Paul McCartney live: Cavern Club, Liverpool

Sir Paul McCartney had announced an appearance at Liverpool’s world-famous Cavern Club on the Parkinson television show on 3 December 1999. Eleven days later it took place, with just 300 tickets available.

It was McCartney’s first appearance at the Cavern since The Beatles’ final show there on 3 August 1963.

I am going back for just one night as a nod to the music that has always and will ever thrill me. I can’t think of a better way to rock out the end of the century than with a rock ‘n’ roll party at the Cavern.
Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney at the Cavern Club, Liverpool, 14 December 1999

McCartney was promoting his Run Devil Run album of mostly golden oldies, which had been released in October 1999. His company, MPL Communications, arranged for the Cavern Club to stage the event and arrange for it to be filmed. However, the Cavern wasn’t the first choice.

We had just done the Yellow Submarine day which impressed everybody at Apple. Paul’s PR, Geoff Baker, asked us to go round to Gambier Terrace, where John [Lennon] used to live with Stu [Sutcliffe], and negotiate a fee for filming. They didn’t want to do it themselves as fees would quadruple if they knew McCartney was involved. They thought of Gambier Terrace for a promo video because at the time The Beatles would have been listening to the music on Run Devil Run. We bandied a few figures around and then Geoff said, ‘How would you feel if we did it at the Cavern instead?’

Paul had some reservations as he thought the Cavern was on the wrong side of the road. He was told that it was 50% on the same site and had the same address, albeit it is eight foot deeper than the original Cavern. The plans of the back stage were within 12 feet of where they used to play, so it was more relevant to play the back stage than the front. There was also talk of Paul playing a theatre in London. Geoff knew that if he put Paul together with the Cavern, it would be an explosive news story. Stick him in Gambier Terrace; it’s a cute angle. Stick him in a theatre in London; it’s just another gig. They only agreed to the Cavern three weeks before it happened. We were told not to tell anybody and Paul would announce it on Parkinson.

Bill Heckle, Cavern Club owner
The Cavern, Spencer Leigh

Half of the 300 tickets were raffled through HMV stores, sparking a buying frenzy among fans. There were even reports of women offering sexual favours to the Cavern’s owners in exchange for tickets, though the attempts were unsuccessful.

There was a lottery for tickets with EMI and there were problems for every Beatle related business including EMI, MPL, Apple, Abbey Road Studios, the Beatles Shop and the Beatles Story as they were being inundated with requests for tickets. Geoff put out that there had been over a million enquiries which could have been true. We were on the phones from seven in the morning right the way through until midnight. There was worldwide attention for these tickets.
Bill Heckle, Cavern Club owner
The Cavern, Spencer Leigh

McCartney and his band rehearsed in the afternoon of 14 December in front of a few lucky onlookers, including Bill Heckle and Apple’s Neil Aspinall. A leather sofa was removed from the Cavern’s dressing room in case it offended McCartney, a strict vegetarian and animal-rights campaigner.

McCartney was also reunited with Bob Wooler, the Cavern’s legendary MC who had introduced The Beatles countless times.

We told Paul that Bob Wooler was over the road and he said, ‘Bring him over’, as he would love to see him again. He was in the Grapes with [former Cavern Club owner] Ray McFall, and they came over and they met up. Paul gave Bob this huge bear hug. I respectfully moved about 10 feet away as it was their own special moment. There was a lot of bonhomie. Paul called me over and said, ‘Bob is going to bring me on one more time and that will be great.’ Bob was delighted but also very daunted. He made the mistake, which is very Boblike, of going back to the Grapes. Unfortunately he drank too much and the word came over at seven o’clock that he just wasn’t up to it. Paul was genuinely disappointed as he could see it would have been really fitting.
Bill Heckle, Cavern Club owner
The Cavern, Spencer Leigh

McCartney’s backing group also played on Run Devil Run: guitarists David Gilmour and Mick Green, keyboardist Pete Wingfield and drummer Ian Paice. They played a total of 13 songs at the Cavern:

The show lasted for 75 minutes. In the audience was McCartney’s brother Mike, daughter Stella, and 27 other relatives. He also paid tribute to his late wife Linda, dedicating Ricky Nelson’s ‘Lonesome Town’ to “loved ones past, present and future”.

Although tickets were rarer than hens’ teeth, thousands of fans assembled at Liverpool’s Chevasse Park to watch the concert on an outdoor screen. It was also watched by three million people on the internet, and was broadcast later that evening on BBC Radio 2.

The concert was filmed, and was shown the following night on BBC television. It was released as a 1999 DVD, Live At The Cavern Club, directed by Geoff Wonfor.

Following the event, a party took place at the nearby De Coubertin’s Sports Bar on North John Street, Liverpool.

Paul walked up the ram to Harrington Street and into the Sports Bar. Five hundred people were there and he spent half an hour posing for photographs. He was in a great mood and very upbeat and he put on a policeman’s hat and was conducting everybody with his truncheon. He was singing wartime songs, typically Liverpool working class Irish environment.
Bill Heckle, Cavern Club owner
The Cavern, Spencer Leigh
Last updated: 23 August 2023
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