Many who hear Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Sound Collage project detached from any awareness of its relationship to Peter Blake’s About Collage exhibition at the Tate Gallery in Liverpool will relegate it to an attempt to follow “Revolution 9,” the audio collage John Lennon and Yoko Ono assembled for the Beatles’ 1968 White Album. Some history is in order, however.
“Revolution 9” was preceded by an untitled Beatles recording McCartney directed at the behest of David Vaughan (who had painted the piano on which McCartney had composed “Penny Lane”) for the Carnival of Light Rave being held on 28 January and 4 February 1967. The four-track experimental piece, recorded in January 1967, was mixed down to a 13 minute 48 second collage that has never been commercially released. (The track was later removed from consideration for Anthology 2, although it is rumoured to be eventually released as the soundtrack for a McCartney photo montage film on the Beatles.)
Peter Blake became forever associated with the Beatles that year for his peerless cover design for the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band LP. 33 years later he approached McCartney to create an ambient impression of Liverpool as a soundtrack for the exhibition About Collage. McCartney returned to Liverpool, conducting interviews on a DAT recorder with stunned passersby (the interviews feature in “Made Up,” immortalising the woman who brings McCartney his chips). He recorded conversations with students at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (which he helped found) and sampled his return to the Cavern and the Liverpool Oratorio, layering into this mix unused music and dialogue from Beatles sessions dating from 1963 to 1969.
The best collages are inspiration-intensive, and audio collage has the added intensity of making a lucid message while subverting linear continuity. As such Liverpool Sound Collage is mesmerizing on repeated listenings. Beatle scholars will find much to examine (although casual admirers will be bewildered as usual). The first part of the Collage, Paul’s “Plastic Beetle,” is full of inspired wordplay, a trance version of the Christmas messages, taking full advantage of the possibilities in found bits like the 1965 John Lennon line, “Okay, Paul — are you ready, boy? — this is it!”
McCartney’s appearance at the 2000 NME Premier Awards (where he accepted the NME’s “best band ever” award on behalf of the Beatles) moved the project in an unexpected direction. Cian Ciaran of the Welsh group Super Furry Animals (themselves winners of that night’s “Best Live Act” award) introduced himself to McCartney, offering the group’s services should he need remixing. Within two weeks Ciaran received a phone call from McCartney taking him up on his offer, but the Super Furry Animals were nevertheless astonished by the arrival of a stack of tapes from Apple accompanied by a letter stating “these tapes contain unreleased Beatles material.” The arrangement they devised, “Peter Blake 2000,” is the highlight of the Collage. Ciaran’s transmogrification of a phrase casually spoken by George Harrison into the guitar riff forming the foundation for the music is utterly ingenious.
Youth, Paul’s longtime collaborator from the Fireman LPs (Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest and Rushes) was contacted to add “a final touch” to the Collage (”Real Gone Dub Made In Manifest In The Vortex Of The Eternal Now”). McCartney collapsed the entire collage into the 3:28 closing piece “Free Now” (also released as a promotional single).
©2001 Rodney E Griffith. All rights reserved.