Most people are unaware that Paul McCartney has a younger brother. That's because since the early 1960s, Mike McCartney [pictured above] has done a noble job of avoiding any temptation to cash in on his brother's fame. Which is pretty classy, as celebrity siblings go. As I write in today's Wall Street Journal (go here or pick up a copy), Mike is an artist in his own right.
Mike has always been a photographer, but back in the '60s and '70s, he also was a comic improv artist and singer, recording several albums and hit singles. To avoid any appearance of riding his brother's coattails, Mike created a stage name—Mike McGear. In Liverpool in the early '60s, when something was fabulous, it was called "the gear," as in, "Wow, that shirt is the gear." While Paul left Liverpool with the Beatles in the mid-'60s, Mike remained in town—raising a family, photographing the city and performing.
Mind you, many people in Britain back then were well aware that Mike was Paul's brother. But by changing his last name for performance purposes, Mike made it clear he was going to make a go of things on his own, without his brother's whoosh.
When I traveled to Liverpool several weeks ago to spend the day with Mike for the Wall Street Journal, I asked him about this. "It was just the right thing to do—you don't ride on someone else's back. It doesn't look right here if you do. It's part of our do-it-yourself heritage."
Mike also said something else that still rings in my head: "You have to understand, Liverpool was the Brooklyn of Britain back in the early 1960s." Pre-Beatles, Liverpool was the poor relative of England, largely because of its hard accent and perceived lack of class.
In researching Mike and Liverpool prior to heading over, I learned quite a few things about the city's vibrant arts scene 50 years ago that I didn't know. I'll share more of my adventures and discovery tomorrow. For now, grab a copy of the Wall Street Journal.
JazzWax clip: Here's a brief documentary on Liverpool...