Daily Mail 23.6.18
When Paul McCartney was a teenage boy dreaming of greatness he would sit on the loo in his father’s council house on a Liverpool estate, play his guitar and sing. With that slight bathroom echo of lino and tiles, the room had the best acoustic in the house. From an early age he realised that if you were going to be a star you had to have that touch of echo.
We know this because he’s just told us in a short film covering his first return to his teenage home for James Corden’s Late Late Show on television. It’s an honest, unabashed reflection. Paul McCartney knows better than anyone how his childhood helped make him the most famous singer-songwriter in the world.
Now owned and managed by the National Trust, Number 20, Forthlin Road, Allerton, is a very small, but good, solid home for the aspirant young family Jim and Mary McCartney were rearing in the early Fifties. In a post-war era of great optimism they’d been thrilled to get this house, a step forward compounded when Paul and his younger brother, Michael, both passed the scholarship to go to the Liverpool Institute.
Ambition, hard work and respectability were the cornerstones of that family. ‘God loves a tryer,’ Jim McCartney would say. Music was always there, too, and a piano, bought on the never-never, from a shop owned by the father of Brian Epstein, the man who would one day become the Beatles’ manager, had pride of place in the little sitting room.
Jim McCartney, having played in a jazz band before his marriage, was keen to encourage his elder son to follow in his footsteps, so Paul was sent for piano lessons. But Paul gave up when he bored of playing scales. He still professes not to be able to read music.
A trumpet as a birthday present was the next inducement. But that was quickly returned to the shop and exchanged for a guitar, when Paul realised that he could hardly play trumpet and sing at the same time. And he liked singing – to the extent that he was in the St Barnabas Church Choir.
And then Mary McCartney died from breast cancer and Jim was left to bring up his sons as a single father. Paul was 14. No-one who loses a mother in childhood comes away unscathed. Paul has always felt that grief led him to spend more and more time playing his guitar. Years later when the Beatles were falling out among themselves he had a dream about her in which she told him that things were going to be all right. That, as he tells James Corden led him to write the song Let It Be.
He didn’t know it, but the building blocks of his future were taking shape all around him when, by astonishing serendipity, a year later he met John Lennon. Not only did the two live only a mile or so from each other, soon they would become neighbours in education, John attending Liverpool College of Art, which just happened to be next door to Paul’s grammar school.
Soon they were both missing classes in the afternoons to practise playing their guitars and writing songs together. Jim McCartney may have worried and had his reservations about ‘that John Lennon…he’ll lead you into trouble, son,’ but Paul and John shared an obsession –rock and roll music.
Eating toast and drinking tea in that little house in Forthlin Road they finessed all the Beatles’ early hits from Love Me Do to She Loves You – Paul’s father’s comments on the latter being, ‘Why does it have to be “She Love You, yeah, yeah, yeah”. Why can’t it be “She loves you, yes, yes, yes”.’ He didn’t like all the Americanisms. It wouldn’t, the two Beatles agreed, have been the same without them.
When fame fully arrived for the Beatles in 1963, Paul moved out of Forthlin Road, but Liverpool travelled with him in his eyes and in his ears, most memorably resurfacing in the song Penny Lane – about a once a famous Liverpool tram terminus.
There, ‘beneath memories of blue suburban skies’, is the ‘shelter in the middle of the roundabout’ where a pretty nurse was ‘selling poppies from a tray’, while further on was the barber whose shop window showed photographs of ‘every head he’s had the pleasure to know’.
There were more. When I’m Sixty Four was an old tune Paul wrote when he was still living at home and playing in the Cavern Club, given new lyrics and fame in 1967 when his father reached that age. While Eleanor Rigby, the story of a spinster and a lonely priest is permeated with a sense of Liverpool Catholicism that he and John would have both observed, growing up in a time when there were very many spinsters as a result of the carnage of Wolrd War 1
Paul left Liverpool to make London base but he never forgot it, still owning a house on Merseyside, while the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts was created partly at his instigation and funding in the building that had housed his old school, The Liverpool Institute.
To some extent we are all held captive by our childhoods. Paul McCartney made sure he, and we, never escaped his, by putting so many memories into song.