If there was anything real to base it on, I wouldn't mind it so much, but it always happens," said Paul McCartney an hour before Wings took the stage at the 3000-seat Hammersmith Odeon. He was talking about the persistent but groundless rumors of a Beatles reunion, which only slightly marred Concerts for Kampuchea, the greatest superstar jam for charity London has ever seen. Although the Fab Four didn't perform, McCartney was joined by Rockestra, the studio group McCartney assembled for Back to the Egg, which included three-fourths of Led Zeppelin, half of the Who, Rockpile's Dave Edmunds, Ronnie Lane and other British rockers.
The benefit — held for four nights during Christmas week to aid the refugees and starving children of Kampuchea (Cambodia) — was the joint idea of United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim, promoter Harvey Goldsmith and the headlining acts: Wings, the Who, Queen and Ian Dury.
"A lot of people got letters from some fella who was supposed to represent Kurt Waldheim," McCartney said. "He wrote on Mayfair Hotel stationery saying that he was staying at the hotel and that Waldheim had asked if we would do something for charity. I took it to mean a Wings thing and said okay. I talked to George [Harrison], who had been asked by the same fellow. He said, `If I get something together, will you do it?' I said yes. But we just left it there and it got a bit lukewarm.
"When Wings started rehearsing [for their late-autumn tour of Britain], I said I'd do it as Wings. Then a letter came from Kurt Waldheim saying, 'I have never authorized anyone to ask on my behalf if you'd do anything. There seems to be someone . going around, but it is a hoax. Seeing as you're now involved, would you do something?' We sent back a telegram saying yes, we'd do a show:"
Meanwhile, Goldsmith, other managers and several bands were kicking around the idea of a series of concerts to end the Seventies. Worldwide publicity about the refugees' situation gave them a theme. "Like most people,I saw the film of the starving kids," McCartney explained, referring to a BBC-TV children's program, Blue Peter. "It was a soul-searching bit of film; it got kids to send in over $2 million!'
Eventually, four concerts were set. EMI filmed the shows for a special television program that would be sold to different countries, with proceeds benefiting the UNICEF-Kampuchean refugee funds. According to Ramon Lopez, managing director of EMI Records, the concert were recorded for possible use as an album, but at press time, none of the artists had agreed to let their performances be released. Gate receipts from the four shows exceeded $150,000 (tickets were priced from eleven to eighteen dollars).
On the first night, Queen appeared alone, partially due to the demands of their elaborate stage show. Ian Dury's night featured the progressive reggae group Matumbi, the Clash and his own Blockheads; Clash guitarist Mick Jones joined Dury for the closing jam. The Who's evening was both exhausting and exhilarating. Two of Britain's best new groups — the Pretenders and the ska-revivalist Specials — played powerful sets, followed by a marathon Who performance that lasted almost three hours.
But the final night reached near-hysterical pitch. The lineup was set to include Rockpile, Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Scottish comedian Billy Connolly, Wings and "further guest stars" (i.e., Rockestra). Reports of a Beatles reunion in the Daily Mirror and similar speculation in the Evening News brought out fans who were willing to pay scalpers up to $440 a seat for the sold-out show "Some woman [Pauline McLeod] wrote in a newspaper [the Daily Mirror] that she had evidence it was definitely on, which is a load of bull, because it wasn't," said McCartney. "That was blown up in the papers, and the papers were saying, 'Can you tell us who your guests are please?' I just said no."
An hour before Wings were to perform, ABC-TV sent word that it would pay $2000 for two minutes of film of a Beatles reunion, and rumors spread through the audience that John Lennon had arrived.
Playing off the crowd's exuberance, Rockpile put in the night's best set, highlighted by a guest appearance from Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant, who performed the soul oldie "Little Sister." A jovial Elvis Costello played for a full hour. Wings' set included much of the material they were to play on their January tour of Japan (see page fourteen); when they finished, Connolly asked the crowd, "How would you like to see Jimmy [Honeyman Scott] from the Pretenders, Kenney Jones, Pete Townshend, Tony Ashton, Ray Cooper, Bruce Thomas, Ronnie Lane, Gary Brooker, Tony Carr, Morris Pert, John Bonham, John Paul Jones, Speedy Acquaye, Howie Casey, Steve Howard, Thadius Richard and Tony Dorsey?" The audience roared. "Well, we don't have 'em," Connolly said with a shrug. "We've got the Honeycombs."
With that, Rockestra — resplendent in gold top hats and silver jackets, except for Townshend in a faded suit — took the stage. Eric Clapton, who performed on Back to the Egg, was absent; he was watching his football team, West Bromwich Albion, lose to the Liverpool club. To compensate, Robert Plant shuffled on-stage unannounced. Rockestra performed its instrumental theme from the album, Little Richard's "Lucille" and a masterful "Let It Be." The nineteen-piece band started "Let It Be" quietly, then crescendoed as dramatically as any Phil Spector record. After an encore of the Rockestra theme, the Concerts for Kampuchea were over — a joyous celebration of the curious camaraderie among British rockers home from touring.
As for whether the money will reach Kampuchea, given the poor record of previous rock benefits, McCartney said, "Any charity thing is dodgy, but hopefully there's enough attention on this one to make sure it actually gets there. If you can't trust UNICEF, who can you trust? I just cross my fingers and hope for the best."
Following the British concerts, three benefits for the Cambodian Emergency Relief Fund were held in the Bay Area. On January 11th, Linda Ronstadt and Joan Baez headlined a show at San Francisco's Warfield Theatre. Two days later, the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Starship, the Beach Boys and others performed at the Oakland Coliseum. The third concert featured James Taylor and Karla Bonoff. Further coverage will appear in RS 312.