Graham Reid | | 4 min read
When he parted company with Paul McCartney at the dawn of the Eighties, Denny Laine had been the former Beatles loyal lieutenant for a difficult decade as McCartney falteringly launched a solo career then steadily soared upwards on the success of Wings.
Denny Laine – born Brian Hines, he took Laine in tribute to singers Cleo Laine and Frankie Laine – was there for the first incarnation of Wings as a jobbing band and the Wild Life album, hung in when others abandoned the group out of frustration just before the sessions in Nigeria which birthed Band on the Run and was the one McCartney trusted to choose band members when others quit.
He is there as just one of three – with the Mr and Mrs Mac – on the cover of London Town and he co-wrote Mull of Kintyre.
But in that latter regard, therein lies the nub of why he quit.
Within a few years of his departure and after he fell on harder times, Laine was telling the Sun what a cheap employer McCartney was – the band were all employees, on 70 pounds a week when Wings started with modest bonuses at the end of a tour – and that, successful though he was as a singer and songwriter, McCartney was always reluctant to give credit to to others.
When McCartney was puling down a million a year off Wings in the mid Seventies, Laine (and others) were on a retainer of less than 6000 pounds, and it went down to less than four thousand the following year.
Yes, he did better at other times when he got a writing credit, but Laine was hardly living the life of luxury you'd expect from a member of one of the most successful groups of its era.
His wife Jo Jo – never popular with the Macs, Linda thought she was a groupie making good – has also been very outspoken about the money, or lack of it.
Denny Laine – who had briefly been in the Moody Blues and was the voice on their lovely and faithful cover of Bessie Banks' Go Now – deserved better and perhaps more input into a band he was clearly devoted to.
He wrote Time to Hide for Wings' more democratically-shared songs on At the Speed of Sound and McCartney gifted him the excellent Note You Never Wrote on that record.
“With Denny it's very natural for him to sing leads,” McCartney said at the time, “because he really is a lead vocalist anyway.”
It had taken him at least five years to conclude that however.
He also said that “I always felt the tunes Denny was producing weren't really big enough for him, so I wanted to write something that was a bit more epic. So we recorded The Note You Never Wrote and then took it from there with the rest of the group”.
If songwriting quality was troubling McCartney in regard to Laine he was happy enough to ignore the obvious: wife Linda's awful Cook of the House on the same album.
The end for an increasingly disgruntled Laine came when McCartney was busted in Tokyo in 1980. The world tour was cancelled and Laine later complained that he could have made about 50,00 pounds off that tour.
But the plug was pulled and “it was very very hard for me to forgive him after that. I realise now it was definitely the beginning of the end.”
However Laine was also something of the architect of his own misfortunes because of his chaotic finances, a costly divorce from Jo Jo and being forced to sell his share of Mull of Kintyre and his other Wings songs to McCartney. He was declared bankrupt in the mid Eighties. There were reports that he was living in his car.
McCartney' next album after the Japanese bust would be McCartney II and Wings were no more.
Laine still appeared on McCartney solo albums but within a few years that stopped too.
Laine made some unsuccessful solo albums: one called Japanese Tears, another Wings on My Feet and yet another which features McCartney songs and some of their co-writes was Wings at the Sound of Denny Laine.
Denny Laine – 74 at the time of this writing – is now all but written out of the McCartney story (check Macca's website) and was a man who deserved better.
He had a fine voice, played in some interesting bands before Wings (the r'n'b Moody Blues, Balls and Ginger Baker's Airforce) and in fact during his tenure with Wings made an interesting and very unprepossessing album with Paul and Linda.
Holly Days of '77 when he was still in Wings under his own name was cheaply and quickly recorded in the manner of McCartney and Wild Life at Rude Studios in Scotland – a shack on McCartney's property – with Paul handling production on four track and laying down the basic tracks.
It is as charmingly lowkey as that sounds and is a bunch of knocked off Buddy Holly covers which is “monophonic recordings electronically reprocessed to give a stereo effect on stereo equipment”. Shades of '63.
It sounds exactly what it is, three friend (Linda, who took the cover photos, contributes harmony vocals) going through a catalogue of old songs they knew by heart, and Laine sings the material with real affection and in a voice not dissimilar to Holly.
And McCartney gives some of the songs interesting and slightly different settings, some akin to his experimental instrumentals on Red Rose Speedway. The “chipmunks” backing vocals on Take Your Time unnecessarily spoil a nice version.
At times – as on Fools Paradise – it also sounds closer to the nominally McCartney/Wings album McGear recorded with Paul's brother Michael.
Mean-spirited people might note that McCartney might have done as well out of Holly Days as his then-friend Denny Laine.
After all, he owns the Buddy Holly catalogue.