“Would I have liked to have been a Beatle?” Jeff Lynne pauses for thought before slowly shaking his head. “I don’t know. It wasn’t all beer and skittles being a Beatle.
“To have been under so much pressure, to not have been able to walk down the street? I’m a very private person. I would have found that very tough. So maybe no.
“But to share the studio with George, Paul and Ringo, and to hear all those wonderful stories, that was very special. It was a privilege, beyond a privilege. The stuff of dreams.”
The 66-year-old Shard End kid-turned Hollywood A-lister, his Brummie accent only slightly softened by his LA lifestyle, famously brought John Lennon back to life.
Not literally, of course, but in the recording studio during the 1994 sessions for The Beatles Anthology albums, which collected together classics, rarities and two new songs based on unfinished Lennon demos.
Called in by close friend Harrison, it was up to Jeff to use his production wizardry to help revive Free As A Bird and Real Love for the project, a virtual reunion of the Fab Four eventually released 25 years after they split up.
“Reclaiming the demos on John’s cassette and making a record out of them remains probably the achievement in which I take most pride,” says Lynne. “It was the most technically demanding and emotional thing I’ve done.
“There were many sleepless nights because I knew I had to get it right. When you’re working on the first new Beatles singles in a quarter of a century, there aren’t any half-measures. No pressure, then!
“But in the end, we made it in a week, effectively taking John’s tape, making a record and then putting John back in it. It was very emotional. Don’t forget this was the first time George, Paul and Ringo had been back in the studio together in 20 years.
“I’m proud of The Traveling Wilburys (the supergroup comprising Lynne and Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty); I’m proud of ELO; I’m proud of working hard and making things happen. But The Beatles? That was special.”
He was, he says, reunited with McCartney and Starr only a couple of weeks ago for a star-studded gig at the LA Convention Centre to mark the 50th anniversary of The Beatles appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show.
“I did Hey Bulldog with Dave Grohl and Something with Joe Walsh and George’s son Dhani. He has the looks and sense of humour of his dad, and can sound just like George when he wants to, although he makes his own way in life.
“Paul and Ringo were there, of course, and sang some Beatles songs in the show. I still see quite a lot of Paul and Ringo whenever they’re in LA. We get on together.”
Receiving the news of Harrison’s death of lung cancer on November 29, 2001 was a low point in his life, Lynne admits. The two had become very close in the Wilburys and the ELO man helped revive the Beatle’s solo career.
“Learning of George’s death was a dreadful experience,” he says. “although it wasn’t really a surprise because he had been very ill for quite a while. I got the call at home and it affected me deeply. We’d become close friends.
“Even when you know someone is that ill, it still shocks you. Losing Roy Orbison in 1988 was different. That was devastating because it was so sudden. He had a heart attack and was gone. He just checked out.
“We’d just worked together on You Got It, a song I’d written with him and Tom Petty and it had been his first top five hit in 30 years. It was still in the charts when he died. He’d been so happy.
“If you’ve got to go, then I suppose you go out on a high.”
It had been George Harrison who invited Lynne to join the Traveling Wilburys.
“When George came up the idea of the Wilburys, I was the first person he called,” he says. “We added Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty – quite a band!
“Could we do it again, start a new version of the Wilburys? Possibly, yes. I think if a couple of us wanted to do it, and the right people were interested, then it could work.”
I suggest the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Roger McGuinn and Tom Petty, perhaps John Fogerty. Lynne nods, considering the line-up.
“But, you know, you couldn’t ever recreate the experience,” he adds. “You could never capture the sheer enjoyment we all got from the Wilburys, the fun of it all, the freedom from pressure. Then there was the sheer surprise in what we did. Nobody expected it.
“If we were to do it again, I think we’d have to do something quite different musically.”
It’s the rock and roll equivalent of football’s fantasy league.
Just now, the $64 million dollar question, and more urgent, is whether ELO will hit the road again. Since Lynne and bandmate Richard Tandy reprised the band’s hits for Children In Need last year, demand is blue sky-high.
After he appeared on the Chris Evans radio show last week, Lynne has been flooded with offers of one-offs, world tours, even a six-night stint at London’s giant O2 Arena.
“I’m flattered when I’m told that I could sell out six nights but I can’t really imagine it,” he concedes. “It’s great that people still want to hear my music, but the O2? And six nights? Like I said, I’m flattered.
“I don’t know if I’ll take the plunge and go back out on the road again, despite the offers that have been coming in. There are people wanting me to play and either I will do it or I will not. I’m still undecided.
“I totally prefer working in the studio to touring. I always have. But if I were to do something live again here in the UK, I’d want it to be something simple. Whether that would be ELO or just me and a few of my mates, I don’t know. Haven’t really thought about it.
“I’m still working with Richard Tandy, who lives in Wales, from time to time and we were back together for the Children In Need show. People know him as the ELO keyboard player – and he is a great keyboard player – but not many people know he is also an accomplished jazz guitarist. He knows all the naughty chords!”
Lynne’s Brummie pedigree runs through a host of band names rooted in their era: The Rockin’ Hellcats, The Handicaps – later the Andicaps – The Chads, The Nightriders, The Idle Race, more famously The Move and Electric Light Orchestra.
Tonight (Thursday) Jeff Lynne will be in the company of old friends once more, at a private party at the new Library of Birmingham, where he will receive a star bearing his name on Broad Street’s Walk of Stars. He will also get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in LA later this year.
“Getting a star on the Broad Street Walk of Stars is fantastic,” he grins. “I never dreamed of being honoured in any way in my home town, let alone anywhere else. I just counted myself lucky if I could get a gig.
“I’m also getting a star on Hollywood Boulevard this year but, of course, the Birmingham star is closest to my heart. It’s where I come from, where it all started for me. And the star will be on Broad Street, close to where we played some of our earliest gigs back in the 1960s.
“I’ll be among good friends, too, because Ozzy Osbourne, Roy Wood, Tony Iommi and Bev Bevan all have stars on Broad Street.
“I’m looking forward to seeing Roy Wood again tonight. He’s coming along to the Walk of Stars event and it’ll be the first time I’ve seen him in 20 years. It’s a shame Bev Bevan couldn’t be there but he’s playing a gig. I’ve not seen him in 25 years.
“Would we ever get back together? Probably not. We’ve all moved on in our separate ways since we first played together in The Move and the original Electric Light Orchestra line-up.”
It will be the second hometown honour in a fortnight for Lynne, who has just been awarded an honorary doctorate from Birmingham City University for his services to music.
“I was chuffed to get the honour,” he says. “It was a wonderful day, being among all those graduates with all their hopes and wishes. They have great music at BCU too, with all the orchestras, quintets and such. I was amazed by the musicality of it all.
“I told the kids at the university: ‘Never give up. If you want it, and you work hard, you will get it’.”
Because after selling 50 million ELO records, winning Grammy Awards and being a virtual Beatle, Jeff Lynne – the kid with stars in his eyes who went to Alderlea Boys Secondary School, who rehearsed at Shard End Community Centre – still has lots to do.
There’s a major new album, almost complete after four years in the making, a project with Canadian rocker Bryan Adams and the work he recently did on the American Hustle soundtrack whetted his appetite for more.
It is, he smiles, simple. You just have to hold on tight to your dream.