For Whom The Bell Tells: 2016 Touring - Part Two
For Whom The Bell Tells… 2016 touring
May/June 2016 'One On One' in Europe
Düsseldorf - 27th May 2016
“Do I have a special connection with Germany? Yes,” Paul declares as he speaks to German reporters as we arrive for the first European date on the 'One On One' tour.
“I learned German when I was in school,” he continues, “and we came here with The Beatles when we were young kids and it was pretty good fun.”
As any fan will know, it was here the group honed their craft playing hour after hour during residencies in the clubs of Hamburg in the early days, developing an instinctive feel for each other’s playing and laying the groundwork for a lifetime of music. Well over half a century after those formative shows, Paul is still clearly having fun in a country which holds an important place in his heart. Judging by the scenes outside the Breidenbacher Hof Hotel on this sunny afternoon he continues to be held in high esteem by Germany. Yet even with all his regular visits over the years, this marks Paul’s first show in Düsseldorf since his time with Wings in the early 70s and the city is clearly excited.
Rewinding to a little earlier in the day, the media team and I had jumped into a van to head to the Esprit Arena ahead of Paul’s landing on German soil. There I meet with ZDF’s arts correspondent Claudio Armbruster, who is here to chat to Paul at rehearsals for a slot on the evening news. A call home to a German friend in London and I learn Claudio is a pretty big deal in the arts in Germany. He does look particularly familiar to me and yet I can’t quite put my finger on it.
Before we know it, time has marched on and it is 6.20pm. Paul is now with us for rehearsals and I hang out with Claudio to watch. He’s clearly enjoying himslef and not for the first time, I am reflecting on how lucky I am to have a job where I have the privilege of witnessing such awesome sights (I should point out it can be hard work sometimes too). Claudio feels exactly the same!
With rehearsals at an end, I take our guest on to the stage to meet Paul. “He looks like Steve Ithell,” Paul says to me. Steve is Paul’s digital manager at his London office and he does look remarkably like Claudio. So at least that explains my feeling of recognition! Anyway, to business… Claudio interviews Paul for ten minutes on the stage where tomorrow he will be playing to 27,000 people, discussing his return to Germany and the release of Pure McCartney. Chat complete, Paul dashes off to his hotel to get some rest ahead of the big day.
Düsseldorf – May 28
There’s a huge level of excitement on the streets of Düsseldorf for show day. There are trucks driving around town towing 'One On One' posters and the crowds outside the hotel have grown huge overnight. As I walk through the lobby I see our security team checking out all aspects of the scene and assessing the situation ahead of Paul’s departure to the arena. The huge mob which has assembled in the sunshine is not unlike Paul’s regular audience, a broad range of ages who are wearing an assortment of Beatles, Wings and solo Paul t-shirts, perhaps giving an indication of the parts of his career which appeal most to them. We discover there are fans who have travelled from as far as Japan and Australia to be here too.
I zoom over to the venue ahead of Paul’s actual departure so I miss the mania as he leaves the hotel, but when the boss arrives for soundcheck, the security guys inform me it was a particularly wild one and Charlie, the tour videographer, got some great footage...
The concert itself is, as ever, brilliant with Germany’s largest daily paper Die Welt calling the show “epic” in a report headlined: “Paul McCartney rocks Düsseldorf.” Much is also made in the press about Paul’s linguistic abilities. One article is titled, “Why does he speak German so well?”, and there are front page stories about the new wave of Macca-mania which has broken out in Düsseldorf.
Paul is off to a tremendous start in Europe, with one show down, ten more (including a charity engagement) to go.
Paris – 30th May
Paris is wet. It’s been raining here for something like a week straight (and indeed, shortly after we leave, we see the heartbreaking images of the floods which will go on to engulf the city). My day starts with great excitement to see Paul on the cover of Le Parisien newspaper - always a joy for a publicist, so long as it is for the right reasons, which this is, of course! In the days leading up to the show Paul has done an interview with the paper’s music writer Eric Bureau, and this is the result.
Tonight Paul is rocking out the newly refurbished Bercy (where Paul kicked off the European leg of his 2003 'Back In The World' tour, when it was known as the Palais Omnisports de Paris) and the crackling atmosphere is totally at odds with the disheartening dampness outside. It’s almost exactly a year to the day since Paul played a massive show at the 80,000-capacity Stade De France, and this performance has the feel of an intimate club gig in comparison, even though it is still to a sold-out audience of 20,000.
Paul’s shows are often emotional evenings, but this is even more so. In a reference to the attacks in the city last November, he explains: “I always love to come and play, but this time is really special.” He then begins 'Michelle' (“the only song I know in French”), with giant screens behind him showing majestic images of the city at its finest. The full house then sings 'La Marseillaise' – which The Beatles famously incorporated into 'All You Need Is Love' – to which Paul jokingly adds: “God Save The Queen!”
As midnight approaches, a pair of fans – Clemence and Nicolas – are invited on stage where Paul makes an unforgettable night even more so, with a marriage proposal as the crowd looks on. Both teary-eyed and overcome with the occasion, 20,000 people cheer them on. All you need is love indeed.
It all adds to the spectacle. Le Point will go on to report: “And the God of rock created Paul McCartney! One year after his show in the Stade De France, the ex-Beatle gave us the same historical repertoire, with an unflinching inner fire, that seriously makes us think that Sir McCartney, 74 in June 2016, is not a human. He's a superhuman because at his age he still wears slim jeans (that fit him well!) and performs a 2h 45m show without drinking water or stopping for a break (thanks to the vegetarian diet!)”
And so to our next stop, Spain.
Madrid – 2nd June
This show is Paul’s first return to Spain since the summer of 2004 and in contrast to Paris, only days ago, it’s not raining! The rain in Spain may fall mainly on the plain, but thankfully not while we are here.
“This is a national event”, a local PR guy says of Paul’s visit. Seeing the excitement all around, I can only agree. Although I might go a step further and declare this to be an international event because, as we will see, this show attracts global attention. In the build up to this visit, Paul has appeared on the cover of El Pais’s weekly supplement, as well as being the cover star of monthly music magazine Ruta 66, so the awareness levels are high. Paul’s tour photographer MJ and I go for a walk around the city to take in the atmosphere and you can sense the excitement. It is always an amazing feeling as we go on these tours to hit one city after another where the buzz is all around you – and it is even more incredible to know that you are part of something which means so much to so many.
Located in the heart of Madrid, tonight’s venue is the huge Vicente Calderón Stadium. It is home to Atletico Madrid FC who suffered their own heartache a few days earlier, losing on penalties in the UEFA Champion’s League Final to local rivals Real Madrid. Tonight though is a celebration and feels like a glorious victory to all those present helping to banish the blues for any Atletico fans in the crowd.
We see another marriage proposal towards the end of the show and this one goes global. “I’ll only say yes on stage in front of you, sir,” says a sign in the audience, which Paul reads out. How can he ignore that? Paul invites Ruben and Marina to share the stage, asking them: “Do you want to do it now live on stage?” Ruben gets down on one knee and does just that. A fitting roar of delight as Mariana agrees, then Paul signs their arms and gives them a huge hug. Another magic Macca moment – and two fans who simply can’t believe what is happening.
London - June 4
The world is waking up to the terribly sad news of the passing of the boxer, civil rights activist and it would be no stretch of the word to call him an icon, Muhammad Ali. I am being inundated with messages from around the world asking if Paul would like to share his thoughts or pay tribute to the great man. Just as I’m about to drop the boss a text, my phone rings and it’s Paul himself. He shares some incredibly heartfelt thoughts, personal memories and reflections as we chat about this hugely important global figure.
London - June 5
Back home in the UK for a few days between shows and to support the release of Pure McCartney, Paul appears on the cover of Event Magazine, which is published today.
Munich – June 10
And so we are back in Germany for a further date (sometimes we can zigzag all over the place during a tour). As so often happens during a series of shows, the big concern as the date draws near is the weather, because this was another massive outdoor concert. On that front (no pun intended), Europe is having no luck this summer. On the eve of the show last night, Paul called me when I was en route between airport and hotel. “How’s the weather?” he asks after saying how beautiful it is in the UK. I was reluctant to tell him how bad it was, with rain as far as the eye can see, so I pointed out that all the forecasts were predicting it would all clear up and become a beautiful day come the big event. Sure enough, almost 24 hours later when Paul arrives the sun has broken through and it’s a beautiful, warm summer day. “The first in weeks,” the local PR Stefan assures me. When Paul jumps from his car, I point out the sunshine and with his typical humour, he tells me: “Yeah, I towed it all the way from England!”
Paul showcases his admirable German skills once again, after opening with 'A Hard Day’s Night' and 'Save Us' by telling the crowd: “Es ist toll wieder hier zu sein nach so langer Zeit (It’s great to be back here after all this time)!"
Over to Munich’s local paper TZ, which sings Paul’s praises for the performance: “Paul honours us with his visit as he enthralls the Olympia Stadium. Three generations rejoice when ‘Macca’ enters the stage with his iconic bass, dressed in a blue coat, still with youthful vigour and with the charm of a little rascal. ‘Servus (hello) München!’ he shouts.”
Pink Pop Festival, Landgraaf, Netherlands – June 12
"Can a headliner be too big? So big that he attracts all of the attention for himself, so large that it makes up all of the expectations for the weekend? So great that he still hopes to live up to the impossible?” asks the Dutch newspaper Trouw ahead of today’s concert which is another first for Paul, his Netherlands festival debut. Pink Pop is the oldest music festival in this part of the world and great things were expected. As one paper puts it: “McCartney’s appearance came after days of tense anticipation. It was as if an alien was expected from outer space.”
Ahead of the show Lionel Richie, also on the bill, pops into Paul’s dressing room to say, ahem, Hello. There is tremendous warmth between the two of them as they embrace like old mates. Lionel turns to us in the room and says: “This guy (pointing to Paul), he’s THE songwriter’s writer’s writer’s writer!” Paul is clearly very touched by the compliment.
As for the show itself, there’s more of the wet stuff. Paul even jokingly wonders, “what if it rains …?” from the stage, before the deluge, but the spirits of festivalgoers are not dampened in any way. As Telegraaf reports: “Finally after 47 years the festival got Paul McCartney on stage and just as historic, was the song he chose to open with – A Hard Day’s Night. Immediately, the audience forgot about the heavy rain.”
Berlin – June 14
Once more to Germany for the third and final visit of these dates, this time in the beautiful forest setting of the Waldbühne, a Greek-style amphitheatre, commissioned for the 1936 Olympics which has hosted boxing matches and performances by stars as varied as Jimi Hendrix, Depeche Mode and the Berlin Philharmonic. Predictably, I must mention the weather. It has, of course, been raining heavily in the days leading up to this show, and today’s morning showers suggest it has all the makings of another drenching. But just as Paul arrives, the clouds disperse and all of a sudden, it’s a beautiful summer afternoon, which slides into a delightful evening.
The stage is thankfully not awash with rain, but it is awash with highlights, the most poignant moment coming when Paul takes the stage towards the end of the concert draped in a rainbow flag and tells the audience (in German): “We stand together with Orlando.” It is incredible to think that 80 years ago on this site very different messages, of intolerance and hate, were being delivered to the audience. Tonight it is all about peace, love and friendship.
This gesture of solidarity goes around the world on TV shows, in print and shared by millions on social media. Dan Wootton, the entertainment editor at The Sun newspaper, writes: “I didn’t think Beatles legend Paul McCartney could go any higher in my estimation, but he found a way when he paid tribute to the victims of the despicable terrorist attack.”
Following the show, PR man Stefan sends me an email which reads: “I cannot remember a tour that received so many fantastic reviews, full of enthusiasm, praise and the highest respect. It’s been a pleasure.”
Prague, Czech Republic – June 16
“Are you here for the Paul McCartney show,” a fellow British hotel guest asks me as I’m running out to grab an early morning coffee and scour the newsstands for pre-show coverage, which has become my tour routine. “Yes”, I reply. “Same here” , says the man whom I estimate to be around 40. I’m not entirely sure if it was the McCartney t-shirt or the Wings badge on his jacket that gave it away but I had kinda guessed he might be heading to the show! “I hear he might be staying at this hotel,” he continues. “Wow,” I say, knowing full well Paul is elsewhere. “Have you seen the show before?” he probes. “Erm, yeah a few times,” I say (underplaying the fact I’ve seen the show hundreds of times but I don’t want to brag or outshine his gig-going achievements). “Me too”, my new friend continues, “but I’ve not seen this tour yet. I’m so excited.” I make my excuses and continue on my mission for news and coffee.
So, on to show time. The 38-song set includes 'In Spite Of All The Danger', which as many will know, dates back to Paul's earliest musical incarnation in The Quarrymen alongside John Lennon and George Harrison which has been rolled out for many of the dates on this tour. It was first recorded on one acetate copy in 1958, but was mothballed for decades until being revived for Paul’s 2004 tour and is now back on the setlist once again. As if Paul needs to endear himself to the crowd any more, he does so by speaking to the crowd in Czech (is there any language he won't try? Whatever next, Norwegian?). As one paper puts it, "He has a sort of old school politeness and charm. You particularly engage with it as he speaks Czech", while another declares: "His concert is an unforgettable experience for not just fans of The Beatles and everything Paul has done since, but for fans of music."
Bergen, Norway – June 24
It is quite something to be exploring the picturesque, fairytale wonders of Bergen’s Bergenhus Fortress, and the moment is crowned by hearing the church bells chime the unmistakable melody of 'Yesterday'. From that point, I just know today is going to be a special one. We are experiencing a rich mix of venues and settings on this tour, but one thing that remains a constant is the incredible atmosphere everywhere the tour goes. Each city or town has its own unique way of marking the occasion, creating a party-like feeling for the influx of fans who have travelled from far and wide.
And yes, it’s raining again, although we are starting to notice what tour DJ Chris is coining, “the McCartney effect”. This is a new meteorological term to explain the way rain stops and clouds part when Paul steps on stage – but that only lasts until the moment he leaves. It’s quite incredible but we’ve seen this happen now in Munich, Berlin and at Pink Pop (it won’t be the last time on this run either).
Today as Paul arrives for his soundcheck, the crew are hiding at the side of the stage to ambush him with a birthday surprise – a heartfelt 'Happy Birthday' to the boss, as well as a presentation of a cake and a card. It was actually his birthday a week earlier, but this is the first time since the big day that the crew have assembled with him.
And don't just take my word for the McCartney effect. Here's what the newspaper Bergens Tidende says of the show: “As the chord of A Hard Day’s Night strikes, old memories return. Not only is the atmosphere magical after that first chord – it also stopped raining just five minutes before the band went on stage. They go on stage 25 minutes after the scheduled time but seeing as Paul McCartney is in Bergen, after half a century, those minutes hardly matter.”
Oh yes, and of course Paul did indeed have a go at speaking Norwegian.
Mulberry Inn, Chiddingford, Surrey – June 25
Just, WOW! This is an experience like no other. In the unlikely setting of a tipi in a Surrey pub garden, Paul is rocking out on a tiny stage to a tiny audience (which just happens to include Jake Bugg, Shania Twain, Sharleen Spiteri, Seasick Steve, Paul Heaton and Spice Girl Melanie C) raising in excess of £2 million for the BBC’s Children In Need charity. The event has been organised by broadcaster Chris Evans, the host of Europe’s biggest breakfast show on BBC Radio 2.
In a scaled-down 14-song belter of a set, there are all the usual emotions you experience in a McCartney show – complete with tears, laughter, dancing and singalongs – but with extra intensity. Chris and his wife hold each other in tears during 'Hey Jude', and he turns to me regularly in wonder throughout the show to mouth: “Is this actually happening?’
Ahead of the performance Chris tells the crowd about the surreal moment when Paul had called the day before to chat about the show. He said he was wandering around his garden on the phone, chatting away to Paul as though it was completely normal! Tonight is Chris’s tenth – and he says, final - charity event for CIN. After all, as he asks his audience, how can he ever top this? There is an impromptu after-show party in Paul’s dressing room. Everyone is on a massive high after such an experience.
Herning, Denmark – June 27
Herning has gone into Macca overdrive. To herald Paul’s arrival, makeshift stages have been assembled around the city hosting tribute acts such as ReCartney (self-styled as “Europe’s finest Paul McCartney & Beatles tribute show”), Beat The Meetles, Sgt Pepper and Ticket To Ride to name a few, all playing their own sets to warm up the visitors who are descending.
We are all still on a high from the dreamlike experience of Paul’s charity pub gig. But today it’s back to entertaining tens of thousands of people, rather than the hundred or so people who watched under canvas! Post-soundcheck, I chat to Paul about the tent experience and he tells me he was getting a bit nervous that Chris Evans had been winding the crowd up a bit too much before his appearance by playing songs like 'Uptown Funk'. I laugh and say he really had nothing to worry about! But I think it is amazing that a guy who has achieved so much, still feels like this. He never takes anything for granted. Let it be a lesson to us all in our professional lives.
Well, as is the norm for this tour, it’s raining again, but it doesn’t matter because the show is indoors tonight and as England’s football team are letting the nation down, losing to Iceland in a woeful performance, one British man at least is excelling in his field in Europe and giving everything, with another performance of a lifetime.
Rock Werchter, Belgium – 1st July
We’ve come to the last European 'One On One' show of this run and Paul’s second festival of the year. Tonight Paul is headlining the opening night of Belgium’s Rock Werchter.
It will barely come as any surprise if I tell you that as we arrive at around 5pm, it is raining once again. We were quite worried about the volume of the downpours because there is, in the words of Paul’s 2005 song, 'Too Much Rain'. One of the first familiar faces I see is Kaiser Chiefs’ Ricky Wilson who has just performed. He is hanging around the backstage area and asks if the big man is on site. He is a little disappointed when I explain Paul is due later because Ricky has to jet off somewhere else, so he wants me to pass on his regards. He had recently done an interview in which he was asked, “Who is the most famous person you’ve met?” the answer was of course “Paul!”.
Ricky went on to explain how hard it is to describe to people, just how good Paul is at putting you at ease instantly when you meet him. It’s always nerve-racking to meet a hero, but he knows the score and always tries to make the experience comfortable and normal (well, as normal as it can be!), although most people will be forgiven for finding it pretty surreal. I know I still have to pinch myself occasionally.
Around 6.30pm, about the same time that Paul’s plane is landing, you can probably guess what happens – the rain stops and out comes the sun. DJ Chris reminds us: “It’s the McCartney effect.” By this stage, we are keeping everything crossed that the rain will hold off although, frankly, the festival-goers are beyond caring about the weather. They are having the times of their lives regardless.
Half an hour later, Paul is with us and heads over to his dressing room. Ahead of his regular translation session, fellow performer Ellie Goulding pops by to say hi to Paul and asks to have a photo taken with him. She will later witness the entire set from the side of the stage, singing along as well as joining the crew in a line-up to give Paul a celebratory high-five as he heads off to jump on the tour bus.
Having to follow an act of Paul’s stature can be a pretty daunting task for some acts. As Belgian website De Redactie puts it: “All the bands performing the following days at Rock Werchter will have to do their very best because Sir Paul McCartney has played the best concert of the festival already. Fifteen minutes later than planned, the former Beatle started his set with A Hard Day's Night.”
Indeed, also watching from side of the stage is one of the boys from Disclosure who are to DJ after Paul’s set. “How on earth are we meant to follow that?” he wonders out loud.
Needless to say the show goes down well with everyone and the reviewers are gushing. De Morgen says: “Macca refrained from flexing his muscles and the sort of bellowing-power sound which the typical festival act goes for. No deafening volumes, no bouncing around the stage, no aggressive performance or ego trip, let alone false modesty.”
Het Laatste Nieuws reckons: “The biggest act at Werchter ever. Flanked by a 24-carat band, Paul McCartney gave the rained-out park a real live Beatle for the first time. ‘It’s Been a Hard Day’s Night …’ – nobody could summarise the day any better. Paul McCartney – who just turned 74 – proved that his repertoire remains invincible, even in miserable circumstances. He struck the first chord of 'A Hard Day’s Night' and Werchter broke out in collective goose pimples. Werchter will continue to reverberate from this living legend for a long time.”
And with that the European leg of the tour is over, but I’m sure you are all seeing the great coverage from the current US leg.