The British Library Opens The first display dedicated to Paul McCartney’s songwriting

The public exhibition Paul McCartney: The Lyrics presents a retrospective of the maestro’s songwriting.

The temporary display is intrinsically linked to the recent release of the book The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present, edited by Paul Muldoon. Published in two volumes, replete with rare memorabilia, it lists the songs in alphabetical order. Providing stories behind them, Paul McCartney inevitably tells his own in a non-linear fashion.

Apart from a few bits and pieces, swapped and squeezed in for the sake of design, the display maintains a linear storyline. The exception pops up in the middle. The lyrics of 1983’s Pipes of Peace and Linda McCartney’s shot from the set of the relevant music video precede the drafts of earlier songs, such as 1977’s Mull of Kintyre. Andy Linehan, curator of Popular Music Recordings at the British Library, explains that there had to be a compromise between the alphabetical outline of the book, chronology and usability of space. “We are not interpreting it literally as chronological but it is quite chronological”, he says. With 35 items on board, the exhibition at the Entrance Hall Gallery looks compact and well-balanced. The manuscripts of the songs lyrics are interspersed with rare pictures and other materials from Paul’s collection.

There is a sense of warm openness and an upbeat mood that are generally associated with McCartney. One of his quotations from the book, printed on the exhibition stand, makes a clear connection between Paul’s life attitude and the place of origin. “My upbeat attitude really goes back to my Liverpool upbringing. Music was a big thing in our house. Our family’s annual New Year’s Eve party was a joyous thing where everyone sat around singing.”

Although most of the materials have been on loan from the MPL Archive, some items came from private collections. Written on a beige paper in black sharpie, the lyrics of Yesterday were given by Hunter Davies, known as an author of The Beatles Lyrics: The Unseen Story Behind Their Music. Along with classics as such and charmingly corrected draft of Here, There and Everywhere are previously unknown numbers. Assumingly composed in the late 50s, Tell Me Who He Is was found in one of Paul’s old notebooks.

The British Library Opens The first display dedicated to Paul McCartney’s songwriting

Songwriting is undoubtedly a common thread that defines motifs of the book and the display. During the winter, the library will host a series of events, dedicated to the composition of songs. “Paul Muldoon might be having conversations with other songwriters about their approach to creating lyrics,” says Conrad Bodman, head of culture programmes at the British Library.


The public exhibition Paul McCartney: The Lyrics will take place at the British Library between Fri 5 Nov 2021 and Sun 13 Mar 2022. More information here.

The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present can be found on the official website of Paul McCartney.

All words by Irina Shtreis. More writing by Irina can be found in her author’s archive.

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