Gorillas, Fake Books, and the Big Mac

MPL in Soho Square Since your response to last week's post about the time I spent in London was so positive, and you asked to hear more, here I am with another installment.

In the spring of 1981, my manager got me into the studio to record a four-song demo that she'd planned to shop around to various recording and production companies, not the least of which was MPL, Paul McCartney's company in London. I'm not sure why she contacted them. Maybe she had an inside track or something and had heard that he was looking into producing an unknown. I don't know. She received a phone call one afternoon though, telling us to come to London and then call them for an appointment. I left all that to her; I was busy writing and recording, and it was her job to sort out all of that stuff...

I'd found a song of Paul's in a fake book (Country Dreamer) that I'd never heard before, and we thought it might be a cool idea for me to arrange and record it in an effort to grab his attention. Because both Paul and I had dads who played in jazz groups when we were kids (his inspiration for When I'm Sixty-Four and Honey Pie), I asked my dad and his band if they'd like to back me up in the studio. The recording was right up Paul's alley, and was sandwiched strategically between the other three songs:

1. You Got The Love
- An upbeat song, heavy on 12-string (me), with guitar, bass, drums, and congas.

2. Circle Line - Me on piano and guitar, backed by guitar, bass, and drums.

3. Country Dreamer - Piano, muted trumpet, clarinet, muted trombone, and drums (my dad!)

4. To You - Just me and a piano. A slow ballad full of arpeggios. Pretty song.

The last song was written the night before my final studio session, which was the night before we were to leave for London. The heat was on. My manager (who also was my roommate and best friend at the time) told me to leave her alone to work out the details of the trip ("Go write a song or something!"). I was naturally excited and I guess I was bugging her with a million questions and daydreams. I went to the piano and composed the song in the time it took to play it. Consequently, it's one of my best songs.

"Did you just now write that?" she asked.

She just shook her head and went back to her work.

 When we got to the studio the following evening to record a different song (I can't remember which one, but it was probably You Leave Me Speechless, a song that was later considered by Juice Newton), the mixer board broke down and they sent me to another studio. Unfortunately, I'd run overtime with my band and couldn't afford them for another session and make the trip to London, so something had to go.

The new studio had a lovely Yamaha grand piano and I suggested I record To You for the demo. Solo voice, no backups, no overdubbed harmonies—just me and a piano. I'd only played it once or twice, but the lyrics are the kind that stay with me, so I went through it one time while they adjusted the mics and the levels, then we recorded it in one take. When that stuff happens, it's just magical.

The next evening we were on a jet to London, my 4-inch reel-to-reel tape and 8x10 glossy promo pictures in hand. This is what I looked like at the time. Me and all that hair and makeup.

We stayed at a friend's house in Brighton. My manager called MPL the next morning, they made an appointment, and when the day came, we took the train up to London. I remember the zipper on my trousers broke on the way and I had to buy a packet of safety pins at Victoria Station to make things right. (Just to let you know that not everything that happens in the business is magical, this kind of crap happens too.)

We got a cab and went to Soho Square, where we were let out in front of a narrow, five-story-plus-loft building. In those days I'd never encountered an office building with electronically locked doors and bullet-proof glass, but it was May 1981, you understand. Only five months after John Lennon had been murdered, so Paul's heightened security was completely understandable. And it was a kick having the doors open for us while fans stood around outside, wondering who we were.

I don't know how Paul has his office decorated now, but at that time it was in an art deco style, and was very beautiful. We gave the receptionist my tape and my portfolio, and we were asked to make ourselves comfortable while she took them upstairs. In a few moments a businessman came through the front doors and he said hello, striking up a conversation. He was refinement personified, and when he turned to go upstairs, he told the receptionist that he was taking us with him. This was quite a lucky break, although we didn't know that at that moment.

We rode up in a tiny elevator and found ourselves in an area that was separated from a private office by a bank of frosted, glass panels. I didn't think anything about it. I worked as a bookkeeper at a music company in California at the time, so none of this seemed out of the ordinary to me.

Wanting to check the status of my zipper, I asked if there was a WC nearby, and the man pointed me to one just off of the room. It was tiny and well-appointed, and naturally, I thought nothing about it. I was excited to be inside MPL, of course, but I had no idea, really, of where I was in the building.

He told us that he was Paul's accountant and business manager (I found out later that he also handled The Bee Gees, Olivia Newton-John, Sheena Easton, Michael Tilson-Thomas, and literally everyone who was anyone at the time), and we talked together for a while. He stood up then, asked us to follow him, and led us into the private office. It faced the square and wasn't very large. In one corner there was a kind of life-sized gorilla thing wearing a gas mask or and an old WWI aviator's hat and goggles, or something, and there was a baby's crib under the window. It wasn't until I saw the double desk and the famous Wings statue (the one on the LP cover, left) that it dawned on me: we were in the private office of Paul and Linda McCartney. On the desk lay the original, pre-print cover of the London Town LP that had been carefully cut and pasted to look as if the group were in a boat on the Thames. I touched my manager's arm, swallowed, and whispered, "Do you know where we are?" (Later, I also realized that I'd used Paul's private loo.) The accountant was talking, but I didn't hear anything. I was too busy "being" there.

A woman came into the office and introduced herself (I think her name was Pamela, or Trudi, or something like that). She said they were copying the tape and photos and would bring us back the originals in a few moments. We went back out and sat down. The accountant remained with us, and I got the definite message that he was all about me, and was chatting me up. The woman came back in and handed my manager our stuff, then she came to me and said they'd really liked my work. A guy came in then and asked if he should fly the tape and photos to Scotland, and she replied, "Yes, straight away. Get them up there tonight." We shook hands and were escorted back downstairs. Excited beyond measure, we crossed the street to sit on a bench in the square's garden, talking a mile-a-minute about what had just taken place.

"But why Scotland?" I asked.
"That's where Paul's farm is," my manager replied.
"They're FLYING my tape to him? While he's on holiday?"

I couldn't believe it.

There's much more to this story, but it'll have to wait for another day. I didn't know I was going to be writing a series!