Percy Thrillington and The Fireman: Exploring the alter egos of Paul McCartney

As one of the most famous people on the planet, Paul McCartney would find it difficult to fly under the radar regardless of any monikers he may adopt. The former Beatle remains in the spotlight no matter how unassuming a chosen pseudonym may be, and he’s certainly tried a few. In fact, Macca has ventured into numerous musical territories since The Beatles disbanded, making it quite a task to keep up with his multifaceted career, not to mention the various alter egos he devises.

Following the creation of Ram in 1971, McCartney orchestrated a big-band instrumental rendition of the entire album, which remained hidden under the enigmatic alias Percy Thrillington for its 1977 release. McCartney and his wife, Linda, fabricated the fictional character, even placing advertisements in various UK music publications, promoting Thrillington’s fictitious activities and providing an intricate backstory in the liner notes.

McCartney kept Thrillington’s true identity a secret until he finally unveiled it at a press conference years later in 1989. Subsequently, he continued to employ pseudonyms for his more experimental side projects, including electronica endeavours with producer Youth, credited to The Firemen. In 1993, The Fireman unveiled its inaugural release, an instrumental electronic and dance album titled Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest, maintaining an air of mystery surrounding the band’s members.

It wasn’t until a UK music magazine disclosed the surprising revelation that The Fireman was a collaborative duo comprised of Youth and McCartney, following which the project garnered acclaim, although many found it to be an unconventional and surprising departure for the former Beatle. In 2008, the duo joined forces again for their third album, Electric Arguments. McCartney, devoid of pre-existing material, ventured into the studio and managed to craft 13 songs in a mere 13 days.

“I would go into the studio with absolutely no idea,” McCartney explained, “Neither of us had any idea what the song was going to be, what the lyrics or the melody were, which could be said to be kind of a frightening prospect. Our collaboration then just became fun.” McCartney played all instruments, with Youth returning to the project as its producer. However, unlike their previous works, Electric Arguments also features vocals.

It all came together with an ebb and flow of lyrics and concepts, as McCartney explained: “I would pull some words out of a poetry book, do a cut up, stick it with some other words, make some other words up that went with them,” he said, adding: “And suddenly we found ourselves on this kind of exciting trail, where ‘Whew, it’s a song’.”

The exhilaration McCartney experienced was partially rooted in the liberty he found in working under the pseudonym of The Fireman rather than his own name: “The pseudonym allows you to be anyone you want to be,” he explained. “We always say, The Fireman can do anything. I think you can get into a bit of a straight-jacket; you know, I am ‘Paul of The Beatles’, or I am ‘Paul McCartney’ who makes albums a certain way. So it’s very liberating.”

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