Sunday, 30 April 2017

Band on the Run

This week we received a cursory note from our architect to tell us that the decisive Building Warrant for our new house had been granted and as such work would begin on it imminently. Those few lines of email were to me at least all at once thrilling, greatly symbolic and laced with elements of foreboding. Altogether, reading it, over and again was to feel as if I were on a small boat that had slipped its moorings and was being cast out towards a distant, wholly entrancing but also ever-unpredictable horizon. In the first instance, there is the entirely obvious anticipation for seeing what is now a scrub of rough heath transformed into one's home and everything else that will entail. In the second, and following on from our initial move up to Skye last summer, this is the next leaping off point in a journey that began for us the better part of three years ago now.

The foreboding bit? Well, that can be broadly categorised as 'The Grand Designs Effect'. Way back in the dim mists of time, or whenever it was that I was safely employable in an office environment, Denise and I would watch Kevin McCloud's do-it-yourself behemoth, with its seemingly infinite number of repeats, all too often. Denise as if it were made of chocolate and me with a sick feeling of dread. For having seen in every episode otherwise salient-appearing couples driven to the edges of madness and bankruptcy, Denise would inevitably announce to the final credits: 'Wouldn't you love to do that?' To which the only sane answer would be, 'Are you fucking kidding me?' Though the more prudent one always was: 'Um, possibly. Would you like a cup of tea?' Back then, the prospect to me of having any part in a house build, much less my own was about as appealing as the administration of boiling oil by hosepipe enema.

Quite why I subsequently performed such an extreme about-face is still a matter of some personal reflection, but doubtless much to do with the fact that I no longer troop into a fixed place of work. And also that my wife would very likely be able to cajole me, using gentle, but inexhaustible degrees of encouragement and enthusiasm, to flush molten liquid up my bum. Anyway... so it is that for the next several months there will be room for nothing in my thoughts but for the specifics of a fitted kitchen and bathrooms, the choice between wood or concrete flooring, what precisely an air-reclamation-or-something heating system is and the like.

At the very same time, for me there is another associated landmark that is looming ever nearer. Way back when the Big Move became a subject for serious debate between us, I also resolved to run the Skye Half-Marathon and what's more to do it in my fiftieth year of bumbling haphazardly through life. And smite me down, both beast of a run and what young Tom described to me recently as 'old-but-not-that-old' have subsequently rushed towards me like twin express trains from Hell.

I've been training for the former event for several months now. Taking into account that all my running for the previous ten years had been done around rural Lincolnshire and on terrain the consistency of an only slightly scrunched pancake, I have to say that I don't think it's gone badly. For sure, I have had mishaps involving free-ranging livestock and on one occasion, during a local running club race around a vertically-inclined forest track, damn near coughed up my diaphragm having missed a marker sign and as a result ran four miles more than the designated ten-mile distance. BUT... despite this I have grown used, if not remotely fond of the fact there is nowhere to run on Skye that doesn't involve putting oneself at the mercy of both the elements and big bastard hills.

To that end, I have coped to the extent that just before Easter I was able to run the full just-over-half-marathon-distance-and-really-quite-challenging course and not require the services of an air ambulance. Consequently, as race date, Saturday 10 June fast approaches I am very much looking forward to the whole thing. Much that the same could be said about my turning fifty. The explorer James Cook, Steve McQueen, Gianni Versace and the self-proclaimed King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson all got to be fifty and see what good it did them. No more moon-walking that's for sure. Why, just the other day I happened to be stood over an idle iPad screen and caught sight of my reflection. That's something I won't be doing again, since the features of my face appeared to me like runny clay or melting candle wax. In too many respects, I sag and droop where I really don't want to.

Worse, there's no bloody escaping 'fifty' in this of all years, marking as it does the anniversary of the Summer of Love, apogee of the Swinging Sixties, and the release of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's...masterpiece. These now seem to have come into another, and all but vanished world to the one we now inhabit and so I suppose must I. One of the last major interviews I conducted as Editor of Q was with Sir Paul McCartney. I can't remember now what occasioned it, but we had no less than David Bailey shoot the Fab One for our magazine cover and over the course of a month I was whisked down to Macca's bucolic Sussex recording studio, backstage at London's O2 Arena and to the Hollywood Bowl in order to meet and speak with the great man.

And in terms of presence, charisma and all round been-there-done-that-ness, 'great' really is the only word that can apply to James Paul McCartney of Speke, Liverpool. Sat across from him, one to one, I found it all but impossible not to be distracted by the very fact that he was, in fact, Him. As much has never happened with regard to anyone else that I've interviewed, but then he is a Beatle and as such different from most everyone else by simple dint of having changed the world. Altogether from stepping briefly into his world, I gleaned tidbits of information that I found stupidly fascinating... Among these that he collects vintage instruments; has every aspect of his day divided into half-hour segments [including chatting to me, lunch and meeting an  old school-friend he hadn't then seen in twenty-odd years]; that he has - and uses - a set of Beatles fridge magnets; smells of nothing so much as clean, fresh air, dresses to the right, and can never fail to command your attention whenever it is that he begins a sentence with these words: 'That reminds me of when me and the lads...'

As well, I had in his company numerous giddy, time-has-stopped moments. He took me into the recording room at his studio and played piano for me and me alone. I watched him soundcheck Get Back and Wings' Jet to an otherwise empty Hollywood Bowl, sat front row and centre on a brilliant, Pacific blue California day. Spotting me in a backstage corridor afterwards, he rushed over and gave me a bear hug and didn't make it seem at all like an affectation. That night, I was sat next to Jack Nicholson as McCartney and his stellar band played a three-hour show that contained more extraordinary pop songs than any other single human being can lay claim to.

Ultimately, I also gained an absolute sense of how unreachable, and unattainable all of this had made him and in spite of him seeming such a Very Good Bloke. Since the piece was meant to be a life profile, I simply had to ask him about his ex-wife Heather Mills and although his 'people' had suggested to me in advance, and in the nicest possible way, that I didn't. That required the use of the oldest trick in the journalist's handbook, which is to say that as it was bound to be my most difficult question to him, it would be my last.

So there we sat, he and I, on an expanse of well-plumped cushions in his candlelit dressing room at the Bowl, an hour before show-time. I spent twenty-nine minutes bowling harmless Beatles and Wings-related deliveries for him to bat back, and then unleashed my bouncer. 'You've written some of the greatest love songs in popular music,' I said. 'But what was the last one and who was it for?'

At this McCartney sat back, frowned and furrowed his brow as if he were lost in thought and chewing over the specifics of an answer. Then after a few seconds of reposeful silence, he leaned back toward me, his eyes trained on mine, smiled genially and said, whilst at the same time patting me on the knee: 'Nice try.'

This Week I Have Mostly Been Listening To:

Paul McCartney & Wings - Maybe I'm Amazed

Who and what else?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Haha, really enjoyed that last story...we've all been there, and it hasn't always ended with quite such warm rejection. 50? I love it...

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    1. Good to hear from you Josh. I'll try and hit you up on Facebook and catch up there.