Music Features

The Unknown Paul McCartney

A book by Ian Peel with foreword by David Toop

Hypnotherapist: Well, I did get Paul McCartney out of Wings...

Homer Simpson: You idiot! He was the talented one!

How much of the worlds forest have been cut down in the production of books about Messieurs Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr? And do we really need another? Journalist Ian Peel obviously thinks so.

McCartney himself has always been overly keen to shatter the myth that it was John Lennon alone who has doing all the arty, leftfield stuff while he was at home in front of the fire writing slushy pop songs such as Here, There and Everywhere. Peel goes to lengths to put forward the argument that though the seemingly constantly cheerful one may have been responsible for the MOR apocalypse of Wings, experimentation in other genres was never far away.

The story really begins with the mythical Carnival Of Light. Apart from also giving us the title of a criminally underrated Ride album, it's also the 'lost' Beatles song. Described here as an 'unpredictable sound collage explosion' it might have made it onto the Anthology albums, had George Harrison not disliked it so much.

The story of how this song - primarily McCartney's work - came into existence makes for interesting reading. Refreshingly, Peel doesn't go to any lengths to persuade us that we're actually missing much in not having heard it. The song was played - on tape - during the opening night of a new club. Witnesses describe it as "those fucking awful tapes that Paul McCartney did" and "it paled into insignificance when you heard this guy, this Hendrix on the stage" (Jimi Hendrix played his debut UK gig on the same night).

The story continues through the 70's. Alongside his ultra-mainstream Wings output, his extra curricular work as Percy Thrillington is delved into. During this time, Peel correctly points out that McCartney is the only remaining Beatle still producing experimental work (unless we can expect the Unknown Ringo Starr in the shops soon), the Thrillington work being an easy-listening version of his earlier Ram album. It makes for interesting reading to those who presume McCartney was stuck firmly to the middle of the road; as Peel notes 'he dances all over it'. Though some eyebrows may be raised as the thought of the final Wings album Back To The Egg as a 'progressive concept rock album played out punk-style'.

Crucially, the book allows itself to use McCartney as a sort of centre in which to further explore the styles of music in which he dabbled. Detail is given to the originators of avant-garde such as John Cage (he of 4'33 fame, a song which involved sitting at the piano doing nothing for four and a half minutes), therefore we don't just find out what McCartney did, but also what led him down a certain route.

Bar the obvious exception of the man himself, Peel manages to bring it most the collaborators from the years. The Super Furry Animals, Techno producer Youth, drum and bass artist Nitin Sawhney and legendary bassist Herbie Flowers are amongst those who've put their heads together with the former Beatle in the past. SFA even managed to be nominated for a Grammy alongside Youth for their work with McCartney.

Of course, the big question with any kind of music, not just avant-garde, remains "is it any good?" Peel tries to answer this, and does so in a more than satisfactory manner, playing select tracks from the various experimental albums made by McCartney to select experts in the field he's ventured into, several of whom express surprise on finding out just who is behind the music.

The only question left at the end is that of why McCartney uses aliases (Percy Thrillington, the Fireman for his 90's work with Youth) for his most interesting work? Is it because he's afraid of the damage it could do to his accessible, mainstream work? The answer unfortunately, remains to be seen.

So, with that time of year upon us once again, The Unknown Paul McCartney could be ideal for the person in your life who's either a McCartney nut, or even just interested in the more challenging aspects of music. Of course, you could just buy it for yourself. Either way, not a waste of good trees. That'll please him.