Years ago, when I was thirty, I bought an old motor yacht, and spent two precious years going around the world on her with my family. It was career suicide, looking back on it. I shudder to think how many good film soundtrack jobs I turned down when I was away – but it made sense at the time and I don’t regret it. At Montserrat Studios, near Antigua (after we had crossed the Atlantic) – I met Paul McCartney and his young family for the first time. It was only months after John Lennon had been shot. I didn’t discuss that with Paul, – it was way too private, and he must have been in a certain amount of shock. But he was at the Montserrat studios making his duets album, with Stevie Wonder about to arrive the next day to record “Ebony and Ivory”. Paul and I got on well, and he, Linda, George Martin, Carl Perkins and Denny Laine joined us, at anchor, for dinner one night. Here’s an extract from my forthcoming autobiography, giving some idea of the occasion and the people.
George Martin joined us, and – I think having been a nautical type before becoming a record producer (perhaps during the war) he was full of intelligent questions as we reached the wheelhouse. He wanted to know about the satellite navigation equipment, depth measurement (sonar) equipment, autopilot and radar. He was interested in Braemar’s history, too.
Meanwhile, Carl Perkins and Denny Laine were getting settled on the afterdeck and the drinks began to flow. Carl was still declaring himself to have landed in Heaven the previous morning , and indeed the mood was very happy. Our crew, other than those serving drinks , (a deckhand and the stewardess, smart in their white uniforms), kept discreetly out of the way. As we sat down to dinner I said “ I think I’m going to get drunk tonight, just so you know!”. It was a great night. The food was brilliant, the conversation lively. As the food was all served, Carl Perkins turned to Paul and said, “Y’know what Paul? Back home this is what we call shittin’ in HIGH COTTON!”. His voice went up on “high” and the vowel was delivered long and emphatically before coming down on “Cotton”. After dinner the evening developed into a jam session in the music room with Paul at the piano, Denny and Carl on guitars and me on accordion. We sang everything from “Ilkley Moor B’aht ‘At” – (don’t worry if you’ve never heard of it) to “Let It Be”, and Paul took his position as the leader of the sing-song, as one would expect him to. Denny was in great form on guitar. Then Paul said, “Come on, Carl, play that song you wrote yesterday morning!” and so Carl picked up the guitar and sang “On the Island of Montserrat, I never will forget…” (I can’t remember the rest of it, but the opening rhyme was hilarious, as he had to pronounce “forget” as “forgat” to rhyme with Montserrat”). He then demonstrated some truly fantastic guitar technique, – something he had devised when, as a young guitarist, he couldn’t afford an echo unit to put his guitar through. He played a piece where he hammered the string a second time after each time he played it, giving the totally realistic sound of it going through a fast-repeat echo effect box. Then he sang “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Honey, Don’t” – and it was we who thought we’d died and gone to Heaven. Hearing a couple of famous songs sung by the writer is always a great thrill. We invited the crew back aft, and they joined in the sing-song, and Mark, one of the deck hands, sang a song called “Froggy” which he had written, accompanied by Roy, the captain. It had a croaking chorus. Later, I often wondered if this had provided unconscious inspiration for the famous “Frog Chorus” song written by Paul for his Rupert Bear animation, even though the two songs were not similar in melody or lyrics.
As the party reluctantly drew to a close, and the guests climbed into the whaler to be driven ashore, Paul invited me to drop by the studio the next day, when Stevie and he would be recording a new song called “Ebony and Ivory”.
I showed up at the studio the next day, and Paul met me outside in the sunshine. “Wow, what a night! “ he said. “You said you’d get drunk, and you were true to your word!”. Then he said the best moment for him had been when Carl had leant over and said “Paul, back home this is what we call shittin’ in HIGH COTTON” – Paul imitated Carl’s southern American accent perfectly. To this day, whenever I see Paul, which is not very often, – he says “Mike, this is what I call shittin’ in HIGH COTTON”.