50 Years Ago: Paul McCartney Plays First Post-Beatles Concert
Artists are expected to follow up on their biggest successes. But few are asked to reinvent their entire career after leaving arguably the greatest band in the world.
Paul McCartney had plenty of material in 1972. In the aftermath of the Beatles' breakup, he had released three albums in two and a half years: the solo McCartney, Ram, credited to Paul and Linda McCartney, and the first record by his new band Wings, Wild Life.
But Wings were never destined to be a studio-only group and, nearly six years after the Fab Four hung up their touring jackets, McCartney put his back on for his first live post-Beatles concert appearance. To kick things off, McCartney did what most new rock bands do: tour the college circuit. The opening night of Wings' 1972 tour, which took place on Feb. 9, 1972, was at the University of Nottingham.
"We decided we’d just go on the road with no plans - no hotels booked, no gigs booked, a complete blank canvas," McCartney said in a 2011 interview posted to the University of Nottingham's website. The band got off the motorway near Ashby de la Zouch mainly because they liked how the name sounded and asked where the nearest university was. "This became the idea that the only place we could maybe find a captive audience would be somewhere like a uni, so we were directed to Nottingham Uni, and that’s how we found it."
Guitarist Henry McCullough remembered that when the entourage arrived, staff from the university had to confirm it was them. "[They had] to check in the van to make sure we were telling the truth that Paul McCartney's rebound was sitting outside," McCullough said in 2011 during a return visit to the campus.
The band performed 11 songs that evening, some of which were repeated - McCartney said they "pretend[ed] they were special requests from the students."
Drummer Denny Seiwell later recalled that while McCartney was inevitably the focal point, he was set on the idea of Wings existing and performing as an independent identity, with proper acknowledgment of all members. "He wanted it to be a Wings show," Seiwell told Rock Cellar in 2019. "He wanted us to be known to the public just like George, John, Ringo and Paul were. Four individuals. So we did tons of press. We’d be up at the press office doing interviews and doing all kinds of things because he really wanted the world to know each and every one of us just like the Beatles were known."
Of course, all eyes were on McCartney as he launched his first run of shows, even if he had worked diligently to promote his new band as a collaborative project. "That was quite a heavy load to take on," Seiwell said. "I love the way he handled it, though. He didn’t make it seem like a heavy load. We didn’t feel like we were under a heavy load. We were just like four guys and a girl in a new band, and we all loved each other very much."
Watch Wings Perform Live in 1972
All of the band members felt pressured one way or another. "It was always in the back of your mind," guitarist Denny Laine said in a 2019 interview with Highway 81 Revisited. "How do you follow the Beatles? He started to do his solo stuff, and it took a while to build up to that level. It was purely just a fact of getting a band that could sound pretty good live, which we did. We got better and better."
Wings' set list deliberately avoided any Beatles songs, but a few songs the band recorded in its early days did make the set, like a pair of Little Richards songs that closed the show, "Lucille" and "Long Tall Sally." "I mean, geez, that’s a no-brainer," Seiwell later said. "Yeah, the Beatles did it, but it’s just a good show-closer!"
As Wings' debut tour continued throughout February 1972, the band played strictly universities, often showing up unannounced, much to the surprise of the staff and students. "It’s a completely off-the-wall idea for someone who had been in the Beatles to go and completely start from scratch again and, you know, looking back at it, I was, like, why did we do it?" McCartney later said. "And it’s still like that, but it was great, and it was a great memory."
Wings, Nottingham University, Feb. 9, 1972
1. "Blue Moon Of Kentucky"
2. "Give Ireland Back To The Irish"
3. "You've Got To Help Me Darlin'"
4. "Thank You Darling"
5. "Wild Life"
6. "Bip Bop"
7. "Shuffle Blues"
8. "The Mess"
9. "My Love"
11. "Long Tall Sally"