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Paul McCartney Biography And Visits


Paul McCartney's House at 20 Forthlin Road


Paul McCartney started his musical career in the Church, as a choir boy at St Barnabas in Penny Lane. Music in western Europe also started its career in the Church, confined there for long centuries following the collapse of the Roman Empire. Then largely through the influence of the popular art form of opera, music began to find a secular audience. Seventeenth and eighteenth century composers like Handel, Vivaldi, Haydn, Mozart, Rossini, Verdi and Berlioz all wrote church music, and they all also wrote for secular audiences. These composers represented the cross over point as music became an art form in its own right. Then into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries technical advance allowed the production of reasonably priced musical instruments to a standard tuning. This led to the symphony orchestra at one end of the social scale, and the working class brass band at the other. Paul's paternal grandfather Joseph played in brass bands. Pianos were the first instrument to be mass produced when in 1800 Henry Maudsley developed a metal lathe for use in the manufacture of pianos. This instrument became the basic instrument of popular music. Paul McCartney's family in Liverpool had a piano, brought from the North End Music Stores, and many a sing song took place around it, with Paul's father Jim at the keyboard. Jim himself was a semi-professional pop musician in his younger days, leading dance bands called the Masked Melody Makers, and the Jim Mac Band.



Penny Lane

So Paul McCartney was born, on 18th June 1942, into a family who very much represented music in its new modern form. Jim continued to enjoy his music, whilst working at his day job, as a salesman for a cotton merchants. His wife Mary was a midwife, and the family moved a number of times around Liverpool to accommodate Mary's work. In 1946 the family settled for a while at 72 Western Avenue on a new housing estate in Speke near Liverpool Airport, before moving in 1950 to 12 Ardwick Road. At age eleven Paul passed his Eleven Plus exam, and went to the Liverpool Institute, then one of the best state schools in England. Soon after starting at the Liverpool Institute the McCartneys moved to 20 Forthlin Road. And tragically it was here in the summer of 1956 that Mary fell ill, and was diagnosed with breast cancer. She died in Northern Hospital in October 1956, and following this trauma Paul turned increasingly to music. At this early stage music for Paul was the church choir, at St Barnabas, and trumpet lessons. But like the musicians of the eighteenth century Paul left the church. Not getting into the choir at Liverpool Cathedral he turned to popular music. Trading in his trumpet, he bought a guitar. Then on Saturday 6th July 1957 Paul met John Lennon, leader of the Quarry Men skiffle group, at Woolton Village Church Fete. They were introduced in St Peter's Church, where a plaque records the meeting. After being invited to join the Quarry Men Paul found himself taking part in a style of music which was the polar opposite of the Church music where his singing career began. Rather than being shut away, and surrounded by an aura of impenetrable reverence, this was music for anyone who wanted it. As George Harrison says in the Beatles Anthology: "Skiffle came out of the blues, but the way it was performed made it accessible to us white Liverpudlians. It was dead cheap - just a washboard, a tea chest, a bit of string, a broom handle and £3 10s guitar."

While instruments were simple so were the musical structures used. Skiffle used the traditional twelve bar blues pattern of four chords, which in their simplest version could be played with only two fingers on a guitar. They could be learned very quickly. In January 1956 Chris Barber's skiffle group had a major hit with Rock Island Line, skiffle going on to become a sensation in 1956 - 57. So this is where Paul McCartney's career began, at the culmination of a development in music, which, via the work of seventeenth and eighteenth century composers had taken music out of the Church, and offered it to any enthusiastic youth on Merseyside who wanted to have a go. So where would music go next? Ironically Paul McCartney, playing in a skiffle band, wasn't interested in a free wheeling amateur style of music where anything was acceptable. The early Quarry Men days were chaotic and haphazard, particularly after John's mother died in a road accident in July 1958, but it was Paul who was always pushing to make the group more professional. A disastrous drunken gig in early 1959 spelt the end of the Quarry Men, leaving John, Paul, and Paul's friend from the Liverpool Institute George Harrison, as the nucleus of a new band which began calling itself the Beatles. John wanted his best friend from art college Stuart Sutcliffe to play base guitar. While Stuart was an excellent artist he proved to be a hopeless musician, and this was a source of constant annoyance to the relentlessly professional Paul. During a shambolic tour of Scotland supporting Johnny Gentle, and a rough residency in Hamburg, Paul did the wild young rock star thing, sleeping with lots of women, and drinking a lot. When it came to the band's music, however, he was always trying to make the show better for its audience. In Liverpool this meant lilac stage suits, in Hamburg a black leather look: it was all essentially the same effort to be professional and give the people the show they wanted. Democratic music reached its peak with skiffle. But not everyone can be a good musician, and only a very few can be great musicians. Paul sat at the meeting place between music as something for everyone, and music as a demanding discipline leading to something rare and special.


Mathew Street , Liverpool - the Beatles played hundreds of shows at the Cavern Club here

Persistence and determination carried the Beatles on through these early years, until Brian Epstein, the young owner of North Eastern Musical Stores, saw the band at Liverpool's Cavern Club in Mathew Street and offered to manage them. After a few disappointments Brian managed to get an audition for the band with a record producer at EMI called George Martin. In contrast to skiffle from which the Beatles had emerged, George Martin represented the world of classical music. Born in 1926, son of a carpenter, he had been an officer in the Fleet Air Arm during World War Two, and used his serviceman's grant to study at Guildhall School of Music after the war. He played piano and oboe, and composed. After graduating he joined EMI - Electrical Musical Industries - which was very much part of the British establishment. George V had recorded his message to the empire with EMI in 1923. His Master's Voice, HMV, was a subsidiary label famous for its classical recordings. George Martin and EMI definitely weren't skiffle. And the Beatles were not making skiffle music any more. The Beatles early hits are usually considered simple pop songs, but even at this point there were music critics pointing to an interesting sophistication in their work. At the end of the breakthrough year of 1963 The Times classical music critic William Mann wrote that Lennon and McCartney "were the outstanding English composers of 1963". Mann talked of "major tonic sevenths and ninths, flat submedial key switches, and the concluding Aeolian cadence in Not A Second Time which had the same chord progression as Mahler's Song of the Earth" (quoted in John Lennon The Life by Philip Norman P320). John Lennon might have been a bit uncomfortable with such sentiments, but Paul seemed to have no problem with them. He did go in for the rock 'n' roll lifestyle in many ways, particularly in the sense of sleeping with lots of women; but in other ways he was a conservative young man. His first serious girlfriend after becoming famous as a Beatle, was Jane Asher. Sixteen year old Jane, covered a show at the Royal Albert Hall as a writer for the Radio Times. Paul got talking to her and found he liked this cultured girl. Jane was a member of the aristocratic Eliot family, whose family seat was at Port Eliot, a stately home in St Germans, Cornwall. The poet T.S. Eliot was a distant cousin. Soon Paul was a lodger at the Asher home at Number 57 Wimpole Street, living in a comfortable attic room and being taken to classical music concerts by Jane. His journey away from skiffle was continuing.



57 Wimpole Street (middle house with black door). Paul lived on the top floor - Yesterday was written here

Paul continued living at Wimpole Street until 1966, when he took a house in Cavendish Avenue in north London near his place of work at Abbey Road studios. While Paul was no longer making skiffle music, he has generally been dismissed as a writer of superficially charming pop tunes, in contrast to the more artistically respected John Lennon. But Paul's personal life at this point indicates the real nature of his music. Paul himself was superficially charming, and the Ashers all liked this polite young man. But while John Lennon has been described as superficially hard with a soft centre, Paul was the opposite. Beneath the charm there was something much tougher and less agreeable. In 1966 and 1967 Paul wanted Jane to give up her acting career and wait at home for him, while he slept with any woman that took his fancy. These were the swinging 60s, but there was something very old fashioned about Paul's attitude. These details are not simply gossip, because they reflect on the songs Paul was writing. His biographer Howard Sounes dismisses, for example, Paul's song Here There And Everywhere from 1966's Revolver album as a superficial love song addressed to his girl. But beneath the apparent sweetness of Here There And Everywhere is the rather less sweet suggestion that the singer is finding love here there and everywhere with many women, telling each one that she is the special one. Paul's personal life, at Cavendish Avenue - as described by Howard Sounes in An Intimate Life Of Paul McCartney - does not make for nice reading, particularly into 1968 when the relationship with Jane was coming to an end. Jane was on tour with the Bristol Old Vic theatre company. Meanwhile Paul was meeting up with an American photographer called Linda Eastman, and acting completely love struck with her. No sooner had he got home from his Los Angeles meeting with Linda than he moved another American woman, Francie Schwartz, into Cavendish Avenue. Driving home from a club one night with Francie he stopped outside the house of another girl friend, popped in there and reappeared again about fifteen minutes later, to drive a disgruntled Francie the rest of the way home. Paul was literally here there and everywhere, and it wasn't the nice sweet love story which Here There And Everywhere seems to tell. There is something much darker underneath, suggesting that something truly special cannot be here there and everywhere. It sadly has to be limited to one small place, and one short time. So a silly pop song meets poetry, a poetry which uses the superficiality of a love song, and incorporates into it the much more complicated and less romantic reality of life. This was Paul's achievement in many ways, to write apparently sweet songs which reveal a lot more of the tougher side of life than might be initially apparent. To say that Paul only wrote silly love songs, is to misunderstand his work, and to some extent his life, which is a life of light and shade like any other. The balance between light and shade in Paul's work reached a peak of sophistication during the Beatles' most creative period in the late 1960s. It was at this point that pop music was aspiring to great things, albums conceived as reflections on the human condition no less. And of course the human condition included ordinary young men from Liverpool with ordinary human failings as much as it included anyone else. In both John and Paul's songs anything from trips to the Isle of Wight (Ticket to Ride 1965), problems with choosing a girlfriend (Here There And Everywhere 1966), DIY (Fixing A Hole 1967), memories of friends and places in Liverpool (Penny Lane 1967), or an over enthusiastic fan breaking in through a bathroom window at Cavendish Avenue (She Came In Through The Bathroom Window 1969), became the source of classic songs. These were classic songs about seemingly unremarkable things, as if the former skiffle artists kept alive the feeling that music could include everyone. This was true even if the Beatles themselves were revered as stars far removed from ordinary people. For a while in the late 1960s the Beatles achieved a rare balance between music as something special and something available to everyone.



Magdalen College, Oxford

By 1969 differences amongst the Beatles finally broke up the band. Paul married Linda Eastman on 12th March 1969 at Marylebone Registry Office, and it was with Linda and a constantly changing line up of other musicians, that Paul continued his career with a band called Wings. Wings did well commercially, particularly with Mull of Kintyre in 1977, and Paul was now rock aristocracy. Skiffle where he had begun was represented in a more aggressive form in the 1970s by Punk, and of course Paul McCartney was not a pin up for punk musicians. Paul in fact was moving back towards the rarified sense of music which he had experienced as a choir boy. There were of course a few blots on his new establishment credentials. There were drug convictions, with both Paul and Linda having a blind spot about marijuana. In 1980 Paul spent nine days in a Japanese jail after taking a supply of marijuana into the country with him during a tour. But generally speaking Paul was not a rebel, and never really had been. He tried to be "controversial" by embracing animal rights and ecological issues, causes dear to Linda, but in doing so he was being controversial in an accepted kind of way. It was actually much more controversial to object to agitation on these issues, in the style of someone like the irreverent Jeremy Clarkson. Paul was proper, almost puritanical in his controversy. He was also increasingly proper in his music. Pop music as a whole was not the counter culture it had once seemed to be. In July 1985 the massive Live Aid concerts took place, with Paul headlining. The Prince and the Princess of Wales were there, which suggests that pop music was now becoming overtly respectable. Then Paul actually began to write in a classical music style. In 1988 he met the American composer Carl Davis, who was working on an oratorio. Paul asked what one of those was - an orchestral and choral piece with a religious theme - and decided he wanted one too. The next few years were spent writing a Liverpool Oratorio with Davis. Notice he didn't choose to write his choral work in the form of an opera, or a "musical" as opera is now called. Opera was the main force which took music away from the Church and presented it to a wider secular audience. Instead of an opera, Paul decided on the more religious form of an oratorio. The Liverpool Oratorio premiered at Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral in June 1991. Paul then went a step further in 2001 when his oratorio Ecce Cor Meum - Latin no less - was first performed at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford, following a commission for a choral piece from Magdalen College, Oxford. Meanwhile Paul's acceptance into the establishment had been formally confirmed. In 1997 he was knighted at Buckingham Palace, one of the first pop stars to receive the honour. Only Cliff Richard's award (1995) predated Paul's.



Abbey Road zebra crossing

Sadly work on Ecce Cor Meum was delayed by the illness and death of Linda McCartney from breast cancer in April 1998. Paul is of course best known for problems in his personal life at this time. In June 2002 he married Heather Mills, a marriage that turned into a disaster, ending in divorce in 2006. But as far as his music was concerned, it was following a fascinating path towards the kind of music where his career began, and where western music's career began, in the Church. In 1969 the Beatles had ended their career with the Abbey Road album, and for the sleeve, Paul had devised a picture where the four Beatles are seen crossing over a zebra crossing on the road outside the Abbey Road studios. There are of course allusions in the Abbey Road cover picture to crossing over, such as Ringo's undertaker's outfit, Paul's bare feet, John's angelic white suit, with George perhaps as the grave digger in his jeans. These are all references to the kind of unfathomable, final, irrevocable journey to the other side that occurs at the end of life: but in this case the journey is happening on a zebra crossing in St Johns Wood, London. Perhaps the picture is suggesting that all crossings over, no matter how major they might appear to be, are in fact like walking over a zebra crossing. Music seems to have changed greatly since it left the Church behind, and yet there is a sense that music goes round in a circle, and essentially not much has changed at all. The best of the Beatles albums are still viewed with reverence by their fans, and the Beatles themselves were in their heyday treated with an adoration once reserved for gods. And yet as Paul crossed over to this state of grace he was actually only crossing a zebra crossing in St John's Wood, and remained plain old Paul McCartney from Liverpool.