Wings at Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin, 1976
McCartney on the road
New Musical Express, 19 February 1972, page 16
He’s back after a five year absence, with a surprise live gig in Nottingham. Exclusive report by Geoff Liptrot and friends of Gongster, the Nottingham University newspaper In circumstances bordering on the unreal, Paul McCartney chose Nottingham University to break his five-year absence from live gigs. At less than a day’s notice he gave a spontaneous lunchtime concert with his new group Wings to about 700 dazed and disbelieving students. It all started the day before when the McCartneys and the rest of the band left London and headed up the M1 in their hired red van. As Paul told us: “We took off from London with the idea of going on tour, but instead of fixing up days and gigs ahead of ourselves we wanted to keep very loose. So we just took off in the van yesterday.” They left the motorway at Hatherton, just after Leicester, for no other reason than Paul liked the name. This was the peculiar sort of logic that led him out of self-imposed exile to play at Nottingham University – a place not normally noted as venue for superstars. Unable to find a hotel at Hatherton, they headed for Nottingham, 12 miles away. Then Henry McCullough, Wings’ lead guitarist, remembered he had played at Nottingham last year with The Grease Band and had liked the place. So, at 5pm on Tuesday, Paul and his entourage casually walked into the Union building, grabbed the nearest executive, and suggested Wings play their debut concert there the next day. After a few minutes with the dumbfounded Union Social Committee the performance was fixed up and the news began to filter through to a sceptical student population. It was only as the sound of Wings warming up echoed through the building that everyone realised that this was indeed for real. For those who grew up in the shadow of The Beatles it was hard to put into words the feeling of sheer excitement generated by seeing the man who represented the very heart of what they stood for standing there onstage singing ‘Lucille’. McCartney has not performed onstage for five years, and it was plain to see he felt good to be back. His new band seems to summarise his new attitude to music. The complexities of previous works such as ‘Sgt Pepper’ and ‘Let It Be’ are relaxed now by simple, happy music. As the hall filled with surprised, delighted students the band moved straight into ‘Mess I’m In’ – a bitch of a number, its popularity proved by McCartney’s decision to repeat it during the second set. This must not be made too much of, however. The entire concert was more or less a public rehearsal, albeit by some of the most respected figures on the rock scene. As the band warmed up, gaining more confidence with every number (partly due to the rapturous applause from the bedazzled audience which greeted them), the music began to move nicely. McCullough swapped guitar-licks gracefully and easily with Denny Laine and played a nice laid back solo on ‘Blue Moon Of Kentucky’. ‘Say Darlin’’ followed. A slow ’50s number to smooch to, during which McCartney showed his command of the audience – he had only to ask and everyone was clapping along. During the rock’n’roll encore which ended the concert (a repeat of ‘Lucille’ and ‘Long Tall Sally’) he exhorted us to dance. And we did. The floor jam-packed with a crowd far exceeding the fire limit (ever tried keeping a believer from seeing his Messiah?). The first set ended with ‘Wild Life’, the title track from his last album which was panned by almost every music reviewer in the country. Lack of critical acclaim did not seem to matter to the audience however, and why should it? McCartney has severed all links with The Beatles, so why judge him by standards which he himself disowns? Here was a damn fine little band who, even by other standards, would be very highly rated. They left the stage for a break and we settled in, still rather incredulous, for the second set. It was, if anything, an improvement on the first – with the exception of the opener, ‘Bip Bop’. It was just a little too trite, a little too middle of the road. ‘Give Ireland Back To The Irish’, Wings’ new single, also grated a little with its harsh, sing-song chorus immediately conjuring up visions of a drunk rolling along a street bellowing at the top of his voice. But the rest of the set more than compensated. McCullough and Laine both played superb solos on a shuffle blues, and ‘Mess I’m In’ kept things moving nicely, showing that Paul is at home on hard rock as on slower things like ‘My Love’ which followed. At once, this number aroused reminiscences of his more well known material (‘Let It Be’ spring to mind). Seated at the piano, he was back in the days of ‘Hey Jude’; a little boy lost, singing about his love simply and without thrills. If there were any faults in the performance they were quickly forgotten when finally he put on his blue suede shoes to lead the rousing rock’n’roll closer. One got the impression it must have brought back memories for McCartney of The Beatles’ lunchtime sessions years ago at the Cavern; every person in the place dancing, stomping and clapping. And then, with a brief “see you next time”, they were gone. We were left dazed, realising the music-history-making occasion we had just witnessed. In places the band was, however, less than musically brilliant. Paul’s bass-playing was sometimes mundane and his good lady wife consistently hit some pretty duff notes. But who could complain about seeing one of the most important influences ever on rock music, backed – as he was for the most part – by a tremendously tight, exciting band and really enjoying every minute? As the audience left people were already dissecting the performance, analysing it unnecessarily. But the fact is: Paul McCartney is back. Disregard the critics. On Wednesday afternoon last he showed his paces to an audience packed like sardines for about two hours in a cramped ballroom. It was a concert none of us here will ever forget.