“The Polar Music Prize is awarded to Paul McCartney for his creativity and imagination as a composer and artist which has revitalized popular music worldwide over the last 30 years.”
The Prize Citation for the Laureate of the very first Polar Music Prize would have – had it been formulated today – probably been exactly the same. With the only difference that it would state: “… over the last 50 years” instead of “over the last 30”. That’s how remarkable Paul McCartney’s life and musical career has been and developed. Since the Polar Music Prize was awarded in 1992, he has made seven studio albums, four live albums, five classical albums and a couple of world tours.
He has made three electronica albums under the name of The Fireman, he’s been involved in the remastering and reissues of a number of Beatles and Wings recordings from the 1960s and ‘70s, and he spent a few years on Apple’s ambitious project The Beatles Anthology. He has done radio shows of his own, TV specials and collaborated and participated on a number of other artist’s and musicians’ recordings – the most unusual being Liverpool Sound Collage in 2000 with Super Furry Animal and Youth, using the sound collage and musique concrète techniques that fascinated him in the mid-sixties. It is an extraordinary musical life.
Paul grew up with his father James (Jim), a cotton salesman who worked as a volunteer firefighter during World War II, his mother Mary, who was a nurse and a midwife and his younger brother Mike.
When the boys were small the family moved around a lot in Liverpool, due to their mother’s work. She was given the midwife’s house where she worked. Soon her income enabled them to move into 20 Forthlin Road in Allerton where they lived until 1964. When Paul was fourteen, in 1956, his mother died of an embolism. Paul’s loss would later become a part of connection with John Lennon, whose mother Julia had died when he was seventeen.
There was a lot of music in McCartney’s home. Paul’s father was a trumpet player and pianist and led Jim Mac’s Jazz Band in the 1920’s. He kept an upright piano in the front room and encouraged his sons to be musical. He gave Paul a trumpet for his fourteenth birthday, but when rock & roll became popular, Paul traded it in for a guitar.
Starting the Beatles
At the age of fifteen, Paul met John Lennon and his band, The Quarrymen, at the St Peter’s Church Hall fête in Woolton on 6 July 1957. The Quarrymen played a mix of rock & roll and skiffle, a type of popular music with jazz, blues and folk influences.
The band invited Paul to join as a rhythm guitarist, and he formed a close relationship with John Lennon. George Harrison, a school-mate of McCartney’s joined in 1958 as lead guitarist, followed by John’s art school friend Stuart Sutcliffe on bass in 1960. By May 1960 they had tried several names, including Johnny and the Moondogs and the Silver Beetles.
They adopted the name The Beatles in August 1960 and recruited drummer Pete Best shortly before a residency on the infamous Reeperbahn in Hamburg, Germany.
Four visits to Hamburg in 1960-‘61 was the Beatles’ baptism by fire. Playing gruelling sessions for hours on end in one of the most notorious red-light districts in the world, the group was forced to expand its repertoire, tighten up its chops, and invest its show with enough manic energy to keep the rowdy crowds satisfied. The repertoire was mostly Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Carl Perkins and Buddy Holly covers.
Back in Liverpool, The Beatles became the hottest band on the Merseyside scene, playing for packed houses at the Cavern Club. They were spotted by local businessman Brian Epstein, and the rest is history. They got a record deal in 1962, had their first hit with “Love Me Do” in October that year. By then, Richard Starkey of Rory Storm & The Hurricanes had replaced Pete Best on drums. Paul McCartney was playing bass, since Sutcliffe decided to stay in Germany. One year later, in the autumn of 1963, the Beatles had released their first album and “She Loves You” was a huge hit. The breakthrough turned into Beatlemania.
Making music history
During the ten years that The Beatles existed, 1960-1970, they went through a tremendous musical development – as did the popular music scene around them. But The Beatles were leading the course. They synthesized all that was good about early rock & roll, and changed it into something original and even more exciting.
They became the prototype for the self-contained rock group that performed its own material. As composers, Lennon and McCartney’s craft and melodic inventiveness were second to none. As singers, they were among the best and most expressive and the group’s harmonies were intricate and exhilarating. As performers they were exciting and photogenique, when they retreated into the studio they were instrumental in pioneering advanced techniques and multi-layered arrangements. Paul and John shared most of the song-writing, although most of the songs started as an idea from either one of them.
Break-up, solo, Wings
Paul released his first solo album, McCartney two weeks before the release of the final Beatles album, Let it be, in April 1970.
He announced, prior to his release, that the Beatles were breaking up, which caused some tension with the other members for some time. His album was a one-man-studio-band LP, recorded at home in late 1969. It had a pronounced homemade quality; it was spare and sounded almost unfinished, but it also contained “Maybe I’m Amazed” which became an international hit and his first post-Beatles pop standard. The homespun motif continued with Ram, credited to Paul and his wife Linda McCartney and recorded together with drummer Denny Seiwell. Later the three were joined by ex-Moody Blues guitarist Denny Laine and formed the band Wings.
Wings lasted for ten years, 1971-1981. They recorded ten albums and made ten tours, with many different line-ups. But the core of the band was Paul, Linda and guitarist Denny Laine. Seven of the albums made platinum, of which 1973’s Band On The Run was the most successful. Also their world tour of 1975-’76 was a great success, not least the American leg which resulted in the live album Wings over America (1976). After Wings, Paul went solo again, releasing McCartney II (1980), “Tug Of War” (1982), Pipes of Peace (1982) and “Give My Regards to Broad Street (1984), a musical and feature film McCartney starred in.
On these records other artists contributed to Paul getting hit songs; Stevie Wonder on “Ebony and Ivory”, Michael Jackson on “Say Say Say” and Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour on “No More Lonely Nights”. The most musically interesting in the eighties was the album Flowers in the Dirt (1989) on which McCartney collaborated with Elvis Costello. The critically acclaimed album was followed by a world tour, Paul’s first in ten years and on which he played a number of Beatles songs, many of them live for the first time – since The Beatles stopped playing live in 1966.
Classical & more
Through the years, Paul McCartney continues to produce first class pop, with a characteristic and unique sense for melody and harmony, and experimenting in the studio to find new sounds for his songs. Since the early ‘90’s he has also worked with classical, or contemporary art music. It started with the The Liverpool Oratorio in 1991, commissioned by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society.
Composer Carl Davis helped McCartney on notation and orchestration – since Paul doesn’t read music – on a piece for orchestra and choir about a family in post-war Liverpool. He continued his orchestral experiments on Standing Stone (1997), Working Classical (1999) and on a tribute album of choral music called A Garland for Linda (2000), who died of cancer in 1998. In 2011 he made his first music for dance, Ocean’s Kingdom, commissioned by New York City Ballet. In electronic music McCartney has experimented on three albums under the name of The Fireman. In 2000 he released Liverpool Sound Collage with Super Furry Animal and Youth including sound collage and musique concrete techniques.
When Paul McCartney was awarded the Polar Music Prize in 1992 he was 50. More than a decade into the new millennium, he has passed 70 and is as active as ever – composing, touring, recording and getting into projects and collaborations he feels for. Since 2000 Paul has released four studio albums in his own name. The last one, Kisses On The Bottom (2012), is a celebration of jazz and old popular music. It is music from his own childhood, music his father liked – and he himself as a young boy.
Most of the songs are covers from the great American songbook, two of them are McCartney compositions in the same spirit. The albums Driving Rain (2001) and Chaos and Creation in the Backyard (2005) are two great examples of McCartney’s pop music skills, his melodic talent and the never resting efforts to find new sounds for classic pop melodies.
Stockholm May 1992
Paul McCartney did not attend the Polar Music Prize Ceremony in May 1992. Being in the middle of recording and producing a new album, he made a special video that was showed for the Swedish King XVI Carl Gustaf and all the other guests — where he expressed his feelings. It was a special atmosphere in Berwaldhallen, being the very first Polar Music Prize Ceremony.
Among the musicians performing were Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and four of Sweden’s greatest jazz musicians; pianist Bengt Hallberg, saxophone player Arne Domnérus, guitarist Rune Gustafsson and bass player Georg Riedel.
Just a note to thank you for the great honor you and the Swedish Royal Academy have bestowed on me by making me the first recipient of the Polar Music Prize. I will always treasure it.
All the best,