There’s a dilemma whenever a superstar rolls into town. Do you suck up the high ticket price in order to be in the same room as one of the greats or do you steadfastly refuse to pay over the odds to be sat in a seat so far from the stage that they share different post codes? Let’s face it. Paul McCartney is never going to play King Tuts. And bar the highly unlikely event of there being a BBC-endorsed ticket-ballot for a gig at the Barrowlands, the only way you’ll get (cough) up close and personal with McCartney is at a venue like the vast Hydro, the 3rd busiest concert venue on the planet. So, earlier in the year when the McCartney show was announced, I grouched and grumbled about the venue and the ticket prices…..then grouched and grumbled when I was placed on a waiting list to get on the pre-sale list and grouched and grumbled some more when I received an email to tell me due to ‘unexpected demand’ I’d been unlucky in securing tickets. In other words, it was sold out and I wasn’t going.
Thanks then to the unexpected bonus of a pal being invited to a family wedding the same night. His tickets were snapped up quicker than you can say “Fab!“, even if his seats were in the actual back row of the highest tier in the largest indoor venue in the land. The High-dro, as I nicknamed it for the night. We were so high up, the fake snow that fell on the audience during the seasonal Wonderful Christmastime fell from below us. Really! I’m sure I caught site of McCartney’s private helicopter at one point, hovering underneath us as the last loving notes of The End faded off and out into the ether.
Had it been an all-standing affair on the ground floor, it might’ve been very different. I’d hatched a plan to blag my way into the standing area by fair means or foul, a ‘plan’ that involved waiting until the ticket checker(s) on the door of the ground floor were distracted before dashing in and vanishing amongst the crowd. In the event, we were able to saunter through to the ground floor area unhindered (and man, once clear inside did we swagger with gallus abandon), only to be met with the surprising site of the whole area covered in seats. There was no standing area at all, not even a golden circle-type affair at the very front. A hike to the third floor it was.
Photo copyright of Stuart Westwood*, used by permission.
Not to matter. As Beatle Paul in his Beatle boots stomps his way through a rattlin’ and rollin’ A Hard Day’s Night, he doesn’t seem that far away. With his ‘tween song patter; all Beatles memories and moist-eyed tributes to his former bandmates, and video projections; a mix of goofy Beatles moments, swirling psychedelics and the occasional Rock Band graphic, he has the uncanny knack of making you feel he’s right there in front of you. Well, he is, but not actually right there. He’s down there. Waaaaay down there. We’re in the Cavern(ous) Club and he’s more Small McCartney than Paul McCartney, but man!, he’s on such great form that it hardly matters.
“I know you’re here for the Beatles’ numbers,” he says mid set. “…as the venue goes all twinkly with yer mobile phones. When we play our new stuff…..” he pauses for comic effect, “Black hole!”
McCartney indeed knows exactly what his audience is here for and for 3 hours, he unwraps a 39-song set that’s heavy on the hits from all eras of his career. His band is basically a beat band; two guitars, keys and drums, with occassional augmentation from a brass section, and they’ve got those Beatles harmonies and Beatles riffs down to a tee. They share mics, Beatles-fashion on Can’t Buy Me Love. They trade bluesy licks and John and Paul call-and-response vocals on a fantastic I’ve Got A Feeling. They huddle around a small drum kit for a mid-set run through of Love Me Do, sounding as fresh as the besuited moptops did on the day they recorded it. There’s a surprising, excellent In Spite Of All The Danger, the track demoed by The Quarrymen that ignited the Lennon/McCartney partnership. And there’s tons more; mid-period Beatles is represented by a sprightly Got To Get You Into My Life and a faithful Eleanor Rigby. Then there’s Blackbird…..We Can Work It Out….Lady Madonna…..Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite…..Back In The USSR…..Birthday……a majestic Something, started on one of George’s old ukeleles and finished in arena-friendly soft rock fashion…….an incredible selection of songs, all played exactly as you’d expect them to sound. McCartney’s voice may be a little shot here and there (and gone completely on the odd high note) but his band (and audience) more than cover with warm harmonies and killer musicianship.
Arguably, the Wings material is even stronger. The band The Beatles coulda been indeed. Longer, drawn out and more suited to arena rock than those early days Beatles’ numbers, they sizzle. Literally in the case of Live And Let Die whose indoor fireworks caused great excitement. The slow-creeping firework smoke finally found us midway through Hey Jude‘s na-na-na-nana-na-nas, a welcome smokescreen for the sudden tears that had caught me off-guard midway through a rollicking Band On The Run and hadn’t quite abated. Who knew ol’ 76 year old Paul, the groovy grandad in tight-fitting bespoke denim jacket with double thumbs aloft after every song could have such an effect?!? The effect continues through the spectacular ending. Following a rockin’ Sgt Pepper’s Reprise and a rollin’ Helter Skelter, McCartney returns to the piano for a heartstring-pulling Golden Slumbers. The Abbey Road medley follows, McCartney pulling on his Les Paul for a rocktastic triple guitar salvo in The End. It’s the perfect finish to a perfect show.
Given his age and given the fact that entire bands’ careers have come and gone since the last time he played Glasgow, it’d be a brave person who’d suggest they’ll see another Paul McCartney show in Scotland any time soon. It was a thrill to be present last night. Haste ye back, Paul.
* Unlike me, Stuart Westwood takes some of the best gig photos you’ll ever see. He was permitted to snap during just the first two songs last night then had to leave to get his shots to the agency who syndicates them around the world. That’s dedication for ye. He has been nominated for a Gold Award by the Society of Photographers in their Photos of the Year category. Look out for his name in the credits whenever a great gig shot grabs your attention.