Paul McCartney is remembering a moment he experienced after John Lennon died. "When you go through your grieving," he told me once, "and you just sort of think: 'What if he was here? What might we say?' We might talk about when we met and, being John, he might say: 'Ah, f**k off,' because we were that kind of mates, and I'd say to him, 'No, you f**k off.' It's like when you think of someone who's passed away, you get to see them again."
That night, he also talked to me about his late mother, Mary. "She died when I was 14," he says. "She was Irish but she was sort of posh-Liverpool. She grew up in the other capital of Ireland, Liverpool."
The place helped inspire Paul to write one of his most controversial compositions, 'Give Ireland Back To The Irish' in 1972. What prompted the song?
"The fact that Bloody Sunday had happened," he says. "That fact, that it came over as our lads - the British troops - killing our mates. It would have been different if it was in the Sudan - you would have been able to remove it to your own imagination - but there, particularly as I am of Liverpool-Irish descent, it was our people killing our people to me."
Did he ever wonder who this Paul McCartney person is... the Beatle, the guy who wrote 'Yesterday', 'Hey Jude', 'Lady Madonna', 'She's Leaving Home', 'Eleanor Rigby'?
"All the time," he replied. "But I suppose a deep-sea diver gets those kind of thoughts: 'Jesus Christ, do I really go down to those depths?' Or a Concorde pilot: 'Do I really fly at twice the speed of sound?' I just go, 'Wow, was I really in The Beatles?' I have a safety valve where I kind of block it off. He is 'Him', the other guy. And then at home I'm like 'Our Paul', who I always was."
'Our Paul' in 2021 is a man who, at 78 years of age, can still write songs that move the listener close to tears, as is clear on his new album, McCartney III.
On 'Find My Way' (which could be a low-fi reboot of 'Got To Get You InTo My Life' from The Beatles' 1966 Revolver album) he reaches out to all of us going through the emotional trauma of Covid-19: "You never used to be afraid of days like this and now you're overwhelmed by your anxiety. Let me help you, let me be your guy."
Paul as the prophet of the pandemic sounds just about right. Not least when you consider that this album was recorded and produced pretty much on his own in lockdown last March.
The nigh-instrumental 'Long Tailed Winter Bird', which opens the album, has a melodic motif that re-emerges at the start of 'Winter Bird/When The Winter Comes', which closes the album. 'Slidin'' has a touch of 'Helter-Skelter' to it, 'Women and Wives' was influenced by a book he read about the old blues-man Lead Belly, while the experimental beauty of 'Deep Deep Feeling', all eight-and-a-half-minutes of it, is the kind of song you imagine Thom Yorke or Bono writing when they too are 78.
'Lavatory Lil' ("You think she's being friendly, but she's looking for a Bentley") is in the tradition of 'Polythene Pam' from his former band's Abbey Road album. McCartney's camp denies that the song is in any way about his ex-wife Heather Mills.
As the title suggests, McCartney III is the third in a trilogy of DIY solo albums that began with McCartney in 1970 and McCartney II in 1980 (the only albums to be credited to Paul McCartney, without Wings or his first wife Linda McCartney, who died in 1998).
The first album was not well received by the critics ("banal" said Melody Maker) and even less so by his one-time fellow band members.
Lennon described it as "rubbish. Engelbert Humperdinck music." George Harrison said, "the only person he's got to tell him if a song is bad is Linda."
The acrimony was partly because Ringo had delivered a letter signed by Lennon and Harrison in April 1970 to Paul McCartney's house in St John's Wood in London asking him to reschedule his album to release later in the summer, after The Beatles' Abbey Road album had come out. McCartney refused and told Ringo to "eff-off" and leave. (Incidentally, on the cover of Abbey Road, Paul isn't wearing any shoes. It's an in-joke, meant to symbolise that he is dead - in 1966, he was the subject of a bizarre conspiracy theory. He had been killed, or so the story went, in a car crash and replaced with a double.)
During this time, McCartney was going through a nervous breakdown after the break-up of The Beatles. He believed he "was being screwed by his mates" (a reference to Lennon and Harrison bringing New York lawyer Allen Klein to look after The Beatles' financial affairs). It was during that dark period of almost enforced isolation from the band that he had begun writing McCartney at home in London.
On 'Every Night', he sings of the depression he felt: "Every night, I just wanna go out, get out of my head. Every day I don't want to get up, get out of my bed.'
"I hit the bottle," he would later admit. "I hit the substances."
On Paul's next album with wife Linda, Ram (recorded in early 1971 as The Beatles' partnership was being legally dissolved), he had a go at Lennon on 'Too Many People'. He sings: "You took your lucky break and broke it in two."
The original line was "Yoko took your lucky break and broke it in two". The song begins with Paul telling someone to "piss off." The person that line was aimed at - Lennon - was later that year to reply in 'How Do You Sleep' from the album Imagine. He informed his former song-writing partner, "the only thing you done was yesterday" (a reference to the famous Beatles' song) Paul said the line was Allen Klein's idea, and then, Lennon followed it with "How do you sleep at night?"
"F**k a pig, that's Paul!" Lennon was alleged to have exclaimed when he heard the Talking Heads-esque funk of 'Coming Up' from McCartney II on the car radio one day in New York in early 1980.
McCartney's band Wings were on their last legs at the time, and he had recently been busted for drugs in Japan.
(Ironically, the album motivated Lennon to emerge out of a heroin-induced funk to enter the studio again to record the Double Fantasy album towards the end of that same year, after more than four years in self-imposed isolation from the music business. It would be his last album.)
The critics were less impressed by Paul's album. Danny Baker in the New Musical Express said: "McCartney II isn't worth the plastic it's printed on."
McCartney III is. Is it his last album? As 'Our Paul' said recently: "When we did Abbey Road, I was dead. So everything else is a bonus."
'McCartney III' by Paul McCartney is out now on Capitol Records