Music legend on his experimental project

In an appropriately named public house, The Fire Station (yes, an old fire station), a true master of his chosen art is holding court. We, the assembled, look and listen, barely daring to cough in case a word is missed.

Sir Paul McCartney is here to answer questions from the world’s media – there are journalists from across Europe and beyond. Clash is here, too, waiting for our turn to ask the man a question. We’re in good company – much is covered, all relating to McCartney’s latest release, ‘Electric Arguments’.

But a solo album this is not – instead, it’s McCartney’s third album as The Fireman, his experimental project with super-producer and former Killing Joke lynchpin Youth, otherwise known as Martin Glover. Their last Fireman LP, ‘Rushes’, was released a decade ago. And what’s changed? Well, a certain somebody’s found their voice.

‘Electric Arguments’ features vocals immediately identifiable as those of the former Beatle, and as a result he can no longer hide behind the anonymity the Fireman moniker formerly afforded him. So here he is, meeting the critics, facing the storm. And weather it he does, with ease, departing after an hour in our company with a deserved round of applause.

Here, collects highlights from the hour in question, with posers presented by all manner of music scribes and radio correspondents…

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The Fireman – ‘Lifelong Passion’

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On how The Fireman finally found his voice…

Well, you know we made two Fireman albums, and they were instrumental, and those were very much based on the one chord – they were very trancey (makes droning noice). So having made two albums like that, we fancied a change. First of all we decided we’d use more than the one chord, and then tracks would go somewhere else. So we thought we could do anything. Youth suggested a vocal, but I told him I didn’t have any songs. He asked if I’d try a bit anyway, and I said sure, why not? It could have been the worst moment of my life, but I gave it a try and suddenly I started to find words. I looked in poetry books, and would find words – I kept singing these things at the track, and eventually a song came out of it. So the Fireman has found his voice through experimentation.

On enjoying his time in the studio and experimenting…

I feel like I’m having fun, and that I get to enjoy myself in the studio. I still do, there and on stage. I feel kind of privileged to get into the studio with a nice guitar and an amp – I still think that’s really cool. I can just look at an amp and think, Wow. I think that enthusiasm is what drives me; it’s what I run on. I just really like what I’m doing, so this doesn’t feel like a risk to me. When to gets to this stage, when people are looking at what we’ve done, that’s when it seems risky. But I don’t like playing it safe really, and never have. Thinking back, releasing ‘Sergeant Pepper’s’ was a risk. One newspaper had suggested we’d dried up, that we were finished, but all the while we were working on ‘Sergeant Pepper’s’. Pushing boundaries keeps things fresh. We had the freedom to make this album the way we wanted – we could have been very precise, but that wasn’t the Fireman. The whole point about the Fireman is that it’s very free. I’m very lucky to have that. I’m not in the straight jacket… yet.

On working with a trusted collaborator…

I think it’s good to have someone to bounce ideas off of. Youth is a very easy guy to work with – he’s easy going, and has a great attitude to life, but he’s also hard working. I like working with someone, and I don’t need full control all of the time. I like to turn it over: What do you think? It’s better than sitting in a room working on your own all day. You do have to admire the person you’re working with, to do that.

On the variety in his vocal performances…

I’m the world’s worst expert on my voice, because I don’t think about it. So I don’t fuss about it that much – I expect it to work. On the Fireman, it’s a Fireman vocal, so I can just goof with Youth. But then he’ll say something works, so we’ll try it again, and I’m suddenly singing like Tom Waits. It’s fun, and interesting. It takes you to places you didn’t plan to go to, so that’s an interesting aspect. Linda used to like to go for a drive, to deliberately get lost – that was exactly the point, because it’s hard to get lost. You drive around London and there’s Big Ben, there’s a big sign saying West End… it spoils it. So this idea of losing your bearings – as long as it’s not in deepest Africa, and there’s a reasonable amount of control – is something I quite like. You don’t always know what’s going on so you can surprise yourself.

On download culture…

It’s quite weird for me, because I’m from the times when you went to the record shop to buy a 45. That’s how I understand it. We’ve come through vinyl, tape cassettes, CDs and now downloads, and to me it’s all the same. Now, there’s this weird thing where people don’t pay for music, which is a bit of a surprise but it doesn’t bother me too much actually. It all worked out, the Radiohead thing, where people paid what they thought it was worth. That’s a funny idea, and a new idea. I must say I thought about downloading the Radiohead album for a penny and telling my friends I’d paid ten quid for it. I think a lot of people did that, too. But downloading – it’s part of life now, and I kind of embrace it.

On taking the Fireman into the live environment…

At the moment we’ve no plans, and even this [event] is very posh for the Fireman. Youth and I will see what the demand is. I’d like to try it – it’d be challenging, and we’d have to use a lot of tape, and play along with that. But it’d be a very interesting thing to do.

On if the Fireman’s latest will have an effect on his next solo release…

I think it will. I’ve been thinking about that, and I hope it does, I hope it does influence me. It’s a nice way to record, so yeah… I’m writing ‘song’ songs at the moment, but hopefully they’ve more of an ‘open’ feel to them.

On knowing when a song, given the Fireman’s freedom and indulgence, is finished…

I think that’s one of the tricks with expressionism, and abstract experimentation – you’ve got to know when you’re finished. It’s a trick you need to have when painting – I’ve done pictures that I’ve thought weren’t finished, but I’ve added something and ruined them, by going too far. I think I can now kind of tell when something’s finished, and I think Youth can do that too. So, I would do bass, drums, mouth organ, vocal… And he’d put it together almost like a DJ, because he is a DJ too. He has a good sensibility of what’s good to use, and that’s a sensibility that comes from being a DJ – he knows to use that sample, but not that one. He’d listen to a track and then just stop – it’s finished.

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The Fireman – ‘Highway’

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‘Electric Arguments’ by the Fireman – aka Paul McCartney and Youth – is out now on One Little Indian. Find more information and music on the duo’s MySpace page.


We've a limited-edition lithograph print of the album's artwork to give away to one lucky reader - click HERE to enter!


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