Sir Paul McCartney may not know how to read or write music but it's a life lesson which has made him one of the greatest musicians of all time. The former Beatle tells tabloid! he has a few surprises up his sleeve for his Abu Dhabi F1 gig on Sunday
Fact: Sir Paul McCartney can't read or write music.
Not something he's ashamed of and probably rightly so, as even without traditional notation skills under his belt he's proved himself one of the greatest musicians of all time.
"I'm just a kid from Liverpool," he said humbly. And I can now vouch for him.
Forget the 60 gold discs, 100 million single record sales in the UK, 31 No 1 hits in the US and a listing in Guinness World Records as the "most successful musician and composer in popular music history", Sir Paul still is that same kid.
"I'd complain," he said when the topic of his recent wedding reception, which hit the headlines thanks to moaning neighbours, came up. "If you're in a street and there's a party going on until 3am there's going be some neighbour three streets away who'll get annoyed. I would."
McCartney married New Yorker Nancy Shevell in a civil ceremony at Old Marylebone Town Hall, London, last month. A far cry from the usual celebrity wedding, the "do" was "low-key affair" and very "Liverpool lad".
"It was really good, brilliant," he said. "Very relaxed, very nice. Loads of family and friends."
Rather than fork out for a DJ, McCartney roped in his two grandsons to provide the music and wrote his own first dance wedding song.
"It's a song I've just recorded which is going to be on a forthcoming album," he said before checking with publicist Stuball (as he fondly refers to him) whether he can disclose the info. "I wrote it for Nancy and it was our first dance. I'd checked it out with her. I mean you don't wanna throw it out and then she's like "no, I'm not dancing to that" but it was good actually.
"Two of my grandsons were doing the music and I asked the eldest one to announce it and he did a big "ladies and gentlemen" it was really cool. We had a brilliant do and I'm probably still paying for it," he laughed. "In the sense I'm still recovering," he quickly jumped to clarify. "Probably in all senses actually."
McCartney, one of the UK's wealthiest people, with an estimated fortune of £475 million (Dh2.8 billion), has composed film scores, classical and electronic music, released a large catalogue of songs as a solo artist, and has taken part in projects to help international charities.
And all without so much of a mention of a quaver or crochet.
"I took music lessons as a kid but it was all like [breaking into song] "da, di, da, di, da, da, di, da, dah — oh no, da, di, dah, di, dah, da, di, da, dah — this is boring" I couldn't stand it so there was no hint I was going to like music. But rock and roll came along and I just loved it. I got in a group, which became The Beatles, and it was something which just became a passion, you know?"
McCartney's biggest wake-up call came just this year when he worked on his ballet score for the New York. City Ballet. After meeting the company's ballet master-in-chief, Peter Martins, McCartney agreed to write the score.
"The orchestra would look at me like I was crazy," he said. "If they asked a technical question I didn't have a clue."
The former Beatle has worked on a number of classical works including Liverpool Oratorio, but Ocean's Kingdom was his first stab at ballet.
"I like to do that. Life can get a bit boring if you just keep doing the same thing all the time. I just said yes. Then I suddenly thought what have I bitten off here. I mean I still can't read or write music. But I did it. And it was brilliant. It's just a bigger group of people really," he said before launching into a speech about the unity of choir groups.
"The thing I love about the choir is that you can have a gynaecologist standing next to a plumber. It's a real mix of people with the one common denominator that they all sing well. You can't ask for more than that."
McCartney enjoyed his first collaboration with daughter and fashion designer Stella for this project, who worked with Martins to create the costumes. "I was a little bit worried about that because it can get a little bit sticky," he said, with a nervous laugh. "If you're just working with anyone they can say ‘no I don't like that idea' and you can say ‘no I don't like that idea' but when it's your family you say ‘well I'm your Dad, so tough.' We didn't have any disagreements. What she was doing was so different to my end and it was a lot of fun. Surprisingly I really enjoyed it."
From Blackbird to Black Swan, McCartney says he found himself so far from his usual comfort zone he needed a map to find his way back.
"It's lovely to step outside your comfort zone. I like that," he said. "Because then when you step back in it feels better."
Both feet firmly back in the land of live rock n' roll, McCartney has been touring North and South America with his On the Run show. While he may have "been that way" before, the 69-year-old says he can't wait to come to Abu Dhabi but was giving away no secrets about the set list.
"There's so much social networking the minute I get on stage everyone's gonna know what I'm doing so I'm always a bit cagey," he said trying to ignore my disappointment. "I normally don't tell people. You need to keep an element of surprise. Plus, I'm not exactly sure to be fair." He did, however, promise a few surprises, adding "love to you and to all your readers."
McCartney claims not to have the answers to many of the musical questions he's asked in fact, to almost anything he's asked.
Instead, he says it's all about living life truthfully and wearing your heart on your sleeve. He may not have studied music through college, university and have certificates to prove his instrumental skills but it's a life lesson which has served him well.
"You write it from your heart and you get lucky," he said simply. "Music is something I believed in. I suppose if it lasts it's because it was something that really thrilled me and hopefully that thrill communicates itself. It doesn't always come easy. I've learned to just leave it alone when that's not happening. Go for a ride on my bike. But when you are in the mood," he said before a long pause, "listen to your heart because it always listens back."
A letter from paul
The Fab Four: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr. It could have all been so different.
"A drummer put an advert in the Liverpool Echo and I answered him," said a sprightly Sir Paul McCartney. "If you're a drummer we can give you an audition but you'll have to be prepared to come to Hamburg rather suddenly," he said, continuing the story of his 1960 search for a percussionist.
"He never showed up."
Somewhere, a drummer must be kicking himself — probably the reason his identity remains unknown.
McCartney wrote the letter two years before the band dropped drummer Pete Best in favour of Ringo Starr, who arrived just in time to help the Beatles conquer first England and then the world, earning their millions along the way.
"Someone found the letter I wrote to the person who placed the ad. I wrote what we could pay, but just never heard anything."
The newly discovered letter was found folded in a book at a Liverpool yard sale and is now due to be auctioned by Christie's on November 15, with estimates of it fetching anything up to $11,000 (Dh40,000). "Expenses paid £18 per week (approx) for two months," McCartney wrote by hand. "If interested ring Jacaranda club."
The letter is signed, "Yours sincerely, Paul McCartney of the Beatles."
"Things could have been different but that's the beauty of life," said McCartney, laughing.
McCartney, who was then playing guitar in the band while the late Stuart Sutcliffe handled bass guitar, offered the drummer an audition with the caveat that if he joins the band he must be ready to travel almost immediately to Hamburg.
The letter was discovered by a man from Liverpool who has asked to remain anonymous.
During a visit to a Motown recording studio, Sir Paul McCartney wanted to run his fingers along an 1877 Steinway grand piano played by music greats he considers idols.
"We did a gig in Detroit— home of Motown — we went down to the Motown Museum and to me it was the Holy Grail. Going to all these places where Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and Stevie Wonder, all my heroes from the early days had made all these records.
"I went over to the piano in the main studio and the lady said it's unplayable, going downhill. I said ‘Are you getting it fixed' and she said ‘No'. I said ‘Well we can't have that', so we hatched a plan.
"I got in touch with Steinway in New York and between us we are paying for it to be reconditioned so we'll be able to play this great piano. I just thought it was a bit sad that this great iconic piano, which has had this fantastic music played on it, will not ever been played again.
"I am looking forward to going and having a little play on. I doubt I'll get there first — Stevie will be there first."
The piano has been picked up from the Detroit museum and shipped to Steinway & Sons in New York for restoration where work is expected to take up to five months.