For Whom The Bell Tells: Freshen Up Tour– Canada 2018
Freshen Up Tour– Canada, Autumn 2018
Sunday, September 16 - Quebec, Canada
This is a special day. The weather here is beautiful and the mood in Quebec City matches that of Team Macca – bright and bristling with excitement. Fans crowd the cobbled streets around our hotel and in honour of Paul’s visit there is a showing of the Beatles movie A Hard Day’s Night in the main square.
After announcing his new album Egypt Station back in June, Paul embarked on a promotional journey including special stops at London’s Abbey Road Studios (the site of so many special musical moments), New York’s Grand Central Station, as well as a return to Liverpool for visits to LIPA, The Cavern and a guided tour of his home town for James Corden and millions of TV viewers. And now, today, the album has officially landed at Number One in the Billboard Album charts (not to mention the various other international number one slots the album has scored). As you can imagine, on the eve of a new tour this pushed the mood in the camp sky high.
“I love it. It’s beautiful”, says Paul as he reflects on his present location. He’s talking to Radio CHOI in Quebec City about his impressions of Quebec just as the curtain is about to rise on his Freshen Up tour. Paul’s first trip here was 10 years ago to celebrate the city’s 400th anniversary, drawing an audience of hundreds of thousands and creating a spectacle which is still a discussion point in the city today. “Such a great audience, it was a great occasion in the park; a really lovely day. I just love the history here. Such a beautiful city with a great feel,” Paul recalls as he chats on the phone, passing through the historic capital of Canada’s second most populated province en route to the final day of rehearsals before the tour begins.
Paul arrives at Centre Vidéotron, which is home to the Quebec Ramparts ice hockey team, just after 1.30pm. Looking relaxed in a blue blazer, blue jeans and a crisp, white shirt, Paul says hi to the crew and heads to his office – the stage! – before a quick jam with the band which is the launchpad for a blistering high-tempo version of Got To Get You Into My Life which sounds huge thanks to the embellishment of a new brass section, the Hot City Horns trio (or as Paul would have it, “the horny boys”). Next there is Letting Go followed by the fierce recent single Come On To Me, which sounds perfectly at home alongside long-established Macca gems.
And then we are into another treat. A perk of my job, and probably one for the nerds, is to see Paul take out his 1964 Rickenbacker 4001S bass guitar – the same one which, although not quite as famous as his familiar Hofner, graced so many of The Beatles recordings, as well as tracks by Wings and those from his early solo years. And with that, the band rock into a heavy version of Jet. It’s a thrill! At the end, Paul is mucking around with the guitar settings and sounds before suggesting: “Let’s just hold the A chord in Jet for a minute.” A moment later he jokes: “Let’s just actually do the entire show in the chord of A.” Then true to his word, the band follow him performing off-the-cuff versions of A Hard Day’s Night and My Valentine – all using A Major!
Paul then heads to the lighting and sound desk at the back of the arena so he can check out some of the new visuals that are going to be used throughout the show – a show, of course, that Paul will never get to see as he is tied up with other things. One of the images features a Ford model which Paul had actually owned during the 1960s, and he recalls: “The police use to stop me in it. They didn’t think I could own a car like that!”
After reviewing the pre-show visuals which will fill the massive screens throughout the tour, Paul returns to the stage to end his activities by jamming once again with the band. Sometimes it is mind-boggling to think about how many thousands of hours Paul has spent simply making free-form music with the rest of his band. Those priceless, never-to-be-repeated moments, possible germs of ideas which have come and gone in seconds.
At the end of rehearsal, we (the crew), assemble suspiciously on stage and Paul can clearly sense something is up. Mark Spring (Paul’s production manager) hands him a special commemorative display the crew have made for the boss to congratulate him on the epic news about topping the chart with Egypt Station. As a team we could not be more proud of Paul and everyone is beaming. What a great way to start a new tour.
And this seems like as good a moment as any to rewind a little and take a short Egypt Station-themed detour …
“Paul McCartney returns to Number One after 36 years with Egypt Station,” the headlines read. Incredibly this is the first time Paul has ever debuted at Number One with an album. Yet another career first, which is something of an achievement 56 years after making your recording debut. Universally praised by critics, and more importantly the fans, the team knew something special was on the cards when we first started to hear the first fruits of Paul’s labours throughout the year as the album began to take shape.
Astonishingly, it’s been five years between the release of Egypt Station and NEW, his previous solo album from 2013. So what else has happened in that time? It’s simply staggering looking back. In the space of five years, Paul has completed two major world tours, performing more than 170 shows to in excess of five million people across numerous countries. He’s won countless awards, to the extent that on just one night in 2014 he won FIVE Grammys. Many acts might see simply achieving one Grammy as a career high! Later that year he played the final show at Candlestick Park (which had extra resonance as it was also the venue for the Beatles last ever gig), and he trod new ground by composing a track for the blockbuster video game Destiny. So he must have been due a rest in in 2015, surely? Not at all. He started that year with global smash hit single FourFiveSeconds, after teaming up with Kanye West and Rihanna, then Paul generated headlines around the globe when he returned to play at The Budokan in Japan some 49 years since The Beatles first groundbreaking visit. Perhaps 2016 might leave some time to get back into the studio to work on a new album? Of course not, although he did have some recording commitments; this time to compose the world’s first audio emojis for Skype! A career retrospective Pure McCartney was released and to celebrate, the Official Charts Company in the UK named Paul as the most successful UK album act of all time. Then there was the launch of the Ron Howard film Eight Days A Week and the year was topped off with headlining slots at the Desert Trip festival. In 2017, Paul completed a cameo role in Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tells No Tales and enjoyed a number one album once again with the reissue of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. In the Queen’s Birthday Honours list that year, it was announced Paul was to be made a Companion of Honour. In Brazil he was awarded a special accolade for selling more than 1.5 million concert tickets – more than any other artist had ever sold in the country – and the year closed with Paul’s first tour of Australia and New Zealand for 24 years (which led to Paul being awarded one of Australia’s incredibly prestigious Helpmann Awards, for the best international tour of the year).
It was at the end of 2017 that Paul started talking to the team about his plans for a new album and it seemed like 2018 would be the year for him to finish it and get it out there. I was hearing encouraging updates from Paul’s manager, Scott, (“the new stuff is f***ing excellent,”he raved in one phone call) and then Barrie, Paul’s tour director, heard some stuff in the studio in LA. “Simply amazing”, Barrie said, buzzing about it. “It just sounds so energetic”. Like many people around the world, I couldn’t wait to hear it.
By early March of this year, the media started getting excited. It was already out there that Paul was working with Greg Kurstin, but then OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder posted a shot of himself with Paul in the studio, which started much feverish excitement and speculation about the shape and direction of the new material.
Within weeks, Scott told us the working title was Egypt Station, although it was not completely locked down, and the album had really taken shape – so much so that the problem was going to be actually getting to a final tracklisting because everything was so strong.
In May, Paul called a creative meeting at his office in London to outline his thoughts on what the album meant and explain that he wanted to have fun with this campaign. As beautiful sunlight illuminated the office, he told us he wanted to make an impact and create real moments. Paul’s excitement and energy is always infectious and after the meeting the team were buzzing.
On the very same day I received a secure link to listen to the album. I couldn’t wait to get home, put my children to bed, dig out my best headphones, pour a glass of wine and luxuriate in the new sounds. The thing is, speaking as both a fan and a publicist, before you dive in, the expectation is impossibly high. I mean this is PAUL McCARTNEY!!! And the last run of albums has set the bar at an incredible level. Chaos and Creation… Memory Almost Full… NEW– all huge releases, which were not only brilliant but sold well too. In many ways, listening to this album for the first time reminded me of seeing the stage musical Hamilton– everyone said it was amazing so you went in thinking, “I know it will be good, but it can’t be quite as amazing as everyone says”– yet I was blown away. The depth, the variation of it. It also felt like there were signposts, fragment and references directing you to various parts of Paul’s past, while maintaining the frenetic energy you expect and remaining forward looking. Paul had spoken to us about a “journey”and I could really sense it from that first listen. It was something which was picked up by reviewers too. One declared it: “A tour through the imagination of one of our greatest artists... a celebration of all the things that make McCartney great: hope, exuberance, open mindedness and sweet melody. These days, we need all of these more than ever.” Who could disagree?
A couple of weeks later in early June there is a second meeting at Paul’s office to go over the artwork and design. Paul told us he’d been out to dinner the night before with Ed Ruscha at the River Cafe and shown him one of the logo ideas – Paul had hand drawn in on a napkin! Ed was into the idea too, which was of course very cool! The hand-drawn image was the first image to be posted on Paul’s Instagram after the Instagram blackout ahead of the album announcement.
And with that, the Egypt Stationride was about to begin. All aboard to Liverpool, our first destination….
Now with the benefit of hindsight, seeing the reaction to the incredibleCarpool Karaokeslot Paul filmed with James Corden, it looks like a no-brainer. Pairing our favourite music legend with someone as hilarious, engaging and enthusiastic as James has to be a stroke of genius. Well, it wasn’t quite so straightforward. Paul was not actually convinced that it would work or that the level of preparation was possible in the time available – or even worth it. Would he measure up to past guests? In his words: “I looked at what was going to be involved – I would need to rehearse with the band for a week because we hadn't been playing, and then there was going to be a day in Liverpool, and a day in London. I just suddenly thought, ‘Oh, it's all too much’.” Paul was actually on the verge of pulling out until James wrote a heartfelt email and then things began to click into place although he was still apprehensive. “Yeah, I just had doubts about it. So right up until the moment we got in the car, I was a bit moany. But anyway, the minute I got in, it became fun and really just got better and better and better and better.”
Paul filming in Liverpool with James Corden – 9thJune
You probably already know what happened, but it was funny, touching and illuminating as Paul revisited his childhood stomping grounds and some of the places which inspired him – his early home, the barber shop in Penny Lane which featured in the song of the same name – plus a truly jaw-dropping surprise pub gig. When the programme was screened on TV and online just 12 days later on June 21 (and a day after the first new songs I Don’t Knowand Come On To Mewere revealed), the reaction was incredible. It became the most watched Late Night clip on Facebook ever recorded with well over 100 million views, so Paul knew he had done the right thing. As he says: “I’m very glad I did it. I’ve had the most random people sending me texts and messages, or stopping me in the street. Everywhere I go, someone says, ‘Oh, by the way, I liked your Carpool’. It feels like everyone in the world has seen it.”
Prior to the actual broadcast, Paul had a few other important commitments. The promotional duties for the album release were getting into full swing and he had a succession of visitors to his studio in Sussex over a two-day period. They included a cover interview for Mojomagazine, Sunday Times Culture, a GQ cover story, an appearance for the CBS show 60 Minutes and chats with Radio X, BBC Radio 6 Music and the website DIY (the first interview from this campaign to appear).
Paul in Sussex in his studio with Radio X, DIY and 6 Music.
There was another burst of excitement at the end of July as things began to reach fever pitch around the album release. To kick things off, there was a Spotify Session at Abbey Road Studios in north London and what other way could there be for Paul to arrive than marching over that famous crossing outside? Guests included Kylie Minogue, Orlando Bloom, Amy Schumer, Stormzy and Johnny Depp for a startling performance in Studio 2, where so much musical joy has been created over the years. Two days later, on July 25, Paul was at LIPA, the performing arts school he established in Liverpool, for an hour-long Facebook Live chat with musician and broadcaster Jarvis Cocker in front of an audience of students. The conversation covered a huge range of topics and its finale was not only the revelation that Paul would be performing a secret show in the city the following day, but after the livestream ended Paul performed an Unplugged-style set for those gathered in the room, including his first ever solo performance (incredibly) of From Me To You. Of course, dropping a bombshell like a secret show is going to set the rumour-mill running and there was a bit of McCartney-mania on the streets of Liverpool as everyone tried to guess where it would be. Some fans had camped overnight outside The Cavern in the hope that this might be the location and the following morning they discovered they had guessed correctly. So it was back to the basement venue where The Beatles had honed their craft in the early 1960s. Paul even turned up for his soundcheck by driving himself. It was a hell of a warm-up for the tour proper, with Paul whizzing through 27 songs in a set lasting more than two hours, plus nostalgic tales of the early days with “the boys”.
And that brings us back to the tour itself!
Monday, September 16 - Centre Vidéotron,Quebec
At last, it is the first night of the Freshen Up shows in a three year-old indoor sports venue primarily used for ice hockey. You can take it as read that the temperature is turned up tonight as the 17,000-strong crowd is barely able to contain its excitement. To truly sum up the evening there is often no better way than to hand it over to the reporters and reviewers who cover these shows. Here is what the Journal De Quebec says of the show: “The legend did not disappoint and the night was magical. …The irresistible McCartney, 76, launched his Freshen Up World Tour on a triumphant note by offering, as usual, a marathon concert consisting of all the great successes of his impressive repertoire. Almost 40 songs, all recognisable from the first chords. The British star remains an inexhaustible beast on stage, even if on the most demanding songs the voice quivers a little, he has the ability to put the crowd in his pocket with a simple wave of the hand. Generous and beautifully supported as always by a band at the top of their game, he gave multiple nods to his glorious past with a backdrop of archival footage showing him, on giant screens, in his youth with the Beatles. It is unimaginable that this guy is a septuagenarian.”
Thursday, September 20 – Centre Bell, Montreal
“Bon retour au Centre Bell!” read massive signs across the city. The atmosphere around the venue is electric as the sold-out audience starts to arrive in the afternoon. Seven years since his last visit but you would think far longer given the almost tangible levels of anticipation.
The terrible traffic in the city (there is building going on everywhere) holds up Paul’s arrival for soundcheck. When his car pulls in just after 5:30pm Paul heads to stage for soundcheck. After soundcheck he’s taking a language lesson and cramming it all it as team members run in and out of his dressing room asking questions and delivering last minute updates. Mind boggling really as within hours he’ll be rocking out in front of almost 20,000 people!
The following morning the Montreal Gazette report: “HEARTS GO BOOM FOR PAUL McCARTNEY AT THE BELL CENTRE. McCartney crammed an amazing 39 songs into a highly energetic, beautifully staged display of positive energy.”
Wednesday, September 26 – Bell MTS Place, Winnipeg
Paul, along with his friends John, George and Ringo, caused mass hysteria in Winnipeg 1964 when, en route to LA their plane touched down to refuel at Winnipeg International Airport. The guys used that moment to hold an impromptu press conference at the foot of the steps to their Boeing 707. Thousands of screaming and weeping fans had descended on the airport to try to catch a glimpse of their idols in the flesh. Those fans who were unable to fit on to the observation deck clambered on to the airport roof, much to the annoyance of the authorities. Once the plane had refuelled and was airborne, the still ecstatic and rather hyperactive fans stormed on to the runway to kiss the ground where The Beatles had set foot! It took the police hours to restore order.
This is a moment the city hasn’t forgotten and Paul’s return is another major event in Winnipeg’s history. The city even made a ‘welcome’ video, featuring the most notable homegrown cultural figureheads from the world of sports, politics and entertainment for his arrival.
Sunday, September 30 – Rogers Place, Edmonton
We are at the last of the four Canadian shows, a fortnight after we landed in the country. It has been an amazing reception throughout our time here as we edged our way west, skipping from Quebec City to Montreal and then Winnipeg until we reach our final stop at Canada’s oil capital, Edmonton, Alberta. Rogers Place is another new sports venue and construction work had not even begun the last time Paul did a series of Canadian shows.
For today’s show day, Mayor of the City Don Iveson declares it ‘Paul McCartney Day’ in Edmonton. His proclamation reads:
Whereas, Paul McCartney is one of the most prolific recording artists, songwriters and composers of all time;
And whereas, he is recognised worldwide for his extensive catalogue of music ranging, from The Beatles and Wings to numerous works as a composer of classical and electronic music to his current solo pursuits;
And whereas, Paul McCartney has spent over 60 years entertaining, sharing his passion for music with the world and championing meaningful charities;
And whereas, his music centres on positive themes of love, peace and understanding, serving to inspire and bring together generations of music fans;
Therefore I, Mayor Don Iveson, do hereby proclaim September 30, 2018 ‘Paul McCartney Day’ in Edmonton, Alberta’s Capital City.
Dated this day 30thSeptember 2018
For the final word it is over to the reviewers to give the lowdown on this hoedown. Edmonton’s entertainment website Gigcity sums it up like this: “The trouble with setting the bar so high is that you might never get over yourself again. This is now known as the ‘Paul McCartney Rule’. The British Rock God’s epic and self-worshipping marathon of a rock concert at Rogers Place on Sunday night was Beatle-esque nostalgia lovefest of the highest order – from one of the greatest rock artists and songwriters of the 20th Century. We were privileged.”
Of course it would be more accurate to add “… and of the 21stCentury” but we know what they mean. And after 39 songs (including seven tracks among the encores) it is all over, as is our time in Canada.
But the tour goes on – stay tuned for the next despatch from Japan!