When the McCartney’s and Denny Laine arrived in Lagos, Nigeria to begin work at EMI’s studio there on what would become the album BAND ON THE RUN they were greeted with two sights they hadn’t counted on.
“I thought it’d be good to get out of the country to record, so I asked EMI where they had studios round the world. There were some amazing countries where they had studios and I thought ‘Lagos… Africa… rhythms… yeah’, cause I’ve always liked African music”
Instead of lush, bright as a shiny jungle book settings, they had arrived during their monsoon season, and weather that displayed that.
After their entire team checked into their quarters they went over to the EMI recording studio. They found the studio in shambles, unfinished, without speakers, glass in the control booth windows and proper baffling in the drum section.
In addition, the control desk was faulty and there was only one tape machine, a Studer 8 track.
Paul immediately got the locals installing, hammering and fixing things to even the basic level to record. His crew jumped in to set up the electronics in making the whole process successful.
The band rented houses near the airport in Ikeja, an hour away from the studio. McCartney, Linda and their three children stayed in one, while Laine, his wife JoJo, Emerick, and Wings’ two roadies stayed in another. The home owners warned them all to stay inside its boundaries. But the free spirited Paul and Linda decided to take a walk one night before settling in for bed.
As they headed back toward home a car slowly passed them and then stopped…….“One night me and Linda got mugged. We’d been told not to walk around, but in those days we were slightly hippie – ‘Hey, don’t worry’. About five fellers jumped out of a car and one of them had a knife, so all my tapes went. These were all the songs I’d written, so I had to try and remember them all. The joke is, I’m sure the fellers who took them wouldn’t know what they were. They probably chucked them away, so lying in some Nigerian jungle there’s little cassettes of Band On The Run.”
Linda freaked out as this was happening…. “Don’t hurt him, he’s a musician.” Spared anything other than robbery the local police told them the ONLY reason their lives were spared was the fact that they were white. Had they been black or locals they would have been murdered by the robbers for fear of being identified.
So, here they were….with no demo tapes or song lyrics to work off of, a studio slowly becoming at best marginal. What else could go wrong…?
McCartney was overdubbing a vocal track when he began gasping for air. According to engineer Geoff Emerick: “Within seconds, Paul turned as white as a sheet, explaining to us in a croaking voice that he couldn’t catch his breath. We decided to take him outside for some fresh air … but once he was exposed to the blazing heat he felt even worse and began keeling over, finally fainting dead away at our feet. Linda began screaming hysterically; she was convinced that he was having a heart attack … The official diagnosis was that he had suffered a bronchial spasm brought on by too much smoking.
Another incident was the confrontation with local Afrobeat pioneer and political activist Fela Kuti, publicly accused the band of being in Africa to exploit and steal African music after their visit to his club. Kuti went to the studio to confront McCartney, who played their songs for him to show that they contained no local influence.
Later on, drummer and former Cream member Ginger Baker invited Wings to record their entire album at his ARC Studio in Ikeja. McCartney agreed to go there for one day. The song “Picasso’s Last Words (Drink to Me)” was recorded at ARC, with Baker contributing a percussive tin of gravel.
They spent six weeks recording the majority of the album and returned to London. In the pile of old mail that awaited them was a letter from EMI dated before the band had left England warning them to not go to Lagos “by any means” due to an outbreak of cholera.
They finished up the album at George Martin’s AIR Studio in London where they transferred the 8 track tapes to 16 tracks. A few of the album final tracks were recorded there and others finished there.
Tony Visconti was brought in to do the albums orchestral arrangements, all in one day. By late October or early November the album was finished and the iconic cover was photographed, documented on film.
Wings III also recorded three songs for the possible “Suzi and The Red Stripes” project in early November.
The band released their next single, “Helen Wheels,” backed by “Country Dreamer” as a stand alone single. At the last minute the single was added to the US version of the proposed album.
I was driving alone, coming home from college on a cold December morning. It was a long hill heading down into the final few miles into East Northport. I was fiddling around the radio dials when I heard a sound that stopped the fiddling. It was the ending of the song, “Band On The Run.” Is it? Could it be?
I had been fooled earlier in the year by hearing “Headline Hustler” by 10cc, thinking THEY were the new Wings material soon to come out…. The disc jockey at the songs conclusion told me all I needed to hear….this was the new title track from the next Wings album, BAND ON THE RUN.
On December 7th… it was released….Merry Christmas came early. Next…. The album.