For Whom The Bell Tells… 2015 touring
After a short live break since finishing the Asian leg, it was on to the UK. Of course, there has been little time for idling and even in the downtime there was still a one-off charity show in New York to play. Paul had not brought his tour to the UK for three years, so when he announced a series of homecoming shows in March there was a feverish excitement and huge demand for tickets (shows selling out pretty much instantly!). To celebrate the tour’s homecoming, Paul appeared on the front of monthly music magazine Q with the headline "From writing Yesterday to collaborating with Kanye… at home with a pop genius". Paul, the band and the crew – myself included – are still buzzing from the Asian leg when we pick it up in London.
'OUT THERE' - UK Dates - May 2015
• LONDON O2 ARENA (May 23 and May 24, 2015)
The opening night at The O2 also turns out to be Paul’s 50th solo show in London and half centuries clearly appear to be in the air. Before he hits the stage, he is presented with a special award by British TV favourites Ant and Dec to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the composition of his song 'Yesterday'.
Ahead of the shows, Paul spoke to London’s Evening Standard newspaper about nerves and the perils of on-stage blunders, saying: “I used to be terrified, as are most entertainers, of making a mistake. Now I realise the audiences don’t mind. In fact - they quite like it. You get these little ‘eureka’ moments - you make a mistake and go ‘Christ’. I did one a few years ago in Paris. I started 'Penny Lane' with the wrong verse and I had to stop the song and start again. We ground to a halt and the audience went mad. They enjoyed it and I said, 'At least it proves we’re live’. The review said it was the most marvellous bit."
For the record, I watched both London shows and I don’t see any mistakes. Over the weekend, the backstage corridors at The O2 are full of famous faces including Dave Grohl, who comes on stage as a guest to play 'I Saw Her Standing There'. Paul is always keen to keep a lid on surprises like that. In an interview with BBC Radio 6 Music, he said before the show: “With the Internet, there’s no surprises these days. So the minute you’ve done a thing, everyone knows. It just goes ‘Sczhoop!” and it goes live. So, it would be nice to be able to say, here’s a surprise, you know. Any surprises we’ve got, will be surprises.”
Also at The O2 are Game Of Thrones actor Kit Harington, The Killers’ front-man Brandon Flowers, Martin Freeman, David Walliams, Steve Coogan and Simon Pegg and they are all just like the rest of us – huge fans of Paul.
Tweeting after the show Ant and Dec said: “Had the most amazing night seeing Paul McCartney. Just brilliant.”
Radio presenter Edith Bowman was another who was there and she emailed on her way home to thank Paul for, "The most incredible night. It was thoroughly wonderful and highly emotional. I loved it so very much."
The reviews were great too, with the Telegraph, Independent, Guardian and Evening Standard giving Paul five stars each. Great, honest and accurate reporting!
• BIRMINGHAM, BARCLAYCARD ARENA (May 27, 2015)
Paul arrives in Birmingham just before 5pm, looking extremely smart in a black jacket, crisp white shirt and dark blue jeans. He hotfoots it to the stage where he chats with the boys in the band - Wix, Brian, Abe and Rusty - before opening the soundcheck with a bluesy jam and ad-libs about the host city – “Well, well, welcome to Birmingham,” he sings from the stage. When Paul changes from his Les Paul to his Hofner, the soundcheck attendees go mad shouting out their requests. Many of the “soundcheckers” (as Paul calls them) are part of the 'Fans On The Run' group of devotees that we see at many of the shows. They are a terrific collective and always fun to hang out with. Like their idol they have boundless energy and are always up for a great time. Thanks for the badges, guys!
Much to their delight, Paul and the band play 'One After 909', a song rich in history written after he and John Lennon first met 58 years ago and first performed in the studio while The Beatles were recording 'From Me To You', and famously performed at the rooftop 'Get Back' concert in 1969.
Halfway through the soundcheck a fan shouts to the stage, “I saw you in Liverpool yesterday”, which Paul hears and teases: “Did you? That wasn’t me, it was my look__alike. I don’t go anywhere, I just stay in a room all day.” Pointing at himself and much to the amusement of those gathered around, he continues: "This is my lookalike. He (Paul McCartney) doesn’t come out for concerts and things. He just sits in his room watching telly.”
Today’s soundcheck also includes 'Drive My Car', 'C Moon', 'Let ‘Em In', 'It’s So Easy', as a special request from the audience (or “A vulgar loudmouth lout” as Paul jokes), 'Hope of Deliverance', 'Follow The Sun' and 'Lady Madonna'.
I’ve written about Paul’s soundchecks previously, but it’s pretty impressive when you stop to think about it. Artists for whom I’ve worked with over the years will just run through a couple of songs and check the instruments, but Paul’s soundchecks are almost like a concert in their own right - and often longer than The Beatles shows ever lasted!
Shortly after soundcheck finishes I head backstage to find the man who “just sits in his room watching telly” and, ahem, I can confirm that he is actually sitting in his room watching telly! But I’m certain this is actually the real Paul McCartney and not a lookalike. I have a few pictures to run past the boss for his social media. The team in France have sent me some cool pictures of Paul posters on the street of Paris and in the Metro, and he thinks these could be fun to post on his Instagram feed so we do so.
The show at the Barclaycard Arena marks Paul’s first visit to Birmingham since 2003. Back then, he played an impressive 37 songs; this time he goes even further to play 40 songs.
Tonight’s performance prompts the Evening Mail in Birmingham to run a piece headlined, “Six things we learned from seeing Paul McCartney live”, which were as follows:
1) Paul McCartney is fitter than you or me
2) Wings have some real fanatics
3) He still has it as a songwriter (with big props to 'Hope For the Future')
4) The Beatles are the focus of the show
5) Fans of all ages
6) 'Live and Let Die' is loud
And here is the verdict of the NME about tonight’s show:
"They [the band] play with the studied perfection proper rock bands don’t usually achieve, but there are fragile moments too - midway through the set, McCartney takes to a riser to perform a solo 'Blackbird', and mobile-phone torches twinkle in the crowd. He follows it with 'Here Today', his love song for John Lennon, and proves himself to be a wily assassin of an audience’s heartstrings.
"The end of the main set arrives with a feeling of the inevitable: he chimes out the opening chords of 'Hey Jude' and the arena rises to its feet. Suddenly, you’re just one of 12,000 people having a good old sing-song, and you get the kind of tingly, everything’s-OK-with-the-world-really feeling you’d need the cynicism of Charlie Brooker to resist.
"McCartney returns with an encore that peals even more from that incomparable back catalogue, including the most mega of all mega-ballads ('Yesterday'), out-there rockers ('Helter Skelter') and a closing number to please the pickiest of Beatles heads – the 'Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight / The End' segment from the magisterial closing medley of 'Abbey Road'."
• LIVERPOOL ECHO ARENA (May 28, 2015)
Paul’s homecoming feels like a big deal because it is a big deal. You need only walk around the city to feel that it is bursting with pride about his return, and there must have been very few people who were not aware he was playing. Huge ”Welcome Home” posters are plastered across the city and overlooking the Mersey, the Liver Building displays a “Macca” flag which has been hoisted high. It clearly means a lot to Paul too. That afternoon, he says: “It’s been a little while since I’ve performed here - we’ve taken this tour all over the world but there’s nothing quite like rocking out with your home audience."
Prior to the show I see one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever seen in my entire life. After soundcheck, in his dressing room, Paul is being quizzed by the Daily Mirror newspaper about his fitness routine. He mentions to the writer, Clemmie, that his party trick in the gym is doing a headstand - yes a headstand! “No way,” Clemmie says, and Paul knows exactly how to respond to such a challenge. He jumps up from his seat, empties his pockets and well, before we’d really had time to take it all in, there he is – feet in the air, standing on his head. Simply astonishing; we are rendered speechless. “That’s thrown you,” Paul teases as he becomes upright once more and returns to his place on the sofa. Clemmie admits it takes a little time to pick up the thread of the conversation (when I tell the guys back in the office about this gymnastic feat, we all try to give it a go to no avail, except for picking up headaches and minor injuries!).
It is estimated more than 2,000 people in the sold out audience have travelled to Liverpool from all corners of the world. It certainly feels like the world is united inside the arena with flags from Japan, Australia, Brazil, Germany and many, many more places being waved. A couple from France also have a mega surprise when Paul invites them up on stage for an impromptu proposal. The audience includes Kasabian front-man Tom Meighan who hangs out backstage like a school kid about to see his idol for the first time. Paul brings out that sort of childish devotion in almost everyone.
Reviewer Jade Wright sums up how a lot of us feel when she writes in the Liverpool Echo:
“Seeing Macca should be compulsory, or at least should be available on the NHS, it’s such a life-affirming, soul-warming experience." In the words of the Daily Post: “Paul is familiar and unchanging. An endearing Everyman persona but a living icon to many. For those of us who’d never seen him in person, this concert was beyond a rare privilege, a kind of epiphany. Well, you know what I mean.”
Well, that’s it for the UK and next we head to mainland Europe!