A little over 50 years ago Paul McCartney found himself in Lagos, Nigeria, making an album that would almost universally be seen as the highlight of his post-Beatles career.

However, Band on the Run wasn’t recorded without a struggle. Half of his band, Wings, decided to quit the night before their plane to Africa was due to leave London’s Heathrow Airport.

On arriving in Lagos, McCartney, his wife Linda and multi-instrumentalist Denny Laine, found that the EMI studio they had booked was only half built.

Worse was to come. Later, after a night out, McCartney and Linda were robbed at knife point. Thieves took a camera, some cash and, more importantly, McCartney’s demo cassettes containing all of the songs mapped out in sketch form.

Once recorded, the album featured such classics as the title track along with Jet, Picasso’s Last Words, Mrs. Vanderbilt, Bluebird, current concert favourite Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five and Helen Wheels.

Much of the commercial appeal of the album came from overdubs orchestrated by Tony Visconti, who had worked with David Bowie and T-Rex. These overdubs were added in London to McCartney’s rawer West African recordings.

To mark the album’s 50th anniversary, McCartney has revisited and re-pressed the original LP, while adding an extra album’s worth of songs that are quite special. For the first time, fans can hear Band on the Run as it left Africa – without the horns, strings and the overdubs that we now know so well.

“This is Band on the Run in a way you’ve never heard before,” McCartney explains. “When you are making a song and putting on additional parts, like an extra guitar, that’s an overdub. Well, this version of the album is the opposite, it’s … underdubbed.”

The Band on the Run anniversary edition features previously unreleased mixes that were created by former Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick, assisted by Pete Swettenham, at AIR Studios, in late 1973.

Prior to recording Band on the Run in 1973, McCartney and Wings were fast winning over fans and critics. Their album Red Rose Speedway had been released earlier that year, spawning the hit My Love. Next came the song McCartney wrote for the latest James Bond film of that time, Live and Let Die.

Not wanting to get complacent, getting out of England and making their next record in an exotic location seemed a smart idea.

“It was the era when people were wandering off and recording in the South of France – the Stones were doing Exile there – so there was that kind of recording-on-location vibe,” McCartney continues.

“I knew EMI, our record company, had a lot of studios. I said to the guys, ‘Could you give me a list of where you’ve got studios?’ I looked at them and this list was very exciting. Rio was a possibility. China was a possibility. And I saw they had one in Lagos. I thought, wow, Lagos, man, you know, Africa. I loved African music and beats.

“I thought, okay, if I go to Rio, we’re going to pick up maybe a Latin feel. If we go to Lagos we’ll pick up a sort of rhythmic African feel. I think I overplayed the idea because when we actually got there, I pretty much made the record I wanted to make.

“And there are a couple of tracks on it that have a little African influence, but maybe not as much as I thought. We just went and made a Wings record. But that’s what it was. I looked at the list and thought, wow, Africa. Lagos. Adventure. Let’s do it!”

As alluded to earlier, not all of Wings’ members were overjoyed at the prospect of recording in Africa.

“It was the night before we were due to fly and a couple of the guys rang me up,” McCartney recalls.  “Our drummer, Denny (Seiwell), and Henry (McCullough), the guitar player, just said, ‘We’re not coming’. I never quite worked out why. Perhaps they just thought Africa was a long way to go.

“I’m the kind of person who won’t go, ‘Oh, my God, I’ve got to rethink this’. If I’m going somewhere, I like to stick to the plan. So, I just thought I’m going to make this the best record I’ve made to date, since leaving The Beatles. I thought, well, we’ve got Denny’s guitar, Linda’s vocals, Denny’s vocals, my vocals and I’ll drum because I drum a lot anyway.

“It was crazy. The circumstances were just wild. When we got there the studio was kind of only half built. And we just had to figure it all out.

“It was funny, because when we got back home there was a letter from EMI which said, ‘Dear Paul, under no circumstances go to Lagos. There’s been an outbreak of cholera in Nigeria’.

“We only got that letter when we got back, or else I don’t think we would have gone there. But it was wild times.”

With 2024 hindsight, McCartney readily admits the band was lucky to have made their album and to have gotten out of Nigeria without too many bruises. One night in particular almost took an unfathomable bad turn.

“We’d been visiting some of our crew at their house and someone said, ‘Do you want a lift home?’ We said, ‘It’s such a beautiful night, we’ll walk’.

“We were walking through where we’d been told not to walk and I’ve got cameras, tape recorders, all my cassettes in a bag and Linda’s got photographic gear as well. A car comes up, a guy winds down the window and I automatically think he’s offering us a lift.  I just say, ‘No, listen man, it’s great. Very nice of you to do that, but we don’t need a lift’.

“We’re walking and they sort of drove off, five or six local guys, they looked a bit puzzled. And they went on down the street and I’m waving after them and I said, ‘Isn’t that nice’.

“Then suddenly the car stopped again. Now this time all of them got out. One of the guys got a knife. I said, ‘Holy cow. Wait a minute, they’re not offering us a lift’. The penny dropped and the guy’s holding a knife at me.

“We gave them all our stuff and they get back in the car. Screech off. They’ve gone the wrong way, they come back and we’re going, ‘Oh no, they’re coming back. They’re going to finish us off!’ Anyway, they zoomed off.

“Eventually, Linda and I walked home. There was one old security guard at our place with, like, the oldest rifle out of the civil war. He didn’t look like he could do much to help. We just sort of got into bed and said, ‘Forget it’. And we did. The next day we went into the studio and the studio manager said, ‘Man, you’re lucky you’re white. If you were black, they might have killed you because they would worry that you would recognise them’.

“They took the cassettes of all the home demos. I’m sure they just either recorded over them or just chucked ’em or sold ’em as blank cassettes.

“So that meant that I then had to remember the album. And that was okay because that was kind of a rule John (Lennon) and I had always had because we didn’t have cassettes or any recording devices then and we always had to remember stuff.  We used to say, ‘If you can’t remember it, how will the people remember it’?”

Paul McCartney & Wings: Band on the Run 50th Anniversary Edition (LP), featuring previously unreleased “underdubbed” mixes, is out now.

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