Adrian Allan is The Beatle fan. I say The Beatle, because in many ways Paul McCartney was The Beatles. For it was McCartney who instilled Pete Best on drums, just as the Liverpool hopefuls set sail for Hamburg. For it was McCartney who convinced his bandmates and management that an album based on music hall tradition would liberate their more creative spirits (and Sgt.Peppers is definitely creative, and often spirited). And it was McCartney who, after spending years coaxing guitarists John Lennon & George Harrison back to performing to the Beatle buying public, took the plunge into creating a follow up band.
He was the star, but Wings had many other frontmen (or frontwomen, as per Linda’s presence) who performed in the spotlight. Drummer Denny Seiwell brought a professional polish to Wild Life, having worked with McCartney on the excellent Ram album-not forgetting guitarist Denny Laine, who had sung the probing “Go Now” in the 60s with The Moody Blues, and lead guitarist Henry McCullough, a proud Ulsterman firing through the aptly titled “Give Ireland Back To The Irish” with wild, wilful abandon. Any one member of Wings (yes, even Linda) could have fronted a seventies rock band for themselves.
But any band following The Beatles (particularly one fronted by a Beatle) was put under greater scrutiny to their sixties predecessors, and the first line-up split just before the brink of global success. Undeterred by the absence of Seiwell and McCullough, Laine joined the McCartney’s in Lagos to record the feisty Band On The Run, a seismic pop record that still stands up with the most seminal of the seventies.
For all their doey eyed posturing, Wings became immensely popular, particularly in the States where Wings recorded the triumphant Wings over America triple album in 1976. McCartney- who lent lounge ballads “Listen To What The Man Said” and “Silly Love Songs” a comical falsetto, as well as his thunderous bass patterns- proved a stellar frontman, not least when he backed Joe English’s finessed, funk tinted back beat. Complete with a four piece brass section, this iteration proved Wings’ most successful, and the shows they played may in fact be the greatest Paul has ever performed (I doubt he’ll ever beat Wings over America for raw excitement.)
In the wake of punk, McCartney valiantly attempted to reinvent Wings for a third time, and thought the experiment did produce some fruitful work, no one (perhaps not even the singer himself) would rate Back To The Egg with anything more than a generous three stars. Wisely, McCartney recognised the failings, and left Wings among the many relics people fondly remember the seventies for.
And it’s all here in Adrian Allan’s Wings Live, an all encompassing look at the band that brought Paul McCartney from the ashes of The Beatles to the stages of the seventies counterculture. It is to Allan’s great credit that the work complements and enhances the McCartney library rather than revert to a stage routine older than the bassist himself. Laurence Juber- who New Sounds readers will recognise from the flamenco interpolations that open the bouncy ”Goodnight Tonight”- pops around for an interview: “’I’m not surprised because it’s part of the continuum of Paul as an artist,” he points, acknowledging the place McCartney still holds in the world’s heart; “..What does surprise me, however, is the number of musicians that I encounter for whom Back to the Egg was their introduction to Paul McCartney – and through that, their introduction to The Beatles.
McCartney continues to flower to this day (2005’s Chaos and Creation In The Backyard and 2020’s McCartney III showcase an aptitude uncommonly musical for a man in his Autumnal years), but Allan wisely ends the book on the other members. Nested in the shadow of great glory, each of them kept themselves busy in the years to come: Henry McCullough released an album on George Harrison’s Dark Horse label; Joe English released several albums on the Christian Rock circuit; while Denny’s Laine and Seiwell can still be found performing at Beatle events. Juber has joined them on occasion, but he recognises their place as torchbearers of a movement. “.. Paul’s always said he’d never do Wings again without Linda, ” he notes. “When he does Wings songs in concert, it’s lovely to hear those songs but you don’t get that Linda-Denny vocal that was very much a part of the texture of those hit records.”