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Back in 1972, Paul McCartney had a problem: how to communicate with audiences again without the pressures sure to accompany a return to the road by PMcC, ex-Beatle. His solution was to undertake one of the oddest tours undertaken by a major artist.

            Paul, Linda and their three daughters set off from St. John's Wood, London with three dogs, three Wings (one with wife), two roadies, a truck and a caravan and headed north. The well-established college circuit seemed the best bet for impromptu gigs and so it was that Nottingham University entered the history books as the venue for Wings' first performance on 8th February — a lunch-time show, too, something Paul hadn't done since Cavern days. In the light of his career before and since, it's amazing to think of Wings turning up with no hotels booked — they were thrown out of one in Hull — living off fish and chips and resting up in Scarborough, playing tapes of their early gigs like any nervous new band.
            The idea was charming and subsequent events confirmed its wisdom: by the time Wings were playing big venues they had an established repertoire of their own, so no one could accuse McCartney of trading on his Beatle past. But first came Wings Over Europe, the following summer's tour, with the truck and caravan replaced by a bus to maintain the casual ambience. As well as a list of "Songs you may hear", the agreeably old-fashioned tour programme cautioned the reader that "The programme of dates and places is subject to alteration". Not half! Several unscheduled gigs were fitted in, including a memorable one on a French beach. The music was suitably earthy, including gems of modern rock 'n' roll like "Hi Hi Hi", "The Mess" and "Soily". It was comparable to Dave Edmunds' Rockpile four years later; when Dave and Paul got together for Broad Street, "No Values" and "Not Such a Bad Boy" showed that neither had lost the knack. Club Sandwich 40
            Anyone approaching Hyde Park Comer from Piccadilly in London and glancing to the right will spot the queue stretching round the corner from the Hard Rock Cafe. On 18th March 1973 the queue had something more than the Cafe's celebrated hamburgers in mind: Wings were playing a benefit for Release, the drug charity, bringing Paul if anything even closer to the audience than on his university 'tour' of the previous year. More conventional tours of Britain followed in '73 and '75, Wings going on to Australia after the latter. By 1976 Wings was a tried and tested unit, playing several European dates either side of the famous Wings Over America tour in May and June.
            One date was at the Paris Abattoir, an ironic venue for a future vegetarian. More significant was the concert in aid of UNICEF in St. Mark's Square, Venice in March. At the time there was concern that Venice was gradually sinking into the mud, so when one of Wings' trucks made a crack in the square the TV cameras homed in on it. MPL's Alan Crowder had more pressing problems to deal with: "The dressing room was at the back of the square, so the band walked through the audience to the stage. The carabinieri protected the stage, which was about six or eight feet high, until the show started - then they all joined the audience! Trevor [Jones, longtime Wings aide] and I just looked at each other as the two of us cleared people off the stage."
            The organisation of Wings Over America was more unusual than any of the gigs. There were bases in Dallas, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles for the 31 shows, band and crew flying to the nearest one in their customised, 24-seater BAC 1-11 after each gig unless there was another show at the same venue the following night. One such stopover was at the Peach Tree Plaza Hotel in Atlanta, where a lift on the outside of the hotel took them up to their rooms more than seventy floors up - not for the squeamish! Every date was recorded, giving maximum choice for the subsequent live album, and the imperfect stage monitors of old were replaced by a specially designed 15,000 watt system of unprecedented clarity. Slighty more chancy were the "Live and Let Die" explosions in the charge of one 'Iggy' - Ian Knight: 'Ig-knight'. Get it? Sometimes he overdid the powder, so that once horn player Thaddeus Richard came off stage complaining, "Hey man, you burned mah leg!"
            Wings' last tour took them round Britain in 1979. For the first time since 1973, when Brinsley Schwarz were on the bill, they had a support act. This was the drily humorous Earl Okin, an acoustic guitarist whose repertoire of antique jazz included an excellent vocal interpretation of a trumpet. Unfortunately, this party piece sometimes received the old-fashioned British raspberry from audiences impatient for Paul and co. -comedian Max Wall had the same problem once when Ian Dury asked him on for a bit of variety.
            Alan Crowder particularly remembers the pipe band "tottering" up the central staircase to the Glasgow Apollo's twenty foot-high stage: "Some of them were not averse to the occasional sherry before dinner..." However, the audience reaction was "tremendous" when they brought "Mull Of Kintyre" to a climax and the live version of "Coming Up" was recorded there on 17th November, the last night of the tour. The tour had started with three nights at Liverpool's Royal Court Theatre, reopened after a lengthy closure. On one of these, the Wings team must have thought they'd stepped into a Western film, huddled together at the centre of a beleaguered wagon train. The city's taxi drivers encircled the theatre to publicise a grievance quite unconnected with Wings-there is no truth in the rumour that Paul had failed to pay his fare on a previous visit.
            The last Wings concert was appropriately a very special event: the final Concert For Kampuchea on 29th December 1979, at London's Hammersmith Odeon. Not only that, but a huge line-up played the "Rockestra Theme" from Back To The Egg. Live Aid you all know about. Paul was obviously honoured to take part and, who knows, may be recovering his appetite for live work. But, as always, he'll approach it at his own pace so that, should the time ever come, he'll be confident of delivering the goods to the best of his ability. In the meantime, take all comeback stories in the press with a pound of salt. Paul's career has never been run-of-the-mill and, as the above potted history shows, this applies to his concerts as much as anything else.

Club Sandwich 40