Eating Bagels With McCartney – What It’s Like To Interview The Greatest Living Songwriter

It’s hard to explain exactly how you just feel before interviewing Paul McCartney. I had far less butterflies than when I spoke to, say, Liam Gallagher for NME. Also, weirdly, I’d probably be more nervous interviewing someone like Dean Blunt or Fat White Family. I put it down to the confrontation factor. With someone like Liam or Dean or FWF, you don’t know what you’re gonna get. With Macca, it’s… Macca. The guy’s got 50 years experience of people like me prodding him about every topic on earth. He’s somebody who most music fans – me included – will already know shedloads about before even saying hello. So you’d have to be a real idiot to fuck it up, right?

I don’t think I did fuck it up, which is good. It was still a totally strange experience though. Exciting more than anything. One-to-one, I found McCartney to be personable and, oddly perhaps, unguarded. I describe in the magazine how he turned up at Hog Hill Mill studios to meet me, a bag of bagels in one hand (more of which later) and some roses from his garden in the other, after I’d travelled down from London with his PR, Stuart Bell.

Macca was late – he’s always late, apparently (guess he has to deal with the odd bit of attention) – so me, Stuart and a few of Paul’s house/studio-keepers sat around in the modest kitchen with a cup of tea. I couldn’t help but notice all the pointless things in there – a bog-standard microwave, a book of The Far Side in the toilet, a few unwashed dishes, teatowels etc. In fact, calling it modest doesn’t really do the place justice. Stuart told me how another journalist had gone home the day before perplexed at how normal it all looked (aside from the working windmill outside), and had texted him in disbelief asking, “Paul doesn’t actually live there, does he?!”

Paul doesn’t live at Hog Hill Mill – he’s got a farm somewhere nearby – but I think my point still stands. This place is his home studio, and it’s a lot less glitzy than you might imagine. People walking about in wellies are the order of the day, and there are no gross Elton-style diva-ism’s in sight.

Saying that, the room where we did the interview, upstairs, was something else entirely. Everywhere you look there’s bit of music history – from Bill Black’s upright bass that he played on all of Elvis’ Sun Sessions material (I had a quick go on it at Macca’s behest), to loads of pristine old 60s prints. It’s got an ethereal quality, like an Aladdin’s Cave of Beatley brilliance.

As was our interview. Sometimes you speak to bigger artists and they’ll refuse point blank to talk about their past. It always pisses me off – I think it’s an insult to the fans and boring, above all else. Paul doesn’t care about that though (why would he?) and within about 20 seconds of me asking him about ‘New’ he was referencing what it was like writing songs with John, playing Hamburg, recording Penny Lane, writing Blackbird, The Beatles splitting up etc.

The best bits of our chat overall? Macca speaking candidly about his age, I reckon. He’s the greatest and most successful living songwriter in modern popular culture, and – then 71 – (barring any Futurama-style intervention) is entering the final stages. It was something I wanted to quiz him on, thinking he’d answer that he’ll carry on playing forever, like Chuck Berry has. But it wasn’t quite as simple as that. Elsewhere, the stuff about him looking at the tracklistings of his 70s output and not recognising half of it was genuinely very funny, and The Beatles stories (obviously) were just mindblowing. Regardless of how many times you’ve heard them before – and the stuff we printed in the mag was all kinda new to me – I defy anyone not to go a bit giddy when Macca himself is explaining first person how ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ came about back in the Forthlin Road days (“Me and John, we were sat just like me and you are now,” he explained, which still cracks me up now).

He was great, in short. But then, why on earth wouldn’t he be?

As a final point, I feel I should highlight the aforementioned bagels. Macca loves them. He has hummus and Marmite together on the same buttered slice, which – I know – sounds pretty rank. But, and I kid you not, it tastes absolutely fucking brilliant. I can’t recommend it highly enough, and neither can he. According to Paul, the bagels (seeded) and hummus must come from Panzer’s deli in north London, and the top half of the bagel is best. So now you know.