Live!

The Cavern-ous Club

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.

McCartney in Glasgow. Photographer in Ayrshire.

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.

McCartney in Glasgow. Photographer still in Ayrshire.

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.

Paul’s back!

* 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.

Get This!, Kraut-y

High Times

Wings! The band The Beatles could’ve been!” That’s a line from Alan Partridge. It’s perhaps even his best line. But you knew that already. A-ha.

Between the messy dissolution of The Beatles and the start of the 80s, Paul McCartney kept himself active by touring the world with Wings. Global sellers in their own right, had he only ever created music with Wings, we’d still be talking glowingly about McCartney’s fine musical legacy. As it is, Wings is but a small part in his extensive, sprawling and much undiscovered back catalogue. There’s nuggets in them thar records, just waiting to be unearthed. Many folk know this, but I’d wager that many more don’t.

Even before The Beatles had truly and legally split, McCartney had released his eponymously-titled debut, an interesting collection of snippets and songs recorded at home, some written on the spot, some unwanted leftovers from Beatles’ sessions. Any album that includes Maybe I’m Amazed, Junk and Every Night deserves to be heard.

It would be a mere 9 years – the Wings years – before he’d get around  to releasing the titular follow-up,  McCartney II. Have you ever heard it? It’s nuts. There’s always some wag at work or in the pub who, when you mention The Beatles will tell you they don’t like them. Bollocks! The Beatles have a song for everyone, whether it’s Yellow Submarine or Revolution 9 or anything inbetween. Such a  rich and varied back catalogue reaches out in all directions. But for anyone who tells you they don’t like The Beatles, do two things; 1. Bash them over the head with a heavy frying pan and, 2. After the following history lesson, point them in the direction of McCartney II.

In the run-up to its release, Wings had travelled the world. Well, almost the world. Back in his Beatles days, around their 1966 Budokan dates, McCartney had been caught with marijuana by the Japanese authorities and was immediately banned from the country. The ban stood for over a decade, but the Japanese relented at the tail end of the 70s.

In January 1980, ahead of what would’ve been Wings’ first Japanese tour, McCartney was once again busted for marijuana possession, this time at Tokyo airport and, after 9 days in jail, was ungraciously ejected from the country, an insult and an embarrassment to the Japanese authorities who’d relented on his ban in the first place. Quite what conversations took place ahead of this year’s solo Japanese tour is anyone’s guess, but seemingly Sir Paul McCartney MBE is now as welcome in Tokyo as a delivery of steaks for the sumos in Sapporo.

Where were we?

Oh aye.

In the days following his jail sentence, McCartney found himself back at his farm on the Mull of Kintyre, without a tour, without direction and possibly without a band. So he did what he did best; he dug out his instruments and wrote some songs. Crucially, his usual set up of drums/bass/guitar/keys was augmented by the first phase of samplers and drum machines and McCartney set about creating a new sound.

It’s something of an urban myth these days to suggest that Paul was the ‘soppy, safe’ Beatle and John the ‘edgy, arty’ one. While Lennon was still perfecting his best Dylan sneer on You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away, McCartney was heading out (there) to Karlheinz Stockhausen performances and dabbling in musique concrète. It’s a theme that carries to this day, with his ambient and dubby Fireman releases filling up the esoteric corners of his back catalogue alongside his Liverpool Oratorio and sundry other classical pieces. But in 1980, when McCartney II hit the shelves, it proved too much for many.

Even an artist as bulletproof, as guaranteed to sell as McCartney found the going tough; proto techno, blues, chart ballads (Waterfalls), abstract snippets of tunes, it’s a good advert for how (cough) creative you can get when you have an ongoing relationship with soft recreational drugs. No doubt during studio playbacks, McCartney listened through a fug of whatever, judgement quite literally clouded, but listening nowadays, it’s a good album. Not a great album, not perhaps an album that even the writer would point you in the direction of, but it’s certainly not as bad as its sales might suggest. In time it’s grown to be something of a cult album.

It opens with Coming Up, a track that, with its wet funk and chattering guitar interplay screams “Talking Heads!!!” so loudly I can’t begin to wonder how David Byrne must’ve felt when he first heard it. Thrilled on the one hand. Dialling a good copyright lawyer with the other, no doubt. To be fair, McCartney freely admitted he was clearly in awe of Talking Heads and David Byrne’s ‘anti-commercialism’ at the time. And, not that it makes it right, but he’s been on the wrong end of dozens, hundreds, thousands of copy-cat records. Gamekeeper turns poacher, and all that.

Paul McCartneyComing Up

Elsewhere, you’ll find the catch-your-breath, that’s not Paul! Temporary Secretary, all bleeps and bloops and synthetic Kraftwerk rhythms, speeded up vocals spinning ad nauseum.

Paul McCartneyTemporary Secretary

Play it to someone who’s never heard it before and they’ll never believe it’s the same person who plucked Yesterday out of thin air and into homes the world over.

… or the wonky instrumental Frozen Jap (really Paul?!?) with its pseudo Eastern scales and stoned to the bone rudimentary drum machine.

Paul McCartneyFrozen Jap

… or Check My Machine, b-side to the album’s chart hit Waterfalls, with its nagging keyboard riff and Tweety Pie and Sylvester samples. The dull thudding sound you can hear in the background is the sound of the Super Furry Animals and De La Soul fighting it out over the right to sample it first.

Paul McCartneyCheck My Machine

McCartney has better albums; Ram, McCartney and Wild Life for starters, much of Wings’ back catalogue (Band On The Run? Of course. Venus & Mars? Very likely) as confirmation, but if it’s truly out-there stuff you’re looking for from the popstar who, on the face of it, never veers far from the middle of the road McCartney II might just knock yer socks off. Play it for the anti-Beatles person in your life and see what they think.

entire show, Live!

Get Back! Get Back! Get Back to where you once belonged!

You may have noticed things have been a bit quiet ’round here lately. An extreme bout of lethargy/cannae be arsedness coupled with actual real work being a bit hectic has lead to a slow down in the proceedings. But, for what it’s worth, I can safely say “I’m back“. So too, you probably noticed, is old thumbs aloft himself, the strangely auburn-coiffured Paul McCartney.

 Beatle Bum

I gulped a huge gulp back in March when I hit ‘return‘ and ordered 3x £85 tickets. I nearly refused to pay in private protest at what could only be described as extortion. A superstar going through a high profile divorce meant only one thing – in a round about way I was paying for his youngest daughter’s designer clothing and private schooling. But just as quickly as I thought this, I thought of myself moping around the house on the night of the gig and how I wish I’d just gone. My 15 year old self did this very thing when The Smiths rolled up to my hometown as part of their Meat Is Murder tour. “Oh mama, let me go!“. “OK“. “Really? I thought you’d say no.” So, just to be contrary, I didnae go. 25 years later, it still tortures me. So really, there was no way I’d miss this. And thank fuck (sorry) I didn’t.

After sitting through Sharleen Spiteri’s Asda Price Stax/Volt Revue – group dressed by Top Man, mind stopped from wandering purely by ogling the highly shaggable Spiteri (sorry again – to paraphrase one of our Scottish politicians, it must be this hot weather), McCartney came wandering onstage to huge applause. A brief malfunctioning guitar meant that he started with a hiccup rather than a bang, but once he was off and running……. oh man…..he was really off and running!

Little Beatle Paul in his little Beatle Boots

For as long as I’ve been into music, I’ve obsessed over these songs and here they were being played out right in front of me, 12 rows from the front of the stage, no need at all for that big video screen just there. I’m into double figures for Dylan gigs. Old Bob expects you to sit there and listen in reverential silence as his ever-decreasing-in-talent pub band grind their way through another 12 bar version of Maggies Farm. I’ve seen the Stones, Jagger and Richards playing some pantomime version of the ugly sisters as they karaoke their way through their back catalogue. McCartney knows exactly what his audience are here for and he stands and delivers. From backbeat boot stomping Cavern Classics (All My Loving) to White Album genius (Blackbird, Back In The USSR, Helter!! fucking!! Skelter!! (sorry again) to Wings Greatest Hits, it sounds amazing. The band replicate every last note, every last harmony and even when McCartney hits the bum notes on the piano during Let It Be, or fluffs some finger picking on Blackbird, or goes a bit flat on the harmonies of Paperback Writer (really!), it makes it somehow all the more real. Live. In front of you. It’s like going to see the Bootleg Beatles, except, well, it’s almost yer actual Beatles.

(my own video – link newly uploaded – may take a few minutes before it works)

Highlights were too numerous to list – but the whooshing jet sound at the start of Back In The USSR had the hairs on the back of my neck standing to attention. Live And Let Die‘s firework n flames display almost set fire to the same hairs a few minutes later. Even the toasted cheese on top – a pipe band marching on halfway through Mull Of Kintyre was gobsmackingly magic. The whole thing finished with the Sgt Peppers reprise before segueing into The End, complete with drum solos, rocktastic duelling guitars (no bass, as you’ll see from the video clip below – weirdly I had to upload it to YouTube before I could show it here) and the final harmonies from a croaking Paul McCartney. Really, this show was over the top brilliant. But, if you’ve read this far you knew that already.

 

And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make

Hard-to-find

I’d imagined, like, a string quartet after the second verse y’know.

If only I’d had these tracks in 1989! Round about then I taped Paul McCartney‘s MTV Unplugged off the telly and must have watched it about a million times. Well, at least 30. The bit I kept going back to was where he played ‘Blackbird’‘ (or ‘Blackboard‘ as he referred to it on the programme. Ho ho.). I slowly but surely worked out how he played it by freeze-framing the trickier parts, playing the mirror image of what south paw McCartney was playing and rewinding it as soon as the song had finished. I’d then play along to it with my vinyl copy of The White Album on my stereo.

The cover of my White Album technically isn’t white. The bottom left-hand corner and the inner gatefold has a distinct beige look about it. Probably because I pissed on it during the night after my 18th birthday. But that’s another story. Anyway. Freeze-framing and rewinding videos followed by carefully dropping and lifting record player needles at the right points on a record made learning this song a labour of love for me. Kids nowadays have it easy. Whomp ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ onto the iPod docking station, fire up UltimateGuitar.com and there it is, 300+ tabs of the same song, all slightly different, mostly all good. In my day you had to earn your guitar stripes. Tsk.

“Tsk!”

When they first started playing guitar, McCartney and George Harrison both learnt to play Bach‘s Bouree in E minor so that they could show off at parties. Looking for some post-Pepper inspiration, McCartney was staying at his farm on the Mull of Kintyre and wrote ‘Blackbird‘ after playing about with Bach’s tune. According to Philip Norman’s book ‘Shout!‘, later that same day he played it to the fans who were waiting outside the gates of his house. 

“A few of us were there. We had the feeling something was going to happen. Paul didn’t take the Mini inside the way he usually did – he parked it on the road and he and Linda walked right past us. They went inside and we stood there, watching different lights in the house go on and off.

In the end, the light went on in the Mad Room, at the top of the house, where he kept all his music stuff and his toys. Paul opened the window and called out to us, ‘Are you still down there?’ ‘Yes,’ we said. He must have been really happy that night. He sat on the window sill with his acoustic guitar and sang Blackbird to us as we stood down there in the dark.”  Fan Margo Stevens, quoted by Philip Norman in ‘Shout!’

It’s been said that the lyrics are about the civil rights movement in America and the struggle for equality. Or it might just be about a wee bird that McCartney saw in his garden one summer’s morning in 1968. Without wanting to sound too glib about it, as a guitar player it was always the finger picking and overall sound of the record that grabbed me.

McCartney and his Martin D28, Abbey Road June 11th 1968

These days, Blackbird has become my Bach and it can now be yours. What you have is a hassle-free way of learning ‘Blackbird”. The tab taken from The Beatles Complete Scores is here, in word document form. And below you have 10 or so in-the-studio crystal clear versions of ‘Blackbird’. Some fast, some slow, some with fluffed lines, some that stop short. There’s some rudimentary piano clanging on one take. There’s also the odd bit of studio chatter between Paul and George Martin. Occasionaly there’s a third voice. That’s a slightly fed-up John Lennon, taking a break from putting together ‘Revolution 9’ in the studio next door.

Blackbird 1

Blackbird 2

Blackbird 3

Blackbird 4

Blackbird 5

Blackbird 6

Blackbird 7

Blackbird 8

Blackbird 9

Blackbird 10

Blackbird 11

All tracks are taken from a Beatles bootleg called ‘Gone Tomorrow, Here Today‘ and were recorded at Abbey Road Studio 2 on June 11th and July 29th 1968, and at Trident Studios on August 28th and 29th 1968. None of the tracks on my bootleg sleeve are marked as being a particular take, so I can’t be any more precise about their origin than that. But this is a good way to learn the song – it’s essentially a work-in-progress session. McCartney repeats the trickier parts and plays it again and again and again, honing it to perfection. Anyway. Take the tab, download the tracks and play along. You’ll have it mastered in no time. You’ll need to add your own foot taps and bird noises. Party piece ahoy!

Piss stain not in shot