Mike McCartney, 75, is a singer-songwriter, performance artist and photographer. His 1974 album “McGear,” produced by brother Paul McCartney and backed by Wings, has been reissued by Esoteric on a two-CD and DVD set, and on vinyl. He spoke with Marc Myers.
Growing up in Liverpool, England, I did things my way. In school, I tended to be a naughty boy. We’d do things like fill lunch bags with water and throw them from the top yard onto kids in the lower one. Invariably, we’d get caned by the school’s principal.
I loved mischief. Fortunately, my mother, Mary, was forgiving. I had a special relationship with her. She understood me better than anyone.
Mum was a midwife and home-visiting health aide. She was a strong woman who wanted the best for us.
We moved several times when I was little, always to a better neighborhood. We first lived in the Sir Thomas White Gardens tenement. Then we moved to Speke, near the airport. Next came the Western Avenue midwife’s house, followed by a house on Ardwick Road. Finally, in 1955, we moved into a pleasant brick row house on Forthlin Road.
My father, James, loved music. Like my older brother, Paul, he had learned to play piano on his own. He formed a ragtime jazz group with our relatives. Jim Mac’s band went around playing dances. If venues didn’t have a piano, he’d play his cornet.
Dad worked as a cotton salesman at A. Hannay & Co. at the Liverpool Cotton Exchange from the time he was 14. Cotton came in from America, and he’d size up the quality of bales with his hands.
Mike McCartney and his mother, Mary, on the steps of their Western Avenue home in Liverpool, around 1950.
Dad didn’t like putting things off. When Paul and I tried to delay our chores, he’d look at us and say, “D-I-N,” for “do it now.”
My parents prized education, but they didn’t have money for private school. Paul passed a test and went to the Liverpool Institute High School for Boys. I wasn’t expected to make it. Then something amazing happened. I passed. When I arrived home to tell my mum, she was mixing dough for her cakes.
Mike McCartney, left, with his brother, Paul McCartney, in 1965.
After I told her I passed, I’ll never forget the look of pride and disbelief on her face. She came over and hugged me with all the white flour transferring from her hands and arms to my clothes and face.
One day in 1956, when I was 12, I walked into my parents’ bedroom and saw that my mum had been crying. She was alone at her vanity fingering her rosary beads.
She was looking at a photo of a relative who was a priest. I’d never seen the photo before and haven’t since. I asked her what was wrong. “Nothing, love,” she said. Now I realize she knew she was dying from breast cancer. A month or so later, she had to go into the hospital.
During a visit, Paul and I and our dad were asked to leave her room. She died a short time later. I had to come to terms with life when the most precious thing in my life was gone, ripped from my heart.
At first, I fought with everyone, but after about a year, I got it. I learned I had to appreciate living. My grief became easier once I understood that.
Watching Paul’s success with the Beatles in the early 1960s was amazing. Mum missed it, but dad saw it. I saw it. All of us had no hope at all. Suddenly, my brother proved anything was possible.
In 1962, I joined the Scaffold, a comedy, poetry and music trio. But I didn’t want to be a pop star. I was happiest in my world of poetry, song and mischief in Liverpool.
Mike McCartney high above Liverpool.
Fabio De Paola for The Wall Street Journal
Today, my wife, Rowena, and I live in a house on the other side of the River Mersey in Liverpool. My father used to call it “over the water,” where the cotton bosses lived.
The back of our house overlooks green fields and horses. From our bedroom, we see the River Dee and Wales.
In the old days, Liverpool buses had a pole in back so if you were late to the stop, you could grab it to get on as the bus pulled away.
A while back, I dreamed my mother was holding the pole as the bus drove off. I’m running after her, but the bus is moving farther and farther away. I finally stop. I realize I’m never going to catch up to her.
Photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson at the 1968 Paris riots.
Alain Nogues/Getty Images
Favorite poets from Liverpool: Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Brian Patten
First 45: Bo Diddley’s “Bring It to Jerome”
Favorite Liverpool eatery: Mowgli Street Food, an Indian restaurant
Favorite ice cream flavor: Rum raisin
Favorite digital camera: Nikon D300
Favorite photographer: Henri Cartier-Bresson
Favorite Beatles songs: “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” and “Here, There and Everywhere”
Dad’s reply to “Why?”: “Because there are no hairs on a seagull’s chest.” His answer was meant to put a stop to my endless childhood queries.
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