Younger McCartney Travels His Own Path

by Kevin Burton

   The English singer known professionally as Mike McGear has a birthday today. He turns 79.

   Among the greetings and well wishes, he may get a birthday call, or maybe a musical card that plays the Beatles song “Birthday,” from his brother – Paul McCartney.

   Peter Michael McCartney created the stage name Mike McGear in the 60s at the start of Beatlemania so as not to be seen as riding the coattails of his uber-famous brother.

   Put yourself in his place. It’s 1962 and you have just formed a band. Your brother’s band has followed up “Love Me Do” with “Please Please Me” on the way to stratospheric fame and (eventually) fortune.

   Are you creating a stage name or are you using that famous surname to get yourself a big piece of the global musical pie? 

   Maybe if you’re out there as a McCartney, your work is compared unfavorably to the Lennon-McCartney musical machine within the Beatles. But that exposure, for better or worse, would give you every opportunity to succeed.

   I probably would have used the name. But I think McGear had the right idea. It has worked out well for him.

   There are a number of McGear interviews available on You Tube, and in them he comes off as a talented, well-adjusted, well-connected musician and photographer.  He travelled in the same circles as our boy Paul (“our boy” is Liverpudlian slang for “brother”)  without the extreme pressure and demands of being a Beatle. 

   He actually was a Beatle briefly, or a Quarryman anyway.  He tells the story of how he played drums for the Quarrymen, before he broke his arm and couldn’t play, then forgot about it altogether until a fellow musician reminded him of it years later. 

   You definitely get the idea McGear took the whole rock and roll stardom thing all in stride better than most. In telling his stories to Interviewer Mark Powell of Cherry Red Records he makes asides and gives references such as “My brother was in a rock and roll group doing rather well in London at the time” as if the whole world hadn’t thirstily drunk in these tales for years.  

   He explains Beatlemania in common man terms, telling stories about how, overnight, people from Liverpool would be the hit of the biggest London parties.  “We were accepted, for the first time,” McGear said.

   McGear hung out with Graham Nash and Jimi Hendrix, He recorded with Elton John when he was still Reg Dwight. He relishes the stories and those times but never sounds as if any of this has gone to his head.

   Things could have been different had Mike stayed with the Quarrymen/Beatles, but it was never going to happen.  He never saw himself as a pop singer, though he would at least have a go at it.

   Here is his story as spelled out in Wikipedia:

   “At the time the Beatles became successful, Mike McCartney was working as an apprentice hairdresser,working alongside future actor Lewis Collins. Simultaneously, he was a member of the Liverpool comedy-poetry-music group The Scaffold (along with Roger McGough and John Gorman).”

   “The group formed in 1962 (the year of the Beatles’ first hit). Mike decided to use a stage name, so as not to appear to be riding his brother’s coattails. After first dubbing himself ‘Mike Blank,’ he settled on ‘Mike McGear,’ ‘gear’ being the Liverpudlian equivalent of ‘fab.’”

   “The band was subsequently signed to Parlophone. The Scaffold recorded a number of UK hit singles between 1966 and 1974, the most successful being the 1968 Christmas number one single, ‘Lily the Pink.’ McGear composed the band’s next biggest hit, 1967’s ‘Thank U Very Much.’”

   “In 1968, he and McGough released a duo album (McGough & McGear) that included the usual Scaffold mix of lyrics, poems, and comedy. The Scaffold ended up hosting a TV program, Score with the Scaffold, which limited the musical portion of their career, and they were dropped by Parlophone.”

   “McGear then signed to Island Records and

released a solo musical album entitled Woman in 1972, which again included many tracks co-written with McGough, and The Scaffold subsequently released their own album on the label, Fresh Liver,” according to Wikipedia.

   This “global” success somehow didn’t reach my universe, and I never knew Paul McCartney had a younger brother until somebody on You Tube  strung together a bunch of underrated songs from the 60s. “Thank U Very Much” was one of them and that’s how I heard about Mike McGear.

   “McGear signed to Warner Bros. Records and in 1974 released his second non-comedy musical album, McGear, in which he collaborated with his brother Paul and Paul’s band Wings. Although four singles were released from these sessions, only ‘Leave It’ enjoyed any moderate chart success (No. 36 UK),” according to Wikipedia.

   “Leave It” is not a bad tune. But chances are you’ve never heard it, because the label said McGear, not McCartney.

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