During a phone conversation from his home in Liverpool, Mike McCartney refers on several occasions to “our kid and his chums,” personal shorthand for his older brother, Paul, and the rest of the most successful band in the history of rock ’n' roll. McCartney, 58, may have spent a good part of his life in the shadow of his famous sibling, but he has done so with a wicked sense of humour—and a steely resolve not to exploit the connection. In the early 1960s, just as Beademania was taking flight, McCartney changed his surname to McGear (“gear” is Liverpool slang for “fab”), and proceeded to carve out an independent career as a photographer, childrens author and, for a brief time, a pop star in his own right as part of the musical-comedy trio Scaffold.
It took nearly two decades before McCartney felt things had quieted down enough to resume using the family name. But even now, the father of six keeps his guard up. So when Tim Willis, assistant director of the Provincial Museum of Alberta, called him last fall about possibly contributing to a major show on the 1960s—centred, in part, on an exhibit of photos by Mikes late sister-in-law, Linda McCartney—his
response was playfully curt. “I have some great 1960s photos,” he told Willis, “and you’re not getting any Beatles.” McCartney thought that would be the end of it. As it turned out, the British-born Willis expressed interest in what McCartney was prepared to offer up: never-before-exhibited photos of Liverpool during the era that gave birth to the Beades.
Mike McCartney’s Liverpool—Sixties Black and White opens in Edmonton on April 2, with McCartney, his Montreal-born wife, Rowena, and two of their children in attendance. McCartney, who took his first picture—of a seagull—with the family box camera at the age of 12, has captured on film what he calls “a rough, raw and real” vision of working-class Liverpool before it caught the world’s eye. And while there are candid shots of visiting U.S. music legends Litde Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Gene Vincent playing some of the same venues where “our kid and his chums” honed their craft, the Fab Four are nowhere to be seen. “Been there, done that, got the T-shirt,” is the way McCartney breezily puts it. “I want to show people the Liverpool that got eclipsed in all that frenzy ” Brian Bergman
The ultimate crown jewel
In 1958, when the Hope diamond made its only visit to Canada, for a two-week display at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, nearly three million people went to see it, dazzled as much by its romantic history as its size and beauty. Marian Fowler’s Hope: Adventures of a Diamond (Random House) traces the stone’s past, from its 1660 purchase in India by a French trader (he sold it to Louis XIV for the equivalent of $3 million) to its time with American socialite Evalyn McLean, who occasionally hung it about her dog’s neck. After the CNE display, New York jeweller Harry Winston, who had bought the Hope from McLean’s estate, donated it to Washington’s Smithsonian Institution. He sent it by regular mail, possibly the strangest of all the Hope’s odysseys.
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