Paul McCartney’s younger brother, Michael, had a front row seat during the early days of the Quarrymen and the Beatles. He also had the smarts and talent to pick up a camera and capture the musical magic and gritty energy of Liverpool in the early 1960s. Some of his photographs are well known, but in his new book, Mike McCartney’s Early Liverpool (Genesis), he shares images never before published. He also tracks his own music/arts career working with the likes of Roger McGough, Adrien Henri and Allen Ginsberg, and with his own band, the Scaffold. Richie Unterberger spoke with McCartney for PKM.
It’s November 1962, and Paul McCartney and John Lennon are hunched over their acoustic guitars in the small front room of the McCartney family home in Liverpool. John, unusually for his pre-1967 photographs, is wearing glasses. He needs them, since the pair are writing “I Saw Her Standing There,” working off lyrics Paul has scribbled in a school book. Capturing the moment for posterity is Mike McCartney, Paul’s younger brother, who’s often taken pictures of the Beatles in the years just prior to their rise to fame.
“If you turn that photograph upside down, you can actually see our kid’s school book,” Mike tells me in November, shortly before the publication of his Mike McCartney’s Early Liverpool book. “You can see on the top, what they’re rehearsing is ‘I Saw Her Standing There.’ You can see crossed out before ‘I Saw’…It was originally ‘She Saw Her Standing There,’ ‘You Saw Her Standing There,’ ‘He Saw Her Standing There.’ Whatever it was, it’s crossed out. None of us have ever known. I must ask our kid that.” “Our kid” being Paul, as Mike refers to him in our lengthy conversation, still using the Liverpool slang for siblings.
As Mike writes in the book, “Paul said this was one of the most important photographs I had ever taken because it showed him and John exactly as they were together. They used to form ideas, write them out, rehearse them and then play them with the band. It shows the camaraderie, the togetherness and the professionalism of what they did.”
As he elaborates in our interview, “My photographs are so personal to me. Each photograph, I want you to step in the room. In each one, you can step into the room and be there with what’s happening. That to me is the most important bit, if I can take you inside the Hope Hall”—a center for the Liverpool arts scene, where Mike would perform with poets and comedians, and form his own group, the Scaffold, with them—“or the Cavern, or our house. That’s a big test.”
Issued in a limited edition of 2,000 copies by Genesis Publications, the 275 or so pages feature many photos of the Beatles in the early 1960s with both the Pete Best and Ringo Starr lineups, as well as a couple color ones of the Quarrymen in 1958. There’s much more in the volume, however, including shots of visiting American rock ‘n’ roll stars Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent, Little Richard, and Chuck Berry; the Scaffold and other images of the non-music alternative poetry/theater scene that coalesced around the Hope Hall’s Everyman Theatre; and scenes of Liverpool at a time when it was a gritty, and often physically grimy, port lifting itself out of post-World War II austerity. There are also drawings by Mike, postcards, letters, and other ephemera from the period, much of it previously unpublished.
“I don’t want to just do a Beatle book, or just the old rock and roll thing,” he stresses. “‘Cause quite a few those have been seen anyway. But I want to show the other side of Liverpool. Because Liverpool at that time in the ‘60s, particularly the early ‘60s, was really happening, unique. It was all popping at the same time, on every front. Rock and roll, Merseybeat was just part of the scene. There was poetry going on, there was satirical comedy, folk singing, pop art. The whole city was buzzing on every level.”
The McCartney Family: The Early Years
Born in early 1944 about a year and a half after his older brother, Mike McCartney grew up with his family in modest circumstances as Liverpool entered the post-war era. By the time the boys were reaching their teenage years, the family was living in a small home at 20 Forthlin Road. By the 21st century, the home was owned by the National Trust, and small tours were available to visitors. I took the tour in 2003, and among the highlights were the vintage pictures on the front parlor walls taken by Mike McCartney, with audio headset commentary from Mike himself.
Particularly in some of the book’s earlier photos, the Liverpool landscape can seem grim. “My mum used to iron these lovely white linen hankies,” McCartney remembers. “You’d go out of the Liverpool Institute High School for Boys, into the schoolyard, playtime, and you’d just walk into death. You couldn’t see in front of you, it was so bad. This smog, you’d take your mum’s hankie out to blow it, and there is black snot. That’s what we were breathing normally. That’s why all the buildings, particularly the Liver building”—along the River Mersey waterfront, and one of the city’s chief landmarks—“were black. If you can do that to buildings, just imagine what it’s doing to our health. Unbelievable.”
If not poor, the McCartneys nonetheless weren’t raised with abundant comforts, particularly after their mother, who helped support the family as a midwife, died in 1956. In their high school years, they relied on their father’s income as a cotton salesman, which at ten pounds a week couldn’t stretch to cover even some basic comforts. Paul might have managed to acquire the basic musical equipment he needed, but a parlor chair fell into such disrepair that springs were popping out of the furniture. Paul even put his leg over a chair arm in one of the pictures to hide them, though their aunts later made, as Mike puts it, “covers to protect you from the springs ripping your clothes to shreds.”
Amidst these hardships, the sudden explosion of American rock’n’roll was not just entertainment, but salvation. “We came out, in Liverpool, of jazz,” he reflects. “It was called trad jazz. Oh god, I couldn’t stand it. It was all these English groups trying to emulate New Orleans jazz. I’ve been to New Orleans many times; the trad jazz there, it’s all authentic and very black and beautiful.
“But here, these session men-type white guys are trying to be New Orleans jazzmen. But they ruled. In the Cavern, there was no rock at all, just trad. It was just boring, those tappity-toe, tappity-toe drummer[s], and no soul in it. So when rock killed jazz, to me, it was the best bit ever.” Although, as he frankly acknowledges in the many captions he wrote for the book, if their mother had lived, “I very much doubt if we’d have been allowed to enter such dodgy showbiz…After Mum died Paul often used playing his guitar as a way of losing himself.”
Rock took over from jazz, in Liverpool and indeed throughout the United Kingdom, with the formation of groups by teenage rock fans—first to play skiffle, and then to play electric rock as they became able to afford the proper instruments. Foremost among them would be the Quarrymen, who by 1960 would evolve into the Beatles. Had things turned out differently, Mike might have been part of the Beatles, though he doesn’t seem to regret the path not taken.
Many years later, he “did a one-man tour of Great Britain called Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll—I Wish. In Bristol, this guy comes up, said he used to be in the Quarrymen. He said, ‘Oh, those were great days. We used to come to your house on Forthlin Road. You used to play drums for us.’ ‘Cause there was a drum kit that fell off the back of a lorry.
“I had forgotten that I played drums with the Quarrymen. But then our kid and I went to scout camp, and I broke my arm. My left arm was damaged, the tendons. My left hand was paralyzed, so I couldn’t use that for a couple of years. So Pete Best got the job.”
Not long after the Quarrymen added George Harrison to their lineup, McCartney took the first color photos of the group. Indeed, these are not only the first photos ever of brother Paul, John, and George playing together, but might be the first time they ever played together. “They were rehearsing in Auntie Jin’s front parlor,” says Mike, of an event dated March 8, 1958 in the book. “It was her cousin Ian’s wedding, I think, and they were doing a little jig for his wedding. So that’s why Dennis [Littler] is in. Dennis is Ian’s best friend. They are holding their guitars, looking for superstardom, desperately wanting superstardom. There is Dennis with his half of Guinness. They got their wishes.”
That photo has been reproduced in a few places over the years, but hardcore Beatlemaniacs will be surprised to see another color picture from the same event that’s never before been published. “This is when they’re rehearsing in the corner of the room. It’s got our kid on the floor, strumming a guitar and singing. It’s got George’s back to us. And then on the right, it’s got John playing his guitar. You know it’s George immediately ‘cause of his sticking out ears. I have the same ears. So I call that ‘George’s Back.’ I didn’t remember taking it, and certainly didn’t know where I’d put it.” Like a good number of the book’s rarer shots, Mike only found it in the process of assembling material for the book.
Rather like McCartney didn’t get an opportunity to follow Paul into the Quarrymen, he wasn’t able to follow John Lennon into the Liverpool College of Art, though he tried. “Him and [his girlfriend and later first wife] Cyn came round to our house. I was drawing on the table, and he said, ‘What are you up to?’ I said, ‘I’m trying to get into art college. And I’m having a problem. They’ve now introduced five GCEs.’ That was the exam we had to pass. I had passed one GCE, which would have got me into art college. But that year, suddenly you had to have five GCEs. I had one in art, So I had to have four more.
I said, ‘How did you get into art college with no GCE? And I can’t get into art college with one GCE.’ He picked up me paper, turned it over, and drew this little cartoon called the Bum Family, and did his own caption to it. And gave it back and said, ‘That’s how I got into art school, Michael.’” A reproduction of the cartoon will be included in the book.
“If you think that if I’d have gone to art college I would be an artistic genius, then I totally agree with you,” he jokes. More seriously, he adds, “Because a lot of my drawings are in the book for the first time. I never let anybody see those.”
Photographing the Beatles in Liverpool
It would be as a photographer, rather than a painter or drummer, that McCartney would make much of his mark. Although a few of the pictures in the book are in color, he worked mostly in black and white, color film being far more expensive. And he was better positioned than anyone to capture the Beatles on stage, backstage, and in rehearsal in Liverpool, as seen in many of the book’s spreads.
Plenty of Beatles pictures are in Mike McCartney’s Early Liverpool, some previously seen in other books of his and other publications, and quite a few not. Of course we see them onstage at the Cavern, but also at the Casbah Club, where they met Pete Best, and the June 1962 rehearsals for one of the two BBC radio sessions they did with Pete. Shortly after Ringo joins, we see them rehearsing without an audience with intense concentration at the Cavern, a tape recorder on hand to preserve their run-throughs. There’s a double exposure of Paul with Ian James, who Mike thinks taught Paul his first guitar chords. A tiny amplifier at a show at the Tower Ballroom [in New Brighton, just outside Liverpool] amplifies how much more primitive equipment was in the early 1960s, even as the Beatles firmly established themselves as the biggest band in Liverpool.
Yet there are also lots of shots of the Beatles offstage, or of their milieu, that tell us plenty about their early evolution. There are pictures of the murals Lennon and original Beatles bassist Stuart Sutcliffe painted at the Jacaranda club, when they were struggling art students in a group with few professional prospects. There are shots of Paul and other Beatles at his twenty-first birthday party, held in June 1963 at his Aunt Jin’s home, as well as one of Uncle Albert—the same guy named in one of Paul’s biggest post-Beatles hits. There’s George Harrison with his new Jaguar; as Mike notes in the book, “For a 20-year-old lad from Liverpool to own a car like that was unheard of at the time.” As a testament to Mike’s access, Lennon can be seen wearing his glasses in a number of pictures, though “whenever any photographers came—anybody actually—John, if it wasn’t family, would slip his glasses off into his pocket. And as soon they’d gone, he would slip them back on.”
Much later, at least in Beatle time, there’s a color shot of British pop star Sandie Shaw on the set of Help!, and Paul’s slightly disfigured face (resulting in a chipped tooth) after he’d fallen off a moped in 1965, which Mike took at his brother’s insistence. Among the ephemera is a handmade reproduction of a poster Mike drew for a Beatles gig at the Casbah—likely one of the first posters to bill them as “the Beatles,” after they’d changed from the Quarrymen to the Silver Beatles before shortening their name. And there’s a drawing Mike did of his brother on drums, though as he admits, “I can’t see him being particularly enamored with that, because of it’s sort of cartoony and out of proportion.”
I ask McCartney about one of the more unusual and surprising images, showing his leather-jacketed brother Paul in conversation with Long John Baldry at Liverpool’s Lime Street Station in a photo dated July 1962. That’s before either the Beatles or Baldry had records out, and Baldry, one of the first British R&B-blues-based singers, was based in London, not Liverpool. They could have been discussing their favorite new American records, since as Mike tells it, “The sailors would come back to Liverpool and we’d go down to the docks, the pubs down there. They would have been to New Orleans, to New York, etc. They would get the latest music, and we’d buy it off them. All the sailors knew that we liked this new music. Baldry used to do the same in the docks in the East End of London.” According to McCartney’s caption, Baldry would even come up to Liverpool by train to swap records with Paul that they’d bought in specialist import shops.
This sets Mike off on a particularly arcane record collecting memory. “We had this great idea, either me or our kid, or maybe both. Patience and Prudence”—he breaks off to sing a bit of the young sisters’ 1956 pop hit “Tonight You Belong to Me.”
“We’d got records like that, and”—he resumes with a laugh—“I can’t believe I’m saying this—45s, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, or Elvis maybe, steamed off our labels. We still had the record, but steamed the labels off, and then put them over Patience and Prudence, and sold ‘em. We were poor! We had to be resilient. I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone. Thought I’d get arrested.”
While this anecdote isn’t in the book, some seldom-circulated stories crop up in McCartney’s fairly extensive captions. His older brother, it turns out, wasn’t so keen on Bob Dylan when he first heard him. “Paul popped his head around the door and asked me who I was listening to,” Mike writes. “I told him it was this American folk singer that all the art students were listening to. I saw him make a mental note of the name and he declared, ‘It’s folk music crap!’ And with that he went to bed.”
Mike wasn’t just taking pictures because his brother was in a group. About sixty years later, he discusses their music with the intensity of a serious Beatles fan. Especially when they’d returned from long nights gigging in Hamburg, “me family and all the Beatle loyal fans in Liverpool just went, ‘Whoa! What happened?’ It was unbelievable. It was like a rocket had gone off, or a bomb had gone off, more like. The transformation, the tightness, the harmonies, and in their playing. Everything about them was, like, unbelievable. It was like, ‘Oh, okay, look out world!’”
What difference did Ringo Starr make? The ouster of Pete Best is sometimes ascribed as much to his personality not fitting in or jealousy of his good looks and popularity among fans as his musical ability. McCartney makes it clear that in his view, musicianship was the key factor. “He’s a good-looking lad, Pete. I think that’s why the fans were so annoyed, or particularly, obviously, Pete’s fans. Having such a good-looking lad, and going for Richy,” as many of Ringo’s friends and family called the man born Richard Starkey.
“Not that Richy isn’t an Elvis Presley lookalike,” Mike continues. “But to get rid of a good-looking James Dean for Richy…the fans didn’t like it. But the difference is the drumming. That guy showed you the difference, Richy. Pete was just good, solid, rock and roll drummer, whereas Richy invented.
“I came home, I’d seen Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, and I told our kid. I said, ‘Rory Storm and the Hurricanes have got a great drummer. He’s very inventive. He goes round the kit.’”
A good half-dozen or so years later, Mike’s high regard for Ringo’s talent was endorsed by an unlikely source. His group the Scaffold were finishing a stint at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London, where they shared the bill with Stan Getz. In Getz’s band was drummer Jack DeJohnette, soon to join Miles Davis’s group.
“Jack, when it came to his solo, would start on the drum and go to the stage, start playing the stage, then the walls,” says McCartney. “He’d end up in the audience playing the tables and their glasses with his drum sticks. So a very inventive drummer. He said, ‘Can you pass a message to Ringo from me? Just tell him I dig him.’
“People like that have such standards, such professionalism. If anybody says anything about Richy, sorry pal. He is rated as one of the greatest drummers in the whole world.”
Photographing Early American Rock’n’Roll Stars
As the British Beat Boom got underway in the early 1960s, some of the early US rock stars that had inspired youngsters to form groups in the first place toured the UK with increasing frequency. Sometimes they shared the bill with the up-and-coming Beatles, even before, and also shortly after, the Fab Four had their first British hits. Mike McCartney was well placed to photograph icons like Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, and Gene Vincent, when they might have passed their career peak in record sales, but were still electrifying live performers.
One of the book’s finest photos, if one that’s been published a fair number of times over the last few decades, shows Paul McCartney and John Lennon huddling with Gene Vincent at the Cavern in July 1962. Still a few months away from their “Love Me Do” debut and still with Pete Best in the band, the Beatles are also still in leather, as is Vincent. They’d made the transition to suits for at least some of their stage appearances at the behest of new manager Brian Epstein in early 1962. But the influence of Vincent, and Marlon Brando’s role as a biker in The Wild One, still lingered in their wardrobe well past the entry of Epstein into their affairs.
As the Cavern was a cramped and downright moist club that was literally underground, you had to really be committed to that fashion to play onstage for a few hours in leather gear. “Can you imagine playing the Cavern—and it sweated down there—in full leathers?,” marvels McCartney. “God! How they got out their clothes was pulling each other trousers off. It smoked.”
Backed by the British group Sounds Incorporated, Vincent shared the bill with the Beatles on July 1, 1962, and is seen in a few other images in the book that aren’t nearly as widely viewed as the aforementioned one with John and Paul. One is still the source of some embarrassment to Mike today, though he didn’t take the picture. He’s in the picture, doing a crude imitation of Hitler as he poses with Vincent. “Now this didn’t go down very well with anyone, I don’t think,” he acknowledges. “You can see Gene Vincent’s face looking at our kid saying, ‘What the — is this your brother?! This man is a lunatic.’ You can see it on his face. I apologized to Gene. I think I apologized to everyone in the room.”
Another with Vincent, however, is in contrast still the source of great amusement for him. “The picture is my brother on the left-hand side, holding a tambourine, you’ll just see it in his hand, trying to distract Bob Wooler, the Cavern DJ, who is talking intently to Gene Vincent about music, about whatever he’s showing him. Their backs are to us. John is saying to me, ‘Are you ready? No flash! No flash!’ When I clicked—he said ‘Go!’—he is goosing Gene Vincent, pretending to grab his butt. That is so Lennon.”
One of his favorite photos, however, is of another top early rocker who never shared a bill with the Beatles. “The Jerry Lee photograph is that lovely one that you’ll see in the book,” he says. “I’m at the Tower Ballroom and I wanted to try out my new flash. I’d taken some from the audience, then I thought, I’m too far away. So I sneak through this crowd and eventually at the end of the show, got all the kids to get on the stairs, and got on the stage as well. I took the picture.
“Years later in Birmingham, I showed Jerry Lee the book. [He] said, ‘Oh, fantastic. I love this picture here.’ There he is with his mouth open, singing. I said, ‘Well, to tell you the truth Jerry Lee—or can I call you Jerry—you’re not actually singing. All the kids are on the stage, and you’re getting pissed off. You’re actually saying, “Get these fucking kids off the stage or I ain’t going on.”’ Snap! ‘It looks like he’s singing, but you’re trying to get rid of us all.’ That’s even funnier.”
The Scaffold and the Liverpool Scene
Although McCartney was apprenticing as a ladies’ hairdresser around the time the Beatles became stars, he’d soon become a star himself as part of the Scaffold. Hooking up with local poets and comics Roger McGough, John Gorman, and (for a while at their outset) Adrian Henri, they combined satirical comedy with some music, though not the kind of Merseybeat for which the Beatles and many other Liverpool groups were renowned. On record, they emphasized the musical side of things, scoring a 1967 UK Top Ten hit with the Mike McCartney-penned “Thank U Very Much” and topping the British charts with “Lily the Pink” a year later.
In the Scaffold and various other projects, McCartney used the name Mike McGear, not wanting to ride the coattails of his brother’s now-world famous name. They had another close connection with the Beatles, if a short-lived one. “For a while, Brian Epstein managed us,” he notes in the book. “But because we weren’t a pop group he didn’t really know what to do with us.”
Paul did play a role, if a bit unwittingly, in “Thank U Very Much,” as did Mike’s photography. When Mike called to thank Paul for giving him a Nikon camera, as he writes in the book, “A tune popped into my head and I sang, ‘Thank you very much for the Nikon camera, thank you very much, thank you very, very much…’ That was how the Scaffold song ‘Thank U Very Much’ was born.”
Perhaps too idiosyncratically British to make a dent in the US market, the Scaffold would make the American charts just once, “Thank U Very Much” only reaching #69. Rock fans might find the 1968 album McGough & McGear, recorded by the duo without Gorman, more approachable, as it places a greater accent on catchy songs, with cameo appearances by Graham Nash, Jimi Hendrix, Dave Mason, ex-Yardbird Paul Samwell-Smith, and ex-Pretty Thing Viv Prince. Paul McCartney also pops up on the LP, as does his then-girlfriend Jane Asher. (The liner notes that I wrote for a CD reissue of the album, including material from my 2011 interview with Mike McCartney, can be viewed at http://www.richieunterberger.com/mcgear.html.)
Before their hits, the Scaffold even toured with the Yardbirds and Manfred Mann, who “were really looking forward to it because it was the first time they had performed in sketches with a comedy act,” writes McCartney in the book. “We would take the piss out of these famous pop stars and they would love it because they got to deliver some of the jokes.” Yardbirds singer Keith Relf shoots John Gorman with a water pistol in one of the book’s pictures, opposite a shot of Jeff Beck in action if you want something more straightforward.
The Scaffold don’t get nearly as much space in the book as the Beatles do, in part because Mike was too busy with the group to take as many photos as he had, and of course since McCartney couldn’t photograph the act himself. But he has a lot to say about the literary/theatrical scene that coalesced around Hope Hall’s Everyman Theatre, both in the book and in our interview.
“I was a ladies’ hairdresser, and one of the stylists got me to go the Hope Hall, which became the Everyman Theatre,” he recalls. “That was our world. It was after the war, and for the first time, our dreadful British class system of the haves and the have-nots was exposed. That’s why we got involved, Scaffold”—his group, originally called the Liverpool One Fat Lady Non-Electric Show. But, as he writes in the book, “No one could remember or pronounce it, so we changed it to the Scaffold.”
As he tells me in our interview, what the kind of poets and satirists you’d find at the Everyman Theatre “were doing for the first time was exposing the class system, exposing the politicians, exposing royalty, the injustice of it all. So we just thought, ‘wow, this is extraordinary. And we’re allowed to get away with it, to a certain extent.’ When we got into satirical comedy, started to do our own sketches, started to do our own shows, it went so far. We’d have people like Allen Ginsberg come over from New York, because his best mate was Adrian Henri in Liverpool. Looked remarkably like him, to tell you the truth.” When Ginsberg visited the city in 1965, he went as far as to dispense the oft-quoted anointment of Liverpool as “at the present moment, the center of consciousness of the human universe.”
When McCartney agreed to do the book with Genesis, he told the publisher, “‘I’ll do it, but I’ve got to get that side of it.’ Because that side was equal – we were all equal then. Because we all had no chance. We were going nowhere. All the show business tied up, all the politics. Everything was tied up.
“That’s why it was extraordinary. Because suddenly there were little gaps in the facade. And slowly we were getting behind the mask of what they were getting away with for centuries. Little snippets were getting in there, and threatening the politicians. Threatening society. Our kid and John used to walk up the hill to the Hope Hall to see what we were doing. You’d come across John’s art school on that street, and our kid’s school, the Liverpool Institute High School for Boys, adjoined that. So they were used to that area. We had our own little blues group, called Roadrunners, who are in the book.”
Yet this corner of the Liverpool scene has inevitably been overshadowed by the bigger phenomenon erupting down the city’s slope in the Cavern. “The only little problem wasn’t Merseybeat,” he points out. “Our kid and his group, who were the best of the Merseybeat…they were so good,” he laughs, “they actually had the force by god, by nature, by life itself, they were so big. They had to leave here, go down to London. Then they had to take on America, and they had to come to the world. Without having to; they just did.
“The sad aspect of it was they swamped, they drowned the other side of Liverpool. Because they were so good, and quite rightly. They were the best phenomenon ever to hit Liverpool and the world. But the little sad aspect of it was that the other side of it, the side I just told you about it, was wiped out.”
Mike McCartney, Then and Now
After the Scaffold’s heyday, McCartney—still using the name Mike McGear—put out some solo albums, brother Paul producing his 1974 album McGear. McGear, McGough, and Gorman also teamed up for a while with ex-Bonzo Dog Band mainstays Neil Innes and Viv Stanshall, as well as guitarist-singer Andy Roberts, for a couple Island LPs in 1973.
Mike McGear, Roger McGough and an All-Star cast-“So Much In Love”:
After the ‘70s, he focused on his photography, and would like to feature some of that work in other volumes. “After this lovely book, I’m gonna do a book called Mike McCartney’s People,” he says. “Can you imagine how many people I’ve photographed over the years? On every level; so many different people in different parts of life.”
His close connection with Paul McCartney, however, continues to draw attention, most recently in another book published in late 2021. The cover of the UK edition of the new, and huge, best-selling Paul McCartney: The Lyrics sports the vintage photo Mike took of his brother in the Forthlin Road garden that was used on the cover of Paul’s 2005 album Chaos and Creation in the Backyard. “He’s chosen that for the cover on this side of the pond. All the fans in America are complaining, saying, ‘We want Mike’s picture. And they’ve just given us a green blank cover.’ So they’re not very happy.”
Mike himself will be seen in The Beatles: Get Back, Peter Jackson’s much-anticipated documentary on the Beatles’ January 1969 sessions that resulted in the Let It Be album and film. It’s still three weeks away from broadcast when we speak, but he gives me a slight hint of what to expect. “It’s gonna be good,” he thinks. “The outtakes I’ve got tell you as it was. They show you the camaraderie, the quickness, the Liverpool sense of humor.”
It’s something of an accident that Mike got caught on film at all when Michael Lindsay-Hogg was directing the original Let It Be movie. “I bought this bright orange shiny leather jacket, and I simply wanted to show it to our kid and the boys,” he remembers. Going to Apple Studios as a recording session was in progress, “I slipped in, closed the door quietly, and just stood at the back, and enjoyed ‘Get Back,’ a smash hit.
“Then suddenly I realized there’s a track right down the middle of the studio. There’s a big movie camera on it, and it started to come down towards me. God, how ridiculous – this is gonna see me at the back standing here in me lovely leather jacket. I’ve gotta do something. There was a piano on the right-hand side there, and this track went to the side of the piano. So I thought, well, I’ll get behind that and they’ll think I’m playing the piano.
“And it started to keep going. All the Beatles are playing, Billy Preston is playing on his organ on the left-hand side, I’m on the right. I’m thinking, it’s getting very near my piano, which had its lid closed. It was all last minute. I thought, Jesus, I better pretend to play the closed-lid piano and look as though I’m part of the group. It went right past me, so I had to be serious, playing the piano.
“I’ve been telling people that story all my life. I’ve asked Apple many times, Mike Lindsay-Hogg, and no one’s even acknowledged it. And the next thing is our kid said, ‘Oh, you’re in this film.’ ‘Am I? Oh? I wonder if it’s my bit.’ Then Peter Jackson’s right-hand lady says, ‘I’ll send you a photograph.’ There is me at the piano in me leather jacket. So I can now prove I’m part of that track.”
Mike also might have played a part in the group revisiting a Lennon-McCartney composition from their very early days that ended up on the Let It Be LP. As featured in the dialogue reprinted in the companion book to The Beatles: Get Back, when the group first rehearsed “One After 909” on January 3, 1969, Paul told the other Beatles, “Our kid’s been saying you should do that for years, you know.” Responds Lennon, “Yeah, he always liked that, didn’t he?” Chimes in George, “I’ve always liked it.”
According to Mike, “I was at our kid’s house in London. It was around the corner from Abbey Road. He said, ‘Hey, we’re having a dead time in the studio. We can’t think of a bloody thing. Can you remember any songs from Forthlin Road?’ I said, one I used to love was”—and he breaks off into a scat through “One After 909.” After which, he continues, Paul told his bandmates, “Hey, our kid just remembered this ‘One After 909.’ Remember in Forthlin? They all picked up their guitars and went into it immediately.”
As much as Mike McCartney’s achieved on his own, he’s very much aware of how special his brother’s group was, and by association the photos featured in Mike McCartney’s Early Liverpool. “Our kid and John, it was always them that was the rock upon the success of that group,” he feels. “But then, Georgie came in and started developing his own style, his own songs, giving a very valuable other thing. With our kid and his mob, they were like a unit. That’s what their strength was.
“You listen to the Beatles’ stuff, and it is quite extraordinary. The togetherness of it, and the originality of it. It’s so old, and it still sounds fresh, and it’s original. I think that’s why they were so big, and are so big, and will be so big, I think, forever. Because it was just one of those unique extraordinary moments in time when god gave that magic.”