Soufflé Speak. I don’t know if Philip Norman himself coined that expression, but it crops up countless times in this biography of Paul McCartney. It’s an unflattering term referring to Macca’s ability to charm his way through any interview situation with seemingly open and friendly answers, while simultaneously remaining diplomatic and giving away very little of value.
Thankfully this book manages to dig much deeper than Paul’s Soufflé Speak to come up with one of the most readable and searching McCartney biographies on the market. Philip Norman has been here before of course, authoring fine books about the Beatles, Stones, Jagger, Lennon, and others. But it was Norman’s 1981 Fabs biography Shout which very nearly scuppered this entire project. It seems McCartney wasn’t happy with the way he saw himself portrayed in the book, which he called “Shite”. It was the familiar picture: John the cynical rocker vs Paul the soppy ballad writer. Some snarky quotes from Yoko didn’t help, either. It took some doing, but Norman eventually won McCartney over and eventually received tacit approval to write this book.
I don’t know about you, but I never get tired of diving into what is, let’s face it, the greatest story ever told. It seems like I’ve read a thousand books about the Beatles, but like the very best addictions, there will always be an excuse for “just one more”. While always interesting, Norman’s biography treads familiar ground until the break-up in 1970, but then it really moves up a gear as we enter the solo years. The post-split legal shenanigans have been comprehensively covered in Peter Doggett’s book You Never Give Me Your Money, but Norman’s lighter touch is far more entertaining and the narrative builds nicely as each new character enters the picture, culminating with Allen Klein as the textbook pantomime villain. Macca was right all along about Klein by the way. He was a crook, even though the other three put Paul through hell about it for years.
We know this story so well, we can predict almost every word of what’s coming next, so it’s good when Norman comes up with some new information, as he does from time to time. Linda is portrayed as a saintly figure throughout and the couple clearly got along well. However, when she is offered a ghost-written book deal Macca nixes it, snapping “There’s only one fucking star in this family.” Likewise the news that Paul’s brother Mike was charged with sexual assault (but found not guilty) is another interesting new detail. Paul’s recent heart scare and subsequent hospital treatment yet another fascinating interlude.
But of course it’s the Heather Mills chapters we’ve all been waiting for and thankfully Norman doesn’t disappoint. “Juicy” doesn’t begin to cover it, as we are given chapter and verse regarding the way the duplicitous Heather somehow managed to steal the heart of the world’s most popular and beloved entertainer and walk (or limp) away with over 20 million quid. Not for the first time the reader asks “what on earth was he thinking”. In a Q magazine interview after the divorce Paul is asked if the marriage was his biggest mistake of his life. Employing typical Soufflé Speak Macca answers “It’d have to be up there”.
At this point it’s worth pointing out that I experienced this biography via the 30 hour audiobook version, narrated by Jonathan Keeble who brings the story to life with a range of well-observed accents, including all four Beatles, Linda, Yoko and even a delightfully cartoon-like Heather Mills, Geordie glottal stop and all, like.
I’m a stickler for mistakes in these biographies, but I’m pleased to say I found only a single factual error during the entire 30 hours. Denny Laine’s post-Moody Blues/pre-Wings outfit the Electric String Band is referred to, unforgivably, as the Incredible String Band. That howler seems to be found on the audiobook only however and not in the physical book, so only one slapped wrist this time.
Length of Read:Long
Might appeal to people who enjoyed…
Anything by the Beatles
One thing you’ve learned
Paul no longer owns the famous farm(s) on the Mull of Kintyre. He sold them recently and the two farm managers with 55 years service between them were sacked, with one manager given three months notice to vacated his grace and favour house on the land.