Paul McCartney on the end of the Beatles: "I didn’t instigate the split. That was our Johnny coming in one day and saying ‘I’m leaving the group’”

The Beatles
(Image credit: Chris Walter )

The Beatles split over 50 years ago, but such is their legacy, the who, why and how of it all is still a matter of debate. Now the man who has been held responsible as its instigator has spoken out in forthcoming BBC Radio 4 interview series This Cultural Life; Paul McCartney says it wasn't down to him.

“This was my band, this was my job, this was my life, so I wanted it to continue,” says McCartney. And when interviewer John Wilson asked about the songwriter's decision to go solo, McCartney is very clear; “Stop right there. I am not the person who instigated the split. Oh no, no, no. John walked into a room one day and said I am leaving the Beatles. Is that instigating the split, or not?”

It was weird because we all knew it was the end of the Beatles but we couldn’t just walk away

Adding that the other members were then left to "pick up the pieces", McCartney reveals the confusion of who instigated the Beatles' 1970 split was due to Allen Klein, the band's new manager at the time following the death of Brian Epstein in 1967. A manger McCartney hadn't been in favour of hiring but John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr had outvoted him on.  Klein instructed the four members to keep quiet about the news while he dealt with the business side.

“So for a few months we had to pretend,” McCartney explains to Wilson. “It was weird because we all knew it was the end of the Beatles but we couldn’t just walk away.” It was then that McCartney became frustrated with the secrecy and confirmed to a journalist that the band no longer existed, later issuing a press release in April, 1970 confirming he was no longer involved with The Beatles.

I had to fight and the only way I could fight was in suing the other Beatles

These moves meant McCartney was labelled the source of the split. Especially after he called in lawyers to settle disputes in the wake of the Beatles' dissolution. A move McCartney claims was his effort to protect the band's legacy.

“I had to fight and the only way I could fight was in suing the other Beatles, because they were going with Klein. And they thanked me for it years later. But I didn’t instigate the split. That was our Johnny coming in one day and saying ‘I’m leaving the group’.”

The legend confirms to Wilson that the split and fallout was "the most difficult period of my life." But he's diplomatic about Lennon's reasons for instigating the split; “The point of it really was that John was making a new life with Yoko," says McCartney. "John had always wanted to sort of break loose from society because, you know, he was brought up by his Aunt Mimi, who was quite repressive, so he was always looking to break loose.”

Paul McCartney

(Image credit: Allen Lane )

McCartney will celebrate his 80th birthday next year and releases the book The Lyrics: 1956 To The Present on 2 November. Written with Irish poet Paul Muldoon as editor, it will probably be the closest thing to an autobiography we ever see from McCartney.

"More often than I can count, I've been asked if I would write an autobiography, but the time has never been right," McCartney says for the book's press release. "The one thing I've always managed to do, whether at home or on the road, is to write new songs. 

"I know that some people, when they get to a certain age, like to go to a diary to recall day-to-day events from the past, but I have no such notebooks. What I do have are my songs, hundreds of them, which I've learned serve much the same purpose. And these songs span my entire life."

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(Image credit: David Redfern / Getty )

5 songs guitarists need to hear by… The Beatles

During the process, the Beatle discovered an unrecorded Lennon and McCartney lyric to a song titled Tell Me Who He Is, which he had not seen for 60 years.

“It was amazing to find this," McCartney tells Wilson in the BBC Radio 4 interview being broadcast on 23 October. "It is my handwriting but I don’t know how it goes. It would have been a love ballad, rock thing. I would have probably had a tune to it. But you could not put things down. You didn’t have any recording devices so you had to remember them.”

In further news for Fab Four fans, Peter Jackson's three-part documentary, The Beatles: Get Back, will be released on 25 November.  The director worked with 56 hours of previously unseen Beatles footage to make it during a two year edit. The series will follow the band during the recording of their final album Let It Be, released in 1970. 

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar. I've currently set aside any pipe dreams of getting anywhere with my own songs and I am enjoying playing covers in function bands.