Long and winding road back home

People outside the Cavern Club in Liverpool before an exclusive Sir Paul McCartney gig.
People outside the Cavern Club in Liverpool before an exclusive Sir Paul McCartney gig.
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Matthew Street had seen it all before, but not in their lifetime.

The fans who squeezed into every cranny, every doorway of what used to be a Liverpool back alley, were all young in spirit and most were young in years, too.

It was where Beatlemania had begun, and as Sir Paul McCartney returned for a triumphant reprise yesterday, it was if it was 1963 all over again.

Their parents and even grandparents had first fallen in love with the Beatles at the Cavern Club, and the news that McCartney was to play there once more, convulsed his home city.

He had announced on Wednesday that he would play a “secret gig” the following day. At 9am, he said online that one hour later, free tickets would be handed to the first 200 people to queue outside the Echo Arena. But the box office had already opened, and within minutes they were gone. By 10am, fans were being told there was no point in arriving.

They went instead to Matthew Street to try to catch a glimpse, and at just after noon, they were rewarded with a thumbs-up as he drove into the back entrance.

Fragments of film of The Beatles at the Cavern, shot for Granada’s local news, betray an atmosphere that was electric and unique, but yesterday it was different again.

“Liverpool... Cavern,” McCartney chanted to an ecstatic and clearly overwhelmed audience, and then, quoting himself, added: “These are words that come together well.”

After playing Magical Mystery Tour he said: “All those years ago we came here and played and we didn’t know if we had any future. We did OK.”

During the two-hour performance, he told the crowd: “I can’t come back here, to Liverpool but to the Cavern particularly, without flashing back to some of the early days when the group was just started really and this was the big gig.

“I was standing there, to my left John and to my right George and Pete Best and then Ringo. It was like magic.

“The truth is, when Ringo joined, the first time he played with us, I remember looking at John and George and saying ‘what?’ because it really changed things, it made everything come together.

“Here’s to them. Let’s hear it for John and George.”

He sang Lennon-McCartney classics including Love Me Do, I Saw Her Standing There and Get Back, as well as songs from his new album, Egypt Station.

As he neared the end of the show, he said: “We’ve had a good time. It’s always good to come back.”

By then, there were around 270 in the Cavern, which – along with New York’s Studio 54 – is, perhaps, the world’s most famous nightclub. The Beatles played the original, brick-lined venue beneath the streets more than 250 times. It was closed and filled in back in 1973, but the present one, on more or less the same spot, is a faithful reproduction and was said to have used some of the old bricks.