It’s hard to imagine now, when you can buy a concert ticket in seconds on your phone, but it wasn’t that long ago you had to actually physically queue to get to see your favourite artist. That was certainly the case in June 1991 when Beatlemania happened all over again in Cornwall.
Cornish fans couldn’t believe it that month when Paul McCartney announced four impromptu concerts across the world. With his band, Macca would play London, Naples, Barcelona and, rather unbelievably, St Austell. Actually, it wasn’t that unbelievable as the Coliseum – on the beach at Carlyon Bay – had the reputation of being one of the greatest venues in the UK.
Starting out as the Riviera Club in the 1960s, it played host to The Pretty Things, Chris Farlowe, Them, Procol Harum, Herman’s Hermits and The Kinks (never The Beatles though) but it was in the late ’70s to late ’80s that saw its golden years. Imagine the likes of the following playing in Cornwall now – The Smiths, Ramones, The Clash, Wham!, The Jam, Thin Lizzy, Jimmy Page & Robert Plant, The Cult, The Police, The Cure, The Who, Eric Clapton, Elton John, Tina Turner, Duran Duran, Public Image Ltd, The Stranglers, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Rainbow, Slade, Bon Jovi, Simple Minds and Big Audio Dynamite were just some of those who played. Towards the end of its days in the ’90s it also saw Suede, Orbital and Fun Lovin’ Criminals fill its cavernous hall.
McCartney’s performance was in the days before online and phone booking, so fans of the superstar had to queue to get tickets for the 3,000-capacity gig. Excitement was palpable especially as the show was only announced a couple of days before it was due to take place on June 7. Hundreds of fans camped, slept and queued on the beach to get hold of the tickets for McCartney’s first – and, to this day, only – performance in Cornwall or Devon.
Keith from Callington was the first in line having spent 24 hours outside the locked doors of the box office. As Coliseum manager Paul Higgins counted down from 10 to 1 before unleashing McCartney mania on his staff, Keith revealed he was buying the tickets for his wife’s birthday. Mr Higgins said at the time: “This is the biggest thing we have ever had at the Cornwall Coliseum. Who would have thought we’d have Paul McCartney here?” He said the rare appearance was down to “a few phone calls and a bit of luck”.
Tickets, which were limited to four per person, sold out in just over five hours and were soon changing hands for up to £700 as fans from all over the world descended on St Austell. Hundreds of fans stood outside the venue in sunshine as Macca ran through a soundcheck soon after arriving at the Coliseum with wife Linda and their children.
The actual set that night was full of Beatles songs – Let It Be, Sgt Pepper, Can’t Buy Me Love, The Long And Winding Road, Get Back, And I Love Her, Here There And Everywhere and We Can Work It Out among them. McCartney, who had last been in Cornwall with the rest of The Beatles when they filmed scenes for the Magical Mystery Tour TV movie in 1967, started by playing some raw rock’n’roll including Elvis Presley’s Mean Woman Blues and Gene Vincent’s Be-Bop-A-Lula.
He even snuck in a cover of Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine despite their being plenty for those who had waited patiently for tickets. Other songs played for an ecstatic crowd included Wings’ Band On The Run, Ebony and Ivory – his hit with Stevie Wonder – and solo single Coming Up. He ended a whopping 35-song set with, appropriately enough, The End from The Beatles’ Abbey Road album.
The only other artist that saw similar queues around the block at the Coliseum was Cliff Richard, which just goes to show how musical tastes have changed in 30 years.