At 80, Paul McCartney still makes genius look effortless

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The former Beatle has aged with dignity – but not too much of it – and 60 years after his first hit will be headlining Glastonbury

There’s a lovely scene in Peter Jackson’s recent documentary The Beatles: Get Back that sums up the taken-for-granted brilliance of Paul McCartney. It’s another day in Twickenham studios, where McCartney is single-handedly wrestling the Beatles into recording a new album. John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr are at best semi-detached but McCartney is grafting away, writing from scratch songs good enough to make them believe in the band again. In this particular scene he’s at the piano, guiding the band through a hymn-like new number while his fiancée Linda Eastman chats to Yoko Ono in the foreground. The song they are merrily ignoring is Let It Be.

McCartney has always been a doer. “He used to be the one to get things moving,” Starr said after the band’s break-up in 1970. More driven and more cautious than the others, he became a kind of parent and taskmaster. Sometimes this made him a pain but, as Get Back illustrates, a necessary pain. He knew better than any of them what an irreplaceably precious thing they had together. Five decades later, he is still forging ahead. He recently released a quasi-memoir, The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present, and embarked on yet another stadium tour. Next weekend he will headline Glastonbury for the second time, seven days after his 80th birthday. He has said that he considers retiring a prelude to expiring.

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