Monday, 28 March 2016

Paul McCartney and Bands: Live/Solo/Compilation/Classical Albums Part Three: 1997-2015

You can now buy our e-book 'Smile Away - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of Paul McCartney' by clicking here!

"Standing Stone"

(EMI/Parlophone, October 6th 1997)

Movement I (After Heavy Light Years)/Movement II (He Awoke Startled)/Movement II (Subtle Colours Merged Soft Contours)/Movement IV (Strings Pluck, Horns Blow, Drums Beat)

"Love is the oldest secret in the universe, warm as the sun"

'Standing Stone' is more what fans were expecting when they heard McCartney was turning his hand to classical writing - a lighter, less dense piece that's strong on melody and bursting with ideas. Unlike the 'Oratorio' it has the 'feel' of a McCartney release about it somehow (the urgency in the faster sections, the gossamer light melodies that sound as if they've been around forever and the inventive mixture of clashing styles) and is many pop fans' favourite of McCartney's classical releases for that reason, even if again it suffers from several ordinary passages in between the moments of inspiration (again, not unlike some McCartney pop albums...) The piece also has stronger Beatle ties than even the Liverpool setting of the Oratorio, having been commissioned by Richard Lyttleton to mark EMI's 100th birthday (though the company had only started recording musicians itself in 1931, when Anney Road Stduios opened, it had started life as 'The Gramophone Company' who distributed records made by others across the United Kingdom). 'Standing Stone' is the perfect piece for that occasion: the writer who'd sold more records on the label than anyone, delving into the sort of early 20th century classical recordings that had kick-started EMI's history (with shades of Elgar, who recorded music at Abbey Road, and Vaughan Williams, whose early recordings were distributed by the label).

However the main story around which the work was based is set even earlier. The McCartneys had long been interested in their celtic heritage and the part that nature played in early civilisations and you can hear early stirrings of the primeval soup of this record on such unlikely records as 'Wildlife' and Linda's song 'Apaloosa'. This time, though, he went back even further, with a potted 'history' of civlisation as told through music, with a piece that starts off simple and open (with single notes and lots of tribal drumming) and gradually gets more and more complex until reaching a peak with the finale 'Celebration', which puts to good use a charming melody that had been running through Mccartney's head without a home for years (the piece was even turned into a 'song' in its own right, with lyrics added at a later date). The image of the 'Standing Stone', man's earliest attempt to get his throguhts down on something 'concrete' but which has lasted down the years and civilisations (with man no further on in his quest for knowledge) is a good one that might perhaps have worked well in a pop setting too. In between the Earth is formed in the first movement (with an extended and rather unlistenable atonal section finally giving away to real joyful noise and eventually typically golden McCartney melodies), mankind is born in the second (a surprisingly low-key part whose text is concerned with working out the 'creator of life and his purpose, with Adam a lonely figure without Eve yet there to give him reason - a section clearly written as a background to Linda's own battles with mortality, 'Standing Syone' being the last work of her husband's she ever got to see completed), a third softer and less successful movement sees the world as we know it come together and a fourth is nicely joyous and typically McCartney, as man's journey and pupose in life proves yet again to be love, although there's nothing 'silly' about the love described in the last movement.  Full of intriguing textures and forms and with a far more playful mood than 'Oratorio' it's generally speaking a success, especially with the golden melodies hidden away in the middle of the first movement and at the very end of the fourth. However once again there's a sense of schoolwork about this album, with Paul helped this time around classical musician David Matthews, who effectively re-shaped McCartney's ideas by telling him what would and wouldn't work (although this was less of a 'collaboration' than with Carl Davis last time around) and Steve Lodder, who physically transcribed Mccartney's ideas onto sheet music for him. The piece loses its way for long periods of ugly music where not much happens (unusual for someone as naturally musical as McCartney) and 'Standing Stone' would perhaps have been better as a strong twenty minutes rather than a patchy eighty minute one. However the highlights are magical indeed, especially the last two tracks ('Love Duet' and 'Celebration') when Adam and Eve have discovered 'love' and coax out a typically warm-blooded response from McCartney that's beautiful to behold.

One group of McCartney fans who were less than amused were Oasis, busy at work on their difficult third album 'Be Here Now' in the studio next door (and still sulking at being turfed out of the bigger studio one for the orchestra to move in). Rumours are that both sides tried to out 'down' the others with their playbacks and the corridors were full of an eardrum-breaking mixture of McCartrney kettledrums and the Oasis 'wall of noise'. Oasis were less than keen on what they thought was their hero 'selling out' to the mainstream world, but ironically one of the next projects to be made at Abbey Road was a 'classical' Oasis album with re-recordings of their first two years' worth of songs! (Their B-side 'The Masterplan' also sounds as if it would go well with this work, with its bountiful strings and searching questions so perhaps the pair weren't quite as far apart as they thought!)

Linda McCartney "Wide Prairie"

(EMI/Parlophone, October 26th 1998)

Wide Prairie/New Orleans/The White Coated Man/Love's Full Glory/I Got Up/The Light Comes From Within/Mr Sandman/Seaside Woman/Oriental Nightfish/Endless Days/Posion Ivy/Cow/B-Side To Seaside/Sugartime/Cook Of The House/Appaloosa

"You better listen hard to what I have to say, I've done it, I've won it, I'm not running away"

To most Wings fans in the 1970s Linda was known for only one song and not an especially good one - 'Cook Of The House' (few past the real Wings fans knew that Linda was Suzy and Wings were the Red Stripes on 'Seaside Woman'). However, Linda had actually taken to songwriting with far more enthusiasm than most people knew, actually enjoying the art of creating far more than being a musician to prop her husband up on stage, and despite eing very much an amateur musician when Wings first started in 1972 had blossomed into an expressive, credible player long before her untimely death in 1998. Though most fans didn't know it Linda had been a fairly prolific writer throughout her years in Wings and beyond and had a full Cd-length album of songs recorded in stops and starts throughout her life. most of which had never been released and only aired briefly on her husband's 'Oobu Joobu' radio series.The majority of these were recorded in the everything-goes heyday of the Wings 70s and most go along nicely with the vibes of each album ('New Orleans' is a perfect fit for the mardi gras-ville of 'Venus and Mars' - it should have been on the deluxe album actually - and 'Wide Prairie' itself would have brightened up the Nashville era Wings recordings no end). Others pursue Linda's long-held love and knowledge of early rock and roll classics - which rivalled even her husband's - or her early 1970s discovery of reggae which took place long before most 0of the Western world discoverd it, thanks to family holidays in Jamaica and the suitvases full of cheap home-made records the McCartneys brought home. Though as eclectic as any Wings album, with sahdes of folk and psychedelia as well as rock and pop, it's the sound of the white 50s rock meeting the black 70s reggae that is perhaps the defining sound of the album, where even traditional Ameerican songs like 'Mr Sandman' and 'Sugartime' get the Jamaican makeover. Other recordings date to the 'McCartney II' period (the pretty piano ballad 'Love's Full Glory'),'Press To Play' ('Endless Days'), 'Flowers In The Dirt' (a pair of animal rights song collaborations with Carla Lane) and a last great burst of creativity in 1998 when Linda knew her time was running short ('Appaloosa' and 'The Light Comes From Within' both date from mid-March, a mere month before she passed away).

Though in its way its as mindbogglingly comprehensive as 'All The Best' and with an even longer career span than 'Wingspan', 'Wide Prairie' works remarkably well as a whole and there's a sense in the moving teary sleevenotes from Paul that even he has only just realised what a credible talent his wife was now that all her songs have been collected together. It successfully shows of all sides of Linda's work, from a writer of simple pop tunes, to a reggae queen, to a ballad writer on a par with her husband to an animal rights activist at the cutting edge of music. Not everything works - so many of Linda's vocals were left unfinished, designed as guide vocals only and aren't designed for comfortable listening and the covers are a little limp - but there's enough here that does work to prove what a genuine talent Linda was in her own right, with the very best of these songs like 'Oriental Nightfish' and 'Appaloosa' rivalling anything Wings ever offered.
Though neither wife nor husband would have welcomed the comparisons, there's one to be made with Yoko's work outside John Lennon. Like those records 'Wide Prairie' is occasionally as unlistenable as you might be expecting, but by and large proves how much both wives learnt from their husbands in such a short time after earlier careers that were heading in quite different directions. At least Yoko had always considered herself an 'artist' though - Linda, though always a music fan, had never had any pretence that she could ever be a musician until Paul asked her to be on stage with him. The fact that Linda could turn out such a highly consistent rate of songs, with such a natural grasp of melody and a wholly original voice, is a real surprise and it's a great shame she didn't get more appreciation from fans in her own lifetime. The Linda Macca album was something that always seemed to be back on the back burner, one of the many inviting projects that Wings always had in the pipeline that lost out to the needs of touring and mainstream albums but one that the band never quite got round to making. The latest revival had come in 1996 when the pair received a rare fan letter addressed to Linda rather than Paul pleading for Linda to write some more songs, not knowing how many she'd already recorded but not released. Alas the project was delayed by the end of the 'Anthology' documentary and CDs, the release of 'Flaming Pie' and 'Standing Stone' - and then by Linda's death. It's so sad that the album turned out be a tribute album rather than a debut record when there could and should have been so much more of this to love. In any other band Linda would have been the star, not merely the 'wife' of the star. It's a tragedy that more fans didn't buy this album and that it all but disappeared on first release, peaking at #127 in the UK charts. It's well worth owning if you can find one at the right price, gloriously full of the light that came from within.

The title track 'Wide Prairie' was originally a thirteen minute jam recorded in France with overdubs in Nashville for 'Red Rose Speedway' when the album was planned as a more democractic double set with contributions by the whole band, but dropped when the album became a single. It's the closest Paul-Linda collaboration here, with the pair swapping lines on a deep American south song that half-mocks and half -loves Linda's Texas farm roots. Sadly for reasons of space this version fades after a mere four but the original unedited version drifts along in a similar vein to the jazzy end for several more minutes, with some terrific Linda moog playing.

'New Orleans' is Linda's version of Paul's 'My Carnival' taped at the same 'Venus and Mars' sessions - and is a far better song to be honest. Full of holiday spirit and in-jokes ('The Dewdrop Inn' was Wings' favourite watering hole during their stay, but the band felt uncomfortable mixing with the locals at another pub named 'The Dungeon') the song is based around  a happy-go-lucky piano part and features a whole host of overdubs from some great 50s-style Wings harmonies, a trumpet solo and a harmonica part. Jimmy seems not to have turned up to the sessions but the rest of the middle Wings line-up are here including a great rock and roll drum part from Joe English. Infectious fun.

'The White Coated Man' is the first of two collaborations for an aborted single made in collaboration with family friend and fellow animal rights activist Carla Lane. Recorded in 1988 during the middle of three sessions for 'Flowers In The Dirt' (and featuring Robbie McIntosh from the McCartney period band) it's a song that has Carla playing the part of an innocent animal, unsure what's happening to her and why, while Linda leads a chorus about how 'the silent ones will pay' one day when mankind wakes up and realises the true horror of the attacks perpetrated on his fellow animals in the name of science. Though less catchy than 'Wildlife' or 'Looking For Changes' and with a slightly wobbly lead vocal, it's another strong song.

'Love's Full Glory' is a lovely piano ballad from 1980 that's the closest Linda ever came to aping her husband's most famous and most natural writing style. Fittingly it's a silly love song for Paul, with a similar sense of perfection and melody to her husband's and a lyric about how a 'simple love affair' became something much bigger. However, pretty as the major key verse and chorus is, its the haunting minor key refrain that just soars  as LInda sings, 'Maybe I'm Amazed', about how Paul's love gave her sunshine and confidence and allowed her to really be herself for the first time in her life. 'Take me home' she sighs as if the McCartney family house is the most perfect place on the planet. Though once again Linda's voice isn't always up to her writing, this is a most beautiful song.

'I Got Up' features the last vocal Linda ever did, added to a backing track that had been around since the 'post Band On The Run' sessions' of 1973 (with Denny very audible on the retro backing vocals and Jimmy - on one of his first performances with the band - turning in a great aggressive guitar solo). A snarling response to the music critics who put her down for daring to be part of Wings, Linda refuses to take it all lying down in the most aggressive way possible. Funnily enough it sounds exactly like Yoko in the 1972-73 period, complete with the defensiveness and the simple rock and roll beats, though it's not one of the album's better songs.

The same for 'The Light Comes From Within', which is a later (1998) take on the same theme. Even as late as 1998 the song received a radio ban for the line 'You say I'm no one, you make me sick, takes one to know one you stupid dick!', while Linda gets more and more painfully off-key. However there's a charming harmony part and a gonxo guitar solo from husband Paul that uplift the song no end. The couple's son James, now nineteen, plays the backing guitar part.

'Mr Sandman' is an early example of Linda's passion for reggae. After helping to turn the Western world onto the sound before it was famous the McCartneys were held in higher esteem than most white acts copying the sound and no less a member of reggae royalty than Lee Scracth Perry agreed to supervise the backing track, which really was recorded in Kingston, Jamaica. However while the idea of recording an old time white song in the style is good on paper, it's less interesting to hear and fan that she is Linda doesn't have quite the right style for this sort of song (she's rather overshadowed by her husband's whoops and yells in the background!)

'Seaside Woman' is a classic that, thankfully, did see release - though not initially under the Wings banner. Recorded in 1972 as one of the first Wings recordings just after the 'Wildlife' sessions (possibly the first with Henry on guitar, although Paul pointedly calls Laine to play the solo with the phrase 'slap it on, Denny!'), long before the reggae sound was popular, the band revived it for release in 1977 when the sound was all the rangem crediting it to 'Suzy and the Red Stripes' (Linda was nicknamed 'Suzi' while on holiday there in 1971 where 50s classic 'Suzi Q' was her karaoke song, while 'Red Stripes' was Wings' favourite Jamaican tipple!) The first song LInda ever wrote alone - deliberately, after a court case that Linda couldn't 'write' and that the Mccartneys were splitting up writing credits to get extra royalties though goodness knows how they'd have proced Linda wrote it 'solo' - it's also one of her best, setting out a new distinctive style quite unlike the band's usual sound. A charming children's song, with Linda playing the part of a young Jamican girl and based around a funky keyboard and guitar part, it shows a far better understanding of the genre than pretty much every other white reggae song going. The McCartneys sound particularly good together on the harmonies too and seem to have had a ball singing it. An equally charming animated music video for the song won the Cannes Film Festival's prestigious prize the Palm D'or.

However, for me better still is the lesser known 'Oriental Nightfish' which most fans knew pre-1998 only because it too was a cartoon - a rather adult one oddly included as a bonus on 'Rupert And The Frog Song' that got the pair into all sorts of trouble for its images of a naked woman. However good as the video is its the music that's phenomenal, a wonderfully surreal 'I Am The Walrus' meets 'The Shangri-Las' psychedelia song that's dominatedby moog and the single greatest guitar solo Paul ever played. The song was actually taped as part of the late 'Band On The Run' sessions (with Paul playing everything except LInda's moog and Denny's flute overdubs) and shares a similar sense of tackling the impossible by a band brimming with confidence. Though we never quite find out what the oriental nightfish is and the track is ambiguous whether the song is inspired by something magical, a nervous breakdown ('It was a Thursday night, I was working late...') or even a drugs trip, the surreal mood is expressive enough for that not to matter. Haunting, groundbreaking and memorably moody, it is perhaps Linda's peak as a creative artist with a sound quite unlike anything else ever made.

'Endless Days', taped here in 1987, is apparently an older song that LInda kept returning to. Another very Paul-like piano ballad, the song is simpler than most of Linda's work and is sweet enough but rather less memorable than some others on this album. A simple tale of wondering when a loved one will return, it's similar to 'No More Lonely Nights' but lacks Paul's natural grasp of melody and universal feeling.

The silly Leiber/Coaster song 'Poison Ivy' is another from the Scratch Perry sessions and another similarly inventive choice of a Western white song to cover. The track works rather better but Linda's vocal is even worse and quite a struggle to sit through at times. Perhaps the one track on this album that should have remained in the vaults.

'Cow' was the intended 'companion' song to 'The White Coated Man' which is similar all-round, with Carla Lane a cow waiting to be sent to the slaughterhouse this time. The song's nursery -style simplicity  and lyrics of a 'placid creature' who never did anyone any harm, going to death with 'signity' is well played against the cruel vindictive humans who don't have anywhere near the bovine's courage and strength. The opening of the song is played on what sounds like a children's toy to emphasise the purity and there's some nice Beach Boys-style harmonies going on throughout, but there's less melody in this song than some others and 'Cow' doesn't have quite the impact such a devestating subject deserves.

'B-Side To Seaside' was the almost made-up-on-the-spot ditty in 1977 when Wings decided to release 'Seaside Woman' as a single. Though quirkier and far less substantial than most of Linda's other songs. it's still pretty clever for what it is. The song is based round a far more Wingsy grungy guitar and colourful keyboard part (which sounds not unlike a gentler 'Lunch Box Odd Sox') than the A-side and sports some daft but clever self-mocking lyrics ('Less than an A-side - but more than a C-side!') Though the CD sleeve credits only Paul and Linda on this track, I'm sure that's Denny Laine I can hear on the harmonies again.

'Sugartime' is the third and last of the Scratch Perry songs and probably the most successful. Though the original by the McGuire Sisters wasn't much of a success back in the 1950s the song was picked up by many other bands as a cutesy little pop song and it was an early favourite of both Paul and Linda on their separate sides of the Atlantic in their respective childhoods. Paul says in his sleevenotes for 'Wide Prairie' that it was their husband-and-wife party song, performed at family get-togethers with several harmonic variations along the way! It's great that at least one recording of the pair together exists and the song is a lot more suitable for the reggae groove than the other two, sounding as if it was always meant to be in this style. However it's a shame that the pair stick to the laidback groove of the style rather than the passion of the song.

'Cook Of The House' has already been discussed on our review for 'Wings At The Speed Of Sound'. A typical Linda song in that it moulds her passion for food with a very retro 50s beat, it confused many when first released and doesn't really hint at what she could really do. The lyrics really were taken from the ingredients on their kitchen shelves and Paul himself taped the opening sound effect of her chip fat fryer simmering! It's probably the weakest original song here, despite the inventive Wings backing.

Thankfully closer 'Appaloosa' is also very Linda and a far better song. Another of her last songs finished just before her death, it rather eerily precedes what did happen when she died - Paul, realising she was slipping away, asked her to imagine they were on the back of her favourite Appaloosa horse Blankit and riding off into the distance together. Here the Appaloosa again stands for freedom, but on a historical tale where the Nez Perce Indians rode them to escape the conquering tribes of white cowboys. It's an urgent, insistent rocker based around another lovely melody and features another terrifically stinging guitar part from Paul that's full of fright and pain. However, although the Indians were caught and massacred in real life, this isn't a sad song: instead the Indian feel safe on horseback and have never felt more alive as they ride off into an unknown destiny.
It's a final special song on an album full of winning moments like these from an artist who never got the due she deserved and 'Wide Prairie' is a welcome tribute, showing off all sides of Linda's personality from her feistiness and animal campaigning to the simply softer side that saw the world as such a beautiful place. It's a welcome release for any fan who ever thought that Wings was about more than just the most famous member and curious newcomer fans who don't know much about Linda or her work will be pleasantly surprised. The only regret is that there isn't more than this to enjoy.

The Fireman "Rushes"

(EMI, **1998)

Watercolour Guitars/Palo Verde/Auraveda/Fluid/Appletree Cinnabar Amber/Bison/ 7AM/Watercolour Rush

"The fireman rushes in from the pouring rain...very strange!"

Fireman album  number two is prettier and more listenable but less inventive than the first, sounding closer to the 'new age' style of albums than anything else in the McCartney canon - so much so you half expect to hear a fireman riding a dolphin at times. As a sixty minute album, it's slightly boring, staying in the same small collection of grooves without really developing although at least this time we get eight slightly different but related songs rather than ten different parts of the same song. However if you treat this like a McCartney sketchbook - a jumble of ideas that in other cirumstances might have turned into full songs/poems/oratorios - then its of interest in seeing just how many melodies and bits of ideas float around McCartney's sub-conscious at any one time. 'Fluid' is the best of the eight, sporting a really pretty piano melody brimming with loss and regret in the 'Waterfalls' mould, while its nice to ehrar Paul messing round with sitars again as he does on 'Auraveda'. However there seems even less to get your teeth into this time, as if this rare opportunity to go anywhere and do anything made Paul retreat inside himself and stick closer to what he knew was 'safe'. More entertaining than the album was the promotion for it, with Paul appearing - dressed up in a ski-mask and a yellow rain hat - as 'The Fireman' on a webcast back in the days when the Beatles world still wasn't entirely sure whether it was really Paul or not. Macca had a whale of a time giving out answers to a hired acrtess to read in character ('The Fireman likes the sound of mud'), convincing many fans by the strange obliqueness of his answers that it couldn't possibly be him (we'd still recognise our hero even under a ski mask - wouldn't we?!) However Paul gave the game away himself with a typical 'thumbs up' pose to the camera at the end of the shoot, effectively ending The Fireman's anonymity. Even with this teasing revelation and much-discussed publicity, the album still failed to sell in any real numbers and misseds the charts completely. Somehow it would have been a bit of a let-down if it had: this record and the one before it is all about Paul re-engaging with his creative art without having to bend to the weight of expectation and old formulas and its notable that his next pop album will feature a much more adventurous sound. 

"Run Devil Run!"

(EMI/Parlophone, October 5th 1999)

Blue Jean Bop/She Said Yeah!/All Shook Up/Run Devil Run/No Other Baby/Lonesome Town/Try Not To Cry/Movie Magg/Brown Eyed Handsome Man/What It Is/Coquette/I Got Stung!/Honey Hush/Shake A Hand/Party

"All of them determined to deliver the goods, man you could hear the music coming out of the woods!"

They say there are five stages of gried and Paul seemed to go through most of them one by one after Linda died: Sadness ('Working Classical'), anger (parts of 'Driving Rain') and ultimately acceptence (with the much-delayed 'Ecce Cor Meum'). I'm not quite sure which one was 'Bargaining' - 'Back In The World' Perhaps? - but 'Run Devil Run, the first new Mccartney product, is in many ways his 'denial' album. Paul sensibly took the rest of 1998 off to grive properly and come to terms with the major change in his life and spent a year without playing a concert or making a professional recording- the longest since a teenager. In many ways 'Run' was always intended as his 'next' project - an album of the rock and roll songs both Linda and Paul had enjoyed in their youth and which Linda had always pushed for Paul to make. By going back to a band who sound not unlike the McCartney band of the start of the decade (but louder and more primal somehow) Paul also seems to have been acting as if this was business as usual, that Linda was still a part of this band. There was even an emphasis on keyboards, with 'sixth Hollie' Pete Wingfield perfroming on most of the album alongside Deep Purple drummer Ian Paice and two very different yet complementary guitarsists in Fleetwood Mac's Mick Green and Pink Floyd's David Gilmour.

Though most of the album is uptempo and unusally aggressive - as if Paul is screaming out his pain the literal Lennon way, with a scream - Linda is very much a part of this album, with the raw rock and roll very much to her own preferences. Hard as Paul tries to rock his blues out of his system, the best cover songs on this album concern sadness and grief too, with several involving crying ('Lonesome Town' and Macca's own 'Cry') or absence (the clear album highlight 'No Other Baby'). Macca's first batch of songs post-Linda are an interesting bunch all round actually: 'Run Devil Run' sees him trying to escape sadness with the same desperate desire to 'smile' through everything that we've known for so long, while 'Cry' is a bitter depressed song revved up to sound loud and urgent and 'What It Is' is one last love song for Linda written in the first person because Paul can't bear to accept she isn't there anymore ('You are what it is that makes the world go around for me!')

However, despite the grief underlying below the surface, this is in no way the album of sad and mournful ballads most fans were expecting. Instead of being controlled and private, the way he was after Lennon's death, Paul seems to have veered to the other extreme and is at his wildest on this album, not merely singing but barking out these often nonsense lyrics with an energy and verve long missing from his recent albums (heard back to back with this record 'Flaming Pie' sounds even more flimsy, while the previously stab at this sort of thing - 'Choba B CCCP' - is in a whole lesser division altogether). Just as Paul turned to rock and roll to get him over the loss of his mother in his teeange years, so the hard take-no-prisoners sound of rock and roll brings him new succour after Linda, with Paul retreating to his record player and a notebook as he tries to write down the words from his favourite records (with the pages collected in a manilla envelope Paul would hand out to the musicians on the morning of a session asking 'does everyone know how this goes?' and 'hows about this one?')

You could argue that this album is flimsy by Paul's standards, that it is just a collection of cover songs - the sort of thing we once berated Lennon for in 1974 and that some of the ideas on this album are weird to say the least (Fats Domino's 'Coquette' is one of the all-time worst moments in this book, archly insincere and apallingly sung, while the country-ish 'Movie Magg' is an odd fit). You could also say that there's little here that's particularly new or inventive, although Buddy Holly's 'Brown Eyed Handsome Man' has been given an odd 'Riverdance' style makeover and 'No Other Baby' sounds like a far more substantial song than The Vipers' already pretty-stunning original, evidence of McCartney's ear for an arrangement. By and large, though, 'Run Devil Run' is a more important record in the McCartney canon than many assume it to be, a great means of allowing Paul to acknowledge the elephant in the room without having to look it in the eye just yet. 

Instead of the funeral album Paul knew was inevitabl at some stage (see 'Working Classical'), this is Linda the way she'd have wanted to be remembered, with a wake and a party rather than a eulogy and it's a terrific last act in the Paul and Linda love story that lasted just shy of three decades of some of the incredible music ever made (Paul even refuses to give way, dragging out finale 'Party' for a further verse as he basically refuses to get off stage and deal with the next part of his life). She'd have loved this album and so will most of her and Paul's fans, with generally classy songs played by a classy band who bely the fact that this album was rushed, cheap and recorded in Abbey Road after barely any rehearsal. It's the album 'Please Please Me' nearly was, back when there were plans to record The Beatles' album live at the Cavern, delayed and ultimately abandoned by the fab four's sophistication and thus an awfully long time coming.

Though John was more of the Gene VIncent fan in The Beatles, Paul had a soft spot for his records after the singer brefriended the band in Hamburg at a time when they were still complete unknowns. His 'Blue Jean Bop', which opens with smoky shades of Elvis before exploding into a boom-chikka rocker, is in truth more of a Lennon song than a McCartney one and odd choice to open the album, with lashings of the period echo cliche the rest of this album does so well to avoid. However a couple of snarly solos from both guitarists (both sounding very Jimmy McCulloch-like actually) adds some real fire into this song's belly.

John also adored Larry Williams and sang the lead on three covers in the Beatles days: 'Bad Boy' 'Slow Down' and 'Dizzie Miss Lizzie'. His most famous song 'She Said Yeah' may well have been a fourth but The Beatles were beaten to recording it by first The Hollies and then The Rolling Stones so never did get round to recording it. Thankfully this revival is a great idea, full of a blistering McCartney vocal attack as he celebrates his girl agreeing to go out with him and a delicious wall of noise behind him.

Elvis' 'All Shook Up' was recorded at a slightly later date and features a slightly altered date, with Pete and Ian unable to make the sessions and replaced by Geraint Watkins and Fairport Convention's Dave Mattacks. This new line-up areb't quite as on the money as the old one and the song's stop-starty sultry sound doesn't suit this new rock and roll demolition derby as much as some of the other songs. However the instrumental break in particular is fabulous, as after a minute of competing against each other the musicians all start playing in harmony. Interestingly Paul often talked in his early Beatles days about this being one of his favourites because it 'lifted the blues' in his teenage years and enabled him to get his old McCartney enthusiasm back after a tiff with a girlfriend or a spat with John. The song offers the same comfort here.

Macca's own 'Run Devil Run' shows how well he can slip in and out of styles -not every fan realised that this wasn't in fact another obscure 1950s gem but a McCartney original, so close is it to the style of everything else on the album but with a little touch extra in the glorious uplifting harmonies on the title line. The pace is so hot Macca has trouble keeping up with his nonsense vocal but the extra adrenalin brings out the best as he screams himself hoarse. The lyrics relate a tyupically McCartney story about keeping blues away with the power of positive thinking and was inspired by the herbal shop in Atlanta pictured on the cover, with many of the lyrics taken from the potions on sale (this also offers another 'Linda' link, as this song is really a herbal version of 'Cook Of The House', another list of items).

So far the album has had speed and passion on its side, but not much reflection or heart. That all changes with the stunning 'No Other Baby', my contender for the single best McCartney recording of the 1990s. Slower than the other songs on the album and by far the most obscure song here, it was a flop 1958 single by the only British act here, The Vipers. Paul treasured the record as 'proof' that British music could offer more than Cliff and the Shadows and often plugged it to his friends; funnily enough it was only after the album's release that he got chatting to his old producer George Martin about the song and how much he adored the original. 'You won't know it' he said 'nobody ever does'. 'I think I do, Paul' came the reply 'I produced it!' Amazingly rthe two old friends had spent forty years together and never discussed one of Paul's favourite singles, which most likely would have been recorded in the very room of the re-make. However Paul's classy re-make is even more powerful than the clever but rather repetitive and oddly country-style original. This version builds in intensity verse after verse, as Paul begins lost and lonely and sadly reflecting on loss before kicking into one of the most breathtakingly 'real' moments of the McCartrney catalogue in the final verse: 'I don't want no other baby but youuuuu!' he scream with every fibre in his body, reduced to the same primal state as Lennon in 1970 but whose effect is even more amazing because Paul never drops his guard like this. Alas the moment is over all too soon as the song reverts back to its slow weary chug, but its a most pretty weary chug with some gorgeous playing from Gilmour over Green's rippled rhythm and the sheer realness of this song hangs in the air long after the track has ended. Sensbily chosen as a single (though less sensibly after 'Brown Eyed Handsome Woman' had flopped) it remains one of the real highlights of the McCartney canon.

Just to ram home the point, Paul follows up with a most unfunny version of Ricjy Nelson's comedy song 'Lonseome Town'. A riposte of sorts to 'Heartbreak Hotel' (it's 'mentioned' in that song, but here the whole town is sad and lonely, not just a hotel), the original over-eggs the pudding badly and tries to go so horribly OTT that you can't help but chuckle. This arrangement means every word it says, from Paul's sadder-than-sad vocal to Gilmour's nicely understated solo. It's far from the best song on this album, but is one of the better re-inventions and performances on it.

'Try Not To Cry' is the most 'McCartney' of the three originals on the album, with a particularly Beatley chord progression and abouncy tune. However the lyrics are most un-Mccartney. Though clearly painted as a throwaway teenage romance, the narrator's attempts to be a man and not cry when he gst home, jilted by his girlfriend, are just 'real' enough to hint at some far bigger unbderlying grief. It's a bit too simple compared to the rest of the album but is again given an added boost through the passion of the performers.

'Movie Magg', however, has nothing to do with the mood of noisy denial. A silly, bordering on stupid, early Carl Perkins song it seems to be here more as a nod of the head to an old friend than because anyone like it. The 'Peggy' in the song is a horse the young Carl used to ride to the local cinema with his girlfriend Maggie. The rhythm has a good try at mimicking the sound of a horse, but that isn't enough alone to keep this song interesting.

Given McCartney's admiration for Buddy Holly and the fact he owns his back catalogue, it seems odd that there isn't more of Buddy on this album. It seems strange too that of all the songs its the simple 'Brown Eyed Handsome Man' that got the biggest makeover, turned from funky pop into an accordion-filled party-fest salsa (although Buddy's was itself a remake of Chuck Berry's more straightforward original - this version though is clearly based on Buddy's posthumous version). Though the backing of the song sounds rather good, Paul's delivery is all wrong - he's not a part of his party at all and is far too serious with his deeper-than-usual delivery, while the song lacks the twists and turns or the sheer oompah of much of the album. An odd choice as the lead-off single, which put more fans off this album than it deserved.

Macca original number three 'What It Is' may have the weakest riff (its the ghost of 'Spin It On' and 'getting Closer' from 'Back To The Egg' all over again) but it also has the best lyrics. One last great song of love for Linda sung in a style she would have loved, this one has Paul wanting to shout his love to the world as, like 'Maybe I'm Amazed', 'you make me feel good about myself'. Gilmour's spiky guitar solo, with its sudden rolling crashed chords, are perfect, big and warm hearted without losing the sheer 'cool' of the rest of the song. A whole album of McCartney originals in this style might have been an even better idea.

Alas Fat Domino made 'Coquette' an obscure B-side for a reason. It's a dreadful song, one of his worst with the most cliched piano chord saequence imaginable and a lyric bordering on boring. However at least his version was from the heart: Paul's attempts to deliver his best 'Fats' impression ruins what might have still been an ok cover and seems oddly fake and at odds with the authenticity of the rest of the album. The weakest track on the album by far.

One of the more obscure Elvis hits, 'I Got Stung' replaces the sultry 'uh-huhs' of the original for something more direct and groovier. McCartney relates falling in love at speed although he's shown up by the fierce rock attack of the cooking band behind him that turns this song from another faintly silly song about bees into one of the most aggressive cuts on the album.

'Honey Hush' - although I know the song better as 'Yakkety Yak' - is a Big Joe Turner song  that was a favourite of John and Stuart Sutcliffe's that always seemed an odd absentee from the band's Hamburg setlists when thyey covered eveything (perhaps it was too revered a record?) Just as on 'Kansas City' Macca sticks two songs together to make a fullerand more enjoyable song even though the two sides have little in common, with a burst of 'Hi Ho Silver!' in there too. Paul is tired of his own moping and demands 'turn off the waterworks I can't stand it no more!' on another nicely loud and raw cover that might not add much to the original but does set alight to it in and wake it up in every way.

Alas the only Little Richard song on the album is a poor choice. 'Shake A Hand' wasn't even that loved by the author (and Richard loved everything he ever did!) and Paul didn't even own a copy of the obscure song - he recalls in the album's sleevenotes that he only ever heard the song at a Hamburg jukebox. It's a rather awkward 12 bar blues without the customary Little Richard pizazz and just sounds like evrything else from the late 1950s. The band do their best to kick the song into another gear but even with another fine performance that crackles with energy it still sounds below par.

The finale 'Party' is rock and roll in a nutshell. The lyrics mean nothing (Paul admitted he still didn't know what most of them were after years of playing the record: sample verse 'I never kissed a bear, I never kissed a goon, but I can shake a chicken in the middle of the room!' If you can 'get' the enjoyably daft nonsense in that line then the period is for you and Macca dresses the Elvis original up to sound a bit more comprehensible and urgent in his version. As an album track its fine, well played with the band nailing the stop-start seauences with aplomb. However as an album closer its a disappointment, sounding too much like everything that's come before and not having quite enough of a party mood in the room.

Overall, though, 'Run Devil Run' is an enjoyable album that gets far more right than it does wrong, Compared to the other Beatles-related cover albums out there ('Lennon's Rockl and Roll' and Pauk's own 'Choba B CCCP') it's another beast entirely: an album played with real commitment and energy where rock seems like the most important thing in the world, rather than a group of friends lazily recording some old songs to fill in time and solve court cases. You sense that this would have been a fun project to be involved with, even if the grief isn't that far under the surface - particularly in the fine selection of tracks around the middle. Perhaps a bit overlong (it seems odd hearing an album this 1950s which lasts for longer than about twenty-five minutes, the maximum running time back then) and a bit of variety wouldn't have gone amiss. However 'Run Devil Run' ticks most of the boxes: it works as a covers album, as a way of delaying the greiving process and a sa tribute to Linda, whose spirit runs right through this 'can do, it's allowed' album. Against all the odds and after a difficult couple of decades, Macca is ending the 20th century on a high, promoting this album with a well received 'millennium party' at Liverpool's Cavern Club - though not broadcast till Millennium eve it actually took place in early November.

"Working Classical"

(EMI/Parlophone, October 19th 1999)

Junk/A Leaf/Haymakers/Midwife/Spiral/Warm and Beautiful/My Love/Maybe I'm Amazed/Calico Skies/Golden Earth Girl/Somedays/Tuesday/She's My Baby/The Lovely Linda

"Sometimes I laugh to think how young we were, sometimes it'#s hard to know which way to turn"

At last this third classical album was the sort of release people had been expecting from McCartney: a record that was the classical world's equivalent of the pop single, with several shorter pieces that came without recitatives, arias or set texts. Moreover nine of these songs were pieces that his pop fanbase knew well, old friends given a classical makeover, although of the songs chosen only 'My Love' was anything close to being a household name. Though Paul played the track selection down, these songs were clearly chosen with Linda in mind: with the possible exception of 'Junk' all were love songs to her from across the years and in their sheer glowing warm melodies and memories are the other side of the coin from the louder, more aggressive eulogy on 'Run Devil Run'. It's a very McCartney thing to do to swing between opposites like this, but you sense that Linda would have preferred her 'other' tribute album - though many reviewers picked up on how natural and warm McCartney's melodies often sounded without words (you mean you hadn't noticed after all those years?!) the new arrangements were stilted and staid, far too 'posh' by half and losing the subtleties and authenticity of their original versions. Only 'Maybe I'm Amazed' survived the onslaught, with the juxtaopisiton of solo violin and a quartet backing bringing out a similar sense of loneliness, panic and awe as the original, while 'Golden Earth Girl' at last allowed us to hear one of McCartney's greatest melodies without one of his worst sets of words. Even this pairing however didn't match the fire and pizazz of the 'pop' versions while 'Calico Skies' and 'Warm and Beauitful' are pretty awful in any setting and were not improved and songs like 'She's My Baby' and 'Somedays' lost the little bit of life they'd once had in them. Though McCartney had proved that he could successfully write in another genre, these re-arrangemnets here prove what a gulf there is between the two worlds and that the posh fake classical posing of this baroque-style album really is the polar opposite of the realness and liveliness of the rock and roll world. It seems odd that a composer as classless as McCartney should have been sucked so deeply into the impression that classical music has to be so po-faced and staid; he'd have done better to listen to the clever pun in the album title about how Paul will always be 'working class' whatever the setting.

However the remaining five classical pieces are all 'new' and all lovely, amongst his best work in the medium, showing just how well McCartney had got to grips with the ins and outs of classical music once he started in that style. 'Tursday' is particularly special, the soundtrack to a second animated short about frogs that went along with the Rupert short and based on the book by David Weisner about a mysterious shower of amphibians on an otherwise normal Tuesday night. The short comes without dialogue but McCarrney's music is clever and emotionally clear enough to follow the plot, being one of his more melodic and yet harmonically interesting pieces, with stronger melodies than most of his other classical pieces. 'A Leaf' is more traditional but is also Paul's greatest success so far at using a whole orchestra to convey a sense of power and feeling. You get the sense that Paul is 'playing' with the genre much more, using each instrument to speak to each other in turn before they finally unite in a sense of peace and harmony (interestingly it started off as a piano instrumental before being transcribed). 'Spiral' too is a lovely piece, which takes the 'roundedness' and the natural way that Mccartney can make disparate pieces fit together into a real strength with a gorgeous sweeping melody that's one of the most Mccartneyesque of the lot. 'Haymakers' and 'Midwife', the last presumably written for Paul's mother, are less successful, three minute pieces with awfully screechy violins and a sense that Paul's va-va-voom has been Vi-Vi-Vivaldied into submission, but even they are easier to sit through (and shorter!) than the lesser moments of both the 'Oratorio' and 'Standing Stone'. Sometimes less really is more, at least in terms of this style of music, and given that these pieces were made 'for fun' rather than being commissioned by somebody for the first tine, it's a shame that Paul didn't wait before he had more of them instead of deciding to make a Klassikal Karaoke album on the other half. 'Nova', for instance, would fit in perfectly on this album and turned it from a short 39-minute album into a more reasonable 45-minute work.

Denny Laine "A Tribute To Paul McCartney and Wings"

(Purple Pyramid, '1999')

Mull Of Kintyre/Blackbird/Deliver Your Children/Send Me The Heart/Listen To What The Man Said/Silly Love Songs/The Note You Never Wrote/Children Children/Picasso's Last Words/Band On The Run/Go Now/Reborn/Rollin' Tide/Within Walls

(A later re-issue on Hallmark changed the running order and removed the songs from 'Reborn' and Wings outtake 'Send Me The Heart' but was otherwise the same)

"Drink to me, drink to my health - you know I can't drink anymore!"

Can you actually a release a 'tribute' album to a band you were once a part of? Anyway Denny finally gives in to the inevitable and releases a low budget album that's guaranteed at least a few sales, re-recording Wings songs plus 'Go Now' and solo song 'Say You Don't Mind' as quicly and cheaply as possible for a rushed recording that proably hd less time spent on it than The Beatles' 'Please Please Me'. Considering what it is - and the fact I bought my copy at full price for 99p from 'The Works' - this is actually rather good. Denny still has his voice and while the arrangements are basic there's a feeling of grunge about this album that beats the over-thought over-wrought 'Back To The Egg' performances anyday. 'Time To Hide', already a great rocker, has aged well, while its nice to hear strong forgotten songs like 'Deliver Your Children' and 'The Note You Never Wrote' given another airing. Fans too will have fun hearing Denny sing Wings standards like 'Mull Of KIntyre' and 'Silly Love Songs' in his best impression of McCartney. However the curious decision to add Denny's superior own songs from 'Reborn' shows what a pointless exercise this all is when people could be buying proper Denny laine albums with their money and hearing a low budget version of 'Picasso's Last Words' (which was all about the production, not the song) is just wrong wrong wrong. Buy it and help Denny out a bit - but this album will never ever come close to replacing the originals and the ultimate feeling you get as a fan is sadness that an artist who should be loved ansd respected has been reduced to this. It turns Denny wasn't quite so 'reborn' after all. 

Various Artists "A Garland For Linda"

(EMI/Parlophone,April 6th 2000)

Silence and Music (Vaughan Williams)/Prayer For The Healing Of The Sick (John Taverner)/Water Lilies (Judith Bingham)/Musica Dei Donum (John Rutter)/The Doorway Of The Dawn (David Matthews)/Nova (Paul McCartney)/I Dream'd (Rosanna Panufnix)/Farewell (Michael Berkley)/The Flight Of The Swan (Giles Swayne)/A Good Night (Richard Rodney Bennett)

"As each green blade stretches for the sun I am here looking over them"

Though many were expecting a rock and roll tribute, the biggest memorial concert for LInda took place in the classical world. The idea wasn't Paul's but a businessman named Stephen Connock who had himself recovered from cancer and wanting to do some big fundraising for the cause with a big name. Linda had been in the news a lot so Connock got in contact not expecting a response - however he found that Paul had been thinking along the same lines but been too grief-stricken to get much further than the idea. Paul and Stephen between them contacted several contemporary composers for suitable pieces while Paul tries to finish a piece for Linda that he had started composing after her death but never finished: a six minute piece for a choir he titled 'Nova'. Titled after a bright star, it reflects more than any of his other classical pieces, his grieving process as he wonders how someone so alive can be gone so suddenly and so soon. Paul turns on his maker and for the first time in his work confronts God directly. 'Where are you?' he asks. 'Are you hiding in your Heaven? Or beneath your deepest sea?' The opening three minutes or so are among the most inspired in Paul's classical repertoire as despite writing for more voices than any of his other works his music has never sounded more alone or despairing. It's almost a shame when the big booming voices chime in with part two and the salvation that 'I am here - in every song you sing'. Hard as Paul tries to make the piece lighter and warm, filled with the musical smile he does so well, this is the wrong piece for it and the 'answer' sounds rather less impressive than the 'question'. Even so, 'Nova' is a moving piece and is easily the best on the album despite contributions by such heavy hitters from the classical world like John Rutter, Richard Rodney Bennett and John Taverner (once an Apple employee hired to make an album by Ringo!) Though all the pieces - aong with Ralph Vaughan Williams' 'Music and Silence' written decades earlier - were first performed together at Charterhouse School in Surrey in July 1999 with Richard Hickox conducting, the album was recorded later in the year with Peter Broadbent as baton-waver. It remains an odd jumble, with 'Nova' suitably shining brightest, doing a good deed by raising money though slightly lacking in its attempts to be tribute to Linda' personality: her inner rock animal would have deplored the continual 'tastefulness' of the event and would want to throw a few loose ends in there to wake things up.

Paul McCartney/The Beatles/Super Furry Animals/Youth
"Liverpool Sound Collage"

(Hydra/Capitol,August 21st 2000)

Plastic Beetle/Peter Blake 2000/Real Gone Dub MadeIn Manifest In The Vortx Of The Eternal Now/Made Up/Free Now

"What's your favourite city?" "Erm, San Francisco!"

You'll no doubt have noticed by now that there are a lot of weird things in this book - being a McCartney collector really stretches your musical palette, to breaking point sometimes. However this is the weirdest, a Fireman collaboration with the Super Furry Animals to celebrate Liverpool - even though Youth is from Lancashire and the Super Furries are from Wales. The 'commission', such as it was, came from Peter Blarke who'd stayed in touch with McCartney ever since their joint design on 'Sgt Peppers' became the most recognised album cover in musical history and was putting on a collage at Liverpool's Tate  Gallery titled 'About Collage'. A Penny Lane-style journey through Blake's memories and early life, it naturally touched on The Beatles too and McCartney was an obvious person to go to for 'music'. McCartney, who'd always felt at home in the art world, felt the 'collage' style was particularly appealing and set to do the same thing in sound that his colleague had done with images, recording random snippets of conversation at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (where Paul was a patron and had all but saved from closure a few years before), shoppers in Liverpool city centre (who don't always give the ansdwers Paul wants or expects!), bits of the Liverpool Oratorio, random bursts of Beatle conversation taped between songs at Abbey Road (were they put to one side after Anthology?) and a few new ideas he and Youth came up with. The 'mixing' was handed over to the Super Furries, simply because they were a 'newer' band who'd always liked doing this sort of thing and were given carte blanche to do what they liked with the bits Macca and Youth handed over (collecting SFA records is hard work, with even more alternate mixes and deluxe special special editions than McCartney!) who obliged by turning up the bit of McCartney history that interested them most: his munching on carrots during a session for Beach Boys song 'Vege-tables' (proved to be one of those rock andf roll myths, but vegetarian Paul was game enough to raid Linda's cooking pot; as we said on a more general article on our website 'If Oasis were the 90s Beatles than that makes the Super Furry Animals the 90s Beach Boys, full of the same wild humour, massive harmionies and studio trickery). The end result is the closest Paul ever got to making his own 'Revolution #9' and will please the fans who've long wished his music would be more like Yoko Ono's no end. However there are 't likely to be very many of those around (has Yoko ever heard this project one wonders?!) and most fans are persuaded to give this over-long and over-noisy hour-long art school project a miss. Only the closing three minute burst of 'Gotta Be Free Now' is ever really that listenable - and even then its a long way from the 'mad Beatley single' Macca proudly wrote about the time (sensing they were onto a loss here, EMI never did release a single from the album and buried it in something of a hurry).As a third 'Fireman' album iy's a failure and worse still Liverpool doesn't sound like this to me whenever I visit - thank goodness. 'Penny Lane' was a much better summation of the bustling good-humoured city (well, when they aren't overcharging you for Beatles souveniers or  fighting over football teams anyway). 

"Wingspan - Hits and History"

(EMI/Parlophone, May 7th 2001)

Cd One (Hits): Listen To What The Man Said/Band On The Run/Another Day/Live and Let Die/Jet!/My Love/Silly Love Songs/Pipes Of Peace/C Moon/Hi Hi Hi/Let 'Em In/Goodnuight Tonight/Junior's Farm/Mull Of Kintyre/Uncle Albert-Admiral Halsey/Coming Up/No More Lonely Night (Ballad Version)

CD Two (History): Let Me Roll It/The Lovely Linda/Daytime Nighttime Suffering/Maybe I'm Amazed/Helen Wheels/Bluebird/Heart Of The Country/Every Night/Take It Away/Junk/Man We Was Lonely/Venus and Mars-Rockshow/Back Seat Of My Car/Rockestra Theme/Girlfriend/Waterfalls/Tomorrow/Too Many People/Call Me Back Again/Tug Of War/Bip Bop-Hey Diddle/No More Lonely Nights (Playout Version)

"The wonder of it all, baby..."

A little deeper than more than just another hits album, 'Wingspan' is a largely excellent double-disc set that contains the excellent innovation of being divided up into a 'hits' and 'history' halves so that newcomers and casual fans alike will find something worth buying. I'm less happy about how this set caters to long-term fans though: there are some truly staggering unreleased gems in the McCartney canon that could have been included but this set's lone unreleased song is a dotty version of nursery ditty 'Hey Diddle' recorded in the McCartney's Mull of Kintrye family garden in 1973 that sounds much better in studio form. More than a few passionate followers felt they'd been conned by this move, while the set could easily have stretched to a third 'cold cuts' disc had Macca wanted. Still, this TV documentary tie-in is still awfully good, rescuing all-too-forgotten songs from the past and giving extra airtime to neglected gems like 'Daytime Nighttime Suffering' 'Every Night' 'Back Seat Of My Car' and the Lennon-baiting 'Too Many People' that really are the best of McCartney whatever the compilations usually think. The title too is clever and very in keeping with the 'Wings' theme and their love of playing with words and language(though I'm less keen on the dodgy cover, with Macca's hands in thew 'Wings' emblem sketchily photographed on a blue background that I'd have sent back to a school photographers never mind when being used as the cover for such a prestigious release). However note that I said the best of 'McCartney' just then because, strictly speaking, this isn't a Wings compilation at all. Wings existed between 1972 and 1979 but this album covers everything from the first 'McCartney' album in 1970 right up to 'No More Lonely Nights' in 1984 (clever idea to end both discs with the two different versions of the same song by the way!) That wouldn't matter so much had this been a 'McCartney' compilation, but it isn't - the whole point is that it's meant to show off the Wings years. If I was Denny Laine I'd have been fuming - its as if there's no difference in Paul's mind between what he came up with solo and what the band did. Why not save the solo stuff (and 'Ram' made with Linda) for a whole other compilation lasting right up to, say, 'Flowers In The Dirt' . Ah well, for all it's flaws this is still quite possibly the single best McCartney purchase newcoming fans can make - what other set enables you to hear career highlights 'Maybe I'm Amazed' 'Coming Up' 'Waterfalls' (why is this #10  hit on the 'history' disc by the way?!) and 'Let Me Roll It' all in the same place?!

Various Artists "The Concert For New York"

(Columbia/Sony, Recorded October 20th 2001, Released November 27th 2001)

Includes Performances by David Bowie/Bon Jovi/Jay-Z/Goo Goo Dolls/Billy Joel/Destiny's Child/Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy/Adam Sandler/Backstreet Boys/Mick Jagger and Keith Richards/Mike Moran/The Who/Melissa Etheridge/James Taylor/John Mellencamp/Kid Rock/Five For Fighting/Elton John/Paul McCartney

McCartney's set: I'm Down!/Yesterday/Let It Be/Freedom

"Everybody's talkin' about freedom! I will fight for the right to live in freedom!"

Though Paul was about the only non-American to appear at the hastily formed memorail concert for the victinms of 9/11, he was the first person approached by the organisers for the show. Paul had been in America on September 11th 2001 and the chartered areoplane he was on was just about to whisk him and Heather Mills back home when the news about the terrorist attack broke and all flights were grounded. McCartney was as caught up in the drama as everyone else, helpless as he waited actually inside a plane as the news slowly unfolded. You can tell from McCartney's pained performance of 'Yesterday' and 'Let It Be' (one of the most moving versions of the song he's given) that he felt the events deeply. However the rest of his show was slightly lacklustre. His latest song 'Freedom' is generally regarded by fans as a bad idea, a trite response to the tragedies that made Band Aid's 'Do They Knows It's Christmas?' look like poetry. Using the show to promote your next album seems like an odd move in hindsight too, with world premieres of the 'Driving Rain' songs 'From A Lover To A Friend' and 'Lonely Road' which didn't quite fit 9and were both cut fro the album). Neither did the surprise revival of the B-side of 'Help!' 'I'm Down', which as a deliberate parody of blues and OTT mpping songs seemed very out of step with the rest of the night (which included such delights as Neil Young crooning his way through Lennon's 'Imagine'). In many ways this was a wasted opportunity to show just how perfect McCartney usually is at these sort of things, as the go-to elder statesmen in times of trouble, although unlike 'Live Aid' it was the performance not the technology that let him down. There was however a silver lining in the Driving Rain cloud: this was the first ever performance of the full McCartney Band (with Wix, Rusty, Abe and Brian all there) and they sounded mighty good. A full tour followed the following year, interestingly with 'I'm Down' removed from the setlists. 

Various Artists "Party At The Palace"

(Virgin, June 24th 2002)

Includes Performances By Queen/Phil Collins/Atomic Kitten/Shirley Bassey/Bryan Adams/Tom Jones/Will Young/Annie Lennox/Cliff Richard/Ozzy Osbourne/Elton John/Brian Wilson/Eric Clapton/Stevie Winwood/Joe Cocker/Rod Stewart/Paul McCartney
McCartney's set: All You Need Is Love

"Her majesty's a pretty nice girl - or at least she was till she turned 79 and started scowling at me at her party!"

Her Maj held a party at the palace to celebrate her jubilee in 2002. Well, I say she held a party - given the look on her face throughout proceedings Queen Lizzie was having such a bad time she looked as if she was about to incarcerate all the 'invited guests' she'd clearly never heard of into the castle dungeon. The concert was her grandkids William and Harry's idea and a nice cheap way of getting out of buying her a present. The result became something of a political football and an event that everybody talked about but nobody actually seemed to watch (judging by both my street and the TV audience figures the next day). Well except me. Despite considering the monarchy the world's last great anachronism that holds Britain back from ever truly becoming the democratic country she ought to be and making us the laughing stock of Europe (she's not even English - she's German!) I sat through this entire three hours to see AAA greats Brian Wilson, Ray Davies and Paul McCartney. I really wish I hadn't bothered. Brian's recovery was sent back about ten years when a fire broke out during rehearsals during his spot (the world didn't know it at the time but he was already working on a revival of shelved Beach Boys masterpoiece 'Smile', abandoned after a track called 'Fire' was recorded the night before a building next to the studio brunt down). Ray Davies looked grumpy and fed up, still not used to performing without his fellow Kinks and trying to put with hordes of screaming teenagers who didn't know who he was. They knew who Paul was and Macca - so used to this sort of thing - coped better than the rest with a fun Lennon tribute of 'All You Need Is Love' and a singalong 'Hey Jude' (which were received well) and an improvised revival of 'Her Majesty' from the end of 'Abbey Road' after which The Queen looked at him with daggers (and which plainly wasn't). It was the first time he'd ever played it live too - did The Queen not even have the limited grasp of pop culture needed to understand what a major moment this was? It was by far the highlight of a very staid and stilted performance by lots of boring fading wannabes and a neat mirror to the last time Paul played in front of the queen (you really missed a Lennon figure to ask the people to shake their jewellery). Shockingly Paul only got one song on the resultant CD, which is the equivalent of inviting a head of state round for a cup of tea and only spending five minutes showing off corgis before booting them out. Well, what do you expect from a family living on benefits?! This is not the way to christen a new band in record form...

"Back In The US/Back In The World"

(EMI, November 26th 2002)

CD One: Hello Goodbye/Jet!/All My Loving/Getting Better/Coming Up/Let Me Roll It/Lonely Road/Driving Rain/Your Loving Flame/Blackbird/Every Night/We Can Work It Out/Mother Nature's Son/Vanilla Sky/You Never Give Me Your Money/Carry That Weight/The Fool On The Hill/Here Today/Something

CD Two: Eleanor Rigby/Here There and Everywhere/Band On The Run/Back In The USSR/Maybe I'm Amazed/C Moon/My Love/Can't Buy Me Love/Freedom/Live and Let Die/Let It Be/Hey Jude/The Long and Winding Road/Lady Madonna/I Saw Her Standing There/Yesterday/Sgt Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band (Reprise)/The End

The European Release 'Back In The World' is identical apart from the addition of 'She's Leaving Home' and the absence of 'Vanilla Sky' and 'Freedom'

"Sit beside a mountain stream, see her waters rise, listen to the pretty sound of music as an ex-Wings member flies"

I've often said that Mccartrney's songs are a lot tougher than people ever give them credit for - and at last Macca's new band has given them the muscles they deserve! Not to take anything away from the 1989/1990 and 1993 band (who sounded great when you were there but never were captured properly on tape) but McCartney's third band knocks spots off his second. On paper 'Back In The US' or 'Back In The World' or whatever version you happen to own (there are two with different performances but the same identical track listing except for the addition of 'She's Leaving Home' added in time for the European tour and the loss of two lesser modern-day songs - which is a bit of a weird adjustment but probably McCartney's way of making sure true fans buy this stuff twice over) ought to be a ridiculous idea: a good half the songs are repeated from the last coucple of tour albums and quite a lot of the other half mainly features forgettable songs from 1997's 'Flaming Pie'. The performances are the difference between night and day though and the band are electric: despite having never played together before with each other or with Paul guitarist Rusty Anderson, bassist/guitarist (depending what Paul is plkaying) Brian Ray and drummer Abe Laboriel Jnr are three of the best things to have ever happened to Paul, enhancing and re-energising his back catalogue in a similar way to what The Wondermints were helping to do for Paul's old rival Brian Wilson. Fan enough to want to play these songs properly, but musician enough to add their own pizazz, the new quintet rarely put a foot wrong - on this tour or any other. Clearly this record is better than 'Tripping The Live Fantastic' or 'Paul Is Live' but that owes as much to the circumstances as the band. Instead of being taped near the end of a lengthy tour that's sapping all his energy Paul is on fire on both near-identical albums, every bit as energetic and excited as on 'Wings Over America' recorded a quarter century earlier. Clearly some things have changed since then - big things, with the clear record highlight being the series of tributes to fallen friends and comrades including a moving 'My Love' for Linda, a haunting 'Here Today' for John (written for 'Tug Of War' in 1982 but never before performed live) and a tribute that even the spotlight-shying George would have appreciated with a ukulele arrangement of Beatles favourite 'Something'.

The loss of Linda is keenly felt by everyone - not least keyboardist Wix, the only refugee from the last McCartney band who was promoted to 'musical director' for this tour, a great idea which helped ease the strain on McCartney no end (he's just enough of a Beatle and Wings fan even after two lengthy tours to give people what they think they want and what they didn't even know they'd want!) In the final weeks of the 1993 world tour Wix and Linda decided their keyboards looked drab compared the drums and Pauk's brightly painted piano and decided to dress them up. The pair got very competitive until the final tours saw them perform under a sea of garlands and teddy bears. Linda gave her red lava lamp to Wix as a leaving present  after he admired it - which he brought with him to sit on his kebyoards at every gig, so that Linda was always a 'part of' proceedings. You wonder, however, how well that went down with this album's other shadowy figure - Heather Mills - who did her best to appear Linda-like at every show but refused to appear on stage and soon started making up excuses not to turn up at so many similar gigs. Not one to be put off Macca still serenaded her from the stage whether she was there or not, with a higher batch of love songs in this setlist than usual and some extraordinary performances of Macca's new ballad for Heather 'Your Loving Flame', an unexpected highlight of the show's first half.

There are several other highlights too, mainly songs we never ever thought in a million years we'd hear Paul perform. 'Hello Goodbye' is a cracking opener, going up in many fans' estimation from the silliest Beatles single to under-rated classic in one fell swoop, a fast-paced 'Getting Better' from 'Sgt Peppers' re-worked as a Britpop-style song brings the jouse down, 'Mother Nature's Son' the over-looked pretty ballad from 'The White Album' becomes an even prettier acoustic ballad where even Wix's ever-present accordion doesn't get in the way, 'Carry That Weight' becomes a funny memory after years as the world-weary start to the 'Abbey Road Medley' even if Paul used his same joke about forgetting the words every single flipping time!, a clever synth-arrangment of 'Eleanor Rigby' is a little rough but still very heartbreaking, a strangely faithful 'Michelle' gets the crowd singing along even when not being performed in France, 'Let 'Em In', loosely modelled on the 'Lulu/Macca' duet version from her 'Together' album sounds nicely tough and heavy with heavier guitar even than the Jimmy McCulloch days, and 'She's Leaving Home' is even more hauntingly tragic told with Paul's fading voice. Even most of the songs done last time are major improvements: 'Jet!' rocks impressively heavily for a man in his sixties, 'Here There and Everywhere' is light as air without being sapped by a load of synth-strings, 'Yesterday' has added poignancy after three hours of memories and Paul finally sings 'The Fool On The Hilkl' with the care such a special song deserves. With so many good points it seems almost churlish to point out that this is one of the ropiest of all the many dozens of 'Hey Jude's out there, that career highlight 'Coming Up' has been turned into a near-unlistenable dance track, that 'Freedom' is horrid in any version and sounds even worse surrounded by such classics, that McCartney gives up playing bass about three songs in and instead sticks to rhythm guitar or that the Wings years and the 1980s get very short shrift. Macca really is back and this fifth live recording is so much better than it has any right to be, with this the 'other' definitive live McCartney set to own alongside 'Wings Over America'. Though the band remain as enthusiastic and energetic on later Macca sets this album gets the mixture of the obvious and the obscure the best of all of them and is a tad longer than all the others too. Highly recommended - and for once the atmosphere I felt in the room on the UK leg of the tour is actually captured on a record. 

Rusty Anderson "Undressing Underwater"

(Surfdog Records,'Late 2003', Re-issued September 2005)

Hurt Myself/Devil's Spaceship/Electric Trains/Damaged Goods/Coming Down To Earth/Ol' Sparky/ Catbox Beach/Ishmael/Sentimental Chaos/Everyone Deserves An 'A' In This Country

"You are my holy window, you are my holy pane - you don't scare me anymore!"

Guitarist Rusty's debut album is a very contemporary sounding album full of singalong pop, which reminds you what a job he's done changing his style to fit McCartney's older songs so well. It's a nice chance to hear Rusty singing without everyone else from the band getting in the way and there's even a guest appearance by Sir Paul himself on opening track 'Hurt Myself'- something that hardly ever happens to ex-Wings/McCartney band members - along with Abe and Wix. The songs are fine for what they are without ever approaching the standard of the songs Rusty plays on stage every night, with the moving ballad 'Damaged Goods' (a poppier 'Lonely Road') and the catchy 'Ol' Sparky' (a faster 'From A Lover To A Friend') particularly strong. There's a nice sense of adventurousness too on an album that's trying to always go somewhere different with each song. However there's sadly little of Rusty's greatest strength - his mesmerising guitar playing - which is only heard on about two-thirds of the album anyway but even then comes off as hard and lumpy, cod-heavy metal with at least three too many overdubs. Originally given a low-key release on Rusty's own record label Oxide Records and released two years later with the bigger company Surfdog, it's nice, in bits, but not essential. Rusty has since followed this album with two more solo albums, neither of which feature his bandmates. 

Paul McCartney/Freelance Hellraiser "Twin Freaks"

(EMI/Parlophone/Graze, June13th 2005)

Really Love You/Long Haired Lady/Rinse The Raindrops//Darkroom/Live and Let Die/Temporary Secretary//What's That You're Doing?/Oh Woman Oh Why?/Mumbo/Lalula/Coming Up/Maybe I'm Amazed

"There's a place we can go, lights are low, let me show you to my darkroom..."

Of all the many twists and turns through Macca's long and varied career, this is one of the strangest. Remember 'Temporary Secretary' the Ian Dury spoof Paul made for fun in 1980 and which then became everybody's most/least favourite track on 'McCartney II'? Despiote not charting the song had always been a cult hit amongst fans and began to take on a new life on its own in the clubbing scene, often with fan remixes that would sample the opening synth riff beyond breaking point. Suddenly the song was becoming one of Paul's most famous tracks - voted #167 in the best songs of all time by the NME no less, beating all but the highest Beatles numbers! - and without knowing it Macca began to become a bit of a name on the circuit. Hence this oddity of an album which takes a similar hatchet job to some Wings and solo tracks, putting them in the hands of 'Freelance Hellraiser', a contemporary remixer name. The result is an interesting stew that makes even the lightest and fluffiest McCartney song seem dark and nightmarish through repetition, while the already fairly threatening stuff - like the booming 'fireworks' bit in 'Live and Let Die' or the gutteral scream of 'Mumbo' - sound positively nasty. If you ever thought Mccartney was just about 'silly love songs' then this may be the first place to go to change your mind, the remixing concentrating largely on McCartney's sneering, sarcastic side. Of all the albums in the McCartney canon, this is the one you sense Lennon would have enjoyed playing most (in fact it's a shame the most Lennonish song, 'Let Me Roll It', isn't here as it's the sort of piecemeal song born for the sort of messing about going on here).

If you like the 'Fireman' albums side of Macca's art then there is much to enjoy even if was less hands on this time, with sound collages made up of some  familiar sounds given a new set of clothes to wear that make them sound almost entirely different. For McCartney fans though this isn't so much a remix as a complete reinvention that rather leaves ou playing an audio version of 'Where's Wally?' with the same ingedients made into some very different cakes. 'Long Haired Lady', for instance has the drums up high and only an 'echo' of the guitar sound while 'Oh Woman Oh Why?' has been mixed with a spacey 'Venus and Mars' and turned into a percussion-filled ballad, which isn't exactly hos I'd always imagined it. Of all the songs here the 'McCartney II' ones sound best, perhaps because they were made with a similarly playful, bet-you-can't-guess-who-this-is? mentality that actually improves on both 'Secretary' and the vaguely sinister but mainly silly 'DarkRoom' which is now a work of beauty. Better yet, a moment of genius sees Hellraiser put the voal track from 'Coming Up' onto the backing of 'Morse Moose and the Grey Goose' and the two are a perfect fit that sounds made for each other. Whether that makes up for the monstrosity which is 'Maybe I'm Amazed' (turned into a percussion-heavy echo-drenched train wreck) is another matte of course. But If in truth this is a patchy album its still one heck of a lot more interesting and a more useful addition to the Beatles catalogue than the fab four remix album 'Love' and demonstrates yet again why McCartney (who oversaw the album and suggested the odd tweak here and there) is a far more adventurous musician than he's ever given credit for. 

"Ecce Cor Meum"

(EMI, September 25th 2006)

Movement I (Spiritus)/Movement II (Gratia)/INterlude (Lament)/Movement III (Musica)/Movement IV (Ecce Cor Meum)

"And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make"

McCartrney's fourth classical work should have come out hot on the heels of his second, 'Standing Stone', after an invitation to Magdalen College by new head of the music department Anthony Smith. Smith longed for a modern classical writer who would bring more obscure genres of classical music to the masses again and pleaded with McCartney to write a mass, telling him that he could reach the biggest audience since Handel's 'Messiah'. Flattered by the attention and his musical curosity heightened by Smiths' tales of what could be done with the art form in the modern age, McCartney set to work without much of a break with regular trips back to the college to meet with their young choir who were ecnouiragingly enthusiastic in contrast to most of the snooty classical music press who hadn't liked either the Oratorio or Standing Stone much. However Macca flound this project hard and uncharacteristically found himself beset by writer's block, abandoning several ideas on the way to finding one he liked. The turning point came when he went on a solo tour down Magdalen College's dusty corridors and came across a statue labelled, in Latin, 'Ecce Cor Meum' - McCartney had done just enough Latin at the Liverpool Institute to translate this as 'Behold My Heart'. The phrase stayed with him, all through the next difficult year when Linda grew poorly and then died, haunting him with its simple phrase and ecnouraging him to forget his early ideas of writing to fit genre, style and audience and simply enable him to pour out his grief.

Written for the first time largely without any outside help (though with the 'Working Classical' pieces interrupting the composition early on). McCartney hit more problems than he'd had in his first two pieces. Though he had come up with five lovely movements, written at different periods, none of them had much in common with the other and without the classical knowhow he'd accidentally made some parts too difficult for his young choir to sing or written in notes an orchestra would have found it difficult to play. A planned 1998 debut came and went (about the only deadline Mccartney ever missed, with a planned premiere at the opening of new college auditorium replaced by Tony Harrison's 'Prometheus') and it wasn't until November 2001 that the piece received its first performance, with further alternations and changes meaning that it didn't appear on CD till 2006. The result is another mixed McCartney classical piece. Far from bringing his pop world closer to an understanding of the more challenging classical forms, 'Ecce Cor Meum' is more offputtingly pompous and classically generic than ever. Despote being deemed both a 'requiem' and a 'mass', it isn't strictly either - a sort of memorial for Linda in the middle surrounded by spiritual but notably irreligious ideas that mean it's a combination of the two styles and the free-for-all of 'Standing Stone'. The few journalists who gave the piece the time of day were even more underwhelmed than after the last two pieces and arguably taken as a whole this is McCartney's least impressive classical work taken as a whole.

Taken in sections, though, it's another 'nearly' work that features some truly gorgeous McCartney melodies and some truly lovely ideas. The four minute interlude, subtitled 'Lament', is one of the most haunting pieces Macca had written in any genre - a moving  seqauence of chords that nicely conveys the grief and hopelessness of life without Linda. The clever use of the choir as colour rather than instrument is well suited to the typically McCartney theme of nature's healing ways  and the idea of mother nature calling all her children back to her eventually is a stunningly fitting tribute for Linda. The second movement 'Gratia', clearly a musical memory of happier times, which somehow has the feel of a household full of bouncing children as seen on so many McCartney home videos and heard on bootlegs, is charming too. It's the over-pompous beginning and the rather atonal ending that let this piece down, robbing the piece of its emotional heart while trying too hard to gie it an intellectual classical head that was McCartney's biggest fear before his 'Oratorio' coming back to haunt him. For a piece that translates as 'Behold My Heart', it's a shame there isn't more music from the heart here in it. Classic FM Magazine readers, surprisngly, voted it their 'work of the year' in 2007, perhaps not aware that much of the piece was a decade old by then.

Brian Ray "Mondo Magneto"

(Whoray Records, October 2006)

Good For Nothing/Vinyl/Goin' Down Swinging'/Soft Machine/I LIked You Better/All I Know/Coming Up Roses/Sub Atomic/If You're Leaving Home/Anywhere But Home

"I liked you better when I was drinking, I liked you better when I was drunk!"

McCartney's bassist should have released his debut solo album in the late 1990s - it has a lot of that multi-guitar wall-of-noise sound that Oasis and co were doing back then and his voice sounds very likle that of Kelly Jones from the Stereophonics. This album features Abe on drums throughout and includes a few songwriting collaborations between the pair which are mongst the better songs on the album, while Wix guests on the song 'All I Know', the closest thing to a ballad here (although its still loud and noisy, just slower than the others). It's the tracks like this one and 'If You're Leaving Me' that proves that Brian can do more than screaming and rocking that work best, actually, and prove that he has both a genuinely lovely voice (too good to be wasted on McCartney harmonies all his life) and some really great musical ideas. There just aren't quite enough of them for a whole CD sadly which, like Rusty's, is nice to have but not essential listening.  

"iTunes Festival"

(Released through iTunes, October 21st 2007)

Coming Up/Only Mama Knows/That Was Me/Jet!/Nod Your Head/House Of Wax

"That was me, recording for iTunes, on a London stage, still feeling the rage"

Ever adapt at embracing new technologies, the 'Festival' EP recorded live in London was the first McCartney release made exclusive through ITunes as an 'extra' for fans downloading his music there. To be honest there's nothing here the CD-vinyl loving dinosaurs of us won't have heard already, but in terms of pure track listing this live set has a greater hit rate than most. 'Only Mama Knows' and 'That Was Me' are modern McCartney songs born for the stage and while 'House Of Wax' is a little more, erm...fragile that still really suits a song that's all about impending doom anyway: between them these three songs represent three-quarters of the really good stuff from 'Memory Almost Full' so you almost don't need to buy that record if you have this. Throw in old friends 'Jet!' and 'Coming Up' (sadly not often heard on live CDs but both amongst the McCartney greats that sound particulartly good on stage) and you have five excellent examples of why McCartney as a live artist can hold his own with acts a fifth of his age. Only 'Nod Your Head' gets in the way - and even that sounds better live.  

"Amoeba's Secret"

(Hear Music, November 13th 2007)

Only Mama Knows/C Moon/That Was Me/I Saw Her Standing There

"Was that the intro? I should have been here!"

One of Paul's more unusual concert albums, this set was a highlights EP from a gig played at a Hollywood record store. The chance to see a real live Beatle close-up (if you got there early anyway) caused a bigger stir than anyone expected and fans were queuing up days before the event took place. Macca and band are on good form, enjoying the chance to actually see the people they're playing to rather than being dots on the horizon of some distant stadium and given the plethora of McCartney live albums out there it's a shame that the original 20-song set isn't out in full (though a twelve/fifteen-song version, given away free with a newspaper or through the band's website, is outlined below). The two new songs from 'Memory Almost Full' - 'Only Mama Knows' and 'That Was Me' - sound particularly good but even 'C Moon' has a tightness to it the 1989-1993 band missed.    

"Live In Los Angeles - The Extended Set"

(available through the official McCartney website, November 16th 2007)

Drive My Car/Only Mama Knows/Dance Tonight/C Moon/That Was Me/Blackbird/Here Today/Back In The USSR/Nod Your Head/House Of Wax/Get Back/Hey Jude/Lady Madonna/I Saw Her Standing There

A longer buit still far from complete version of the Amoeba gig was released first through Macca's own website (the fifteen track version reviewed here) and later a twelve track version was a giveaway with The Mail On Sunday UK newspaper - an odd move given that this gig took place in America rather than Britain and that the paper had been rotten to Paul for much of the past decade, hounding him every time Heather Mills opened her mouth. It takes a lot for me to lower my disgust levels enough to buy Britains' trashiest paper but it was worth it on this occasion as again Macca and band are on tight form , even if the four songs already released probably are the overall highlights. You really don't need to sit through more versions of horrors like 'Dance Tonight' and 'Nod Your Head' than you have to and I got bored with hearing live versions of 'Hey Jude' et al along ago, but a spirited take on 'Memory Almost Full' highlight 'House Of Wax' is impressive, 'Get Back' rocks harder than any other live version around and the tribute to Lennon 'Here Today' sounds all the more goose-pimply for being played bare in front of so many people; good on Macca for not hiding away behind bodyguards away from the public despite what happened to Lennon not a million miles away from this Hollywood gig in New York. Again, though, the full twenty-track gig with yet more obscure Beatles would be better. 

Henry McCullough "Poor Man's Moon"

(Released through iTunes, October 21st 2007)

The Burial Ground/Big Old River/I've Got A Secret/Too Late To Worry/Poor Man's Moon/Walk With Me/Belfast Train/Skin and Bone/Fix Me Up Jesus/All Gone Crazy/Time To Put The Snakes To Bed

"I'm not sure what I have become, it's not what I hoped when I was young, tear it up and start again, say the word and I'll sail away then"

Though Henry has released lots of solo albums in his career, it's his first and last that matter most. This is, to date, his last solo record (barring a knockabout karaoke Beatles session with old pal Denny Seiwell on 'Shabbey Road') and hadn't been out long before Henry suffered his heart attack that's still left him in a critical state. Rather movingly, 'Poor Man's Moon' is a late-Johnny Cash-style song about the problems of gretting older and watching your friends die, wondering whether you'll be next. There's more of an Irish feel to this record than Henry's other albums, with a sense of history and an Irish wake about the whole album, which for the most part is slow and seene but does have times for one or two last reminders of what a fine blues and r and b player Henry is. Opener 'The Burial Ground' is particularly moving, with Henry's unusual voice perfectly suited to the wistfrul backing, while the moving 'Too Late To Worry' which reflects on a life lived madly and badly, Henry grimly chuckling that its too late trying to find a job and worrying about unpaid bills when the grim reaper is in his postcode. Hearing Henry come to terms with the intense Catholicism of his upbringing on the tearful song odf redemption 'Fix Me Up Jesus' is also a moving moment, whatever your belief system. Though none of the songs sound much like Wings', with a mixture of moody ballads and pure blues, Henry can still play as well as he always did with some great solos dotted around this record and fans of r and b will find much to admire. Unexpectedly excellent. 

"Good Evening New York City!"

(Mercury, November 17th 2009)

CD One: Drive My Car/Jet!/Only Mama Knows/Flaming Pie/Got To Get You Into My Life/Let Me Roll It!-Foxy Lady/Highway/The Long and Winding Road/My Love/Blackbird/Here Today/Dance Tonight/Calico Skies/Mrs Vanderbilt/Eleanor Rigby/Sing The Changes/Band On The Run
CD Two: Back In The USSR/I'm Down!/Something/I've Got A Feeling/Paperback Writer/A Day In The Life-Give Peace A Chance/Let It Be/Live and Let Die/Hey Jude/Day Tripper/Lady Madonna/I Saw Her Standing There/Yesterday/Helter Skelter/Get Back/Sgt Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band

"Running through the night-time, looking like a wreck, I've got too many highlights baby and a love bite on my neck!"

Another tour, another live album - Macca's ninth by my count though the first 'proper' live album since the 'Back In The World' discs of 2003. This one can't qwuite match the sheer amount of surprises of that earlier album or the shock of hearing a band playing old songs with such power and grace but it's not without its own rewards. Macca has revived two or three Beatles songs for each 21st century tour he never played or hasn't played in half a century and this year's oddities include 1965 B-side 'I'm Down' (played with nearly the same histrionics as the Shea Stadium version), under-rated 'Let It Be' classic 'I've Got A Feeling' (with drummer Abe Laboriel Jnr filling in for Lennon's bits) and 1966 number one hit 'Day Tripper' (not heard since the last Beatles show at Candlestick Park). There's a handful of interesting variations from the solo years too: 'Mrs Vanderbilt' was pretty much the last song ledft to revibe from 'Band On The Run' and sounds good live, while fellow alkbum-mate 'Let Me Roll It' gets a Jimi Hendrix tribute based around 'Foxy Lady' squashed into the coda. Some of the new songs sound great live too: 'Only Mama Knows' from 'Memory Almost Full' and 'Highway' from 'Electric Arguments' - we could have done more songs from both albums actually - though as usual there are some truly awful songs revived for no apparent reason here too: 'Calico Skies' 'Dance Tonight'  and 'Flaming Pie' all show McCartney as his tritest and most annoying. Perhaps the biggest surprise is a Lennon tribute medley incorporating 'A Day In The Life' and 'Give Peace A Chance' - it doesn't work quite as well as the one-off medley with 'Strawberry Fields' Macca did as a one-off at a Liverpool gig in 1990 or the 'Here Today' tribute from 'Tug Of War' also featured here in live form, but it's a noble try. Elsewhere it's business as usual, although I'd say the 'Back In The World' discs find the band on slightly better form in terms of Beatle and solo favourites and argubaly has a slightly better tracklisting all round. The album was also made aailable in a limited edition CD/DVD form, although it's probably no surprise to say that unless you were there this is a more exciting gig to listen to than to watch. 

"Ocean's Kingdom"

(Hear Music, October 3rd 2011)

Ocean's Kingdom/Hall Of Dance/Imprisonment/Moonrise

The deluxe CD includes live performances of all four movements

"When a Prince and a Princess meet it is a humbling experience. The battles to prove the prince a saint"

Macca's fifth release from the classical side of his writing is his first ballet and without having seen it (the show was on briefly in New York but only ran for a few performances - Stella designed the costumes for it incidentally, making it the first of their official dad-daughter pairings)it's harder to review than most of the others that were always meant to exist through the power form the audios rather than the visuals. You sense though that the ballet would have been one of Macca's better attempts at this sort of thing: he's ironed out the rather gauche pop/rock based idioms from his earlier classical career and is now thinking very much as a classical writer. The good news is that there's a lot more emotional depth in this work than the other four pieces, with an excellent mahler-esque use of strings for tension that make the first movement of this piuece the single most convincing classical movement piece he's yet written, especially when the theme finally gives away to a beautiful Macca-esque rising melody. The down side to this is that, the odd section like this aside, 'Ocean's Kingdom's is the least regnisably McCartney of his classical works with Paul now thinking like every other composer rather than drawing on the slightly askew pop world's eye of the classdical world. The piece also occasionally collapses into cliche, such as the 'West Side Story rumble' style marching piece at the end of the first movement and the anonymity of the second, which sounds like anyone with half-an-ear let loose on a MIDI music-making computer (though clearly a better and more professional one than we ever had at my college).

The ballet wasn't well received and has become something of an embarrassing expensive flop for the New York Ballet Company that commissioned it although interestingly most classical reviewers had by this time got past the shock of prejudice of a mere pop singer daring to do classical and instead bared their teeth over the storyline rather than the music. The story is, in truth, bonkers. Like many ballets it's a fairytale with overtones of 'The Little Mermaid' as a princess and her ocean-ruling father are invaded by a neighbouring tribe from the land known as the 'Terra Punks'. The land prince kinaps the quaue princess but proves out not to be that much of a villain and they genuinely fall in love by the end, with peace and harmony reigning over both kingdfoms (you haklf expect a chporus of 'All You Need Is Love' by the end). To be honest the whole thing sounds ripped off the Holst ballet 'The Perfect Fool' (which also has spirits of Earth and Water) though as that one hasn't been performed in a century now it's equally hard to compare. What can be said is that audibly this is another of those McCartney classical moments that has some truly lovely moments and deserves to have done a lot better than it did, even if there are long dull sections linking the lovely moments that ought to be better than they are. Of all the McCartney classical pieces, though, this one is the most-overlooked and the one that - to use the fishing terminology used throughout - 'got away'. The live performance included as a 'bonus' on the iTunes version of the album is much better incidentally, with more 'life' than the rather staid studio version and deserved a proper release in it's own right. It remains to be seen whether the first really poor experience in the classical world has put McCartney off writing classical works for good or whether he's just taking a pause between projects. Let's hope he does write more as its a useful training ground for his creative talent, although his more 'mainstream' records do still have the edge over these works I think.

'Wings At The Speed Of Sound' (1976)

'London Town' (1978)

'Back To The Egg' (1979)

'McCartney II' (Original Double Album) (1980)

'Tug Of War' (1982)

'Pipes Of Peace' (1983)

'Press To Play' (1986)

'Flowers In The Dirt' (1989)

'Driving Rain' (2001)
'Chaos and Creation In The Back Yard' (2005)

'Memory Almost Full' (2006)

'New' (2013)

The Best Unreleased McCartney/Wings Recordings

Surviving TV and Film Footage

Live/Wings Solo/Compilations/Classical Albums Part One: 1967-1987

Live/Wings/Solo/Compilations/Classical/Unreleased Albums Part Two: 1987-1997

Live/Wings Solo/Compilations/Classical Albums Part Three: 1997-2015

Non-Album Recordings Part One 1970-1984

Non-Album Recordings Part Two 1985-2015

Essay: Not So Silly Love Songs

Key Concerts and Cover Versions

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