50 Years Ago: Paul McCartney’s Next Band Takes Flight on Wings Over Europe Tour
Paul McCartney had grand plans for his first proper tour with Wings. They'd begin the 26-stop Wings Over Europe dates on July 9, 1972, in Chateauvallon, France, with hopes to record some shows for pairing with a future studio project.
These concerts weren't as informal as Wings' initial appearances, which found McCartney dropping in on unsuspecting university campuses. They were still decidedly low-key, however, as Wings traveled from city to city in a custom-painted double-decker bus.
"I wanted some way I could feel easy about appearing live again," McCartney told Melody Maker in 1973. "It was very difficult after the Beatles because at the time they weren't interested in going live except on really big gigs. I was more interested in kinda playing smallish things and getting near audiences again. It was like the pub-rock bit. It was selfish reasons, really. I just wanted to play live!"
Wings were ostensibly promoting a couple of early singles, "Give Ireland Back to the Irish" and "Mary Had a Little Lamb." The larger purpose of the jaunt, however, really seemed to be getting to know one another in the run-up to sessions for their second LP, Red Rose Speedway. A lineup also featuring Denny Laine, Linda McCartney and Denny Seiwell had quickly assembled 1971's Wild Life, before McCartney added lead guitarist Henry McCullough.
As they built in more personal camaraderie, Wings' concerts began to boast an impressive new fluidity. "The time we spent together, out bonding on the road, it meant we didn't have to work at it," McCullough said in 2011.
Listen to 'Best Friend' From the Wings Over Europe Tour
They notably stayed away from Beatles songs, unless fans counted covers of Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally" and Carl Perkins' "Matchbox." Instead, Wings focused on more recent songs from Wild Life ("Mumbo," "Bip Bop"), 1971's Ram ("Smile Away") and 1970's McCartney ("Maybe I'm Amazed"). They also debuted a pair of future singles in "Hi Hi Hi" and "My Love," the latter of which would top the charts in 1973 with an eruptive one-take solo from McCullough.
Ultimately, Red Rose Speedway arrived as a single disc without the promised live content. Instead, the Wings Over Europe tour would become more well-known initially for a drug bust on Aug. 10, 1972, in Sweden, where Paul and Linda posted bond in the equivalent of $14,684 at the modern exchange rate.
Gothenburg authorities searched the bus while Wings were still onstage, then the band and all of its entourage were questioned as fans still clamored for an encore out front. Suspicions were raised by an intercepted package meant for Seiwell, according to The Daily Telegraph.
"Unfortunately, they take hashish and marijuana far too seriously," McCartney told the Telegraph after they were released. International headlines followed, though Wings certainly seemed to be taking it all in stride: "This is only good publicity for us," they said in a statement published by the Miami Herald.
Wings toured the U.K. next but then fell apart in the aftermath of Red Rose Speedway, leaving the McCartneys and Laine to complete 1973's blockbuster Band on the Run project as a trio. "It just wasn't going to work out for the rest of us in Wings," McCullough said in 2011, before quickly adding: "Unless, of course, you had an apron on, if you know what I mean."
Listen to 'The Mess' From the Wings Over Europe Tour
Still, McCartney's main goal had been to slip out from behind the Beatles' long shadow, and he felt he'd done that. "You start off with all that 'We are coming to witness a legend' type thing, and it turns into 'We're coming to see a band,' and it's much nicer. By the time we did our British tour with Wings, it just felt like a working band," McCartney told Melody Maker. "We loved the university tour we did because that was really down-home. So we accomplished what we set out to do, and now we are putting Wings Mark II together."
Live recordings from the Wings Over Europe dates eventually trickled out – slowly at first, then all at once.
The "My Love" single featured Wings' performance of "The Mess" from the Hague, the Netherlands. McCartney released "Eat at Home" and "Smile Away" from Groningen, the Netherlands, as an iTunes exclusive during his 2012 reissue campaign for Ram. "Best Friend" from Antwerp, Belgium, and "1882" from Berlin were part of the 2018 reissue of Red Rose Speedway. An entire disc of songs from Europe finally followed later in 2018 in a limited-edition Wings 1971-73 box set as part of the Paul McCartney Archive Collection.
By then, Seiwell had long since returned to his first musical love. He came into these dates as a respected jazz drummer and ended up working with everyone from James Brown to Billy Joel to Zoot Sims. Seiwell remained most associated, however, with his seminal stint alongside McCartney – which also included sessions work on Ram and Wild Life.
"I was a jazz musician until I met Paul McCartney," Seiwell said in 2013, with a laugh. "You play with one Beatle, and it really fucks up your jazz career."
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