Author’s Note: Both Trevor Hodgett and myself wrote a fair amount about local guitar legend Henry McCullough during the ‘90s. Indeed, Trevor still does. When we were deciding on the content of Irish Folk, Trad & Blues: A Secret History we both felt it would be tidier if the Henry McCullough chapter was entirely composed of Trevor’s archive of writings on the man. Hence this interview of mine – for Mojo’s back page slot on people’s recollections of joining and leaving a given band – remained in the vault. Henry’s gone over the tale many times with interviewers, but it’s retains its fascination as an unrepeatable episode in the Beatles/post-Beatles story.
Henry McCullough & Wings
Published: Mojo, September 1997
“At the time I got involved with Wings I was in the Grease Band and we were hanging around London not doing very much. Denny Laine used to come round and hang out with us and he said to me one day ‘McCartney’s looking for a guitar player – he wants to know if you’d come down and have a bit of a play’. And I said ‘Well, Jesus, no bother!’ and went down, I think, to the Revolution Club – one of those clubs in London anyway – and played ‘Long Tall Sally’ and a few things like that. It wasn’t really an audition, more a play – but it was an audition really, to make sure I wasn’t into hard drugs and stuff like that. Anyway, we played, had a chat and he said ‘Can you come back tomorrow?’ and I said ‘Of course’, and came back the following day. By the third day we were on a stage, at the ICA. We went through a lot of stuff over that period and on the third day he asked me did I want to join – and who wouldn’t!
Obviously The Beatles had finished and he was up in Scotland with his beard and all that, and he’d been quite content for a while to sit around with Linda and a little four-track recorder singing ‘La-de-das’, you know. But now he seriously wanted to go back on the road as a rock’n’roll musician, and the way he did it was really going back to his roots – took along the dogs and the kids and stuff, in this auld transit van, with no windows, and our gear behind on a truck. He was always into this, you know – the ‘magical mystery tour’ vibe – and I can see why. It’s the pleasure of having the money and being able to do it, regardless of how much you’re paid for the shows! So he took it to the extreme, really, where we’d just turn up at a university, find the Students’ Union, and of course the minute he stuck his head out the window..! ‘Can we play tonight?’ ‘Yes, of course!’ And the word went out and the place’d be packed. But then instead of getting hotels it would be, like, Mrs McGonagle’s for B&B, you know! It was unusual alright, but it was very exciting at the same time, ‘cos it was my first trip out with him – and splitting the money up evenly after the gigs meant I made more on that than when I became a fully-fledged member!”
“We were still on this retainer and we’d been told that as things progressed we could contribute material, become part of a ‘band’ as such, but it never ever came to that. We’d rehearsed Band On The Run and were due to go to Lagos [to record it] and I can remember it well – we had a row one afternoon… I wanted to contribute, you know ‘Give me a chance – if it doesn’t work out we’ll do it your way’. I felt it was time he allowed the musicians to have some of their own ideas used as part of this ‘group’ vibe. But all that was slowly being lost – the idea from the university tour, the van, the crack and all that started to go out the window. And I was trying desperately to hold onto it because I wanted it not just for the band but for him as well – for him to show people that he wasn’t namby-pamby all the time, that he really had balls. And he does have an awful lot of balls, he just doesn’t seem to get it down on record… It wasn’t a fierce row, just ‘Oh stuff it, I’m away home’ sort of thing. There was nothing said. There were a lot of things said in the press, like there was a terrible rumour I’d pulled a gun on him, that I’d hit him over the head with a bottle – really! But I think we both knew in our hearts it was time for me to go and he left it to me to choose the time of leaving. A couple of months later I got a phone call from him ‘How are you? What are you up to?’ sort of thing, and he asks me down to his studio in Soho Square. ‘Look, I know we’ve had our differences’ he says ‘but I really appreciate the time you’ve been with the band and I want you to have this’. And he gives me a huge cheque and a flight case full of guitar strings! I bumped into himself and Linda a couple of times after that and really I can’t let people know how much of a gentleman he was. I mean, people who don’t know him have this idea about him – about his ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’ trips and the corniness of it all, but even with that you couldn’t help but like the man: a brilliant businessman, a brilliant musician and a bloody great man too.”