Monday, 14 May 2018

Paul McCartney: Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions


I don't know about you, dear reader, but so far this book/website has seemed awfully studio-bound: yes there are the odd live albums dotted round in the discographies but a touring life was usually as important if not more so to our AAA artists. Even we can't go through every gig they ever played however, so what we've decided to do instead is bring you five particularly important gigs with a run-down of what was played, where and when and why we consider these gigs so important. Think of these as a sort of 'highlights' covering from first to last, to whet your appetite and to avoid ignoring a band's live work completely! Paul McCartney might not have toured consistently year in year out like the Grateful Dead or Neil Young, but he’s still racked up almost more concerts than anybody in the AAA alumnus: 1400-ish as part of The Beatles, 150 with various incarnations of Wings and 900 odd as a solo act, adding up to a ridiculous 2450. And he’s still going! Paul has actually played more in the 21st century already than he managed during his entire thirties, fourties and fifties and loves shrugging off the idea of retiring, claiming that he’s happier on stage than he’s ever been. That’s resulted in an awful lot of live McCartney CDs over the years (and in truth a lot of awful live McCartney CDs) but also some truly first-class performances. Here are five landmark moments out of thr thousand or so (we refer you to our Beatles book ‘Every Little Thing’ for the first half of Paul’s live career). One thing that’s always fascinated me too: what other performer, so famous for playing one instrument for so long, has ever swapped his main part before? Paul was a bass player first and foremost right through to the tours of the 1990s but now only begins his tours with a bass before swapping to guitar these days. If I know Paul’s restless creative nature he’ll be on the drum stool soon…

1)  Where: University Of Nottingham When: February 9th 1972 Why: First Wings Gig Setlist: ‘Blue Moon Of Kentucky’ [39] Give Ireland Back To The Irish ‘Thankyou Darling’ [34] Wildlife [32] Bip Bop ‘Blues Jam’ [54] The Mess [46] My Love ‘Lucille’ ‘Long Tall Sally’

Fascinatingly the first performances John and Paul gave post-rooftop both took place at universities. But whereas Lennon plumped for Cambridge, to make an arty statement as Yoko’s ‘plus one’ at a gig invitation sent out to her, Paul was busy putting his brand new barely-met band through their paces down the bottom of the bill on a hard tour of British universities. This first Wings tour is infamous: most of the students considered The Beatles part of their elder brother or sister’s generation – which was exactly what Paul wanted, on a tour where anything to do with the fab four was banned (at least until the encore when he revived cover ‘Long Tall Sally’ for the first time since 1964!0 The whole point of this tour was to make Wings seem like just any other touring band, appearing more often than not unbilled after a few quick negotiations with the local student’s union, rather than in a blitz of publicity which would have scared a band still very green around the gills. The band didn’t even have a set itinery – they just drove up and down the motorway in a tiny van up looking for places that might have unis (in the day before every town had one), with Nottingham their first destination. This is the gig where the van pulled up outside the students union, the roadie was sent in to tell the students that Paul McCartney was outside in the van and he ambled up to the window several minutes later and without a blink said ‘oh, yeah, it is you, great!’ – not quite the response the Beatle was looking for! The first gig was rough, but Wings were tough – they even kicked things off with an Elvis oldie recorded before most of the people in the gig were born and the first McCartney original played that night was the one currently banned by the BBC (Indeed Wings’ biggest applause of the night was meant to come when Paul yelled ‘this one got banned!’ before kicking into the first notes). No audio or visual footage of the first gig exists, but bootlegs of later shows reveal a garage punk band with some bright ideas busking in between interminable tuning and occasional mistakes. With Beatles songs off the menu, ‘McCartney’ too primitive foir the stage ‘Ram’ too lush and only a few of the ‘Wildelife’ tracks ready, the setlist isn’t exactly golden in these early years but includes a few surprises: ‘Thankyou Darling’ is a rare cute spoof love song intended for ‘Red Rose Speedway’ back when that album was a double set, while ‘Blues Jam’ was an attempt to do a ‘Pink Floyd’ and improvise – the band will do a lot more of this sort of thing when Henry McCullough joins later in the year but as the band’s lone guitarist Denny Laine struggles. ‘My Love’, the only future set regular, receives a world premiere too, several months before appearing on Wings album number two. The band were paid hours after the gig, after a share of the takings were kept by the universities involved – Paul relished the thought, after years of touring with Brian Epstein, he was getting paid in real money and enjoyed counting out the pennies to his bandmates on the bus (Linda got a share too meaning the Mccartneys took double though, often a bone of contention!) After the gig in Nottingham uni Wings carried on to play gigs at York, Hull, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Lancaster, Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, Birmingham, Swansea and Oxford. Did they play at your uni maybe?!?

2)  Where: Gaumont Theatre, Southampton When: September 9th 1975 Why: Start Of Biggest Tour  Setlist: [73a] Venus and Mars [74] Rock Show [59] Jet! [62] Let Me Roll It [79] Spirits Of Ancient Egypt [41] Little Woman Love [43] C Moon [11] Maybe I’m Amazed ‘Lady Madonna’ ‘The Long and Winding Road’ [80] Medicine Jar [98] Soilly [66] Picasso’s Last Words ‘Richard Cory’ [60] Bluebird ‘I’ve Just Seen A Face’ ‘Blackbird’ ‘Yesterday’ [76] You Gave Me The Answer [77] Magneto and Titanium Man ‘Go Now’ [69] Junior’s Farm [78] Letting Go [55] Live and Let Die [81] Call Me Back Again [46] My Love [82] Listen To What The Man Said [58] Band On The Run [42] Hi Hi Hi

By 1975 Wings had switched lead guitarists and drummers (twice!) and were more prepared for the big time. The heavy sales of ‘Band On The Run’ had boosted Macca’s confidence and he was determined to tour sequel ‘Venus and Mars’ to keep Wings in the spotlight. For many fans this is where the band truly ‘flew’ – it’s the Jimmy McCulloch/Joe English era heard on their only live album ‘Wings Over America’ and seen in their only (released) film ‘Rockshow’. This first gig of the tour is a little different to the others though and is in many ways a ‘test’. The new songs from ‘Speed Of Sound’ (like [87] Let ‘Em In [94] Time To Hide [92] Silly Love Songs and [90] Beware My Love) haven’t been roadtested yet, ‘Soilly’ is for now the end of the first electric set rather than a finale encore and a few crossovers from the early Wings days remain like ‘Little Woman Love’ and ‘C Moon’. The Southampton venue was also kept deliberately small as a sort of glorified ‘soundcheck’ and can’t compete with the later venues Macca already has his eyes set on (most of the ones mentioned in new song ‘Rock Show’ deliberately made to be played on the road with ‘long hair in Madison Square’ and ‘rock and roll at the Hollywood Bowl’, two of his favourite haunts from Beatle days). However this is a key gig for lots of reasons: as well as the first with two new members, it features the first live performance of many Beatles classics, slowly working their way into Wings’ repertoire for the first time – ‘Lady Madonna’ ‘Blackbird’ ‘The Long and Winding Road’ and (barring a TV performance back in 1973) ‘Yesterday’. Interesting though that Paul hasn’t yet revived his longstanding live perennial ‘Hey Jude’.

3)  Where: Hammersmith Odeon, London  When: December 29th 1979 Why: Last Wings Gig Setlist: ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’ [118] Getting Closer [4] Every Night [122] Again and Again and Again [110] I’ve Had Enough [64] No Words [93] Cook Of The House [122] Old Siam Sir [11] Maybe I’m Amazed ‘The Fool On The Hill’ [5] Hot As Sun [120] Spin It On ‘Twenty Flight Rock’ ‘Go Now’ [123] Arrow Through Me [137] Coming Up [133] Goodnight Tonight ‘Yesterday’ [101] Mull Of Kintyre [58] Band On The Run Rockestra Theme ‘Lucille’ ‘Let It Be’

Four years later and Wings have another new lead guitarist and drummer, Laurence Juber and Steve Holly (who becomes an especially big hit with the fans making many of their stage announcements). Alas, though, the fourth Wings tour is barely over before it’s begun, with just twenty appearances to their name. The split wasn’t by choice – after this first English leg of the tour Wings flew to Japan for the first time – but it all went wrong just a week after this gig when customs discovered a joint tucked away at the top of Paul’s suitcase and under their heavy (draconian?) drug laws was sentenced to seven years inside. In the end he was only there for seven days, enjoying a seaweed diet and communal bath singalongs, but it spelled the end of Wings as the band flew home, all but penniless after the costs of the tour, leaving Linda alone to wait anxiously for news (something Paul never quite forgave the rest for, even though it was on management orders). This gig, then, ended up being the last one Wings ever played though nobody knew it at the time including the band – and it’s our old friend, the benefit shows for the people of Kampuchea, a forgotten concert eight years after Bangladesh and six before Live Aid that did much the same thing raising money for Cambodians murdered during a military takeover by the Khmer Rouge. The big news for fans at the time was the big finale when Wings left the stage to put on gold suits and came out with some fellow performers as ‘Rockestra’, the all-star band who had already appeared on the recently released ‘Back To The Egg’ album (well, everybody except Pete Townshend who refused to wear the suit!) The big news in retrospect is that only twenty sets of people ever got to hear certain key songs in the Mccartney discography before he bucked touring for another decade: this is the only ‘Got To get You Into My Life’ with real horns (rather than a synthesiser monstrosity), various ‘Back To The Egg’ songs (‘Getting Closer’ sounds particularly good), the debut of masterpiece ‘Coming Up’ (the live version on the single was taped at an even better gig at Glasgow a week earlier) and a lot of surprise revivals from the ‘McCartney’ album including ‘Every Night’ and ‘Hot As Sun’, a song that was last played live by Paul on piano when the elctrics went at The Cavern pre-Brian Epstein! Oh and ‘Mull Of Kintyre’, which in 1979 was still the best-selling single by anybody ever in the Uk before ‘Band Aid’ knocked it from its perch by copying exactly the benefit set-up here to even bigger effect. Six songs were released on the tie-in live album: the three rockestra songs plus ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’ ‘Every Night’ and ‘Coming Up’.

4)  Where: Estadio Do Maracana, Rio De Janiero, Brazil When: April 21st 1990 Why: Record-Breaking Audience Setlist: [**  ] Figure Of Eight [59] Jet! ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’  Rough Ride  [58] Band On The Run We Got Married [87] Let ‘Em In ‘The Long and Winding Road’ ‘The Fool On The Hill’ ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band’ ‘Good Day Sunshine’ ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ Put It There ‘Hello Goodbye’ ‘The Things We Said Today’ ‘Eleanor Rigby’ This One My Brave Face ‘Back In The USSR’ ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ Coming Up ‘Let It Be’ ‘Ain’t That A Shame?’ [55] Live and Let Die ‘Hey Jude’ ‘Yesterday’ ‘P.S. Love Me Do’ ‘Get Back’ ‘Golden Slumbers’ ‘Carry That Weight’ ‘The End’

Paul returned to the live stage full time on May 26th 1989 with a performance at Holland’s Countdown Café. This was a much bigger tour than the world had really seen before, that took in nearly fifty shows each in Europe and America and a handful of gigs around the rest of the world too. This show in Brazil was a particular talking point – it was the second night of a two-hander and was in the giant sports stadium in Rio that usually hosted football matches and seated 150,000 people. For this night, though, an extra 34,000 people were squeezed in for a gig that finally broke the record held by The Rolling Stones since the early 1980s (who themselves got it from CSNY in 1974, who got it from The Beatles in 1965!) The result was the highest grossing show at that point in time too, earning the McCartney band (Paul and Linda, Hamish Stuart, Robbie McIntosh, Wix Wickens and Chris Whitten) 3.4 million dollars between them. For the occasion Paul tweaked his usual live set of the day too, adding in lots of extra Beatle songs and keeping the Wings tracks to a minimum. This results in an extended run of five Beatles tracks in a row that remains the longest ever played at a solo Beatles show.This night’s recording of ‘The Long and Winding Road’ can be heard on the live set ‘Tripping The Live Fantastic’, while video footage of the show exists and was used in the documentary ‘From Rio To Liverpool’ about the backstage events going on behind the tour.

5)  Where: The Arena, Oakland, California When: April 1st 2002 Why: The Big Live Return Setlist: ‘Hello Goodbye’ [59] Jet! ‘All My Loving’ ‘Getting Better’ Coming Up [62] Let Me Roll It Lonely Road Driving Rain Your Loving Flame ‘Blackbird’ [4] Every Night ‘We Can Work It Out’ ‘Mother Nature’s Son’ Vanilla Sky ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’ ‘The Fool On The Hill’ Here Today ‘Something’ ‘Eleanor Rigby’ ‘Here There and Everywhere’ [58] Band On The Run ‘Back In The USSR’ [11] Maybe I’m Amazed  [43] C Moon [46] My Love ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ Freedom [55] Live and Let Die ‘Let It Be’ ‘Hey Jude’

This show kicking off the 2002 tour had so many firsts about it. This was the first live show Paul had performed in nine years, his first without Linda since The Beatles’ rooftop gig in 1969, it featured the live debut of many tracks (‘Hello Goodbye’ ‘We Can Work It Out’ ‘Mother Nature’s Son’ ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’ ‘Here There and Everywhere’ and some songs from ‘Driving Rain’) and  nearly completely new line-up, with guitaristRusty Andersen, bassist Brian Ray and drummer be Laboriel Jnr joining Paul and keyboardist Wix. Linda was there in ‘spirit’ too – she and Wix, as the two keyboard players in the band, had grown ‘competitive’ during their 1993 tour and decked out their instruments with the most ridiculously over-the-top decorations they could find. The lava lamp Linda had at the end was given to Wix as a present – and he kept it every gig for this tour in triubute. Paul pays a moving tribute to his wife in ‘My Love’, alongside a ukulele version of ‘Something’ for George Harrison and the first live performance of ‘Here Today’, Paul’s tribute to Lennon from 1982.However the biggest shock of all is that Paul performed solo, for the first time in his life, reviving the old ‘acoiustic’ middle set Wings always used to play and playing a whole run of songs solo from his Beatles, Wings and solo days. However the band more than played their part in making this show special and are still playing with Paul to this day, becoming the longest lasting lineup Paul has ever played with (beatles included) a couple of years ago. Long may this band be on the run…

Sometimes when artists pick up that musical baton they pay tribute to their heroes by covering their favourite songs. Here are three covers that we consider to be amongst the very best out of the ones we've heard (and no we haven't heard them all - do you know how many AAA albums out there are out there even without adding cover songs as well?!) As with the other solo Beatles books in this series, songs released by the fab four have been included with our book on the band ‘Every Little Thing’ to allow us to concentrate on the solo stuff. There is, as with all things Beatles, a plethora to choose from although it took a very long time to get the first disc of covers dedicated simply to Paul (the better than average ‘Art Of McCartney’, released in 2014 with contributions from AAA alumni Cat Stevens and Roger Daltrey among others, plus – finally – a real blues institution in B B King covering [143] ‘On The Way’ in the manner it should always have been). We’ve chosen to give you just one of these selections (for which we’ve again been loyal to our AAA brood) as well as a couple of others, but the two disc set is worth looking out for. Oddly there seem to have been very few Macca or Wings covers from the 1970s when Macca was arguably at his solo peak – instead all the decent covers have come in the past twenty years or so.

1)   [23] ‘En El Corazon Del Campo (Sherpa ‘Todas Sus Grabaciones Para Discos’ 1973)

Or ‘Heart Of The Country’ in Spanish if you haven’t worked that out (and don’t blame yourself if you didn’t: the actual translation is ‘In the heart of a field’, which is close but not quite right). Sherpa is a Spanish singer who sounds not unlike Macca singing using his higher pitched voice and as such the near-falsetto ‘Heart Of The Country’ is a good fit for him (he looks a lot like Macca in his brief moustachioed period circa 1976 too – one for the ‘Paul is Dead’ troupe right there). Eight years Macca’s junior, Sherpa started off his life as the bassist in Spanish band Modulas before forming Baron Rojo with two younger brothers, though he found his biggest fame as a solo star in his fifties around the millennium. Basically the same arrangement but played with a much bigger band sound, this is a nicely funky take on one of Macca’s overlooked gems, sung (in English) with real delight and some extra ‘yes come ons!’ Sherpa is clearly having fun, reeling off the nonsense scat part with relish while a thicker bass line and a drum part that sounds like Keith Moon on holiday all contribute to a recording that’s great fun and not ‘sheepish’ at all, like many McCartney covers. The recording is actually an outtake, recorded in 1973 (two years after ‘Ram’ – is that how long it tookl to reach Spain?) but unreleased till 1998 when it appeared on the compilation we’ve listed above.

2)  [62] ‘Let Me Roll It’ (Robyn Hitchcock ‘Songs In The Key Of Paul’ November 2013 Issue)

I’ve been a subsc riber to Mojo music magazine for a while now, dear readers, and while their CDs usually head straight to the local charity shop, occasionally (about once a year) you get something really good. This Robyn Hitchcock cover on a McCartney covers CD is one of the very best. Robyn is most famous for doing Syd Barrett impressions (same folkie high pitched voice and folky pyshcedelic weirdness – he’s always appearing in Pink Floyd documentaries) but comes alive on this tough cover of one of Macca’s toughest songs. Robyn’s voice sounds even more Lennon than on McCartney’s original as he slows the tempo without sacrificing the intensity or sacrificing the blows. Many people like the ‘Band On The Run’ record as much as they do because Paul sounds as if he means it – this beautiful cover too sounds like a battle between life and death, but a little more human without the Lennonish echo Macca used to treat his voice. Up front and in your face, it’s something both men should have done more of in their careers and the slow burn finally sizzling to a heated climax near the end only to be snatched back to the beginning again is a masterstroke.

3)  [164] ‘Wanderlust’ (Brian Wilson ‘The Art Of McCartney’ 2014)

The Beach Boys spent the 1960s covering no less than four Beatle songs (three on ‘Party!’, one left unreleased till ‘Rarities’ in 1983) – it’s hard to imagine that happening the other way around, although Paul was enough of a pal to (allegedly) munch a carrot on the Beach Boys recording of ‘vega-tables’ and guest with Brian on a peculiarly ugly song ‘A Friend Like You’ from solo album ‘Getting’ In Over My Head’. Born two days apart, both musicians often cite the other as an influence and are always praising each other’s work in the press (‘Pet Sounds’ is Paul’s favourite album allegedly – itself inspired by The Beatles’ ‘Rubber Soul – though one wonders if Macca has changed his mind after being in the front row of Brian’s ‘Smile’ tour, a record which makes ‘Pet Sounds’ seem like ‘Please Please Me’). When Brian agreed to take part in the ‘Art Of McCartney’ tribute album, both fanbases were agog at what he might choose to do. The result surprised everyone: Brian likes finding obscure songs and ‘Wanderlust’ is pretty obscure, buried away on the second half of ‘Tug Of War’. However it’s a worthy song that works well with Brian’s elaborate remake, all chanting vocals and trumpets that would have sounded great if done by The Beach Boys in their heyday. It is, after all, about the very Beach Boys theme of escapism and isn’t all that far removed from ‘Sloop John B’ with a sailor heading out to sea to be free of all the rules back home – if you haven’t read that section yet the sailor was Paul himself, ticked off for smoking weed while recording ‘London Town’ in the Bahamas and relishing the irony that the boat he was in and whose captain’s rules he had to follow was named ‘Wanderlust’.Very lovely indeed!

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