Going to see Paul McCartney perform in Liverpool should be the most natural thing in the world. So why the fuck is it so hard? The musical legend began his life and career in our city, and he remains a hero for old and young across Merseyside. The Beatles loom like a monolith over Liverpool; we are almost suffocated by a pageantry of the past at every turn. They are constantly offered to us as the proof of our value and importance in cultural history. Unless you subscribe to the theory that he was killed and replaced with a doppelgänger in 1967, Sir Paul is our greatest living ambassador. And yet opportunities to see him are as vestigial as the Scouse in Paul’s accent.
That’s why five of us waited at 9am on a Friday with two laptops each, perched, poised to attack. But as expected, his Liverpool show was snapped-up and sold-out before our eyes had time to blink. So, imagine my delight when my friend somehow beat the insufferable influx of touts and fans to secure six tickets for the Glasgow leg of his only three shows in the UK. The tickets were £90 each, but we didn’t think twice. After receiving an email confirmation from AXS Tickets (and a payment receipt for £540), I was ecstatic: getting possibly the only chance I’ll get to see the (probably) real Paul McCartney play Get Back and Let It Be.
But the dream was not to be. AXS Tickets, with no prior warning, cancelled the tickets and refunded us in full, stating only that there had been an “error in pricing at the time of booking”. After countless emails, the realisation dawned that the company had oversold the venue. They had panicked, cancelled whatever they could, and were now desperately trying to push the issue under the rug. Online, McCartney fans were seething that within minutes Ticketmaster and AXS had completely sold-out – yet there were thousands of tickets available to buy on secondary ticket sites such as Viagogo and StubHub half an hour later, for prices upwards of £1,000.
It’s a feeling of frustration that I encounter on countless Friday mornings, always at exactly 9.01 am. I am – again – the unlucky, yet relentlessly returning customer, simmering in bewilderment that a mere 60 seconds can pass and a venue capacity’s worth of tickets can be snapped up, all gone, just like that. It’s cyclical and wearying, leaving you powerless. We’ve all been there. Perhaps you have been to a ‘sold out’ show that quite visibly has empty seats. Perhaps you missed out on a once-in-a-lifetime reunion gig like The Rolling Stones, heard the stories of Adele tickets going for up to £9,000, or of fans being turned away from Foo Fighters shows after not knowing about needing correct ID for tickets.
So, why does this happen? The facts are infuriating: in 2016, ex-Ticketmaster CEO Nathan Hubbard revealed that for big events, a mere 10 per cent of tickets are left by the time they go on general release; tickets are held back for the artist, promoters, record label bosses and all their entourages. They are also sold through event pre-sales, which Hubbard admits are often infiltrated with touts buying as many tickets as possible, using software that generates different names, credit cards and email addresses. Shockingly, Hubbard explained that ticket companies like Ticketmaster purposely sell tickets, profiting from inflated prices without seeming like the ‘bad guys’.
Since Hubbard’s report over two years ago, the industry has orchestrated attempts to crack down on touts. The 2018 Digital Economy Act enforces fines on touts caught using bots that bypass the number of purchasable tickets. See Tickets have already employed a fan-to-fan system and many big-name bands such as Arctic Monkeys have teamed up with fan-led company Twickets, which allows fans to sell tickets through their website for face value only. Most profoundly, Ticketmaster are shutting down their secondary ticket websites Seatwave and GetMeIn!, now offering a genuine fan-to-fan, authorised re-sale site. It is a very promising move. There is light at the end of this corrupt tunnel, where those without connections or vast amounts of disposable income are routinely cheated out of incredible memories.
Yet this encouraging step must be closely followed and regulated, as the past has shown us that any room for profit will be unquestionably exploited by touts, and situations like my own will only continue. Although we see less tickets than usual on secondary ticketing websites for some conscientious bands who partner with conscientious sellers, they are still there, and touts are still seen sheepishly flogging them outside venues. For years, touts have immensely profited over the corruption of a rigged system. I picture them, evil and wizened, rejoicing in our despair, knowing that when the next Paul McCartney gig comes up, fans will have no choice but to fuel their rigged machine.
Music in its purest form is an art that doesn’t discriminate; it brings people together from all walks of life with the unique opportunity to hear music you love. Even in modern Liverpool, The Beatles soundtrack our coming-of-ages, friendships and relationships. The unfortunate reality is that, for decades, the system has been a sham; being a loyal fan, signing up to pre-sales and having multiple friends waiting at nine on the dot, just hasn’t cut it. It’s not hopeless – change is happening, with the work of initiatives like FanFair Alliance. But perhaps we could all be doing more to help them, with fan-to-fan interaction and organising. Hopefully, the next batch of Paul McCartney tickets will be sold conscientiously, and I’ll finally get to see him before one of us dies.
To be fair to Paul McCartney, he shows a lot of love for Liverpool. He is known for offering free impromptu gigs at The Philharmonic pub and The Cavern Club, as well as a live Q&A at LIPA. The spirit of The Beatles’ famous Let It Be performance, on the roof of Apple Corps to unsuspecting bystanders, is alive within Paul. But just as the police were intent on spoiling everyone’s fun that day, institutionalised fun-sponge-ism continues to thwart Paul’s attempts to democratise his coveted performances. Spaces at his free gigs are limited, and often go to those who are in the know about where to buy them. Paul is also known to insist against camera phones, refusing to play if he can see one in the audience. I’m sure this allows everyone to be more present in the moment, contributing to the intimate and often tear-jerking atmospheres reported by the lucky few who attend. But it also means the rest of us can only imagine, wistful at our rainy windows, what it would be like to see Paul perform in 2018.