must it be like to be Paul McCartney? Deluged by gargantuan levels of fame since
the age of 21, he has remained squarely in the spotlight ever since. Other
pretenders to his pop crown, not to mention Popes and Presidents, come and go
but Paul, like the Queen, remains in place, the best known, most loved and most
successful rock star on the planet, still at it at 73, his violin bass and
cheery smile entertaining the multitudes with yet another chorus of ‘Hey Jude’.
Meanwhile, having amassed a fortune as great as the Count of Monte Cristo, he
somehow keeps his feet on the ground, always and forever Mr Normal.
is a life that has been under the microscope many times before and Philip
Norman is better placed than most to tell it again. The author of Shout!, the first Beatles biography to
look seriously behind the deference that until its publication in 1981 had shielded
the world’s greatest and best known pop group from detractors, Norman went on
to write a thumping great biography of John Lennon, the Beatle he once
suggested was three-quarters of the group. Now he turns his attention to the
other senior Beatle who, it must be said, has good reason to detest him. Shout!, highly enjoyable and successful
as it was, was so firmly on the side of John that Paul referred to it as ‘Shite’.
to the debate that surrounds the publication of his bulky 850 page McCartney
book is Norman’s position in the hierarchy of Beatle biographers, once unassailable
but of late challenged by Mark Lewisohn, now widely recognised as the group’s
foremost archivist. There is a well-defined difference between these two rivals,
however. Lewisohn is a virtuoso historian, concerned with details, painstakingly
unearthing previously unknown facts and anecdotes and, with scrupulous
attention to accuracy, recording them at great length for posterity as demonstrated
in the extraordinary Tune In, the
first in what will surely become a remarkable and definitive trilogy of books
that tell the Beatles’ story from birth to their formal dissolution in 1974.
Norman, on the other hand, is a first-rate literary stylist, a craftsman whose
elegant and evocative prose entertains, illuminates and gives pause for thought
as he tells the story – the same story, of course, that he’s told twice before,
at least up to 1970.
begins his tale by laying his cards on the table, explaining in his
introduction his difficult relationship with McCartney which seems to have finally
reached a relatively amicable plateau. In what seems like a quid pro quo
trade-off, McCartney has evidently given his thumbs-up to this book while Norman
has revised his opinions on his subject’s contribution to the group’s music.
Hatchets buried, at least for now, we’re off and Norman’s opening chapter, a
heart-warming description of the National Trust ride to 20 Forthlin Road,
Liverpool, the house where McCartney spent his formative years, is as eloquent
as it is charming, bringing back memories of my own experience of this same
National Trust tour in 2010.
we get chapters on the McCartney line – in which we are informed that Jim,
Paul’s dad, was one of seven siblings who owned two pairs of shoes between
then, one for the boys, the other for the girls, and that since the school they
attended required all pupils to be properly shod they would take turns to
attend, and those that did would repeat the lessons to the others on their
return – and Paul’s childhood, followed by the best part of 300 pages on The
Beatles. This takes us to about halfway
through the book, so the years from 1970 to 2015 occupy the second half, an
imbalance that suggests Norman’s interest still rests with the sixties.
an all too familiar story now; how Paul met John at the village fete, joined the
Quarrymen who morphed into The Beatles, who learned their trade in Hamburg and
at the Cavern, became managed by Brian Epstein who smartened them up for George
Martin to light the fuse beneath the firework called Beatlemania. Nevertheless,
it is to Norman’s credit that in this, his third time of telling the same story,
he still manages to inject it with the magic it deserves, even though this is a
more streamlined version. This telling, however, not only shifts the focus
towards McCartney but also presents him in a more favourable light than in
either Shout! or his Lennon book.
Tony Sheridan, for example, states: “Watching them, I used to think that Paul
could probably make it without John, but John was never going to make it
without Paul”, a particularly strong quote that I couldn’t find in either of
his previous books. This surely implies that for this book Norman has adopted
a selective policy that favours McCartney.
it’s well told – and it is – I can enjoy the Beatles’ story again, even if
there’s nothing much new of note here. That’s Lewisohn’s job, though even he
would be impressed by details such as how Jane Asher’s father taught himself to write
his signature upside down so as not to waste time turning around letters handed
to him by his secretary. There is, however, new – or at least expanded –
material about McCartney himself, and Norman is particularly strong on his
close relationship with his father Jim and warm attitude towards his second
wife that in time would cool; also his relationship with Jane Asher who, as
ever, remains decorously mute, and Paul’s voracious appetite for other girls; his
fondness for soft drugs and immersion in London’s alternative culture, led by
my friend Barry Miles, which finally puts to the sword any ideas that John was
the Beatles’ avant-garde envelope pusher; and family life at Peasmarsh and elsewhere in which Paul and Linda excel as parents. Throughout all this the group’s music
seems to take a secondary role, perhaps because Norman realises it’s all been
covered so well before, though he delights in hinting how real experiences find
their way into Paul’s songs.
arrival in Paul’s life is covered in great detail – as it should be – and she,
along with Yoko, are held responsible for the break up of the group. As it
fragments after Epstein’s death, Norman puts forward a convincing case against
the wisdom of hiring Allen Klein to oversee their affairs, the implication
being that if the other three had adopted McCartney’s suggestion that Lee
Eastman, his father-in-law, be given the job they would all have benefitted to
a far greater degree – and John and Paul might even have hung on to Northern
Songs. In the event it was not to be, the malice clouding John’s judgement and
upsetting the applecart to everyone’s detriment. Paul can be forgiven for being
smug when it turns out he was right all along.
so on to the solo years during which Paul, who always enjoyed performing,
becomes the only Beatle to do so regularly (at least until Ringo formed his All
Starr Band). Band On The Run (and ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’) aside,
Paul’s music thereafter rarely reached the heights it did when John was egging
him on, and though Norman feels duty bound to cover it in detail there a sense
of dutiful ennui to his coverage thereof. Of more interest is the coverage of
the Japanese jaunt that saw Paul briefly jailed for importing marijuana, which Norman
relates in fine detail, as he does with Linda’s decline and McCartney’s
disastrous marriage to the dislikeable Heather Mills.
death clearly robbed McCartney of the rock on which he’d built his life, so
in her absence seems to have been a bit of a loose cannon. Never one to defer
to others, apart from her, we are presented with a man who is known to everyone
but surprisingly isolated. Not even his children can prevent this ill-advised
union, the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ syndrome having proved his undoing.
Fortunately, in the closing chapters of Norman’s book the darkness is exchanged
for light with the arrival of the far more suitable Nancy Shevell.
regard to flaws, I feel duty bound to reiterate comments from other reviewers
in that Wings was never a ‘glam rock’ band and that ‘God Save The Queen’ by the
Sex Pistols was not a punk-style pastiche of the National Anthem, even if they
do share the same title. More importantly, for a book that purports to be a
definitive biography of McCartney I could find no discussion of his remarkable
skills as a bass player, one of the best in the business. Having myself written
a 2,000+ word introduction to a Beatles songbook aimed specifically at bass
players (http://justbackdated.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/paul-his-basses.html), I find this unforgiveable, a very serious deficiency.
Norman brings the story up to date we learn how McCartney finally become
reconciled to his past, realising in the end that this was where the love was
made, and performing hugely enjoyable, ultra-professional concerts that continue to be
celebrations of The Beatles. He is also resigned to forever being second, the
second Beatle, after John but before George and Ringo. Indeed, Philip Norman perhaps
recognises this as well, choosing to write first about Lennon and then
McCartney, albeit with greater insight and depth with this book.
 I became
convinced that this lady has a very distant relationship with the truth when
she let it be known that when Paul smoked marijuana he became violent towards
her; anyone with the slightest experience of cannabis use knows perfectly well
it has the exact opposite effect. I wholeheartedly concur with the judge who firmly rejected
her evidence during the divorce proceedings, reproduced here in all its fantasy
 Other errors: a
suggestion that The Who would have been managed by Nems had Robert Stigwod
taken over is well wide of the mark. Joni Mitchell did not perform at Woodstock.
Denny Laine was not a member of the Incredible String Band (it was the Electric
String Band) and he is incorrectly identified as Jimmy McCulloch (and vice
versa) in a photo in the third plate section. The Troubador in LA is certainly
not ‘super-chic’. McCartney did not buy his MPL offices in Soho Square in 1977
but acquired the floors of the building one by one as they became empty from
1972 onwards, completing the ‘set’ in 1977 when he brought about a full scale
refurbishment. Finally, I don’t believe Paul ever played a Fender bass on
stage, as implied on page 627.