When Scotland ruled ...the pop charts.An epic tale of Paul McCartney, the Mull Of Kintyre and the song's Canadian Connections
The Mull of Kintyre (formerly Cantyre) is the most southwesterly section of the long Kintyre Peninsula in southwestern Scotland, about 10 miles from Campbeltown.. The area’s significance as a cultural nexus dates back to Neolithic times. The name is an Anglicisation of the Gaelic ‘maol chinn tire’, the bare headland of Kintyre. Mull is derived from ‘ maol’ meaning bare and refers to a land formation bare of trees, such as a rounded hill, summit, mountain or promontory. It’s mostly in use in the southwest of Scotland, often applied to headlands and the tips of promontorys or peninsulas.
The area’s ancient and rugged geography pounded by the relentless North Sea is the picture book definition of “wild beauty”; travellers familiar with the region say the description is equally applicable to its women. Scotland’s mighty malt whiskies are likewise widely available throughout the region with servings the traditional ‘a full measure and a wee drop more’ .
Both Ailsa Craig and the Antrim coast of Northern Ireland and Rathlin Island are clearly visible from the Mull. On clearer days Malin Head in County Donegal in the Republic Of Ireland and the Ayrshire Coast on the other side of Ailsa Craig can be seen.At its nearest point, mainland Northern Ireland is only 20 km (12 miles) from the Mull. This unique closeness of lands makes the area one of the only two places in the Isles where Britain and Ireland can be viewed simultaneously; the other being Mount Snaefell on the Isle of Man.
The Mull itself is at the extreme south tip of the Kintyre peninsula, about 8 miles beyond the southernmost village of the peninsula, Southend, and reached via a single track road
Records show it’s been an important landbridge throughout history. It is thought that it was used by early humans journeying from continental Europe to Ireland.In more recent times it was used by the Scotti when they travelled from Ireland to establish the kingdom of Dal Riata in modern-day Argyll.
You could think of The Mull as the Bering Strait bridge between the European continent and Britian, a waiting room for countless travellers and tribes. As the place where they would have first encountered each other and the local populace, a case could be made for the Mull and its peninsula as the cradle of northern British civilization.
Replacing the ancient bonfires that once blazed from the headland as a beacon to sailors, the Mull of Kintyre lighthouse was completed in 1788. It was hailed as a triumph of engineering owing to the remote and challenging location and unpredictable weather.The lighthouse was rebuilt in the 1820s, converted to electrical power in 1976, and automated in 1996. The lighthouse keeper's cottage is now run as a holiday cottage by the National Trust of Scotland.
While all this lore of the Mull of Kintyre was absorbed by any good Scot with mother’s milk, it wasn’t until 1977 and Paul McCartney‘s song of the same name that the Mull of Kintyre entered the global pop culture consciousness.
Following the Beatles’ implosion, McCartney had retreated from London to the isolated beauty of the Kintyre peninsula, buying a spacious farm and installing a recording studio. It was at this studio during a break in the recording of the Wings London Town album, that McCartney and Wings guitarist Denny Laine dreamed up ‘Mull Of Kintyre’. Tensions were high in Wings at that point, as the recording process in London had been set back by Linda McCartney’s pregnancy and not everybody in the band was happy with that.
Paul and Denny thought they’d get away for just a bit to the country, got to talking about the countryside and came up with a hauntingly beautiful song which speaks volumes about Paul’s need for a little piece of mind on the home front at the time. Bagpipes from the local Campbeltown Pipe Band were a vital part of the recording and worked perfectly to nail the tune’s sense of a unique place.
“Mull of Kintyre" was recorded in August and released as a double-sided A single in November 1977, independently of the album.It was Wings' biggest hit in the UK becoming the Christmas Number One, a huge deal over there, spending 9 weeks at the top of the charts. By year’s end it was the first single to sell over two million copies in the UK.
Speaking of his inspiration for the song, McCartney said at the time:”I certainly loved Scotland enough. I very quickly had feelings of home for it, so I came up with a song about where we were living; an area called Mull of Kintyre It was a love song to the place really, about how I enjoyed being there and imagining I was travelling away and once away, wanting to get back there”
The tune kept rolling into a massive international hit, dominating the charts in Australia and many other countries over the holiday period.
The Canadian Connection looms large in the performance history of the song. "Mull of Kintyre" stiffed in the US, only reaching #45 on the Easy Listening chart. A miffed McCartney has consequently never played the tune in an American concert but has instead performed it on most of his Canadian tours, most recently on 11 July 2009, at a Halifax NS show, accompanied by the real deal 78th Highlanders (Halifax Citadel) Pipe Band.
During his show at London’s O2 Arena in December 2009, McCartney performed “Mull Of Kintyre” accompanied by the 18-piece Balmoral Highlanders Pipe Band. ‘Twas said later there was a not a a dry eye in the house.
In the UK you know a song has truly entered popular culture when it’s picked up as a soccer team’s anthem. It didn’t take long for ‘Mull of Kintyre’ to be taken up by fans of several soccer teams in Britain. It’s still heard during games and is firmly established as the anthem of Nottingham Forest F.C. A different set of lyrics were penned for the melody in 1992 for the song "Valley Floyd Road", written for Charlton Athletic F.C. in celebration of their return to their original home base, The Valley. Another sign of popular recognition over there is when your song’s parodied and the best known of them is comedian Frank Sidebottom’s "Mull of Timperley".
In Canada, Ashley MacIssac played it straight up with his version on the self-titled 2003 album with vocals from Dallas Smith of the band Default and heavy metal mob Celtic Thunder gives it a searing guitar treatment on their Act Two album. American country icon and openly Scottish Glen Campbell was a huge fan of the song and performed it often on his 70s tours, playing the bagpipes himself.
One last Canadian connection brings it all back home. Fresh off a Scandinavian tour and with a hot new album A Willing Heart in hand, country/roots troubadour Don Graham plays the Celtic Festival in Toronto’s Kew Gardens, Sept.11-Sept.12.
A highlight of his sets will be a tune called “Pipes And The Mist”, written by Graham after witnessing an especially moving performance of “Mull of Kintyre". Often referred to as “the Canadian Mull Of Kintyre” , Graham’s performance of his song matches McCartney’s intensity for intensity in getting across the longing for and heart-tug of the homeland, and is a must-see for folks attending the Festival.