For Whom The Bell Tells… Issue 22 'December 2012 – A Year In The Life'
December 2012 – A Year In The Life
I can’t quite believe I’m writing this as another year draws to a close and I finally have an opportunity to look back on twelve months that were somehow even more extraordinary than the last. Here in the newsroom I’ve been getting my filing into order and looking through the year month by month and it’s safe to say 2012 was a good one. One of my colleagues asked me what my highlight of 2012 has been - I couldn’t really answer with a singular event. It could have been the Olympics. It could have been in Mexico City. Maybe the Diamond Jubilee or possibly watching Paul getting honoured in Paris by the French President.
Each year, I reach December amazed by the events I’ve witnessed over the preceding months, and convinced that nothing could top them. Before most people have even had the chance to abandon their New Year’s Resolutions, I’m already realising how wrong I’ve been again as Paul somehow manages to do something even more unexpected than before. Even by his standards, though, 2012 has been an utter whirlwind that I couldn’t have predicted in my wildest dreams…
It all started on something of a ‘bum note’ however. In early January, I had to field endless calls from the media assuming Paul’s Twitter account had been hacked when he tweeted just four words – ‘kisses on the bottom’ – with no further explanation. The panic soon subsided when everyone realised this was Paul’s tongue-in-cheek way of announcing his new album title! “I thought that would be fun,” he remembers with a chuckle, “so I tried it out on a few people and it was a really split reaction. Certain people said 'Ah I love it, that is so cool.' And some people said, 'Are you kidding? Are you really going to do that?' So in the end I thought no, this is what it’s got to be called and people said it was going to be controversial but I said that was okay. I reminded people one of the first times any controversy had ever arisen was when we told them the group was called The Beatles and they said, 'err creepy crawly things,' and so that’s what the tweet was about. It was a way to introduce the new album and get people talking.”
Job done, then! Within days, excitement at the prospect of the new album – a collection of classic American standards plus two new tracks – had reached fever pitch, culminating in an international press day in London. The event was streamed live on Paul’s website as he answered questions from fans who tuned in, desperate to know more about the mysteriously titled album.
Luckily, no one had to wait long as the much-anticipated album was finally released in early February. As a publicist who has worked on countless album releases, I certainly can’t remember ever seeing so much written about an album title alone before. Paul went on to appear on the cover of some of the most prestigious newspapers and magazines across the world including the UK’s Sunday Times Culture, Rolling Stone, Le Figaro, De Volkskrant, Australian Sunday Times and Yukan Fuji. With phenomenal reviews across the board, the album also did the business in the charts too. In the UK, Paul scored his highest album chart position in 15 years, landing in the Top Three as well as reaching the Top Five in charts all over the world.
As if that wasn’t enough, Paul spent the week of release in LA for a truly astonishing few days that saw him presented with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame as well as performing a special concert that was streamed globally on iTunes and being honoured as the MusiCares Person of the Year with the likes of Neil Young, Foo Fighters, Coldplay, James Taylor and Katy Perry paying (or in fact playing) tribute to him.
“That was incredible,” he says, “and that was really so moving for me hearing people play my songs back to me and honour me in this whole event by all of them coming together. They didn’t need to come, you know. But so many people showed up, it was really great and musically I loved it.”
Somehow, he even found time to win a Grammy and perform twice on the show too, all in the same week. Phew! The first performance was of ‘My Valentine’ along with Diana Krall, with Joe Walsh on guitar, then Paul closed the ceremony with an on stage jam featuring none other than Dave Grohl and Bruce Springsteen. It’s certainly not a performance I will be forgetting in a hurry.
By March, you might have expected Paul to be due a few weeks off – but he had other plans of course. Europe was waiting and he wasn’t about to disappoint, as the ‘On The Run’ tour kicked off again with dates in Zurich, Antwerp and Rotterdam, where Paul played his first show in Holland since 2009. The dates ended with a very special show in London, where Paul performed at the Royal Albert Hall in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust. A far more intimate setting than the arenas Paul had played earlier in the month, the show saw Paul deliver an unforgettable set list packed with classic hits before being joined on stage for ‘Get Back’ by Ronnie Wood, Paul Weller and Roger Daltrey.
After keeping such stellar company on a daily basis, you might think that nothing much phases Paul, but even he was impressed in April when he filmed the ‘My Valentine’ video at his house in LA with none other than Johnny Depp and Natalie Portman.
“It was great having them round,” Paul recounts. “Natalie came over with her husband and new baby, which was very lovely, very family. Johnny came over and he has a friend who makes guitars out of lots of things like cigar boxes and wine cases, and he brought over a wine case bass for me. He also sent over a little cigar box amp and guitar which is fantastic and so we had a jam. And I had to stop and say we better do this film!”
After filming, Paul did confess the prospect of a visit from Johnny Depp made even the McCartney family starstruck though, as he noticed everyone suddenly looked a lot smarter on the day he was due to visit.
“Then suddenly they are all laughing at me because I’m in a waistcoat and I’ve done it too – subconsciously made a real effort. Everyone, all smartly dressed for our special guest.”
Later that month, it was back to business for Paul as he headed to South America to many places he had never visited before. To overwhelming excitement in each new city, Paul played a total of nine shows in Uruguay, Paraguay, Colombia, Brazil and Mexico. I was utterly amazed at the hysteria that greeted Paul at every turn, from thousands of fans camping outside the hotel to helicopters trailing Paul’s every move and endless front pages everywhere we went. It was truly mind-blowing. And just when I thought I’d seen it all, Paul’s free show to over 350,000 people in Mexico City in early May gave me a glimpse of what Beatlemania must have been like. Everywhere I looked, there were people climbing on roofs, hanging out of windows and cramming into the streets, waiting for the gig of their lifetime. I have been lucky enough to see Paul perform countless times in all sorts of locations, but I have to say this show will always be one of my favourites.
Mind you, just the following month, I was privileged enough to stand at the side of the stage as Paul performed another unforgettable show, this time to close the epic Diamond Jubilee concert at Buckingham Palace in London. After everyone from Stevie Wonder to Gary Barlow popped by to say hi to our man, he finally took to the stage with over 17 million people watching in the UK alone. The show-stopping set included ‘Magical Mystery Tour’, ‘All My Loving’, ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ and ‘Live and Let Die’, which saw fireworks explode overhead as the audience waved flags and danced all the way down the Mall. Even for Paul himself – a man who has surely seen and done everything – it was a moment he would never forget.
“It was so special in many ways,” he explains. “You’re only going to be doing 15 minutes so that makes it different from all the other gigs you do and you’ve just got to concentrate all your energy into that 15 minutes and make it tell. The fact that we’re playing it for the Queen is very special. I don’t think I’ve actually played for the Queen since her last Jubilee – well, I know I haven’t - so that was special and seeing all the people stretching down Pall Mall was great, as was meeting members of the Royal Family afterwards. It was a great weekend to be British.”
Paul’s extraordinary summer was just getting started too. In July, I found myself just metres from the stage in the Olympic Stadium as Paul brought the incredible opening ceremony to a close with a spine-tingling version of ‘Hey Jude’. As thousands of voices sang the words back to him, I couldn’t quite believe my luck to be watching history in the making before my very eyes. I later found out that over 27 million people had been watching at home in the UK too while Paul’s performance earned him an impressive 35,000 extra Twitter followers. The event obviously gave Paul serious Olympic fever as well as he was later spotted at various events during the games, even leading the crowd in song at the Velodrome!
After all the excitement, Paul decided to give my poor overworked Blackberry a rest during August and finally treated himself to a holiday. Of course, he was never going to relax for long so with the Blackberry fully charged once more, I headed off to Paris in September to watch as Paul was honoured with the National Order of the Legion of Honour by President Francois Hollande. Established by Napoleon in 1802, the award is usually given to French nationals only and past British recipients have included the Queen.
The previous evening, a tanned and relaxed Paul, fresh from his summer break, played host as he dined with friends and family and even treated us to the first listen of his recording of ‘The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)’.
The following morning, I packed my office backpack (containing laptop, camera, dictaphone, spare phones, chargers, sharpies and copies of ‘KOTB’) and set off to the Palace – a normal day at work then! I feel I have to mention my backpack here as Paul’s right-hand man, John Hammel, is convinced I’m just carrying my sandwiches around!
The palace itself was incredible, teaming with over 300 years of history and buzzing with people – who an aide confided would not normally be working on a Saturday but somehow found an excuse to be in that day! Bang on midday, I could hear the excitement coming from outside the Palace walls and knew that our man was seconds away. Looking very dapper in a sharp suit, Paul was ushered into the ceremonial room and the presentation began. Speaking in French, the President made a genuinely heartfelt speech honouring Paul for his global contribution to the arts and humanity describing him as an "exceptional artist" who has touched the lives of "people of every age, every country and every culture". Paul reciprocated with a short speech in French saying it was an absolute honour to be accepting the award.
There was just time for a celebratory glass of champagne before Paul had to dash back to London where he was due to make a surprise appearance at the Africa Express show alongside Damon Albarn, drummer Tony Allen, Gruff Rhys, Bassekou Kouyate, John Paul Jones, Rokia Traoré, Terri Walker, Fatoumata Diawara, Martina Topley Bird, Shingai Shoniwa and Seye. It may have been a busy day but Paul confessed he’d “always wanted to do an Africa Express show.”
By the time October rolled around, it was time for Paul to have a little fun. The month kicked off with a special screening of The Beatles’ ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ film at London’s BFI to celebrate the restoration and DVD release of the film. One person who was thrilled to see Paul in attendance was Beady Eye’s Liam Gallagher, who waited patiently and politely to be photographed with Paul. We won’t tell anyone, Liam…
More recently just last month, Paul had to knuckle down to work again with the release of ‘Live Kisses’, a 13 song film that documents Paul’s live performance of much of his ‘Kisses On The Bottom’ album at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles. Though he might have looked relaxed, Paul confided the show was actually one of the most nerve-wracking days he can remember. “Doing this project was the most scared I have felt for years,” he confessed. “It is nothing that I know about. It was frightening. The very first day was the worst because I didn’t know anyone. I’ve been with a band, we’ve been together for ten years, and suddenly I’m the new boy.”
The pre-show jitters certainly didn’t get in the way of what turned out to be an unforgettable show, however, and the plaudits came rolling in when it was screened on ITV1. Scoring fantastic ratings, the show beat programmes on the Rolling Stones on BBC2 and Robbie Williams on Sky 1 and also saw Paul feature on the cover of Independent Radar Magazine while GQ Online did a three-day special on ‘Live Kisses’.
Things were just calming down in the press office afterwards when Paul released an exclusive iTunes album ‘Complete Kisses’, including the complete ‘Kisses On The Bottom' album, the entire ‘Live From Capitol Studios’ performance and four bonus tracks including ‘The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)’. We’ve been feeling suitably festive ever since we got our copy, even though Paul actually recorded the Christmas track on a balmy August day in New York.
There were to be a few more Christmas treats too. Firstly Paul headed back out on the road for more ‘On The Run’ dates in the US and Canada. The show picked up amazing reviews everywhere it went, particularly in Vancouver where Paul’s performance quite literally blew the roof off the venue with the Vancouver Sun reporting that the show’s pyrotechnics, “scorched several sound-dampening panels below the roof.”
But the biggest surprise was yet to come. Paul was all set to headline the 12/12/12 benefit show in New York to support victims of Hurricane Sandy in New York alongside some of music’s biggest names. As Paul explains, he only just missed the hurricane himself so was particularly keen to play the benefit: “I had just taken a holiday to the Bahamas. The day I was supposed to be leaving, they told me there was a storm blowing in. I’d just flown out of there and that evening the storm hit. I heard something like 28 people were killed. It was terrible. I just scraped out of that.”
On the morning of the 12th the UK’s Sun newspaper ran a front-page story hinting at an incredible collaboration. The music world went into overdrive. Paul McCartney with the surviving members of Nirvana, it claimed. This was massive! Could it be right? Absolutely it could. Little did the world know this was not exactly a new thing either – the band had met earlier this year for a jam and ended up recording an original song. “Dave asked me to come along for a jam with some mates. Dave suggested maybe doing something like ‘Long Tall Sally’ but I thought maybe we should just make something up.” Along with Dave, Paul found himself jamming with Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear. “They were saying how good it felt to be back together. I said, ‘Whoa? You guys haven’t played together for all that time?' Someone whispered to me, ‘That’s Nirvana’, I couldn’t believe it.” The group recorded the track ‘Cut Me Some Slack’ which got its first outing at the 12/12/12 show – making headlines across the planet and getting music fans very excited in the process.
Paul’s 12/12/12 performance brought the incredible show to an end. He played a career-spanning set list, which opened with the rocker ‘Helter Skelter’, aptly setting the tone for the evening.
Just days later the band reformed again to perform on Saturday Night Live. The Mail Online reported, "The Beatle legend rejoined the '90s icons for a second jam on Saturday’s Saturday Night Live and was on better form than ever as he helmed the fledgling band’s performance of ‘Cut Me Some Slack’, a delicious marriage of McCartney melody and Nirvana’s hard, driven rock. Strumming on his cigar box guitar in simple jeans and grey shirt – Macca raised the roof at the New York studios as Dave Grohl worked himself into a sweat with his merciless beat."
Saturday Night Live also saw Paul perform ‘My Valentine’ accompanied by Joe Walsh as well as a bit of Christmas fun as he became part of a singing duo with Martin Short auditioning for a holiday pageant – before performing ‘Wonderful Christmastime’, backed by a children’s choir.
Following the incredible week in New York, Paul’s thoughts will turn to the New Year as he has some really exciting projects coming up that we can’t wait to reveal soon. He has already started working in the studio with Paul Epworth, Mark Ronson and Kings of Leon producer Ethan Johns and we know he’s desperate to get back in and record even more new material after Christmas. Ethan has already promised the songs sound like “classic Paul” and are “very different to the last album.” We’re counting the days until we can hear it and already suspecting that next year may prove to be even bigger than 2012. It seems impossible after everything we’ve seen and done this year, but Paul surprises us every time. We’ll keep you posted of course but until then, have a great Christmas and a fantastic New Year from all at Macca HQ…
Photos by MJ Kim and Stuart Bell.
Let us know your favourite moments of 2012 in the comments below...