13.11.23

FLY AWAY PAUL by Lesley-Ann Jones



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 husbands 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 na├»ve 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. 


4.11.23

THE BEATLES: NOW AND THEN

There is no escaping the tenderness of ‘Now And Then’, the ‘new’ Beatles single; a melancholy hankering for the era when The Beatles were young and happy and close and in love with the music they were making, above all making it together. John, its principal vocalist and the writer of the song, acknowledges the group’s closure with sadness in his heart. “Now and then I miss you,” he sings. “Now and then I want you to be there for me.” It’s almost as if he intended that one day the others might hear it and read within its lyrics a simple message to the three of them: for all we’ve been through, for all we might have said, for all the fussing and fighting, it’s been great to have you alongside me. And I’m still here if you want to call. That he wasn’t there to be called adds a further level of poignancy to this parting shot from the group who changed everything. 
Rightly, ‘Now And Then’ has been lauded as a vast improvement on ‘Free As A Bird and ‘Real Love’, the other two songs resurrected from the demo tape that Yoko gave to Paul when he was seeking something new to add to the Anthology albums The Beatles released in the 1990s. By all accounts ‘Now And Then’ was deemed unsatisfactory at the time, with George the principal naysayer, but advances in technology since then, largely the result of methods pioneered by film producer Peter Jackson on the Get Back film, have enabled Paul and Ringo to rework the song, overdubbing guitars and additional vocals on to John’s piano and lead vocal. Paul had added a slide guitar solo and fills reminiscent of George’s distinctive keening style, the guitar that gently wept. 
George’s reluctance to pursue the song seems difficult to understand now. The simple, wistful melody of ‘Now And Then’ is on a par with ‘Imagine’; the ringing acoustic guitar that joins John’s keyboard in the opening lines reminds me of George’s acoustic strumming in ‘My Sweet Lord’; Ringo’s metronomic rimshots cement the melody into place, adding muscle; and when Paul joins John on the chorus the wonderful choral landscape that lifted so many of the songs they wrote, or were credited with writing, together is recreated as if by magic. Just after the half way mark there’s a harmonic chorus, surely Paul double-tracked, maybe with Ringo, that sounds as if it was lifted from outtakes from Abbey Road. It launches the guitar solo, enhanced by strings, the production now full and fat, setting the scene for John’s closing vocal. By the end it’s as if we’ve been listening to a song that could have graced any of the Beatles post-1966 LPs. 
Of course, it’s quite possible that John intended this to be a love song to Yoko. He was writing hymns to her a lot during the period he made this demo, but like all the best songs its meaning is ambiguous. It can mean what you want and in the minds of the Beatle fans in Liverpool who queued up overnight to buy it first thing yesterday morning it can mean only one thing: John still loved his fellow Beatles after he abandoned the group as much as he did during the 1960s. 
There’s an assumption that ‘Now And Then’ finally closes the door on The Beatles story. I don’t think it does. Paul will still sing Beatle songs for as long as he tours. Ringo will sing ‘Yellow Submarine’ if called upon to do so. Both will continue to be asked questions about this period of their lives (whether they like it or not). We will all continue to mourn John and George. When all four have passed their music will live on, continually inspiring young musicians. Books will continue to be written. Their story will be told again and again. The Beatles will always be now, as well as then.
A top-quality video has been produced to accompany ‘Now And Then’ which features footage of The Beatles at various stages in their career, cleverly positioning them as if they are playing the song, its lovely closing sequence is a sort of fast rewind, all the way back to when they were children. You can view it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Opxhh9Oh3rg