Column One: Paul plays the Cavern (and John joins the queue)

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The Independent Online
TWO YEARS is a long time in rock music.

Sir Paul McCartney's 1997 authorised biography - in effect his own thoughts filtered through a close friend - was sceptical about the rebuilt Cavern Club in Liverpool. It was doubtful about the claim that it had been rebuilt with the original bricks; it said the new Cavern "has little of the funky atmosphere of the original". And Sir Paul's brother, Mike McGear, said it had been rebuilt "the wrong way round".

But it's a curmudgeonly soul who would mention such caveats when there is an album to plug and a staggering 500 million people to watch McCartney perform it in his first appearance at "The Cavern" since the Beatles last played there in 1963. Last night's return by McCartney to play a set in front of a heaving full house of just 300 people was televised for transmission in 25 countries.

Among the fans who queued all night for tickets was 18-year-old John Lennon from Penny Lane in Liverpool, a case of immortality via deed poll and a friendly estate agent.

The new Cavern, with a statue of Lennon outside, is a tourist attraction that only the most sentimental would genuinely mistake for the beat club cellar, then below a food produce warehouse, where the Beatles performed between 1961 and 1963.

But perhaps one wouldn't want the similarities to be too close. At the original Cavern - a space of three long, barrel-vaulted tunnels, connected by six-foot archways - there was no ventilation, and the sweat and breath of the audience formed condensation on the vaulted ceiling, making flakes of whitewash fall on to concert-goers. In Liverpool it was known as "Cavern dandruff".

Fainting from lack of oxygen was also routine.

The restored Cavern certainly gives a sense of the unbelievably cramped audience space among the tunnels. And if you closed your eyes you could just about imagine the Beatles on stage, the young Cilla Black taking your coat at the cloakroom (also now lovingly restored) and Brian Epstein in the audience scouting for talent.

Epstein once noted of his first sight of the Beatles: "They were rather scruffily dressed, in the nicest possible way, or I should say in the most attractive way: black leather jackets and jeans, long hair of course."

And shortly before last night's concert, in wandered Paul McCartney for a nostalgic look, still at the age of 57 with long(ish) black hair, and dressed in the nicest possible way, or should I say the most

attractive way. He said: "I'm back here because I love Liverpool and what a fantastic place [it is] to rock out the century. This is where it all began and this for me is where the century is going to end. Remember, for me, the Beatles before the Beatles were a fabulous rock and roll band."

Paul brought with him a pretty good rock and roll band: Dave Gilmour from Pink Floyd, Ian Paice from Deep Purple, Mick Green and Pete Wingfield.

A video screen was set up in a nearby park. But it was a cold night in Liverpool and outside the Cavern, camera crews seemed to outnumber fans. But downstairs for the lucky 300, it was more than hot enough as McCartney again belied his reputation for just being a balladeer and showed he was one of the great rock singers.

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