At the turn of last century I had the pleasure of going to Paul McCartney's show at The Cavern in Liverpool. A few half shandies later and I found myself face to face with one of the most iconic people in music.
It was 1999, the new Millenium rapidly approaching, the end of all history, everything that needed to happen had happened. Everybody was looking back; reviewing our path to this point. Clearly Macca was amongst those reflecting; his album at the time was a set of songs that had been important to him in his youth, the music that built his tastes in the run up to The Beatles, a collection of Rock ‘n’ Roll covers called ‘Run Devil Run’.
He decided the best way to promote this album and to mark the end of a century whose culture he had deeply influenced as one of the four most famous people ever to walk the planet was to revisit his old stomping ground. The dying days of the 1990s would see a one off return to The Cavern. This, obviously, was huge; this was history.
I was working as the assistant manager of HMV Liverpool, our role in this was to provide the application forms that the public would need to complete in order to enter the (obviously heavily over subscribed) draw for the 200ish tickets for the gig. We knew when this would happen, we knew how it would work, we knew when the announcement would be made. We were ready for the inevitable deluge of interest. We were ready.
Then Macca went on ‘Wogan’ and broke the news two days early. And everything went ballistic. It became my role to deal with every public enquiry that came in for two days and there were, quite frankly, a few. It was, in fairness, chaos.
The day of the application voucher give away was a breeze; an orderly queue, all polite, all enthusiastic anticipation, headed by the most Beatle-esque individual on the planet, a man who had changed his name by deed poll to John Lennon. The media loved him, he was the story they wanted.
We couldn’t enter the draw so I chanced my arm; I rang our head of PR (and god knows I’d spoken to him quite a bit in those few days) a genuinely good guy who we shall refer to as Gennaro because, well, that’s his name. Given everything that we’ve had to do in the last few days, is there any way of getting a couple of tickets for the shop? He quite brilliantly came through with two. Me and the manager sorted then.
The arrangements for the ticket winners were easy, queue outside The Cavern as they would have in 1961. Simple, elegant, historic. Ours was slightly more complicated. We had to meet at a secret venue whose identity would only be disclosed to us on the afternoon of the gig; De Coubertin’s sports bar on North John Street, suitably now the site of the Beatles themed Hard Days Night Hotel. From there we would be escorted to The Cavern. About an hour before the set a call went up; Paul’s family were going through now if anybody wanted to go through at the same time? Well, if we must.
A tunnel through to the rear entrance of The Cavern itself, a pint from the bar then we realised that we were standing 10 feet away from Paul’s guitarist of choice at the time, also drinking a pint from the very same bar as us; one David Gilmour of a small band called Pink Floyd.
‘That’ we whispered conspiratorially to each other ‘is Dave Gilmour’. It was the closest I had ever been to a genuinely world famous musician. Did we approach him to express our awe, to discuss his body of work, to ask what Roger Waters was really like to work with? Did we hell.
The set was fine, the main body of the album, classics of the 50s with a couple of numbers that had been written recently in the same style. Then we came to the last number. “This” said Paul “wasn’t written now and it wasn’t written then. It was written somewhere in between” before launching into the most famous ‘one, two, three, four’ count off in musical history and, for the first time since the sixties, Paul McCartney played ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ at The Cavern. It was, suffice to say, a moment.
I was delayed in there, in conversation with a journalist from The Liverpool Echo and a figure from the local music scene who was unknown outside Liverpool but inside? Practically pop royalty. The assertion was made that Macca couldn’t hit the high notes any longer, I countered that it didn’t matter, we were part of history, we had been at a show that you could not get into; you couldn’t be famous enough to blag your way into this and….We. Were. Here.
The talk petered out and I headed back to the stairs up to the bar. To be met by a large gentleman with folded arms. ‘You can’t go up there lad. Private party.’ ‘I know, I’m in it. I’m with EMI’ ‘Yeah, ‘course’ ‘You’ve just seen me come down here, my coat’s up there, my wallets up there, the guys I’m with will vouch for me’. It went in circles for a while. And then it happened. In light of some activity behind him, he relented. ‘Okay but wait a sec’
He stepped from the centre of the bottom of the stairs to one side, guiding me backwards with an arm across my chest and a space appeared for a Beatle to walk down. An actual, real, Beatle.
I took my chance. Fortified by a level of alcohol consumption so heroic it would undoubtedly have transported the legend standing before me back to his Hamburg nights, I thrust my hand forward and shook hands with the man who wrote Penny Lane, Hey Jude, Sgt Pepper, Yesterday, Things We Said Today, All My Loving…….
“Paul” I said “great gig, man” (I hasten to point out that this use of ‘man’ wasn’t some vain attempt to connect with the ‘Band On The Run’ hit maker by indulging in suitably sixties-ish lingo, it’s an affectation I picked up from a friend in 1984 and its stuck.) Paul shook my right hand with his, placed his left hand on my right shoulder, looked me in the eye and spoke to me. And the moment is vivid. I SHOOK HANDS WITH A BEATLE! AND HE SPOKE TO ME!!
And what was his reply? What wisdom could he impart in this brief, shared moment? This moment that was one of millions to him but a unique, unforgettable event for me.
I. Don’t. Know.
Not. A. Clue.
I was very, very drunk.