At a time when Paul McCartney is back on the front pages with The Lyrics – the super deluxe book that celebrates his life (so far) and his work, The Beatles: Get Back, Peter Jackson’s insightful 3-part documentary of The Beatles’ Let It Be project, and, coming soon, Paul’s looming 80th birthday, John Barlass recalls the evening when he came face to face with the “cute” Beatle in the intimate surroundings of Manchester’s Hardrock.
Did I ever tell you the story of the night I first saw a real, living Beatle in real, living life? Strange, that, because I’ve told most people I know. Repeatedly. It happened on the evening of 17th May 1973 – a pleasant, balmy evening, if I remember correctly, at The Hardrock, a former bowling alley on Greatstone Road in Stretford – next door to the Old Trafford Cricket Ground – that had recently been converted into Manchester’s premier rock venue.
Despite the name, the venue had nothing to do with burgers, naff tee shirts, cocktails and discarded guitars and, despite its relatively small size – it was no bigger than a basement club – The Hardrock attracted just about every big name there was on the rock scene of the early 70s. David Bowie played there for two nights on the legendary Ziggy Stardust tour and other visitors included Led Zeppelin, who played two nights in early 1973, Elton John, Emerson Lake and Palmer, The Faces, Black Sabbath, Status Quo, Roxy Music, Humble Pie and many, many others.
Before the venue closed its doors for good on 8th November 1975, it would also play host to upcoming acts such as Judas Priest, Bad Company, Cockney Rebel, Tangerine Dream and, almost unbelievably, Bob Marley and the Wailers. All at a tiny venue that wasn’t even that easy to get to if, like most 18 year-olds of the day, you didn’t have the luxury of your own transport!
It’s almost impossible to imagine now, but, back in 1973, Paul was still, in the eyes of many, the “bad” guy who’d broken up The Beatles and inflicted a string of slushy, schmaltzy disappointments on an underwhelmed and unforgiving public, and tickets were, believe it or not, dead easy to get hold of – at £1.50 a throw! For myself, I’d forgiven the misdemeanors – I mean, we’ve all got our own private Mary Had A Little Lambs hidden away inside us somewhere… Haven’t we? So I joined the short ticket queue and secured tickets for my mate Foxy and me. We were going to see a Beatle!
Now, before I go any further, A few words of explanation about Foxy are probably in order. Foxy was, and is a Beatle obsessive. Furthermore, Paul McCartney was, and remains, his favourite Beatle. He’d followed Paul’s nascent solo career with an enthusiasm that would put Sherlock Holmes to shame – to the extent that he’d hunted out the banned Give Ireland Back To The Irish single and was amongst the small number of over-tens that had paid good money for Mary Had A Little Lamb. In May 1973, Foxy had just turned 16 and, by the time the day of the concert came around, was in a state of excitement that had him tottering to and fro along the tightrope that spans the chasm between nausea and nirvana. He was going to need looking after…
So off we toddled to Stretford. Our excitement – and Foxy’s hyper-anticipation – had been boosted just a few days before the concert by the screening of ATV’s James Paul McCartney TV Special, a show that Foxy had recorded onto a cassette using a mic sellotaped to the speaker of his television, and by the release of the new Wings album, Red Rose Speedway. The nervous energy in the queue that snaked around the Hardrock car park was palpable. We were all about to see a Beatle.
By the standards of the record-shattering tours that were to come after the redemption of Band On The Run and Wings’ ascendency into a global phenomenon that rivaled even the popularity of the Beatles’ mothership, the 1973 UK tour was low-key indeed. It was the band’s first formal tour – their previous live activities had been restricted to a few impromptu appearances at a number of universities during February 1972. For the 1973 tour, Wings played nineteen shows in sixteen cities, including appearances at such bijou venues as Leicester Odeon, Preston Guildhall and Oxford New Theatre. The two Manchester shows – they’d also appeared at The Hardrock the previous evening – followed a performance on 15th May at Bournemouth Winter Gardens; it was all a far cry from Shea Stadium and Candlestick Park, but the small venues allowed those who attended to get up real close, for an experience that I’m sure no-one who was present has ever forgotten.
The Hardrock wasn’t seated, a fact that made it possible to cram as many people (up to 3,000!) inside as could be accommodated in the far larger Free Trade Hall, Manchester’s other major music venue of the day. It also virtually guaranteed a brilliant atmosphere that whizzed from crowd to band and back in an uncontrollable circuit of static electricity. The place could really jump, but, in all the times I visited, I can’t remember a night that matched 17th May 1973 for sheer excitement and ecstasy.
Things started slowly. Support act Brinsley Schwarz, featuring, of course, a young Nick Lowe played an enjoyable, if unremarkable, set. I can’t honestly remember too much about them, apart from the fact that they used a Leslie speaker that I found fascinating and that they toasted the audience with bottles of Guinness which they heralded as “the best beer in Manchester” (little did they know…). I’ve since discovered that they played enduring favourite Country Girl as part of their set. I wish I’d paid more attention but, as I might have mentioned once or twice already, we were about to see a Beatle, and I, like everyone else in that increasingly restless crowd, was just too excited.
The Wings lineup for the 1973 tour had come together in early 1972 and, in addition to Paul (bass and vocals, as even a Himalayan hermit would probably be able to tell you) and Linda on keyboards, included ex-Moody Blue Denny Laine on guitar and piano, Henry McCullough (*See footnote 1), formerly of Joe Cocker’s Grease Band (and probably just as famous for being the source of the “Irish” voice amongst the mutterings on Dark Side Of The Moon) on lead guitar and American drummer Denny Seiwell. Offhand, I can’t think of any other band lineup that includes two Dennys – can you?
Paul was dressed in a white spangly jacket and sporting his iconic white Rickenbacker bass and, as he and the band walked onto the stage, my heart almost literally swapped places with my brain. I’d been a Beatles fanatic as long as I could remember, certainly since Love Me Do; I’d followed the story, bought the singles, bought the albums and watched the disintegration and now, not 20 yards away, stood Paul McCartney. The roar from the audience was deafening.
History records that they opened the set with Soily, a song that didn’t make its vinyl appearance until the live Wings Over America in 1976, Needless to say, I didn’t recognise it, but that wasn’t important – my whole attention was focused upon the impossible vision in front of my eyes – a real, live Beatle. Big Barn Bed followed – the opening track on the new album (the reason we were all there in the first place..) – and we did (sort of) recognise that one, as it had featured on the telly show.
The songs came thick and fast, with, as I remember, little dialogue from Paul. Anyone who’d attended the concert hoping for an outpouring of Beatles songs would have maybe been disappointed, but not too much – Paul’s mere presence made up for any lack of Let It Be, Hey Jude or All My Loving. Instead, we got a healthy portion of material from Red Rose Speedway – When The Night, Linda’s reggae fave Seaside Woman, My Love (the band’s current single) and Little Woman Love, B-Side of the dreaded Mary Had A Little Lamb all made the setlist alongside Wildlife, the title track from Wings’ 1971 debut album, and recent single C Moon. Paul’s theme tune to the “new” Bond movie, Live and Let Die, got an early airing, some weeks before its release as a single and, much to my delight, Denny Laine took the spotlight for a couple of numbers, including Go Now, the 1964 Moody Blues number one hit on which had taken the lead vocal role.
But every live performance has its highlights and, for me, they were plentiful. It’s accepted nowadays that the high point of Paul’s early solo efforts was the impeccable Maybe I’m Amazed, and his rendition of the song at the Hardrock that night was breathtaking. Henry McCullough’s (possibly alcohol-fuelled) inducement to the crowd to “shaddap and get ’em off!” (me neither…) was the cue to the rocky The Mess – I song I later discovered to the B-side of the My Love single. A new one on me, but I loved it, and, just when I thought that the excitement had nowhere higher to go, the band burst into Hi Hi Hi, the banned B-side to C Moon (*See footnote 2) and an indisputable confirmation that Paul was still capable of primeval rock and roll.
Wings had been on stage for just less than an hour when Paul enquired whether there was anyone in the audience from Liverpool. There were a few cheers, but when he then asked if anyone was from Manchester, the roar nearly shattered the building’s foundations. Paul hadn’t appeared on a Manchester stage since The Beatles’ touring days, and we were ecstatic to have him back. Of course – all wonderful things come to an end – but before they did, we had a couple more treats in store. The first was a searing version of Long Tall Sally, with Paul at his Little Richard-impersonating best, and then the whole band dipped into a box of frisbees, each emblazoned with the Red Rose Speedway logo, and skimmed them into the audience. I’ve still got mine, and I like to think that it came to me from the hand of Paul McCartney – I’ll never know whether it did or didn’t, but I’m never parting with it.
The audience, of course, bayed for more, but Paul came back onto the stage to apologise – “We don’t know any more songs,” were his exact words – and so off we trudged. Foxy and I missed the last bus from Stretford to Manchester, (these were the days long before the Manchester trams…) so we walked it. We made the late bus back to Bolton and got my parents’ house at 1:30 in the morning, still buzzing. it was work in the morning, but we didn’t care. We’d seen a real, live Beatle.
(*1) Henry McCullough was plainly ill at ease as a member of Wings. During the show he seemed detached from what was going on and was obviously itching to steer the band into territory that was a little more dangerous. It was a bit like watching Slash guesting with Robson and Jerome. Sure enough, McCullough (along with drummer Denny Seiwell) quit the band shortly after the tour ended.
(*2) With lyrics like “I want you to lie on the bed, get you ready for my polygon” and “Yes, I go like a rabbit, gonna grab it, Gonna do it ’til the night is gone” I honestly don’t understand why the BBC thought an airplay ban was necessary!
Watch Paul McCartney and Wings perform Hi Hi Hi -live – here:
And, by the way, I’m certainly very grateful to At The Barrier reader Terry Snowden who brought an audience tape of this very show to my attention. You can experience the sheer excitement of a special night with Paul McCartney here – particularly recommended if you were there on that very special night!
Categories: Time Tunnel