England's Wings: Beating the Post-Beatles Stigma - Rolling Stone
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England’s Wings: Beating the Post-Beatles Stigma

Paul McCartney’s homecoming show in Liverpool

Paul McCartney, Wings

L-R Denny Laine, Linda and Paul McCartney perform live with Wings at The Cow Palace, San Francisco, Californi, 1974

Richard McCaffrey/ Michael Ochs Archive/ Getty

London—The last time around, in 1972, it was a psychedelic bus, less-than-sold-out concerts and mild applause. This time it was a luxury bus (outfitted with a bar) and two Rolls-Royces, standing ovations everywhere and a homecoming stage rush in Liverpool. Elsewhere it’s still not Wingsmania, but as Pete Townshend told guitarist Jimmy McCulloch after the second show in London, “This should remove whatever stigma the band had in this country.”

In each of 12 cities on the September tour, Wings played for two hours, doing 29 songs. For Beatles fans there were five faves: “Lady Madonna,” “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” “The Long and Winding Road,” “Blackbird” and, of course, “Yesterday.” Most of the tunes were from Band on the Run and Venus and Mars, and each set was highlighted by a too-brief, five-minute acoustic solo spot for McCartney, his first-ever solo performances. Accompanying himself on guitar, he sang “Blackbird” and was then joined onstage by a small brass section for “Yesterday,” the horns replacing the original record’s strings.

Denny Laine, the former Moody Blues guitarist who’s been with McCartney since 1971, had his own spot, performing Paul Simon’s ballad “Richard Cory” during the acoustic set and, with the electric Wings, doing the Moodies’ first U.S. hit “Go Now.”

McCartney said he and his band chose “the numbers that we found we played easily, the numbers we happened to know the chords to.”

McCartney remained laconic throughout much of a television interview in Bristol. He was asked why, having attained lasting fame and fortune, he bothered with touring. What kept him going?

“Drugs,” he said, straight-faced. “I must have them.” He then added the letdown no-punch line: “No … I just like the music.”

Also, McCartney said, the current Wings were a more polished band than the 1972 Wings or, for that matter, the touring Beatles of the mid-Sixties. “With the Beatles,” he said, “we might rehearse for three days. We’ve spent months rehearsing with Wings.”

It was like old home night at the Liverpool Empire concert. The crowd rushed the stage from the start, causing a slightly hysterical theater manager to announce — after each number — that he’d shut down the show unless the audience sat down. Linda McCartney then did a Sly Stone routine: “Ah, don’t listen to him,” she told the crowd while urging them forward with a sweep of her arms. The manager stopped the concert until the maniacs returned to their seats.

“We don’t really believe in that,” Paul McCartney said later. “We think, ‘It’s rock & roll,’ and people should be able to get up and enjoy themselves. I feel safe with a rock & roll crowd. I don’t feel there are loonies—maybe one or two—but you get them everywhere.”

Backstage, dozens of relatives and hometown friends swarmed McCartney; the emotional welcome obviously pleased him. “It’s always good to go back to Liverpool. I know the people there are like what I was when I went to shows at the Empire. When I play there I feel like I’m back in the balcony watching. I’ve paid a shilling for one of the cheap seats in the back, which is where I always used to sit. It’s not so much emotion as the feeling that I’m part of the audience.”

In addition to Pete Townshend, backstage visitors in London included Alice Cooper, Ringo Star and Harry Nilsson. The latter two joined the McCartneys in a thoroughly unconvincing rendition of “Side by Side.” We ain’t got a barrel of money, indeed.

Today, your basic Wings are the McCartneys (Paul playing piano and guitar as well as bass; Linda on keyboards that surround her, Billy Preston-style), Laine and McCulloch on guitars and Joe English on drums. A four-piece brass section includes arranger Tony Dorsey, who’s also worked behind Joe Tex. Linda — previously criticized as an intrusion on McCartney’s music — is more comfortable onstage than before, adding moog and mellotron phrases to “Jet,” sharing piano with Laine on “Medicine Jar” and doing vocal fill-ins.

But by far the highlight of each concert was Paul’s solo spot. One paper headlined: IT’S TIME TO GO SOLO, PAUL!, and the paper’s critic said the Beatle tunes were better than the Wings numbers. McCartney dismissed the writer as a “twit.” “I don’t really listen to the critics,” he said. “A couple of people have always got something to tell you about your show.” Even, apparently, Heather McCartney. “She doesn’t like my solo bit,” Paul said. “She likes Jimmy’s song [‘Medicine Jar’] better.

“She’s 12, and there are a lot of people aged 12 these days.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah … 

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