“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, who will take his place on Broad Street’s Walk of Stars on Thursaday, 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 songs.
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; I’m proud of ELO; I’m proud of working hard and making things happen. But The Beatles? That was special.”
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.”
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.”
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 02 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.”
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 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. It will be a famous first because 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 hometown, 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 from Birmingham City University,” he says. “It was a wonderful day, being among all those graduates with all their hopes and wishes.’’
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.
By Paul Cole