Who Needs Yesterday?

If you haven’t already, I suggest you watch Paul McCartney’s headlining Glastonbury set. Even if you’re not a Beatles’ fan. Even if you don’t particularly dig that type of music. Watch it. You’ll not be disappointed.

For an 80 year-old to headline the most prestigious festival in music is impressive enough in itself. But it’s the way McCartney did it. In a set that lasted nearly three hours, the former Beatle didn’t pause or draw breath. The only short interlude in the entire performance was prior to the encore. And that was a matter of minutes.

For the rest of it, Paul was relentless; entertaining the vast crowd with anecdotes in between the comprehensive rendition of the most impressive catalogue in rock n’ roll. Brilliant, as an adjective, fails to capture the awesomeness of it.

Still, there were detractors, of course. Some complained about the composition of the set. This allegation was peculiar given that McCartney rattled through loads of Beatles’ classics, as well as Wings’ staples such as Maybe I’m Amazed and Band on The Run.

Some moaned about his voice. Sure, it’s not what is used to be, understandably, but see how well it held up, without backing, during I’ve Just Seen A Face and George Harrison’s Something.

Others complained about a lack of crowd enthusiasm. I assume they switched off before the end. Yes, the set started slowly (as is the way with these things), but by the end Sir Paul had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. What else to expect from a legend with over 60 years’ experience in the industry?

Criticism of McCartney has often been fashionable. Yet, no-one has achieved what he has. In truth, no-one’s even come remotely close. Such an accomplished history. The Beatles’ stuff alone is peerless, but look at all he’s done since. And he’s still going!

Paul’s last two albums, New and Egypt Station were damn good. Keen observers also note that the veteran entertainer found time during Lockdown to complete McCartney III. On top of all that, he’s still touring, performing to tens of thousands of people per night in stadiums all over the world. Evidently, the fire still burns brightly.

It’s not as if he’s doing it for the money. McCartney’s still stretching himself at this stage of his career because he still loves it and is so damn good at it. Paul McCartney could have retired comfortably years ago and with his place in music history long since assured. The fact that he hasn’t tells all about this remarkable man.

The Glastonbury show ended, of course, as is now customary, with the finale of the Abbey Road medley. You sensed the palpable disappointment from the crowd that it was all over. Because we felt it too watching on our tv sets. There was no shortage of emotion. Headlining Glastonbury at 80: what an incredible achievement.

So, complain if you want to. Be negative if it makes you feel better. But I know what I prefer to do. How long can he keep this up? Who knows? But, one thing I do know for sure. Make the most of this iconic human being while he’s still around. For we will never, ever see his likes again.

@rorymcgimpsey

Back to Brilliance

I finally caught Peter Jackson’s brilliant new Beatles’ film, Get Back, on Disney Plus. As you probably know, the film supplements the original Let it Be film (1970) with hours of previously unseen and re-mastered footage.

The results are incredible. You are immediately transported back 50 years and watch, first hand, the greatest band of all-time, at work in the studio. It’s almost like a time machine was built with the specific purpose of observing one of the most pivotal moments in music history.

Yes, Get Back charts the making of The Beatles’ final studio album (second last to be recorded, of course!) and all the attendant politicking and fall outs that happened in that turbulent period. I don’t think it’s a spoiler, though. to state that the film shows a much more complicated picture-that’s well documented at this stage.

You see plenty of bickering, of course, but you also see love, laughter, creativity and friendship. And yes, for most of it, Lennon and McCartney get on very well, thank you very much. At one stage George walks out, of course, but that aside, the atmosphere is much more convivial than previously portrayed.

Don’t get me wrong. The film is a long haul. I can’t see too many non-fans patiently sitting through it. There is a lot of sitting around jamming, talking nonsense and not doing very much else. The most absurd element is the endless debates about where the ‘concert’ would take place.

As many of you will know, the premise of the Get Back sessions (what became Let it Be) was to capture The Beatles live. The whole project was to be stripped back and without all the trademark multi-tracking and overdubbing that was the hallmark of previous albums. Back to basics and naked, if you like. All this was captured, as it happened in the studio, in documentary form.

The project was to end with a live concert where he band would perform the songs they created in the studio. This is where Jackson shows the latter day Beatles at their most excessive and absurd. There are interminable discussions over this concert venue. Everywhere on earth, it seems, from the Pyramids, to a ship, to Primrose Hill, and scores of other places, are mooted as possible venues.

It’s ridiculous. Hours of discussion over something that was never going to happen. For me, it highlights, arguably, how directionless the Beatles were in 1969. Imagine the biggest band in the world now working through a project like this without the slightest, coherent thought about the logistics of what was going to happen at the end of it?

Remember, The Beatles were already a phenomenon and yet the film shows this mega-entity essentially making their plans and logistics up as they went along. Actually, it shows how basically rudderless the band was following Brian Epstein’s death two years earlier. If the institution (and that’s what they were in ’69) was better protected/managed, perhaps they wouldn’t have imploded less than a year later?

For all that, it’s a joy to see them at work. The initial Twickenham Studio sessions are often portrayed as tough and uninspiring and the film does little to challenge that view. It’s in those early days that we see most of the tension and Harrison’s temporary walkout. There is little in that early, disjointed jamming to suggest classics were being created.

But as time progresses, we see the album take shape. Amidst all the tedium, we see great songs like Let it Be and Get Back written almost on the spot. It’s simply wonderful. We also see the transformation when Twickenham is abandoned for the more comfortable confines of the Apple Building on Saville Row. Things pick up further when the band is joined by its old friend, Billy Preston, on keyboards. That’s where the magic happens.

It ended on the roof, of course. After all that hype and speculation, The Beatles’ final live concert took place on the roof of Apple, with the police interrupting as they hoped. How perfect and apt an ending. And Jackson captures the brilliance, genius and significance of it all. It’s essential viewing for any Beatles fan.

Beatles’ fans can talk all day about how the band disintegrated shortly after or the way in which Spector changed the record into something it was never meant to be. But in watching this superb film, none of that matters. For a brief moment, the greatest band there ever was, standing atop the Apple Building, was united, defiant and where it was supposed to be. They were back.

@rorymcgimpsey

McCartney The Master

As I write this piece, I’ve just finished watching the Paul McCartney interview, filmed as part of BBC Radio 4’s Mastertapes series. The interview  was broadcast on Saturday 28 May 2016 and featured a 45-minute long conversation with the legendary entertainer, focusing primarily on his post-Beatle career. The interview was presumably intended to coincide with the imminent release of McCartney’s compilation album, Pure McCartney (scheduled for 10 June 2016), which chronicles the former Beatle’s extensive solo catalogue, including the massively underrated Wings material that emerged following the break-up of  The Beatles in 1970.

As a massive Beatles fan, I devour anything remotely connected to the group, and was therefore eager to hear the latest musings from the evergreen McCartney. Most encouraging, though, is the fact that Macca is still busy as ever, planning the next phase of a career that’s seen him scale every conceivable height. I know it’s hard to believe, but the Liverpudlian musician turns 74 next month. For Beatles’ fans, the interview is certainly  worth a look, and although it understandably finds Paul in nostalgic mood, there is no indication that McCartney is hanging up his guitar just yet.

I came to the Beatles relatively late, and it’s fair to say I found their music from a position of acute scepticism. Despite the fact that many of my favourite bands cited The Beatles as an influence, my younger self struggled to see the appeal. Back then, I knew a handful of the Beatles’ hits and although they seemed okay, the music didn’t strike me as particularly earth shattering. And the image of mop topped young men performing to hordes of screaming teenage girls didn’t seem especially cool either. Yet, for all that, the Beatles just wouldn’t go away; their music proving enduringly popular across several generations. Why? And why did respected figures like Noel Gallagher insist this band was the greatest thing since sliced bread? I wasn’t sure.

Out of curiosity as much as anything else, I decided to find out what the fuss was about. In 2009, The Beatles released remastered versions of their albums, and this seemed as good a time as any to get better acquainted with their music. I purchased all thirteen original albums, from Please Please Me to Let it Be, and from that moment I was hooked. I immediately got it. It was all there: the beautiful melodies, simple, yet profound lyrics, and a diversity of musical output that I hadn’t heard from any other recording artist. What particularly struck me was how fresh and original the music sounded, 40 years after its original release. This was supremely inventive music, captured in extremely creative albums like the experimental Revolver and the psychedelic Sergeant Pepper. At once, I saw how virtually every band that had emerged since had been influenced (either directly or indirectly) by these sounds.

The biggest revelation, though, was Paul McCartney. Although I was familiar with the genius of John Lennon, I was genuinely shocked and delighted to discover how brilliant Paul McCartney is. I suspect, like many others over the years, I had been fooled by Macca’s amiable and genial image. I probably thought he was a bit naff. What a pleasure, then, to find out the extent of McCartney’s magical, mercurial talent. Of course, it shouldn’t really surprise that the man who wrote Yesterday, Let it Be, and Hey Jude was worthy of celebration, but I was legitimately taken aback by the sheer breadth and quality of his work. I’m fairly sure that perceptions of McCartney have been coloured by the Beatles’ break-up and the rancour that briefly ensued in the following years. When Lennon compared McCartney’s work to Muzak in 1971’s How Do you Sleep?, the idea became embedded in popular consciousness, I think. It now seems quite absurd to suggest that McCartney can’t rock (he wrote Helter Skelter for goodness sake!), but such sniping must be viewed in the context of the time. Break-ups are rarely civil after all!

The Mastertapes interview shows McCartney as the legendary, iconic figure he is, respected and admired in equal measure by generations of his fans. Kindred spirits like Gallagher and Paul Weller remain keen to show their appreciation. For a time, it seemed that McCartney hadn’t got the kudos his talent deserved; but at long last the former Beatle is consistently cherished for what he is, an international treasure. Beatles’ fans have long understood the genius of Paul McCartney, and we can only be thankful that his importance as an artist is celebrated in his lifetime. One hopes Sir Paul performs long into the future, but alas none of us can go on forever. It is heartening, therefore, that perhaps the most successful songwriter of all time continues to enjoy critical acclaim as well as commercial success. Because McCartney is the master. Long may he reign. We are extremely fortunate indeed to experience his enduring genius.

Twitter: @RoryMcGimpsey