Paul McCartney records for special edition of BBC Radio 4 series Mastertapes

Get your tickets for a special recording session with Sir Paul at BBC Maida Vale Studios!

The radio series Mastertapes returns to BBC Radio 4 later in the year, and a special edition of Mastertapes with Paul McCartney at the BBC Maida Vale studios will be recorded on Wednesday 11 May. In this exclusive interview ahead of the release of a major retrospective collection, McCartney will talk to John Wilson about his music career and will answer questions from the audience.

A limited number of audience tickets will be available for 24 hours from today (Wednesday 27 April) at 12pm via the Mastertapes pages on the Radio 4 website.

The hour-long special edition of the programme will broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 10am on Saturday 28 May, and a version will be filmed for BBC iPlayer.

John Wilson says: “Mastertapes looks at the nuts and bolts of songwriting, and draws back the curtain on what can often be a private and sometimes lonely art. Having interviewed McCartney many times before, I know he offers great insight into that process. As the most successful songwriter of all time, and the man behind some of my favourite music, I couldn’t ask for a better guest – it’s going to be a very special session.”

In Mastertapes, musicians and artists join presenter John Wilson to discuss their career-defining albums. Usually broadcast over two consecutive days and recorded at BBC Maida Vale studios, each edition of Mastertapes involves an in-depth interview with the artist (for the ‘A-side’), questions from the studio audience (for the ‘B-side’) and exclusive live performances of songs from the albums in question.

The Mastertapes website, which includes additional and exclusive live performances of all the artists featured on the programme (as well as photographs and videos from the sessions), is rapidly becoming a valuable musical resource. It is also the place from which all the previous editions of the series can be downloaded: Former Mastertapes guests include Noel Gallagher, Robbie Williams, Natalie Merchant, Manic Street Preachers, Sinead O’Connor, Paul Weller, Corinne Bailey Rae and Rufus Wainwright.

Apply for tickets here.

49 Responses

  1. Unknown says:

    I hope it's an interview that goes a lot deeper than the usual. We really don't need to hear any mention of scrambled eggs for the thousandth time, do we..?? I won't be holding my breath though..

  2. James Percival says:

    I have to agree with you there, Maxwell. We are all here because we are massive Beatles fans but over the years I have grown to fear Macca's repetitive, anodyne interviews. The trouble is that, not only is his smug superficiality part of the reason why quite a lot of people really don't like him, I am genuinely starting to wonder if he really is just a shallow man ruined by years of adulation. 'Cool' doesn't interest me in the slightest, but analysis, reflection and honesty would be a step up from the usual crap.
    The searing intelligence and honesty from the likes of John Lennon and Pete Townsend can be uncomfortable at times, but it is part of the reason Paul is compared unfavourably, and it's puzzling he has not worked this out by now. Time is running out too.

  3. Unknown says:

    You've just about nailed it, James. Spot on.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Hey, sorry for the offtopic, but I don't knows where to ask: What about a Beatles Singles Collection box reissue? any news?

  5. Titenhurst says:

    He's not as smug now he's older. But if his commentary on the Beatles 1+ video tracks is a guide to what he can remember, gawd help us, it was embarrassing. Still, we'll all be be tuned in, and those of us who will be lucky enough to get tickets will be glued to our seats and in awe of his presence

  6. Unknown says:

    Agreed. But here's the thing. I think George Martin suffered from the same repetitive information, to where once the gentle listener heard the question being asked, they knew everything about the answer that would follow. It is frustrating for the die hard fan, clinging to hope of uncovering some undiscovered nugget of info. But I think there are a few things at play. You can't discount that McCartney was always different from Lennon in interviews… but there is more happening than just that. McCartney has been interviewed about these same topics about 4 times more (40 years longer) than Lennon ever was, simply because of the difference in their lifespans. And Lennon's post Beatles lifespan was in the 70's when none of them particularly wanted to dwell on the past for very long. We are hugely lucky that Lennon consented to talk about Lennon/McCartney songwriting in the depth he did with Playboy. (And even then, a lot of Lennon's answers were short sentences, like "That's him," and "That's me." Lennon focused more on very specific songs and stories that he wanted to highlight. You get the same with Paul.

    What is easy to forget is that these guys don't hold their every track and their every guitar strum in the same reverence as their die hard fans do. They have a handful of stories that they think encapsulate what they did that was great… so I think you don't hear McCartney talk about "I'm Looking Through You" the same way that he will talk about "Let It Be," unless he is asked very specifically about it. So it falls a lot, I think, on the interviewer to say "We all know the more common stories and those are well documented, one need only refer to the Beatles Anthology if they are curious about "Yesterday," but I want to delve deeper, more into the nuts and bolts of your process, and maybe ask you about a few songs that are off the beaten path a bit." I think most interviews suffer from the lack of this, a LOT. Especially at this late date.

    And that being said, McCartney is no longer as close to his memories as he would have been in 1972 or 1982. We're catching him WAY on the back end. It is natural that his stories (like George Martin's) have become compartmentalized over time. (Heck, even Geoff Emerick and Ringo get repetitive on this stuff.) It's doubtful that he is going to suddenly remember something he has never talked about before. He is one of (if not THE) most interviewed rock stars in history.

    I'm glad I don't have people picking my bones, asking me about things I did when I was high 50 years ago, and then criticizing my ability to remember it as well as historians would… while keeping it sounding fresh, and including all new details for the squillienth time. Really?

    Just a thought.

  7. Unknown says:

    I think the point is… as die-hard fans, we've already sucked up all the info that he has to offer. I wouldn't want the job of pleasing us and keeping us satisfied with ever-interesting details about how Hey Jude was written. We've heard the stories. We can't be mad at him that we've already acquired every available tidbit from him until there are no more left. He's not going to say anything that you haven't heard.

    The question is, why do people continue to interview him if they are not going to ask him something from a fresh angle. And the answer is that lots of people (not just the mega-fanboys and mega-fangirls) will tune in to hear it. The man can still effortlessly draw a large crowd, just by retelling familiar stories from the days of old, about back when people broke the rules and the youth of the world were in rebellion, during a time when the recording industry blossomed. People will show up to hear about such a thing. It's a pity there is a cap on the details that are available. The historians have more of this than the artists. See Mark's next book.

  8. wogew says:

    In all fairness, whichever memories McCartney wants to share with us is coaxed by the interviewer. I remember when Paul was interviewed on Swedish television, the interviewer actually asked Paul to retell the story about when his dad suggested to substitute the 'Yeah Yeah Yeah's of "She Loves You" with 'Yes yes yes'. So it seems they want him to tell the familiar stories and not flip the record over and ask him about "I'll Get You". That "Blackbird" was a social commentary on the civil rights movement in USA was only known to those die-hard collectors among us who had heard Paul tell Donovan about it on a bootleg of an old jam session, until Paul started talking about it during his soundchecks. It was also only recently that Paul talked about George Harrison coming up with the guitar response notes on "And I Love Her", which is really what made the song so memorable. When he was to record comments for the "1" video comp, he spotted homeless Bill in the "Hey Jude" crowd and started talking about him, he had never told that story before. So it's either up to chance or a well-informed interviewer to ask about stuff he hasn't told us about earlier. It's also up to Paul's memory. Back in the summer of 1982, I met George Martin one day and Paul McCartney the next, and I asked them both who had played the piano solo on "Lovely Rita". Neither of them could remember it, and that was only 15 years after having recorded it.

  9. James Percival says:

    Agree, agree, especially the analysis of George Martin who became increasingly hard to listen to when he talked about 'the boys'. But I think my point is more about analysis rather than the same stories with a bit more detail. I'm in not a musician but I was taught music at school and I know enough about the basics of time, scales, keys and harmony to find these sorts of things interesting. Which keys does he prefer to write in? Which ones suit his voice better? (and is this linked to the fact that he sings some songs so much better than others?) What are changes he's made to harmonic development once he moved beyond three chord songs? Does he think hamonically when he writes? (Let it be outtakes suggest that he did), etc, etc. Now I've read, even quite recently, that Paul may be superstitious about his ability to write music, but the thing that strikes me is that he just cannot have worked so closely with George Martin, John Harle, Richard Rodney Bennett and Carl Davis, etc, without picking up a lot about musical theory, and yet he has very rarely discussed these aspects. Personally I think this is a legacy about 60s 'cool' and wanting to present himself as an untrained primitive. But given that Macca's attempts to be cool have always backfired, maybe in his dotage he needs to explain a little more and get credit for his huge musical skill. I have written on a number of blogs that I think that ultimately his music standing will rest more on his high quality work such as the Liverpool Oratorio, the orchestral tone poem Standing Stone (which is such a deep work) and Working Classical, and his high quality Wings albums, as much as his Beatles work.

  10. Unknown says:

    It doesn't help that most interviewers are purposely trying to appeal to the general masses, to draw the biggest number of viewers they can. These interviews don't get very technical or niche for that reason; the average Joe knows the "1" album, and doesn't care a monkey's whit about the musicology involved. Unless the program is meant to be strictly educational, these days it is being geared to the general public. I think in the perfect world we would create, Mark Lewisohn would sit Paul down and do an 10 show series of 90 minute interview episodes, actually getting into the real meat and potatoes of creation… but I assume he's putting all of his energy into making the "Tune In" books to be the definitive document, which will be very cool. His next book is going to get into some amazing years.

  11. James says:

    He did the Nerdist podcast last year.

    1. It's one of the most interesting interviews he's ever done, sounds pretty relaxed.

    2. He talks about how he separates the private and public sides of his personality. And I think that trotting out the same old anecdotes in interviews is part of the way he stays sane in the face of having been one of the 10 most famous people in the world since he was 21. He certainly doesn't have to bare his soul to you or I.

    I also think that music is such a natural thing to him that he can't analyse it. He just does it. He sits down and writes a song. He picks up an instrument and gets a tune out of it. If you're that naturally talented – at anything – self-analysis is never going to be a strong suit

  12. Unknown says:

    Yeah, I had heard the Nerdist one, that was a fun one. While I'm not a Howard Stern fan per se, I did think the interview Paul did with Howard hit some different notes from usual that were fun to hear. It wasn't in-depth music discussion, but its a good example of what different types of interviewers bring out in someone. When interviewing lots of people, you quickly learn that you get out of it what you put into it.

  13. James Percival says:

    Just a few other points: unlike Mark Lewisohn I don't have filing cabinets filled full of notes and a handy reference system, but over the years he certainly has let on that he tried to learn musical notation (first with Jane Asher's mum) but gave up when he could not connect the theory with what he did naturally. I also remember an interview in the late 80s when he discussed putting in diatonic 'wrong notes' like C sharp in the key of C so he does know a hell of a lot more than he lets on.
    Yes, James, he is a natural, and genuinely the Mozart of pop/rock and I am sure that will be his final epitaph. But Mozart knew his stuff about composition and no one would consider his requiem mass a light work, and likewise Macca should think about his legacy and ensure that he isn't remembered solely as 'thumbs up' Macca who never revealed much more than 50 recycled anecdotes.

    Over the years a lot of people have suggested that his approach to interviews and fame is a form of self-preservation; and how on Earth can any of us imagine for one minute what that level of fame will do? But equally, a previous post got onto the question of his standing and just compare Macca's public persona with the likes of Joni Mitchell or Van Morrison (two of my all time favourite artists). Neither are particularly pleasant people, but I think they have enhanced their reputations by hardly ever submitting to interviews. And that's what I question: if he isn't willing to really open up, what does he gain by this endless repetition of fairly superficial interviews?

    I've also read comments speculating about his intelligence, suggesting that there is a deeply calculating, sharp mind behind it all the guardedness. But in truth I've never seen much evidence of it. For personal reasons I do think his mother's death at 14 has shaped him a lot more than people realise though.

  14. James Percival says:

    I meant chromatic not diatonic. And I will listen to that nerdist podcast, so thanks for the tip

  15. James says:

    "And that's what I question: if he isn't willing to really open up, what does he gain by this endless repetition of fairly superficial interviews?"

    Because he likes to please people. It's why he plays a set full of Beatles songs. He gives the public what he – rightly or wrongly – assumes they want.

  16. Unknown says:

    Seems to have worked out more than ok for him. And I'm betting on razor smart along side of supremely gifted.

  17. Unknown says:

    I like the idea that he could be the perfect artist if we could just talk some sense into him and change the way he does things. It is very hard to top his art or his success, if it's possible at all. He would do well to have little regard for any advice about doing things differently than he has done. I think he must get a lot of fan advice that makes him have to quietly chuckle.

  18. James Percival says:

    One thing I really like about this website is the really constructive and friendly discussions. And now I do feel a bit ashamed that a nobody like me could offer the most successful songwriter in history some advice. But Paul always gets it right? Really! Maybe it is different in the US where the Beatles were more venerated, but from my experience in the UK I think that there is a huge amount of antipathy, even dislike of Paul, and I am genuinely worried that he is damaging his reputation and potential legacy. I think it's a combination of jealousy, his eager to please nature, and the fact that he made bad and 'uncool' decisions like Give my regards to Broadstreet, and the Frog's chorus, etc.

    An anecdote: I rarely discuss music with anyone, but last week a few colleagues and I were discussing the upcoming vote for remaining in the EU. The question of the unequal trade with the US came up, and a colleague who knows I am a Beatle maniac mentioned that the US was really open to the Beatles. Smelling a rat I steered the conversation to British music in general, but another colleague apros of nothing suddenly blurted out: they can keep what's his name, not Ringo, the other one McCartney. The can keep him!"
    You tell me any other music artist of comparable stature, Jagger, Dylan, Van Morrison, Elton John, Rod Stewart, or recently departed Bowie, who generates that kind of response?

    BTW – for the record for reasons I don't have space to go into, I do suspect that Paul is mightily smart, but he hides it really well.

  19. Unknown says:

    I totally agree, Wog is a great place for open conversation that remains on-topic without getting confrontational. Opinions may clash here, but people are able to actually talk through their opinions logically without all the shouting.

    And I think you're right about Paul. I think he is a very smart guy who plays it close to the vest on purpose. I'm quite sure that is deliberate, for a variety of reasons.

  20. Unknown says:

    The interesting this about this particular BBC Radio-4 interview in question is the quote from John Wilson. He says: “Mastertapes looks at the nuts and bolts of songwriting, and draws back the curtain on what can often be a private and sometimes lonely art." That gives one hope that this interview could actually be different from the many other Scrambled Egg interviews. But then he continues: "Having interviewed McCartney many times before, I know he offers great insight into that process" which kind of takes away all hope that this will be different from other interviews. Who knows. Maybe we'll get lucky and we'll get to hear some nuts and bolts. I agree that history proves there is good reason to doubt though.

  21. wogew says:

    Some good questions to Mark Lewisohn in this new podcast, including questions about how it's like to interview Paul McCartney.

  22. Titenhurst says:

    Just received a text and email from the BBC – I have 2 tickets for Wed 11th ! 🙂

  23. Declan Meehan says:

    So did I 🙂 Should we be worried about the tickets saying that it doesnt guarantee admission or is this standatd for bbc show tickets ? I'll be coming down from Manchester and might not be able to get to maida vale till about 11am

  24. Unknown says:

    Nice find. Thank Roger.

  25. wogew says:

    Congrats to those who got tickets! You better compile a few tough questions should they invite questions from the audience or if you get a chance to speak with the man himself! 🙂

  26. Titenhurst says:

    @Backtomono74, I've been to few radio show recordings at BBC radio theatre Broadcasting House, Portland Place and it's standard stuff. But as Macca is on this show I would get there sooner than later.People will be very keen to get best seats. Those with lowest numbered validation stickers were let in first, then rising in order,well that's how it works at Broadcasting House.

    • Declan Meehan says:

      Thanks @Flaming Pie – excuse my ignorance as first bbc show have been to but what do you mean by validation stickers and what is the process for getting a low numbered one ? Might have to look at getting an earlier train as this is making me nervous . It was feelings of joy 3hrs ago !

  27. Titenhurst says:

    I might go off topic of writing and just ask why Pete Best was sacked and If he still sends Heather Mills a Christmas card

  28. Titenhurst says:

    You queue at the entrance and are issued a sticker as you enter the building, (earliest = lower number)which is stuck to the printed e-ticket you bought with you. Once in the building you go to cafe, and seated waiting areas. The Theatre/studio doors open at the advertised time and the organisers call groups of people in, in the order of their sticker number. Simples!

  29. Titenhurst says:

    Just received this email.


    Congratulations on being successful in the draw for tickets for what will be a tremendous afternoon. Unsurprisingly the demand for tickets were huge – so well done for getting this far.

    As you may know part of the format of Mastertapes is that members of the audience (that means you) are able to ask questions of the guest. Questions could be about anything – about Paul McCartney’s career and legacy, about specific songs or about his likes and dislikes.

    To help us ensure we have a full range of questions to use in the recording, we are asking for them to be sent to us in advance. Please submit your questions by Wednesday 4th May (or earlier if you want). You can submit as many as you like (though if chosen you will only be able to ask one question).

    Please remember that admission to the event is not guaranteed, it’s on a first come first served basis. As not everyone who asks for tickets uses them, to ensure we have a full house we send out more tickets than there are places. However people with selected questions will be given priority entry to this event.

    And of course, it goes without saying that without any questions we will not have a complete programme. So please email them in as soon as possible to:

    We are looking forward to hearing from you soon!

    Best wishes and thank you,

    The Mastertapes Team
    BBC Radio 4

    If you'd like to suggest questions, please post here before 4th May and I will consider emailing them to the show

  30. Unknown says:

    Roger, Thanks again for posting the link to the "Travels In Music" interview with Lewisohn. He totally answers the issue we were discussing of Paul McCartney in interviews, and some of the reasons for those perceptions, and the role of the interviewer, etc. VERY timely of you to run across that link. That was brilliant to hear. The rest of the interview was great as well. Mark is THE source for Beatles insight and info. I don't see a better one out there.

  31. wogew says:

    Okay, so the audience is allowed to ask questions. I'd like to invite participants of this discussion and other blog readers to suggest questions for Flaming Pie and backtomono74 to help them. Of course, it will be up to our ticket holders to consider whether or not to use your submitted suggestions.

  32. Shad Radna says:

    For all his much-vaunted honesty, John Lennon said an awful lot of things in interviews that weren't true. It's like the songs: after '65 or so, most of Lennon's songs are first-person and reflect what he was thinking; McCartney's are third-person and a product of distancing imagination. In interviews Lennon just said what was on his mind, which might conceivably be honest but it's not the same thing as telling the truth. McCartney presents his history like it's a story he's telling – like he wasn't really there. He's kind of absent from everything he says. We could speculate on why those two personalities were the way they were, but it seems to me that they were always that way, and that those personalities are what produced all that music and all those songs.

  33. wogew says:

    Journalist Paul Du Noyer Reflects On Four Decades Of Interviewing Paul McCartney: 'He Doesn’t Know How To Write A Song!'

  34. Unknown says:

    Hi folks, has it told you what time the actual recording is meant to start? Thanks!

  35. Declan Meehan says:

    Has been put back to 1.30pm. Waiting to hear if one of my 3 questions I submitted has been chosen. How about you Flaming Pie ?

  36. Unknown says:

    backtomono74 – Thanks for that, sounds later than normal

  37. Titenhurst says:

    I emailed about 5 questions in 2 separate emails, heard nothing back yet. I will update on here if I do.
    I'm not clear if this will just be an interview and a Q&A session, or if we will hear some performance aswell. Will it follow the same format as the other Mastertape sessions from other artists?

  38. Declan Meehan says:

    I really hope so Flaming pie. Always wanted to see him perform with just guitair or piano in a reasonably intimate setting.
    Have noticed that some previous guests on the show have had a full band with them

  39. wogew says:

    The eagle has landed.

  40. Titenhurst says:

    Must be Llydd airport, Kent. Only around 20 miles from his Sussex home

  41. Titenhurst says:

    Today's recording was very enjoyable. Paul Weller, Noel Gallagher, Chris Difford and Glen Tilbrook were also in the audience which made a even more special occasion. Paul trotted out a few of the well worn anecdotes, but there were new ones too. Just the odd tinkle on the piano to demonstrate techniques, and a very brief snippet of Lady Madonna on the piano to open with. Paul played a short version 'If you were here today'on guitar to show chords and the writing process. Total recording time was around one and half hours. Looking forward to seeing and hearing it on the BBC

  42. Declan Meehan says:

    Yes it was very enjoyable flaming pie. He also did an excerpt of 'every night' when he was talking about the process of how his first album came to fruition. Those around me pre recording were certain that he would be playing with his band but i enjoyed that it was more of an intimate experience, albeit the he didnt perform a full song.
    In addition to those you mentioned, Brad Pitt was also present as well as Simon Pegg (who asked a question), Martin Freeman, Mark Ellen (old grey whistle test) and James Bay ( didnt really know he was if truth be told !)

  43. Unknown says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  44. Unknown says:

    Thanks for the update, FP. It's encouraging that there were some new stories mixed in with the oft-heard ones. Sounds like it might have been a better-than-average interview. Definitely will tune in. How close were you?

  45. Titenhurst says:

    I was 3rd row back from front on the piano side, left if you were facing out from stage area. 3rd time Ive seen Paul, and definitely the closest I've ever been. I would guess an audience of 150 to 200 people.

  46. Declan Meehan says:

    Will be shown via the bbc red button from early tomorrow morning – looks like its shown twice a day – early in the morning then again at night.
    However, I assume it will also be on iPlayer at some point as well.

  47. Titenhurst says:

    backtomono74, did you get into any camera shots? My son and I are shown for a fraction of a second at 37 secs on iPlayer video.

  48. Declan Meehan says:

    No i dont think so – i was sitting on the end of the third row to the left of McCsrtney and at the end of the piano.

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