One only need glance at Mike McCartney’s resume for a reminder of why it’s only natural that he share his life story through words and pictures. Throughout the late 1960s and into the early ‘70s, he was one-third of the sketch comedy and musical act The Scaffold (along with Roger McGough and John Gorman). They scored numerous hits singles in the UK and performed frequently on BBC television. The Scaffold merged with members of The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and The Liverpool Scene to form Grimms, with whom McCartney toured and recorded in the early ‘70s.
Back in those days, Mike McCartney was known professionally as Mike McGear—a stage name that helped to distinguish him from his older brother, Paul. Two years after his 1972 solo debut album, Woman, Mike collaborated with his brother on the largely overlooked pop classic, McGear. The two brothers co-wrote most of the album's songs together, with Paul utilizing members of Wings as a backing group.
Taking to the road for the first time in decades, Mike McCartney will be displaying selections from his vast archive of photographs (“Me foties,” he affectionately calls them) and sharing the fascinating stories behind them. Having had a chance to recently discuss the upcoming shows with him, it’s clear he takes great pride in his lifelong passion for photography. But how does he feel about touring for the first time in 42 years?
“Blimey, half the audience won’t even be 42-years-old,” says an exasperated McCartney.
Nearly 30 dates are currently scheduled at various theatres and performance halls across the U.K., beginning March 29 (at The Plough Arts Centre in New Torrington) and carrying on through June 13 (at the Dorchester Arts Centre). More shows may very well follow, should this current batch be as well-received as McCartney expects. His confidence stems from a well-received February 21 engagement at this year’s Pitlochry Winter Words Festival in Scotland.
The roots of this tour, dubbed Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll (I Wish!), lie in an unassuming presentation the former McGear delivered at a book store in New Brighton (Literally A Bookshop) in 2013. Shortly prior to that, Tim Quinn (former Marvel Comics writer/illustrator/editor) phoned McCartney about an American university professor in the midst of planning a visit to Liverpool with his students. They wanted to speak with Mike, who has remained a Liverpool resident all his life, to learn more about the city.
Mr. Quinn (who once tapped McCartney for a potential Marvel UK collaboration that never saw the light of day) and Mr. McCartney agreed that the professor and his students should attend the book store lecture.
Before a shop full of spectators, McCartney asked the owner, “Okay Pete [Grant], you got any questions?” To which the Literally proprietor replied, “Nah, you don’t need questions, Mike, you do it on your own.”
“Good evening ladies and gentleman, my name is Peter Michael McCartney. I was born in Walton Hospital in 1944 at the end of the First World War—eh, Second World War, sorry. God, that makes me even older than I am,” McCartney began, managing to fill the following two hours with captivating stories.
“The next morning, Tim Quinn rang me and said, ‘Mike, the professor and his students were over the moon with your talk. They said they learned more by listening to you than all the books they’ve read on Liverpool. Have you ever thought about doing a one-man show? I’ll organize it!’ I’d done [photography] exhibitions and stuff like that,” McCartney explains, “But this is a challenge. So I said, ‘Yes, let’s go for it.’ He started putting the dates in and I said, ‘Right, stop there. Bloody hell, 30 gigs in a couple months? That’ll do me, thank you!’ I’ve never done a one-man tour of the U.K. in me life!”
With a lifetime’s worth of photographs to draw from—each selection to be projected on a screen, adding a visual component to his stories—he promises no two shows will be exactly alike.
“When I’m showing you, ‘There’s a scaffold,’ just imagine how many stories I could tell you about Scaffold. When we went to the Edinburgh Festival, when we got to number one with “Lily the Pink,” when I wrote “Thank U Very Much for the Aintree Iron”—which was the Prime Minister of Great Britain’s favorite, and then years later I found out was the Queen Mum’s favorite.”
He’s even got rare film footage to show his audiences, including one of the earliest music videos—a promo clip for the 1968 Scaffold hit “Thank U Very Much,” directed by Jim Goddard (who helmed the infamous Shanghai Surprise, the 1986 bomb produced by George Harrison’s HandMade Films). Another rare bit of Scaffold featured in the show is a mischievous TV performance of their UK Christmas number one, “Lily the Pink” (which became the first-ever UK Christmas number one to fall from the top spot and subsequently reclaim it).
“We didn’t tell the producers of the program,” McCartney explains, “We decided to change all our verses, so we’d get to the end and it made absolutely no sense at all.”
When speaking of Scaffold’s television appearances, his tone turns somewhat melancholy.
“We were first known as The Liverpool One Fat Lady Non-Electric Show. That’s what we were called, rather like Monty Python’s Flying Circus. And in fact, that’s one of the biggest regrets of my life, that our mates from the Pythons—we used to go see them, they used to come see us—but the Pythons had their telly series and their series was kept for history. Ours were all wiped, all the things we did when we were in our prime. We used to do these wonderful, satirical, poetic word imagery sketches. That was the biggest regret that I ever had, that no one ever saw it.”
For the McGear album, Jim Goddard also directed a promo video for “Leave It,” the scintillating Paul McCartney-produced UK top 40 single. That seldom-seen piece will also be shown—despite the objections of Mike’s better half.
“My wife says, ‘What are you putting that in for?’ And I said, ‘”Leave It” is quite famous, they know about that in America!’ Because it’s me pretending to be a pop singer.” After a beat, McCartney continues, “She asks again, ‘But why are you putting that film in?’ I said, ‘Why not?’ She said, ‘Because you’ve got a very silly hat on.’ Which is true! ‘And,’ she says, ‘There’s a girl with no clothes on.’ So I said to her, ‘All the more reason to show the public.’”
Given Mike McCartney’s musical background (a collaboration with Scaffold-mate Roger McGough—not to mention participation by many other luminaries including Paul McCartney, Graham Nash, Dave Mason, and Jimi Hendrix—resulted in the experimental 1968 album McGough & McGear), will he be treating his audiences to any singing?
“You’re going to find this impossible to believe, but I will be singing live on the stage.”
“Well, they said, ‘Do you want to use a band for your song?’ And I said, ‘Oh God, no! Bands?! It’s all sex, drugs, and rock and rock with bands!’ They said, ‘What about a pianist or guitarist?’ I said, ‘Nope, if I do any singing at all, I will be doing it Acapulco,’” he deadpans.
Throughout our conversation, Mr. McCartney did exactly what he initially warned of—veering off on tangents. “Every now and then I go so far into outer space that I forget what the hell I’m talking about,” he admits. Ah, but what intriguing tangents they are. “It’s all insane and you just couldn’t make it up,” McCartney insists.
One minute he’s talking about running into John McEnroe at the Live 8 concert, the next he’s marveling at the amount of prime real estate owned by the Duke of Westminster. A discussion of comic actor Mike Myers’ Liverpudlian heritage—“That’s why he’s so witty”—morphs into an account of why he began his career as a ladies’ hairdresser—“I had a brother that was already in show business; a rock and roll group. One show-off in the family was enough.”
All the while, he teases bits of trivia that will surely delight attendees of his show. Who played bass on Scaffold’s “Lily the Pink?” Which of their records featured The Who’s Keith Moon on drums?
“There are lots of stories,” McCartney emphasizes, “I’m not telling you now, because you won’t come to the theater.”
Perhaps just a bit more? It has been reported that Elton John was among the backing singers during some of Scaffold’s recording sessions.
“Elton John told me that he used to back Scaffold at Abbey Road on our tracks, and again I’d forgotten that. I hadn’t realized. It was just two young lads that came in, because Scaffold couldn’t sing—which is great for a singing group, isn’t it? We needed someone for the harmonies, and Reg Dwight was one of them. That’s what he used to be called in those days. And he said, ‘They were the best sessions we ever had, because we’d spend all afternoon with you, we got paid, and all we did was laugh.’ Lovely,” McCartney fondly remembers.
Is it true that “Mr. Frears” in the lyrics to “Lily the Pink" (he of the “sticky out ears") is actually the acclaimed film director Stephen Frears (The Grifters, High Fidelity, Philomena)?
“Stephen Frears used to film us for the BBC TV program, At the Eleventh Hour. It was a satirical series and we did little sketches; filmed inserts every week. Stephen Frears was the director,” McCartney recalls. “We would do these little sketches, one of them I particularly remember—he cocked up the whole ending. It didn’t make sense when it went out. It was this guy going into a bar, ‘Can I have a whiskey and a bucket of ice?’ So the barman says, ‘Certainly sir.’ So he gives him his whiskey and gives him this bucket of ice.
“The lad downs the whiskey and throws the ice on the floor. ‘I’ll have another whiskey and another bucket of ice.’ So you see all this, and by the end shot [you think], ‘What the hell is going on here?’ So then: final whiskey, bucket of ice on the floor. And the end shot is him skiing out of the bar. Stephen Frears did this shot and you couldn’t see that he was on skis! Actually it was more surreal, because it made you [think], ‘What the hell was that?’ But we said, ‘What the hell, you missed a joke! He was supposed to go out the bloody pub on his skis!’ And so were not enamored of him, and the first time it came to taking the mickey out of him, we chose to do so on a number one record.”
For those fortunate enough to be in the general vicinity of any venue hosting Sex, Drugs, & Rock’n’Roll (I Wish!), don’t miss the chance to hear it all from Mike ‘McGear’ McCartney himself.
Keep up with Mike McCartney on Twitter and on his official website.
March 29: Great Torrington - The Plough Arts Centre
April 1: Colwyn Bay - Theatr Colwyn
April 2: Tewkesbury - Roses Theatre
April 4: Lichfield - Garrick
April 9: Chesterfield - The Pomegranate
Aprill 11: Shoreham-By-Sea - Ropetackle Arts Centre
April 13: Eastbourne - The Underground Theatre
April 15: Telford - Oakengates Theatre
April 17: Hereford - The Courtyard
April 18: Scarborough - Stephen Joseph Theatre
April 19: Leeds - City Varieties Music Hall
April 24: Bristol - The Thunderbolt
April 25: Swansea - Grand Theatre Depot Studio
April 26: Liverpool - The Epstein Theatre
April 29: Portmeirion (‘The Village’) - Hercules Hall
May 1: Stockport - The Plaza
May 2: Halifax - The Square Chapel
May 8: Maidstone - Hazlitt Arts Centre
May 10: Brecon - Theatr Brycheiniog
May 15: Croydon - Fairfield Halls Arnhem Gallery
May 16: Leamington Spa - The Royal Spa Centre
May 17: Halesworth - The Cut
May 22: Chesham - The Elgiva
May 23: Tamworth - Assembly Rooms
May 24: New Milton - Forest Arts Centre
May 30: Morecambe - The Platform
June 7: Didcot - Cornerstone
June 13: Dorchester - Arts Centre