Monday, October 06, 2008

On Bass Guitar: Paul McCartney

James Paul McCartney is so often regarded as the Elder Statesman of the Beatles--but the fact is that he didn't see the light of day until June 18, 1942, and is the youngest of the batch. Left-handed bass guitarist, profile songwriter, enthusiastic conversationalist . . . lists his favourite off-stage hobbies as writing things and birdwatching.

Paul is brisk, business-like, alert. He looks taller than the others but is actually precisely the same height as John Lennon and George Harrison. Weighs in at 11 stone 4 lb--an athletic sort of frame, topped by dark brown hair. The eyes, always on the move (from birdwatching!), are hazel in colour, deeply intense.


Paul's mother, Mary McCartney, is dead. But his father, James, can take credit for some of Paul's interest in music. Some thirty years ago, he led his own group, Jim Mac's Jazz Band.

Says Paul: "Dad always encouraged me to take up music. He likes our sound, I think--but sometimes says we're away from home a bit too much. He put up with my practice sessions for years which shows he's a brave man.

"Would he have liked to be anything but a musician? Sure--he'd have liked to have been clever!"

Sometimes Paul's career seems studded with things back to front--a habit he's got out of. And of pedalling his bicycle back to front, on the theory that he was actually doing it the right way!

Was Rhythm Guitarist

Paul originally played "ordinary" guitar with the group--and once filled in on piano during one of the Beatles' trips to Germany. His turn on bass came about when former member Stu Sutcliffe died.

"Give me any time to myself and you'll find me listening to American records, specially rhythm 'n' blues," says Paul. "Anything by Chuck Jackson, the Miracles, Ketty Lester, Little Richard, or Marjie Hendrickson of the Raelettes. You can mark down Juliette Greco for me, too--she looks fab as well as singing so well."

Can't Add Up

At school, Paul was a useful student of English literature but was pretty hopeless at geography and mathematics. A feeling of helplessness when confronted with simple sums is something common to all four Beatles. They have always leaned towards the more artistic subjects. And while John Lennon hates hair-cuts, Paul opts out on shaving whenever he can. Once he said he shaved with green tooth-paste--and was inundated with complaints from fans who'd tried it and found it didn't work!

Big Spender

"I suppose I've become a bit of a big spender," said Paul, serious for a moment. "One day I'd like to buy a house and set everybody up in it--but just at the moment the money seems to run away on the little things, like clothes and food.

"I kinda relax with food. Otherwise, I just sleep, or play guitar, or smoke cigarettes. Films? Yes, I'm a fan. I go for Marlon Brando, Belmondo, Sophia Loren, Peter Sellers. Oh, yes--and Juliette Greco.

"These hits records have done a lot for us. Somehow, we always felt we'd make it big one day. But this has been very sudden.

"We owe a great deal to our manager, Brian Epstein, you know. He's good. Astute and sympathetic . . . even when he's driving us very hard. Call him a good lad, dad!"

Paul, since his days at Liverpool Institute High School, has been very matey with George Harrison. They've developed a fast-chatting gag exchange style of conversation which can prove baffling at first hearing. He says he taught George his first guitar chord.


Marriage, one feels, will certainly be for Paul one day. He admits that the idea of domesticity appeals to him, but he won't be committed as to what would be the best age for him to get married. "It'll just happen, I suppose," he says. And leaves it at that.

"I get about 70-odd letters a week," he says. "And, believe me, some of them are very, very odd. I try to answer as many as I can, but it does take time. I hope the fans realise that. It's terrible to disappoint them, but we can only do so much in any one day."

Paul also dabbles on drums and banjo but there's no doubt that bass guitar is his principal interest. It's just that he likes to see how other instruments work . . . so he can understand their problems.

"Song-writing is very important to me," he says. "John and I work well together on this. We don't seem to have any shortage of ideas. What knocks us out is the way some of the top Americans are so interested in working our material."

That's Paul McCartney. Artistic, ambitious. An expert birdwatcher, too!


Anonymous said...

Ummm, No.
George Harrison was the youngest, being born 25 February 1943. But thanks for playing.

tnk said...

You'll have to forgive the authors; it was written at a time when their birthdays were not common knowledge. Well-spotted though.

Laura R said...

I'm pretty sure that Paul didn't replace Stu Sutcliffe because he died. Stu left the band, then died a little later.