McCartney live in London

The poster for the O2 gig at LondonLike a lot of musicians, I doubt I'd have picked up a guitar if I hadn't heard the Beatles' music as a child. Additionally, I probably wouldn't have got on a plane to London to pursue the rock and roll dream, and I certainly wouldn't have paid a whopping £150 in a recession for a bad seat at London's O2 to see Macca play.

But of couse I did hear the Beatles as a kid; I fell in love with music; I moved to London; and I'm now £150 worse off.

Now, being a songwriter myself, I don't like to review other people's albums or gigs. I've been at both ends of reviews, good and bad, so I avoid taking on the role of a rock critic wherever possible - except to say bad things about James Blunt whenever I get the opportunity (he really is awful).

That said, I know a lot of readers of this blog are Beatles fans, and since I was quite vocal in mentioning that I had tickets to this show, I thought I'd share my thoughts with you on how the gig went.

Although many of you probably regard Paul McCartney to be a living legend (myself included), I am a moany old boot and I'll start with the negatives.

For me, there were two problems with the show. One was more of an annoyance than a serious flaw: Macca's choice of 'Wonderful Christmastime' as one of the numbers. Now, I know it's the festive season etc., but this is a truly appalling song. My £150 ticket meant that I was paying roughly £1 per minute to see Macca play, and by this reckoning I need a fiver back for this monstrosity. How much nicer it would have been if he'd played Lennon's 'War is Over' - a genuinely fantastic Christmas track. This would have been a far better tribute than the Lennon song he did play, 'Give Peace a Chance'. Not one of my favourites; I'll have £2.50 back for that one too please Paul. (Incidentally - and very amusingly - Macca didn't give peace much of a chance, hitting us with 'Live and Let Die', complete with lots of explosive pyrotechnics, shortly after this Lennon tribute.)

My second problem with the show was a bigger one: the lack of real musicians to perform any of the string or brass parts in the songs. According to the souvenir programme, McCartney likes to keep his live arrangements of his songs very close to those on the records. For this gig, this statement was largely true - certainly with regard to the guitar parts and harmonies - but the fact that every string or brass part was coming off a keyboard cheapened things massively for me. I might have been able to live with this had the keyboard sounds been better - these days you can get stunningly realistic samples - but some of the strings sounded very ropey indeed, particularly on 'The Long and Winding Road'. I've got better string sounds on some of my keyboards.

(Whilst on the subject of 'The Long and Winding Road' and strings, it was interesting to hear McCartney use the string arrangement that Phil Spector laid down on the recorded version of this track. McCartney regularly pops up to slate Spector for his production of this song, but he didn't seem to have a problem with staying faithful to it at the gig - albeit using a string patch on a keyboard that sounded straight out of the eighties).

As a gigging musician I know how expensive it can be to pay musicians to play your music at live shows - but we're talking McCartney here: he has a bob or two. And since the arrangements on Beatles / McCartney tracks are so good, it was a real pity not to hear them performed by even a few real musicians. In fact, when he did bring on some additional musicians - a hell of a lot of bagpipers for 'Mull of Kintyre' - it transformed this middle-of-the-road effort into something quite special. It highlighted that the presence of a few more real musicians was the only thing really missing from the gig; all Macca needed was a string quartet and a small brass section to make this a perfect show.

And, the above quibbles aside, it was show that was fairly close to perfect. No other living musician has such an incredible back catalogue to draw on, and we were just bombarded with one great song after the other. And I'm not just talking Beatles tracks here: although McCartney's solo work is often maligned, tracks like 'Jet', 'Live and Let Die', 'Band on the Run' and 'Mrs Vandebilt' (a personal favourite of mine) highlight how he most definitely didn't lose all his songwriting powers the day he left the Beatles. He might have lost a lot of his cool, but those 4 tracks represent classic, timeless pop, and they were performed to perfection at the gig. McCartney's voice sounded fantastic on pretty much everything; the singing would have been incredible for a 27-year old, never mind a 67 year-old.

Another big highlight for me was his rendition of Harrison's 'Something', which he started off on a ukelale, only to bring the whole band in at the middle 8 - it sounded epic. His words about Lennon before 'Here Today' (a song he wrote for and about Lennon shortly after his murder) were genuinely moving, as was the song. The 'Fireman' side-project stuff he did, not a lot of which I'd heard before, sounded good too. And of course we had one Beatles song after the other, with the gig finishing appropriately enough with the magnificent 'The End'. You can't really complain about that.

Despite my being a massive Beatles fan, this was the first time I'd seen McCartney play, and despite 'Wonderful Christmastime' and the ropey keyboard sounds, I'm incredibly glad I shelled out that £150 for a ticket. Although if I ever do get the chance to meet him in person, I will ask for £7.50 back and quiz him about Phil Spector and that string arrangement.

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