Paul McCartney was often seen at major cultural events, such as the launch party for the International Times and at The Roundhouse (28 January and 4 February 1967 respectively). He also involved deeply into the visual arts, becoming a close friend of leading art dealers and gallery owners, explored experimental film, and regularly attended movie, theatrical and classical music performances. His first contact with the London avant-garde scene was through John Dunbar, who introduced him to the art dealer Robert Fraser, who in turn introduced McCartney to an array of writers and artists. McCartney later became involved in the renovation and publicising of the Indica Gallery in Mason’s Yard, London. John Lennon first met Yoko Ono at the Indica. The Indica Gallery brought McCartney into contact with Barry Miles, whose underground newspaper, the International Times, McCartney helped to start. Miles would become de facto manager of the Apple’s short-lived Zapple Records label, and wrote McCartney’s official biography, Many Years from Now (1997).
While living at the Asher house, McCartney took piano lessons at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, which The Beatles producer Martin had previously attended. McCartney studied composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Luciano Berio. McCartney later wrote and released several pieces of modern classical music and ambient electronica, besides writing poetry and painting. McCartney is lead patron of the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, an arts school in the building formerly occupied by the Liverpool Institute for Boys. The 1837 building, which McCartney attended during his schooldays, had become derelict by the mid-1980s. On 7 June 1996, Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the redeveloped building.
Electronic music: After the recording of “Yesterday” in 1965, McCartney contacted the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in Maida Vale, London, to see if they could record an electronic version of the song, but never followed it up. When visiting John Dunbar’s flat in London, McCartney would take along tapes he had compiled at Jane Asher’s house. The tapes were mixes of various songs, musical pieces and comments made by McCartney that he had Dick James make into a demo record for him. Heavily influenced by John Cage, he made tape loops by recording voices, guitars, and bongoes on a Brenell tape recorder, and splicing the various loops together. He reversed the tapes, sped them up, and slowed them down to create the effects he wanted, some of which were later used on Beatles’ recordings, such as “Tomorrow Never Knows”. McCartney referred to the tapes as “electronic symphonies”.
In the spring of 1966 McCartney rented a ground floor and basement flat from Ringo Starr at 34 Montagu Square, to be used as a small demo studio for spoken-word recordings by poets, writers (including William S. Burroughs) and avant-garde musicians. The Beatles’ Apple Records then launched a sub-label, Zapple with Miles as its manager, ostensibly to release recordings of a similar aesthetic, although few releases would ultimately result as Apple and The Beatles slid into business and personal difficulties.
In 1995, McCartney recorded a radio series called “Oobu Joobu” for the American network Westwood One, which he described as being “wide-screen radio”. During the 1990s, McCartney collaborated with Youth of Killing Joke under the name The Fireman, and released two ambient electronic albums: Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest (1993) and Rushes (1998). In 2000, he released an album titled Liverpool Sound Collage with Super Furry Animals and Youth, utilising the sound collage and musique concrète techniques that fascinated him in the mid-1960s. In 2005, he worked on a project with bootleg producer and remixer Freelance Hellraiser, consisting of remixed versions of songs from throughout his solo career which were released under the title Twin Freaks. The Fireman’s third album Electric Arguments was released on 25 November 2008. Unlike the first two Fireman albums, this one was more song-based in its structure. McCartney told L.A. Weekly in a January 2009, “Fireman is improvisational theatre … I formalise it a bit to get it into the studio, and when I step up to a microphone, I have a vague idea of what I’m about to do. I usually have a song, and I know the melody and lyrics, and my performance is the only unknown.”
Film: McCartney was interested in animated films as a child, and later had the financial resources to ask Geoff Dunbar to direct a short animated film called Rupert and the Frog Song, in 1981. McCartney was the producer, he wrote the music and the script, and also added some of the character voices. McCartney wrote and starred in the 1984 film Give My Regards to Broad Street. The film and soundtrack featured the popular hit “No More Lonely Nights”, and the album reached No.1 in the UK, but the film did not do well commercially or critically. Roger Ebert awarded the film a single star and wrote, “You can safely skip the movie and proceed directly to the sound track.” Dunbar worked again with McCartney on an animated film about the work of French artist Honoré Daumier, in 1992, which won both of them a Bafta award. They also worked on Tropic Island Hum, in 1997. In 1995, McCartney made a guest appearance in the “Lisa the Vegetarian”, an episode of The Simpsons, and directed a short documentary about The Grateful Dead.
In May 2000, McCartney released Wingspan: An Intimate Portrait, a retrospective documentary that features behind-the-scenes films and photographs that Paul and Linda McCartney (who had died in 1998) took of their family and bands. Interspersed throughout the 88 minute film is an interview by Mary McCartney with her father. Mary was the baby photographed inside McCartney’s jacket on the back cover of his first solo album, McCartney, and was one of the producers of the documentary.
Painting: In 1966, McCartney met art gallery-owner Robert Fraser, who’s flat, was visited by many well-known artists. McCartney met Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, Peter Blake, and Richard Hamilton there, and learned about art appreciation. McCartney later started buying paintings by Magritte, and used Magritte’s painting of an apple for the Apple Records logo. He now owns Magritte’s easel and spectacles.
McCartney’s love of painting surfaced after watching artist Willem de Kooning paint, in Kooning’s Long Island studio. McCartney took up painting in 1983. In 1999, he exhibited his paintings (featuring McCartney’s portraits of John Lennon, Andy Warhol, and David Bowie) for the first time in Siegen, Germany, and included photographs by Linda. He chose the gallery because Wolfgang Suttner (local events organiser) was genuinely interested in his art, and the positive reaction led to McCartney showing his work in UK galleries. The first UK exhibition of McCartney’s work was opened in Bristol, England with more than 50 paintings on display. McCartney had previously believed that “only people that had been to art school were allowed to paint” – as Lennon had.
In October 2000, Yoko Ono and McCartney presented art exhibitions in New York and London. McCartney said, “I’ve been offered an exhibition of my paintings at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool where John and I used to spend many a pleasant afternoon. So I’m really excited about it. I didn’t tell anybody I painted for 15 years but now I’m out of the closet.”
As an artist, Paul McCartney designed a series of six postage stamps issued by the Isle of Man Post on 1 July 2002. According to BBC News, McCartney seems to be the first major rock star in the world who is also known as a stamp designer.
Poetry and Writing: When McCartney was young, his mother read him poems and encouraged him to read books. McCartney’s father was interested in crosswords and invited the two young McCartneys (Paul and his brother Michael) to solve them with him, so as to increase their “word power”.McCartney was later inspired – in his school years – by Alan Durband, who was McCartney’s English literature teacher at the Liverpool Institute. Durband was a co-founder and fund-raiser at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool, where Willy Russell also worked, and introduced McCartney to Geoffrey Chaucer’s works. McCartney later took his A-level exams, but passed only one subject – Art.
In 2001 McCartney published ‘Blackbird Singing’, a volume of poems, some of which were lyrics to his songs, and gave readings in Liverpool and New York City. Some of them were serious: “Here Today” (about Lennon) and some humorous (“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”). In the foreword of the book, McCartney explained that when he was a teenager, he had “an overwhelming desire” to have a poem of his published in the school magazine. He wrote something “deep and meaningful”, but it was rejected, and he feels that he has been trying to get some kind of revenge ever since. His first “real poem” was about the death of his childhood friend, Ivan Vaughan.
In October 2005, McCartney released a children’s book called High in the Clouds: An Urban Furry Tail. In a press release publicising the book, McCartney said, “I have loved reading for as long as I can remember”, singling out Treasure Island as a childhood favourite. McCartney collaborated with author Philip Ardagh and animator Geoff Dunbar to write the book.
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