Most novelty number ones are rubbish but a notable exception to this rule is The Scaffold’s flower power classic Lily The Pink which still raises a happy smile five decades on.
The Scaffold’s nucleus of comedian John Gorman, poet Roger McGough and songwriter Mike McGear emerged from the fertile early 1960s Liverpool theatre scene before topping the hit parade.
Mike McGear was actually the alias for Mike McCartney who didn’t want anyone to think he was trading off his older brother’s name who at the time was enjoying some success with the Fab Four.
Mike McGear/McCartney had just written the top ten hit Thank U Very Much with its famous ‘Thank you for the Aintree Iron’ refrain, but thought it would be fun to record an album with Scaffold’s wordsmith.
“It came from the infinite, from out of heaven, out of magic and out of nothing,” recalls Mike “Scaffold had been doing universities an theatres and I’d written a song called Thank U Very Much, but I wanted to try different things out first.
“I just had these ideas for songs. Roger McGough was Scaffold’s poet and writer so he had the words, I wrote the music, and songs like Do You Remember just wrote themselves.
“I talked to my brother as Scaffold don’t play instruments, never have, and presumably never will, and he was in a rock and roll group, so he said why don’t we go into Dick James’ recording studio and see what comes out.”
The McCartney brothers have always been close so when your older brother who also happens to be a musical genius – arguably at the very peak of his considerable powers – offers to sit in the control booth you’d have to be crazy to say no.
“We went into at studio and the gofer was young lad called Reg Dwight,” notes McCartney. “All these people came in – Zoot Money, Paul Samwell-Smith, Graham Nash, John Mayall, Traffic’s Dave Mason- and Andy Roberts was the main guitarist as he had played a lot with Roger.
“Our kid was like the producer and getting all the musical side of it together. We just went for it and unbelievably we didn’t give it too much thought. It was the sixties – full of hope and positive dynamics – and the best way to describe the album is it is live and loose.”
McGough and McGear’s attempt to meld poetry and pop was an album that could only have been made in the Summer of Love just before the dream died with the murders of RFK and MLK.
“We’d started this album on June 18 1967 the day that my brother admitted taking LSD – pounds shillings and pence obviously – in Dick James’ studio, but we’d moved to another studio called the De Lane Lea studio and we needed a guitar solo on So Much To Love. “
So McCartney senior came up with a novel solution for a guitarist who might provide that solo.
“Our kid said Jimi is in town, so should I ask him? I said Jimi who? He said Jimi Hendrix, so I said are you joking? The wild man of Borneo, this superstar, this extraordinary guitarist.
“Our kid said I can only ask him as I know he’s in London, so I said you are allowed to ask Jimi Hendrix.”
It might seem astonishing now, but a man who just made his international breakthrough at the Monterey Festival, and was the talk of London, said yes to doing the session for free.
“The next thing the doorbell goes and our kid said that will be Jimi so I was expecting this big crowd with managers and groupies, but there was little Jimi Hendrix on his tod saying I’ve come for the session,” smiles McCartney. “He was such a gentleman and the great thing about superstars it is always best to talk to people who have met them, and if they haven’t don’t believe a word they say.
“Jimi just sat down on the carpet playing his guitar so he said what would you like me to do? Our kid sent him the track from the control room, and suddenly there is this extraordinary solo. We were like what the hell was that, but our kid smiled and said: ‘that is Jimi Hendrix.’
Mike McCartney loved the solo, but there was a problem because he thought the unassuming axe god had come in at the wrong place on his first solo.
Our kid said do you want to tell Jimi Hendrix when to come in at the right place, and I said I certainly will. Jimi asked how was that, and I said ok, but you didn’t come in at the right place, and he said I’m so sorry. Jimi said can you tell me when to come in, so I sat down on the carpet with him, and tapping his knee going ‘now Jimi.’
“He kept on doing it, including the solo that is on the record, and we went back into the control booth, and our kid said you want to hear that. He played the one that is the one on the record and I said: ‘Ah, he came in at the right place but the first one he did was extraordinary.’
“Our kid said Michael, you have learn the hard way as I’ve been working on Pepper for months and when you have genius like that then that is what you want as there aren’t many people like Jimi.”
Mike asked for the first solo to be played back, but then disaster struck.
“I said I’m sorry the first one was better, and he said can we have the first one please and the engineer said what do you mean? I’ve been wiping every one as we went along and I’ve only got one track.
“I certainly did learn the hard way.”
Even today that mishap still annoys this affable Scouser, but in truth the solo they did use is still an improvised gem only a genius like Hendrix could have produced.
McGough & McGear does deserve a long overdue remastered deluxe reissue as this collection of music and poetry has some sublime moments do that stand up very well fifty years after it was recorded on a whim.
McGough & McGear is out now on Cherry Red.