Sir Paul McCartney is hailed as “the leader of a changed world” by a Belfast-based photographer from a historic Beatles concert in 1963.

A Belfast photographer who photographed The Beatles at their historic first concert in Belfast in November 1963 called Sir Paul McCartney “the greatest songwriter of all time” who helped change the face of popular music.

Chris Hill, who was a schoolboy when Beatlemania hit Belfast, stood in line all night to buy a ticket to a Ritz Cinema concert, taking a seat in the middle of the second row for the night.

His vantage point meant that he could take quality black-and-white photographs of the band and the young McCartney, which he would later sell to schools for a “small fortune”, launching his long career as a photographer.

Chris spoke as Sir Paul celebrates his 80th birthday today, a week before his seat at Glastonbury as the festival’s oldest solo headliner.

The singer-songwriter and Beatles legend has a career spanning over 60 years as one of the most famous stars in the British music industry. The Liverpool man also has strong ties to Ireland: he married his second wife, Heather Mills, in County Monaghan before the couple divorced a few years later.

His band Wings also released the controversial protest song Give Ireland Back To The Irish in 1972 in response to the events of Bloody Sunday that year. The track, the band’s debut single, written by Sir Paul and his first wife Linda, was the first to feature Northern Irish guitarist Henry McCullough. The single was banned from broadcast in the UK by the BBC and others.

Chris has said that Sir Paul has always been his favorite Beatle and described his appeal as enduring and legendary.

“To put it simply, Paul McCartney is the greatest songwriter of all time,” he said.

“He changed the face of pop music and culture and truly became a leader in a changing world.

“I remember when I went to see The Beatles at the Ritz in 1963, I biked down at 3am to queue for tickets and got a great seat in the second row.

“Belfast was dominated by Beatlemania and there was so much screaming and excitement.”

Local broadcaster and music columnist Ralph McLean described McKee’s skills as a songwriter as his “greatest gift to the world of great melody”.

BBC Radio Ulster presenter said he greatly admires Sir Paul for always “pushing the boundaries” when it comes to his music.

“Up until his latest albums, he never lost that. He doesn’t stop there and the fact that he’s still on the road is admirable.”

Ralph, who saw the Beatles icon in concert four times, also recalled meeting him at the Manchester Evening Arena in 2004 and noted how down to earth he was.

“He was very friendly, he had no selfishness at all, and he called me “big guy”. I dined on it for months after that,” he said.

Belfast architect and musician John Rossi, who played in several Beatles-inspired bands, said he had been a fan of Sir Paul since he first heard him.

“He has such a great vocal range. Like he has the voice of a thousand men,” John said.

“His voice isn’t as strong now, which is understandable given his age, but he’s still performing and his hard work and longevity means he’s definitely one of my top three favorite artists.

“He’s a rock and roll icon.”

Sir Paul, born June 18, 1942, formed The Beatles in Liverpool with John Lennon, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best. When Sutcliffe left the band in 1961, Sir Paul replaced him on bass. A year later, Sir Ringo Starr replaced Best as drummer.

Brian Epstein signed with The Beatles in 1962 and they had their first hit Love Me Do later that year.

Sir Paul later formed a new band, Wings, with his wife Linda as one of the members. Wings had hits with songs like Live And Let Die and Mull Of Kintyre before disbanding in 1981. Antrim musician Henry McCullough joined the Wings, playing lead guitar with them for two years. It was during this time that Wings released Give Ireland Back To The Irish, which was maligned by critics as pro-IRA.

McCartney later said: “It was so shocking. I wrote Give Ireland Back to the Irish. We recorded it and EMI chairman Sir Joseph Lockwood immediately called me and explained that they would not release it.

“He thought it was too provocative. I told him that I was very worried about this, and they should release it. He said, “Well, it will be forbidden,” and of course it was.

“I knew that ‘Returning Ireland to the Irish’ was not an easy path, but I felt it was time to [to say something]”.