It was 33 years ago tonight (December 29th, 1979) that Paul McCartney & Wings gave their final live performance. McCartney, who had formed the band in 1971, had seen the group go through several incarnations -- running through three guitarists and four drummers in only seven years. The main nucleus of the band, McCartney, wife Linda and Denny Laine, were the group's only constant members. The final 1979 line-up featured guitarist Lawrence Juber and drummer Steve Holley.
Their final show, which was the closing spot on the three-night Concerts For The People Of Kampuchea UNICEF benefits at London's Hammersmith Odeon, featured Wings' normal two hour set, before being joined by the Who's Pete Townshend and Kenny Jones, Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant, John Bonham and John Paul Jones, along with Ronnie Lane, James Honeyman-Scott of the Pretenders, Bruce Thomas of the Attractions, Procol Harum's Gary Brooker, and Dave Edmunds, for a three-song "Rockestra" performance.
The mini-set, which featured all the musicians in gold lame tails and top hats, included nearly 40 musicians tearing through Little Richard's "Lucille," the Beatles' "Let It Be," and two run-throughs of McCartney's "Rockestra Theme," which was released earlier that year, featuring many of the same musicians, on Wings' Back To The Egg album. The tune went on to snag the Grammy for that year's "Best Rock Instrumental Performance."
The Kampuchea benefit, which McCartney organized, came on the heels of Wings' recent UK tour -- which was to be the first leg of a world tour that was due to hit Japan in January. McCartney's subsequent pot bust upon landing in Tokyo on January 16th, 1980 and eventual ten-day incarceration forced McCartney to not only cancel the Japan dates, but scrap the entire tour due to visa problems, losing millions of dollars.
Wings re-grouped twice in 1980 -- in July and again in October -- to work on new McCartney material for his Tug Of War album. According to legend, when McCartney reunited with George Martin, the Beatles' legendary producer informed him, in no uncertain terms, he wouldn't produce anything but a solo McCartney effort.
After John Lennon's murder on December 8th, 1980, McCartney decided to put any live appearances on hold indefinitely. In March 1981, selections from Wings' final show were included on the live Concerts For The People Of Kampuchea album. Wings was quietly disbanded a month later, in April 1981.
Back in 2001 McCartney released his Wingspan documentary chronicling the group's career. As he replayed the band's time together, he said that Wings was first and foremost a lesson in overcoming the impossible: "The great thing about this story is it's got a lot of human drama because it was a struggle trying to put it together after the Beatles. I mean, the Beatles career itself was a struggle, but then having reached those heights, to try and do it over and at the same time bring up a, a young family was quite an interesting human interest story. And that comes over."
Although Denny Laine was the sole co-founder of the group to weather all of Wings' lineups, he told us that McCartney tended to keep the band's decisions pretty close to the hip: "Y'know, you've got to remember that I wasn't really involved in that -- it was Paul's baby, really. I just kind of turned up for work, and I had ideas obviously, but as far the administration and record company discussions, I wasn't a part of any of that."
Laine's recent live shows have featured a smattering of Wings hits. He says that he thought McCartney's early '90s band was a good fit, but he's not thrilled with McCartney's latest group of sidemen: "I'm not so wild about the one he's got now to be honest with you. Because it doesn't rock. It's all about Paul now. Like, that's the thing about being in a band, when you start working and doing a lot of live dates and a lot of recording, you become a band. It doesn't matter how famous one of the members are, you just become a band. Well now, it doesn't sound like a band, it sounds like Paul doing his stuff with backing musicians."
In December 2007, McCartney and Laine, who have been estranged since 1981, were photographed backstage at a UB40 concert in London.
Footage from Wings' final performance at London's Hammersmith Odeon on December 29th, 1979 was featured in the DVD's included in the 2011 deluxe reissues of the McCartney and McCartney II albums.
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