Act: Paul McCartney
Venue: @SSEHydro Glasgow
Date: 14 December 2018
“Naw, yer alright” said my young companion.
“TASTE it” demanded the lady sat in front, who resembled a melted version of the cat from Shrek. He demurred but gamely took a sniff before passing it to me.
“Vimto” I said, without hesitation. The sweet, fruity fragrance of the once medicinal tonic was instantly recognisable.
“It’s supposed to be fucking Irn-Bru” scowled Melted Vimto Cat, pointing at the paper cup bearing the iconic legend.
Her companions, also in the row directly in front of us, were much older but oddly had jet-black moustaches. They looked familiar. The drink went back and forth. To me, to you, to him. Or something.
“Do YOU think I should take it back?” she asked of another of my companions.
Up to you love but at this stage, I’d rather you shut the fuck up about your carbonated drink and let me hear what Paul McCartney – 100m away – has to say about an afternoon he spent with some guy called George fucking Harrison. If you wouldn’t mind.
Before I continue, there’s one thing I need to say. I’ve been to a fair few gigs since I returned from exile last year and the one constant is the order of importance many concert goers place the live experience.
For a hefty number of spectators, enjoying a concert, even one which features a colossal figure who has spanned our musical landscape for the best part of 60 years, comes a distant 2nd to getting mad wi’ it and missing some rare moments of true transcendence.
“I’m taking it back” she said and up she got as McCartney launched into an unmissable version of one of his former bandmates’ most beloved songs using a ukulele given to him by that self-same fellow.
‘Something in the way she moves, Melted Cat goes to change the Vimto’. A magical moment, diluted.
I’m a fan of a fair few bands but I’ve been a true devotee of the Beatles since I can remember. They’ve been an integral part of my life since my late uncle Des, the guy who introduced me to the Celtic, Smokey Bacon crisps and underage drinking, added 60’s beat music to my after hours curriculum. My concert companions, three very different fellows in their 20’s, 30’s and 50’s, all grew up, like me, willingly bathed in McCartney’s euphonic glow.
The eldest of the three secured the tickets very early, before me and the 30’s companion had a chance to apply. We weren’t even supposed to be here but two late call offs and two grateful reserves got their chance.
I’d never been to the Hydro before. Last time I saw a concert in this vicinity was Hue and Cry across the way at the SECC about 30 years ago which preceded a messy after-party on the Tuxedo Princess, a floating Love Boat moored between the venue and the Broomielaw. No backstage tonight but given how much the ticket cost, I half expected to be on stage, playing tambourine at least. It was all a bit surreal to be honest. I saw Sinatra in London years ago, oddly enough at exactly the same age as McCartney is now. Magnificent though it was, it was tough seeing old blue eyes look SO old. Would the most boyish of Beatles be as frail and forgetful? Even when he arrived – following a sonic montage of semi-familiar jams and lesser know works – I couldn’t process actually seeing him in the flesh.
Then it began. With one of the most discussed chords in rock music. Dual guitarists ringing out a G7sus4? With a Fadd9 with a Dsus7? Who knows but the D note from that beaten Hofner was the keynote for a 3 hour journey to the centre of my musical heart.
3 hours. Double the length Frank played in 1992.
39 songs. Most of them instantly recognisable, a few not so. I found that with most of his newer tunes, in particular the worthy but tuneless anti-bullying song, Who Cares, the images on the screen of Johnny Depp and Natalie Portman signing for the deaf, thankfully kept more people from heading to toilets and kiosks than they would’ve been able to accommodate. I’m loathe to be critical of an artist I consider the Beethoven of popular music but most of those newer songs are almost completely bereft of the melody, theme and wit of the work he is best known for. It’s no exaggeration to say I’d have gladly taken an unfairly ridiculed masterpiece such as The Frog Chorus over the godawful Everybody Gonna Dance Tonight or Fuh You any day of the week.
Thankfully though, his set was filled to the brim with note perfect Beatles classics such as Eleanor Rigby, Can’t Buy Me Love and We Can Work It Out, some early solo work like the genuinely moving Maybe I’m Amazed, as well as Wings specials Let ‘Em In, Juniors Farm and a stunning Band on The Run with archive footage on the screens behind him.
And if he left it at that, we’d have all gone off into the cold December night, extremely satisfied. Now, I’ve seen shows of his on TV and DVD where he touches on his legacy and those world changing childhood friendships briefly before his notorious guard goes back up and he returns to his ‘thumbs aloft’ Macca that either endears or grinds, dependent on your preference. Maybe it’s his age – maybe mine too – but I got a real sense of mortality from him when he stopped to talk about John Lennon before playing the song he wrote about all the things he wanted to say; Here Today from 1982’s Tug of War album. At this moment, it was less like the 12,000 strong karaoke party it was earlier and more a personal, regretful plea to those estranged from one’s life. And when his voice broke with emotion, it hit me like a slug to the guts. Same with the aforementioned George Harrison song Something; a track which contains for my money, the greatest bass line he ever played. As the ukulele intro merged into the full band version, McCartney gave it everything he had, against a backdrop of photos of George and him that had clearly not come from the public domain but his own collection. He played the last minute of the song facing the screen and when he turned around, his eyes were as misty as many of ours were. It was painfully personal but it’s a mark of the man that he felt comfortable sharing his love – and his grief – with those of us who felt that loss so profoundly.
And with that, he manoeuvred back into more familiar territory. Ob La Di Ob La Da life goes on. Don’t you fucking know it. That’s what he does, expertly. For Beethoven, read Messi. Turning on a sixpence and heading off on another adventure, down the market with Desmond and Molly Jones. For me, the singalong was bittersweet as it was the song I’ve always associated with my late uncle Desmond. He would have loved this.
A rather subversive Live and Let Die – with pyrotechnics obliterating the Houses of Parliament to the approval of many in the audience – led us to the final epic number of the main body of the show; Hey Jude. The 7 minute long single version turned into about 12-15 mins as the football-style solfège shook the venue off its foundations and into the Clyde. Nah Nah Nah Nahnanana….nananana…Hey Jude. A couple of ‘Celtic’s may have been inserted instead of the song title but I’m not at liberty to comment further.
At this point, Melted Vimto Cat and the Chuckle Brothers left, for another evening sugar rush no doubt, and three of the four scousers sitting directly behind us – let’s call them John, Paul and George – finally had enough of the very drunk Bongo who’d slept almost all the way through the gig and emptied a bottle of water on their almost prostrate companion. I bet a Pound to a Gulden that the bold Ludwig didn’t have the same issue with Frau Kitty Geschmolzen and Baron Von Chuckles at the Wiener Burgtheater.
McCartney returned and gave a cursory introduction to his band – multi-instrumentalist, Wix Wickens, guitarists, Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray, and Abe Laboriel Jr on drums – which was a bit stingy I felt, given their part in both transporting us through the time tunnel and covering their employer’s diminishing vocal power. James Taylor aside, I don’t think there’s another singer from his era who has come through with their classic voice intact. Jagger maybe but he was always a howler. Not Robert Plant, not Rod Stewart and certainly not the deep, rasping bullfrog which is modern Elton John. While the most beloved shriek in rock has understandably lost a chunk of power over time, his unsurpassed natural, untutored musical instinct hasn’t failed him yet. A five song encore, finishing with an abridged version of the final ‘piece’ the Beatles recorded as a band in 1969 was absolute perfection. An achingly poignant Golden Slumbers, based on a nicked poem from the 17th century and a raucous Carry That Weight led into a reprise of You Never Give Me Your Money, before gliding through the only song he could finish with, replete with an upgraded solo from big Abe on drums; The End. There was no Penny Lane. No Get Back. No Yesterday. It didn’t matter.
My companions and I walked out into the icy night air, taking the long and winding roads (sorry!) around Finnieston struggling to comprehend what we’d been party to. The Beatles aren’t everyone’s cup of herbs but for us true believers, this was like watching Da Vinci dance or Nijinsky sketch. Something like that. None of us wanted it to end. Part knockabout football terrace, part sacred communion with the highest of high priests. Why, at the age of 76, does he still do it? Is he bored at home? Is it just for the adulation? It’s certainly not for the money. I guess that it’s as much a part of him as he is of us. A very private, public utility. He’s as much ours as the trees that sway or the blackbirds that sing in the dead of night. ‘And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make’. Listen to what the man said.