For Whom The Bell Tells: Japan 2018 #FreshenUpTour
Freshen Up Tour– Japan, Autumn 2018
Monday 29th October – Tokyo, Japan
Japan has long had a special place in Paul’s heart and each new trip feels like visiting an old friend, while still never leaving the excitement and other-worldliness that any first-time visitor experiences. The sights, the sounds, the atmosphere, the warmth and the respect never fail to make an impression – to me and more importantly Paul. We can say, with an element of justification, that it feels like we have never been away, because it is a mere 18 months since the last series of dates over here. Yet somehow it feels like the excitement levels are ramped up even higher (and believe me, that 2017 visit was hard to beat). Paul’s fans have a level of devotion it is hard to quantify and they are astonishing all over the world. But the reception that greets us at Haneda Airport as we touch down today really takes some beating.
The local team had warned us in advance that the airport authorities had some concerns about the sheer volume of fans who were likely to turn up (in terms of both numbers AND decibels) at the airport. Their worries are, of course, well-founded. More people have come out to see him than ever before! The screaming, the tears, the joy … everything – it is all here on display.
As Paul and Nancy walk through the doors which bring them into the arrivals area resplendent in traditional Japanese Happi coats (within hours The Sun will run a rather sharp headline saying “Kimono-wear man” to accompany their pics – get it?!?), it’s a reaction which will long be etched into my memory. Instant mania. But for a man who has prompted frenzied scenes for much of his life, Paul is not taking any of this for granted and continues to be excited by the reaction. He is just as excited himself and, if anything, he seems to spend more time than usual pressing the flesh with the overjoyed fans.
With my PR hat on it is a job well done. Back in my hotel room a few hours later channel-hopping through the evening news programmes, I find Paul is everywhere.
Tuesday 30th October
Anyone familiar with these blogs will know that Paul’s hectic schedules on tour involve quite a commitment to media duties. Today Paul is speaking to the cool Japanese cultural site Cinra.net with a wide-ranging chat taking in not only Paul’s latest album Egypt Station but the new edition of The Beatles’ “White Album” 50 years after its initial release, ageing, family and the diminishing of compassion in the world as some countries lurch to the right (the “pendulum” will swing back again though, Paul believes, as people once again embrace liberal values).
Paul completes this media duty after a couple of hours’ rehearsal in the massive Tokyo Dome which seems even more colossal when empty. It reminds me of Paul’s tour rehearsals in 2004 in London’s huge Millennium Dome (before the O2 and various entertainment attractions were built into it). Personally, I’m very excited to hear the Egypt Station tracks taking form live. 'I Don’t Know' is in the process of being worked out on stage (and in coming weeks will become a soundcheck regular).
It’s always funny watching these rehearsals as, wherever we are in the world, the professional venue staff and security teams are clearly fighting every urge to pull out their cell phones to capture a memory. Often you see them forgetting their duties as they start singing along, becoming completely lost in the moment. And I have to admit, we all do it.
Wednesday 31st October – Tokyo Dome
The first show is upon us. The long road leading to the Dome is lined with fans and they appear to stretch for miles! Their outfits and the signs they are holding represent every stage of Paul’s career. From mop top haircuts to Sgt Pepper outfits, from Wings-style sequin jackets to Newman the Robot (from his 'Appreciate' video) …. some fans have made denim jackets to match the jackets Paul has started wearing on this tour with Egypt Station logos. The devotion and adoration is incredible and as Paul’s car rolls by this afternoon, the faithful are rewarded as Paul winds down the window and waves. He is so touched, and awed, by the reception that he even shoots some footage as he rolls past the fans. (Later in the week I receive a text from Paul while I am out for a run and it contains the clip. It looks mega so I ask if I can post to his social media – shortly afterwards I receive a smile face. A little-known fact about Paul – he is the master of emojis when text messaging! You can check out the footage on his Instagram account).
And so to the show. As a special moment for the Japanese audience – before the band launch into 'Come On To Me' – Paul and the guys perform the “Ichiban” section from 'Back In Brazil'… and the crowd go wild!
Thursday 1st November – Tokyo Dome
It barely needs mentioning that music is a huge and central part of Paul’s life but he has never been detached from the wider world. Like many musicians, matters of the heart are a preoccupation in his song-writing but Paul has continued to express his thoughts on life, the world in general and the causes close to his heart through his songs, interviews and other interventions. You can look back to the controversy surrounding his debut single with Wings, 'Give Ireland Back To The Irish' (a response to the “Bloody Sunday” killings only a few weeks earlier in 1972), as an example of how he does not shy away from wearing his heart on his sleeve. Paul is passionate about many things and his humanity is self-evident. For a man who lost a soulmate and song-writing partner, you can imagine how the horrors of gun violence are an issue close to his heart. Just days ago the world was sickened by the mass shooting in a synagogue in Pittsburgh and so Paul has been keen to make his views known by not only showing his disgust at the attack which left 11 dead but also calling on the US to do the right thing by using their votes in the upcoming election to elect politicians who will do something about it. As I’m on my way to the venue Paul calls me and asks us to release a message in response to the terrible events. He gives me a quote over the phone and in a rather surreal moment as we chat, I find myself looking out of the car window to see giant posters of Paul across the city with huge welcome messages for him.
Saturday 3rd November
As I leave the hotel this evening to grab a quick dinner I bump into Paul and Nancy in the hotel corridor. They both look very elegant and are heading out for a meal themselves. They ask me what I’ve been up to today and we discuss shopping for our children, as well as talking animatedly about what a great place Tokyo is.
Sunday 4th November
I have a day to catch up on emails, with the excitement and anticipation of an evening event ahead. Paul and Nancy have very kindly invited us out on a river cruise on a traditional Yakatabune boat. It’s rather a drizzly evening, but the crew are in very high spirits as we board the small cruise vessel. It’s a lot of fun and a wonderful way to see the city. Paul asks his official tour photographer MJ Kim to get us all together for a crew photo on the boat – a special moment captured for us all.
Paul has lived almost his entire adult life as one of the most recognisable people on the planet and yet he still loves to do some of the things we all take for granted unhindered. It could be a stroll in the park or a tube ride to a venue. Today he has taken a bike ride in the city and he tells us that while he was gliding along, he spotted a guy playing 'Come On To Me' on an acoustic guitar, which he then proceeded to film. Imagine if that guy jamming in the park realised what was going on. Unreal! (I guess he might know now!)
Monday 5th November - Ryogoku Kokugikan, Tokyo
“Half an hour out,” announces security guy Brian Riddle at 4:18pm at the Ryogoku Kokugikan venue. He’s just had the call that Paul has left the hotel. The already industrious team, many of whom were here to load in the equipment at 1am this morning, all seem to move up a gear as they run their final checks and preparations.
The historic Ryogoku Kokugikan is a much-loved sporting venue which would probably be the Japanese equivalent of something like playing at Lords Cricket Ground in London’s St John’s Wood. The show will be even more intimate than Paul’s concert at The Budokan on his last trip. This hallowed venue will embrace 7,500 of his fans for a very special event. Gone are the massive screens (they simply can’t fit in here!) so the focus is all on the incredible performance. Tonight it’s a loud rock show made up of 31 songs.
Paul’s learnt some new phrases and moves for this show. It’s no secret that Paul is a fan of Sumo wrestling. When we came in 2013, he took us along to watch some which proved to be a fun afternoon out. And before that, in 1993 he went to watch the wrestling too. Indeed he actually put up some prize money for an iconic bout between wrestlers Harumafuji and Tochiozan.
Tonight as he heads on stage Paul, with the characteristic sumo gesture of a wrestler taking his prize money,declares: “Got-san dess!” This delights the audience gathered inside a venue which is more usually associated with the ancient heavyweight sport.
Before the encore there are more Sumo phrases too as he tells the crowd: “Dos koi, dos koi.” Again, this thrills the fans who seem to be making just as much as noise as the 40,000 people who were in the Dome just a few nights before (the following morning the media call Paul “the champ of rock”).
Following the show there’s a party back at the hotel where Paul enjoys a well-earned Margarita, made to his own special recipe, along with a delicious veggie burger. After nourishment and refreshment it is time to let loose. Paul and Nancy get up to dance and encourage the team to join them on what becomes a spontaneous makeshift dancefloor. Photographer MJ does a mean Gangnam Style dance (he is from South Korea like the song’s creator Psy) but Paul easily matches it, much to the delight of the party. I’m sure, one day, a video will surface.
Wednesday 7th November
When travelling, they say that getting there is half the fun. As you can imagine, covering huge distances on tour, that is not always strictly true. But today we have one of those truly awesome travel experiences – we are heading, with Paul, from Tokyo to Nagoya on the Shinkansen “bullet train”, slicing through the beautiful Japanese countryside at up to 320km per hour. It is mindblowing to travel at such speeds – particularly when you are more used to the interminable drudgery of commuting in London.
As the train arrives in Nagoya station, we see a huge screen on a building opposite playing the music video for 'Fuh You'. Paul films this on his iPhone, while security are urging him to disembark the train as it doesn’t hang about and he doesn’t want to find himself being carted off to the next destination! Paul jumps off just in time, much to the security team’s relief. As ever on this trip, he is greeted with the passion and excitement you’d expect for a first visit to the city.
Thursday 8th November – Nagoya Dome
The final show is upon us, rounding off another brilliant run. Following an electrifying performance, the audience in the stands organised themselves with signs to spell out the message “Japan Loves Paul”, while those on the floor of the venue formed the image of a Japanese flag. Paul is clearly buzzing from the experience tonight and the cumulative effect of his time in Japan. He’s clearly taken aback by the fans’ reaction here again. It looked incredible! Afterwards, there are drinks back at the hotel and Paul is chatting happily with the team when he pulls out his phone to show some pictures he took in the park in Nagoya earlier in the day. Japan is a place that can offer Paul a chance to be anonymous (behind one of those little dust masks which so many people wear over here) so once again he has been able to cycle around with little fuss. Just Imagine if the people around him knew he was whizzing by.
Anyway, it’s 1am and Paul decides it is time to call it a day – after all, he’s flying back to the UK in just a few hours.
Next up, Europe!