The first in a series of collaborations with producer Youth, Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest was an ambient techno album by Paul McCartney, credited to The Fireman.
I originally got in touch with Youth so I could ask him to do a couple of dance mixes from the Off The Ground project. He’s a ‘buzzy’ character so I was glad when he agreed to do it. The brief from me was that he should only use stuff from our recordings, because dance mixes often feature a kick-drum sample or a James Brown snare sound and, as a consequence, the record ends up sounding a bit like someone else’s. So I told Youth that I’d prefer any sound he might select to come off our recordings, mainly Off The Ground.
Although Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest was originally conceived as a set of remixes from McCartney’s 1993 album Off The Ground, Youth (former Killing Joke bass guitarist Martin Glover) thought they would be released as future b-sides, not realising they would be issued as a standalone album.
I didn’t think it appropriate to remix any of the Off The Ground tracks the way I’d been briefed. I thought it would be better to do a more conceptual thing – that is, rather than remix a track I thought we should deconstruct the album into samples and then construct a new mix from those. And Paul liked the idea. He was into it, so I went for it.
Youth, his engineer Chris Potter, and programmer Matt Austin, worked in McCartney’s home studio, Hog Hill Mill, in East Sussex, England from 7-10 October 1992. The second day was spent going through available tapes, and on the second day McCartney joined them to record new sounds.
He only had four of five hours to spare so we just had a laugh. I got him to play a bit of banjo, an bit of Bill Black’s original stand-up bass from Elvis Presley’s ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ session, he played some flute things and did some whispering, and I just sampled it all up.
McCartney said he found the session “an interesting release”, and a welcome contrast to his normal way of working. On 9 October the McCartneys attended the launch of an exhibition of Linda’s photographs at the Royal Photographic Society in Bath, leaving Youth and his team to continue work.
Youth sampled some of McCartney’s vocals from ‘Cosmically Conscious’, the bonus track on Off The Ground, as well as a bass riff from the album, and spoken passages from ‘Reception’ and ‘The Broadcast’, from Wings’ final album Back To The Egg.
Youth found the latter already loaded onto McCartney’s Chamberlin keyboard, a forerunner of the modern synthesizer.
I put all the ingredients together, told Paul I was going to mix it on the last night and suggested he pop down to have a look. So he came down with Linda and their children after attending the opening of Linda’s photographic exhibition in Bath, and they all really got into what we were doing. Paul was blown away because he was hearing his album in a totally new context. And he also saw how we mixed – using the desk as an instrument and playing the desk. After I’d done one mix he asked, ‘Is that it?” and I said ‘No, we’re going to do a lot!’ He ended staying until about four in the morning, and got totally into it. It was a very special night.
The original intention had been to release one of the Off The Ground remixes as a 12″ single, but McCartney opted instead to release all nine as an album, complete with Youth’s working titles.
I was planning to edit them into one single mix, but he said he wanted them as an album. I had slight reservations because if I had known it was going to be an album I would have done them slightly differently. As a bunch of 12-inch mixes they’re excellent very spontaneous and, though I don’t want to get bogged down in the dogma of conceptual music, they have a charming naïveté. But, to be honest, as an album it may fall a little short.
But all due respect to Paul, though: he felt it was valid as an album and was saying, ‘I don’t care, I think it’s great! I want it like this!’ He didn’t want anything changed, not even the titles that I gave to each mix on the night. I wasn’t really thinking too much about them, they came spontaneously – it was a full moon that night so I was getting quite esoteric – ‘Transpiritual Stomp’ had a kind of pagan feel, I could imagine a cavemen kicking up the dust to it, and ‘Sunrise Mix’ was the last one of the night, done as the sun was creeping up over the horizon.
What was really nice for me is that I was determined to get back to the early Wings/White Album vibe. I didn’t mention this to Paul but, funny enough, he said to me, ‘I’ve done all this conceptual stuff before, you know. You might think this is new but we used to do this in the ’60s. Have you ever heard the White Album?’ And I was saying, ‘Yeah! It’s been a big, big influence on me!’ One of the most important things I learnt while working with Paul it that he’s as fresh and enthusiastic as a 17-year-old kid. He’s got an incredible supply of ideas, was very easy to work with and is very open. What’s more, he’s still hungry for it. I get jaded and I’m 33 and have done nothing, comparatively. And there he is: he’s done so much and he’s still hungry. I found that very inspiring and learned a lot, a hell of a lot.
The decision was made to release it under the moniker The Fireman, presumably to avoid the scrutiny and expectations of a proper McCartney album.
We didn’t want the album to be seen as a gimmick, didn’t want a big deal over it, although it wasn’t hard for people to gather who was behind it. But we liked the idea that people might discover it accidentally.
The album came out a week after McCartney’s own Paul Is Live. With no promotion and a low-key plain red cover, Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest did not chart.
It was issued on CD and vinyl. The CD was Parlophone CDPCSD 145, while the double clear vinyl edition was PCSD 145.
The copyright notice on the album said “this sound recording is owned by juggler music under exclusive licence to emi records ltd”. This was a clue that it was a McCartney release, although the juggler logo of his MPL Productions was not used.
A 12″ single of ‘Transpiritual Stomp’ was also released in 1993, with ‘Arizona Light Mix’ on the b-side.
Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest was released in North America on 22 February 1994 by Capitol Records.