For Whom The Bell Tells: South America 2019 #FreshenUpTour
So here we are, back on the road again for the first shows of 2019. After a short break, everyone’s together again, still buzzing from the epic finale to the European leg of the tour at London’s O2 Arena in December. What a night that was - a show people are still talking about. Paul and the band were on fire, while the guest list read like a who’s who of popular culture: Rami Malek, Harry Styles, Emma Thompson, Simon Pegg, Chris Martin, Ronnie Wood and Ringo Starr, to name but a few. It was a phenomenal end to an equally phenomenal year.
In true Paul style, though, there’s no time to rest and reflect - onwards we march, with new heights to be scaled and new memories to create. Since it launched in September 2018, the Freshen Up tour has played 18 shows across nine countries. And now it’s time to conquer another continent. Next stop: South America.
Touring life is organised madness. It’s calculated chaos, especially in South America. Sixteen years into my McCartney touring experience, I’m still in awe of the machine. There are so many moving parts and constant challenges faced by everyone on the team. All the way from Paul, to every single department, each of us needs to be on the top of our game. And, after the short break, everyone slips right back into their role, and it’s clear the machine is in excellent condition.
Since the South American shows were announced at the end of 2018 requests have come in thick and fast. Requests from media, fans, city mayors and officials, local artists, governments, charities… The list is endless. Everyone has a story about how Paul is part of their life and how they need five minutes with him. If we were to grant every request that came in, Paul would never have time to perform or record, or do anything else for that matter. But Paul still likes to do as much as he can, so we know it’s going to be a busy couple of weeks.
Chile here we come...
Monday 18th March - Santiago, Chile
Five years, countless concerts and a Number One album since Paul last touched down in Chile, the excitement couldn’t be greater as he arrives in Santiago for what will be his fifth show in the city. In fact, it’s clear his visit is nothing short of a national event. Fans are everywhere and paparazzi stationed around the airport jostle to get shots of Paul waving from his car as he makes his way from the the airport - pictures that will make front page news the very next day.
Paul has always loved coming to Chile - back in February he told the country’s biggest newspaper La Tercera that he was looking forward to having a “party” with his “fantastic” Chilean following. And during rehearsals ahead of the tour he even recorded a special 'Magical Mystery Tour'-flavoured message for his fans there, which was shown on the national evening news just before his arrival. Check it out…
Tuesday 19th March - Estadio Nacional, Santiago, Chile
The show at the National Stadium is the first stadium concert of the tour, which brings new challenges for the band and crew alike. So Paul takes the opportunity to head to the venue the evening before the performance, for rehearsals and to take a look at the massive production in action. There’s a few setlist surprises planned for the South American leg of the tour, including the live debut of 'Back In Brazil', and ever the perfectionist, Paul wants to make sure everything is running like clockwork.
The open-air venue poses a particular and very modern problem: drones. During the rehearsal, eagle-eyed security spot several unauthorised drones flying above the stadium. These uninvited guests are lucky enough to witness Paul running through some songs from Egypt Station that are still to be performed on the tour.
Wednesday 20th March - Estadio Nacional, Santiago, Chile
At last, it’s the day of the first show and, after being escorted to the stadium by police, Paul arrives at 4.08pm ahead of an hour-long soundcheck. Once the gates have opened, 51,000 expectant fans stream eagerly into the venue, ready for what’s set to be another epic and career-spanning show.
With the excitement reaching fever pitch, Paul takes to the stage at 9.17pm, and hits the ground running with what Chilean newspaper La Tercera will later call an “impeccable” performance of 'A Hard Days Night'. It’s a blistering start, and over the next three hours, Paul wows the crowd not only with his performance and undeniable back-catalogue but also with his Spanish. He’d spent time earlier in the day perfecting what he would say to the crowd in their native language, making sure he had some specifically Chilean phrases ready to wow them with.
The show is a huge success, the songs from Egypt Station - 'Who Cares', 'Come On To Me', 'Back In Brazil' and 'Fuh You' - receive a rapturous reception, while the classics are greeted like old friends. Describing Paul as an “incombustible legend”, music website Humo Negro sums up the night perfectly, calling it a “wonderful party” filled with “immense moments to treasure in the memory”.
At just before midnight, nearly three hours after first hitting the stage, he departs to an ecstatic, rapturous reaction. But there’s little time to relax and, with the applause still ringing in his ears, Paul’s whisked to the airport, bound for Buenos Aires.
Saturday 23rd March - Polo Ground, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Argentina is of course renowned for soccer. As a Brit, I know what it feels like to regularly suffer at their hands, literally on one famous occasion, thanks to a certain Mr Maradona. But tonight, thankfully, the "Hand of God" will be holding a plectrum and a Hofner bass guitar.
Soccer’s not the only hugely popular sport in this beautiful country, of course. Polo is also an incredibly big deal, having arrived with the British settlers in the 1800s, and Argentina is now an international force to be reckoned with. Today Paul will be playing in the picturesque setting of the Buenos Aires Polo Ground. Nicknamed the Cathedral of Polo, it really is spectacular. Cricket fans will know what I mean when I say it reminds me a little of Lord’s Cricket Ground in north London. Just like Lord’s, it’s located in a residential area, overlooked by houses and blocks of flats. It really is the perfect venue.
It’s also the perfect weather for Paul’s first live date in Argentina since 2016 - very warm but not unpleasantly hot. Paul arrives at the Polo Ground at 3.30pm and it’s straight into soundcheck for an hour, leaving him with plenty of downtime before the show.
And what a show it is. Walking on stage at 9.11pm, Paul dusts off his Spanish once again, telling the 60,000 delighted fans, “Good vibes, Buenos Aires. I’m happy to be back!” He barely pauses for breath throughout the set, which is another perfect blend of old and new, plus a joyous chorus of 'Happy Birthday' for drummer Abe Laboriel in between 'Dance Tonight' and 'Love Me Do'. Then, after almost three hours and 39 songs, Paul once again finds himself on the way to a plane that’s waiting to bring him to Brazil.
As many of you will know, on this tour we ran a competition with local media partners to give ten fans the once-in-a-lifetime chance to attend soundcheck and meet Paul after the show. To win, fans had to upload Paul-related content onto one of their social media platforms. There’s was a fantastic response and produced some truly worthy winners.
In Argentina, Javier Lubelski was chosen, thanks to an imaginative You Tube video in which he interviewed himself about his life as a dedicated Paul aficionado, and performed a neat cover of 'Confidante' from Egypt Station. Good work, Javier! You can check out his video here
After getting to meet Paul at the Buenos Aires show, Javier kindly sent us an email, which I’d love to share.
“Saturday was the best day of my life and it is all kind of a blur now,” he wrote. “I was brave enough to sing to Paul and he sang back! We duetted on a whole verse of 'Fuh You' together!
“Life has showed me time and time again that impossible is nothing. If you would have told me 30 years ago when I was an 11 year old kid that I would meet the guy in my cassette tapes and posters on my bedroom wall and I would sing with him, I would have told you to stop bulls****ing!
“I know perfectly well that I am just a drop in an ocean of fans so I don't take for granted the fact that Paul was so nice to me.”
We’re glad you had a great time, Javier!
Tuesday 26th March - Allianz Parque, São Paulo, Brazil
It’s only been 18 months since Paul last performed in São Paulo - he’s actually played in Brazil 20 times in the last 10 years - but every visit remains special. Last time we were here, towards the end of 2017, Paul was presented with a special accolade for being the most successful international touring artist ever in Brazil - he’s sold over 1.5 million concert tickets. Paul also was the first artist to play the huge Allianz Parque stadium, back in November 2014. In honour of this there is a special part of the stadium backstage called "McCartney’s Cavern", which is the walk from the backstage area to the main field.
This time in São Paulo promises to be just as special, not least because he’s now has the joyous 'Back In Brazil' in the set, a song he partially began writing the last time he was in the country.
Paul and the band played the track last week at the show in Santiago, but chose to rest it in Argentina. And while he’s in the car on the way to soundcheck at the Allianz Parque, Paul explains the thinking behind that decision during a phone interview with radio station 89 FM.
“We were only going to play it in Brazil,” Paul tells presenter PH Dragani, “but then one of the guys I talked to in Chile, a DJ, said, ‘Oh, we love that song!’ So I thought, ‘Ok, we’ll play it for Chile.’ But then when we played it I thought, ‘You know, it’s really for Brazil.’ So we didn’t play it in Argentina - we thought it would be better to save it for Brazil.”
And there’s no doubt that the 40,000-plus crowd in the Allianz Parque love it. Waving yellow, green and blue balloons, they joyfully sing along with the track's catchy “Ichiban” chorus. It’s a spine-tingling moment.
But, this being Paul, it’s not the only surprise of the night. He also plays 'From Me To You' for the very first time in Brazil, taking the excitement levels to new heights. Even a problem with the pyrotechnics during 'Live And Let Die' can’t take the shine off what’s been a sensational first of two nights in São Paulo!
Afterwards we head back to the hotel, where Paul and Nancy invite us all to join them for some post-show celebratory drinks. We’re in the same room where, two years ago, I remember watching Bono and Noel Gallagher hang on Paul’s every word after they’d attended his show.
Tonight the mood is buzzing as it was a phenomenal show, even by Macca standards. That’s easily one of the highs of the job, getting to watch Paul and the band playing. For those three hours you are connected to the audience as Paul takes everyone through the same experience and on the same journey, and it’s impossible not be moved.
Wednesday 27th March - Allianz Parque, São Paulo, Brazil
It goes without saying that on the day of a big show, the concert is the main focus. But what many people might not realise is the sheer amount of non-performance related business that Paul has to deal with in the hours leading up to the show. And today is no different, with several important media commitments on his to-do list.
After soundcheck, Paul does a chat with weekly culture show 'Fantastico' for a piece to run a few days later, in which he talks about serenading his grandchildren with 'Blackbird' and the joy of getting to visit countries like Brazil. As part of the piece, he also gets to meet with 10 Brazilian competition winners, all delighted to have the chance to say hi to the man himself.
After he’s met the fans I follow Paul back to his dressing room. Outside Paul’s room there is always a queue of various team members who need to speak to him about one thing or another. Today Paul is dealing with production issues, PR enquiries, social media, travel plans, completing a translation session and finalising the setlist. And this carries on right up to an hour before the show, when we all finally try to leave him alone to prepare for the task of getting ready to rock out in front of tens of thousands of people.
Today I’m visiting his dressing room to get some approvals for various social media matters. These backstage moments are the times when I and the rest of the crew are lucky enough to see the real Paul, the private Paul. And, just like anyone else, he likes to watch TV - right now he’s been drawn into 'Family Feud'. In fact, on this run of shows his TV viewing habits have been split between NBA games and 'Family Feud'. Such normality from an iconic star might come as a surprise to some - but that’s the thing about Paul, he’s as cool offstage as he is onstage. Sorry to disappoint but there are no diva-demands backstage.
While I’m with him, he pulls out his iPhone and shows me some great footage of the police escort he got coming to the venue - and he AirDrops it to my phone so we can post in online. He’s very handy with his iPhone.
But what of the show? Following a great build up, including Mexican waves from the crowd, Paul hits the stage promptly at 8.45pm and repeats the magic of the previous night, a performance that had been described by O Estado as “dignified and elegant”. And while this time he opts to rest 'Back In Brazil', the party atmosphere is as infectious as ever, not least because it happens to be Wix’s birthday!
We’ve all had those moments at work: the boss wishes you happy birthday in front of your colleagues and, if you’re lucky, a cake is brought out. Well, tonight for Wix the experience is intensely magnified as, just like with Abe back in Buenos Aires, Paul wishes him a happy birthday in front of 50,000 people!
Oh, and if you’re wondering, Wix doesn’t go without cake! Later on that evening, at the post show party, Paul presents him with a special birthday cake, as the team cheer on.
Thursday 28th March - Curitiba, Brazil
Having said hello goodbye to São Paulo for this tour, we find ourselves in Curitiba on Thursday evening. Paul last played here 25 years ago, so the show is big news. When I check in to the hotel, the young woman at the reception desk asks me if I really know Paul McCartney. I’m delighted to confirm I do! Then the usual questions follow. She tells me they can’t actually believe Paul will be in this hotel, let alone in the city, and that the hotel staff have been trying to move their shifts in order to attend the show.
She explains that she was a baby when Paul came here in the 90s but her parents still talk about it and it’s the most important thing that’s ever happened in the city, the Pope’s visit in the 80s coming a close second! This is backed up by the fact that television cameramen and paps have camped outside the hotel. And, sure enough, switching on the TV, I watch reports from the stadium, where two days ahead of the shows fans are already on site, all hoping to get the best possible spots when the doors open on Saturday.
Inspired by the revered site in Liverpool, Curitiba has its very own Cavern Club. And, to commemorate Paul’s second visit to the city, The Cavern unveil a statue of him the day before the show.
Saturday 30th March - Estádio Couto Pereira, Curitiba, Brazil
On the day of the show the hotel lobby is packed full with fans and there are some amazing outfits too - special mention must go to the girls in their Egypt Station-themed outfits.
It’s an eventful journey to the stadium. As his car leaves the hotel Paul has his window down and is filming some of the excited reactions when his phone gets knocked out of his hands by fans. Fortunately, however, it lands inside the car.
Fans on the route to the venue get an extra treat, when Paul’s car takes a wrong turn and ends up driving through a market place, which is pretty much exclusively selling Paul McCartney-themed goods (including bootleg T shirts that read 'Paul McCartney Freshes Up Tour’!). The sudden, unexpected arrival of Paul in the market creates chaos. With fans drawing in on the vehicle hoping to see the man himself, the security teams start fretting. But Paul clearly loves the experience, keeping his window down and saying hi to everyone and shaking hands.
Eventually, the car makes it safely through the gates of the massive Estádio Couto Pereira - home to Coritiba FC - and Paul heads straight to the stage for a 4.25pm soundcheck.
Showtime is 9.28pm and it’s a worthy climax to Paul’s time in South America. An online report from the Tribuna Paraná would later say that Paul brought the 45,000 strong crowd to “a state of delirium” - and that’s a pretty fair description.
As well as the undeniably iconic set list, Paul peppered the performance with Portuguese slang, such as "Tamo junto", which means "We’re in this together", much to the delight of the crowd.
With South America now properly Freshened Up, Paul sets off for the airport, where a flight back to New York awaits him.
Sunday 31 March
With the South American leg of the tour complete, it’s time for me to fly back to London. I’m looking forward to getting home after what’s been a brilliant run of shows. But, as I’m getting onto the plane, I receive a text from Paul breaking the sad news of the passing of his friend and much loved tour team member Shelley Lazar at the age of 69. Shelley was adored by all of us and by anybody lucky enough to have come into her orbit. An industry titan, Shelley was affectionately known as the Mother F**king Ticket Queen. She looked after all Paul’s VIP ticketing for his tours - which is completely off the scale. Paul’s shows attract the biggest and best names from all walks of life. I have an early touring memory of Shelley bringing major A-list Hollywood stars backstage to meet Paul at one of his concerts. At Paul’s soundchecks over the years he would regularly dedicate 'San Fransisco Bay Blues' to Shelley. She was never phased. And it didn’t matter if you were a President or a fan who had worked for months to afford a ticket to the show - Shelley treated everyone with such fun and affection and always with a smile. It’s fair to say all the team have been hit hard by this news but we all smile and laugh when we remember her. She’ll be forever with us.