Howard Sounes, the bestselling author of Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan and Charles Bukowski: Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life, turns his considerable reporting and storytelling skills to one of the most famous, talented—and wealthiest—men alive: Paul McCartney.
Fab is the first exhaustive biography of the legendary musician; it tells Sir Paul's whole life story, from childhood to present day, from working-class Liverpool beginnings to the cultural phenomenon that was The Beatles to his many solo incarnations.
Fab is the definitive portrait of McCartney, a man of contradictions and a consummate musician far more ruthless, ambitious, and moody than his relaxed public image implies. Based on original research and more than two hundred new interviews, Fab also reveals for the first time the full story of his two marriages, romances, family feuds, phenomenal wealth, and complex relationships with his fellow ex-Beatles.
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Howard Sounes is the bestselling author of meticulously researched and revelatory books including Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan and Charles Bukowski: Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life. He lives in London.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
1 A LIVERPOOL FAMILY
AT THE START OF THE ROAD
‘They may not look much,’ Paul would say in adult life of his Liverpool family, having been virtually everywhere and seen virtually everything there is to see in this world. ‘They’re just very ordinary people, but by God they’ve got something – common sense, in the truest sense of the word. I’ve met lots of people, [but] I have never met anyone as interesting, or as fascinating, or as wise, as my Liverpool family.’
Liverpool is not only the city in which Paul McCartney was born; it is the place in which he is rooted, the wellspring of the Beatles’ music and everything he has done since that fabulous group disbanded. Originally a small inlet or ‘pool’ on the River Mersey, near its confluence with the Irish Sea, 210 miles north of London, Liverpool was founded in 1207, coming to significance in the seventeenth century as a slave trade port, because Liverpool faces the Americas. After the abolition of slavery, the city continued to thrive due to other, diverse forms of trade, with magnificent new docks constructed along its riverine waterfront, and ocean liners steaming daily to and from the United States. As money poured into Liverpool, its citizens erected a mini-Manhattan by the docks, featuring the Royal Liver Building, an exuberant skyscraper topped by outlandish copper birds that have become emblematic of this confident, slightly eccentric city.
For the best part of three hundred years men and women flocked to Liverpool for work, mostly on and around the docks. Liverpool is and has always been a predominantly white, working-class city, its people made up of and descended in large part from the working poor of surrounding Lancashire, plus Irish, Scots and Welsh incomers. Their regional accents combined in an urban melting pot to create Scouse, the distinctive Liverpool voice, with its singular, rather harsh pronunciation and its own witty argot, Scousers typically living hugger-mugger in the city’s narrow terrace streets built from the local rosy-red sandstone and brick.
Red is the colour of Liverpool – the red of its buildings, its left-wing politics and Liverpool Football Club. As the city has a colour, its citizens have a distinct character: they are friendly, jokey and inquisitive, hugely proud of their city and thin-skinned when it is criticised, as it has been throughout Paul’s life. For Liverpool’s boom years were over before Paul was born, the population reaching a peak of 900,000 in 1931, since when Liverpool has faded, its people, Paul included, leaving to find work elsewhere as their ancestors once came to Merseyside seeking employment, the abandoned city becoming tatty and tired, with mounting social problems.
Paul’s maternal grandfather, Owen Mohin, was a farmer’s son from County Monaghan, south of what is now the border with Northern Ireland, and it’s likely there was Irish blood on the paternal side of the family, too. McCartney is a Scottish name, but four centuries ago many Scots McCartneys settled in Ireland, returning to mainland Britain during the Potato Famine of the mid-1800s. Paul’s paternal ancestors were probably among those who recrossed the Irish Sea at this time in search of food and work. Great-grandfather James McCartney was also most likely born in Ireland, but came to Liverpool to work as a housepainter, making his home with wife Elizabeth in Everton, a workingclass suburb of the city. Their son, Joseph, born in 1866, Paul’s paternal grandfather, worked in the tobacco trade, tobacco being one of the city’s major imports. He married a local girl named Florence Clegg and had ten children, the fifth of whom was Paul’s dad.
Aside from Paul’s parents, his extended Liverpool family, his relatives – what Paul would call ‘the relies’ – have played a significant and ongoing part in his life, so it is worth becoming acquainted with his aunts and uncles. John McCartney was Joe and Flo McCartney’s firstborn, known as Jack. Paul’s Uncle Jack was a big strong man, gassed in the First World War, with the result that after he came home – to work as a rent collector for Liverpool Corporation – he spoke in a small, husky voice. You had to lean in close to hear what Jack was saying, and often he was telling a joke. The McCartneys were wits and raconteurs, deriving endless fun from gags, word games and general silliness, all of which became apparent, for better or worse, when Paul turned to song writing. McCartney family whimsy is in ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ and ‘Rocky Raccoon’, also ‘Rupert and the Frog Song’.
There was a son after Jack who died in infancy; then came Edith (Edie) who married ship steward Will Stapleton, the black sheep of the family; another daughter died in infancy; after which Paul’s father, James, was born on 7 July 1902, known to all as Jim. He was followed by three girls: Florence (Flo), Annie and Jane, the latter known as Gin or Ginny, after her middle name Virginia. Ginny, who married carpenter Harry Harris, was Paul’s favourite relative outside his immediate family and close to her younger sister, Mildred (Milly), after whom came the youngest, Joe, known as Our Bloody Joe, a plumber who married Joan, who outlived them all. Looking back, Joan recalls a family that was ‘very clannish’, amiable, witty people who liked company. In appearance the men were slim, smartly dressed and moderately handsome. Paul’s dad possessed delicate eyebrows which arched quizzically over kindly eyes, giving him the enquiring, innocent expression Paul has inherited. The women were of a more robust build, and in many ways the dominant personalities. None more so than the redoubtable Auntie Gin, whom Paul name-checks in his 1976 song ‘Let ’em In’. ‘Ginny was up for anything. She was a wonderful mad character,’ says Mike Robbins, who married into the family, becoming Paul’s Uncle Mike (though he was actually a cousin). ‘It’s a helluva family. Full of fun.’
Music played a large part in family life. Granddad Joe played in brass bands and encouraged his children to take up music. Birthdays, Christmas and New Year were all excuses for family parties, which involved everybody having a drink and a singsong around the piano, purchased from North End Music Stores (NEMS), owned by the Epstein family, and it was Jim McCartney’s fingers on the keys. He taught himself piano by ear (presumably his left, being deaf in his right). He also played trumpet, ‘until his teeth gave out’, as Paul always says. Jim became semi-professional during the First World War, forming a dance band, the Masked Melody Makers, later Jim Mac’s Band, in which his older brother Jack played trombone. Other relatives joined the merriment, giving enthusiastic recitals of ‘You’ve Gone’ and ‘Stairway to Paradise’ at Merseyside dance halls. Jim made up tunes as well, though he was too modest to call himself a songwriter. There were other links to show business. Younger brother Joe Mac sang in a barber-shop choir and Jack had a friend at the Pavilion Theatre who would let the brothers backstage to watch artists such as Max Wall and Tommy Trinder perform. As a young man Jim worked in the theatre briefly, selling programmes and operating lights, while a little later on Ann McCartney’s daughter Bett took as her husband the aforementioned Mike Robbins, a small-time variety artiste whose every other sentence was a gag (‘Variety was dying, and my act was helping to kill it’). There was a whiff of greasepaint about this family.
Jim’s day job was humdrum and poorly paid. He was a salesman with the cotton merchants A. Hannay & Co., working out of an impressive mercantile building on Old Hall Street. One of Jim’s colleagues was a clerk named Albert Kendall, who married Jim’s sister Milly, becoming Paul’s Uncle Albert (part of the inspiration for another of Paul’s Seventies’ hits, ‘Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey’). It was perhaps because Jim was having such a grand old time with his band and his extended family that he waited until he was almost forty before he married, by which time Britain was again at war. It was Jim’s luck to have been too young to serve in the First World War, and now he was fortunate to be too old for the Second. He lost his job with Hannay’s, though, working instead in an aircraft factory during the day and fire-watching at night. Liverpool’s docks were a prime German target during the early part of the war, with incendiary shells falling almost nightly. It was during this desperate time, with the Luftwaffe overhead and Adolf Hitler’s armies apparently poised to invade from France, that Jim McCartney met his bride-to-be, Paul’s mother Mary.
Mary Mohin was the daughter of Irishman Owen Mohin, who’d left the old country to work in Glasgow, then moving south to Liverpool, where he married Mary Danher and had four children: a daughter named Agnes who died in childhood, boys Wilfred and Bill, the latter known as Bombhead, and Paul’s mother, Mary, born in the Liverpool suburb of Fazakerley on 29 September 1909. Mary’s mother died when she was ten. Dad went back to Ireland to take a new bride, Rose, whom he brought to Liverpool, having two more children before dying himself in 1933, having drunk and gambled away most of his money. Mary and Rose didn’t get on and Mary left home when still young to train as a nurse, lodging with Harry and Ginny Harris in West Derby. One day Ginny took Mary to meet her widowed mother Florence at her Corporation-owned (‘corpy’) home in Scargreen Avenue, Norris Green, whereby Mary met Gin’s bachelor brother Jim. When the air-raid warning sounded, Jim and Mary were obliged to get to know each other better in the shelter. They married soon after.
Significantly, Paul McCartney is the product of a mixed marriage, in that his father was Protestant and his mother Roman Catholic, at a time when working-class Liverpool was divided along sectarian lines. There were regular clashes between Protestants and Catholics, especially on 12 July, when Orangemen marched in celebration of William III’s 1690 victory over the Irish. St Patrick’s Day could also degenerate into street violence, as fellow Merseysider Ringo Starr recalls: ‘On 17th March, St Patrick’s Day, all the Protestants beat up the Catholics because they were marching, and on 12th July, Orangeman’s [sic] Day, all the Catholics beat up the Protestants. That’s how it was, Liverpool being the capital of Ireland, as everybody always says.’ Mild-mannered Jim McCartney was agnostic and he seemingly gave way to his wife when they married on 15 April 1941, for they were joined together at St Swithin’s Roman Catholic Chapel. Jim was 38, his bride 31. There was an air raid that night on the docks, the siren sounding at 10:27 p.m., sending the newlyweds back down the shelter. Bombs fell on Garston, killing eight people before the all-clear. The Blitz on Liverpool intensified during the next few months, then stopped in January 1942. Britain had survived its darkest hour, and Mary McCartney was pregnant with one of its greatest sons.
JA M E S PAU L M c CARTNEY
Although the Luftwaffe had ceased its bombing raids on Liverpool by the time he was born, on Thursday 18 June 1942, James Paul McCartney, best known by his middle name, was very much a war baby. As Paul began to mewl and bawl, the newspapers carried daily reports of the world war: the British army was virtually surrounded by German troops at Tobruk in North Africa; the US Navy had just won the Battle of Midway; the Germans were pushing deep into Russian territory on the Eastern Front; while at home Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s government was considering adding coal to the long list of items only available on ration. Although the Blitz had passed for Liverpool, the war had three years to run, with much suffering and deprivation for the nation.
As his parents were married in a Catholic church, Paul was baptised into the Catholic faith at St Philomena’s Church, on 12 July 1942, the day the Orange Order marches. Though this may have been coincidental, one wonders whether Mary McCartney and her priest, Father Kelly, chose this day to baptise the son of a Protestant by way of claiming a soul for Rome. In any event, like his father, Paul would grow up to have a vague, non-denominational faith, attending church rarely. Two years later a second son was born, Michael, Paul’s only sibling. The boys were typical brothers, close but also rubbing each other up the wrong way at times.
Paul was three and Mike one when the war ended. Dad resumed his job at the cotton exchange, though, unusually, it was Mum’s work that was more important to the family. The 1945 General Election brought in the reforming Labour administration of Clement Attlee, whose government implemented the National Health Service (NHS). Mary McCartney was the NHS in action, a relatively well-paid, statetrained midwife who worked from home delivering babies for her neighbours. The family moved frequently around Merseyside, living at various times in Anfield, Everton, West Derby and over the water on the Wirral (a peninsula between Liverpool and North Wales). Sometimes they rented rooms, other times they lodged with relatives. In 1946, Mary was asked to take up duties on a new housing estate at Speke, south of the city, and so the McCartneys came to 72 Western Avenue, what four-year-old Paul came to think of as his first proper home.
Liverpool had long had a housing problem, a significant proportion of the population living in slums into the 1950s. In addition to this historic problem, thousands had been made homeless by bombing. In the aftermath of the war many Liverpool families were accommodated temporarily in pre-fabricated cottages on the outskirts of the city while Liverpool Corporation built large new estates of corporation-owned properties which were rented to local people. Much of this construction was undertaken at Speke, a flat, semi-rural area between Liverpool and its small, outlying airport, with huge industrial estates built simultaneously to create what was essentially a new town. The McCartneys were given a new, three-bedroom corpy house on a boulevard that leads today to Liverpool John Lennon Airport. In the late 1940s this was a model estate of new ‘homes fit for heroes’. Because the local primary school was oversubscribed, Paul, along with many children, was bussed to Joseph Williams Primary in nearby Childwall. Former pupils dimly recall a friendly, fat-faced lad with a lively sense of humour. A class photo shows Paul neatly dressed, apparently happy and confident, and indeed these were halcyon days for young McCartney, whose new suburban home gave him access to woods and meadows where he went exploring with the Observer Book of Birds and a supply of jam butties, happy adventures recalled in a Beatles’ song:
Find me in my field of grass,
Mother Nature’s son,
Swaying daisies sing a lazy song beneath the sun.
(‘Mother Nature’s Son’)
In the evening, Mum cooked while Dad smoked his pipe, read the newspaper or did the garden, dispensing wisdom and jokes to the boys as he went. There were games with brother Mike, and the fun of BBC radio dramas and comedy shows. Wanting to spend more time with her sons, Mary resigned fr...
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Descripción Da Capo Press, 2010. Hardcover. Estado de conservación: New. book. Nº de ref. de la librería M0007237065