“Mull Of Kintyre” was a huge hit in the UK and 1977’s Christmas Number One, staying in the charts for 17 weeks across late 1977 and early 1978. 40 years later, it’s still one of the best-selling UK singles of all time with over 2 million copies sold.
Elsewhere in the world reactions were more muted, but wherever you find communities of Scottish expats, or lots of people with Scottish heritage, “Mull Of Kintyre” does very well.
Paul McCartney probably had the most extensive and long-lasting music career of any of the Fab Four in their post-Beatles days, with big hits like “My Love”, the Bond theme “Live And Let Die”, “Band On The Run” and his duet with Stevie Wonder, “Ebony And Ivory”, amongst many others.
And Paul McCartney’s track record as a songwriter is right up there with the all-time greats for both quality and quantity. He wrote, or co-wrote, 32 Billboard Number One records, he’s picked up 18 Grammys over the years and also wrote what is widely considered the most covered song of all time, “Yesterday” — covered by over 2000 different artists to date…and counting…
But I’ve chosen “Mull of Kintyre”, which Paul McCartney wrote with his Wings bandmate and ex-Moody Blues guitarist Denny Laine, to round off this mini-series of songs by ex-Beatles because it’s a place I’ve got a strong affinity with myself.
The Mull of Kintyre is a real place in the west of Scotland. Pretty much all my family holidays were spent there as a kid. The “mull” is the tip of the Kintyre peninsula…the finger of Scotland that points southwest towards Northern Ireland on a map.
My parents used to rent a little cottage somewhere or other on the Kintyre peninsula for a few weeks every summer — and although I didn’t always have the happiest of childhoods, I do remember enjoying those holidays because I was allowed to listen to the radio for most of the day instead of going to school.
To say the Mull of Kintyre is a particularly beautiful part of Scotland is saying something in a nation already blessed with so much natural beauty. But during the long school holidays in the summer, and often at other times of the year too, our family explored every inch of the Kintyre peninsula — a perfect blend of long sandy beaches, rugged crags, lochs and islands.
Famously, Paul McCartney owned a farm on Kintyre, just outside Campbeltown. It was the place he went to chill out and detox from life on the road as a global superstar. If you haven’t been to that part of Scotland, I can assure you there aren’t many better places to chill out and detox than the Kintyre peninsula.
Although “Mull of Kintyre” is far from my favourite Paul McCartney composition, it does capture the sense of being actually in that part of Scotland very well and brings back a wave of childhood memories every time I hear the song…
Mull of Kintyre, oh mist rolling in from the sea
My desire is always to be here
Oh Mull of Kintyre
Paul McCartney and Denny Laine recorded their guitars in the open air outside Paul’s farmhouse and studio on the Mull of Kintyre and it really adds something to the song’s atmospherics.
There’s a definite sense of someone marching through the heather towards you, singing along the way.
And for a real taste of Scotland, of course there’s nothing better than a well-judged pipe band. So Paul McCartney called up the local pipe band down the road in Campbeltown and asked if they’d mind coming up to the farm so he could make a record.
As you do in that very community-minded part of the world, when a neighbour asks for help you do your best to accommodate them. But I’m sure nobody was more surprised than the Campbeltown Pipe Band to find themselves on a Christmas Number One record.
“Mull Of Kintyre” was deliberately written to have the feel of a Scottish folk song about it. And whilst I don’t think anyone, including Paul McCartney himsef, would claim that’s exactly what came out the other end of the songwriting process, the end result was certainly very evocative of both Scotland itself and the folk music tradition…
Sweep through the heather like deer in the glen
Carry me back to the days I knew then
Nights when we sang like a heavenly choir
Of the life and the times of the Mull of Kintyre
It’s not exactly Robert Burns, but if you weren’t familiar with the song, most people could be convinced that lyric came from a traditional folk song without too much trouble.
Paul McCartney and Denny Laine did a great job of respectfully nodding to Scottish folk music traditions without making it into too much of a parody or pastiche of that style. Yet at the same time they created a song which felt new and un-stodgy, and popular enough to make it to number One in the charts.
If you’re looking at that list of attributes and thinking that was quite a tall order to deliver on, you’d be right. But that’s exactly what Paul McCartney and Denny Laine did…
Smiles in the sunshine and tears in the rain
Still take me back where my memories remain
Flickering embers go higher and higher
As they carry me back to the Mull of Kintyre
Never mind flickering embers…every time I hear Paul McCartney sing “Mull Of Kintyre” he carries me back there too.
The mist, the heather, the bluest of seas, the tiny fishing boats bobbing about, the lochs, the beaches, the hills, the lighthouse, the little cottages. All the things that pop straight into my mind the minute I hear the opening chords of “Mull Of Kintyre”.
Here’s Paul McCartney, Denny Laine, Linda McCartney and the Campbeltown Pipe Band to evoke the spirit of Scotland…and indeed one of my favourite parts of my homeland…better than any other pop song could hope to do. And as an added bonus, please enjoy all the wonderful views of the Kintyre countryside and shoreline in the video below.
A well deserved UK Christmas Number One for Wings back in 1977…here’s “Mull Of Kintyre”…
If you’ve read this far, thank you for spending a few moments in the company of one of my favourite songs. The video is below, but if you prefer listening to your music on Spotify, you can find today’s track here…https://open.spotify.com/track/7t4c2dRPcikOFVODa0qlQu