Heading to Soho Square
An Interview with Luca Perasi, February 2023
Q. Welcome back, Luca. It’s 10 years since your Paul McCartney: Recording Sessions (1969-2013). How’s it going?
A. Thanks, I’m really thrilled. Many things have happened during this decade … First, I’m older! Second, that book opened a new world for me. It really catapulted me in the publishing field as an author: I have known the editorial/print market since 1996, when I had my first job, but being in the spotlight on my own was new to me. I’m very grateful to that book. The path was incredible: Recording Sessions was out in Italy (in a slightly different version) in February 2012, was released in Europe in October 2013, then made available on the US market in June 2014. In 2015, it was quoted in the bibliography of Paul du Noyer’s Conversations with McCartney. Then, in 2018 came another big moment, when Recording Sessions was quoted by David Fricke in the book accompanying the Wild Life Deluxe Edition. Last but not least, it gave me the opportunity to get in touch with many people from the music scene who were available to grant interviews with me for the volume.
One of them turned into a friendship: Tony Clark, ex Abbey Road senior engineer, who has become an important presence in my life. We’re constantly in touch and it’s a human relationship like few others. It proves that geographical barriers, language barriers, age barriers are only in our heads.
Q. Why another book on Paul McCartney? How is this book different from Paul McCartney: Recording Sessions (1969-2013)?
A. First, that book was organised as a recording chronology, while this new one is structured by release date. It’s a “classic” song-by-song book, comprising Paul McCartney’s entire discography, including a couple of other projects, such as Thrillington and “Seaside Woman”. For example, an album chapter is organised with an introduction about the recording sessions, it follows with the album song sheets, with any unreleased songs from the sessions and/or other songs from the period. It closes with information about charts, sales, critical reviews and gives a perspective on Paul’s next steps. Second, it includes ALL the songs, whereas Recording Sessions excluded cover versions and songs written by Wings’ members, as I wanted to focus only on the tracks penned by Paul. There are 346 song sheets in this new book, of which 50 concern unreleased songs. That seemed to me to give a nice window onto McCartney’s incredible catalogue. I have chosen the 50 most representative songs, mainly written by him and for which we have some audio.
So, it's a song-by-song volume, with the song sheets providing the stories behind the songs, through interviews with Paul and other key personnel (including some interviews that I conducted personally) and other facts. It also includes some musical analysis, not too intensive, but interesting if we want to understand and follow Paul’s creative pattern. Compared to Recording Sessions, it has been re-organised, largely re-written, and expanded. In particular, the translation process was very difficult for my first book. I went through four translators, and, in the end, it still had some linguistic flaws.
This time, I went for a different approach and my English text was revised, re-written and changed into “proper” English by Steve Lambley. Steve has a company specialised in writing, editing and translating, and designing and laying out English-language texts and information. He also has a background in music and released a great book on The Beatles, called And the Band Begins to Play back in 2013. He’s the curator of this volume, and he also took care of the inner layout, which boasts some great features such as the footnotes placed on the side of the page. A nice touch, and very useful for the reader.
To make a quick comparison: Recording Sessions (covering 1969-2013) had 440 pages in 15x23 cm format, Music Is Ideas (covering 1970-1989) has 542 25x20 cm pages.
Q. How long did it take to put it together?
A. Back in 2017 I seriously considered compiling a complete reference book for all Paul McCartney’s songs, including every release and every song.
The structure of Recording Sessions could be at times difficult to adhere to, although I very much enjoyed that approach. But it seemed to me that also going deeper into the stories of the individual albums, their critical acclaim and their commercial success could have provided the perfect framework for this fantastic song canon.
Music Is Ideas goes into greater detail, but the structure of the book also makes it suitable for non-hard-core fans. It’s for anyone who loves music. I wanted to build on the research, so I took my time. I relied on the previous interviews included on Recording Sessions, because there was such precious material. I carried out some additional interviews, and I located new sources.
In the meantime, more information has been revealed, including from the releases in the Paul McCartney Archive Collection, which provided a nice opportunity to expand the content. It seemed the time for the book had come in 2020: I wanted it to be released to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the McCartney album. But then COVID came, and priorities changed! In May 2022, the book was published in Italian. It then took some more time to perfect and add various bits and pieces for the English version.
Q. Tell us about the cover. It’s a striking photo by the great Clive Arrowsmith, the man who shot the cover of Band on the Run.
A. The project of putting together this book meant a big effort in terms of people involved and money. While Recording Sessions was more of a homemade enterprise, in this case I wanted something professional. As Paul himself puts it in “Live and Let Die” – “when you got a job to do, you’ve got to do it well”! We worked on the cover through many meetings with Tondo Studio, a professional studio run by two young and talented persons, and during which we threw many ideas on the table. I talked about McCartney, his world, what he represents musically, they interacted and interpreted the spirit of the man and of the book.
They were very fruitful sessions. Ideas also flowed thanks to the involvement of two other friends, Elisa Maggi and Pierpaolo Alberici, really creative minds. In the end we thought to combine the colours that were most representative of the concept I wanted to express with a photo. That one by Clive Arrowsmith seemed to fit perfectly. Elisa pointed out that Paul is behind the guitar, and that this links nicely to the title of the book: behind the songs. An absolute coincidence but definitely a happy one! I’m honoured to have Clive Arrowsmith’s photo on the cover, it makes the book a small piece of art.
Q. About the title, tell us a bit about the first part, “Music is ideas”.
A. There’s a nice story behind it. When I was searching for book titles before I chose Recording Sessions in 2013, I came across Music Is Ideas, which is a spoken phrase than can be heard on Paul’s song “Talk More Talk”, from Press to Play. It seemed to me very appropriate, and so I decided to take a small poll among my friends. Although one wasn’t too keen on it, it seemed to me that it could give more personality to the book, instead of the formal The Stories Behind the Songs. I took my time because I was convinced it was worth pursuing, and then submitted the idea during the meetings for the cover. All these four guys were enthusiastic and pushed me to use it.
Moreover, it’s incredibly well-suited to Paul McCartney’s music, so full of ideas. Sometimes Paul puts so much in a single song, in terms of structure, harmony, arrangements and so on, where other artists would employ these ideas to create maybe three tracks. Instead, he throws them all together for a just one composition – maybe even just for an obscure B-side! All in all, to me it’s a perfect encapsulation of what I wanted to express through this book: let’s look at the creative process of this genius. We’ll discover many things and maybe we’ll be inspired to find ideas ourselves, to trying to be more creative, more colourful.
That’s something I always tell people when I speak about Paul McCartney: he was a real inspiration in my life. I did not become a musician, but since I was 15 and started to play guitar, I always tried to create my songs, to shape my ideas. And also, the idea to try get my hands on other instruments – and not focus on just one – is something that comes from him.
Q. In 2021 you translated The Lyrics in Italian. How did that come about?
A. In February of that year, when the release of the book was announced, I immediately forwarded the news to a journalist friend of mine, Franco Zanetti, a great Italian Beatles expert, who back in the day also translated Ian McDonald’s book Revolution in the Head and The Beatles’ Anthology. He got in touch with the most important Italian publisher, Rizzoli, and within a few days we were both contracted. It was a fantastic experience and very moving at times.
When Paul speaks about his parents I could feel his emotion, and I must admit I cried sometimes. It’s something that resonates with me even more today, since I lost my father in November 2022: my new book has a special dedication to him. Moreover, being a translator of a Paul McCartney book means I can boast of the fact that I have co-written something with him. Please don’t wake me up!
Q. Another recent achievement was your collaboration with MPL for The 7” Singles Box. Would you like to tell us more about it?
A. That’s the real pinnacle of my career so far. It was a blast right from the start. MPL contacted me in February 2022, and asked me to double check information for the label copy of a project, which was then top secret. The process was quick but intense; the deadline was insane, and I had to work as quickly as I could. In a couple of weeks, we had it completed.
The MPL team was fantastic, and I was really honoured. I truly put all my heart in it. We remained in touch and I had the privilege of meeting them in person in Soho Square last September. We chatted, we took a coffee, we spoke about ourselves, the project, about Paul. I’m still pinching myself.
Q. What are your plans now? A holiday? A musical? A movie? Retirement?
A. My only plan is to grow up!