The People's Songs - Give Ireland Back to the Irish - The Troubles
Stuart Maconie on the history of modern Britain in 50 records, including Paul McCartney's most politically controversial single and how it ruffled the feathers of the establishment.
It's hard to believe now, but back in the early to mid-1970s a bloody running battle was taking place between the British Armed Forces and Irish Republicans. Bombs went off in Birmingham, Coventry, London, Aldershot and Bristol. Families were ripped apart on both sides of the divide. 1972 alone was a terribly bloody year in Northern Island; nearly 500 people lost their lives, of which over half were civilians. The apogee of The Troubles was Bloody Sunday, when 13 unarmed demonstrators were shot dead by The Forces. As the blood continued to spill and the rhetoric raged, both sides became further infuriated and more deeply entrenched. The nation was truly divided.
Into this vicious, volatile climate stepped the cuddly ex-Beatle, Paul McCartney, and, to the surprise of many (and probably disdain of even more), he introduced his new band with a single that he'd written in response to Bloody Sunday. The band was Wings, and the song was called "Give Ireland Back To the Irish". For many, this was more the domain of the firebrand radical Lennon, but McCartney? The man who'd broken ranks with the Beatles and had become a staunch vegetarian and sheep-farmer? That an MBE-awarded ex-Beatle took such an outspoken and essentially anti-Monarchy stance was remarkable, and perhaps seen as a slap in the face to many who'd welcomed McCartney into homes.
Having recorded the single, McCartney was soon phoned by the chairman of EMI, Sir Joseph Lockwood, who was unhappy with the track. McCartney stood by it, saying he felt strongly about what had just happened in Northern Ireland. Lockwood warned him it would simply be banned. And so it proved. Yet though the single received no airplay in Britain it still got to number 16 (and to number one in Southern Ireland and Spain).