Macca at Mecca
Paul McCartney lends a little “help” to his friends at Abbey Road Studios for War Child Charity Album. September 4, 1995
By Harriet L. Petty
The day started out innocently enough, I suppose. My friends Eileen and Karla and I landed ahead of schedule at Heathrow Airport after a smooth flight from New York, and we were looking forward to our vacation in England. We were also looking forward to the possibility of seeing Paul at the Buddy Holly anniversary concerts we were holding tickets to later that week, and were excited by the prospect of whatever fun the next two weeks held in store. We were greeted at the airport by our friends Richard and Esther, who run the London Beatles Fan Club. We had a lovely time looking at photos and trading stories over breakfast, until the hour grew late. Richard said, “Well, you’d better get going if you’re going to see anything today!” More prophetic words have never been spoken. We said our good-byes with promises to see each other soon, and went to our hotel.
Since Karla had never been to London before, we left the choice of the first destination to her. She suggested we go to Abbey Road, which I suppose is the first place most of us would think of, and off we went. When we approached the studio, we noticed a few vans parked outside, and some people seated across the street, in addition to the usual numbers of people who stand at the wall in front reading and writing messages. We really didn’t think it was unusual, since Abbey Road Studios are still very much in active use by many top bands and recording artists, and we assume that the people gathered outside were just waiting to see who would turn up that day. Indeed.
We had been at “the wall” for about ten minutes (about 2:10 pm) when I noticed a silly-looking caricature of Paul drawn on the far left side. I was calling over to the others, “Isn’t this a funny picture of Paul? It doesn’t look like him at all!” and pointing to it when I heard a car being turned off in the car park in front of me. I looked up to see Paul McCartney get out of his hard holding an acoustic guitar and walk over to the middle of the car park near the stairs. My finger went from pointing to the wall to pointing at the real sight in front of me, while my heard raced, my hands fumbled in vain for my camera, and my legs felt as if they were turning to guacamole. The others had spotted him as well. It seems as if we had telepathically connected to alert each other, as we weren’t standing together, and we all watched in amazement as Paul stopped to pose for a picture with a woman who happened to be at the food of the stairs. Then he turned to enter the building. We couldn’t believe we were actually watching Paul McCartney walk up the stairs of Abbey Road with a guitar under his arm. For the first time in my life, I was experiencing the impact of what must have been an almost everyday occurrence for the Apple Scuffs in the late 60’s, seeing a Beatle show up at Abbey Road for a recording session. The difference between 1968 and 1995 however, is that they expected Beatles to show up then; who would have thought that Paul would turn up this way on a September afternoon in 1995? I’m sure the fans in those days were better prepared for these sights than we were. The scene was almost surrealistic. There was almost a sense of quiet reverence about it. Even though Paul was in full view of approximately 30 people, not one shouted, screamed, ran over to him, or acknowledged out loud what they were seeing other than quietly to their companions. There is a lot to be said for the respect that people hold for Paul, as well as for the element of surprise, I am sure.
We had no idea at this point what was happening inside the studio, and judging by the fact that Paul was holding a guitar, we assumed that he might have had something to do with rehearsing for the Buddy Holly concert. We couldn’t quite figure out why he would be rehearsing at Abbey Road, but the abilities of our minds to function logically at this point was in serious question, so we just decided to wait for him to come out, since, as Eileen so aptly put it, “If he went in, he has to come out.” Karla and I saw the indisputable truth in this statement, and the wait began.
During the course of the next few hours, many people came and went into and out of the studio. We saw packages being delivered ranging from pizzas and groceries to musical instruments, video and audio equipment, and boxes containing what we were sure were official and important things. We saw roadie types, rock star types, and new reporter types come and go. We saw a young woman go into the studio and come out later on, sit on the stairs out front looking shaken, until she was led back into the studio by a comforting friend. We were asked by a reporter who we were waiting for, and responded in a vague way, not wanting to attract attention to the fact that Paul McCartney was at Abbey Road (just in case no one was supposed to know). She asked if we were there for Oasis, and we truthfully said, “No.” Privately, we were saying, “...Who’s Oasis?” We later found out.
Later in the afternoon, we saw Linda arrive at the studio. By this time, we were able to find our voices, having gotten over the shock of seeing her husband so unexpectedly and vowing not to be unprepared for that eventuality again. She said, “Hello” to everyone, chatted with us about her cookbook and other projects, talked to Eileen about a recent newspaper article profile that she hadn’t yet seen, graciously thanked everyone for their support, and entered the studio with her daughter Mary. A while later, we saw four young people cross Abbey Road at the famous Zebra crossing, walk past us at the wall, and enter the studio. As they were passing us, we realized they were Stella, her friend Kate Moss and actor Johnny Depp, and another friend. As Alice said in Wonderland, this was getting “curioser and curioser.” We couldn’t figure out what this combination of people was doing assembled at Abbey Road, unless they were having a party to celebrate something, or unless Paul was recording an album, as they rehearsal theory had been dismissed since it was getting late.
At once point, a kindly guard came out to advise us that it was going to be a long haul…why didn’t we go have some dinner and come back? We decided that since we had come this far, we would stick it out to the end. Toward the end of our vigil, we saw a full orchestra leave the studios, complete with a woman loading a harp into the back of a station wagon. A bass player (standing, not hofner) informed me that they had been recording some music for a Disney project, but that he had seen “him” through an open door in the studio. Hope having been renewed, we continued our wait, and were willing to accept the fact that we might be rewarded with a wave through the car window since Paul had put in more than a full day’s work and was most likely tired.
Suddenly, we heard Paul’s assistant talk to some people who were near the foot of the stairs, and looked to find Paul and Linda come out of the studio down the stairs. I approached Paul with a photograph taken of him by my friend Cindy at one of his Earl’s Court concerts in September of 1993 (I just happened to have it with me. As they say, when traveling “Don’t leave home without it.”). I told him where and when the photo was taken. He looked at it said, “Lovely!” and as he began signing it, he looked up right at me and said, “So you’re going to buy the new album, then?” Not knowing what had been going on inside for the past 10 hours, I thought Paul was personally giving me some very significant first-hand information. I asked, “Are you working on a new album, Paul?” And he responded, “No, I’ve just done the Bosnian Relief Charity Album. It’s coming out soon.” I’ve been buying Paul’s albums for 31 years, but never before have I been personally enjoined to do so. It was a request I just couldn’t refuse.
At this point, I was aware of Eileen and Karla at Paul’s side having their photos signed and chatting with Paul. Paul told Eileen that she could have her pen back, “if she played her cards right,” and after some urging from me, he returned her pen to her. He stayed long enough to sign autographs for everyone who asked for them (at this point, I estimate there were fewer than 15 people there) and with a “Gotta go, sweetheart!” he got into this car, and waved while we said our good-byes and Linda smiled and gave us a “thumbs-up.” Despite the fact that the man, his family and friends had been busily involved with working on a charity project in the studio for 10 hours, he and his wife took the time and energy to spend a few precious moments with a few incredibly lucky fans. I’m sure that no one who was there that night will ever forget their generosity.
We found out the extent of what we had witnessed from the papers the next day. The HELP album comprised of tracks from many of today’s top British pop stars, we conceived and produced for the purpose of raising money for the War Child charity, which was formed to aid the victims of the atrocities in Bosnia. All those concerned acknowledge that the idea was inspired by john Lennon’s 1970 hit single, “Instant Karma” which was recorded and released within a week. The album did indeed come out in Britain within a week, on September 9, and went straight to #1 in the charts, selling over 71,000 copies, generating close to $1,600,000 for the War child Charity. The bands on HELP include Oasis and Friends (Johnny Depp), Boo Radleys, Suede, Neneh Cherry, Radiohead, and Paul Weller and Friends (Paul McCartney) doing “Come Together.” There was a TV special broadcast on Britain’s Channel 4 on Sunday, September 10 on the Making of HELP showing clips of Paul McCartney working with the other musicians on the album.
Paul’s appearance at the recording session was apparently a surprise to Paul Weller, and is attributed to Macca’s concern the welfare of children. What is ironically poignant about his appearance is the fact that he recording was made on the 33rd anniversary of the day that Paul first arrived at Abbey Road with the Beatles to record “Love me Do.” I wasn’t there in ’62 but I am extremely grateful that I was there in ’95.
By the way, the young woman whom we saw on the steps turned out to be a singer named CArleen Anderson, who had cut a version of “Maybe I’m Amazed” with Paul Weller just three weeks earlier. She arrived at the studio to do some backing vocals for HELP unaware that Paul McCartney had shown up. She apparently went outside to compose herself before she was scheduled to sing with him. We can safely say that we can imagine how she felt.
This album is being offered for a very worthy and urgent cause by some very concerned and talented people. Its U.S. release date was October 11.