When an Avis van full of unknown musicians arrived at Newcastle University asking if they could play there this week 50 years ago, they were greeted with shrugs.
That was until the identity of one of the long-haired ensembles came to light.
It was February 13, 1972, and nearly two years after the Beatles’ acrimonious disbandment, here comes Paul McCartney – one of the most famous individuals on the planet – looking for work.
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The 29-year-old superstar was getting back to basics.
After turning his back on the excesses of life with the Fab Four, McCartney loaded his wife Linda, his eight-year-old stepdaughter, assorted pets and a band of musicians and their instruments into a van and took the road watching music playing in any college venue that has it.
Their first port of call was the University of Nottingham, then York, then Hull, then Newcastle during a series of 11 impromptu dates at British universities.
McCartney’s new band was called Wings and their first single Give Ireland back to the Irish would be roughly in the UK top 20 later that month.
But that was just the beginning and Wings would go on to become one of the most successful bands in the world in the 1970s, with a series of huge albums on both sides of the Atlantic spawning hit singles such as Jet, Band On The Run, Hear What The Man Said, Silly Love Songs and Mull of Kintyre.
Back in Newcastle 50 years ago, someone at the university informed our sister title The Journal of McCartney’s presence and a photographer was hastily dispatched to record the occasion.
Steve Dresser, chairman of Newcastle University’s entertainment committee, told us: “I couldn’t believe my luck. Paul asked if a place could be found for his new group in the room. They just arrived unannounced in a big van full of gear. We were only too happy to oblige.
In fact, it was only the fourth real gig McCartney had played since the last Beatles gig at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park in August 1966.
If 25,000 fans had seen this memorable outdoor concert, it was a more modest affair.
The 400 spectators at Hancock Hall – a dormitory – preparing for their usual Sunday night folk concert did a collective double take when McCartney and his band took to the small stage.
Admission to the 9 p.m. show was 50 pence, with profits split equally among the band members, including Denny Laine on guitar and Denny Seiwell on drums.
With Linda on keyboards and kicking off with a version of Lucille from Little Richard, the set was a mix of cover versions and new self-penned numbers. The show was notable for its complete absence of Beatles songs.
The Journal reports: “The audience sat on the floor, applauding generously at the end of each issue, but mostly they were just plain curious.
“McCartney himself was inscrutable, limiting himself to the odd ‘thank you,’ but at least he seemed to appreciate it.”
Clearly, Paul and the band felt at home in Tyneside. The day before the concert, McCartney and his entourage were seen at the Queen Victoria pub on Gosforth High Street, then enjoying a meal at a nearby Chinese restaurant.
After the Newcastle University show, Paul McCartney’s new band were on the run again, heading west in their van to Lancaster University on their own 1972 Magical Mystery Tour.
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