Thursday 23 May 2024

Thank U Very Much (Lar!)

Central Library
William Brown Street
Liverpool 3

Self Portrait, Forthlin Road (credit: Mike McCartney) 

On the Wednesday 24 April I was fortunate enough to spend an afternoon at Liverpool Central Library in the company of Mike McCartney, who was the special guest at a talk entitled ‘Things We Said Today: The Beatles’ Lyrical Poetry’.

The event, presented by Liverpool City Council with Liverpool Library and Informational Sciences was hosted by Susan Peterson Ph.D and Associate Lecturers Dominic Abba MA, and Damion Ewing MA.

Fantastic Shoes

Mike arrived on his own, having driven himself to the library.  Immaculately dressed from head to toe – particularly his shoes which drew some admiring comments - he perhaps looked a little frailer than in recent years, unfortunately having spent his milestone 80th birthday in January in hospital with a heart issue, but his eyes were bright, his smile was wide, and his wit was sharp. Clearly, he's still taking that medicinal compound. 

The same can be said of course of his brother Paul, continuously referred to by Mike as ‘Our Kid’, a term of affection used in the north of England, particularly in Liverpool and Manchester, to refer to a sibling.

I’m a big fan of Mike McCartney's work. I love his photography, his drawings, his music and humour, both with the Scaffold, and as a solo artist (if you’ve never heard his ‘McGear’ album you really should give it a listen), his ‘bewks’, his random Twitter (X) posts, and his way of telling a story. He’s also passionate about the city of Liverpool. There’s a lot to discover in his oeuvre outside of his obvious Beatles’ connection, though I think even he would accept that without that association he probably wouldn’t be as well known today. 

His photographs are a remarkable record of life in a working-class Liverpool family through the late 1940s to early 1960s and stand on their own merits, but would there have been an initial interest in them if they hadn’t featured brother Paul?

My copy of Mike McCartney's 'Early Liverpool' bewk.

I recently purchased Mike’s limited edition (i.e. very expensive) Genesis produced book Early Liverpool. It’s an absolutely beautiful work, but if you were to ask me whether I bought it for the art or the Beatle content, I’d have to admit the latter was the incentive, and quality of the photographs and informative text is a close second. 

As their second Cousin Ted Robbins recently commented, ‘I think Mike, who's the loveliest of men and talented, fears that on his gravestone, [it will read] ‘Here lies Paul McCartney’s brother.’” 

Given the Central Library event was billed as a ‘discussion that explores and explains the detail in the lyrics of the Beatles songs and the meanings behind them’, I was surprised Mike had agreed to come.   

To be honest, if Mike hadn't been the special guest, I'm not sure I would have come either. Without wishing to disparage those involved, I still haven't quite made up my mind on whether the Beatles should even be the subject of degree courses and highbrow, academic discussions. Not because they don't merit such discourse, but because it’s all a bit too William Mann and his Aeolian Cadences for me. It’s the antithesis of rock ‘n’ roll and I can’t help but think this isn’t really what the Beatles were about. Mind you, they did sell more records than Beethoven. Or Shakespeare. 

If the organisers had expectations for it to be that sort of an afternoon, then it didn’t quite turn out that way. After their first, somewhat convoluted question, which Mike did his best to answer, they opened the floor for questions, and considering the invited audience were predominantly Beatles historians and scholars, there were surprisingly very few concerning the Fab Four, or poetry. Or Shakespeare. 

Mike’s self-deprecating humour was immediately evident. Welcoming him to the discussion, Dr Susan Peterson, Ph.d reminded us that we were lucky to be in the company of a very special guest, to which Mike responded, ‘Who is it?’ as he searched around the room.


The questions asked were wide and varied, and nothing seemed off topic. I did try and record the talk to assist in the writing of this blog. Unfortunately, there were some technical issues and much of what follows has been written from memory. 

Here are just a few of the subjects discussed: 

How he became part of the Merseyside Arts Festival in 1962 where he met John Gorman and Roger McGough. They invited him to take part of an old man in a comedy sketch, and despite his initial reluctance to get on stage - ‘one show-off in my family was bad enough’ - he found he enjoyed it and was good at it.  This led to the formation of The Liverpool One Fat Lady All Electric Show in 1962, a comedy poetry troupe which also included McGough and Gorman among their number. ‘One Fat Lady’ is the bingo term for the number 8, and most of the performers hailed from the Liverpool 8 postal district. From this evolved his group Scaffold who went on to have a number of chart hits in the late 1960s and early 1970s with songs such as 'Lily The Pink' and 'Thank U Very Much'.

The Scaffold (credit: Mike McCartney's Early Liverpool)


Does he still take photographs today, and if so, what equipment does he use? He said yes and pulled out his i-phone. 

His favourite photo? Possibly the famous one of John and Paul composing I Saw Her Standing There in Forthlin Road.

How he didn’t get into Liverpool Art School, despite having ONE GCE IN ART (his emphasis), in contrast to John Lennon, who got in a couple of years earlier without any. ‘How did you do it?’, Mike asked one day when John and Cynthia visited the house. ‘Simple’ said John, taking the paper Mike was working on, flipping it over, and drawing a quick cartoon, ‘I did this’.

A facsimile of Lennon's cartoon, as included in the book 'Early Liverpool'

How the actress Carey Mulligan had broken off from an interview at a red-carpet event to run after Paul so she could tell him that her Dad had been delivered by his mother, Mary McCartney.

His comedic inspirations. The Goons obviously, as well as the old music hall stars and comic actors such as Charlie ‘Chapped lip’. This marvellous pun could have come straight off the pages of one of John Lennon’s books, or as Steve suggested, straight from the mouth of Jim McCartney, but went strangely unnoticed by the audience. 

How he came to write the song Thank U Very Much, as a way of thanking his brother for the gift of an expensive camera. Sadly, he still won’t reveal the meaning of the ‘Aintree Iron’, but he did tell an amusing anecdote about the song being a favourite of the late Queen Mother. 

His time as an apprentice hairdresser with actor-to-be Lewis Collins, and golfer-to-be Jimmy Tarbuck, at Andre Bernard’s stylists in Great Charlotte Street in Liverpool. 

How Paul and Mike practiced singing in harmony to try and emulate the Everly Brothers. Years later they met Don Everly at Paul’s annual Buddy Holly Event, and Mike told us how they cornered him at the bar so they could settle an argument over which ‘Everly brother’ each had been. It turned out Mike was ‘Phil’, and Paul was ‘Don’.  Of course, 'Brother' Michael, Phil and Don are all mentioned in Paul's song 'Let 'Em In'.

We got into an interesting discussion about the National Trust owning Mike’s family home at 20 Forthlin Road in Allerton. He had recently appeared on an episode of the BBC’s ‘Hidden Treasures of the National Trust,’ the premise of which he recounted for the audience.

A colourised version of probably Mike's favourite photo. John and Paul composing I Saw Her Standing There (circa November 1962) with two of the three different wallpapers visible. (credit: Mike McCartney)

When the trust purchased the house in 1995, they set about faithfully restoring it to how it would have looked at the time the McCartney family lived there. If you have read any of Mike’s books, you will know that his mother Mary was very fond of Sanderson hand-painted wallpaper, but as they were short of money, she could only afford roll ends, never enough to paper the entire room. Consequently, the front room (parlour) had different patterned wallpaper on each wall, notably a stone wall effect paper on the main wall around the fireplace which Paul and Mike had picked. That the National Trust had not been able to source this particular paper for the restoration had bothered Mike for years. Without it, the house wasn’t quite the home he remembered.  The programme showed how the Trust had finally managed to create reproduction rolls of this paper as a gesture to Mike using his photographs as their template.

Mike admiring the new wallpaper (credit: BBC / National Trust)

Toilet wall archaeology (credit: BBC / National Trust)

The programme also included a sequence in which the Trust’s ‘paint specialist’ had set about making test scrapings on the painted walls of the indoor toilet in the hope they might uncover Paul and Mike’s teenage doodlings, or even song lyrics hidden beneath. Mike said he couldn’t believe they were going to these lengths in his old house when they could have been out ‘digging for Tutankhamun’ instead.

Still on the subject of the BBC show, he mentioned that following a discussion with his brother they had agreed to allow the Trust to open up their parents’ bedroom to visitors – until recently it had been used as the private quarters of the live-in National Trust custodian and was off limits. Perhaps in recognition that enough time has now passed, they collaborated with the Trust in a restoration which has transformed the room from a place of sorrow, into a celebration of their mother Mary.  To gauge how successful the Trust has been in achieving this, you need only watch the BBC special to see how noticeably moved Mike becomes when he is invited to survey their finished work.  As he observes the little details such as the ashtray on Jim’s bed-side table, and Mary’s rosary beads, he’s suddenly twelve years old again and the memories come flooding back.

Visitors to Forthlin Road will now be able to see Jim and Mary's bedroom
following a sensitive restoration (credit: BBC / National Trust) 

Mention of Paul’s Carpool Karaoke visit to the house in 2018 (‘he didn’t want to go in’) prompted a lady in the audience to introduce herself to Mike as the National Trust representative seen opening the door at 20 Forthlin Road, and inviting Paul and James Corden inside. She revealed that when Paul and Corden were filming in the bedroom, the production crew asked her if, for the benefit of the cameras, she would ask them to pay the admission fee when they came back downstairs. Aware that Paul is now telling the story of how he was asked to pay in interviews, she wanted to make it clear to Mike (and by extension Paul) that the television people put her up to it.

I asked Mike what his Dad had made of Paul’s success. The unsurprising answer was that Jim was very proud. He enjoyed sitting with Paul in restaurants, observing the other diners’ reactions to his famous son (‘they’ve spotted you’). Mike told the well-known story of how his father’s 62nd birthday coincided with the London premiere of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’.  Following the screening, attended by a great many of the McCartney clan, a party was held at the Dorchester hotel, where Paul presented his father, with a painting of a horse. ‘Very nice son’ said Jim, slightly confused. Realising his father had no made the connection, Paul clarified, ‘It’s not just a painting of a horse… I’ve bought you the bloody horse!’ A lifelong fan of horse racing, Jim was suddenly the owner of Drake’s drum, a one-thousand-pound racehorse. Stunned by the gesture the only thing he could say was ‘You silly bugger.’   

I followed this up with ‘What happened to Drake’s Drum?’ to which Mike replied, ‘I’ve no idea’. 

He discussed writing the theme tune to The Liver Birds, an early 1970s British tv sitcom, which he whistled twice for the benefit of the audience. 

He doesn’t think there will be any more Scaffold reunions but said there was a new box set coming out with all their recordings and unreleased tracks which he has enjoyed revisiting again.

His memories of how he came to record the ‘McGear’ album in 1974: In 1971, Scaffold joined forces with members of the Bonzo Dog Band and the Liverpool Scene to form Grimms, a loose collective of poets, musicians and humourists. They had some success, releasing several albums in the early 1970s but there were internal tensions and Mike revealed that following an altercation with another member, the poet Brian Patten (‘a story for another day’) he got off the tour bus. He found himself stranded in the middle of Huyton with no money. Asked where he was living at the time, Mike replied ‘Heswall’, to audible chuckles from the local members of the audience.  Huyton, in South Liverpool, is 18.5 miles from Heswall, on the Wirral. I wonder if he swam the Mersey to get home?

McGear (1974) (credit: Warner Bros. Records / Rykodisc / See For Miles)

Now at a loose end, Mike jumped at Paul’s offer to come down to London and make a record.  Mike told us how the first single ‘Leave It’ was recorded at Abbey Road (‘Paul had connections there’) in April 1973. Before the session, Mike met with Paul at his MPL offices in Soho Square. There was scaffolding on the building when Mike arrived, and pointing this out to Paul, he thanked him, saying ‘nice touch.’  Noticing the sign over the door – MPL – he again thanked Paul for such a thoughtful gesture. ‘What are you talking about?’ asked the puzzled older brother. ‘MPL – Mike Paul and Linda’ said Mike. ‘Get inside, you daft bugger’ replied Paul.  Paul sent the resulting track to his in-laws and legal advisors Lee and John Eastman (Linda’s father and brother) to arrange for its release. They liked it so much they suggested Mike record an entire album, which he did the following January at Strawberry Studios in Stockport with Paul and the rest of Wings as his backing group.


After the Q&A session Mike was happy to stay and sign autographs and pose for photographs, which he must have done for over an hour. I was impressed with how everyone received his undivided attention when it was their turn, and how he took the time to personalise every item he signed with a cartoon or humorous comment.

'So, Mike, I've brought my entire Scaffold collection for you to sign, together with a selection of your marvellous books...'

I asked him if he was feeling better (after his recent illness). He smiled and said ‘well, I’m still here!’, the implication being that he had actually been quite unwell. I had noticed during the talk that the majority of the audience originated from outside of Liverpool, with several visiting from overseas. I told Mike that we appeared to be the only Scousers in the room. He laughed and acknowledged this with his personalized autograph (Lar!)

Earlier he had been asked about his influences in art and photography. I told Mike that his photographs had inspired me to create ‘then and now’ comparison shots which sometimes involved a lot of research to try and pinpoint precisely where they were taken. As an example, I showed him the well-known childhood photographs of himself and Paul in white shirts with matching shorts and braces and asked him if he knew where they were taken. He admitted he had no idea, as someone else had taken them. I was pleased to show him a recreation I’d made, (using my own kids) and explained that they were taken in Stanley Park (between the Stadia of Liverpool and Everton football clubs). He was genuinely interested, and so I produced the picture of ‘teddy boy’ George Harrison carrying flippers. Again, I asked him if he knew where that was, and he said ‘no, our kid took that one’ and so I showed him the same location today in Harlech, taken during Paul and George’s hitch-hiking holiday. I think Mike was a little bit amazed, as I imagine I would be, if a random person suddenly told me where a family photo, I had known for over 75 years had been taken.  

Happy to have given something back, I said the next time he included them in a book he’d be able to properly caption them. Anticipating that he would want to get straight on the phone to tell Paul, I said my goodbyes.

"So this is where I live...that's my dog...that's Val who lives over the road...she's alright yes... oh, this is where we stayed on holiday last year...that's.. Oh! Don't look at that one"

As a parting question, I thought I’d be cheeky and ask him about Paul’s paper round at Abba’s newsagents by the cenotaph, perhaps the greatest discovery I've made in the course of researching this blog. 

‘I don’t even remember us having a local paper shop, sorry’ he replied.


Well, dear readers, he would say that wouldn’t he? 😉 

A truly special afternoon in the company of someone who was most definitely 'there'. 

Thanks to Steve for the invite, his alumni from the Beatles master's degree at the University of Liverpool for arranging the event, and for Peter Michael McCartney for being most efficacious in every case. Thank U Very Much.

... and we brought back lots of lovely souvenirs:

'2 our Mark from Mike Mac (Lar!)'

Mike signing my Scaffold albums (already signed by Roger McGough at a previous event)

'Mike Mac Wuz der!'

'Handsome Chap!'

© Mark Ashworth, 21 May 2024

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