Earlier this year I reviewed The McCartney Legacy Volume 1 – 1969-73 by Allan Kozinn & Adrian Sinclair, a 700+ page book that covered this period of Paul McCartney’s life in extraordinary detail, perhaps too much so, though I was sure obsessive fans would love it. Now along comes Fly Away Paul which, to a certain extent, covers the same period, albeit in a far more reader-friendly fashion, with less emphasis on the minutiae of recording sessions and more on how events, both past and present, shaped the life and personality of the former Beatle who turned 81 in June, most especially how he coped with losing the group he loved.
Not too well, according to Lesley-Ann Jones, a prolific writer of books about musicians in which she seeks not so much to tell their story as psychoanalyse their characters through scrutinising their past, their loves and their music. Paul McCartney, robbed of his mother at 14, precociously talented, ever anxious to please yet somewhat of a control freak and foil for the caustic jibes of John Lennon, serially promiscuous until he found The One, offers fertile ground for investigation, Jones’ speciality, inherited from her journalist father, a distinguished sports writer, and honed during an ongoing career writing feature articles for national dailies.
To this end, Jones delves deeper into the personal and domestic life of the McCartney family than is to be found in other McCartney books on my shelves, which serves to make it considerably more interesting than the album/tour/year off and around again cycle that fills page after page of too many duller rock books. Thanks to Jones, I now know all about the history of ownership of High Park Farm, Paul’s Scottish hideaway, a remote and austere abode, its climate unforgiving, where the first Mrs McCartney not only coped with Spartan furnishings, but nursed her man back to life after a nervous breakdown brought on by all the fussing and fighting.
In Jones’ telling Linda, with whom she was on first name terms, was precisely what the footloose McCartney required, a home-maker unconcerned with outward appearances whose inner strength delivered to Paul the antidote to the madness that surrounded The Beatles, to wit much needed stability in the form of a ready-made family of one daughter, soon to be augmented by two more, followed by a son. For the most part, Fly Away Paul dwells on the closeness that Paul and Linda enjoyed during an unusually long and happy marriage in a business where separations and divorce are all too frequent, and how she faced down negative comments over her role in her husband’s post-Beatle group Wings. Linda’s passing, which occurs towards the end of the book, is dealt with sensitively, while Paul’s subsequent ill-fated relationship with Heather Mills, outside of the book’s dateline, is mentioned only briefly, as is the infinitely more suitable wife number three, Nancy Shevell.
Clearly a fan, Jones is generous in her appreciation of McCartney and Wings’ music, correctly identifying the song ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ and 1973 LP Band On The Run as the stand-out items in an ever-lengthening post Beatles catalogue, but she’s generous to other LPs too, citing them as marker points in her teenage life. The formation of Wings, their early concerts and McCartney’s desire that, even with him on board, they could somehow start from scratch offers plenty of opportunity for comment on Paul’s rather naïve optimism.
Though much of the biographical information in Fly Away Paul can be accessed in Beatle and McCartney literature elsewhere, Jones has a way of conveying it to suit her mission. It’s not communicated chronologically – there are leaps that would stump a pole-vaulter – but it all makes sense in the context of her rather spiritual book. She’s not above bringing herself into the story when her paths cross with the McCartneys and while this might be perceived as a bit of name-dropping, there’s rhyme and reason for these diversions and if nothing else they serve to authenticate her opinions, which are liberally scattered throughout, sometimes in the form of questions she answers herself, at other times left hanging. If there is a flaw, it’s unwieldy detours into areas only tangentially connected with McCartney: among them several pages on the topic of session musicians, Scottish pipe bands and even the fate of Jo Jo Laine, an appealing, high-spirited girl of immodest disposition who set her sights on Paul but ended up marrying Wingman Denny Laine and, before her death in 2006, engaged in a sex act with a transsexual in the Cabinet War Rooms. (Paul wasn’t present.)
Oddly, Fly Away Paul opens with a sort of memorial, a list of deceased, beginning with those associated with The Beatles and following on with a random bunch, the purpose of the exercise seemingly to comment on Paul’s longevity. “Why me?” Jones muses, assuming the mind of her subject. Happily, it closes with her wishing him many more years of ‘extraordinary odyssey’. “Long may the Beatle dwell among us,” she concludes.
The not overlong 265-page book has an eight-page photo section, and a further 73 pages with an up-to-date McCartney timeline, extensive chapter notes, random quotes from interested observers (including this writer) and an index.