Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Paul McCartney’

George Martin’s Day in the Life

George MartinForty five summers ago, George Martin granted me a long interview for the Melody Maker. It was a very enjoyable experience: he was most courteous of men, and his answers were full of fascinating detail, with the occasional gentle indiscretion. He spoke in some depth about his experience of working with the Beatles, all the way from “Love Me Do” to Abbey Road, and the result was published in three parts, on August 21 and 28 and September 4, 1971. Lennon and McCartney were at war with each other that year, and some of what he said got up John’s sensitive nose, provoking a couple of letters from New York, the first of which you can see above. But when I asked Martin about the making of “A Day in the Life”, he responded with a very thorough and interesting description, giving a vivid snapshot of the creative relationship between the producer and the four young men he always referred to as “the boys”, a partnership based on his willingness to entertain their interest in taking risks and their respect for his experience and integrity. Had he, I asked, been responsible — as rumour then had it — for sweeping up several seemingly disconnected musical episodes from the studio floor and sticking them together to create a masterpiece?

No, let’s explain that. John had this song, which started off with his observation, and his part was the beginning and the end, and Paul’s was the middle bit. We started recording it with Paul on piano and John on guitar, and we decided we needed another riff in it, and Paul said, “Well, I’ve got this other song — ‘Got up, got out of bed…'” — and he was going to make that a separate song. He said, “You can use it if you like, put it in your one. Will it fit?” They thought about it for a bit and decided it would work, and they wanted something different in it but they didn’t know what.

They decided that they were going to put a lot of just rhythm in it, and add something later. So I said, “Let’s make it a definite number of bars, let’s have 24 bars of just rhythm in two places, and we’ll decide what to do with them later.” They said, “How are we going to know it’s 24 bars, because it’s a long time?” So we had Mal (Evans) standing by the piano, counting “One… two… three…” and in fact he had an alarm clock, because he was timing the thing as well, and it actually went off. On the record you can hear Mal saying, “Twenty one… twenty two…” if you listen.

When they’d done it, I asked them what they were going to do with those bloody great gaps. Paul said he wanted a symphony orchestra, and I said, “Don’t be silly, Paul — it’s all right having 98 men, but you can do it just as well with a smaller amount.” He said, “I want a symphony orchestra to freak out.” So I said, “If you really want one, let me write something for it.” He said, “No, I don’t want you to. If you write it, it’ll be all you. Let’s have just something freaking out.” I said, “Let’s be practical. You can’t get an orchestra in there and say, ‘Freak out, fellers,’ because nothing would happen. They’d just look embarrassed and make a few funny noises.”

So I booked a 41-piece orchestra, half the normal symphony orchestra, and I spent some time with Paul and John. I wrote out the obvious underlying harmonies, and during the main 24-bar sections John and Paul suggested that we should have a tremendous shriek, starting out quietly and finishing up with a tremendous noise. So I took each instrument in the orchestra and at the beginning of the 24 bars I wrote down their lowest note, whatever it was, so that the cello, for instance, had a bottom C, and at the end of the 24 bars I gave them their highest note related to the chord of E. And throughout the 24 bars I just wrote “poco a poco gliss(ando)”, and when it came to the session I told the musicians that they had to slide very gradually up and those people in the woodwind who needed breaths should take them at random. It was just a general slither.

But when we came to do it, the boys said they wanted to make a real event of it. So they got all their friends to come along and dress up and at that time Mick (Jagger) and Marianne Faithfull came along and all their Apple shop friends — the Dutch people — and there must have been about 40 of them, all freaking out with joss sticks. Paul said, “We’re going to be in our flowers but we don’t expect you to do that because you’re not that kind of person.” I said, “Thank you very much.” He said, “But I want you to wear evening dress, and the orchestra, too.” So I booked the orchestra in evening dress, and when it came to the point Paul had brought a lot of carnival gear — funny hats and false noses — and I distributed them among the orchestra. I wore a Cyrano de Bergerac nose myself. Eddie Gruneberg, who is a great fiddle player, selected a gorilla’s paw for his bow-hand, which was lovely. It was great fun.

A song for a friend

Paul McCartneyPaul McCartney has a new album out. I was shut in a room with it for a morning the other week, in order to write a review for Uncut magazine, and I came out feeling it contains five songs — “Early Days”, “On My Way to Work”, “Looking at Her”, “Scared” and the title track, “New” — that would make a fabulous EP, if such things still existed. Five really good new songs: not a bad return at this stage of the game.

None of them, however, comes within a mile of matching my favourite McCartney track, which is one that hardly anybody, outside the realm of the fanatics, seems to have heard, or at least to remember. Perhaps that’s because it’s hidden away on Wings’ Wild Life, one of his least memorable albums, recorded in 1971, when his credibility was not exactly at its apogee.

It’s called “Dear Friend“. It’s a six-minute ballad with a simple but beautifully contoured melody: two four-line verses, repeated in sequence to make four verses in all, each 12 bars long and each separated by a pause or a moment’s hesitation. No chorus. A haunting lyric: “Dear friend, what’s the time? / Is this really the borderline? / Does it really mean so much to you? / Are you afraid, or is it true?” — and then: “Dear friend, throw the wine / I’m in love with a friend of mine / Really, truly, young and newly wed / Are you a fool, or is it true?” And the most gloriously subtle arrangement, based on a laconic piano, a bass guitar, minimal drumming and the dark glimmer of a vibraphone (all of which I imagine he played himself), each verse individually coloured by a small string orchestra, a couple of oboes, or briefly, in the final minute, a gorgeously grainy horn section that sounds like a brass band who’ve walked in off the street.

The whole thing is so plain, so underplayed, so brilliantly understated by whoever worked with him on the arrangement, that you can hardly believe it’s Paul McCartney in his solo guise at all. His singing, some of it in his falsetto register, is perfectly attuned to the sobriety of the arrangement, not least when he introduces a dozen bars of scat-singing in which his tone and note-choice are as eloquent as words. I don’t think he’s ever sounded so unselfconsciously introspective.

You only have to read the lyric to see why most people assume the song is about John Lennon, with whom his relationship was then at its most difficult. Perhaps that’s true. I prefer to take the Bob Dylan line, which is that it’s an artist’s job to take the particular and turn it into the universal, to play fast and loose with the truth in order to create a new and greater one. So when I hear “Dear Friend”, I encounter an emotion that isn’t tied to whatever its factual origin may or may not have been, and which somehow illuminates and expands feelings of my own. That’s art for you.

And for some reason he chose to hide it away towards the end of the second side of a mediocre LP. You can’t believe he wasn’t proud of it. If I had to take a Beatle-related record to a desert island, it wouldn’t be “I’ll Be Back” or “In My Life”: it would be this.

* The photograph of Wings — Denny Seiwell, Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney and Denny Laine — is from the cover of Wild Life and was taken by Barry Lategan.