For Whom The Bell Tells: 2015 Touring - Part One

For Whom The Bell Tells: 2015 Touring - Part One

PART ONE

For Whom The Bell Tells… 2015 Touring 

As we reach the halfway point of 2015, it seemed a good time to get my tour diaries in order and share with you some of the fantastic experiences we’ve had alongside Paul this year. Paul has already spent a serious amount of the year on radio playlists across the world with his friends Rihanna and Kanye; travelled thousands of miles; played live to more than half a million people; visited places he has never been before; hit the front pages of papers all over the world, received five-star reviews for his sold-out shows; been branded an “international treasure” by the South Korean media; trended in many of the places he has played; had a breed of tulip named in his honour; and, phew, the list goes on. What’s more, he marked the 50th birthday of his song Yesterday which remains not only one of the most-played songs on radio but is one of the most-covered tracks of all time. 

It’s only now, as I look through his diary so far this year, that I can get some perspective to appreciate how much he’s managed to pack in to such a short space of time. His achievements for the past few months alone could be the career highlights for your average rock star - but ‘average’ is not a description you could apply to our boss! 

So, I’ve tried my best to keep this succinct and stick to the many highlights - otherwise we’d all be here for a few days! To make this easier to read the diaries will be posted in separate parts in the coming weeks. Here is Part 1: 'Out There' in Asia 2015.

'OUT THERE' - Asian dates - April/May 2015 

•    OSAKA, JAPAN (April 20, 2015)

It’s 5am (yes, a bleary-eyed 5am - we have early starts in the music business too) and we’re on our way to Osaka Airport in the pouring rain. I’m with the media team, MJ and Charlie, heading to meet Paul who is due to land shortly after 7am. As we arrive, it’s clear the rain has done nothing to deter the fans or the Japanese press from showing up in full force, even at such an unearthly hour. Very impressive, and it says so much about their devotion – you could feel the contagious excitement in the arrival area. Some of the beaming faces in the crowd have become familiar to us too, as we’re now on our third trip in as many years. Many of the fans are holding signs – some of them looking very cool - and are keen to show off their handiwork to us. 

TV cameras and photographers wait in a polite and orderly fashion that still feels slightly surprising, even though this is a repeat visit (of course, no one will be quite as calm in the hours that follow, of course). Now we are not the only ones putting in long hours – we take the lead from our boss. Just the evening before, Paul was in Cleveland, Ohio, to take part in the induction of Ringo Starr into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame before jumping on the plane to Japan. Right on time, Mark Hamilton (our security guy) tells us Paul has landed. This message has apparently been passed to the waiting media too, prompting a flurry of activity - photographers start to focus on the arrival doors, reporters busily chat to camera in anticipation of him passing though.

It’s all a bit overwhelming for some of his fans, who are in tears as they realise they will soon be in Paul’s presence. And then, it happens. The arrival doors open and – BOOM - Macca is back! Like the onstage pyrotechnics during a performance of 'Live And Let Die', the fans erupt and the press go into overdrive. It says a lot about the politeness of Japan that despite the tumult, the photographers respectfully call out “Sir” as they try to attract PM’s attention. Now, I've been to lots of media calls with Paul over the years and I can barely remember an occasion where the snappers address him so formally. Cries of “oi, Macca” or “over ‘ere mate” usually fill the air. Paul happily poses and charms them by greeting everyone - photographers, reporters and fans - in Japanese, which escalates the mania even further.

Paul proceeds through the heaving hall, shaking hands all the way. Each step he takes towards the fans is met by a surge forwards from the masses, but he takes it all in his stride, clearly moved by the astounding reception. At one stage he is handed a ukulele by a small child who wants him to sign it and Paul obligingly and happily does so. Eventually, he makes it to a lift, which whisks him clear of the arrivals area and the polite pandemonium. "Oh boy," he says, as the lift doors close. "This is a nice way to come to work."

Paul jumps into a car and is finally on his way to the hotel. What an entrance and what a welcome – one that will set the tone for the huge adventure awaiting us.

Twelve hours later, Paul is arriving at the mega baseball stadium, Osaka Dome, for rehearsals, but before he gets down to business there is time for a chat with the editor of British Esquire magazine, Alex Bilmes, who is with us on the road for a few days to work on McCartney cover story (due to hit newsstands in July). Paul’s shows are always evolving and there have been a few tweaks and changes that he and the band need to look at, so everyone gets their heads down to ensure everything sounds pristine. 

We also take delivery of the local evening papers, which have gone to town on our man’s arrival. There is much excitement about how Paul took the trouble to address the crowd in Japanese. It appears many Western visitors make little to no effort with the language. If Paul can manage, then maybe everybody should. It’s been a fabulous start but the real work begins for Paul tomorrow with the first concert.

•    OSAKA (April 21, 2015) 

On his way to The Dome, Paul calls a local radio station telling the DJ he’s “happy and excited to be back”. The presenter explains she cannot believe she is talking to a music God. Paul tells the station he has had the toughest massage he has ever experienced, that morning at the hotel, as well as praising his fans whom he said have always been the highlight of his previous shows in Japan. As for the show itself, it might be best for the Japanese reviewers do the talking to give you a flavour of how his opening night went:

"Wassup Osaka, I'm back!" Paul returns with 37 songs (SANKEI SPORTS)
Thrilling his fans with a punchy greeting in Japanese, Paul set the tone for the performance with a strong performance of 'Magical Mystery Tour'. Dedicating 'My Valentine' to his wife Nancy and 'Maybe I'm Amazed' to his late wife Linda, he also nodded to former band mates John and George with performances of 'Here Today' and 'Something'. Announcing in Japanese the world premiere of 'Hope for the Future', he also brought the entire audience together in a performance of 'Hey Jude' by directing their singing in Japanese. The giant LED screens also featured live translations of his English words…

Paul in fine voice with "Wassup Osaka, I'm back!" (SPORTS NIPPON)
After the cancellation of last year's tour, 40,000 fans gave Paul a rapturous welcome last night at the Osaka Dome. Starting with a powerful performance of 'Magical Mystery Tour', he greeted the crowd in Japanese before running through some 37 songs from The Beatles period and the new album - including a premiere performance of 'Hope For The Future'. The powerful two-and-a-half-our set was done without him drinking a drop of water - and this after a 50-minute soundcheck…

“I’m Back”; The voice we'd been waiting to hear (SANKEI SHIMBUN)
Paul McCartney thrilled 40,000 fans with a fine performance last night in Osaka where he started his new tour. Greeting his fans in Japanese, he ran through numbers from The Beatles’ catalogue and the new album, putting to rest the worries of fans who missed seeing him last year. 

As you can tell from that small selection, Paul was back alright!  

•    TOKYO DOME, first show (April 23, 2015)

Yesterday we shuttled between cities – from Osaka to Tokyo - on the bullet train, jet lag and the results of a late night post-show beginning to creep up on us. Nevertheless everyone is in great spirits and Paul in particular is excited to be on the high-speed train. He tells me, “It’s a great way to see Japan and some of the country’s culture. It’s really very interesting and different to the trains we go on at home and in the US." 

Today, we are joined at The Dome by the Morning Bird Breakfast TV crew who are spending the day with us. It is the biggest morning show in Japan and the team are doing a special report on Paul’s triumphant return. They are being given a behind-the-scenes tour backstage, chatting to Paul and seeing how an event of this huge scale comes together.

The presenter’s interpreter tells me he is very nervous. Despite the programme being so successful, the host has never interviewed anyone quite like Paul before. I do my best to reassure him and explain Paul is a cool interviewee, but I get the feeling it is doing little to allay his anxiety. The stakes are high because other networks were desperately clamouring for this interview and he is feeling the pressure. As soon as Paul arrives though, I can see the presenter visibly relax as our interviewee chats happily and excitedly about being back in Japan. There is a funny moment where the TV presenter says he cannot believe he is standing next to the real Paul McCartney. Paul grabs his hand assuring him he is real and urges him to touch his face to prove it.

Interview over, we then follow Paul to his dressing room where he has agreed a Q&A for Japanese social networking site LINE. Forget Twitter and Instagram, over here it is all about LINE and Paul’s stats are crazy. He’s even launched his very own set of stickers (think along the lines of emojis) which feature him speaking Japanese. Paul loves them and before the session gets underway he is having loads of fun using them to answer any questions that we have for him, even before the fans take part. As his media duties wind up, we leave Paul to get ready for the first night in Tokyo. Again, the show is a roaring success. Our friends at Morning Bird go on to dedicate a full 45 minutes of their programme to Paul and the tour. My PR man on the ground, Masa, assures me this is unprecedented - which is exactly the sort of thing we like to hear! 

•    TOKYO DOME, second show (April 25, 2015)

On a beautiful warm and breezy Saturday afternoon, the streets around The Tokyo Dome are lined with enthusiastic fans. Some in costumes of their favourite Paul moment over the years, many in Beatles or Wings t-shirts and they are all there to try to catch a glimpse of Paul arriving. They are not disappointed either. As Paul's car hits the road running up to the venue he winds the window down to wave at the crowds, creating an unforgettable moment for everyone present. Just after 4.15pm, the car pulls up outside the backstage set-down point and Paul jumps out. "Hey, did you the see the crowds out there?" he asks. "The fans here are so cool". With that, he runs down the corridors to the stage to do his soundcheck.  

A little later I grab Paul to do an interview with the Japanese Animal Rights Centre about their recent launch of a Meat Free Monday in Japan. Needless to say they are delighted - and grateful - that Paul is lending his support to help raise their profile.

When the show comes around, it seems like the crowds just keep getting louder. The audience is well up for it and Paul more than lives up to the legend.
 

•    TOKYO DOME, third show (April 27, 2015)

It is our last day at the Dome (yesterday was a day off) although the Japanese promoter tells us he could have carried on filling the venue for weeks to come, such is the demand. This story from a local tabloid newspaper caught my eye, and gives you an idea of how big a deal the shows are:

Dentist arrested for scalping Police arrested two men last night on suspicion of selling on a ticket for the Paul McCartney show at Tokyo Dome, priced at ¥18,000, for¥80,000. A dentist from Hyogo Prefecture and a senior member of a crime syndicate from Tokyo were detained on suspicion of infringing the anti-touting legislation by conspiring to sell the ticket in a men's toilet adjacent to the venue. 

Needless to say the show goes brilliantly and I get the feeling none of us want to leave Tokyo. And indeed, although we have finished that run of shows, we are staying in the city for the next performance, merely moving on to a different venue – although this isn’t just ANY venue.

•    BUDOKAN, Tokyo (April 28, 2015)

Today is one of those days that will stay with me, and the rest of the crew, for our entire lives. There have been so many highlights over the years to pick from, but today easily ranks as one of the best. We'll be talking about this until we are drawing our last breaths. Paul McCartney is back at the Budokan, to make history yet again. To set the scene, Paul and The Beatles became the first pop act to play this martial arts venue back in 1966, a performance which, it is fair to say, ruffled a few feathers of those who did not think rock and roll was quite the thing to have in such a venerated spot. Anticipation for his return has heightened even more because Paul had to postpone his return (which had been due to take place last year) because he was poorly. But now it is all systems go. The significance of this show in Japan is huge, and in fact, its importance goes well beyond these shores to make headlines around the world.

Britain’s biggest newspaper The Sun will say of the show: “His return to The Budokan was not so much a concert as a pseudo religious experience. It felt like Beatlemania had returned.”  There is a buzz in the air all day around this particular location all day. Fans lining the streets from the early hours, along with the media. Even those that couldn’t get tickets turn up en masse with the hope of simply finding a great position to hear the concert outside the venue. 

Production inside is stripped back. A show that is normally produced for huge outdoor audiences is, for one-night-only, squeezed into a venue that for most artists would be a pretty big concert, but by PM standards it is the equivalent of a club gig, with little over a quarter of the capacity of our home for the previous three nights. The set-list is trimmed back from 39 songs to 28. Mind you, that’s quite an improvement on The Beatles’ original performance, which stretched to just 11 songs. The atmosphere is electric and everybody feels that something special is happening. As a surprise Paul adds the song 'Another Girl' from the Help! album to the set – the first time a Beatle has ever performed the track live, which makes news in its own right. 

Before Paul takes to the stage, I ask him about his thoughts from the first time he came here. He says: “It was very interesting because we didn’t know what to expect. We’d come from the west and didn’t really know anything about the Japanese culture. We were very surprised with things like, you’d go into a room and there’d be women sitting there and they’d jump up and give us their chair. And we never saw that in the west - you know, women don’t do that. But the main thing was the show and it was a great show. It was very interesting to see the Japanese audiences, because then they were very polite. You know, Japanese society is a very polite society and we loved that. It was very interesting to see it. You know, they loved what we did but they waited. They waited until we had finished the song then they clapped very politely. It’s changed over the years, because now people are much more used to western shows and they like to rock out a bit more. But I think we enjoyed it, I think the audience enjoyed it just as much. It was very exciting. Great memories." 

Well, I wasn’t there on that visit in 1966 but as a witness to Paul’s 2015 show I can confirm this time round the audience did not wait until the end of the songs to show their appreciation. They were up for it - so much so, it felt like the venue was shaking with the crowd reaction. And frankly, we were all shaking with the gushing press reaction afterwards. Here’s a taste:

Paul back at the Budokan after 49 years (SANKEI SPORTS)  
Paul McCartney "got back" to the Budokan last night with a special show that included a world premiere performance of an early Beatles number. He appeared moved by a wild response reminiscent of his first appearance there with The Beatles in 1966, telling the audience in Japanese that it "brought back memories”. Paul McCartney returned last night to the hallowed ground with the same Hofner bass he played 49 years ago. Greeting the crowd in Japanese with "Welcome to the Budokan', his two-hour show was a legendary concert that included songs from the original set in a venue which he transformed from a martial arts temple to a shrine to rock. 

It's good to be back, Budokan (NIKKEI SHIMBUN)
Paul McCartney delighted some 10,000 fans last night in a concert at the Budokan, played some 49 years after he originally stood there on stage with the late John Lennon in 1966. The set featured several classic Beatles numbers which were greeted with rapturous cheers that shook the ground at the end of each song. 

Paul revives the mania and creates a new legend (SPORTS NIPPON)
Half a century on, Paul McCartney got back to the Budokan last night, yeah, yeah, yeah! Returning to a place he had made into hallowed ground, the start of his concert was delayed by an hour and a half due to the volume of fans all round the building, but McCartney told the audience in Japanese that it was "good to be back" as he thrilled them with 28 numbers in fine voice. The Beatles were the first ever rock band to play in the Budokan when they came here in 1966, creating a sensation with many kids playing truant to go to see them. Paul was due to play here last year but had to cancel due to illness but he made up for it in style last night with a legendary concert that delighted his fans, both of those that remembered him from before, and those that were not even born at the time. 

•    Travel Day - (April 30, 2015) 

We (the crew) leave Tokyo to head to Seoul in South Korea, but Paul is spending another night in Tokyo and will travel tomorrow for a rehearsal ahead of the stadium show on Saturday. As I land in Seoul my phone rings and it’s John Hammel, Paul’s right hand man. John tells me a brilliant story about how he and Paul had just been for a bike ride in Tokyo. They had managed to ride from the hotel up to the Budokan, completely unnoticed. Not only that, they left their bikes outside and sneaked into the venue as the production crew were preparing for another show that evening. John took a picture of Paul hanging out inside the venue (which you can see on Paul’s Instagram). Needless to say the Japanese press went into overdrive when they saw Paul’s photo online.

•    SEOUL OLYMPIC STADIUM - (May 2, 2015) 

This is a first time visit to South Korea for Paul, but it is a trip he has been discussing and thinking about for years. Once again, the huge crowds at the airport demonstrate the excitement surrounding his arrival. It's a little less orderly than the scenes greeting him a couple of weeks ago in Osaka, mainly because this is his debut on Korean soil.

Some fans have been waiting most of their lives for this moment so you can imagine the sort of buzz being generated. They cannot quite believe it when they see Paul coming through the airport doors. As he steps through, the place is in uproar. Fans are screaming, shouting, singing, jumping up and down and doing anything they can to get a glimpse of their idol. That tell-tale electronic click of cameras chirrups in all directions. It is a completely mad arrival for what will be a mad concert. 

There is extra significance with this show for Paul’s tour photographer MJ Kim, who is originally from South Korea. He is over the moon, but also nervous in the days leading up to the show because he wants to ensure Paul receives a brilliant welcome here. MJ has been explaining to us for ages just how important this visit is and now we are seeing first hand what sort of impact his arrival is having.

One of the many stand-out memories of the evening is the rain. Wow, does it rain! It buckets down but clearly nothing is going to dampen the spirits at this show. As Paul says from the stage: “What if it rained? We didn’t care.” And they really don’t care - they just want to party. 

During the Asian leg of the tour, MJ shot a series of Polaroid’s to feature on UK music website The Line Of Best Fit. You can check out the cool results HERE

Over to the reviews to round off our visit to Asia: 

Long live Sir Paul! (KOREAN TIMES) 
“Let me have what he had!” I was thinking to myself as I watched the show. For three hours it was like having the best non-stop music playing on the best jukebox - only better. 

McCartney leads 45,000 in a huge sing-a-long in an evening that made us feel like we watched the show of a god ” (JOONGANG DAILY) 
It was a very special performance that will leave a permanent mark on the history of live music in Korea. The emotional evening was full of singing, dancing, shouting, praise and admiration. It was as if he was giving us gift after gift as he presented song after song from his repertoire. The most successful artist in history also gave a master class in fan service. Totally different from any other international artist we’ve had here in the past Paul obviously took time to learn about our culture, tastes and even our language. His comments made us laugh and smile whilst his music touched our hearts. 

A day in the life… ” (DONGAH WEEKLY)
We’ve had many legendary visitors here before and often the hype and speculation turns out to be wrong. However, no one ever gave such an incredible and emotional performance like Paul McCartney did. I can’t recall a performer I’ve seen that had so much passion and energy on stage. Paul gave us a day we’ll never forget. The opening section of the show was like receiving continuous jabs from an expert boxer. Not only does he have the songs, but he spoke in Korean as well as having translations on the massive screens which is a first for us – it really demonstrates how much he cares. Many went home after the show on cloud nine and we know many had a hard time sleeping that night with their hearts still pounding, not wanting the experience to stop. We witnessed the greatest artist of all time. We saw the history of popular music, the present and the future all in one night. 

And with that we are off to the UK leg of the tour and I will be sharing the next installment with you shortly.

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