The shadow of the Beatles dominated the 70’s, a decade bookended with their breakup and John Lennon’s assassination. Barely a month went by without some rumour of a ‘reunion’ as if that would bring back the 60’s and everybody would be happy again. We know now that reunions are usually a highly profitable business and its likely that if Lennon had lived they would have reunited at some point but this was uncharted territory at the time, we just wanted the Beatles back no matter how much they might suck this time round.
That wasn’t going to happen of course, the Beatles were pretty sick of each other and pretty sick of being Beatles. First out of the traps on his own was George Harrison who had stockpiled a load of song that his older siblings had rejected despite many of them being quite good. No one was going to expect too much of Ringo and now they had severed the umbilical cord both Lennon and McCartney were struggling a bit.
In the 70’s Lennon was the Beatle of choice, McCartney was not to be trusted, he wasn’t that good at sarcasm, still a bit eager to please and had something of the ‘entertainer’ about him. This of course conveniently ignores the fact that Lennon struggled to create anything like a consistently decent album in his final decade.
In 1971 having made one decent record ‘McCartney’ under his own name and a poor one ‘Ram’ accredited to Paul and Linda McCartney our Paul was ready to be back in a band again. Personally I love the fact that he included Linda in his ventures, he was a superstar, the man who had changed the face of popular music, he could do whatever he wanted. That doesn’t mean that any band member can drag his missus along to do dodgy backing vocals, I’ve suffered from that enough personally, McCartney was special.
So with Linda in the band all McCartney had to do was find some people who could play instruments. He had recorded Ram with New York studio musicians drummer Denny Seiwell and Hugh McCracken among others. When asked to join the new band Seiwell, a man who as far as I know has never been heard of pre or post Wings jumped at the chance. McCracken declined and continued as a session man with the cream of New York, Steely Dan among them.
Also on board was a contemporary of McCartney Denny Laine, a chronic underachiever who had left the Moody Blues for less famous bands throughout the 60’s, he possessed a lot of talent but relatively little originality which made him ideal for McCartney benign dictatorship.
The first album under the moniker Wings was ‘Wildlife’.I hoped thanks to Spotify in retrospect this might be some understated work of genius, its not. Imagine you got the third best band in,say, Hemel Hempstead and told them to go into the studio, lay down some ‘heavy ‘ tracks and have a good time. When they emerged blinking into the daylight a few days later you would have something like Wildlife. Its just too easy to slag off, a little bit of genius shines through (Dear Friend) but most of it is beyond hopeless.
The band then recruited Irish Guitarist Henry McCullough which you might have thought would pep things up a bit, he had played in The Grease Band with Joe Cocker and generally seemed a no nonsense kind of guy. McCartney seemed quite happy to deal with hard men buy the way,McCullough’s replacement was was another McCullough Scottish smack head Jimmy, after one gig Jimmy refused to go back on and McCartney punched him in the face..total respect!
Anyway this line was my first awareness of the McCartney experience. Rather embarrassingly I thought all the Beatles looked rather alike so had a job distinguishing a Harrison from a Lennon. This socially embarrassing trait continued when Wings were formed, I wasn’t sure which one of the hairy crew was the ex Beatle (although I had managed to discount Linda and the Drummer.) One day when the band were on Top Of the Pops my Mum breezed into the front room glanced at the TV and said
‘Oh look its Paul McCartney !’
Once I had located the man at the piano as Macca I was ready to take more interest in proceedings.
The new five piece band could have entered my life a few months earlier when their bus pulled up outside the University of East Anglia and they asked for a gig. I didn’t go of course, I was probably more interested in watching the Basil Brush Show, possibly a good choice if they were playing tracks off Wildlife that night.At this point they were one big happy family travelling round on a bus eating vegetarian pies prepared by Linda. One suspects they all knew their place and that Paul would write all the songs and possible punch you in the face if you refused to play an encore.
The second time they appeared on my radar was when they released their first single the amazingly titled ‘Give Ireland Back to the Irish’. It’s impossible today to imagine how controversial this very act was. Northern Ireland dominated the decade even more than Beatles reunions. It was a terrible situation but the only person who seemed entitled to voice an opinion was Ian Paisley. McCartney however was a British hero so he wasn’t run out of town but we weren’t even allowed to know the name of his single. In the chart run-down it was simply called ‘a record by wings’. I hadn’t actually heard this record for 40 years (thank you YouTube). It didn’t broker lasting peace but it did get Henry McCullough’s brother beaten up.
McCartney quality control was running amok at this point, his next single, and the point where my mum helped me recognise him was ‘Mary had a little Lamb’ allegedly recorded for Linda’s daughter Mary. Now, help me Rod, I loved this record when I was 13. In fact I loved it so much I persuaded my Mum to buy the piano music for it. I shudder to think about what that says about the 13 year old me that I didn’t want the record, I wanted the piano music. I couldn’t play it of course and my mum wasn’t really committed to learning the tune so it was a bit of a damp squib really.
This is the music that time forgot. I cant recall having heard this on the radio in the last 30 years. I’m quite happy to listen to Radio 2 for periods and in that time I’ve heard Meatloaf’s ‘Bat out of Hell’ 2,563 times. There’s no justice in this world. Having found it again I’m quite shocked at the presence of mandolins on the record. As you will be aware they were everywhere in 1970-73 before being retired and rediscovered by REM. Equally bizarre is the fact that the mandolin is being played by hard bitten rock guitarist Henry.
McCartney was on some crazy bi polar roll now. The next single was Hi Hi Hi which was reminiscent of Suzi Quatro’s Devil gate Drive and at least enabled Wings to sound like a rock band.
The forces of broadcasting were aware of his tricks by now and refused to play it not wanting their listeners to get Hi once let alone three times. However we all still loved Macca so the DJ’s just flipped the record over where we found C Moon.
I love this record, I don’t know why but I do. It never gets played on the radio either and worryingly on the video there is no sign of Henry McCullough, well that’s I thought but if you look closely you can see him playing the drums while Seiwell lords it on xylophone and trumpet.
McCartney continued on his crazy rampage of offence. However his next single ‘suck my cock pope/hokey cokey never got recorded. McCullough finally told him where to shove his Mandolin and exited the band, Seiwell despite his recent promotion to proper instruments on C Moon didn’t need much encouragement to piss off back to New York.
The remaining trio of course went off for some crazy adventures in Nigeria ,which was even more dangerous than punching a Scotsman in the face, especially when you consider that Ginger Baker was waiting there for him,and recorded Band on the Run which was a lot better than we might have expected.
To quote Alan Partridge
‘Wings; the band the Beatles could have been’