When James McCartney emerged onto the Cavern stage on Tuesday night, I, along with numerous other audience members, admitted to feeling a little bit sorry for him. The general consensus of opinion seemed to be that he had put himself under a lot of pressure by booking The Cavern as one of his first solo tour gigs.
But on reflection I have decided not to afford him too much sympathy. After all, there are hundreds of talented musicians out there who never get the opportunities James has been given, but nevertheless, I was ready to be open-minded and to judge the gig based on him as an individual, not on the fact that he is the son of a Beatle.
I had purposely not bought any of his released material, on the basis that unfamiliar tracks generally make a bigger impact on me if I hear them played live first…so I waited. The anticipation was immense…..and Liverpool welcomed James with open arms.
Scousers are a forgiving bunch, especially when it comes to anything or anyone related to our beloved Beatles and James had the good will of the crowd on his side from the word go, purely because of his surname. Liverpool wanted to love him and wanted to support him.
The band was a modest 4 piece and as the first track kicked in it became immediately obvious that they were all incredibly nervous.
Musically, it was hard to judge – the sound guy hadn’t got it right and James’ vocals were very low down in the mix so I couldn’t really hear his voice or the lyrics (apart from the expletives which stood out pretty well…) The rest of the instruments merged together into a wall of sound and I have since had to watch a number of online videos to get a feel for what I couldn’t hear properly at the gig.
As the track closed, we waited for something from James. ‘Hello’ would have been nice, but he displayed no showmanship or stage presence and the atmosphere in the intimate Cavern Lounge soon shifted to feeling quite awkward. His limited eye contact with the crowd was uncomfortable and his attempts to converse with us were minimal and mumbled.
On a more positive note, having listened to a few tracks again since the gig, I’m finding them catchy and credible. James’ inherited vocal genes are clearly apparent – he has a strong voice with a high pitch and he’s not scared to use it. He is a multi-instrumentalist and looks a lot more comfortable behind his guitar and keyboard than he does in front of an audience.
Having said that, he’d do well to realise that if you look fed up on stage, it will soon rub off onto your punters – and a few tracks in, attention started to wane and there was a lot of nattering going on.
Of course, James will constantly be plagued by comparisons, it’s only natural that critics and fans will do that and as the privileged son of a very famous musician, he’ll just have to take it on the chin. But he could learn a lot from Sean and Julian Lennon and Dhani Harrison. They are great personalities who are able to command an audience and make it easy for us to warm to them in their own right. They also have a degree of self-awareness and personal PR skill that we all need in order to be successful in whatever we do. It’s called likeability and without it, James McCartney is going to struggle.
James, as yet, seems unable to relax in his own skin. Whether this will come in time, I guess we will have to wait and see, but for now, I agree with the people I spoke to on Tuesday night after the gig….maybe he should have got a bit more practice in before choosing to play the most famous club in the world?
Given its history and musical symbolism, I don’t think he was quite ready for the eyes of the world to see him on that stage.
Images (c) 2012 Stuart Homer Photography Ltd