I miss the big city. I find myself remembering the smallest of details that remind me of New York: pizza joints open at all hours of the night; the voice of the subway intercom telling passengers “this is a Manhattan-bound 2 train;” the racket of the Flatbush Junction. I imagine my local bodega guys, wondering about my sudden disappearance.
But I live in Glasgow, the fastest-growing city in Scotland, with a population that exceeds that of the capital city of Edinburgh. How is it that I can be missing big city life when I have it all right here? It’s funny: no matter how big, bold, and fast-paced a city may seem, nothing ever holds a candle to New York. It must be something in the air.
I’ve opted to spend several of my weekends out of the hustle and bustle by taking day trips to small, coastal towns around Scotland. As one would expect, the train and bus system here is stellar. There are multiple trips to multiple places offered per day, and their punctuality is almost alarming. (Are we sure we’re ready to leave on time? Are we positive there’s no train traffic up ahead? It’s too good to be true.) Along the way, sheep, cows, horses, and rolling hills stretch for miles. It’s the epitome of countryside bliss.
This past weekend I boarded a bus at the crack of dawn to Campbeltown, on the Kintyre Peninsula, some three hours west. A lovely little harbor town complete with cafes, pubs, and famous scotch whiskey distilleries.
Perhaps it was bliss that Paul McCartney was after when he bought a farm of his own in 1966, just outside Campbeltown. The last few years of the Beatles were musically fruitful, but personally tumultuous, and he yearned for a break from it all. In Kintyre, he could be away from the flashing cameras of the paparazzi and the invasive questions of journalists and fans. In 1969, he married American Linda Eastman, and the pair eventually brought their four children to experience life on the farm.
Enter, the Ram album. Released in May of 1971 on the Beatles’ own Apple Records, it’s the only album attributed to both Paul and Linda. The Beatles had just broken up, Wings had not yet been created, and in between sat one of the most well-known rock’n’roll couples in the world.
To be clear and fair, Ram is not an album about life in the Scottish countryside — that would be far too simple a concept for someone like Paul McCartney. But it does allude to the idea of being set apart from his former musical endeavors, both emotionally and physically.
There’s quite a bit of material on the record that wouldn’t sound out of place on a late Beatles album. Some of the instrumentation on tracks like “Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey” and “Monkberry Moon Delight” is experimental, pushing the boundaries of traditional songwriting. Other tracks like “3 Legs,” which features a classic 12-bar blues structure, are almost reminiscent of early Beatle days, back when the band spent a considerable amount of time learning from people like Buddy Holly and Muddy Waters. But there’s a clear sense of independence on Ram.
“Too many people reaching for a piece of cake, too many people pulled and pushed around,” Paul sings on the opening track. The Beatles were no longer. Bands which burn that brightly often don’t stand a chance in the long run.
Though not released until 1978 on London Town, one of Wings’ greatest hits was “Mull of Kintyre”, written quite literally about the peninsula of Kintyre where the McCartney’s farm was located. On the cover of the single is Davaar Island, a huge rolling hill visible from Campbeltown. The island hosts secret caves with paintings, only accessible at low tide when a sandy causeway appears. “Oh mist rolling in from the sea, my desire is always to be here,” Paul sings.
It may have been Linda who left the most impact on Scotland, though. A statue of her sits in an immaculately-kept garden at a museum in the center of Campbeltown. She spent years not only as an inspiration to the community, but also as a generous benefactress, under the condition of strict anonymity. The locals remember her fondly.
There’s nothing quite or routine about Ram, but there is about Campbeltown. The cafe where I sipped coffee served its regulars without even having to ask their orders, the ladies at the pub next door told me they come every Saturday afternoon at half past three on the dot, and the bartender, whose opinion of Trump is not suitable for printing, showed me the local weekly newspaper, The Campbeltown Courier. The front page story? A prominent local dairy farmer facing business woes — the cheese supply was in dire straits.
“Heart of the country where the holy people grow,” Paul sings on the Ram album. I’m not sure the residents of Campbeltown would consider themselves as such, but it’s no wonder Paul and Linda were drawn to the land. Glasgow has much to offer, but the countrysides and harbor towns might be where the true Scottish experiences are.