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Paul McCartney: The Beatle Who Grew Wings And Ditched Meat

Icons | June 19, 2019

Left: Promotional still from 'The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years (2016). Right: McCartney and wife Linda McCartney from Wings backstage at Newcastle City Hall in England, 1973. Sources: (IMDB; Ian Dickson/Redferns)

Whether he’s the cute one, the vegetarian one, the Wings bandleader or just the bass player, Beatle Paul McCartney will always hold a place in our hearts as one of the members of the Fab Four. But there’s so much more to this laid back lad from Liverpool than his work with The Beatles. For most of his life, Paul McCartney has been creating unique art with a singular pop sensibility that’s still influencing musicians.

With a bevy of accolades under his belt, he’s a knight and a two-time inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, there’s not much that Sir Paul McCartney hasn’t done. 

Here Comes The Sun

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Born in Liverpool, England on June 18, 1942, James Paul McCartney was a bright young man who loved music - especially the trumpet. Jazz wasn’t McCartney’s calling, he wanted to play rock and roll. McCartney didn’t want to turn up his nose at the gift, but it wasn’t long before the trumpet was gone and he was strumming a guitar every night. McCartney explained:

I persevered with the trumpet for a while. I learnt 'The Saints', which I can still play in C. I learnt my C scale, and a couple of things. Then I realized that I wasn't going to be able to sing with this thing stuck in my mouth, so I asked my dad if he'd mind if I swapped it for a guitar, which also fascinated me. He didn't, and I traded my trumpet in for an acoustic guitar, a Zenith, which I still have.

McCartney’s Melodic Ear

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As a self-taught musician, McCartney played more by feel than technical acumen. Even later in life when his musical focus shifted to musique concrète, ballet, and electronica, McCartney’s emotional connection to his music was apparent. He’s naturally drawn to melody in a way that leveled out many of the avant-garde tendencies of his Beatles band members.

McCartney has said that he thinks of his musicianship as akin to “primitive cave artists, who drew without training.” Even if his musical work is primitive, his fluid, melodic approach to songwriting has crafted some of the most memorable pop songs of the 20th century. 

Doing Time With McCartney And The Beatles In Hamburg

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In the late ‘50s, McCartney started jamming on skiffle tunes with his mate John Lennon at the St Peter's Church Hall fête in Woolton. Before long the two were playing in a group called The Quarrymen, which featured McCartney on rhythm guitar, George Harrison on lead, Stuart Sutcliffe on bass, and drummer Pete Best. The quintet changed their name to “The Beetles” before changing it to “The Beatles” and taking off for a series of residencies in Hamburg, Germany.

During the group’s time in Hamburg, McCartney took over as bass player after Sutcliffe left to pursue art school in Germany, and it was then that he started playing a Höfner President 500/5, before buying a left-handed Höfner 500/1 - his classic Violin guitar. McCartney later commented on his time in Hamburg, saying:

Hamburg was certainly a great childhood memory. But I think all things are enhanced by time. It was very exciting, though I think it felt better to me a little later in our career, once we'd started to get a bit of success with the records.

He Pushed To Keep The Beatles Together

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It’s impossible to jam the entire career and musical importance of Paul McCartney’s work with The Beatles into a few words – in his time with the group he went from being their reluctant bassist to the leading melodic force. He lent his melodic sensibilities to the group’s more chaotic tracks, but that doesn’t mean he was afraid of experimenting.

By the end of the group, McCartney was the guy who was pushing for the band to get back into performing live, something that the rest of the members were less excited about. The band took over the Twickenham Film Studios where they filmed their rehearsals for the “Get Back” sessions that would turn into “Let It Be.” Producer George Martin saw that these get together were pulling the group apart, and he noted that McCartney’s need for the band to perform again played a part in turning the other members off. He said, “Paul would be rather over bossy, which the other boys would dislike. But it was the only way of getting together … It was just a general disintegration.”

McCartney Takes Wings On The Run

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Following the dissolution of The Beatles, McCartney didn’t wait around for inspiration to strike. Between 1970 and 1973 he released five albums, two as solo records and three with his group Wings. As the ‘70s progressed Wings became McCartney’s main jam, releasing seven albums and scoring massive hits with songs like “Band on the Run,” “Jet,” and “Live and Let Die” for the 007 film of the same name.

Unlike The Beatles, Wings was somewhat of a family affair. The band featured McCartney’s wife Linda as vocalist and keyboard player and Denny Lane, McCartney’s longtime friend, and bass player for the Moody Blues. This nucleus served as the group’s core songwriters for its entirety and only disbanded when McCartney stopped touring in the wake of John Lennon’s murder. 

Lambs Convinced Him To Stop Eating Meat

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After witnessing lambs playing in a field while he and his wife Linda were actually eating lamb in 1975 McCartney decided to cut meat out entirely. In 2007 he said that he and Linda took on vegetarianism “because we like animals, it’s an ethical thing, not really about health.” He quickly became animal rights activists in the late ‘70s and continued stumping for his pet cause well into the 2000s.

In 2009 he and his daughter Mary created the “Meat Free Monday” campaign which asks families to cut out meat once a week in order to stave off global warming. 

Baby You Can Buy His Art 

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One of the many ways in which McCartney kept busy in the interim between the end of Wings and the beginning of his highly successful return to touring was a dalliance in painting. He first started painting in 1983 and mostly kept his work to himself. However, in 1999 he had a 70-painting show in Siegen, Germany that showed off his skill at portraiture.

In September 2000, McCartney’s work premiered in the UK for the first time at the Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol, England and a month later he held an art debut in Liverpool. McCartney discussed his Liverpool exhibition, saying:

I've been offered an exhibition of my paintings at the Walker Art Gallery… where John and I used to spend many a pleasant afternoon. So I'm really excited about it. I didn't tell anybody I painted for 15 years but now I'm out of the closet.

His Live Shows Are A Trip Through His Personal History

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After he stopped touring following the death of John Lennon it was unclear if he’d play live again in a major touring capacity. Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, he played a lot of one-offs and even performed at the benefit show “Concert for Linda” at the Royal Albert Hall in 1999 while he experimented with classical music.

In the early 2000s, McCartney got back on the horse and put together a touring band with whom he’s still performing with today and reportedly making something like $2 million a night whenever he tours. His live shows definitely have a little something for everyone, with Beatles hits and deep cuts sitting alongside covers and songs from his solo career. 

Tags: Linda McCartney | Paul McCartney | Rare Facts And Stories About History | The Beatles | Then And Now | Vegetarians | What Did He Do?... | Wings

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Jacob Shelton


Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.