Sir Paul McCartney’s missing bass guitar was stolen from a van in Notting Hill, investigators have learned as they move closer to solving a mystery spanning more than 50 years.
A global search was launched earlier this month by Hófner, makers of the 500/1 electric bass, after Sir Paul told the company that he dreamed of being reunited with it.
He bought the instrument for £30 in a shop in Hamburg in 1961, and played it throughout his time in The Beatles. It was previously thought that the last sighting of the bass was at the band’s Apple Corps headquarters shortly before their famous rooftop concert in January 1969.
When Hófner launched a public appeal for information via The Telegraph, they received 600 emails within the first 40 hours.
One stood out: it was written by Ian Horne, a sound engineer with Wings, who was able to inform investigators of the instrument’s last known whereabouts - three years later than the band’s final live performance.
Mr Horne reported that the bass was stolen some time after 10pm on Oct 10 1972 from the Ladbroke Grove area of Notting Hill, west London.
He said: “In 1972, Paul McCartney was preparing for his first UK and European tours with Wings, and the band was recording their second album, Red Rose Speedway.
“We had rented a truck to move the gear - guitars and amplifiers - to various recording studios and rehearsal spaces across London.
“We were often criss-crossing London to rehearse or record at Morgan Studios in Willesden Green, the ICA in The Mall, Manticore Studios in Fulham, Island Studios in Notting Hill, and Abbey Road in St John’s Wood.
“One night, after a long day, we got to Notting Hill, where Trevor lived, and decided to park the truck up there for the night.
“We knew there was a huge padlock on the back doors, but when I got up in the morning and saw the van, with the broken padlock lying in the road, I knew it was bad news.
“I looked inside and the bass, along with one other guitar and two Vox AC30 amps, had gone.”
Mr Horne added: “We instantly suspected people living in and around Ladbroke Grove were responsible. One or two people living close by knew that we worked for Paul, so they would have known there was a chance that the kit in the back of the truck belonged to McCartney.
“We went from door to door, asking people if they’d seen anything or if they knew anything, but nobody said a word.”
Mr Horne reported the theft at Notting Hill Police station at noon that day.
You’re gonna carry that weight
While Sir Paul may not recall the theft, Mr Horne remembers it as if it was yesterday.
He said: “I knew it was Paul’s original Hófner bass that had been stolen, and I knew what it meant to him. Trevor and I did all we could to find it, but it was gone. Eventually we had to go to Paul’s house and tell him that the gear had been stolen from the back of the truck.
“He told us not to worry, and we kept our jobs. He’s a good man, Paul. I worked for him for six years after the bass went missing. But I’ve carried the guilt all my life.”
Mr Horne went on to work with Ian Dury and Madness for more than 30 years.
The search team includes Nick Wass, a Hófner executive and bass expert. He said: “When we saw Ian Horne’s message, we knew we had made our first major breakthrough. It simply said, ‘I was working with Wings, I was his sound engineer, when the bass was stolen from a hired truck.’
“To hear from someone like Ian, who was there at the time, and who still cares deeply to this day about getting the bass back, we were blessed at a very early stage in the investigation.”
Naomi Jones, who is leading the archive research, said: “Using Ian’s evidence, coupled with other pieces of information that we have gathered, we are now focusing on two families living in the Ladbroke Grove area in 1972 who we believe are connected to the lost bass in some way.
“We are now honing in on what happened to that bass after the theft.”
Mr Wass added: “The search for the lost bass was inspired by Paul McCartney himself. When I met Paul a few years ago, he spoke about the bass and asked me to help him find it.
“So the developments we’ve seen in the last few weeks - with all the publicity, and so much information coming into the project - has been incredibly exciting.”