Paul has guitar and will travel
Published at 11:29, Thursday, 07 April 2011
We meet at Zest cafe on Whitehaven’s harbour, but Paul McMillan shouldn’t really be here.
The musician and filmmaker should be in Spain, where he has been living and working with flamenco musicians. Instead he has spent the winter in Whitehaven after falling seriously ill three days before Christmas.
After experiencing the “headache from hell” and loss of balance he was taken to the West Cumberland Hospital.
“I had a MRI scan, a CAT scan and the doctor said I’d had a stroke. I was mortified!” he says softly.
“I got out at 5pm on New Year’s Eve. I picked up my guitar and couldn’t play it anymore. I was playing for hours a day.”
He’s slowly getting better, but his recuperation has currently put paid to his other work too. The 56-year-old works as a health and safety advisor at oil fields and offshore platforms, and was due to travel to Basra in Iraq.
It’s an unusual combination of skills but then it’s been something of an unusual – and fruitful – life so `far, where one thing has always led to another.
Anecdotes about everything from working as a production assistant on a theatre production of Alice in Wonderland in London to drinking tea with the president of Gambia flow forth.
And though he’s in limbo as he recuperates, he’s still been keeping busy. Last month he organised a benefit gig for victims of the Japan Tsunami at the Carnegie in Workington and more gigs are planned for Whitehaven and Ulverston.
After Paul was interviewed about the first gig on BBC Radio Cumbria, a singer called Daniela Kordulakova contacted him to see how she could help and Paul has arranged to re-record a track called Secret of Love at a studio in the Spanish town of Jerez de la Frontera, where he has been based.
It will be released through iTunes, with proceeds donated to Save the Children.
Paul was born the eldest of six in Corkickle, Whitehaven, and spent a lot of time at his Gran’s, “building dams in the stream and swinging around on trees, things kids miss these days because they’re over protected”.
But his schooldays were not happy. He was bullied at school and regularly came home bloody and bruised. He joined a boxing club and as a teenager was crowned Northern Counties Lightweight Champion.
But music has been his real passion, ever since he got his first guitar aged eight.
He longed to go to Leeds College of Music but his dad wouldn’t let him, telling him he had to start bringing money in, so he left school and started at Ferranti, in Barrow, as an electronics technician, before becoming a steel erector on oil rigs.
“The job offered me five times as much as I could earn. I worked offshore and really didn’t like it, being away from family. But I received the pay cheque and there was no turning back!”
Paul was by now married to Margaret (they later separated) and they have three children, Rachel, Emma, and Peter.
On the side Paul was heavily involved with the local music scene. His wife ran the Castle Inn in Distington for a time, where there were regular music nights.
And, tinkering with the latest equipment available (using knowledge acquired during his Ferranti apprenticeship) Paul made some of the first digital recordings in the music business with renowned songwriter Roy Harper.
Working with Harper on his 1985 album, Whatever Happened to Jugular, at a studio in Lytham St Anne’s, Paul met and jammed with none other than Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page.
“That was a great experience. I was in awe of this guy, but when we sat and chatted he was a very nice guy, very down to earth and then it was like two normal guys playing guitar together.”
There have been many chance happenings like this.
On his way to Newcastle City Hall to see jazz-rock fusion group Mahavishnu Orchestra, Paul saw the crew wheeling equipment in and asked if he could give them a hand.
He ended up working with them for two nights and became a roadie for Genesis, Gallagher and Lyle, Yes, Supertramp, Necromandus and Thin Lizzie.
“I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time. And that’s what boys do, they get themselves in there,” he says, by way of explanation.
At the age of 20 Paul became a Buddhist and credits it with making him a more peaceful, thoughtful person. “I dread to think what I would have been like otherwise,” he says.
In 1993 Paul went to Gambia on holiday and got word they were just about to open their first TV station. He was given a trial doing TV work and later hired by Reuteurs to film a news report and a feature in the country once a month.
“I had the first pictures broadcast on TV in the last country in the planet to have a TV station!” Paul smiles. “I got to know the president and he always let me have the best shot.
“At his house we sat on the verandah and played guitar, and he made us tea – like, green tea and sugar – which gives you your start for the day.
“I lived on local wages and my time there added so much to my life.”
It was not without its dangers though. At the opening night of a restaurant where he was taking photos, he was stopped by five burly men. “They were at the door and said: ‘do not take our pictures. We are going to beat you’.
“All my teeth fell out but I was lucky to be alive.”
Through contacts he got involved with a Save the Children project, making a film about family planning – and it was this experience that made him choose the charity as the beneficiary for the recent Japan Tsunami gig.
Through the years Paul has continued working for oil companies in the Middle East and on UK offshore rigs, taking leave to pursue his creative interests.
His most recent adventures have taken him to Spain. “I wanted to find flamenco, not for tourists but the real thing. I thought, I’ve got to go to Andalucia and I ended up in Jerez de la Frontera.”
He asked about flamenco lessons and met Alfredo Largos, a famous flamenco musician.
“This guy plays at Catherine Zeta Jones’ house parties and the like. He said ‘play’ and I played a lullaby. I was looking for an apartment, he said his brother David had a room in the top of his house so I ended up living there. David’s wife is a flamenco cantor [singer] and I would wake in the morning to this amazing voice.”
He met a group of “flamenco fusion” musicians, Mixtolobo, over sherry and tapas and has been working with them on a new album, Frontera.
Paul adds: “I am something of a gypsy, I have never really settled anywhere but at the moment I think of Spain as my home.”
That could soon change. He is involved with the charity Our Humanity in the Balance, an international group of volunteers who aim to protect civilian populations against rape and ethnic cleansing in conflict areas, beginning in Darfur.
He adds: “I hope to make it there this year. I’ll fund it myself if need be. I’m putting my neck on the line but I’m not afraid to go.”
Published by http://www.newsandstar.co.uk