Paul McCartney’s ukulele performance of ‘Something’ in tribute to George Harrison, live in Liverpool
We’re dipping into the Far Out Magazine vault to bring you a very special performance as Paul McCartney pays tribute to his Beatles bandmate George Harrison with a rendition of ‘Something’ on the ukulele.
When the city of Liverpool was announced as the European Capital of Culture for 2008 plans for a mammoth musical showcase begun almost instantly. The city’s musical contribution to the world is undoubted and at the top of their list to headline the show-stopping main event, The Liverpool Sound, was one man—Sir Paul McCartney.
One of four world-changing sons of city, Macca would return to his hometown for show for the first time in five years and provide a headline set at the city’s largest football ground, Anfield, the home of Liverpool F.C. The Beatles had long become a global brand but still, being back at home made this tribute all the more powerful.
The set was full of McCartney solo numbers and Beatles homages. It’s typical Macca, big on sound, heavy on feeling and flecked with a bit of showmanship. But perhaps the most pertinent moment of the night came when he stripped back all of the sonic arrangements and let the simplicity of love ring out.
Pulling out a ukulele McCartney addresses the crowd: “Not sure how many people know it, but George was a really good ukulele player. In fact, he loved the ukulele so much he was in the George Formby fan club.” The crowd laughs as they reminisce about the British icon famed for his little ditties about cleaning windows. “No, he was,” laughs McCartney.
It may sound a bit silly but the facts are that Harrison, one of the foremost rock and roll guitars, loved that wacky instrument. The guitarist confirmed his adoration for the small guitar when he bought a complex in Hawaii and began buying them in batches. In fact, most people who have had a crossing of paths with the late great George Harrison probably came away from the exchange with a shiny new ukulele to boot.
In a note from 1999, which you can see below, Harrison affectionately describes the playing and music of the humble ukulele: “Everyone I know who is into the ukulele is ‘crackers,’” writes George, “you can’t play it and not laugh!”
It was a way of Harrison staying determinedly upbeat even when faced with multiple life-threatening situations, including the throat cancer which would eventually take his life too soon.
Back at Anfield and McCartney continues, holding the small but well-loved instrument: “He gave me this one.” He continues to strum, “I’d like to play this for George,” and the singer begins to perform The Beatles beautiful Harrison-penned song, ‘Something’. A track Frank Sinatra called “the greatest love song in the last 50 years” is always going to tug at the heartstrings but this performance is emotional for more than one reason.
The song has become a mainstay of McCartney’s sets as he often pays tribute to his friend and bandmate Harrison. The pair shared a touching friendship at the end of Harrison’s life and each time Macca performs this number you can see the emotion in his face.
The really joyous moment of the stripped-back performance, however, is when the crowd kick into gear and turn the venue into the biggest choir in the country. It’s a goosebumps moment that invites the band to kick in and the rest of the track become a fitting tribute to George Harrison.