By way of a birthday greeting to Sir Paul, a charming portrait of the cutest Beatle by NME's Alan Smith, dateline August 9, 1963——Barney Hoskyns, Editorial Director, Rock's Backpages
I went roof-climbing with the Beatles — up a rickety wooden ladder, over drainpipes, and past the huge chimney-pots of London's plush Washington Hotel. The traffic bustled dizzily below. "After YOU!" laughed Paul McCartney, pointing to the gaping emptiness that stretched down to the street.
He was joking (I hope). There was an 80ft. drop! But Paul's usually like that, anyway — courteous, and cheerful with it! Fame hasn't changed him. "If anything," he told me, "it's other people who are different.
"I can't quite explain it, but when I meet some of my old mates, they don't seem the same. They have a different attitude towards me. Perhaps they think we've all gone big-time since getting into the charts, I don't know. But they're so wrong."
We reached the top of the ladder and the Beatles posed against some chimney pots for a breathless photographer.
"Mind you," said Paul, "I'm not knocking anybody. I suppose people can't help feeling we've changed. It's a natural reaction."
There's a lot that's not known about Paul, who's the first in our "Close-up On A Beatle" series... about his early days as a guitarist, his home life, and the beginning of his association with John Lennon.
"I didn't start in a very spectacular way," he told me. "I got my first guitar when I was 15, and I just used to fool about with it, more or less, as time went by, though, I got more interested. I was still 15 when I met John Lennon at a village fete in Woolton, in Liverpool. He was playing with a couple of fellows and I asked if I could join in. That's how it started, really. I suppose we just went on from strength to strength — John, me, George and another lad named Pete Best, who's now with another group.
"You'd never dream the names we had: 'Johnny [John Lennon] and the Moondogs', 'the Quarrymen' and 'the Rainbows'. We were called the last because we all had different-colored shirts and we couldn't afford any others! After that, somebody wanted to calls us 'Long John Silver and the Pieces Of Eight'! We weren't standing for that, but we did end up as 'the Silver Beetles' for a while. After that it became just the Beatles.
"I guess it's pure chance that I met John. You see, my mother was a district nurse until she died when I was 14, and we used to move from time to time because of her work. One move brought me into contact with John. Since then I suppose John and I have written about 100 songs together, including 'Bad To Me' for Billy J. Kramer. Fab about it doing so well, isn't it?"
Paul comes from Allerton, a typically suburban area of Liverpool, where his father still works as a cotton salesman. He attended Liverpool Institute school and chalked up several GCEs before leaving.
"I decided I'd like to enter art college if we flopped in show business," he says. "I got my GCE in art, and I'm still very interested in the subject. I often sketch when we're on tour — when I'm not writing songs or go-karting! That's the big rage for me these days, go-karting. We were doing some of it recently and now I'm thinking of taking it up in a big way. I'm not really interested in sport apart from that, except for swimming — but that's the thing these hot days, isn't it? It really cools you off."
How do the rest of the Beatles get on with Paul? "Oh, fine," they laughed as we leaned against a chimney-stack. "He hasn't changed a bit, you know. He's just the same old big-'ead we all got to know and love!"
"Funny habits?" asked John. "I'll say! Did you know he sleeps with his eyes open? We've actually watched him, dozing there with the whites of his eyes showing. And he won't believe us when we tell him. He's a good lad, really. We don't have much trouble with him, except that he gets a bit restless at feeding time. He's always good when we tell him, because he knows that if he isn't, we won't take him out for a walk on his chain!"
Paul takes all this with characteristic good humor. "You have to laugh, don't you? If you don't live this life with a sense of humor, it could soon get you down. That's the way I look at it, anyway. Sometimes, you know, I feel as if there's nothing I'd like better than to get back to the kind of thing we were doing a year ago. Just playing the Cavern and some of the other places around Liverpool. I suppose the rest of the lads feel that way at times, too. You feel as if you'd like to turn back the clock.
"It's only a passing mood, though. Most of the time lately we've been living on top of the world. Everything has been going right for us! No, I haven't bought anything special for myself since everything happened. Perhaps I could get a cine-camera — then the lads could film me while I'm dozing, and I'd know if I really sleep with my eyes open!"
© Alan Smith, 1963
Read tons more Beatles pieces at Rock's Backpages. 20,000+ articles by the best writers from the finest music publications of the last 50 years.
- Arts & Entertainment
- John Lennon