, their holds filled with cargoes of sugar, rum, tobacco and cotton. By 1700 there were eighty ships using the port, though not all were engaged in the slave trade, and the population of Liverpool had grown to 5700. The impact of this commerce remains evident to this day: even now Philips's tobacco warehouse is reputed to be the largest in the world, and Liverpool still has its own cotton exchange. Paul McCartney's family was a part of it: his grandfather spent his whole working life as a tobacco cutter and stover at Cope's tobacco warehouse and his father, Jim, worked as a cotton salesman at the exchange.
All through the eighteenth century the docks expanded: Salthouse Dock, George's Dock, the King's Dock and the Queen's Dock. The nineteenth century brought the railways and canals, bigger docks and hundreds more warehouses. In 1817 the Black Ball Line operated four ships between Liverpool and New York, the first regularly scheduled transatlantic packet to Europe, leaving New York on the first of each month. Trade expanded so rapidly that by the next year several other shipping lines sailed between Liverpool and New York, offering a departure every week. Southern planters sent their cotton crops to New York, where it was transhipped to Liverpool for the northern textile mills. In 1830, the world's first railway station opened in Liverpool to transport cotton to Manchester. Wealthy merchants built solid, luxurious town houses along Rodney Street, but the prosperity of the time was overshadowed by mass migration to the New World. The hostels were crowded with tearful families who had often never before left their village or hamlet, preyed upon by a notorious gang of thugs known as the Forty Thieves, as well as by dishonest runners, unscrupulous boarding-house keepers and corrupt officials. The docks were a mass of confusion and emotional departures as families prepared to leave their homeland for ever for an uncertain new life in the Americas. Though emigration to the American colonies began in the seventeenth century, it was not until the nineteenth century, after the USA achieved independence, that Liverpool became the main point of departure.
An estimated nine million people left in search of a new life from Liverpool, mostly heading for the USA, but many going to Canada or even Australia. Most of them suffered primitive conditions in steerage on boats such as the Royal Mail steamers operated by the Allan Line, which crossed from Liverpool to Quebec and Liverpool to Norfolk and Baltimore six times a month. The Black Ball Line built more ships and operated twice a month between Liverpool and New York. Ships left virtually every day: the Red Star Line, the White Star Line, the Castle Line to India, the Cunard Line to the Levant. The emigrants were not just the English and Irish unemployed; they came from all parts of Europe: Scandinavians, Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, Austrians, Greeks and Italians. Even some Chinese used the Asian-European route as a way to emigrate to the USA. Some were robbed and never made the passage, others decided to stay in Liverpool, giving it the heterogeneous mix of people that characterises a great port.
Liverpool became the gateway to the British Empire. A grand neoclassical city centre was built, described by Queen Victoria as 'worthy of ancient Athens'. The docks grew so large that an overhead railway, known locally as 'the dockers' umbrella', was built to connect them. At the turn of the century more than 2000 ships were registered at Liverpool, with a combined tonnage of 2,500,000, a third greater than the Port of London. Liverpool also held the luxury passenger traffic for liners to North America, supported by grand hotels like the Adelphi, described by Charles Dickens as the best hotel in the world and famous for its turtle soup.
The docks remained prosperous during World War I, shipping men and matériel, but in 1918 the amount of shipping had dropped to half its pre-war rate. Liverpool was hit badly by the Great Depression and never recovered. Despite this, it remained the primary destination of Irish immigrants arriving in the United Kingdom, as it had been since the 1860s. Among them were the forebears of Paul McCartney, who, like John Lennon, is of Liverpool Irish stock. Paul's parents were both born in Liverpool and, on his father's side, his grandparents were also from Liverpool, but no one is sure whether his great-grandfather James was born in Liverpool or Ireland. James was living in Scotland Road, Liverpool, when he married Paul's great-grandmother Elizabeth Williams in 1864. Paul's maternal grandfather Owen Mohin was born in Tullynamalrow in Ireland in 1880 (as Owen Mohan) but emigrated and married a girl from Toxteth Park, Mary Danher, in Liverpool in 1905.
During World War II Liverpool suffered terribly from the German air raids: from the night of 17 August 1940 until 10 January 1942 there were sixty-eight raids and over five hundred air-raid warnings. Every night thousands of people huddled together in basements and bomb shelters as high-explosive, incendiary and parachute bombs rained down upon the city, killing 2650, seriously injuring over 2000 others and leaving much of the city centre in ruins. The dead were buried in mass graves in Anfield cemetery. Over 10,000 of the homes in Liverpool were completely destroyed and two-thirds of all homes were seriously damaged.
Paul was born on 18 June 1942, five months after the bombing ceased, in Walton Hospital. His mother, Mary, had been the nursing sister in charge of the maternity ward before leaving to have children and was welcomed back with a bed in a private ward. He was named James Paul McCartney after his father, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather and was later to name his own son James. Eighteen months later, Paul's brother Michael was born on 7 January 1944. The boys were both baptised Catholics, their mother's faith, but religion did not play a part in their upbringing. Their father had been christened in the Church of England but later became agnostic. Paul and Michael were not sent to Catholic schools because Jim thought they concentrated too much upon religion and not enough on education.
Paul's parents were both involved in the war effort. Jim, born in 1902, was too old to be called up for active service and had previously been disqualified on medical grounds: he had fallen from a wall and smash his left eardrum. When the cotton exchange closed for the duration of hostilities he worked as a lathe-turner at Napiers engineering works, making shell cases to be filled with explosives. At night he was a volunteer fireman, surveying the ruined city from a high rooftop on fire-watch duty when not actually fighting a blaze. No one knew if the air raids would start again. As a district health visitor his mother cared for families in houses that were often without water or electricity because of the Blitz, or for people living in emergency accommodation, frequently in terrible conditions.
Housing was scarce after the war; thousands of people lived in prefabs, single-storey prefabricated buildings assembled on site as temporary housing, intended to last a maximum of ten years, some of which were still in use on the Speke Estate twenty-five years later. Rather than patch up damaged old buildings, the Liverpool Corporation decided to demolish entire neighbourhoods and build anew. Paul spent most of his childhood in the new council estates thrown up around the city on levelled bomb sites or open fields.
In 1947, when Paul's younger brother Michael was three, Mary McCartney became a domiciliary midwife. It was an exhausting, demanding job which entailed being on call at all hours of the day and night, but it enabled the family to move to Sir Thomas White Gardens off St Domingo Road in Everton, a flat which came with the job. Not long afterwards they moved again, this time to one of the new estates on the outskirts of Liverpool.
PAUL: I don't know why that was; maybe she volunteered. Maybe she wanted to get a new house because a house came with the job. The first house I remember was at 72 Western Avenue in Speke, which we moved to when I was four. The road was still being built and roadside grass was being sown and trees were being planted. The city always ran out where we lived, there was always a field next to us. Then the minute they built more houses on that field, we moved to another place where there was another field.
12 Ardwick Road in Speke, where we lived after Western Avenue, was really unfinished, we were slopping through mud for a year or so before that was done, so it was always this pioneering thing, we were always on the edge of the world, like Christopher Columbus, there was this feeling you might drop off.
The McCartney had money worries. After the war, Jim's job at the armaments factory ended and he returned to the cotton exchange, as a salesman for A. Hannay and company, but the war had changed everything; the cotton market was in chaos, and he was lucky to bring home £6 a week. It meant that Mary also had to work and it was always a cause of slight embarrassment that she earned a higher wage than he.
PAUL: Whilst we weren't a poor family, we weren't rich by any means, so we never had a car, or a television till the coronation in 1953. I was the first one in the family to buy a car with my Beatle earnings. My mum, as a nurse, rode a bike. I have a crystal-clear memory of one snow-laden night when I was young at 72 Western Avenue. The streets were thick with snow, it was about three in the morning, and she got up and went out on her bike with the little brown wicker basket on the front, into the dark, just with her little light, in her navy-blue uniform and hat, cycling off down the estate to deliver a baby somewhere.
The picture of Mary on the sleeve of Michael McCartney's first solo album was taken when she was working at Walton Hospital. She looks more like a nun than a nurse in the royal blue and white uniform and hat, which in those days still showed the religious origins of the profession.
PAUL: If ever you grazed your knee or anything it was amazingly taken care of because she was a nurse. She was very kind, very loving. There was a lot of sitting on laps and cuddling. She was very cuddly. I think I was very close to her. My brother thinks he was a little closer, being littler. I would just be trying to be a bit more butch, being the older one. She liked to joke and had a good sense of humour and she was very warm. There was more warmth than I now realise there was in most families.
I think she was pretty good-looking. To me she's just a mum and you don't look at a mum the same way as you look at film stars or something. She had slightly wavy hair in a bob, I suppose she would have described her hair as mousy. It wasn't jet black or red or blonde or anything, it was kind of an in-between colour. She had gentle eyes and wore rimless spectacles. She was quite striking-looking. She had lovely handwriting and was quite nicely spoken for Liverpool and encouraged us to speak the Queen's English. That's why I never had too thick a Liverpool accent.
They aspired to a better life. That idea that we had to get out of here, we had to do better than this. This was okay for everyone else in the street but we could do better than this. She was always moving to what she saw as a better place to bring her kids up.
Speke was named after the swine fields that surrounded Liverpool; the Anglo-Saxon 'Spic' means bacon. The old village of Speke, together with the hamlet of Oglet, had only thirty-seven houses when construction began in 1936 of a 'new model town'. Over 35,000 houses and flats were built, mainly to house people from the slums of the south end of Liverpool. Despite being well equipped with schools, clinics, parks and playing fields, it was a pretty soulless place. The idea of rehousing people in rural surroundings didn't work. They missed the street life, the local pub, the corner shops and sense of community and felt that the council had taken them and dumped them in a field out of sight. The low, monotonous terraced houses, the lack of nearby shops or entertainment and the great distance from the city centre quickly combined to make it into a rough working-class ghetto, separated from the rest of Liverpool by an industrial estate and the airport. However, there were thick woods nearby, full of bluebells in spring, now engulfed by a Ford motor factory, and it was only a short walk to the River Mersey.
School was only one street away but, as more and more houses were built and occupied, the Stockton Wood Road School rapidly became overcrowded until it eventually had a roll-call of 1500 children, making it the largest junior school in Britain. The problem was solved by taking many of the children, including Paul and Michael, on a school coach each morning to Gateacre, a half-hour drive north through Hunts Cross and Woolton, to the Joseph Williams Primary School in Belle Vale, also newly built, which was then on the edge of the countryside. It was at Belle Vale that Paul made his first appearance on stage.
In 1953, schools were preoccupied with the national celebrations for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, and one project was an essay competition on the subject of the monarchy. 'I obviously wrote something reasonable because I won my age group's prize,' Paul remembered. 'I went to Picton Hall, in the city centre, and it was my first ever experience of nerves. When some dignitary in pinstripes called my name - "And for the eleven-year-old age group, from Joseph Williams Primary School in Gateacre, J. P. McCartney" - my knees went rubbery.' His prize was a souvenir book of the coronation plus a book token. 'I used it to buy a book on modern art. It was fabulous. It was just lots and lots of pictures; people like Victor Pasmore, Salvador Dali, Picasso, and a lot of artists I hadn't heard of. I'd always been attracted to art. I used to draw a lot.'
Jim McCartney took great pleasure in gardening and filled their small front garden with flowers: dahlias, snapdragons and a carefully tended lavender hedge. He would dry and crush the sprigs of lavender to burn in the house like incense, and would sprinkle them in all the ashtrays to kill the smell of burning cigarette stubs. He would always curse the ginger tom from next door for sleeping in the lavender hedge. He kept his eye open for horse manure, and it was the boys' job to collect it. Paul: 'Talk about peer pressure, you would hope your friends didn't catch you shovelling the shit in the bucket. Then you'd have to carry it around to the garden.' Jim's interest in gardening led him to become the secretary of the Speke Horticultural Society and when they were living in Western Avenue he sent Paul and Michael out canvassing for new members.
PAUL: He had us out aged about nine. I was virtually a door-to-door salesman by the time I was twelve. We used to go, 'Knock knock, would you like to join the gardening club?' 'What's in it for me then? Why should I?' 'Well, there's free manure, and you can get seeds at a discount ...' and I had this spiel! And the people would go, 'Fuck off! Piss off,' so it was a very good way to learn the territory. 'Shit, I'm not going to that house again, he's an old drunk.' I remember a blind couple there and there was only one seeing member of the family, it was quite bizarre really, looking back on it. My brain's full of all that. For some reason I worked like a bastard when I was a kid! I would be out collecting jam jars door to door, doing Bob-a-Job.
I was certainly not shy with people, I think because of all these activities my dad encouraged us into. I think it's probably very good for your confidence with people. It was all right. That was my upbringing.
For Paul and Michael, the best thing about living in Speke was the countryside. In a couple of minutes they could be in Dungeon Lane, which led through the fields to the banks of the Mersey. The river is very wide at this point, with the lights of Ellesmere Port visible on the far side across enormous shifting banks of mud and sand pecked over by gulls. On a clear day you could see beyond the Wirral all the way to Wales. Paul would often cycle the two and a half miles along the shoreline to the lighthouse at Hale Head, where the river makes a 90-degree turn, giving a panoramic view across the mud and navigation channels to the industrial complex of Runcorn on the far side. These are lonely, cold, windy places, the distant factories and docks dwarfed by the size of the mud banks of the river itself.
In the early fifties the McCartneys moved to another new house, surrounded by a muddy building site, at 12 Ardwick Road in the expanding eastern extension of the estate. It was not without danger. Paul was mugged there once while messing about with his brother on the beach near the old lighthouse. His watch was stolen and he had to go to court because they knew the youths that did it. Paul: 'They were a couple of hard kids who said, "Give us that watch," and they got it. The police took them to court and I had to go and be a witness against them. Dear me, my first time in court.'
In 1953, out of the ninety children at Joseph Williams School who took the eleven-plus exam, Paul was one of four who received high enough marks to qualify for a place in the Liverpool Institute, the city's top grammar school. The Institute was one of the best schools in the country and regularly sent more of its students to Oxford and Cambridge universities than any other British state school. It was founded in 1837 and its high academic standards made it a serious rival to Eton, Harrow and the other great public schools. In 1944 it was taken over by the state as a free grammar school but its high standards as well as many of the public-school traditions still remained.
Paul first met George Harrison when they found themselves sharing the same hour-long bus ride each day to Mount Street in the city centre, and identified each other as Institute boys by their school uniforms and caps. George was born in February 1943, which placed him in the year below Paul, but because they shared the ride together Paul put their eight-month age difference to one side and George quickly became one of his best friends. Paul soon made himself at home in the welcoming front room of George's house at 25 Upton Green, a cul-de-sac one block away from Paul's house on Ardwick Road.
The little village of Hale was less than two miles away, with thatched roofs, home of the giant Childe of Hale who, legend has it, was nine foot tall. Paul and Michael would stare at his grave in wonder. The worn gravestone is still there, inscribed 'Hyre lyes ye childe of Hale'. It was a favourite destination for a family walk. On the way back Paul's parents and the two boys would stop at a teashop called the Elizabethan Cottage for a pot of tea, Hovis toast and homemade jam. It was a pleasant, genteel interlude, a touch of quality before they walked back to their very different life among the new grey houses and hard concrete roads of the housing estate.
'This is where my love of the country came from,' Paul said. 'I was always able to take my bike and in five minutes I'd be in quite deep countryside. I remember the Dam woods, which had millions of rhododendron bushes. We used to have dens in the middle of them because they get quite bare in the middle so you could squeeze in. I've never seen that many rhododendrons since.' Sometimes, however, rather than play with his friends, Paul preferred to be alone. He would take his Observer Book of Birds and wander down Dungeon Lane to the lighthouse on a nature ramble or climb over the fence and go walking in the fields.
PAUL: This is what I was writing about in 'Mother Nature's Son', it was basically a heart-felt song about my child-of-nature leanings.
I was a Boy Scout and I remember Baden Powell's saying 'People never look up,' so I would go in the woods and sit in a tree and watch people go by underneath. I'd be like a super spy, the Silent Observer, the Sniper. It became apparent to me that what I was doing was practising to be a soldier. National Service was still going and, like everyone else, I fully expected to have to go in the army for two years' National Service.
George Harrison's elder brother Harry had been to Christmas Island and arrived back with a gorgeous tan in his army uniform and we thought, My God, he's been made a man of. You used to see this quite regularly, people would be made a man of.
They'd come back and by then of course they were all used to being soldiers. We hadn't seen the first few months when it had been hell. We saw tanned blokes, fit, happy to be in the army, 'Sure, what's wrong?' So I expected that would happen to me, we all did. But then they ended it. Suddenly they said, 'There will be no more National Service, we're having the regular army, the Territorials. We'll be all right, thanks, we're fixed, lads, we don't need you.' So it was like, Oh my God! The relief!
However, when I was a kid, living on the outskirts of Liverpool, I didn't know this was going to happen so I had to be prepared. In my mind I would imagine myself with a bayonet, because that was the symbol of it all, and imagine myself running someone through, and I thought, Jesus Christ! That is not going to be easy. Fuck me! What's the look on his face going to be like if I do it? Having quite a vivid imagination, I'd follow all that shit through. So when I went out into the woods, I thought I'd better get some practice in. So I thought, Frogs. That'll do, because all my mates killed frogs anyway. They used to blow them up sticking a straw up their ass. That was the way to kill a frog. I didn't fancy that, I thought that was a little bit pervy. I thought a straightforward killing with a bash, hold the legs and just smash 'em on the head. You feel that you've got to learn to kill, like a farmer's boy who grows up and learns to kill that goose and wring that chicken's neck. But I didn't have the farm, so there was no other way to learn.
I felt very conscious that I was going to shit out completely when this National Service arrived. I was going to be one of the guys who said, 'Sorry, sir, I'm a pacifist, I can't kill,' and I'd have to go to jail. I was in a dilemma in my mind. So I used to kill these frogs. There was a spot in the woods where there was some barbed wire and I used to stick 'em on the barbs of the wire. I had quite a little gallery. I used to call 'em Johnny Rebs, these were the rebels from the Civil War. I had six or seven of them, and I remember taking my brother down there once. He was completely horrified.
Though Paul had a secure home life, growing up in Speke was far from tranquil. It was a tough industrial estate and he had plenty of aggressive and delinquent youths to contend with.
PAUL: I was looking out for guys on every corner who were going to beat me up. There were fights where George and I used to live in Speke. The next district, about quarter of an hour away, is called Garston and the guys from Garston would sometimes get on a late-night bus and come to Speke. And suddenly the word would go round, because it was like a frontier town in the Wild West: 'The lads from Garston are coming! Fuck off, fuck off!' And you'd have to run! And they would come, forty guys from Garston would come and our bigger guys didn't run. They would go and meet them. It was very very real. It was serious fighting. George and I weren't very involved, but our moment came. There was one fight I remember in Woolton on the day I met John Lennon at the Woolton fête. We went to the pub afterwards, all getting a bit steamed up, then the word went round - God knows who it is who puts that word round, there was always a runner - 'The lads from ...' 'The teds from so and so are coming.' 'Jimmy Ardersly's around. He said he's goin' to get you.'
'What? Jimmy Ardersly? He's fuckin' said he's goin' to 'it me? Oh! My God!' I didn't like all that shit. I was not that type at all. I was much more of a pacifist.
Jim and Mary McCartney were overjoyed when Michael also passed the eleven-plus and got a place at the Liverpool Institute alongside his brother.
PAUL: My parents aspired for us, very much indeed. That is one of the great things you can find in ordinary people. My mum wanted me to be a doctor. 'My son the doctor' - and her being a nurse, too. No problem there. And my dad, who left school at fourteen, would have loved me to be a great scientist, a great university graduate. I always feel grateful for that. I mean, God, I certainly fulfilled their aspirations, talk about overachieving! That was all bred into me, that.
My dad always took the Express. He'd have long arguments on Sundays with my cousin Jean's husband, Ted Merry, who was an ardent communist and would come round: 'Look Jim, the workers deserve ... and the management take the lion's share of the profits ...' All the completely true stuff. But my dad would say, 'What can you do about it? What are you going to do about it?' 'Well, if you overthrow -' 'Wait a minute!' So my dad would have long conversations about that.
He was very into crosswords. 'Learn crosswords, they're good for your word power.' At a very early age I was the only kid in class who knew how to spell 'phlegm'.
We had George Newnes Encyclopedias. I can still remember the smell of them. If you didn't know what a word meant or how it was spelled, my dad would say 'Look it up.' I think that's a great attitude to take with kids. It steers you in the right direction. It was part of a game where he was improving us without having had an awful lot of experience of improvement himself. But I always liked that, and I knew I would outstrip him. By going to grammar school I knew I'd fairly soon have Latin phrases or know about Shakespeare which he wouldn't know about.
This access to new areas of knowledge is one explanation for the great social changes that came about during the sixties. The parents of many of the sixties generation had left school at fourteen and gone straight to work. Their children were far better educated, even those who paid scant attention to what was being taught. They knew more and their horizons stretched beyond that of their families into a world where their parents could no longer guide them; a world unknown to the pre-war generation. It was an area with no rules, an unexplored territory where young people had money; where fashion was for youth, not adults; where music meant rock 'n' roll, not Mantovani; where sex could be practised free from fear of pregnancy; where you could make up the rules as you went along.
In Britain then, the sixties revolution can be attributed largely to a combination of this free education, of open admission to art schools, and of the post-war economic boom. All that was needed to get into art school was a folder of work of sufficient standard to convince the principal that you might benefit from four years of painting and life drawing - and the state would pay the tuition. As Simon Frith and Howard Horne wrote in Welcome to Bohemia!: 'The art college was the flaw in the British education system, a space where both middle- and working-class youth could deny the implications of past and future and live out, however briefly, a fantasy of cultural freedom.'
The art schools produced very few fine artists, but turned out brilliant fashion designers and scores of rock 'n' roll artists, who went on to ensure that British rock became the dominant popular music on the planet for more than a decade: Eric Clapton, David Bowie, Pete Townshend, all of the Pink Floyd, Keith Richards, Ron Wood, Ray and Dave Davies of the Kinks, Jeff Beck and Eric Burdon, to name only the most famous. When they arrived in Hamburg in 1960, two members of the Beatles were still technically at Liverpool College of Art.
PAUL: That was one of the great blessings, we all got a free classical education. None of us wanted to know at the time, of course, but you couldn't help it, they beat it into us. Me and George Harrison didn't do well at school but you had to go and you had to take exams, whether you passed or not. John didn't do at all well at school, and he didn't do an awful lot at art school. He was not a keen painter, but this is where we were coming from and this is why it all happened.
No matter how bad a student John Lennon was, the fact is that he was an art student and not a truck driver like Elvis Presley. British rock 'n' roll had very different roots to its American counterpart, filtering the raw R & B roots through an additional layer of Surrealism and contemporary European art theory.
Paul: 'That's why I'm so keen on my old school. Because it really did turn my head from being a lovely innocent suburban head, somewhat limited, somewhat dour, somewhat picky and provincial, and somewhat blinkered, to being expansive: "Wait a minute, fuckin' hell, there's all these guys wrote those poems ...!" It gave me a felling that things were allowed.' More than any time before, there were no limits, no restrictions. The Beatles burst out of Liverpool into a world that they made up as they went along.
In 1955, Jim and Mary McCartney moved their family for the final time. Through Mary's job as a midwife, they were able to get a council property in Allerton, closer to the city centre and an altogether better neighbourhood than Speke. For Paul it was disruptive because at thirteen he had many friends on the Speke estate, but Allerton is not far from Speke and he was able to keep in touch with some of them.
Allerton - the place of the alder trees - began life as a separate manor and was only incorporated into Liverpool in 1913. Class-consciousness has always been acute in Allerton, and ever since the building of the Springwood housing estate in the 1920s many middle-class Allertonians have preferred to tell people that they live in neighbouring Mossley Hill.
PAUL: My mother was always on the lookout for a better place for us to live. It was a bit of an uproot but we soon settled in there and it was a reasonable area. Her idea was to get us out of a bad area into a slightly posh area so that perhaps some of the posh might rub off on us. It was also a safer area; in fact, it was quite a middle-class area where we were, but they'd built a council estate in the middle of all the posh houses, much to the chagrin of the local residents, I'm sure, though we never heard anything about that.
Mary McCartney's attempts to better herself and her family were the cause of one of Paul's regrets.
PAUL: There's one moment that I've regretted all my life which is a strange little awkwardness for me. There was one time when she said 'ask' and she pronounced it posh. And I made fun of her and it slightly embarrassed her. Years later I've never forgiven myself. It's a terrible little thing. I wish I could go back and say, 'I was only kidding, Mum.' I'm sure she knew. I'm sure she didn't take it too seriously.
Number 20 Forthlin Road, near the corner of Mather Avenue, was a small two-floor brick-built terrace house in a 1950s council housing estate of the type being thrown up quickly all over the country to replace the houses destroyed by German bombs. It had a lavender hedge bordering a pocket-handkerchief lawn and a small mountain ash growing outside the glass-panelled front door. The living room led off to the left from the tiny front hall and a door led through from the living room to the dining room, overlooking the back yard. The dining room was connected to the kitchen, which in turn connected to the hall. Paul: 'It was an all-round plan: if you kept turning right, you would get back into the hall, which is a feature I've used in the house I've designed for myself, because people used to be so amazed to get back to where they started. The architects who helped me design my house have now incorporated that idea in their new houses. It was an amazingly good design for the suburbs in those days.'
Paul had the small bedroom at the front of the house above the front door. His parents had the big bedroom next to it, above the living room, overlooking the street, and Paul's brother Michael had the bedroom at the back, overlooking the back yard. Next to Michael's room was the bathroom. This was a great luxury; their previous council houses, despite being built since the war, all had outside lavatories, as did most working-class housing in Britain at the time. Despite the image of Britain propagated by the British Tourist Board, one of the most widespread British memories of childhood is not of being tucked up in bed by Nanny but of pulling an overcoat over thin pyjamas to brave the cold night air to use the outhouse.
The back of the house overlooked the grounds of the Police Training College, headquarters of the Liverpool Mounted Police. Paul and his brother would watch them training horses, knocking pegs out of the ground with lances just as they had done in the British Raj. 'We used to sit on the concrete shed in the back yard and watch the Police Show every year for free,' Paul remembered. 'One year, Jackie Collins came to open it and we were entranced at the sight of her comely young figure.'
Paul's adolescence in Liverpool seemed staid and old-fashioned compared to the modern, pacy, heroic images of the American television series that dominated the tiny black and white British screen: 77 Sunset Strip, Highway Patrol, Sea Hunt, Dragnet, Whirlybirds. In 1955 there were still more than 11,000 gas lamps lighting the streets and alleys of Liverpool and the Corporation Cleansing Department still used horse-drawn wagons to collect the garbage: fifty-seven heavy shire horses, direct descendants of the old English war horse, capable of carrying a knight in full armour, pulled the heavy wagons, their iron-shod hoofs striking sparks from the cobbles. Britain's only elevated railway still ran from Seaforth Sands to Dingle Station; a trip on the 'overhead' was a favourite treat for young boys until it was demolished on the last day of 1956. It featured in John Lennon's original lyrics for 'In My Life' and was so well built that the company commissioned to knock it down went bankrupt trying. A gun was fired at 1:00 p.m. each day at Morpeth pier head and Paul would eat lunch in the large basement canteen of the Institute with its scrubbed wooden tables and long benches looking rather like an army mess hall. Life seemed totally predictable and stable.
Each morning Paul would catch the number 86 bus on Mather Avenue to school.
PAUL: I had to do the journey into the centre, half an hour on my own on the bus from the age of eleven. I was pretty independent, and I soon learned how to explore. I know it was something the other Beatles didn't really feel too much. I used to say to George Harrison, 'God, I'd love to go on a bus again.' George would say, 'Why would you want to do that?' His dad had been a bus driver and I think maybe George could not see the romance of travelling on a bus that I would. I always saw it as sitting upstairs, smoking a pipe like a poet. Sitting on the top of a bus composing things.
Liverpool buses were double-deckers with an upstairs compartment where smoking was permitted, a section much favoured by schoolchildren because the conductor couldn't see them up there. It was this removed view of the city that provided a vocabulary of places and characters used in Paul's later songs. Though he often ran into friends on the bus, and his brother accompanied him to school, the long bus rides were an integral part of his childhood and youth; a period of enforced introspection, the detached observer viewing events and places through the frame of the bus window from the godlike height of the upper deck. Such moments was drawn upon in Paul's lyrics to 'A Day in the Life', where he sits upstairs in a bus, smokes a cigarette and goes into a dream. A combination of childhood memories and a high sixties reference to smoking pot.
No matter where he was headed - to school or to see friends - the bus inevitably took him first to Penny Lane.
PAUL: The are was called Penny Lane; we would often use it because a lot of bus routes converge there. It was on the way to Liverpool city centre so I would pass it every day on my bus route or if I was taking the bus to John's, if it was raining or something, I'd take it to there and change and get the bus up to his house. George and I used to go through there to the cinema and it was also the way to a friend called Arthur Kelly who was a school mate.
Arthur Kelly later achieved success as an actor in the acclaimed television series The Boys from the Blackstuff and playing Bert in the West End stage play John Paul George Ringo ... and Bert.
The Penny Lane area actually looks much the same as it did thirty-five years ago, but the tourist hoping to explore the Liverpool of the Beatles is in for an unpleasant surprise because much of the city in which they grew up has been demolished: the beautiful Georgian terraces on Upper Parliament Street that Paul saw every day from the 86 bus on the way to school have all gone; Cumberland Terrace, built in 1847, was demolished as late as 1978, and the listed, and therefore supposedly protected, Georgian town houses on the same street were torn down to make way for the ill-advised inner ring road in the 1980s. The Liverpool Corporation has done more to disfigure and destroy Liverpool than the Luftwaffe managed with the blitzkrieg in 1941. The old heart of the city was ripped out: the large Georgian townhouses on St James Road which gave scale to the new Anglican cathedral and the elegant Georgian mansions with their columns and pediments on Upper Huskisson Street are now gone. Fine houses from the 1840s of the type so lovingly restored in Greenwich Village, Dublin or Chelsea were bulldozed into oblivion. The proportions of elegant city squares were destroyed by sixties blocks of flats, so badly built that many are already being replaced. Very few of the Victorian pubs, old warehouses and commercial buildings from the early nineteenth century, with their elaborate façades, ornamental pilasters, finials and patina of age, were retained. Now, at last, the city realises that tourism could be one of Liverpool's main industries, but the sad fact is that there is very little left to see.
There were three BBC radio channels. The Third Programme was for highbrow culture; the few popular records played on the two remaining channels were taken from charts dominated by Rosemary Clooney, Doris Day, Frankie Laine, Vera Lynn and Frank Sinatra. Then in October 1954 a record slipped briefly into the charts called 'Sh-Boom' by the Crew Cuts. It was the first rock 'n' roll-related record to make an impact in Britain. Elvis Presley was yet to have a UK release. Even though the Crew Cuts version was a squeaky-clean white copy of the Chords original, it caused kids all over the country to prick up an ear and when the Crew Cuts played the Liverpool Empire the next year, promoting their cover of the Penguins' 'Earth Angel', Paul was waiting outside the stage door in his short trousers with his autograph book.
PAUL: When I was a kid, I used to get autographs at the stage door at the Empire. It was a fantasy thing, it was amazing to me that you could go to this building and out of this little back door would come these people you'd seen on a record cover. I met the Crew Cuts, who had the cover version of 'Earth Angel', and they were very kind and very nice and I thought, Well, that's possible then, stars can talk to people, and I remembered that later.
The Crew Cuts were followed into the British charts by Bill Haley and his Comets, first with 'Shake, Rattle and Roll', then with 'Rock Around the Clock'. Lonnie Donegan appeared on the scene and introduced skiffle and Paul was there when he came to the Empire. Finally, in May 1956, Elvis entered the British charts with 'Heartbreak Hotel'. The floodgates opened and by the end of the year, half the records in the top 20 were American rock 'n' roll.
If a British home had a record player in 1956, it was most likely to play only 78-rpm records. It also required a needle change every couple of records and probably had to be wound up every three plays. Many R & B records were not released in Britain at all and those that were cost a huge amount at that time since until then records had always been aimed at an adult audience. Liverpudlians, however, had one great advantage over the teenagers of any other British town. Liverpool was the main port for shipping to and from the USA. Everyone knew someone with a brother, a cousin or a father on the boats, and when they returned, they brought with them American cigarettes, comic books (in full colour, not like the feeble black and white British reprints) and rock 'n' roll records.
PAUL: I nearly did very well at grammar school but I started to get interested in art instead of academic subjects. Then I started to see pictures of Elvis, and that started to pull me away from the academic path. 'You should see these great photos ...' Then you'd hear the records - 'But wait a minute, this is very good!' - and then the tingles started going up and down your spine, 'Oh, this is something altogether different.' And so the academic things were forgotten.
The words they used in their end-of-term reports: 'If he would only buckle down ...' and you'd go, 'No! No! Get out of my life! I hate you. You should say I'm great. I've got to take this home, you know.' If I had buckled down, it could have worked out that way, but I'm glad it didn't, of course. There was always the great pull of the other stuff: show business, music, art, the other stuff ...
The happiness and security of Paul's life was brutally shattered when his mother died on 31 October 1956. She had been in pain for several weeks but it is often the case with nurses and doctors that the carers fail to care for themselves. She did not mention the pain or the lump in her breast to the doctors and nurses she worked with every day until it was too late for them to help her. 'I would have liked to have seen the boys growing up' was one of the last things she said. She was given a mastectomy but the cancer was by then too advanced for the doctors to cure her.
PAUL: I remember one horrible day me and my brother going to the hospital. They must have known she was dying. It turned out to be our last visit and it was terrible because there was blood on the sheets somewhere and seeing that, and your mother, it was like 'Holy cow!' And of course she was very brave, and would cry after we'd gone, though I think she cried on that visit. But we didn't really know what was happening. We were shielded from it all by our aunties and by our dad and everything.
The boys went to stay with Jim's brother Joe and his wife Joan, while friends and relatives tried to calm their distraught father, whose first thought was to join his wife. After his initial anguish, Jim suppressed his own grief in order to make a home for the two bewildered boys. Michael was twelve and Paul just fourteen. The McCartneys were part of a large extended family and aunts and uncles and cousins rallied round, cooking and cleaning, shopping and helping out, but there was a terrible emptiness in the house. There was no one there when they got home from school, just a house filled with memories and regrets. Paul later preserved his mother's memory in the beautiful ballad 'Let It Be', based on a dream he had of her a decade after her death. Paul: 'She was great. She was a really wonderful woman and really did pull the family along, which is probably why in the end she died of a stress-related illness. She was, as so many women are, the unsung leader of the family.'