On the long and winding road of his career, Paul has rarely stuck to the safest path.
When The Beatles took a risk and stopped touring to focus on studio time, they created the era-defining Sgt. Pepper album; after The Beatles, Paul continued as a solo artist and had a US Number One album with McCartney; when Paul had the chance to form a supergroup, he, instead, started from scratch with Wings; when the 2020 Covid lockdown hit and Paul was unexpectedly isolated in his studio, he wrote, produced and performed the critically acclaimed and UK number one album, McCartney III. It’s fair to say, then, that many of Paul’s risks have often paid off.
But how assured was Paul when he took these risks? Did some carry more weight than others? As the ‘Live and Let Die’ lyric goes, ‘When you got a job to do, you got to do it well’, but can anything be considered low risk when everyone's watching your every move? Let’s find out!
This month’s question comes from Nati on Twitter…
Nati asks: What did you feel was the highest professional risk you took during your long career? I can think of some candidates: leaving The Beatles, forming Wings, McCartney II, Give My Regards to Broad Street, The Fireman… maybe something else?
Paul: I would say all those you mentioned were big risks, yeah - especially forming Wings.
The main question I had was whether to keep going after The Beatles, because it was a hard act – some might say, an impossible act - to follow. The ingredients in the Beatles were so unique. You had John right there, who could have made any group brilliant. Then you had George’s talent, and Ringo’s, and then me.
Once that band had finished, I didn’t know what to do with myself, and trying something new was really risky. Then, of course, having Linda in Wings, when she was not a ‘musician’, was a risk too. When the reviews started to come in a lot of them focused on her, asking, ‘What’s she doing in the band?’ And that was hurtful. But I rationalised it by thinking about when we started The Beatles and none of us knew our chords - over time we got better and picked things up.
In the early days of Wings, we decided to go right back to square one, taking a van up the motorway and playing little spontaneous gigs at universities for students, rather than jumping straight in with big live shows. I’d doubled back to almost being nothing - just some guy in the band - and now I was earning my fame again. By the time the mid-70s came around when we were doing a big American tour, that was the vindication of it. We were so tight and had come up together, as it were. The risk paid off.
PaulMcCartney.com: Would you describe yourself as a risk-taker?
Paul: Not really, no. I’m quite careful normally. There’s a couple of times in life when you are forced into taking a risk. After The Beatles, this was my situation: ‘Do I keep going with music, or not?’ Well, I want to keep going. So, ‘How am I going to do it? Am I going to have a band, or am I just going to busk outside train stations? How’s it going to work?’
Inherently, I’m not a risk-taker. I weigh things up and try to be pretty careful. I was the polar opposite to John. If there was a cliff to be jumped off, John would jump! He would just dive into things, and I would sometimes have to rescue him and say, ‘Hey man, you shouldn’t be doing that!’ Or, he sometimes wouldn’t pay his taxes, for example, and so I said, ‘You’re going to have to, or you’re going to jail!’ But then it was very exciting to be around someone with such a different personality. That was part of the fun and attraction.
Obviously, I’m not completely square. I do a lot of zany stuff! That’s in my character too, but I
don’t live my life as a risk-taker. I try and work it out to some extent.
Whether he works it out (and gets it straight or says goodnight), we can definitely learn something from Paul’s approach!
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