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How Paul McCartney's brother, Mike, almost became a Beatle

The entire world, it would seem, knows and loves Paul McCartney dearly. Writer of some of The Beatles’ best-loved songs such as ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Get Back’, mastermind of Wings, and partial pioneer of techno with ‘Temporary Secretary’, McCartney’s career has been exceptional. One of the two surviving Beatles, he continues to be a force for good in this world of seemingly perennial darkness. 

However, there must be something in the McCartney blood because Paul’s younger brother, Mike McCartney, AKA, Mike McGear, is also a brilliant chap. A lifelong photographer, his remarkable stories from the 1960s has left audiences captivated. Like his sibling, Mike McCartney hasn’t stood still for a moment, pushing into the entertainment with star turns as a solo artist and featured in comedy acts The Scaffold and Grimms. 

Michael and Paul grew up very close, and both were born at the Walton Centre in Liverpool, where their mother had worked as a nursing sister in charge of the maternity ward. After their mother died, the pair were brought up by their father and had somewhat of a relaxed upbringing for the time, with religion not emphasised in the household, and the boys were largely left to their own devices to pursue whatever ends they desired. 

As a young man, Mike McCartney would spend a lot of time with Paul and The Beatles as the band were starting to experience fame. The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, gave him the nickname of ‘Flash Harry’ as he was always taking photographs of the band with a flashgun. 

In a recent interview with The Guardian, Mike recalled those heady times at the start of The Beatles’ career, revealing that he almost became the band’s drummer around the time they were starting out. McCartney explained: “I didn’t intend to pick up a camera. I’d been practising on drums that had fallen off the back of a lorry into our house on Forthlin Road, Liverpool. But when I was 13, I broke my arm at scout camp, so Pete Best got the job in our kid’s group. That’s when I started taking photos on the family box camera. It was fortuitous, though, because if I had become the Beatles’ drummer, we’d probably have gone the Oasis route.”

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Revealing how exciting it was to be Paul McCartney’s brother, Mike remembered: “I would go everywhere with The Beatles. I was part of the act. It’s like if Rembrandt’s kid brother was in the corner with a pad and paper, sketching his older brother. I was lucky – you couldn’t have had a better group to practise on, could you?”.

Mike then took us back to those heady days, namechecking some of the most important rock ‘n’ roll stars that the Fab Four cut their teeth playing with. He said: “So while our kid was on the bill experimenting with his music, I was doing the same with photography. In those days, The Beatles were supporting people like Joe Brown, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard. Can you imagine? Those gigs were extraordinary, absolute magic”.

Mike McCartney, like his brother, has had one hell of a life. We can only imagine what it must have been like being the younger brother of one of the biggest stars on the planet, and nearly joining The Beatles is really quite something. The doors it unlocked must have been incredible, and for a budding photographer, as he said, touring with the era’s biggest stars was the perfect place to hone his craft. Mike McCartney remains one of the most important voices on the ’60s music scene due to just how close to its beating heart he was. It’s stories like these that keep those halcyon days alive in the collective memory.

Watch Mike McCartney in conversation below.