As a journalist with NME, Q and Word, Paul Du Noyer has interviewed Paul McCartney more times over the last 35 years than any other magazine writer. The earliest of these conversations came in 1979, when he attended a backstage press conference at a Macca gig in Liverpool. It was at that point, as he explains in Conversations With McCartney, soon to be released in paperback, that he realised he had “stumbled into the right career”.
Published with the blessing of McCartney by Hodder on May 5, the book is a veritable treasure trove of Beatles, Wings and Macca solo goodness, covering all aspects of his five-decade career as the world’s most revered songwriter. After delving into it, we asked Du Noyer to tell us five things only he knows about McCartney:
1. He doesn’t know how to write a song.
“The first time I met Paul McCartney was backstage on an assignment for NME. I found he would talk about everything except songwriting. He just can’t explain how it’s done. It’s a complete mystery to him. “The whole thing about it,” he told me, “it’s magic… I don’t quite know where I’m going, because I make it all up. Some people know about it and analyse songwriting. I’ve never known about it. You have a little idea, you put some chords to it and it becomes grander. Sometimes you’ve only got an airline sick-bag to write it on, hotel notepaper, toilet paper. When I write I often hide myself away in the deepest corner, a cupboard or a toilet or somewhere no one goes. But it’s an adventure every time you do it. There’s some kind of mystery as to whether you’re going to pull it off.””
2. He’s a people-watcher.
“Ever since his schooldays in Liverpool he’s loved gazing down from the upper deck of a bus, and even now he still uses public transport. “I’m a little voyeuristic,” he says. People-watching gave McCartney songs like Penny Lane, Eleanor Rigby and Lovely Rita. On stage, he often gets so interested in audience members that he loses track of the song. And from his big office window in London he stares at a busy square that’s always full of tourists and workers on their lunch-hour. Put it this way: even if you’ve never seen Paul McCartney, he’s probably seen you…”
3. He’s only 74, but his musical age is 103.
“When McCartney was born, in 1942, his dad was almost 40 and a veteran bandleader with decades of experience. Long before he heard Elvis Presley and rock’n’roll, Paul was learning old-time British music hall songs at his father’s knee, and practising on the family piano to entertain his aunties. By the time he met John Lennon (who’d learned ukulele chords off his music-crazy mother) both boys had a grounding in popular music that stretched back to the early 20th century. The arrival of rock and roll was thrilling, but all that three-chord skiffle stuff was easy-peasy for two young men of such advanced musical training.”
4. He’s heard every hit single since 1955.
“As a teenager Paul was obsessed by the newly-invented hit parade. The early Beatles pleased their fans in Liverpool and Hamburg by learning to play any chart record of the moment. As a pop star, McCartney was ultra-competitive and never lost sight of his rivals. That’s a habit he’s never lost. In late middle age he was checking out Eminem and Tone-Loc. In his 60s he played on stage with Jay Z and Linkin Park. And today, in his 70s, he records with Kanye West and Rihanna. His enthusiasm for new music seems genuine, but deep down he’s a show-biz scuffler who refuses to get left behind.”
5. His best album is the one nobody’s ever heard of.
Away from his mainstream rock releases, McCartney has tried his hand at everything from ballet scores to ambient electronica. Some of his best experimental work was done with the producer Martin Glover (alias Youth of Killing Joke) under their semi-clandestine title The Fireman. This music could be pretty abstract: the tribal-techno album ‘Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest’ might have caused riots if Paul had sold it to fans under his own name. But their 2006 album, ‘Electric Arguments’, was classic McCartney songcraft – ragged around the edges but tuneful enough to rock the biggest stadium. Strange to think that so many fans who flock to hear him singing ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Yesterday’ might never get to hear this obscure beauty.
Conversations With McCartney by Paul Du Noyer is available in paperback on May 5 (Hodder, £10.99).