Mike McGear – McGear – Album Review
2CD + 1DVD/DL/Vinyl
Released 19th July 2019
A remastered and expanded edition of the Scaffold man’s 1974 solo album, with contributions from his slightly more famous brother Macca and his band Wings….Ian Canty hears the proof that Pop smarts in the McCartney family didn’t begin and end with Paul and when the brothers got together…..by gum it was mighty
To his great credit Peter “Mike McGear” McCartney refused to cash in on his brother’s fame at the height of Beatlemania. He changed his name so that his efforts with the group Scaffold would not been seen as capitalising on his big bruv’s fame. The comic Rock trio of John Gorman, Roger McGough and McGear scored a number one with Lily The Pink and enjoying a fair amount of chart success in the UK during the 1960s. But by the start of the new decade the cat was completely out of the bag regarding Mike’s Beatle brother and all bets were off. When McGear came to record his second solo LP after 1972’s Woman (which featured a PM co-write Bored As Butterscotch, though he was credited as “Friend”) what better time to roll out the big guns, i.e. Paul and his band Wings, in support?
McGear the album might have functioned as a much-needed break from Scaffold activities, with Mike exiting the GRIMMS collective (being a match up of Scaffold and the Bonzos among others – the Bonzo crew’s attitude and sense of fun clearly rubbed off on Mike a bit and Viv Stanshall appears on some of the bonus tracks here) after falling out with poet Brian Patten. Brother Paul and his band Wings were winding down their Apple contract, but still had the itch to record. So originally just envisaging a single backing Mike, the session went so well the McGear LP project was born. Though a solo effort it was more of a collaboration than anything else, with Mike shaping the songs (most of which he co-wrote with Paul) in his own particular way, whilst Paul worked his musical magic. Together they made a great team and one terrific Pop record in McGear, Mike bring his own individual sense of fun to add to Wings’ undoubted expertise in the studio.
Trussed up a la Gulliver in Lilliput on the cover photo, Mike’s persona and voice are unleashed from the get-go. A cool and dramatic reading of Roxy Music’s Sea Breezes works as an elegant introduction to the album, orchestrated and ornate where the original relied on a more spartan setting. One thing you can’t take away from Paul McCartney is the painstaking effort that he put in at the studio making sure things sounded just right and his approach is no different here with a producer’s hat on. It’s audio perfection with the added bonus in Mike’s cheeky sarkiness keeping things from getting too schmaltzy, with perhaps only the exception being rudimentary love song Simply Love You.
It would have been easy for a singer to get submerged in such company and make this LP like a Wings album by proxy, but McGear seizes the driving seat admirably, laying on the scouse heavy on the prefect-baiting Norton (the offering most redolent of Scaffold on the entire record) or summoning up his inner Jake Thackeray on the truly touching McCartney/McGough effort The Casket. His straight reading makes it all the more poignant, a beautiful performance.
Leave It is just a gloriously infectious and sunny Pop song, a deserved hit which should have gone higher and the catchy Rainbow Lady surely would have followed it into the charts if given a single release. If you listen closely you can hear Shakin’ All Over in the background on Givin’ Grease A Ride – a really neat Rocker than pre-empted Chris Spedding’s Motorbikin’ hit of the next year and there is an ultra-cool synth part on it courtesy of Linda Mac. There’s a definite touch of Stanshall’s madness on set closer The Man Who Found God On The Moon, an amalgam of songs/experiences which concludes by way of a warm refrain surrounded with samples and Psychedelic effects. Yes, “everything but the kitchen sink”, but it really works and provides a fitting end to a great LP. As extras here we also get the Bluesy stomp of the Dance The Do single (which featured the McCartneys’ cousin, actress and singer Kate Robbins, on backing vocals) and Leave It’s flipside the snappy and smooth Sweet Baby.
Disc Two mops up different versions of the album tracks, singles and various odds and sods. Even so it is still high quality listening, with only a few throwaway items. Sea Breezes sans orchestration highlights the wild shifts in the music that were applied and Leave It doesn’t outstay its welcome in an extended version, its bright charm easily shining on past the six minute mark. 1980’s All The Whales In The Ocean single is one of the latest recordings presented here (the b-side I Juz Want What You Got – Money! is here too), with an acoustic drive and Celtic feel that has slight echoes of Mull Of Kintyre.
It’s lovely to hear Viv Stanshall’s deliciously fruity voice on the two radio ads for the Dance The Do single and he does a bit of comic acapella as well on the eponymous Viv Stanshall Sings track. There’s three delightful isolated snippets of Paddy Moloney’s pipes that featured on the album tracks and Let’s Turn The Radio On is a neat excursion into Slim Chance territory. Girls On The Avenue looks nostalgically back to early Rock & Roll in its guitar picking sound and Do Nothing All Day is a lovely olde worlde meditation on lazy summer days. There’s a ton of nice stuff on this disc to enjoy.
The third and final disc is a DVD which features two interview segments and the video for the Leave It single. The video shows its age a little, with a small “drip” to the left of the screen, but it is effective and evocative of the times, featuring Mike in his own words “poncing around with a fedora on” trailing a “dream” woman. The interviews add up to 90s minutes plus and seeing as Mr McGear is a natural raconteur they fairly fly by with a good dollop of self-effacing humour. We learn a lot about the songs as well. For instance we discover which future newscaster played a part in the development of Norton and how Bryan Ferry reacted to the cover of Sea Breezes. Though simply filmed and not anything out of the ordinary visually, it is an excellent extra in that it gives us a real insight into Mike’s life and how that transferred almost directly into the songs of McGear. It goes without saying there are a load of interesting titbits for Beatles fans too.
This is really a beautifully put together and presented reissue of a fine album, with gatefold mini-sleeves, reproductions of handwritten lyrics and a poster in a smart box. Reissuing done right. McGear has been out of print for a near quarter of a century, which is a real shame when you consider some of the things that are constantly rehashed and how great a Pop record this album really is. When the McCartney brothers came together for this short time they produced something of true lasting value, which is given the kind of high-quality presentation here it deserves. Outstanding.
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All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here