September 24, 2018

A little help from a friend

Seagulls gliding and soaring over AAMI Park in Melbourne, their outstretched wings in a rainbow of colours, pulsating in the night sky: pinks, yellows, greens and blues.

The shimmering silver gulls were having a psychedelic moment and so was I. Far down below them, and far below my seat in the top tier of the stadium, Paul McCarty was into the second of about 40 numbers on the latest leg of his Australian tour, the strobe lights illuminating the stage escaping into the air and spotlighting the gulls.

My teenage years, when I did all sorts of things I would never do today, had come back to find me.  And as part of this out-of-mind experience, the gulls and McCartney became a double act.

Looking back to the “Swinging Sixties’, it wasn’t just the music of the Beatles that eased me through those tough, 12-hour days as a cub reporter on the Woking News and Mail in Britain but, conversely, the sight of resident birds in semi-rural Surrey which sent me happily on my way.

Because of my obsession with the Beatles and birds, it’s not fanciful to link the two. Birds have always been an inspiration for art and possibly with a little bias I think the music of the Beatles and the impact it still has on popular culture is art of the highest kind.

Just as the first poets used birds as inspiration so have the composers of music.

In the modern age of popular music we even have bands named after birds. The Eagles spring to mind immediately, and in this category can we include the band Paul McCartney formed after the Beatles, Wings, or even the Byrds!

Like the birdsong I hear in different places, music – especially the music of the Beatles, and another obsession, Bob Dylan – cements time and place in my memory.  Twist and Shout takes me back to the place I bought my first record, not so far from London’s Fleet Street where I worked in the mid-Sixties as messenger boy, and the song of the yellowhammer – “A little bit of bread and no cheese” – reminds me of cycling Surrey country lanes as a cub reporter a little later.

Times pass, but I’m still learning from the Beatles. I always thought the McCartney song Blackbird was a homage to the bird that still wakes me each morning with its beautiful song. But no, as McCartney said during the Melbourne concert, Blackbird is in fact a protest song. It goes back to the civil rights movement of the southern United States in the late 1960s.

It was a song of solidarity, one of many special messages that the Beatles carried in their songs, more commonly about the advancement of the working classes, to which they proudly belonged. McCartney is also a passionate  environmentalist and a campaigner for vegetarianism, saying he would never eat anything with a face, which of course includes birds.

Like the rest of the wild world, the silver gulls flying over AAMI Park during the concert, in tandem with the occasional night heron and fruit bat, were certainly getting by with a little help from a friend.

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