The title Working Classical was a pun on Paul McCartney’s Liverpool roots, and referenced his desire to retain his rock ‘n’ roll and working class background despite forays into other realms.

I called it Working Classical because I’ve always had a bit of difficulty with the word ‘classical’ with regard to music. ‘Classical’ is often thought of as ‘serious’ music, but that then denigrates all the other music I’ve done with the Beatles which I don’t think was all humorous. There’s some quite serious stuff there. So I prefer to call it ‘orchestral’.

I’m also very proud of my working class roots. A lot of people like to turn their backs on their past, especially when they get a little bit elevated in life – but I am always keen to remind other people, and myself, of where I’m from. I don’t want to lose my roots. I’m always working class, I’m always from Liverpool and my roots are always in rock ‘n’ roll – but I like the odd cello!

So, I just saw this interesting pun made from ‘classical’ and ‘working class’ and I thought, ‘Well, that’s a kind of neat title,’ and it takes the edge off the classical to have a little bit of a pun with it.

Paul McCartney

Working Classical was launched with a 75-minute live performance at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall on 16 October 1999. It featured the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Andrea Quinn, and the Loma Mar Quartet, with McCartney in attendance.

Afterwards a champagne reception was held at the venue’s Rodewald Suite, with tickets priced at £25. The proceeds were donated to the Forget Me Not charity.

The performances were filmed by the BBC and was screened in the UK on 23 April 2000, and on PBS in the US in March. John Fraser again produced the audio, and the visuals were produced by Frances Peters and directed by Christopher Swann.

The release

Working Classical was released in the UK on 18 October 1999, where it peaked at number two in the classical charts. It topped the US classical charts after being released the following day. Unlike his earlier classical works, however, it did not enter the mainstream charts.

Sleevenotes were written by Julian Haylock and included in the 16-page booklet that came with the compact disc.

Working with instruments commonly associated with classical music has been a hallmark of Sir Paul McCartney’s work since his early days with the Beatles. The memorable use of a string quartet in Yesterday, the chamber group in ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and the orchestra in ‘She’s Leaving Home’; a French horn in ‘For No One’, a piccolo trumpet in ‘Penny Lane’ – all these added more than just a touch of textural colour. The resulting sonorities became a vital part of the music’s emotional fabric. Thirty years on and the extraordinary success of the Liverpool Oratorio (1991) and Standing Stone (1997) have established McCartney as an important new voice in the classical field. Working Classical takes this process one stage further with it’s enterprising blend of orchestral and chamber music.

McCartney remains refreshingly candid about the creative processes involved in bringing his music to fruition. Having developed the ideas for the three orchestral pieces on this album, he worked alongside his regular classical producer, John Fraser, to find a satisfactory way of shaping them into a coherent overall form. Two internationally renowned musicians, Sir Richard Rodney Bennett and Jonathan Tunick, were then invited to work on the orchestrations. All three works employ a full symphony orchestra and are presented as integrated suites of striking ideas in an arch-like structure.

A Leaf and Spiral share a common origin inasmuch as both began as solo piano pieces, but there the resemblance ends. The main waltz-time idea of ‘A Leaf’ (written shortly after the Liverpool Oratorio) has a reflective wistfulness about it that instantly draws the listener in. This is then contrasted with a section that in it’s rhythmic propulsion and use of muted trumpet in the orchestral mix has an unmistakably American vitality about it. Twinned clarinets, pungent horns and cellos, and the striking use of a solo piano show McCartney’s exuberant imagination working at full stretch, leading to a magical return of the opening material.

In comparison, Spiral is more impressionistic, much of it (despite some imposing climaxes along the way) heard as though through a heat haze. The haunting opening, featuring a solo flute memorably underpinned by a sustained chord in the strings, gradually fills out until the announcement of a little descending motif (B-A-G-E), which becomes increasingly important. The emergence of a string quartet from the orchestral texture momentarily threatens to destabilise the tonality, until the solo flute gently soothes the music’s troubled surface.

The last of the orchestral pieces originated as the theme for an animated film based on an American children’s book entitled Tuesday. Paul explains: “I liked the idea of extending it, so we’ve used a similar kind of orchestration to A Leaf, making it into more of an extended suite-like structure with several contrasting episodes. The main theme is dissected and then I work in a number of new ideas”.

The string quartet pieces came about as the result of memorial services held in America and England for Linda. McCartney wanted to mark the occasion with some of his own music and decided to collect together some of the songs he had written specifically with Linda in mind, the one exception being Junk. (This simple waltz with a descending bass line dates back to the Beatles era; it’s a song that suits the quartet medium especially well). The Brodsky Quartet premiered the resulting arrangements in London, the Loma Mar Quartet (who made the present recording) in New York. It was during the studio sessions that McCartney surprised the members of the Loma Mar Quartet with two new and completely original compositions – Haymakers and Midwife – as a kind of “thank you”. The latter is particularly effective, with it’s laid back, almost bluesy violin melody set against a steady 4/4 pizzicato accompaniment.

The nine song arrangements open with a pair of heart-warming love songs. The Victorian romanticism of Warm And Beautiful feels particularly close to McCartney at the moment: “That one really does get to me. It captures some of my innermost feelings for Linda”. Of My Love McCartney recalls; “Linda and I were going through such a wonderful period and she was fulfilling so many of my needs that it was really nice to put it down in song”.

Maybe I’m Amazed, the first song that McCartney intended for Linda, also sounds particularly effective here: “I felt good when I wrote it. It’s always difficult to talk about your own work but I felt the tune and lyrics all seemed to come together. I remember Liza Minelli once saying she thought it was my best song, so I was particularly pleased to have written that one for Linda”.

Calico Skies is a piece for acoustic guitar that McCartney wrote in America. The unmistakable suggestion of early music is quite deliberate: when he was composing it, McCartney recalled the image of a medieval musician banging away on a tabor. In complete contrast comes Golden Earth Girl, a vision of Linda as a blonde, gently tanned nature girl, totally at one with her surroundings. McCartney fondly imagines her contentedly curled up in a huge moss-lined nest.

Somedays is one of the finest tracks on McCartney’s solo album, Flaming Pie. Remarkably, it was written in just two hours after he had accompanied Linda to a photo session and found himself with some spare time on his hands.

She’s My Baby was written for Linda at the piano late one night in London during the couple’s early years together following the break-up of the Beatles. “It was a very liberating time for both of us”, remembers McCartney. “The song is essentially a series of little enigmatic statements, snatches from a diary that seemed to sum up our relationship at that time”. The Lovely Linda was the opening track on McCartney’s very first solo album, McCartney. Written one day in the halcyon early 70s, it’s an engagingly simple piece that once heard is very difficult to get out of your head.

Julian Haylock

Published: |