You Gave Me The Answer - 'Wide Prairie'

Photo of Paul used for 'You Gave Me The Answer' Q&A feature

To celebrate the Linda McCartney Retrospective exhibition having its first UK showing at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow (click here for details!), Paul has remastered and reissued Linda’s Wide Prairie album. The record collects together Linda’s recordings from the early ‘70s through to the late ‘90s and is a wonderfully eclectic walk through her life from early influential songs up to her celebrated animal activism. Is Wide Prairie a sad release for you, or do you see it as a celebration of Linda and her music?

Paul: Well, it’s sad because Linda died. But when we made it, of course, it wasn't sad. She was alive and there are happy memories around it. Obviously they’re tinged with sadness, but the actual record itself is very happy. When we first met, I knew she sang a little bit because we’d talk about it. She would tell me some of her memories of the college she went to, or the high school – I’m not sure which. It had a sort of Glee Club, which was like a singing club. It wasn’t the school choir, it was a little looser. And they used to sit in the bell tower apparently because it had good acoustics. They’d get together there and sing stuff. Just current songs to amuse themselves. So, I knew she sang with them and that was kind of interesting. So, when we formed Wings I said, ‘Are you interested in doing it?’ And she said, ‘Yeah!’

So again, it was something to have fun with. You know this whole ‘fun’ thing attitude keeps cropping up, to the point where I sometimes think, ‘Should I get a bit more serious?’* Well, the answer has never been, ‘Yes!’ It’s like, ‘No! Why? It’s too late to start now!’ Well, it does get serious when you get a review for being too amateur, which we were at the beginning of Wings. We just didn’t really know what we were doing and at that time we were doing these little university tours and, you know, charging 50p on the door. I mean, you can’t get more amateur than that kind of thing. But, as we went on, Linda improved and her keyboard skills improved, so when Wings were doing the big world tours, she was a very important and a very integral part of the group. She was a great sort of cheerleader, she’d really get the audience going and she had great personality on stage.

But, as far as the singing was concerned, she liked to make up songs. She and I used to write little things together. Eventually, I sort of said to her, ‘Why don’t we make an album? Why don’t you make an album? You’ve got enough stuff now?’ So, she said, ‘Yeah!’ And so that’s what we did. She was friends with Carla Lane through her animal activism angle and Carla would sometimes write lyrics for her to say, ‘You think you can put this to music?’ So ‘The White Coated Man’ is one of those, and ‘Cow’. They’re very early animal activist pieces and way ahead of their time. Linda’s attitude was quite punk, she liked the punks. Did she like punk music as well?

Paul: Yeah! She liked the attitude more than anything. She and Morrissey used to correspond quite a lot. I never really saw the letters, but they both sort of had similar attitudes about animal welfare. She was very punky in her attitude. We never got around to it, but she would have liked to have done something a bit more… [Paul impersonates a very aggressive punk track!] That kind of thing! She would have liked that, but we never got around to it, as I said.

But, that was the thing: we should get an album together and really let her stretch out with all the stuff she loved to do. So, there's a lot of stuff she’d written that I wanted her to do and she wanted to do. And the New Orleans thing came from our visit there during the Venus and Mars time. There are all sorts of things, ‘I Got Up’ was when we went to Paris did that track in a studio there. ‘Mr Sandman’ and ‘Sugartime’ were backing tracks that we asked Lee Perry - the great reggae producer and artist – to do. We had this idea to see if he would be interested in making some backing tracks in Jamaica that he could then send over to us. And we would just finish them up and put vocals on them, and stuff. So that was a very exciting idea. It was very exciting getting those original tracks… Had you worked with him before?

Paul: No, no we were just friends. We loved early reggae and I had the 'Tighten Up’ albums – ‘Tighten Up’ volumes I and II. We had them up in Scotland in the very early days. I remember there are pictures of me painting the roof up there green and, I’m up there never thinking I’d fall off! I’d seen someone do it thinking I could do it. I would often ask some local tradesmen, ‘How do you do it?’ to lay a floor of concrete, or something. I’d get the guy in on the first day and… wait, I’ve digressed! [Laughs] We’re talking about music here, I've gone off on…! But, I’m very proud of my concrete floor, tamping down that was the secret, you’ve got to do that, cause it brings the water to the surface...!

Anyway, the point I was making was I was doing the roof. I was painting the roof and it was beautiful summer times. Beautiful summertime and beautiful summer days and we were listening to the 'Tighten Up’ albums. So, we were hooked on reggae and we went to Jamaica. We had a little radio as we would sort of be on holiday sitting by the pool. The kids were little. It was very blissful times. There was a local radio station RJR, which you’d talk to Jamaican people about – I’m not sure it exists, but it might! But those were sort of the halcyon days. They would play fantastic music, and we were totally into it. So, we knew Lee Perry from all of that. We knew he was one of the great local guys and there used to be this fantastic little record shop called ‘Tony’s’ on Fustic Road and you’d just go in there – it was in Montego Bay – and you’d go in and it would just be records, records, records! Everywhere! Mainly 45s. A lot of them just in white jackets with a white label. And someone had just taken a magic marker to it and written a title. I remember one of them being ‘Lick I Pipe’ and I’ve still got that! We would just get them to play them, and if we liked them, we’d have that one or we’d ask the assistant and say. ‘Is this any good?’ ‘Oh yeah, man! That’s great…!’ ‘Oh right, we’ll have it then!’ I bought quite a few!

So, this was that era. And we loved it so much that we asked Lee Perry if he would do that …and he did! They were classic backing tracks from that time, and Linda sang ‘Mr Sandman’ and ‘Sugartime’ over them. Which I think are two of the songs from her Glee Club days. Bringing us right back full circle!

* Note: This conversation took place at the same time as the “live” album Q&As when the idea of having fun with Paul’s releases and tours had been a running theme – read those Q&As HERE!