There were times when I just stared goggle-eyed at the stage which by a colossal fluke happened to be not so far – a few feet away – from my perch on the first floor tier, immediately stage-right. There he was, Beatle-booted, luxuriant of moptop and leaping about like a spring lamb. Paul McSoddingCartney. Despite being a hardcore Fab-head for 30 years, this was the first time I had ever seen him live. By gum. Old hands at these gigs – and there were many, by the looks of the banners, binoculars and mutters over the setlist – might disdain such naïve joy, but really, the whole evening was absolutely magical.
They bounded on, waving and grinning and it was straight into ‘Eight Days A Week’ ,’Save Us’ and then ‘Got To Get You Into My Life.’ It was during the latter I had one of quite a few funny turns. I remembered first hearing ‘Revolver’, aged about 11, with some older lads sneering knowledgeably that this might all be a bit over my head.
The voice, occasionally breaking into a croak, was instantly recognisable. Much much better than I had dared hoped for. The band were smooth, slick and honed down to microscopic accuracy. One longed for the occasional bum note, flourish or snap of spontaneity. He wielded that legendary Epiphone for “Paperback Writer” which was accompanied on the backdrop for some reason with studies of a Richard Prince “Nurse” painting. A word about the backdrop projections. Sometime amazing (“Helter Skelter” “Temporary Secretary”). Other times baffling (a stone archeway for “We Can Work It Out” and a long and winding road for, er, “The Long And Winding Road”).
The band tended to pub rock workouts at times – that ‘Foxy Lady’ coda to ‘Let Me Roll It’ seemed to serve little purpose other than provide McCartney the cue to wheel out his hoary old Hendrix “Sgt Pepper” anecdote. If his evident enjoyment was part of the show, well, it convinced me.
We had the tributes for John (“Let’s hear it for John. Woo!”) and George (“George!”). The ukulele-led “Something” was a moment of pure joy as the sun came out on the second verse, the beautiful slide guitar as the band joined in.
The guitarist (the dark-haired chap, not the blond bloke) started leaping up and down and mugging for the crowds. They launched into “I’m Looking Through You” “We Can Work It Out” and, to my delight, “Ram On” and “Another Day” Same guitarist mangled the solo in “Maybe I’m Amazed” with some over-testosteroned rock-god wigging out. Nitpicking, for sure, but I’ve always adored Henry McCulloch’s beautiful moment in that song. Unexpected fireworks singed the ceiling for a monstrously magical “Live and Let Die”. I was trying to wind my way out for a nanosecond to get to the bathroom but then the bastard launched into “Hey Jude” and I was glued to the spot. “Temporary Secretary” was amazing, as was an unexpected “All Together Now” which was manic, speeding up to a demented finale. “Another Girl” and “MR Kite” were also unexpected and delivered with slick aplomb.
The awful atmosphere of the O2, echoey acoustics, water bottles confiscated at entrance, hi-viz security staff glumly pushing dancing pensioners back into their seats, that kind of thing, occasionally overwhelmed me with frustration. How could this experience be constrained by health and safety concerns, the stink of nachos and chips and the echoing, airless arena? But as the man said, about his grandchildren “now they know what Grandad does – he’s a rock star!”
Mainly a sea of balding, aging Beatleheads like myself but a surprisingly large contingent of teenage girls with dyed hair and black Donovan caps.
It made me think..
All I’ve heard and read over the years about the man’s innate love of performance appears to be true. He seemed to enjoy every moment of the evening. As did I and everyone around me.