During a Glastonbury weekend stuffed with secret sets and surprise guests, I was hearing a range of rumours about who Paul McCartney might bring on when he became the festival’s oldest headliner on Saturday night.
Could be Dave Grohl, who has performed with the Beatle before and headlined with Foo Fighters in 2017, but he was “stuck in LA,” someone who knows about rock star flight schedules told me. Someone else claimed to have seen Glastonbury stalwart Chris Martin on site. I refused to entertain another person’s suggestion that 2009 headliner Bruce Springsteen might be in the vicinity.
In the end, as an epic show rumbled close to the three hour mark, the gasps of excitement doubled in volume when McCartney said goodbye to Grohl then brought on Springsteen as well.
The former arrived after several flight cancellations to play guitar and sing on the early Beatles number I Saw Her Standing There and the Wings favourite Band on the Run. The Boss got another extreme oldie, I Wanna Be Your Man, and one of his own, Glory Days. It was aptly titled for an extraordinary end to the evening.
A third virtual guest was a little less surprising, as McCartney has been doing it on his US tour, but still a remarkable moment. While making the recent Beatles documentary Get Back, director Peter Jackson offered to isolate John Lennon’s vocals on I’ve Got a Feeling, as performed at the 1969 rooftop concert. This enabled a Beatles duet more than 40 years after Lennon’s death.
It was an emotional climax, though McCartney had taken a long run up to get to an unbeatable final hour. He held back on his obvious capability of playing hit after hit and dotted less familiar compositions throughout the first half of his long set. Two lesser known Wings songs, Junior’s Farm and Letting Go, plus Come On to Me from his 2018 solo album Egypt Station, were part of the opening assortment.
He pointed out that he and his magnificent band can tell what the audience thinks when he plays newer songs, because the phones in the crowd change from a galaxy of stars to a “black hole”. “But we don’t care. We’re gonna do them anyway,” he said. Dance Tonight, a simple sentiment from 2007, and My Valentine, a downbeat song written for his wife Nancy in 2012, were also aired early on.
It may have confused a crowd so gigantic that I was essentially watching the show from Wiltshire. It was clear that a mass that size was not there for the deep cuts but hanging on for the inevitable Live and Let Die firework cacophony and of course, to be in the best place on earth for the endless na-na-na-na-ing of Hey Jude.
The “Glastonburgers”, as McCartney called them, got their wish in the end, via a few more emotional detours: Something, played for George Harrison on Harrison’s own ukulele; Here Today, written for Lennon after his death; and most of the Abbey Road medley, some of which he said he’d never played live before.
He finished up waving a Ukraine flag and could have done three more hours without exhausting pop’s deepest well of classic songs. As it was, this less predictable evening won’t be forgotten for a long time.