John sent me a great article from The Sunday Times in which Paul and Mary McCartney are interviewed. Mary McCartney described how she used to be sitting watching TV with her sisters and brother and her Dad would come into the room, playing guitar and urging his children to listen to a new song he’d just composed. They would complain that they were trying to watch TV, to which he would ask them whether they had considered how many people in the world would give anything to hear what he was playing. “Shut up Dad, we’re watching The Wombles.”
Paul and Linda McCartney sent their children to comprehensive schools and tried to give them as “normal” a childhood as possible, bearing in mind that their Dad was one of the most famous people on the planet. Mary McCartney is now a successful photographer and animal rights campaigner. Her sister, Stella McCartney, has made a name for herself as a fashion designer. Brother James is a musician and has a lower profile than his sisters but, even so, has released two albums over the past twenty years. Heather McCartney, Paul McCartney’s step-daughter, who makes a charming appearance in the new “Get Back” movie, is a potter. It would be mean of me to, in any way, suggest that the success of Paul McCartney’s children is in any way connected to his fame.
Another star of the “Get Back” movie is Glyn Johns, mainly for his groovy fashion sense. He was asked to engineer the album and was involved in the discussions about the proposed gig in which The Beatles would premiere their new songs. The Fab Four are very polite to him, they listen to everything that he and director Michael Lindsay-Hogg suggest but, in the end, the only people they take seriously are George Martin and Mal Evans. Glyn Johns was a highly successful engineer/producer and the list of albums he worked on is too long to include here. Just as a teaser, here are five albums he produced: “Who’s Next” by The Who, “Desperado” by The Eagles, “Slowhand” by Eric Clapton, “Storms” by Nanci Griffith, “Ashes And Fire” by Ryan Adams.
Andy Johns is Glyn Johns’ brother. He, too, is a producer/engineer and, again, space doesn’t allow for a complete list of the albums he has worked on, but here are some: “Led Zeppelin II” by Led Zeppelin, “Sticky Fingers” by The Rolling Stones, “Shadows And Light” by Joni Mitchell, “Marquee Moon” by Television, “Spooky Two” by Spooky Tooth.
Ethan Johns is Glyn Johns’ son. He was born in 1969, although it’s not clear what the exact date was. It would be
lovely, interesting, if his birthday was January 30th, the date of The Beatles’ rooftop concert. Maybe it’s the end of October which would be equally interesting. He grew up as a performer, playing and writing music although he has followed his father and uncle’s career path, producing such albums as “New” by Paul McCartney, “Heartbreaker” by Ryan Adams, “Trouble” by Ray Lamontagne, “Hard Candy” by Counting Crows and four albums by Laura Marling. Tom Jones’ new album was also produced by him.
When he was growing up, it was normal for Ethan Johns to mix with well known musicians. In particular, Andy Fairweather-Low and Bernie Leadon were good friends to Glyn and Andy Johns and they were happy to pass on their expertise to young Ethan. He says that, from these two, he learned that “the sounds you make are coming from your hands, not the guitar you are playing”. Eric Clapton demonstrated this to him when he was about 12 years old. He had just been given his first serious amplifier and he asked Eric Clapton to help him set it up. Eric Clapton picked up Ethan Johns’ Stratocaster, switched on the amplifier but didn’t touch the controls and as soon as he started playing “it was instant Eric.” Ethan Johns realised that “it’s in your fingers, man, not really anything to do with the guitar.”
Ethan Johns has made five albums and “The Reckoning” was his second, released in 2014 which was one year after Peter and I saw him play in Brighton. It was a good gig and this is a good album. I think my favourite tracks are those with more complex arrangements. “Talking Talking Blues” and “Black Heart” feature fantastic slide guitar playing by Ethan Johns and a Farfisa keyboard played by Benmont Tench, who was one of the founding members of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers. Benmont Tench has also played on the last five Ringo Starr albums as well as “Shot Of Love” by Bob Dylan. “Talking Talking Blues” and “Black Heart” are both simple songs with straightforward melodies. Ethan Johns’ vocals remind me a little of Chuck Prophet and Gurf Morlix. The intense slide guitar playing is a welcome addition to the pared back instrumentation that permeates most of the rest of the album.
Everyone’s parents exert some influence on them, even if it is only by their absence. Ethan Johns’ remarkable musical ability may be a genetic inheritance or it may have been developed through the stimulating environment he grew up in. Or, more likely, a combination of the two. This is a good album.