Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Be Like That Nice Beatle--Get Mad and Write a Song

Paul McCartney had left the Fab Four and started Wings in early 1972, but everyone still thought of him as that Nice Beatle.

Affable Paul McCartney was always the nice Beatle, the one with the boyish smile and easy disposition.  Not much into politics or causes.  That was John’s thing.  One of the most gifted and prolific song writers of all time, he specialized in catchy melodies and memorable hooks.  His lyrics were simple and straightforward.  The deep stuff, well, that was mostly John, too.  As he would put it in the song for his new band Wings, “Some people wanna fill the world with silly love songs.  And what’s wrong with that?”
But on January 30, 1972 Paul got mad.  Really mad.  Mad enough to write a song.
That morning he heard shocking news from Belfast, Northern Island.  Members of a unit of elite paratroopers had opened fire on unarmed and peaceful demonstration against detention without trial.  13 were killed outright and dozens wounded.
Authorities had decided to allow the march within Catholic Derry but to prevent it from entering Guildhall Square.  The First Battalion of the Parachute Regiment (1 Para) was sent to the scene with specific orders to block the march at that point with force, if necessary.
Leaders decided not to challenge the troops, diverting the main march to Free Derry Corner, where they were assured they would be safe from attack.  A small number of local youths, however, broke from the main march and continued to Guildhall Square, pelting an Army Barracks with stones and taunting troops. Water cannon, tear gas, and rubber bullets were deployed, but two rioters were shot and wounded by live ammunition.
At 4 PM, responding to unfounded rumors of an IRA sniper, the Paras were ordered to enter the Bogside district where the peaceful marchers were still assembled. An order was given to fire live rounds.  17 year old Jackie Duddy was shot next to a Roman Catholic Priest as both fled from the troops.  Orders were given to continue to pursue demonstrators at the edge of Free Derry Square. 

An image that shocked the world and enraged Paul McCartney--a Priest waved a bloody handkerchief as a white flag while onlookers try to rush a mortally wounded young man to safety under the fire of elite British Paratroopers.

Troops opened up with indiscriminate fire and continued to shoot even after receiving direct orders to stop.  Twelve more, all unarmed, were killed while fleeing or while attempting to aid those who had fallen.  At least one was shot and killed while waving a white handkerchief and going to the aid of a fallen boy.  Another was shot and injured then executed by a close range shot to the head as he pleaded that he had lost feeling in his legs.  14 others were shot, one of whom, shot at some distance from the main action and not even involved, died months later.  Two demonstrators were run over and seriously maimed by armored personnel carriers. No British soldier was wounded by gunfire or reported any injuries.
Bloody Sunday, as it came to be known changed everything.  Any chance at peaceful change through non-violent protest was out the window.  Radicalized youth flocked to the militant Provisional IRA (Provos) who stepped up their own military campaign against the Army.
Of course that day McCartney didn’t know all of the details.  But he did know that many young men, a lot of them with shaggy dark hair, shod in Beatle boots, and wearing thin coats styled after the now passé—in BritainMod look that the Fab Four had popularized, could have been him.
Like so many Liverpudlians, McCartney was of Irish descent.  His mother was an Irish Catholic, his father a lapsed Protestant.  While baptized Catholic, he was sent to secular schools, not parochial ones, and brought up in a household in which religion played a minor role.  But he knew that no matter how deep his family’s roots in England might be, he would always be a bog hopper to many.
After watching BBC coverage of the event, an angry, passionate McCartney set down and in less than two hours banged out the lyrics and picked out a tune on the piano.  His wife, Linda, was by his side.  He would share writing credit for the song with her.  It was the same arrangement he had with his former writing partner, John Lennon.  And just as some Lennon and McCartney songs were totally his own work, so was the song he called Give Ireland Back to the Irish.

Wings at the recording session--Henry McCullough, Denny Laine, McCartney, Linda McCartney, and Denny Seiwell.  It was Irish guitarist McCollough's first recording session with the band.  After the song was released his brother was beaten in Belfast by a Protestarnt para-military gang in retribution.

That night he called his mates in his new band Wings to meet him at Island Studios in London’s Notting Hill on February 1, in just two days.  For Irish guitarist Henry McCullough it was his first recording session with the band.  With his usual meticulous attention to detail, McCartney arranged to have a crew on hand to film and document the band as it learned and rehearsed the song.  In a little more than two hours, two tracks were laid downvocal and an instrumental versions of the song.
McCartney was adamant about rushing the record to release as a single.  When word of his plans reached the ears of executives at his record label, all hell broke loose.  McCartney would later recall:
From our point of view it was the first time people questioned what we were doing in Ireland. It was so shocking. I wrote Give Ireland Back to the Irish, we recorded it and I was promptly phoned by the Chairman of EMI [Wings’ record label], Sir Joseph Lockwood, explaining that they wouldn’t release it. He thought it was too inflammatory. I told him that I felt strongly about it and they had to release it. He said, “Well it’ll be banned”, and of course it was. I knew Give Ireland Back to the Irish wasn’t an easy route, but it just seemed to me to be the time. All of us in Wings felt the same about it. But Henry McCullough’s brother who lived in Northern Ireland was beaten up because of it. The thugs found out that Henry was in Wings.
Lockwood, of course, could not afford to alienate his label biggest asset.  The records were pressed and shipped, complete with provocative shamrocks adorning the yellow label.  The single was released with the vocal version on the A side and the instrumental on the B on February 25 in the United Kingdom and Ireland and three days later in the US.  

Paul shared credit with his wife Linda who was with him during the intense writing session, but the melody and lyrics were all his.  To make the single, which was rushed to release over the anguished objection of his EMI label, even more provocative, McCartney had the platter festooned with defiant shamrocks.

As predicted it was banned.  Every effort was made to suppress any knowledge of it. It was banned by the BBC, Radio Luxembourg and the Independent Television Authority. On the BBC Radio 1 hit parade show Pick of the Pops, Alan Freeman had to refer to it as “a record by the group Wings.” McCartney and Wings were denounced in thundering newspaper editorials and in the House of Commons.  McCartney, the former darling of the press, was suddenly a pariah, at least among the Tory establishment and many “patriotic” ordinary Britons.
McCartney told friends, “I’ll never be a knight now.”  He was eventually knighted by Queen Elizabeth more than two decades later in 1995 after many lesser pop musicians were elevated ahead of him.  Even then there was a minor furor among Tories at the honor.

Long after one of the men responsible for significantly boosting the whole damn British Gross National Product to say nothing of his artistic achievements, McCartney was finally knighted in 1995, but it was still so controversial that Buckingham Palace did not release the customary photo of him being dubbed by the Queen.  He had to be satisfied with showing up his Member of the British Empire (MBE) medal to the press outside.
Despite the bans, folks in Britain could hear the song on broadcasts from the Irish Republic and the Continent.  And, as always, the lure of the banned drew thousands to record shops to snap up the discs.  Despite the ban Give Ireland Back to the Irish climbed to # 16 on the UK Singles Chart, and # 21 in the US Billboard Hot 100.  Quite naturally it soared to the top of the Irish charts and sat there for a while.
Did McCartney’s uncharacteristic protest change anything?  Who knows?  But in fact public opinion in Britain slowly changed, even though the bloody IRA bombing campaign that followed which hardened many hearts against the Irish.  When the facts about Bloody Sunday slowly emerged the consensus was that it was not only a tragedy, but an unmitigated disaster.  It took decades but eventually the Accords guaranteeing minority Catholic rights and the disarmament of both the IRA and Protestant paramilitaries resulted in a sometimes still uneasy peace in a war weary nation.  The Army was withdrawn. 
Anyway, here is what Paul McCartney wrote that day in his righteous anger.
Give Ireland Back to the Irish
Give Ireland back to the Irish
Don’t make them have to take it away
Give Ireland back to the Irish
Make Ireland Irish today

Great Britain you are tremendous
And nobody knows like me
But really what are you doin’
In the land across the sea

Tell me how would you like it
If on your way to work
You were stopped by Irish soldiers
Would you lie down do nothing
Would you give in, or go berserk

Give Ireland back to the Irish
Don’t make them have to take it away
Give Ireland back to the Irish
Make Ireland Irish today

Great Britain and all the people
Say that all people must be free
Meanwhile back in Ireland
There’s a man who looks like me

And he dreams of god and country
And he’s feeling really bad
And he’s sitting in a prison
Should he lie down do nothing
Should give in or go mad

Give Ireland back to the Irish
Don’t make them have to take it away
Give Ireland back to the Irish
Make Ireland Irish today

Give Ireland back to the Irish
Don’t make them have to take it away
Give Ireland back to the Irish
Make Ireland Irish today.

—Paul McCartney