Mike McCartney: The ‘McGear’ Interview

Punchy, pretty, powerful and potent, ‘McGear’ showcased the greatest qualities of ‘70s avant-pop.

“That’s a picture of my mother on Woman” Mike McCartney explains. “Danny Baker was a popular D.J., he’s sacked now, I think. I was on years ago for the re-issue of McGough& McGear album. So, I was there to talk about that, and he tells me Woman is his favourite album. I was there to talk about another album, and he says “no, this is my favourite”. I told him that was my mother on the cover, she died when I was twelve years old, one of my regrets. He said he didn’t know that, he thought it was a nun! She’s in her Liverpool nurses’ outfit. There’s an Indian saying that when you’re born, you get to choose your parents. I’ll have him, I’ll have her. So, when you complain, what are you complaining about? Me and my brother were very lucky in the parents we chose”.

Although imperfect, Please Please Me (1963) set the template for the modern-day rock album, showcasing Paul McCartney’s formidable, precocious talents as Britain’s most exciting songwriter. This was a calibre by which all musicians felt the need to match, but for Mike McCartney, the connection proved stiffer still. Wisely referring to himself as McGear, this nom de plume offered Mike the chance to be judged by his commendable standards, as opposed to a familial connection with The Beatles bassist.

“I wrote with Roger McGough. Some of it was very easy, some of it came very naturally. One of the lyrics came from a letter from McGough. He wrote “do, do do, you remember, do, do do, you recall”. That came from the letter McGough wrote. We were in The Scaffold; I wrote a song that went “Thank You Very Much For The Aintree Iron”. That got us on TV. There were other hits with The Scaffold, we had Lily The Pink. Comedy was very important to us. We worked with George Martin, not because of The Beatles, but because of his stuff with Peter Sellers and The Goons! On the McGear album, I have a song called Norton. It’s about being very naughty. I guess I was a naughty lad in school. I never liked swots. Those who wanted to be politicians, academics, those swots. So, the words “and if he gave me half a chance, I’d wring his bleedin’ neck” come from.”

“Years later, at the launch of Wings, I saw Gilbert O’Sullivan walking in his school uniform. When I went to the bathroom, I met Reginald Dwight. I remembered him from the Dick James days. I said hello to Reg, and he said he wasn’t Reg anymore. He was now Elton John. I said, “alright Dwight/Elton”. He told me he loved working in Abbey Road and singing with The Scaffold. I didn’t remember that! I was the only singer, so we needed backing singers, so Elton and his mates sang with us. He told me they were the happiest days, a laugh all day singing and then you got paid! Anyway, The Scaffold finished, Grimms finished, so Our Kid says to me “Whatcha doing?” Nothing. He says, “You’ve got six children!” Now that I think about it, I only had three girls in 74’! He says, “want to bring some money in for the three girls?” I said “sure”. So, we started in Abbey Road, working on a great track called Leave It. On this album, we have a six-minute-long version on Disc 2. Had to change that for the radios. So, we started in Abbey Road, then we went to Strawberry Studios.”

Invariably, a project called for the brothers to work together. In the midst of the progressive pop revolution, Mike found himself writing for his second solo album concurrent to Paul leading his second band. Together, they could pull their strengths and support each other’s weaknesses. Paul, gifted with melody, replete with beautiful chordal arrangements, often suffered in his lyrical department without the advice of pensive guitarists George Harrison and John Lennon. Conversely, Mike McGear, steeped in literary and poetic agencies, needed an ear to bring his more prudent works into the rock conversation. Paul, a superlative musician, could bring his expertise to the regardful Mike, whose attentive eye led him to a career in photography.

“There’s a picture I took of Our Kid [Chaos and Creation In The Backyard] which features my Mum’s knitted curtains. I don’t do a lot of music these days, more photography. For the McGear, it was my idea of the Gulliver picture, me chained with the Lilliputian people, all those little people. I did a drawing, not a very good one, but one in the book of me lying down and another one of me breaking free from the chains, putting my foot in the Merseyside River”.

McGear, punchy, pretty, powerful and potent, showcased the greatest qualities seventies avant-pop albums boasted. Only doors away in Manchester’s Strawberry Studios, 10cc were putting together their finest work. Steeped in the Beatles mythos, 10cc’s Sheet Music exalted all the idiosyncratic virtues pre-empted from Abbey Road. Bathetically, guitarists Graham Gouldman and Eric Stewart were convinced that the presence of a Beatle poured an invisible magic into their formula, Sheet Music a shared favourite work. McGear worked on its own magical formula. Mike sang, Paul produced, both wrote while Wings played.

“What I liked about Lin” Mike admits “was that she was American and really didn’t give a shit [laughs]. She was in the band and did what Our Kid told her to do. She’d say “OK, I’ll play this”. She just got on with it. Her main thing was her husband and her children. There’s one track where she’s playing very loud. We were in the control room and she said she couldn’t hear the Moog she was playing. She said she wanted it louder. Louder. I thought, it’s driving out the track, but of course, she was right! She copied something The Beatles did. They’d be in the control room, saying “I want to do this” and were told “that’s never been done”. That’s why they wanted to do it! They made history that way, I saw a lot that and Lin copied from that. Engineers are taught never to let the needle go red, and here they were [laughs uproariously]. There’s great playing. Paul does what I think is his first bass solo on a track. The drummer, Gerry Conway, he soloes. Denny Laine’s very good. Do you know Johnny Kidd and The Pirates? Well, on Givin’ Grease A Ride, you can hear him doing stuff like that on the end. That was a track, we wanted a car sound effect. So, we were very inventive. I went into my Alvis for that broom broom effect. There’s footage of me in the DVD driving with a girl with very little clothing on. To get the effect, I started the car to the track to get the rhythm right. I didn’t crash into a pub at the end. That was just a studio effect!”

A pot-pourri of pristine psychedelic pop, the album drives from the illustrative (What Do We Know, Rainbow Lady) to the perceptive (Have You Got Problems? The Man Who Found God On The Moon). Aware of the importance an opening track holds, Paul cannily optioned a thundering cover, textured in theatrical guitar driven pyrotechnics. “To this day, I still haven’t heard the original Sea Breezes” Mike confesses. “People tell me its much slower. Our kid suggested it. And I got a message from Bryan Ferry who said he really liked it, he liked how we condensed it. Got it all across. Bit like how Paul got us make “Liverpool Lou” work with The Scaffold. He’s not bad, is he? And I taught him everything he knows!”

Woman, Mike’s sombre yet beautiful debut, showcased a striking photo of Mary McCartney, the majestic midwife whose life was celebrated by Paul on the laudatory Let It Be. McGear, an assortment of post sixties psychedelic rock, features one delicate moment which honoured the homeland of the McCartney’s shared mother:

The Casket was a McGough poem” Mike recalls. “Our kid put music to it. He thought it sounded a bit Irish, so we should do it like that. I knew the perfect musician to play on it! Gay Byrne was a presenter on Irish telly. I knew him from Granada in Liverpool, so I thought fantastic when I got the call to be on his show. So, I was going to go on with April Ashley. She was a woman who was called George, she was one of the first sex change artists. Before I went on the show, I was asked if I’d sing Liverpool Lou? I said, you’ll have to fly, feed and get beds for my band. So, I was there without a band. Then, I’m told would I sing Liverpool Lou? I was after April Ashley, I didn’t think I’d sing and anyway, no band. They pointed to my band. In the first two rows, there sat Garech Browne, Tara’s brother, and Paddy “The Pipes” Moloney. Some band, I thought. Then, Paddy took out his instrument and I sang. It was fantastic. I think I was on feeling form, got all the words. If only this happens in my country, I thought. So, Paddy came in to play on The Casket. Such a great musician, the penny whistle, the uilleann pipes. Anyway, I love Ireland. The laid-back nature. Always a brush and comb, always a pennywhistle, always a song. We were a mad Irish family too! Eoghan, you have the same name as my Grandfather {Owen Mohin]. And if anyone in Ireland or reads We Are Cult knows anything about that Gay Byrne performance, a video or recording, something, anything, I would love to hear about it”.

It’s that synergy, the tranquil poetry of folk fabled Ireland nestling itself in the bustling rock milieu which makes McGear one of the most outstanding albums of either McCartney. Paddy Pipes, a corking outtake showcasing the Dublin born Chieftain exploring the various scales his instrument provides. It’s a marvellous moment, one of many which makes this re-issue an essential buy for those invested in the McCartney/McGear mythos.

“There’s a lot here. We have a DVD which starts with me at the Liverpool Institute High-School, now called LIPA. Then there’s an interview at The Everyman. On Disc 2, there’s songs like Do Nothing All Day, a great title, A to Z, Girls On The Avenue and Dance The Do, which we did in the original sessions with Viv Stanshall of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. We’re also working on something called The Weirdos to animation. When we did the music, I thought we needed something weird, there’s that [sings What Do We Know], almost a Jimi Hendrix bit. My son Josh, who worked in America and brought Breaking Bad to everyone, has this wonderful intro and outro, which is in the DVD. I was a bit apprehensive bringing this old album after forty-five years. I listen to the radio; I know what the hits are. I didn’t know what fans, old and young, would feel in this day and age. Then I listened to it. It’s good. Then, the second track, woah, that’s really good. And the next. It’s all done with feeling, love, professionalism. I think it really holds up after all these years. I really, really do.”


❉ Michael McGear – ‘McGear’ Remastered & Expanded Boxset Edition released July 19, 2019 by Cherry Red Records/Esoteric Recordings (ECLEC32655), £17.99.

❉ Eoghan Lyng is a regular contributor to We Are Cult. His writing has also appeared in Record Collector, CultureSonar, Punk Noir Magazine, DMovies, Phacemag and other titles.

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