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Hyde Park, London 27 June 2010

Paul McCartney, Crosby Stills Nash, Crowded House, Elvis Costello

Paul McCartney

If truth be told, I was never a Paul McCartney fan in my formative musical years. Partly because this was the time of his naff duets and banal songs about frogs and wonderful Christmasses, but his work both with the Beatles, Wings and solo always came over as being too pop, and twee pop at that, for a rock hungry teenager.

So what am I doing paying £65 to see him especially on a day when England are playing in the World Cup? Part of the draw was that Hard Rock Calling at Hyde Park festival has emerged as a credible alternative to Glastonbury and other festivals for those of us wanting to see the greats (Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen headlined last year, Pearl Jam and Stevie Wonder on other days this) too metropolitan to enjoy the full slumming experience.

Another selling point was a strong four band bill with no acts I had seen before. And finally was a realisation that I really should witness for myself the most significant figure in pop music history still alive. After all, on my trips to the American Mid West the standard response to finding an Englishman is always (other than ‘do you know the Queen’) ‘I love the Beatles’.

First what of the supporting cast? Elvis Costello had to compete for my attentions and those of many others with the big screen showing England-Germany though surprisingly he did not even refer to it.

I was impressed with the richness of his voice though the once angry young New Waver is now a sedate singer with a country flavoured band - nevertheless I enjoyed songs I knew like Every Day I Write the Book and New Amsterdam.

A hot sunny day and their gorgeous, Beatles-inspired melodies should have made it a perfect day for Crowded House, but it never quite happened for them. Perhaps most of the crowd were feeling downbeat after England’s defeat by Germany - never did Don’t Dream Its Over sound less appropriate.

There were good moments in World at Your Feet, Private Sun and Distant Universe, and Weather with You got the best reception, but at other times their set rather meandered before closing with a cover of Road to Nowhere.

Crosby Stills and Nash were another all-time great to ‘tick off’ and the band so influential in developing the West Coast sound made a storming start with Woodstock, Stephen Stills not only singing but showing what an underappreciated lead guitarist he is.

The weather was perfect for their laid back sounds and Graham Nash provided some of the best moments with Military Madness and This House, but I was surprised that covers of Ruby Tuesday and Behind Blue Eyes featured at the expense of the likes of Marrakesh Express and after David Crosby’s Déjà Vu and Almost Cut My Hair seemed to go on for ever, the set rather faded away disappointingly.

Looking Dorian Gray-style youthful even at 68, Paul McCartney began a marathon set playing bass with his excellent (though disapppointingly uncredited) band in surprisingly rocking fashion, with Wings numbers such as Jet to the fore.

As the set wore on, he was seen more and more at the piano or playing acoustic guitar, as he mixed a leavening of Beatles classics with solo material but the pace rarely flagged, except during some over rehearsed anecdotes about the sixties that would have been better delivered in a TV studio chair to a fawning Michael Parkinson.

What was also noticeable, at least from where I stood, was that twenty and thirty somethings - many speaking in foreign tongues - were at least as much in evidence as the baby boomer generation, proving that his appeal spans the generations.

It was in the final third of the set that things really kicked off with hit after hit - Eleanor Rigby, Band On the Run, Back in the USSR, Paperback Writer, A Day in the Life which segued into a snatch of Give Peace A Chance (he paid tribute to both John Lennon and George Harrison) and Let It Be, with 50,000 people singing along.

Whether you like them or not, these are the songs that formed the great pop songbook, and influenced many of our favourite classic rock bands to pick up a guitar originally.

However the best was yet to come, with a spectacular lights and firework show enlivening Live and Let Die (who needs Guns n' Roses?!) before Hey Jude had the whole crowd joining in a mass communal singalong which continued a good couple of minutes after he left the stage.

The encores continued the fun, with the crowd singing along to Day Tripper, Lady Madonna and a rocking Get Back. He played Yesterday by himself, joined of course by the whole crowd, but in contrast Helter Skelter was almost metallic, before Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club band closed a remarkable 2¾ hour marathon.

Whether or not you are a Beatles fan, you cannot deny this man’s influence over music and to see him show off his back catalogue at such length and in such a great communal atmosphere was a total privilege.

Review by Andy Nathan


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