In 1981, Peter Michael McCartney, Paul’s brother, published a book about his life and family: “The Macs”, an intimate, revealing portrait of his life from his childhood until the late years of the 70s. Particularly interesting is the story of his early years in Liverpool and the story of his family recounted with details and never-read-before secrets about Paul’s childhood.
Peter starts with the story of his father, his work and his passion for music, the base of Paul’s music career. Jim McCartney, in fact, taught himself chords on the piano forming the ‘Masked Melody Makers’ band.
As the title suggests, they used to wear black high-wayman masks, but one night when the joint was really jumpin’ their masks melted all over their faces. Quickly changing their name to Jim Mac’s Band they performed such ragtime classics as ‘Ama Pola My Pretty Little Poppy’, ‘The Birth of the blues’ and dad’s favourite, ‘Stairway to Paradise’. Dad also wrote and played his own composition, Eloise, around this period. They were all in their late teens when they played local dances at such salubrious Liverpool venues as Oak Hall, deakons and St. Catherine’s Hall.
Undoubtedly Paul inherited the passion and talent for music from his dad, while Mary, the ‘rebel’ mother who soon left home, gave up her work to have her first child: Paul.
Mum couldn’t accept her step mother, Rose Mohin, and, aged about thirteen, she moved to her Danher relatives in their Ltherland chandler shop. At fourteen, she entered into nursing at Alder Hey and then Walton Hospital. A devoted nurse, at twenty-four she became a sister, and at thirty-one she met, fell in love with, and married my dad, Jim. When she got married, mum gave up nursing at Walton Hospital to have her first child. James Paul McCartney was born 18th June 1942 in a private ward of Walton Hozzy, 107 Rice Lane, Liverpool.
Just after 18 months after Paul’s birth, Peter was born, and Jim and Mary, moved back across the water in Liverpool. Jim’s passion for music didn’t cease with the marriage and the kids, on the contrary, as it was a large family, the door was seldom closed and when Jim, plus anyone else who could pick up an instrument started rehearsing, it became an excuse for the whole street to join in.
Every night some twenty cups of tea and endless Welsh rarebits (before they could afford bacon butties) were religiously made, and people would dance to the music outside in the street. It was such a happy, relaxed atmosphere that the youngsters Joe and Jin can never remember going to bed without the assistance of home-made music. Just like our dad with rock and roll music, Joe McCartney, a brass band man at heart, never understood the modern big band music of the day and always referred to the Henry Hall and Tommy Dorsey Bands as ‘a load of old tin cans.’
Jim’s passion for music was important for Paul’s musical growth, and the memories Mike shares of him are heartfelt: he and Paul used to buy him a Havana cigar every Christmas, and he showed them how to deep-breath, in through the nose, hold, out through the mouth, to be repeated ‘ad nostrium’. But growing up with only a father wasn’t easy at all, for both the McCartney brothers, and Jim as well, who decided to take the mother’s role after his wife’s death:
He used to shout ‘quiet!” for the football results each Saturday afternoon, strap his bicycle clips on before taking us on long country bike rides..take us with him round the Liverpool Speke estate with bucket and shovel to hunt for horse manure to spread over his beloved garden…play the piano, cross-handed (one hand over the other) with joy in his heart…do the crossword every day, and if we helped, but didn’t know a word, he’d say, ‘Look it up in the dictionary’..apologise for not holding our stomachs when we were being sick (like mum used to do) as it would make him sick too….let us smell his fingers after crushing the flowers of his favourite dried-out lavender into an ash tray and then set fire to it, allowing the smell to meander through the house…rub his stubbly chin against our smooth cheeks, and blow ‘raspberries’ against our skin…take us to the barbers in Penny Lane where the tonsorial artist would clipper up the back of our necks over the ears, army style…show us how to press our trousers under the mattress to get a good crease in them..and later on, he’d teach us how to drink in pubs under age and give us the money to get a round in…make marvellous custard, rice puddings and Yorkshire pud (he was proud of it an’ all)…our quadruple, four-finger measures of neat alcohol for each and every guest..tip the tunnel toll man who collected your money to get under the Mersey by car. But dad’s biggest predicament came after mum’s death when he had to decide to be a father or a mother to his two growing (one teenager) lads. Luckily he chose to be both, a very hard decision when you’ve got used to being the man around the house, but he made an amazing job of it. As with mum, our pubescent period didn’t bring out the best in us McCartney lads, and we gave dad very little help plus a lot of cheek through these very difficult times. He just bit his lip and carried on, day after day, and night after lonely night. He could have cracked up, got drunk, beat us up, brought women home – he had every justification for doing so, but he just ‘soldiered on’ (family saying) until we were big enough to ‘fend for ourselves’ (another family saying). In fact, whichever way you look at it, life is one long family saying.
The memories Mike shares of his mother are, obviously, fewer, brief moments and actions of her, but very clear in his mind and full of affections. He calls them ‘pictures’:
Pictures…of helping in the kitchen by slowly stirring cake mixture in a giant bowl with a wooden spoon – fawn coloured outside, white inside – before licking spoon and bowl clean of the sweet dough..of waiting, mouth watering, for hot scones from the oven, the waft of hot air in the face when the door was finally opened, and the fell of thick melting butter and hot scones in hungry mouths…of playing ships with Paul in the bath, being flanneled, scrubbed, and pumice-stoned when the dirt was deeply ingrained, then lifted out and towel dried as only mums (and dads) c an do…of her buttoning our shirts, trying shoe laces, trying tying ties, of mum flicking the thermometer professionally (just like a nurse) putting it under my tongue and then taking my wrist-held pulse…of feeling her concern and love for our illnesses through walls, round corners and upstairs…of swaying to and fro on the Singer sewing machine’s carved steel foot pedal whilst mum sewed above…of resting my head on her lap whilst listening to the radio at the end of the day..and finally pictures of being tucked into freshly aired beds and cuddling down with cold feet touching hot rubber water bottles. (‘I want the orange one’ ‘No, I want the orange one, you had it last night.’)…of being kissed goodnight on the lips and then ‘Go(d) bless’ from the door as all but the landing light went out (just in caso of the bogey men).
Mike McCartney also recounts that as he had to share the bedroom with Paul in 12 Ardwick Road it was not uncommon for them to come to disagreement every now and then. So, to keep them out of mischief, Jim McCartney ingeniously rigged up a set of earphones from the downstairs wireless to their beds, so that they both could listen to their favourite radio programmes.
As the earphones were made of hard bakelite stuff we used to put them under the pillows so that we could drop off listening to our favourite programmes…’The time is quarter to seven, this is the BBC light programme, time now for Dick Barton, Special Agent with Snowey (White) and Jock (Anderson)…’ A fifteen-minute crime busting, very ‘British’ detective serial, broadcast every evening until 7 o’clock when the Devil’s Gallop signature tune posed the questions, ‘Can Dick get to Von Luger’s dastardly bomb in time?…Will Snowey set him free?…Does Dick dare defuse de….dan da ran dan…Listen to the next instalment of…Dick Barton Special Agent’..and of course ‘Music…music…music…into our dreams.
Mike also recalls that he and Paul used to fight all the time. But once Paul went just that little bit too far, and instead of the usual half-hour wrestling bout of strength he decided to speed things up with an elbow in the back.
For quite some time I staggered around the room gasping for air, not the most pleasant of sensations. Always a courteous lad, Paul quickly apologised, but this time apologies weren’t enough. There and then I swore that when I grew up and was bigger than him I was going to KILL him, but until that fateful day arrived I had to be revenged. So that night I waited for dear brother to drop off to sleep and then set about my terrifying retribution. From my pillow I plucked the biggest feather available and slowly approached his bed. When I was about three feet away I suddenly froze. He was looking straight at me! After an eternity I realised that my brother sleeps with his eyes just slightly open. Undeterred, I moved closer until I was a few inches from his nose. Then the torture began…just a little tickle at first up the nostril, the the other nostril and then the ears and then eyelids…the lot. Some of the facial expressions he was forced to make nearly made me blow it and laugh out loud, but my desire for revenge was so great I forced myself on…and on. No matter which way he wriggled, I was there when he settled. The tickle torture was kept up all night and only when day broke did I finally relent and just Dracula I sunk back into my coffin bed, feather in hand…deliriously happy.
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