It wasn’t regarded as one of his finest performances, but Paul McCartney’s Olympics set, some 42 years after the Beatles split, left millions in no doubt of the magnitude of his global, lasting fame.
The break-up of the fab four was the starting point for Radio 2’s Paul McCartney at the BBC. Presented by Johnnie Walker and made up of rare archive interviews and performances, this was an insightful peer down ‘Macca’ memory lane, dotted with poignant observations and contemporary reflections.
One minute, McCartney was a member of the world’s biggest group. The next, he was flying solo. Understandably, this required creative and personal readjustment, and he admitted it wasn’t the easiest of times.
If he was looking to keep a low profile, releasing a song in 1972 called Give Ireland Back to the Irish, the first single from his new band Wings, now looks highly naive at best, the anti-Bloody Sunday ditty being banned by the BBC. If he wanted to get the critics back on side after that, his follow-up single, Mary Had a Little Lamb, didn’t cut the mustard – or even the mint sauce.
But as a musical unit, Wings was getting tighter. I saw them at Wembley, circa 1976, and by then they had become a polished, impressive live band. Okay, Linda McCartney didn’t have a great voice, but onstage there was obvious personal and professional chemistry between husband and wife, and they had the brilliant guitarist Denny Laine in their ranks. These days, plenty of people are ready to knock McCartney, but whatever they think about his more recent material, his talents deserve respect.
If McCartney was looking to keep a low profile in 1972, releasing a song called Give Ireland Back to the Irish was highly naive
A frequent visitor to the Abbey Road Studios during the Beatles’ heyday was Alma Cogan. Since her tragic death at a young age in 1966, recognition for the singer has slipped off the radar. But Barbara Windsor’s Ladies of Song redressed the balance a little by celebrating her life and vocal powers.
That the late, great Ian Dury chose one of her songs, The Naughty Lady of Shady Lane, written by Sid Tepper and Roy C Bennett, as one of his desert island discs is ample recommendation of her talent, while a host of well-known contributors spoke highly of her creativity and personal, fun-loving charm.
With novelty songs such as If I Had a Golden Umbrella and Just Couldn’t Resist Her With Her Pocket Transistor, it’s not surprising that Cogan was never considered a heavyweight recording star, but her skill as a singer of ballads and standards was fully acknowledged here.
Of course, another female singer to have died far too young was Amy Winehouse, the subject of Radio 1Xtra Stories – Gone Too Soon. Despite the ominously maudlin title, the retrospective thankfully shied away from the destructive aspects of her life and focused on her early musical inspirations and collaborators.
Along with having a wicked sense of humour and being a fan of Sigmund Freud, we learnt that Winehouse could be unpredictable in the studio, but on form she blew even seasoned musicians away. With recollections from the likes of Mark Ronson, the producer of her second album, Back to Black, and her own father, Mitch, the programme left you in little doubt that she was always destined to be a massive talent.
“Her music was like a Rolf Harris painting,” said one of her early management team. “You sometimes didn’t see it until the last lines were drawn.” Another contributor needed just two words to sum her up – “effortlessly brilliant”.
At just 15 minutes long, BBC Radio 4’s new comedy series, Irish Micks and Legends, written and performed by Yasmine Akram and Aisling Bea, doesn’t have much time to impress listeners. The format is promising, being modern reworkings of ancient Irish stories.
While certain moments did tickle, it really makes for only passable comedy to have on in the background. Finegas, a famous poet seeking to catch the ‘salmon of knowledge’, was the satirical subject of the opening episode. Sporadically funny and original, most of the time it seemed to struggle upstream in search of laughs.
Paul McCartney at the BBC, R2, October 26
Barbara Windsor’s Ladies of Song, R2, Wednesday, October 24
Radio 1Xtra Stories – Gone Too Soon – Amy Winehouse, Sunday, October 28
Irish Micks and Legends, R4, Wednesday, October 31