They didn't turn up of course; they never do. As the crowd patiently waited outside the Odeon at 7.30 on Saturday for the doors to open on a concert billed to start half an hour earlier there was a confident buzz that at least George Harrison and Ringo Star might join Paul McCartney on stage for the benefit of UNICEF and Kampuchea, while a few flat earthers actually imagined that John Lennon might have been lured out of solitary confinement in New York. But it was not to be.
When Billy Connolly announced the line-up of "surprise" guests for the midnight jam the polite cheers for Pete Townshend, John Paul Jones, Ronnie Lane and the like acknowledged the fact that once again rock music had failed to live up to the inflated role it has been afforded in national life in the seventies. It might be fun, but it is not going to change the world.
Sometimes even the fun wears a bit thin, especially when it is spread unevenly over four hours, plus. No one can complain that the punters paying £8 to see the stars perform for nothing were not getting quantity: even Rockpile, first on the bill, threw in Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant to lift its heavy metal assault on sixties rock and roll. But as Paul McCartney must have realised at the end what was really needed was a revived Elvis Presley to ensure the event fulfilled expectations.
Instead there was Elvis Costello, crammed between the boring Rockpile and the bland Wings, Costello is obviously fed up with being horrid and was showing off a new human image as well as some new songs. Unfortunately the fresh material sounded bleak — new wave bash in contrast to the imaginative rhythms and melodies he created in his anti-social period. Even so Costello, backed by the excellent Attractions, was the only performer to suggest the exhilaration and intelligence of rock. His guitar style may be perfunctory but he has the necessary distinctive voice and songs like "Green Shirt," "Watching the Detectives" and "Girl Talk " (blasted out by Rockpile an hour earlier) are as good and uplifting as any in contemporary music.
To top the bill, as he will surely climax a Royal Command Performance one day as Sir Paul McCartney, first knight of rock, was Paul McCartney, the people's choice. Like Dame Vera during the War, Paul has stuck with Britain throughout its crises and deserves his success in selling more records than the whole of the rest of the human race combined. The strain shows a bit in his white but still baby face, and forcing Wings into black morning coats gives the initial impression of a gang of undertakers.
His songs seem totally uninspired by any genuine emotion but they are beautifully performed to almost record production pitch and Wings are the best musicians money can buy. I particularly liked Laurence Juber's guitar. The inevitables — "Fool on the Hill," "Maybe I'm Amazed," "Band on the Run" were nicely done, as was the acoustic guitar solo on "Yesterday." If the new music sounds mechanical there is the always intriguing Linda to watch (yes, she still looks as relaxed as a metal girder), and although the jollity is a bit juvenile Wings serves the people, and Paul McCartney was the ideal choice to lead the charge of the British rock cavalry to the aid of the suffering children.