Saturday, 21 May 2016

Here There And All Over The Place

 Mick Francis reviews Philip Norman's 
new biography of Paul McCartney.
Philip Norman's new biography of Paul McCartney, The Life comes with 
“tacit approval” from McCartney. Basically he gave approval for 
Norman to interview many people in his life while he himself would not
 interfere or cooperate. So far, so good!
Firstly, I must say that, for me, there are some good qualities to the 
biography. I like the focused structure of the short chapters... 
The photos are nice and captioned accurately... The cover is also 
nice, but we all know that old saying... God, I must dig deeper.
There are a few interesting adventures in Paul's life which are 
now elaborated on with the aid of fresh interviews, such as 
the struggle to get the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts 
off the ground in the 1990s; Paul's place at the centre of the 
Summer of Love in '67; 
Maggie McGivern's many insights into life as Paul's
 secret girl... Interesting stuff. What is equally interesting 
is the author's 180 degree turn from previously bashing 
Paul since the 1970s. Now he apparently gets what the 'cute
 Beatles' was and is all about. Let's see...
I don't at all mind an author or critic not liking or 
appreciating everything that a musical legend has 
produced, as long as the writing 
is informed and does not come across as being hypocritical 
or insincere. One of many reasons why I continually 
recommend Howard Sounds' Fab 
biography of McCartney is that the author doesn't 
suck up to its subject, nor mask any dissatisfaction with 
some of Paul's weaker moments on and off record. 
But, you can tell that the writer is a full-on fan and 
a most curious one at that. It is also a well written and 
researched book.
Let's begin on page one of Paul McCartney: 
The Life, where Philip Norman recalls that in his 
youth, “My daily fantasy was to swap life with 
a Beatle. Paul was the most obviously good looking. 
John, for all his magnetism could never be 
called that, while George had good bone structure 
but unsightly teeth and Ringo was... Ringo.”
Was poor Philip the most grotesque looking kid 
in school? Was he told that he was ugly by the sweetheart of 
his dreams? We don't know. Sure, 
kids can be silly and shallow, but most of us develop 
beyond such trivia and fantasies as we grow. We get over it. 
What we do know is that Norman 
is just one year younger than McCartney, so he was
 harbouring these feelings when he was nineteen or twenty, 
not nine or ten.
One comment from Norman which I found particularly 
interesting, early on in the book, was this, which 
I gather refers to his totally imbalanced 
and ludicrous point of view in his 'Shout' bio of the 
Beatles, published in 1981 - “If I'm honest, all those
 years I'd spent wishing to be him had 
left me feeling in some obscure way that I needed 
to get my own back.” To me, that seems a rather peculiar 
and narcissistic trait which has seemingly done
 no service to Norman as an author, nor as a man. On the other 
hand, Paul, his subject, could put the writer's previous 
failings and insults aside to give a distant approval 
to him writing this 816 page biography.
I like factual books on the Beatles, so I, not surprisingly,
 love the Special Extended Edition of Mark Lewishon's 
Tune in. Philip Norman recently 
declared on a Beatles radio show (Something About 
the Beatles) that he had discovered Lewisohn, who had 
been a mere “office clerk” before he had been 
taken on board as a researcher for Norman's Shout 
biography of the Beatles. Norman, in his own words, 
had created a monster in Lewisohn, who went on 
to write books overloaded with factual information 
at the expense of telling a story. Is that a fact? 
Read Tune In (the extended edition) and you will 
discover the greatest story ever told, beautifully written, 
while enjoying a factual and meticulously researched 
account of history. The pupil became 
the master, by all evidence.
If you seek an accurate account and understanding 
of the Beatles' Irish roots, go to Tune In and steer clear 
of Norman's laughable, ignorant and safely 
brief account. Here is an example of how a ten year 
old might write and better present an essay on McCartney's
 Celtic roots. On page 25, Norman informs 
us that - “(the Scots and Irish) overlap in numerous 
ways, from their shared Gaelic language to their fondness 
for whiskey and the passion and sentimentality 
of their native music, which both make with the aid 
of bagpipes... One of the most controversial songs 
Paul ever wrote was 'Give Ireland Back to the Irish' – 
yet in truth his forebears were deprived of their 
homeland willingly enough.”
'Willingly enough'? I get the impression that Philip 
is too cool for school. He also appears to be either unaware or 
dismissive of a horrific famine which 
forced millions to flee to ports such as Liverpool and 
New York in utter desperation. Instead he mentions “Ireland's 
horrific poverty...” Thanks for the all
 too brief history lesson there, Philip. By the way, the 
Irish equivalent of bagpipes are uilleann pipes. For 
the simplest of history lessons regarding 
Ireland under British occupation, I would recommend
 listening to John's song, Luck of the Irish (the version 
without the Yoko parts, of course).
Let's stick with bagpipes for a moment. At the time 
when Mull of Kintyre was fast becoming Britain's 
best selling single in 1977 (knocking She Loves You 
off the top spot), Norman penned and published a wee 
verse in the Sunday Times which went so -
“Oh, deified Scouse with unmusical spouse
For the cliches and cloy you unload,
To the anodyne tune may they bury you soon
In the middle-most midst of the road.”
Did Paul and Linda happen to read that at the time? 
Probably. Now, in Norman's book, he has nothing 
but admiration for Paul for releasing a Scottish waltz 
with bagpipes during the height of the Punk scene 
in the charts. Now Norman gets it. I'm all for people 
finally seeing the light and realising that there 
was perhaps a lot of merit and balls and gifted talent 
to an artist, but I sense no sincerity in Norman's 
awakening what so ever. By the way, the song is 
not “based on only two chords.”
The 1970s, in particular, are littered with inaccuracies 
and old myths in the book. Norman has obviously not 
bothered to read or believe May Pang's account
 of her time with John, who was not at the Dakota 
when the ex-Beatles were due to sign the dissolution 
papers in the Plaza Hotel in '74 and Ringo wasn't
 even in New York at the time. There are examples in 
each and every chapter of lazy researching but what does 
the entire book more damage than that is the 
recurring evidence that Norman is not a curious author.
While Mark Lewisohn's presence in the pages of Tune
 In is minimal and warm when noticed, Norman's
 prose and smarmy voice is annoying and often baffling 
throughout the McCartney biography. Norman doesn't
 appear to like the song, Band on the Run, for instance. 
Fair enough, but - “The 'Sailor Sam' had 
evidently been left on the beach since Yellow 
Submarine.” What? Do better, please.
When seemingly everything in a life is described on the 
page as being ironic or odd, one wonders what a grasp 
of life experience the writer has had, aside 
from wanting to be the cutest Beatle when he was 
twenty years old. Oh the irony, that not everything about 
Paul's incredible life has been so ironic or odd.
These are just some personal peeves about the book, 
but what is even more frustrating is the sloppiness 
of the writing, editing and research. Solo albums 
are given incorrect years of release; “She” is printed 
as being “he”; there are at least a dozen typos... Am 
I being too picky for a book which is being 
billed as THE book on McCartney? Fuck, no. 
Norman claims to have had eleven expert researchers 
fact check this book meticulously. It is an impressive list 
of names, but they were either drunk or just didn't 
give a damn for nothing more than a pay cheque 
and a name check if they can't spot the most obvious 
of errors.
Were any of them at all familiar with the John song, 
'Now and Then'? It's an unfinished beauty from the late 
'70s which was given to Paul, George and Ringo 
to finish off for the Anthology in the '90s. Unfortunately 
they never got to complete it. George apparently didn't 
like the song. In Norman's book this song 
is titled 'Here and There'. Now and Then is Here and 
There. How fucking careless and lazy can an 
author, eleven paid Beatles experts and a publisher get? 
I mention such stupid and insulting mistakes to
 give an impression of the care and research which 
was not at all invested in this book.
It doesn't end there. Norman later describes 
McCartney's concerts in the U.S. in 2002, when 
Heather Mills was firmly in the picture - “Every night on the 
tour, Paul dedicated the song 'Heather' to her with 
its declaration of undying love, 'I could spend 
eternity inside your loving flame'.”
There is even a clue as to the correct title of the song
 in the lyric which is quoted by the author! The 
melodic joy in song, 'Heather' from Driving Rain 
has never, sadly, been performed live. 'Your Loving 
Flame' had been performed every night on that tour. 
This is nothing less than yet another example of 
utter carelessness by a sloppy author in a hurry 
to make amends with Paul fans while presenting us 
with a bouquet of plastic flowers wrapped in yellowed 
newsprint. Also, does the divorce from Heather really 
deserve eighty or so pages? Surely there are more
 interesting avenues down the rabbit holes to explore 
than how much money he has or has not accumulated
 from his own talents over the years.
So, the author doesn't manage to get the titles of songs 
right. He also misquotes lyrics from songs, but 
does he get the music? Let's take a look at the 
McCartney album from 1970 as an example - 
“There was a puzzling emphasis on guitar-led 
instrumentals whose underlying message 
seemed to be 'Anything George 
can do, I can do better.'” What is so puzzling about 
Paul playing guitar on a solo album? Had he not 
already proved himself to be a mighty fine guitarist 
on so many Beatles records? Does the same go for the 
“puzzling emphasis” of drums on the album? Was 
he attempting to outshine Ringo behind a kit, or simply 
enjoying playing? 'Maybe I'm Amazed' is described as 
- “A soaring ballad whose unspoken eroticism
 matched the best of Cole Porter.” What? It certainly is 
Some episodes are stale in their inaccuracy by now, 
such as the time George left the group during the Let it 
Be sessions in January '69. We are all 
familiar with the footage of Paul and George having a 
heated, almost head on collision in front of the cameras,
 so we might well assume that George left 
the group because of Paul's seemingly dominant attitude. 
But, for an author to accept that story, it displays laziness 
and a complete lack of research, 
when there is a much more revealing story to tell.
Even when the Beatles were not being filmed during 
those sessions, much of their conversation and 
rehearsals were recorded, and later brilliantly 
documented, day by day, take by take, in the book, 
Get Back – The Beatles' Let it Be Disaster, by Doug 
Sulpy and Ray Schweighardt. Paul and George are 
as much to blame as lazy writers are for the misconception 
that George left because of a falling out with Paul. They 
both said so in the Anthology, but
 I would imagine that they would rather have forgotten 
the details of the time. The details, recorded on tape, 
reveal that they had that particular 
conflict on January 6th 1969. Within an hour of that 
occurring they were merry on booze and singing Dylan songs. 
They both compromised and realised that 
they had hurt each other. They then united and had 
a go at John, their leader, who was suddenly not producing
 many new songs or communicating much at all. 
It was actually worse the following day. George's apathy
 toward the group in general was alarming and it is
 surprising that they even made it to January 
10th, when he finally walked out because of an 
argument with John.
George did feel bossed about by Paul, because their 
General had taken a hit. No pun on heroin use intended
 there, but Yoko was also speaking for John, 
while distracting him from his duties in the band, and 
that was too much, understandably, for George to accept. 
For me, that would be a more interesting 
and fresh read than the same old lazy story. That is a 
major issue with Norman's book. He doesn't bother to 
explore many rabbit holes. He just prances
 on by them, noting where they are and missing opportunities.
It may be of comfort to George fans to know that Norman 
does not plan to follow this trash with a bio of him next. 
George is (according to Norman) far 
too “grim and humourless” a character to write about in 
depth. Check out the bitter and bitchy obituary that
 he penned for George.
We can't blame Philip Norman alone for the factual 
error regarding George leaving the Beatles, which most 
likely won't be corrected in stone until Mark 
Lewisohn gets to (God willing) eventually complete his 
third of a trilogy of unique books. Perhaps Norman 
should have bothered to study “office clerk” 
Lewisohn's book, The Complete Recording Sessions, to 
discover if the session for You Know My Name (Look Up 
the Number) was in fact the last time that 
John and Paul ever had fun together in a studio.
There is a much less trivial moment in Norman's 
biography where he half laments the realisation that, 
after John's murder, Paul would have to live with 
the simplistic and false perception that John had been 
the experimental and deep one, while Paul would forever
 more be viewed to have been the safe and 
shallow one. “The guy who just booked the studio”, as 
Yoko would later put it. That ridiculous perception was
 due, in large part, to Philip Norman's 
Shout book from 1981, which, as I see it, sent Paul off 
on a decade or two of trying to justify himself and 
his artistic achievements in interview 
after interview, to the point that he felt the need to 
redress the perceived balance of creativity within the 
Beatles in the book, Many Years From Now.
Norman's latest account of Paul and his life does not 
read as being a sincere assessment of a most incredible
 life and career. I get the impression
 that the author is biting his tongue while numbly repenting
 for previous sins of ignorance. I remember well, watching
 Sky News in 1992 as Paul's 50th
 Birthday was being celebrated. Norman was on a panel of 
talking heads, remarking that Paul's Liverpool Oratorio 
classical work was rubbish and that, 
perhaps, to save face and all that, it would be an appropriate 
time for Paul to retire, with what little grace he still had
 left. This says a lot about 
the author's judgement and knowledge of his book's subject.
As recently as 2003, Norman had this to say in an 
open letter to Paul, published in the Daily Mail - 
“Recently, you refused a music industry lifetime 
award because you said it implied your career was 
over and you had nothing left to give to music. But
 hanging onto youth is only part of the reason why, 
despite all your colossal achievements, you continued to
 push yourself to such an extent, touring for months 
on end and pumping out records as well as 
writing classical symphonies, exhibiting your (not very good)
 paintings and publishing your (at best mediocre) 
poetry. It seems you cannot rest until 
you've persuaded us that our typecasting of The Beatle
all those years ago was so completely wrong; that you 
weren't just the 'nice' one while John 
Lennon was the arty and edgy one; that you can do 
anything John ever did, and still more.”
As I pointed out, the typecasting of John and Paul is in large 
part Norman's own fault. Another point to make in 
relation to Norman's opinions in the
 quote above, it that in his new biography, he praises and 
compares one of Paul's poems about the loss of Linda 
to the lyric of 'Yesterday', although 
he bites his tongue and passes no opinion on his paintings 
when they were finally exhibited.
So, it has taken the author 35 years to conveniently come round
 to the fact that Lennon was not ¾ of the Beatles. I found
 it to be in extremely bad 
taste that he would pull such nasty punches on Paul just after 
John's murder. They were cheap shots from a shitty writer 
out to make a quick buck and
 to mislead readers. He has made a career out of bashing Paul 
for decades while also turning Lennon fans against
 Paul and Paul's fans.

He still doesn't get it, no matter how hard he may try to
 convince the reader that he does. He may claim to be a 
fan but he displays himself to be 
more of a narcissistic and insincere child with deeper 
lingering issues than who might be the prettiest Beatle to 
become. He has become a jaded old 
man who seemingly doesn't care (along with his team of 
eleven fact checkers) for the difference between a 
fact and a fib-fest of sloppy errors, which
 gives just an iota of the regard which he has 
for his profession and his subject.
There is a most telling end to the book... Spoiler alert, 
as if you didn't see this coming. Norman gets to meet 
Paul backstage before a concert in 
Liverpool last May. Paul instantly remembers him 
and shakes his hand, before getting a vibe and wishing 
him well before moving on to greet others. 
Norman then watches the concert and... well...
“After three hours on my feet, I decide I've had 
enough and head for the exit. But inside the Echo Arena
 no one else is going anywhere. “You're not 
leaving are you?” Says the elderly security man who
 unbars a door for me. “He's still got another six songs to do.”
There are two main characters in this book. One is 
Paul McCartney and the other is Philip Norman. 
One you might like. One you may loath. Nice cover though!
You can listen to Mick's Radio show, Beatle bug radio show
Every Wednesday from 4-5pm (GMT) at 


  1. This is a truly brilliant edition of this blog! I really enjoyed reading it. Great stuff indeed!!!

  2. Great review Mick! I respect your opinion so you've helped me make up my mind whether or not to read this.