It’s just after midday. I’m in the BBC’s famous Maida Vale studios. And I’m 10 feet away from a living, breathing, singing Beatle. How did that happen...?
A few weeks earlier I’d casually entered a lottery to win a pair of tickets to this gig via 6Music, safe in the knowledge that I didn’t have a hope in hell of winning. 66,000 other people had done likewise. With just 100 pairs of tickets up for grabs the odds seemed pretty slim, not quite National Lottery slim but a whole lot worse than the tombola at the local church fete or the outside chance in the 4.15 from Cheltenham. And yet on a chilly Monday morning a week or so after entering I logged into my email account and there amongst the spam was a pair of tickets to arguably one of the most intimate gigs that McCartney had played since his Cavern Club days.
Arriving outside Maida Vale at 9am there were already 30 or so people in the queue, I imagine one or two may have slept there. Now that's devotion. It’s a curious place, the studios on one side of the road and a row of posh looking houses on the other (probably all flats these days). After a two hour wait we were let in and put into another queue for half an hour or before swarming into the studio itself. It’s a little like an old school hall, much smaller than you’d imagine and, unlike pretty much every other gig venue, barrier free. Only a white line on the floor indicates where the audience can’t go. There’s no stage either, so if you’re vertically challenged it’s tough. Predictably several people at the front were about 8ft tall but that’s always the way. We managed to get one row off of the very front and, with a little head bobbing, we had a pretty decent view.
When Macca eventually bounded on it was a strangely moving moment. If you’re under 70 there’s a pretty decent chance that the music and iconography of The Beatles music has been hard wired into your brain. Has there been a more important band in history? Despite splitting up over 40 years ago they seem as popular and influential as ever. Ignore all the rose tinted stuff that often fogs the 60s and, from a purely musical perspective, their development and output in just a few short years is still nothing short of staggering. And right there...almost within touching distance...was one of the two blokes who was responsible for writing most of it. Lennon’s long gone, Harrison too. Ringo’s still about and doing plenty of stuff but, let’s be honest here, he wasn’t the...ahem...Starr of the show was he? That just leaves McCartney. At 71 and with a fortune estimated at anything between £400 and £800million he clearly doesn’t need make music for the money any more. He doesn’t need to haul himself out of bed to do freebie gigs like this either, which leaves you with the undeniable fact that he’s doing this purely for the love of it all.
That comes across pretty much immediately as he comes into the room and launches into Coming Up from McCartney II (released in 1980). He looks remarkably fit. Even his hair looks better than it did a while back. Obviously it’s dyed but it’s a mellower shade now thank goodness. Why he can’t be glad to be grey like Tom Jones I don’t know. I reckon it would suit him. Save a fortune in Just For Men as well. Anyway, Macca sounds great too. The vocal gets better as he warms up (to be fair this is midday and he only flew in from New York a couple of days ago) and barring the odd slightly strained note it’s pretty impressive. Having listened to my mum’s copy of the Help album on vinyl over and over again when I was young seeing Macca play We Can Work It Out just a few feet away was a particularly special moment...the slight quaver in the voice makes the “Life is very short” line seem all the more poignant. He’s here to promote his new album of course, New, which had been picking up some decent reviews and plays his current single, also called New, which wisely plays to his Mc strengths. Cleverly produced by Mark Ronson it’s a little bit Beatles-y with (to my ears at least) jaunty touches of Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields in there. Forthcoming single Queenie Eye also plugs into his past, more playful than New it’s Sergeant Pepper era Beatles and comes complete with its own call and response bit for the crowd to shout along with. That warms us all up nicely for a good old sing along to cod reggae classic Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da before Macca and band blast through Get Back.
And then it was all over. Several days later it still seems like a slightly surreal dream...
Setlist: Coming Up / Save Us / Junior’s Farm / We Can Work It Out / New / Queenie Eye / Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da / Get Back
PS: If you want to try to spot me I was just behind the left shoulder of the tall bloke in a white top on the left hand side of the screen. Clearly he preferred to watch most of the gig via his ruddy mobile phone. C'est la vie.