Incredibly, it was eight years ago that I attended my second Paul McCartney concert in Dublin (I’ve written about both gigs on this blog before — here and here), so it was about time I got a chance to see him again. With a new album being released (the wonderful Egypt Station) I wondered if 2018 would be my year, and luckily it was! This past summer, Paul announced three end of year shows in the UK — Liverpool, Glasgow and London — as part of his Freshen Up tour, and I knew I had to go to at least one of them!
Ever since we met at college, my friend Adele and I had been talking about the idea of going to see Paul wherever he might play, and now this was our chance. We had initially hoped to see him at the Echo Arena in Liverpool, as of course it would be a very special homecoming for him, but after an extremely stressful pre-sale experience (I won’t bore you with the details, but let me just say that it left a lot of fans angry and disappointed), we managed to snap up three tickets for the O2 in London on 16 December. It was happening!
So in the early hours of last Saturday morning, the three of us — Adele, her boyfriend Colin, and me — set off for our flight to London. In the taxi on the way to the airport, I told the driver I was going to see Paul McCartney and he asked, “Is he still alive?” (I’m not too sure if he was one of those conspiracy theorists or not.)
There was a power cut at our hotel meaning they couldn’t check anyone in, so we ended up being transferred to another hotel in central London for no extra charge, and we even got free drinks (it certainly seemed to be our lucky weekend). As we had a whole day to explore, we decided to spend it doing Beatley things, which of course meant paying a visit to Abbey Road and Paul’s house on Cavendish Avenue. Sadly he wasn’t home but if he had been, I’m sure he would have let us in for a cup of tea… right? (On second thoughts, considering that recent break-in, maybe not…)
Fortunately the heavens waited until we were leaving before it started bucketing rain, and after that it didn’t bloody stop for the rest of the day. Oh well.
After some much-needed sleep, we woke up on Sunday morning to clear blue skies (the sun is up, the sky is blue etc.) which was a sign that it was going to be a very, very good day indeed. We headed out early for breakfast and then spent the next few hours at the British Museum before catching the tube to the O2, where we grabbed some dinner before the gig (there are lots of places to eat and shop at the venue). We were all really excited by this time and I had butterflies in my stomach. The realisation that I was about to see Paul again was almost too much to handle!
We took our seats in the arena and waited patiently (ha!) for the show to begin. Then all of a sudden we heard loud cheering coming from the floor below. We were wondering what was going on when Adele’s jaw dropped: “Oh my god, it’s RINGO STARR!” I was instantly reminded of the moment when she thought she’d seen him in Liverpool, but this time it was really him! Her hands were shaking and I thought she was going to pass out!
No sooner had we begun to recover from Ringo’s presence than the show finally started. Paul and the band came on stage shortly after 8pm and launched into ‘A Hard Day’s Night’. I was in heaven! I felt completely and utterly euphoric for the next three hours as he rocked his way through an unbelievable 40-song setlist. 40 songs! How the hell does he do it at 76 when some artists half his age can barely get through 90 minutes? The man is superhuman.
It was great to hear some songs from the new album. I’d been looking forward to ‘Come On to Me’ ever since he debuted it over the summer, and it sounded terrific. He dedicated ‘Who Cares’ to anyone who has ever been bullied (which was lovely of him). Remember when I said I didn’t like ‘Fuh You’? Yeah, about that… I ended up belting it out and really enjoying it. I think I may be a convert!
It was also nice to get some other stuff I hadn’t seen him do before — like ‘Queenie Eye’ from his previous album, New, and ‘My Valentine’, which he dedicated to his wife Nancy. He even dug out a very early Beatles number, ‘In Spite Of All The Danger’. Of course there were also the usual classics that no McCartney show would be complete without, from ‘Live and Let Die’ to ‘Hey Jude’. One of the surprises of the night for me was how great ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!’ was. It struck me as a slightly unusual choice of Beatles song, being one of John’s (and not necessarily one of the first ones you’d think of), but it sounded bloody amazing. In fact, Paul’s voice sounded amazing from start to finish. For as much as people like to go on about his diminished vocal range these days, he really seems to up his game when he gets on a stage.
He was hilarious as ever with his stories and chat in between songs. When introducing ‘Let ‘Em In’, he described it as the song from the Postcode Lottery advert! He also read out people’s signs and ended up referring to that infamous mashed potatoes video! (If you’ve never seen Paul McCartney making mashed potatoes, you need to take ten minutes out of your day right now and watch it. If you’re a sad fool like me, you won’t regret it.) Some people in the crowd didn’t seem to know what he was talking about, but we laughed our heads off — it’s one of our favourite things Paul has ever done, and we had been showing it to Colin the night before as he had never seen it. So for Paul to suddenly bring it up was priceless!
The encore was incredible. I was beyond delighted to see Paul play ‘Wonderful Christmastime’ again, having last witnessed it in Dublin back in 2009, and it was so much fun to sing along to. Twice in one lifetime ain’t bad! But what was to come next was so much better than any of us could have hoped for…
Paul announced that he had a surprise for us, which he said had only been finalised that day. You could feel the energy of the crowd just lift as he introduced Ronnie Wood, who came on stage to huge cheers. But there was more… Adele and I looked at each other, incredulous, and I distinctly remember putting my face in my hands and shouting, “Oh my god!!” as Paul introduced “the ever fantastic Mr. Ringo Starr!” The noise was deafening. Ringo ran onto the stage, hugged Paul and Ronnie and got behind the drum kit. That was it — I was gone. The tears were streaming down my face. I couldn’t believe this was real!
They started to play ‘Get Back’, and I was desperately trying to sing along in between sobs. It must have looked pretty funny. The guy beside me seemed quite concerned for my welfare! Ringo looked so happy; he smiled throughout and did that famous Ringo head bob of his, which only made me worse. I felt like it was 1964 and I was experiencing Beatlemania! When they’d finished, Ringo took the mic and said, “I don’t know about you, but it was a thrill for me.” Oh Ringo, it was more than a thrill — it was the best Christmas present ever!!
Finally, Paul finished with an incredible run of songs: ‘Helter Skelter’, ‘Golden Slumbers’/’Carry That Weight’/’The End’. And then, of course, it really was the end. We left the O2 in a daze and, despite complete and utter chaos with the tube stopping early, eventually headed back to our hotel where we stayed up until almost 3am trying to process what had just happened. We did a bit more sightseeing the next day before flying home and back to reality.
I never thought my first time seeing Paul could be beaten, not even by the second time, but it turns out the third time really is a charm. Not only did we get a really special end of year performance from Paul, but we got to witness the two surviving Beatles play together, and that’s something I could never have imagined would happen to me. It was a total dream come true and something I will remember for the rest of my life.
Thank you Paul, thank you Ringo. You’ve not only made my Christmas, you’ve made my entire year. Peace and love!