- What is the origin of Flaming Pie, and how did you settle on that as an album title?
When we had started off as The Beatles in Liverpool there was this local music paper called ‘Mersey Beat’. John was asked to do a little explanation of where we were at at the time. He did this typical Lennonese thing and said, “It came in a vision – a man appeared on a flaming pie and said unto them, from this day on you are Beatles with an A”. And so it was. That was always the explanation when people asked us, “well why are you called The Beatles?”
And so I just thought, I’m the man on the flaming pie! I’ll write a song about that. It’s a little bit tongue in cheek. The character who is the man on the flaming pie, he’s quite cool. He’s quite mad. Anyone I mentioned it to just smiled.
And there’s a lot of heritage with it coming from that Mersey Beat article. John’s right there in it, so it had a lot of resonance and fond memories for me. John and I used to place great value on titles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Rubber Soul, people’d go “What!?” So i really liked this left field idea of Flaming Pie.
- So were The Beatles on your mind when making this record?
I came off the back of The Beatles Anthology project with an urge to do some new music. The Anthology excited me, because it reminded me of The Beatles’ standards and the standard of the songs. It was a good refresher course, and it sort of gave me a framework for this album.
Anthology threw up all of these memories that I hadn’t had any reason to think of for so long. All of the Beatles memories. It was a very joyful period talking to Ringo and George endlessly about all the things we’d done. Particularly talking to George, who went back even further with me. I remembered all our old jokes, our old songs. The small things. Even before The Beatles. Back when he was just my little buddy who I got in the band.
Off the end of that project, I was able to more easily see where I might go next.
- How did you know where to start?
One of the things I always used to do with The Beatles was play our last album, before we went into our next. So I would play, say, ‘Rubber Soul’. I would play it in its entirety, just taking it in like a fan. And realise, that’s where we are up to. There’s the bar. Now, let’s try and jump it.
So Flaming Pie had an element of that. It was quite Beatle flavoured. There are always echoes. You can’t help it. When you write, it’s you. And when you have just reassessed your life’s work you get an idea of where to go next.
- How would you describe the songwriting process for the material on Flaming Pie?
Songs can come from anywhere. Sometimes, I would drive Linda to one of her cookery assignments, and on one particular day, I had driven her to a photo session at a farmhouse in Kent. I kept out of the way, went upstairs and made up a little fantasy for myself to write a song.
I knew that Linda would be about two hours doing the shoot, so I set myself a deadline to write a song in that time. And Somedays was it. I wrote the whole song in that time. Normally, you might get most of it down and think you’ll finish it up next week. But I thought I’ll finish it up so that when Linda had finished the shoot and would say “What did you do? Did you get bored?”, I could say, “Oh I wrote this song, wanna hear it?” It’s just a little game that I sometimes play with myself. John and I used to play this game and I don’t think it ever took us more than three or so hours to write a song.
- You play a great deal of the parts on the record yourself. What was your thought process when planning the recording sessions?
I don’t really think about it too much. The good thing is that I have always got the option. I mean, the absolute extreme scenario is just doing everything. And there are songs on Flaming Pie where I do that. Like on Somedays, I recorded that by myself, played everything, just like on McCartney. But when I was working on the final version, I thought that maybe it could use a little arrangement, so I rang up George Martin. Who better to do it?
- What differences do you notice when you do it all yourself? Are there particular things that stand out?
I don’t have a formula of how to make a record. And it’s a luxury that I don’t have to have the formula. But there’s always some sort of trigger that sends me in a particular direction.
It might be listening back to the spontaneity of old Beatles stuff, or it might be listening to one of my records, or it might even be listening to a bit of Stevie Wonder – he records a lot of his records himself too.
But for instance when I came to make what turned out to be Chaos And Creation In The Backyard with Nigel Godrich, he said “can we do it without your band?” So that was the reasoning behind that.
There’s always some sort of trigger, that makes me think ‘I fancy a bit of that’. And I’d say for the Flaming Pie album the trigger was probably Jeff Lynne.
- How did working with Jeff Lynne come about?
I knew he made good records. We’d made ‘Free As A Bird’ together as part of The Beatles Anthology, and I enjoyed working on that with Jeff. He’s very good on harmonies, and he’s very good at being precise with his production. You don’t get too many rough edges. It’s his style.
He’s a fun guy and we share a similar school of thought. Despite the success of The Beatles, none of us could ever read or write a note of music. And Jeff was the same. He quite rightly said “we all just make it all up, don’t we?” And that’s it. That’s our skill. We make it up. For example, something like ‘Here Comes The Sun’ has quite complicated time signatures, but we couldn’t name the time signatures. We wouldn’t be interested in that. We would just absorb it, know it and then play it. And that’s why Jeff said “we just make it all up, don’t we?”
That kind of person is very good to work with. We have a similar non training. Obviously, we work like mad. We put in our 10,000 hours, and that’s the equivalent of going to the Berkeley School Of Music.
- You also worked with Steve Miller, how did that come about?
I’d known Steve for a while. We met towards the end of The Beatles days. I was in a Beatles session at Olympic Studios in London that had ended in a big row, and I was hanging around in the studio after everyone else had walked out. Steve poked his head around the door and asked to borrow the stereo. We got talking and decided to do something together, so I joined in on the drums, furiously, on one of his tracks – My Dark Hour. I just wanted to drum, and it was great because this helped me let out all that frustration, in Tom Tom fills!
So I knew him from that. Working together in the sixties. Years later I rang him up and said ‘I have a couple of songs, do you want to record together?’ He said “come out to our studio”.
It was really cool, we went out to his place in Sun Valley, Idaho. And I love Steve’s music. He’s a great singer, guitar player and songwriter, so I thought it would be nice to work with him again.
- What do you remember about being in Idaho?
It was very beautiful. The weather was great, the snow was white and the sky was blue. A beautiful house, and of course the very nice modern studio that he had over there. I remember playing the piano in his living room. A nice Steinway. I would often just sit there and play endlessly. I felt very comfortable. And I remember Steve saying ‘wow, Paul’s a pretty good piano player’, and thinking ‘oh, he was listening’. And that’s kind of nice because when you noodle on the piano, which I like to do, it’s a process. It’s just lovely. It’s just like breathing. You can go anywhere on the piano, you don’t care.
- Which tracks did you focus on out in Idaho with Steve?
We worked on Young Boy over three days at his place and it was fun, we didn’t sweat it. That was the spirit of making this album. I told everyone involved in promoting it they’re not allowed to worry. There’s to be no waking up at three in the morning on this one. You’ve got to have a laugh on this album.
It’s very straightforward, Young Boy. It’s just a song straight from the shoulder, and it was written against the clock. I wrote it on Long Island in the time it took Linda to cook lunch (vegetable soup, aubergine casserole and applesauce cake) with Pierre Franey for an article in The New York Times.
- What did Steve bring to the sessions?
He’s a very good musician. He would appreciate what I was doing and with that I would be able to gauge what was good. I respect his opinion.
He’d say, “that’s a good song” or “these songs are better than the other songs on the album, so wait until you have songs of this quality then it’s going to be an incredible album.” But I was too impatient. I said “what does he know”!
And guitar playing – I know if I had wanted acoustics, he and I could do it easily, and it would be good. Just stuff like that, practical stuff. He’s a nice guy to be around, and he’s super talented.
- There’s a lot of guitar playing on this album, how did you approach that?
Actually, there’s a little bit more of my heavier guitar on this album. The World Tonight, for example. It’s got a bit of a tougher guitar riff on it.
When Linda and I first met she’d say “I didn’t know you played heavy guitar like that. I love that”. I’ve always done quite a bit of that for myself but, doing it for yourself, you don’t actually realise that people like it. So when I came to this album, Linda said “really play guitar, don’t just get someone in to play it”. It’s a little naive, my guitar style. It’s not amazingly technical. It’s a little bit like Neil Young. I feel a bit of affinity with Neil. I know we just like similar things.
- Do you remember the thought process to get Ringo involved?
I’d been saying to Ringo for years that it’d be great to do something, because we’d never really done that much work together outside The Beatles. One night Jeff suggested, “why don’t you get Ringo in?” and I said, “OK!” It just sort of happened.
I had this song Beautiful Night which I’d written quite a few years ago. I’d always liked it but I felt I didn’t quite have the right version of it.
So I got this song out for when Ringo was coming in, and right away it was like the old days. I realised we hadn’t done this for so long, but it was really comfortable and it was still there. So we did Beautiful Night and we tagged on a fast bit on the end which wasn’t there before. And as we were coming away out of the studio into the control room, Ringo’s doing like an impression of a doorman… “all right then, on your way…” if you listen closely you can hear we left that in.
Once we had done Beautiful Night it wasn’t enough, I’d had too much fun and I didn’t want it to stop. So as Ringo was there, playing great and we’d got the sound, I said “why don’t we do a bit of jam or something?”
So I grabbed my Hofner bass, he started up on the drums and Jeff Lynne came in on guitar, the three of us getting a little R&B thing going. And then I did the actor’s worst dream – he’s on stage and he doesn’t know what play he’s in – when you do a jam like that, doing the vocal is exactly that dream, you can just go anywhere, you can sing anything. But you’ve really got to clear your mind, forget everything – at the same time as playing the bass – and let your head go to some mystical place. Just totally ad-libbing it all.
Anyway, when we’d done it I played it back to Ringo and he said ‘It’s relentless’. That was Really Love You.
- You did most of the drumming on this record, but what did Ringo bring to the table?
Magic. You know, to sit down with Ringo is always a great thing. It’s always worthwhile. It’s always fun. In 2019 when I finished touring in Los Angeles, Ringo got up on stage and we were doing Helter Skelter together. And he’s drumming away and I’m singing facing front because I was on the mic. But when I wasn’t on the mic, in the solo breaks and stuff, I really made a point of turning round and watching this guy drum. And I’m thinking, my god, you know the memories across this ten yard gap here, him on the drums and me on the bass, the lifetime that’s going on here.
So, you know, it’s a sort of magic. And he and I these days get quite emotional about it, because we should. We ought to. It’s a bloody emotional thing, the years. If nothing else.
- Is it fair to say you adopt an ambiguous approach when writing songs about something emotional that’s happening in real life?
It’s true. Even if I’m writing something very specific, I veil it. That’s just my way and how I have developed as a songwriter. If I want to write about loneliness, it will be Eleanor Rigby who carries the can. With Little Willow I was very affected by Maureen Starkey’s death and I remember just going into a room and putting those sentiments into that song. The fragility of life is in that song. But, it wasn’t called Maureen, if you get what I’m saying. It was called Little Willow. So I always prefer to conjure up some story or tale, or a bit of imagination around something. Because then I can get my emotions out, but it’s not quite as raw. It makes it a little bit more available to people I think if you call it ‘Little Willow’. We’ve all got a little willow, people can relate to it.
Calico Skies is another one off this album that people related to. And I like that, I very much write with people in mind, but sometimes there is a real event that really will make me respond with a song. And that’s always a good thing. It makes it all feel a bit more real. You’re really putting your emotion on display.
- Did Calico Skies come from a similar place of inspiration to Blackbird?
I wanted to write something acoustic in the vein of Blackbird, something simple that would stand on its own and which you wouldn’t have to put drums on or an arrangement – and if anyone said ‘give us a song’, you could just do it.
We were in America and they’d just had a big hurricane – Bob, I believe – and it’d knocked out all of the power so there was no light, everything was candlelit, all the cooking had to be done on a wood fire. And we like all that enforced simplicity. It’s very primitive. So, we had a few days of that and because I couldn’t play any records, I spent a lot of time on my acoustic guitar, making up little bits and pieces and Calico Skies was one of them. It’s just a simple little song to play to people when you’re sitting around in candlelight, powerless after a hurricane. It’s a primitive little powercut memory.
- What are your favourite songs on Flaming Pie?
Souvenir is a little favourite of mine. I would have loved it as a single, but I knew that no one on earth would have ever chosen it as a single.
I was on holiday in Jamaica one lazy afternoon when I wrote this. I was thinking of Wilson Pickett. Real R&B. I like the feel, real lazy holiday. When I was making a demo the phone went in the middle of the recording. I ignored it. Then it started raining, a big tropical downpour in the middle of the recording! So I loved the demo and I almost used it on the album, because it had so much atmosphere, you could hear what was going on.
Working with Jeff we took that demo as a guide track and replaced it exactly, phrase by phrase, just putting better higher recordings over it. We didn’t recreate the lightning, but made sure it was at least as good, and had that flavour of the original demo.