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For Whom The Bell Tells: Latin America 2017
For Whom The Bell Tells – October 2017
'ONE ON ONE' - SOUTH AMERICA
Following Paul’s takeover of New York in September, our next destination is Brazil. This will be Paul’s first trip since he rounded off 2014 with two massive shows at Sao Paulo’s Allianz Parque Stadium as part of his 'Out There' tour - described at the time by Folha de Sao Paulo simply as “the best musical show in the world”.
Brazil has always been an incredibly special place for Paul. In 1990, Paul set the World Record for the ‘largest concert audience’ ever. In excess of 184,000 people packed into Rio’s Maracana Stadium – and that’s just the people that paid for tickets!
“That show was immense,” Paul recalls ahead of this trip. “I have such a special memory. I remember being very excited and in the run up to the show it just rained all the time. At a press conference before the show someone asked what I would do if it kept raining and I said ‘the rain will stop’. My team looked at me and said, ‘are you kidding?’ Then an hour before the show, it did actually stop raining, and I remember the team bowing to me as if I had some special secret pact with a higher entity! The biggest memory though, that remains for me was the incredible audience."
Since that historic concert, Paul has played a total of 20 shows across Brazil until this latest arrival, each one embedding a memory for the hundreds of thousands who attended that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. And the man himself also collects those memories from each of his visits. Often when asked about where he likes to play around the world, he singles out Brazilian audiences for praise due to their warmth and boundless enthusiasm over the years.
Paul tells me ahead of this trip: “The truth is, that whenever we go to South America, our expectation is special because of the incredible experiences we’ve had there. We know we’re going to have a lot of fun."
With my privileged Paul-side view over the years I’ve seen some of these incredible experiences – the Macca-mania in Brazil just gets more exciting. We’ve seen some epic scenes in recent years. Mobbed airports, fans setting up makeshift villages around the stadiums waiting for the doors to open, hysteria at the hotels, streets lined with fans, helicopters following Paul’s movements – simply put, it’s MEGA.
There have been the unforgettable moments which have been seen around the globe too - who could forget the grasshopper stage invasion in the city of Goiânia in 2013? It was at that show the world was introduced to what briefly became the most famous grasshopper in the world, Harold, and putting Goiania on the world stage as footage of Paul being covered in critters spread virally. Anyway, on with the tour:
Porto Alegre, Brazil – Thursday, October 12
As the 32 huge trucks of equipment roll into Porto Alegre, this jaunt marks the first visit of the ongoing 'One On One' tour to Brazil, having already entertained almost two million people over the course of 65 shows in 13 different countries.
And so, seven years since he last rocked out in Porto Alegre – which is towards the southernmost part of Brazil – on his 'Up And Coming' Tour, Paul’s return is met with high levels of anticipation, expectation … and precipitation. Just as in 1990 he is met with almost Biblical downpours of rain.
It’s 6:44pm and it’s been raining for days. Along with the band and crew my office today is a back stage room at the Estádio Beira-Rio, the stadium where tomorrow night’s show will take place and normally the home stadium of Sport Club Internacional. My radio crackles and I hear from one of the security team the announcement that Paul’s plane has touched down and he’s making his way straight to the stadium for rehearsals. And the good news is … at last, it’s stopped raining. It’s almost as though the weather is marking his arrival. It seems the special pact is still in place! At 7:23pm Paul’s car pulls into the venue. Dressed in a smart navy blue blazer, with a yellow daffodil fixed to the lapel, and looking more like a man who has just stepped out of a spa than someone who has emerged from a 12-hour flight, Paul says his friendly hellos to the team.
Just two minutes later Paul is on stage, Les Paul in hand, and jamming with the band. And just five minutes after that, the jam session is accompanied by astonishing sound effects, in the form of a thunder storm with torrential rain. The guys play through it for a minute, but it quickly becomes clear it’s not safe and they have to down tools.
A 45-minute pause and the bad weather passes allowing the band to return, kicking off their rehearsal properly with a superb rendition of 'Drive My Car' which sets the tone for the session that follows.
Porto Alegre, Brazil (show night) – Friday, October 13
See you tonight Porto Alegre #OneOnOne Estamos aqui, de volta ao Brasil e em Porto Alegre. Acabamos de ensaiar e estamos prontos para o show. Pegamos um pouco de trovão e chuva, bem bem assustadores, trovões e raios. Mas não nos importamos porque vamos tocar e estamos aqui para vocês. Venham para o show, venham nos ver no Brasil. Estamos felizes de estar aqui, Brasil!” #PaulMcCartney
Life on the road can be physically demanding. Paul puts his heart and soul into his shows and he needs to keep in the best of shape so on tour he tends to go to the gym for around an hour in the morning. As you can imagine, hotel guests are often a bit freaked out to find themselves on a treadmill next to him or catching sight of him in the gym doing headstands! On show days he will usually head to the venue after a late lunch and go straight to the stage for soundcheck. I’ve talked about these before but they tend to be very comprehensive; almost a gig in themselves. When it is over he will stay on stage with the band and, in a huddle, they will go over the setlist for that evening’s show. Then it is back to the dressing room for any key meetings with the team, if needed, before always taking an hour’s language lesson. Even with several shows in the same country, like these four shows in Brazil, he will spend an hour in each location brushing up the basics and familiarising himself with local expressions and phrases to share with the audience.
After his lesson, Paul dresses and readies himself for the show, then he might meet local dignitaries, officials and VIPs – wherever the tour goes, we get hundreds of meet-and-greet requests. Then it is off to catch up with the band, warming up with an acoustic version of a track to get the vocals and harmonies in prime condition. They walk to the stage together, and in some of these mega stadiums, that can be a good five to ten minutes.
Friday the 13th may be considered unlucky by some, but it certainly isn’t for Paul and his Brazilian fans. Everyone laps it up. “Not even the rain could disrupt the historical musical celebration led by the former Beatle on Friday night,” proclaims the front page of Zero Hora newspaper following Paul’s first concert in Brazil in three years.
It continues: “From the opening chord that introduced the concert from A Hard Day’s Night to the final euphoric finale of 'The End', Paul owned the stadium, travelling through time presenting the past and the future of popular music – of which he is one on the main and most creative builders.”
With the Brazilian leg up and running now there was more good news following the concert – Paul had set a new attendance record. He’d taken this honour from some other musician who also happened to be called Paul McCartney - set in 2010!
Sao Paulo, Brazil (show two) – Sunday October 15
"Seeing the ex-Beatle live is an un-missable experience that every music fan needs to enjoy” Rolling Stone Brazil
Paul christened the gigantic Allianz Parque stadium in 2014 when the 'Out There' tour rolled through town. As a tribute to this, the stadium staff have built a special area they’ve called “McCartney’s Cavern” in the dressing room area which was a very cool surprise for Paul and the team for their return visit. The door to McCartney’s Cavern has a plaque which reads: “Allianz Parque is honoured to have opened its doors for the first time in 2014 by Sir Paul McCartney. Allianz Parque is eternally grateful for the unforgettable moments. Thank you Sir Paul.”
The mutual love between Paul and the city of Sao Paulo is evident. One of the most magical moments of the night that stands out as a special memory is the way the stadium lights up with the glare of cell phone screens during 'Let It Be'.
A couple of notable audience members at this show are Noel Gallagher and Bono who watched like awestruck schoolboys from the side of stage, as spellbound as the rest of us in the stadium. As they were in the same place at the same time, Bono called Paul to see if he could come along to the show. Following the gig, Paul hosts drinks at the hotel with Bono and Noel raising a glass and hanging on his every word. Quite surreal.
Belo Horizonte, Brazil (show three) – Tuesday, October 17
Anyone familiar with Paul’s work rate in the days of The Beatles will know he is no slouch. Back then it was an endless whirl of touring, interviews, radio and TV sessions and somehow between all that they recorded some of the greatest and most important albums and singles of all time. All these years later, Paul is just as careful to use his time productively. Just hours after his Sao Paulo show, he heads into a recording studio in the city to work on new music, possibly inspired by this trip.
And then it is on to Belo Horizonte, around 360 miles north east. Paul is here to play the Mineirão Stadium for the second time in his career. The football stadium – which first opened in 1965, just a month before The Beatles began recording Rubber Soul – has, since Paul’s first show here, gone on to host artists such as Beyonce, Pearl Jam and Sir Elton John. Before the show Paul sets himself up in his dressing room as ever which I always think of as his oasis of calm. All the crazy preparations are going on outside but Paul always seems so chilled. To create the right atmosphere there are scented candles, lots of flowers, comfy sofas and a huge TV where Paul watches basketball games and the long-running US game show Family Feud, while bowls of mixed nuts are laid out for snacks and Paul keeps himself hydrated with water.
Backstage, on this trip, as we walk from dressing room to stage, I have been showing Paul the entries to competitions which we have been running during the tour dates and he has been checking the clips on my iPhone. These are once-in-a-lifetime prizes – the chance to actually meet Paul – for fans in each city who produce the best short videos showing why it should be them and the overall response has been amazing. They have worked so hard to create something special. Working alongside the tour’s largest media partners we have been arranging for 10 winners to say hi to Paul after the soundcheck and have their photo taken. He loves what they have done and some of them have been reposted on his own social media account.
Tonight’s show is again epic. During 'Hey Jude', the audience releases multi-coloured balloons into the air with "Na, Na, Na, Na" printed on them. It makes for quite a sight as red, blue, yellow and black fills the air above the crowd, floating upwards during the song’s famous refrain.
Under the headline “The magical Kingdom of Paul McCartney”, the state’s respected newspaper declares: “For the second time in his consecrated career the pop star lord danced on the stage, spoke Portuguese with the audience and said goodbye promising to come back soon.”
Salvador, Brazil (show four) – Friday, October 20
Soundcheck at the Itaipava Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador
“The day that a Beatle sang in Bahia: Paul McCartney ends his tour in Salvador with a magical sold-out concert for 53,000 people – the British icon performed a historic show”- G1
Paul is receiving a lot of praise from Brazilian media on this trip, not just for the shows but for the fact that he takes time to visit parts of the country that don’t regularly get huge artists let alone one of the biggest icons ever! This is never more obvious than his time in Salvador, the capital of the state of Bahia. Without doubt, this is the biggest concert the city has hosted and the excitement is tangible from the moment we arrived.
Poignantly, in Salvador Paul was presented with a special award for the achievement of selling over 1.5 million concert tickets since his first show here in 1990. He has sold more tickets in Brazil than any other artist ever! He’s broken world records, attendance records and box office records along the way too - worth mentioning that he set the highest ever attendance record too here in Salvador. Congratulations Paul! What an achievement - all is the space of 24 shows.
There were some memorable scenes in our hotel the night before the concert. The fans took over the lobby armed with acoustic guitars and commandeering the hotel piano. Somehow word had got out where we were staying and the flashmob of hundreds celebrated their hero being in town by performing classics by their idol. I’d like to give a special shout out to fans Victor, Rafael, Gabriel, Daniel and Joāo who kindly passed on some footage to our crew.
And for the show itself…many of the fans still on the morning of the show could not believe it was actually going to happen. Fans had been securing their place in the line from the day before, braving the incessant rain that fell throughout the night. “The rain even threatened to take away the brightness of Paul McCartney’s time in Salvador. But, nothing was capable of doing that. Nothing could discourage the passion of the fans.” reported Correio newspaper the day after the show.
Once again, during the show, we saw the epic scenes of fans lighting up the stadium with their cellphones - an incredible sight to behold. Paul had promised a party to Brazil on this trip… and man did he deliver on this!
Paul has a post-show routine which we all love and tonight is no different in the beautiful city of Salvador (which was Brazil’s first capital and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site). As he comes off stage, he runs to the tour bus and his team – including me, the tour director, the accountant, the sound and light team, ticketing team, travel team and many more of us line up to cheer him on to the coach. And so, at the Itaipava Arena Fonte Nova we do just that and he gives us all a high-five before jumping on board to be given a police escort from the venue.
Mexico City, Mexico (show five) – Saturday, October 28
Paul at Estadio Azteca, Mexico City
“Paul McCartney: Mexican Fiesta! The Beatle gifted a night of memories at a sold-out Azteca Stadium where he showcased his entire musical journey” - El Sol Del Mexico
"‘Fuerza Mexico!’ With his fist held high in the air, the ex-Beatle expressed the phrase that has represented the spirit of Mexico following the earthquake in September. With this gesture and his huge songs the audience were treated to a show that spanned four decades. Some of the audience were dressed for rain, some for sun, some in Sgt. Pepper costumes and as they all waited anxiously the one thing they knew was that Paul McCartney is a guarantee of musical magic… and so it was.” - Excelsior
Now I’m aware much of this blog has focused on the special relationship Paul has with Brazil, but I can assure you that Mexico occupies the same space in his heart. Given all the hardship the people of Mexico City have faced in recent times they were in need of some healing.
This is another country that has hosted some incredible moments for Paul, perhaps none more so memorable than his free show in Zocalo Square, the location which notably featured in the Day Of The Dead celebrations in the opening scenes to the 2015 Bond film Spectre. More than 400,000 are estimated to have seen Paul’s show there in 2012 and Paul has been eagerly looking forward to his return visit.
Speaking to a Mexican radio station, Paul declares: "It is a great pleasure to be here again. We really love you. Yes, we love Mexico. We love the Mexican people. We know the people love music. It's a great combination.”
Tonight’s show is at the gigantic Estadio Azteca, home of the Mexican national football team and famously the venue for the “hand of God” goal by Argentina’s Diego Maradona during the 1986 World Cup Finals, controversially putting England out at the quarter final stage. Tonight of course it is the hands of a rock god which are drawing all the attention as Paul opens up with 'A Hard Day’s Night' and winds down, 38 songs later with 'The End'.
The previous evening Paul shared his sadness at hearing of the death of one of his idols Fats Domino by playing 'Ain’t That A Shame' during rehearsals with his band, and saying “bless you Fats” to the empty stadium. It was a very touching moment to witness. Back at the hotel that night we had a Mexican buffet dinner with Paul retelling stories of his love for Fats as we relaxed with a margarita or two (to Paul’s own special recipe).
Talking of the hotel, I never cease to be impressed by how polite Paul is to hotel staff wherever he goes. There is always a “please” and “thank you”, he always chats with them happily and there are never any airs and graces. It is palpably daunting for the staff sometimes, coming into contact with a superstar, but he always puts them at ease.
So there we have it. Another memorable leg of the 'One On One' tour complete. A quarter of a million people managed to see Paul in the space of just five shows, and there will be many more to come! Next up Australia and New Zealand!