Paul McCartney’s fifth album since The Beatles’ split, Band On The Run was critically acclaimed and became Wings’ most commercially-successful album. It was credited to Paul McCartney & Wings.
McCartney was at a peak in 1973, enjoying both the praise of critics and high sales. His James Bond theme ‘Live And Let Die’ had finally established Wings as a serious group, and Band On The Run consolidated his position as one of the decade’s leading creative forces.
The success of Band On The Run is more remarkable, then, given the troubled circumstances surrounding its recording. McCartney had to contend with band members leaving, a hostile reception in Lagos, armed robbery, adverse weather and temporamental studio equipment. Against the odds, Wings emerged triumphant.
Wings take flight
Each of the songs’ composition was credited to McCartney alone, apart from ‘No Words’, on which Denny Laine was given a co-credit for the first time. The song was written before Red Rose Speedway, the Wings album which preceded Band On The Run.
I’m kind of an odd-job man in this group. I look on Band On The Run as definitely their album. We’re not a group anymore. I’m one of the three or I’m an individual. If it was Wings, I’d feel more a part of it. But it’s not my songs and I’d like to feel more involved and contribute as much as they do. I did write one of the songs on the album and Paul helped me out with it. I’d like to do more like that.
Paul and Linda McCartney had grown tired of recording in the United Kingdom, and requested from EMI a list of their international recording studios. They settled on Lagos in Nigeria and were set to leave in August 1973.
The idea to go to Lagos was originally just to have some fun, because I didn’t fancy recording in London. I fancied getting out and EMI have got studios all over the world, including one in communist China, but because that was so far away, we decided to go to Lagos, because it would be sunny and warm.
Just weeks before their departure, however, lead guitarist Henry McCullough left the group. He had become disenchanted with McCartney’s particular ways of working, which he felt stifled his creative freedom. McCullough was also disdainful of Linda McCartney’s musical skills, saying: “Trying to get things together with a learner in the group didn’t work as far as I was concerned”.
McCartney was sanguine about McCullough’s departure, describing it as necessary for the good of the band. The disagreement reportedly arose during a rehearsal when McCullough was reluctant to take direction on a composition by Denny Laine.
Henry was asked to play a certain guitar lick on one of Denny’s songs and he refused. Next morning, he phoned up and said he wanted to quit. Henry left over what they call ‘musical differences’ and it was actually that. We were rehearsing and I asked him to play a certain bit. He was loath to play it and kind of made an excuse about it couldn’t be played. I, being a bit of a guitarist myself, knew it could be played. And rather than let it pass, I confronted him with it and we had a confrontation. He left rehearsals a bit choked and then rang up to say he was leaving. I thought, ‘Fair enough.’ So it was exactly the stereotyped ‘musical differences’.
Wings’ plans to record in Lagos continued. However, an hour before their flight was due to depart from Gatwick Airport, drummer Denny Seiwell announced that he, too, was leaving the band.
Denny rang up five minutes before we were leaving to record in Lagos and just said, ‘Hey, man, I can’t make the trip.’ I don’t think he wanted to go to Africa. I think it was a bit much, but then again, I think everybody should do what they want. That’s what we said Wings should be. If anybody fancies leaving, great.
Unpeturbed, the multi-instumentalist Paul opted to play drums. Wings were reduced to a core line-up of the McCartneys and Denny Laine, along with one of The Beatles’ former balance engineers, Geoff Emerick.
We thought that it would be warm and sunny out in Africa. We thought it would be like a fab holiday place but it’s not the kind of place you’d go for a holiday. It’s warm and tropical but it’s the kind of place you’d have monsoons. We caught the end of the rainy season and there were tropical storms all the time. There were power cuts too and loads of insects. It does bother some people but we’re not creepy-crawly freaks. Linda doesn’t mind lizards. But someone else, for instance the engineer we took out, who did Sgt Pepper and Abbey Road, he couldn’t stand them. So a couple of the lads put a spider in his bed. It was all a bit like scout camp.