TSD’s own Sam Stone recently had a chance to speak with the enduring artist behind the U.K.’s Christmas chart-topper of 1968, The Scaffold’s “Lily the Pink,” as well as the top ten smash “Thank U Very Much” and the solo hit “Leave It.” Mike McCartney, a.k.a. Mike McGear just happens to be Paul McCartney’s younger brother, but has a lifetime of his own musical history to share. In this wide-ranging conversation, he offers stories of the making of his classic album McGear, recently reissued by Cherry Red’s Esoteric Recordings on 2CD/DVD and vinyl, and much more!
Perfect melodic pop, hard rockers, heartfelt ballads, a dose of eccentricity, and a sense of adventure: that’s what you’ll find when you place the needle on the new reissue of McGear, released at the start of summer by Cherry Red’s Esoteric Recordings arm. The 1974 effort found Mike “McGear” McCartney – photographer, comedian, songwriter, singer, poet, former member of Scaffold and GRIMMS, and youngest brother McCartney – teaming up with brother Paul, members of Wings, The Chieftans, The Merseybeats, and the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band for a joyous album packed with stunning music. Tongue in cheek as it sometimes is, McGear is a fully realized artistic statement that sees every participant performing in top condition.
McGear was “the product of a perfect moment in time,” according to Mike McCartney, but forty-five years on, it was long out-of-print and overdue for re-evaluation. That’s why fans were thrilled to hear the news of Cherry Red/Esoteric’s deluxe 2-CD/DVD reissue which finally gives McGear the attention it deserves. The new edition is a deluxe affair. The clamshell case is packed with three discs, each in gatefold sleeves. There’s the album remastered from original tape sources, a DVD with interviews and the long-lost promo video for the infectious single “Leave It,” and a bonus disc packed with 20 extra songs hand-picked by McCartney that provide context to the McGear album and Mike’s music career with outtakes, later sessions, recordings that predate the album, as well as unreleased songs, and many recently unearthed treasures.
Not only does the Cherry Red edition of McGear sound better than ever, but it’s also a marvel visually. During his original radio tour to promote the album in 1974, Mike was disappointed to learn that American copies of the LP were housed in single-pocket sleeves, in place of the beautiful gatefold sleeve that adorned original UK pressings. On the new LP edition, the gatefold design is reinstated in all its glory. The 2-CD/DVD version is also a marvel. The label could have easily elected to place the three discs in a bare-bones digipak, but instead, each is housed in its own beautifully illustrated gatefold sleeve. The original album’s design is replicated while the sleeves for the bonus discs boast period photos and exquisite attention to detail. They’ve also gone the extra mile by including two double-sided mini-posters. One replicates a period promo poster with the album artwork and inner gatefold collage atop a modified ER (Esoteric Recordings) logo that pays homage to Warner Bros. The other features the words to every song on McGear on the front and scans of original handwritten lyrics from the McCartney archive on the back.
As if the deluxe clamshell case could fit anything more, the set also includes a hefty 32-page booklet with Mike’s detailed notes about the album and his career, along with archival photographs – each with a witty caption – and comprehensive background information on all the bonus tracks.
In all, no expense has been spared to deliver the ultimate celebration of the McGear album and it’s without a doubt one of The Second Disc’s favorite reissues of the year. So, we were delighted to have the opportunity to interview Mike “McGear” McCartney himself about the project!
TSD: Hi Mike! Let’s jump right in. McGear is an album that I’ve really been looking forward to owning, but it’s been so out of print! I’m so glad that [Cherry Red and Esoteric] have brought it back because I think it’s been probably about 20-something years since it’s been in stores. [Rykodisc’s U.S. reissue dated to 1990, and See for Miles’ U.K. reissue to 1992.]
MM: Yea, it’s 45 years old. And I was a bit – I’ve gotta be honest with you – I was a bit apprehensive in terms of ‘will that 45-year-old album stand up in today’s marketplace?’ And I put it on, waiting to be disappointed! And I thought it was great. I was amazed at how good [Cherry Red’s edition] was!
TSD: Yeah! It definitely stands up, and a lot of it sounds like it could have been recorded yesterday. There are so many styles on the album. My first impression was, “Wow!” Here we’ve got the progressive “The Man Who Found God on the Moon,” such a kind of episodic, progressive song. Then there’s the sort of Everly Brothers-style ballads and I love “The Casket.” So, all around there’s so many interesting different shades.
MM: And then you’ve got a bit of rock ‘n’ roll with “Givin’ Grease a Ride.”
TSD: Oh yeah! You get a whole lot of rock and roll, which is great. That’s the stuff that I was raised on – all that older rockabilly, ’50s stuff.
MM: You know, when I did the [1974 radio] tour of America, they wouldn’t have you on because it [was] all rock-orientated on the stations. And – boom! – when it came to “Givin’ Grease a Ride” or “Leave It” then they’d have you in!
TSD: “Givin’ Grease a Ride” is such a great rocker. It’s almost a T. Rex sort of sound.
MM: [laughs] There was a guy in England called John Peel, who was the definitive DJ. He was very classy. If John Peel liked ya, all the listeners – all the university-type kids – would buy it! So he was very eclectic and very pure, and you didn’t get on unless you were doing something that he admired. [He was] the first person [to whom] I took [The Scaffold’s] single “Lily the Pink,” which got to No. 1 eventually. I took it to his house in London and he put it on. Well, a young lad with curly hair put it on. And as soon as John heard it, he said, “Oh, that’s number one.” I said, “Listen to the whole bloody thing!” So he did, and again he said, “It’s still a No. 1!” and the curly-haired boy that put it on was Marc Bolan! And he said, “I agree.”
TSD: So, “Lily the Pink,” that’s the record that kind of started it all for you – at least the music side?
MM: No, the one that started it all was one a “miss” – it wasn’t a hit. [laughs] But it was popular with comedians and people who had a weird sense of humor. It was a Cockney at a time when Merseybeat Scouse was in vogue. We chose a Cockney dirge called “2 Day’s Monday” [backed on a single with] “3 Blind Jellyfish,” done by George Martin, actually.
TSD: Really? So was that one recorded in EMI?
MM: Yeah, and that was the first Scaffold single.
TSD: So did you start off wanting to do music? I know you’ve done so many things – photography, animation, all these different things.
MM: Well, the animation’s the latest thing, the last one with The Weirdos project, which I love. [TSD: Read more about The Weirdos here!] All the music was coming out of Liverpool and we used to do sketches, poetic word imagery sketches. And that’s how the TV people saw us, doing these sketches. They’d had enough Merseybeat rock and roll, so they got us on the telly and that’s how we got in to do comedy, then into theatre, to doing the Edinburgh Festival Fringe every year, and doing theatres and universities ’round Great Britain, all as a satirical theatrical comedy group.
TSD: Was there a certain point where it went from theatrical events to making records?
MM: No, that was a fluke, because we’d gone from a little literary agency that used to have Paul Robeson. They were wonderful but we were getting nowhere, and then Brian Epstein said, “[Mike,] would you like to be a pop singer?” And I said, “Well, not me, but if you have The Scaffold, it’d be different” and he agreed. And we were with him, so that’s why we got introduced to George Martin. We were interested not in George Martin doing The Beatles. We were interested in George because we used to have an LP in Forthlin Road, our house, before [Paul] went into his business and I went into mine – you know, show business – a record called Songs for Swingin’ Sellers.
TSD: Oh yeah!
MM: It was The Goons’ album with Peter Sellers. Great comedy album. But it was produced by a man called George Martin. So that’s why we were interested in George Martin doing [The Scaffold]. Not because of my brother and his Fab Three, it was because [Martin] did Peter Sellers.
TSD: You see George Martin’s sense of adventure there on those comedy records, where he was trying all those tape experiments and really experimenting and having fun.
MM: Yeah, and when Our Kid [TSD: Mike’s nickname for his brother Paul] got with George, he changed from being a straight music producer. Until Our Kid and his mob got in there and stretched his mind.
TSD: Right. So you were working with George on all The Scaffold singles?
MM: Only on “2 Day’s Monday” then we started with someone else in Abbey Road, in EMI. There’s a Batman spoof called “Goodbat Nightman” [laughs]. That got nowhere, either. So that was it, we were just going to leave Brian Epstein and NEMS and go to David Frost’s management. They came from satirical comedy, so we decided to move out of the pop, into their agency. And just before we left EMI, I’d written a song for The Scaffold to thank people for coming to our [shows] called “Thank U Very Much.” So because our records didn’t sell, EMI got fed up and didn’t even listen to “Thank U Very Much,” but we recorded it in their studio. So, we had recorded it and instead of listening, EMI sent us a letter saying “You’re sacked! We terminate your contract.”
We went to that new agency, David Frost’s agency, talking about doing satirical shows, universities, theatres, and the boss of the agency said, “Do you still do music?” I said, “Well, no, not really. There’s a song that we recorded with EMI but they sacked us.” And he said, “Let’s see the letter.” And we showed it and then played the “Thank U Very Much” song and he said, “This is a hit!” He rang EMI: “Hello, EMI? I’ve got a letter here saying you’ve terminated Scaffold’s contract.” “Oh yeah, they’re crap. We don’t want anything to do with them, they don’t sell records.” “Oh, so you meant it? I’ve got it here, signed and dated, that you don’t want anything to do with them.” “Oh yeah, all yours!” He said, “Okay, well they’ve turned around and recorded ‘Thank U Very Much’ in EMI and I’m going to find someone to release it. Unless you want to listen to it first.” EMI said, “Oh, if you insist.” Well, they listened to it, realized it would be a hit, and said, “No, we want it, we want it!” So, our agent said, “Well, you’ve sacked them so if you want to re-sign them, it’s got to be a much better deal.” And so they re-signed us a much better deal.
TSD: And “Thank U Very Much” was pretty successful.
MM: Yeah! Got to the Top Five, one of the Queen Mum’s favorite records!
Mike’s phone rings and he has to answer it. When he returns, he apologizes.
TSD: Oh, no problem, I’m sure there are a lot of people getting in contact with you with the album and all.
MM: It’s the usual thing, you know: hear nothing all year, then… It’s like the bus…you’re waiting for a bus for hours. Eventually one comes up and you think, “Oh, thank God, what took so long?” Then another three follow it!
TSD: When it rains it pours, right?
MM: Yeah, but it’s lovely! For the McGear project, all that hard work [paid off]. It’s not only that lovely double-gate sleeve album for America, it’s also the two [bonus discs in the CD set]. And CD 2, for me, I love it! Because it’s got all that new stuff.
TSD: There’s some amazing material.
MM: What’s your favorite of the new songs?
TSD: Well the [extended edit of] “Leave It” is great. When I was listening to the album cut, I thought, “Man, they get into such a groove, I wish it could go on forever.” And on Disc Two, there it is!
MM: Yeah, goes on about six minutes!
TSD: Yeah, almost doubles the length of the song!
MM: And I think that’s Our Kid on guitar. All those mad guitar lines. And you’ll notice I changed the lyrics. What about new songs you’ve never heard before?
TSD: Yeah! “All the Whales in the Ocean.” I know it was a single, not sure it ever made it onto an album, but that one was really a beautiful track.
MM: You know what’s even sadder is that [conflict from] 45 years ago is exactly the same now. Nothing’s changed. In fact, it’s getting worse for the whales.
TSD: Yeah, it feels like people don’t really learn sometimes.
MM: Well, have you heard of David Attenborough?
MM: Well, David Attenborough, the guru, the god of nature, the savior of mankind… he wrote me a letter after “All the Whales in the Ocean” saying, “Thank you so much for committing to doing a record to try and save the whales. They need it.” And that was 45 years ago.
TSD: Yeah, it’s sad to think that lots of these classic songs, you know, protest songs from 50 years ago are still so relevant. It’s kind of like…we don’t really learn, do we?
MM: Yeah! There I am in New York all those years ago, doing [promotion for] the McGear album and the big thing was this thing called handgun control. People coming strongly out, “For God’s sake, do something about it. You’re all going to go down the wrong road here, America.” And look what road has been taken….
TSD: Yeah, it’s like one step forward, two steps back. You do that for long enough and it’s easy to guess where you’ll end up.
MM: So sad.
TSD: The other great bits on that second disc…I really like the “Paddy’s Pipes” interludes.
MM: Aren’t they magic?
TSD: Yeah, listening to the chatter and hearing it, it feels like being in the studio and the sounds he gets are so amazing.
MM: Well, all it is [is] a penny-whistle. He just got it out of his pocket and plays it, and bends notes! You can’t bend a note on little pipes, right? He can!
We [The Scaffold] did a song called “Liverpool Lou,” from the McGear sessions. A telly show wanted to do a thing on Liverpool and Scaffold and [said], “Can you do a new song?” We’d had “Thank U Very Much,” which was in the Top 5; “Lily the Pink,” which was No. 1; and so, we needed another song for this TV show. It wasn’t going to be a single – just for the telly. And I said to my brother, Our Kid, “Any ideas for a Scaffold song?” He said, “I’ve always thought ‘Liverpool Lou’ would be good.” And I said, “No, that’s too folk-y.” [He said,] “No, no, it’s in the way you do it.” And so, I said to the BBC, “Send me this ‘Liverpool Lou’ song, any versions you’ve got.” So, they sent me a tape – still got it – and I was expecting The Spinners, which was a Liverpool folk group. But it wasn’t The Spinners. Ever heard of a writer named Brendan Behan? He’s an Irish writer, your readers should look him up. He’s good – an outrageous Irish writer. His brother was singing “Liverpool Lou.” [McCartney sings in exaggerated accent] Just like a folk song. And I thought, “Oh, God, that’s boring.” And the other song [mimics rock beat] – it’s Delaney and Bonnie! I thought, “Oh, I see! You can do a different version.” So, I said to Our Kid, “Ah, let’s hear your version.” And we did it during the McGear sessions. And that became The Scaffold’s third big hit.
TSD: Did you find it at all difficult [in those early days] going from bands like The Scaffold, GRIMMS…
MM: Well, you can never call it a band because we didn’t play musical instruments. Band infers that we play music and The Scaffold, you know…I just heard Roger McGough on national radio and he admitted that I couldn’t sing and that I never felt comfortable with The Scaffold. But I did feel confident in my poems. So, I tell people that’s why when we’re in the studio [we had help] and [one of the helpers] told me himself! Some lad, I saw him at [one of] Our Kid’s launches in London, and this lad came over and said, “Hello, Mike.” I said, “Oh, hello Reg,” ’cause I knew him from the Dick James Music days. He said, “Oh no, I’m not Reg now. I’ve changed me name to Elton John.” [laughs] And I said, “Oh, good on ya, son. Good luck!” He goes, “They were great times in Abbey Road, weren’t they?” And I said, “Yeah, yeah. How do you mean in Abbey Road?” And he said, “When we used to perform and be your backing singer.” I said, “Oh I remember, because The Scaffold couldn’t sing there were two young lads who helped me with the harmonies.” And he said, “We used to come to Abbey Road, do the Scaffold sessions and those were our favorite sessions ever because we’d go in , work all day with you and Scaffold, and laugh all day, then at the end get paid!”
TSD: Yeah, I guess there’s more pressure on the more traditional pop groups to deliver the hits, do exactly as producers want, and it seems there’s more freedom in doing something more light-hearted.
MM: Yeah, exactly that!
TSD: So, how did you transition from Scaffold to GRIMMS [the supergroup featuring McCartney and members of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band]?
MM: Yeah, well, we’d worked with the Bonzos before. I got them the job on Magical Mystery Tour. Our Kid had this circle [diagram that laid out the movies’ scenes] – like a pizza with slices in it – and there was one slice saying, “The Nightclub: a stripper comes on.” And Our Kid said, “Okay, so we need a band.” He said, “Well, I’m thinking of The Temperance Seven,” which is a mad traditional jazz, old-fashioned thing. And I said, “Oh, God, no, don’t have them. Have The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. They’re new and outrageous, and art school lads. They’re wonderful and the lead singer is called Viv Stanshall.” And that’s how Our Kid chose to try ’em out. He loved ’em! And because Our Kid had worked with them, they then asked Our Kid for some help with “I’m The Urban Spaceman,” which became their big hit.
So, we knew [The Bonzos] and hung around with them, and then when we did shows, we would say, “Well, can we do it with The Bonzos? ‘Cause we don’t play instruments, they do, and they’re the same type of comedy.” And [they were] intelligent and funny, and outrageous, particularly Viv, and wonderful.
TSD: Any memories from those GRIMMS tours?
MM: Well, you’d get people like Moonie turning up. Keith Moon…oh, God! Have you ever heard of Mike Giles? What was he in, the drummer out of…it was a very esoteric group.
TSD: King Crimson!
MM: Yes! You got it in one, well done. It was. Mike was on one of our GRIMMS tours, Mike was the drummer early on. I’d made the mistake of telling Keith Moon! [So,] we’re in the university and the poetry’s on…very sedate, you know? The poets took their stuff very seriously and it was good because it was light and shade, that against the Scaffold stuff. So, very serious poetry and Mike Giles. Then suddenly, BANG! The back door of the university smashes open and the light floods in across the stage [from outside]. And the whole audience of students are all looking at the door. In the door, framed in a great, big shadow – because the light was behind him – that’s forming onto the stage and onto the university audience was Keith Moon in a bison’s hat! [laughs] You know, that American bison hat with the big horns sticking out? So you can imagine that as a silhouette…
And the audience immediately knew it was Moonie. [imitates crowd cheering] So I had to go close the door. “Moonie, get in!” and close the door, “Shh, Moonie, it’s the bloody poetry.” “Oh, sorry Mike, sorry Mike!” And that was that. And in that silhouette, in addition to the bison’s hat, it looked as though he had a couple of guns as though he was a gunslinger. From the silhouette, big bison hat, Moonie’s body holding in either hand what looked like guns. But I didn’t know until we’re at the side of the side of the stage [mimics hushing Moonie] and slowly, as I’m talking I felt cold steel of something on the side of my face. He was so out of his head. So I look down, and there is a feckin’ big six-shooter gun. And it looked real! And he’s holding it to my head, the cold steel to my head. I said, “Moonie, put that down.” [He goes,] “Oh, sorry Mike.” I find out later that it not only was an American cowboy six-shooter, but it was loaded!
So, that’s Moonie. But the best bit was at the end. We’re doing this rock and roll one, maybe “Bless, Oh Bless Those Jellied Eels,” yeah I think it was. And it becomes a gospel song. You know, it’s on the PC Plod film [TSD: Plod, a 1972 short film directed by Richard Cort, based on Roger McGough’s “PC Plod” poems — now available on the bonus disc of BFI’s How I Won the War DVD set, which Mike encourages TSD’s readers to seek out.]
So, we’re doing “Bless, Oh Bless Those Jellied Eels” and Moonie has suddenly [joined in]. There were two drum kits and Mike Giles never let anybody go on his ’cause he was King Crimson, so the other drummer – I think it was Gerry Conway – was doing this big thingie, comedy, y’know? So Moonie says, “Ya think that’s drumming? This is drumming.” He goes onto Mike Giles’ drum kit and starts doing drum solos [back and forth with Conway]. And he beats the hell out of Mike Giles’ drum kit.
Ya ever heard of an artist called Claes Oldenburg? [Swedish-American sculptor known for his “soft sculpture” works].
TSD: Yeah! Mmm-hm.
MM: Right, he does soft sculpture [of everyday items], real big [installations]. One of them is a soft drum kit; we saw it in the Guggenheim museum in New York. And it looked like Keith Moon had just finished with it! It’s all sand and beat to a pulp. And that’s what Mike Giles’ kit looked like at the end of it all. [laughter] And so Mike Giles was saying, “How dare you? Who let that madman in? Who told Moon we were here?” And I shut up! But he was most upset, quite rightly.
TSD: That’s wild. Moonie in a nutshell, right? So, how did you transition from these collaborative groups – troupes, really – like Scaffold, GRIMMS to the McGear album?
MM: We’d have shows together to fill the theater with Scaffold and Bonzo. And during that time of working together, we [McCartney and McGough] suddenly though we’d break away from Scaffold and they could break away from Bonzos to invent this group GRIMMS. It was G for John Gorman, Scaffold. R is Andy Roberts, who helped us on guitar – look him up, [especially his work with the bands] Plainsong and Matthews Southern Comfort. Very talented guitarist. I is Innes, Neil Innes from The Bonzos, Rutles, Python and all that. M M is McGough/McGear, and S is Viv Stanshall. So we went out as GRIMMS, and Zoot Money joined us on keyboards and vocals and it was very successful.
You’d go to universities. I remember one in Manchester. Adrian Henri was with us, one of the poets, and Brian Patten, a Liverpool scene poet. We’re at this place in Manchester and I look through the curtains and the whole of the floor – before the lights were out and we went on – was packed with kids. Students sitting down on the floor. And every now and then, the people that couldn’t sit stood. It was like [Alain Resnais’ 1961 French New Wave film] Last Year in Marienbad. Like the scene with all those statues standing up. So, I went in and said to the agent, “You should see the hall – packed! Ya can’t get in!” He said, “I know they can’t because that queue goes all the way around the building!”
We did the tour – very successful, smashing – then we did one the year after. We went to the same Manchester university and all the management was crap, they didn’t know how to do it. And so I found myself in Manchester in a tiny hall with no people. And all this tour was so badly organized, I thought, “What the hell am I doing here? This is ridiculous, it’s going nowhere.” So I got out.
And that’s when Our Kid rang and said, “I’ve heard you’ve finished GRIMMS, how about getting some money? We’ll do a single.” I had six kids, so I needed to do something to feed ’em. So that’s how we made [the first single] “Leave It” and that’s how the McGear album evolved, all from that moment in time.
TSD: How did that single morph into the album?
MM: Well, in New York, Linda’s parents and brother [who were involved with Paul’s management team at the time] heard it, loved it, and said, “Why don’t you do an album?”
TSD: Did you present Paul with demos or was it a spontaneous writing session?
MM: Oh no! Our Kid said, “Right, have you got enough songs?” I said, “Oh yeah.” I’d been doing them since the McGough-McGear days [his 1968 album with Roger McGough and a host of illustrious talent], then the  Woman album. I’d gotten used to doing things on my own without Scaffold, the sort of stuff they couldn’t do. So, I said, “I’ve been writing lots of stuff, so I’ve got an album’s worth.” And that was it, we went to the studio and [it was Our Kid,] Denny Laine, Gerry Conway, then [guitarist] Jimmy McCullough joined us, and that was the outfit. And we had Paddy Maloney [of the Chieftains] come from Dublin to do “The Casket” and Brian Jones from The Undertakers to do the sax solos on “Have You Got Problems?” and “The Man Who Found God on the Moon.” It was a natural process.
TSD: Was “Leave It” already written?
MM: Yeah, that was already done. That was done in Abbey Road. The day I recorded “Leave It” I had just done a charity football match. A bit of advice, Sam, to all your readers: Don’t record a hit single when you’ve just played a charity football match with Monty Python!
TSD: Good advice!
MM: You know, it doesn’t work! I was dead tired and I remember in Abbey Road, Studio 2 – the famous one – climbing those bloody stairs. It was like I had deep-sea diver’s boots on trying to get to the top to listen to [the playback]. And I was not enamored with this thing. Our Kid kept saying, “Right, come on, next bit. Next bit. Next bit.” I just plodded on. Because he was [producing it] and I respected him, so I kept on but I didn’t like the singing. “No, no don’t worry” [he kept saying]. Once he looked at me and said, “Why have you stopped?” I said, “Because I got it wrong.” He says, “I will tell you when you’ve got it wrong.” So, he’d got all my best takes, and I finally went upstairs and by the end of the evening it was a wonderful song. But when we were recording it at Abbey Road, it went on for that full six minutes, because we were trying to find [the groove], experimenting with it. Then once we’d done a bit, Our Kid went on guitar and did those mad guitar bits in it. And Tony Coe did those mad sax bits.
TSD: It’s so great, so great! Just when you think that song couldn’t get better, it keeps on building and building. It’s so beautifully done.
MM: And that’s how we did it. You know that “Sea Breezes” [alternate version on the bonus disc]? There’s no orchestra on it, it’s just me and the band. Me, Our Kid, Lin [McCartney], I don’t think Jimmy was with us then…but it was just the guts. Very risky, very daring.
Then “Dance the Do” was a monitor mix. Again, raw. But then I found the other songs, like “Girls on the Avenue,” the Pete Wingfield song. I didn’t even know that I’d sung it! It was on the tapes, but at some point, the tapes were lost.
[Once Esoteric and Cherry Red turned up the tapes for the album proper], we made the deal to make it. At first, I said, “Why this old record?” It’s 45 years old! And they said, well we don’t want to just do it like the [original] McGear album. We’re hoping to put it out on luxury vinyl and a 2-CD and DVD and a book and all the stuff. I said, “Oh, well that’ll be different” and I didn’t even ask if there’d be a jigsaw like the first go-’round. So there isn’t a jigsaw on this, but if you look at Our Kid’s Egypt Station album [Traveler’s Edition box set], you will notice a jigsaw. I’m not sayin’ nothing but…
TSD: Wonder where they got that idea?
MM: Exactly! [laughs]
TSD: So the tapes for this new version….
MM: Yeah, they said they could fix up the record from the master tapes. This took a long time because MPL had done it with Our Kid [in 1974], so the company paid for [its production] then we gave it to the highest bidder, which was Warner Bros. So, we went to London to find the master tapes. It took months and months before MPL said Warners had the tapes, then several more months before Warners had found out they’d lost the tapes. So… [they said] “Do you have any tapes?” I said, “I know I’ve got tapes in my roof upstairs, but they’ve been up there for over 40 years, so I don’t know what they’re like.” They said, “Any tapes would be better quality than the record.” So, I went over to look for them. I said, “Look, the big 2” master reels aren’t here, but I’ve got some 15ips boxes. One says “McGear master copy,” there’s another saying “Leave It,” with an engineer called Alan Parsons, who’d done Dark Side of the Moon and Abbey Road.
You know somebody told me the other day that Nelson Mandela, while incarcerated, one of the main things that kept him sane was music. So that’s our job: getting these things, new mixes and the new songs [to make the world a little saner]. There’s one song on [the new edition] called “Do Nothing All Day.” I think it’s a perfect summer song. You were talking about “Paddy’s Pipes” sounding like in the room. That one was in the room. Like, “Let’s Turn the Radio On.” I wanted that one to be like a jugband, as though it was recorded in a front parlor, like the B-side of “Leave It” called “Sweet Baby.”
TSD: Wonderful track, that one. With that Buddy Holly feel to it.
MM: Yeah, kind of Gene Vincent [percussion]. That’s what we did. Gene Vincent used to tap on his leather trousers for the drums. We knicked that off Gene and did it on “Sweet Baby,” all recorded in my back room here. It was my little work room, it’s now a bedroom. That’s where we originally did “Sweet Baby.” It was me, Paul, and Lin, just the three of us in the back room of this house.
TSD: I was really struck by the beauty of those harmonies on “Sweet Baby,” and on all the tracks. I get this feeling of stepping back in time to the ’50s front parlor, and two brothers making music for fun.
MM: Yeah, being Everly Brothers. We used to do their harmonies.
TSD: I think they were my introduction to harmonies. There are moments in their songs where it feels like this can’t be just two people. That’s what intrigues me about the reissues that have happened these days. There are some folks who may ask, “I’ve got a copy of the original, why are they bothering?” But these can introduce someone new to music they might cherish for decades to come.
MM: And that’s what I said to the company at first [“Why am I bothering?”], but the point is we’re doing it with the original vinyl design that America never had, and luxury vinyl that’s heavyweight. I looked at those tapes upstairs. I’d been out of music for years and didn’t even have a turntable to play the [test pressing] when it came in. And with the tapes upstairs I had to figure out how to play ’em. So a friend lent me his reel-to-reel set up [to digitize them]. I phoned the record company and told them the news and I said “Oh, by the way, there’s a bit of mildew [in some parts].” They said, “Ahhh, don’t play them! If you’ll play them, the tape will come off. We’ll have to bake them.” I took a whole suitcase – the album and all the other songs – down to London and they actually bake the tapes back together! And they said, “the album’s going to sound better than it originally was,” with the technology as it is and luxury vinyl. So, it is important to do these things. They sent me the vinyl and I played it and though, “Oh my God!” I really didn’t think it could sound so good. And it really stands the test of time, really solid, as though it were recorded yesterday. And then with all the other [tracks] and the book and the DVD. Have you seen the DVD? The Everyman [interview]?
TSD: Oh, yeah. And it was fantastic to see that “Leave It” promo! What’s the story behind that one?
MM: That was one when my wife said, “You’re putting that out?” I said, yeah the old Alvis [automobile] which we got married in [is in the film].” [She said,] “Yes, I know. It’s not the Alvis I’m talking about, or you and your silly hat. It’s the girl with no clothes on running through the film!”
TSD: Well, I know that lots of fans are happy to know the film will be available because it’s never been seen outside of its first airings.
MM: Oh no, no one’s seen it. An in ’74, done in a posh mansion outside of London in the gardens. The guy who did it is a guy called Jim Goddard, who had already done the first “Thank U Very Much” Scaffold film all around Liverpool. He went on to do a very fine film about Kennedy with Martin Sheen…the  mini-series on American TV. And he did another film called Shanghai Surprise with Madonna and Sean Penn. But anyway, he did the “Leave It” film with all the ’60s fast-frame shots all around. Very much of an era, that one.
TSD: It’s wonderful that it was included. It’s those little treasures that I know lots of fans and a lot of our readers are interested in…those things that have, in a way, been lost to time.
TSD: Since the last reissues, there’s been a generation of new fans who have only heard about this amazing album and never had the chance to find it anywhere.
MM: And that’s what Cherry Red and Esoteric said, that there’s an audience out there, it’s been so long since it was [reissued], and you’re giving all these new things that have never been [released] before, all in the same package. And by the way, the DVD has the talking about the album, about Liverpool. I rang up my old school – which is now LIPA – and my old theatre Hope Hall, now the Everyman, and recorded it where it all took place.
TSD: Tell me about “The Casket,” that’s a track that’s so different from the rest of the album.
MM: Well, Roger McGough wrote that one millions of years ago. Our Kid goes, “Have you got a song for that,” ’cause he liked the poem. I said, “Yeah” but I didn’t know how to sing it. I thought if I just did it the old cliché way, I’m not going to be happy with it. So I thought how would Jake Thackray do it? [TSD: Thackray was an English singer-songwriter with a rich tone, whom Mike encourages readers to look up.] Jake had a song called “La Di Dah.” So I thought of it like I was in an Irish pub and that’s how it came out.
TSD: Who sings those Hare Krishna chants on “Man Who Found God on the Moon”?
MM: The kids! My kids and they’re also on “A to Zee”, as they say in America, here it’s “A to Zed.” We recorded that for Sesame Street.
TSD: There are two tracks on the new set, “Let’s Turn the Radio On” and “Blowin’ in the Bay,” which I read were recorded at Apple. Was that for the McGear sessions or a separate project?
MM: No, that was later. After McGear, but it was the same premise of doing some demos. I asked Our Kid if the Apple Studio underneath – the Let It Be one, you know, with the rooftop gig – could still operate. He said, “Well, I won’t be on the roof now.” I said, “Why?” and he said, “Because if I were to be on that roof now, it goes straight through to the ground floor.” We went there to Savile Row and when he opened the door, I looked up and there’s the sky! They’d ripped it all out! But there, underneath, was the recording studio from Let It Be. It was going to be John Bonham from Led Zeppelin on drums but he couldn’t make it so Our Kid went on drums, like on “Band on the Run.” Johnny [Hitchinson] from Big Three on bass, Zoot [Money on keyboards], Neil Innes…and it’s just like it’s done in your front parlor. Lovely little harmonies. It reminds me of New Orleans or Ireland. You go to the pub, guitars come out, and you just sing! Another good summer single, like “Do Nothing All Day.”
TSD: One of the themes we’ve talked about is this idea of light and shade, contrast. I think there are so many different shades and styles – the epic, very produced tracks and the sort of Everly-inspired front-parlor intimacy. I really think this album has something for everybody.
MM: I’d agree, but the big test is when you put on [the bonus] tracks that aren’t Wings, that aren’t Our Kid or those top musicians. Whatever you put on has to be as good. So that’s what I love. Because, Billy Kinsley, who [co-produced] “All the Whales in the Ocean” and “I Just Want What You Got – Money!” I love that one, the music, the singing. It’s a lovely feel. “A to Zed” with the kids and the sax player on the end of that one is absolutely mental! Talk about going to the moon, he’ll be with Buzz Aldrin up there.
TSD: Mike, thank you for taking time out to speak with me, and great job on this collection. It’s one of my favorite reissues of the year so far, definitely one that I’ve been returning to. It’s been on repeat here and it’s going to continue getting lots of play.
TSD: And thank you for taking the effort to bring McGear back, because for listeners like me who are on the younger side, who can’t find it anywhere, it fills a void and there’s great music and amazing extras. It’s really special.
MM: Listen, kid, if the readers of The Second Disc like it, then that’s good for me!
The new deluxe reissue of McGear is available now at the following links: