For Whom The Bell Tells… 2016 touring
Mastertapes/'One On One' in Argentina
So Paul is back on the road once again, back where he feels so comfortable and fulfilled: onstage and with his fans. I’m going to start this particular tour blog by rewinding a little bit though, to just a few days before Paul set foot back in Argentina for the first time in six years. We begin at the BBC’s Maida Vale studios in London, the site of so many historic performances and sessions.
The reason we kick off here is simple – it was an unforgettable afternoon of magic, which will have a special place in all our hearts. As you can imagine, there are a lot of special occasions when you are close to Team Macca, but this was a real pinch yourself moment where I marvel at my good fortune. Sometimes, I really can’t believe this is how I am spending my day at work…
Maida Vale Studios, London (11th May 2016)
The last time Paul visited these studios was another magnificent day, the site of two intimate concerts in the space of a morning to tie in with the release of the 2013 album NEW. Today he is here to be quizzed about songwriting and his career as a solo artist for the BBC Radio 4 series 'Mastertapes'. In a departure from the normal format, they are devoting an hour-long special to Paul’s solo work, coinciding nicely with the forthcoming release of Pure McCartney.
John Wilson – the Mastertapes presenter – and I had been discussing this idea for a few years, but it was important to pinpoint the right moment for Paul and to ensure it could be done in a fitting way. Years of conversations, then months of meetings and phone calls have gone into planning this with John and his team, and now the day is finally upon us. During the final preparations, Paul was playing shows in the US and I sent him emails about what would be expected of him, to which he responded: “I’ll just busk it.” Well, he is quite an extraordinary busker.
Ahead of Paul’s arrival, the show’s producer (also called Paul) tells me he’s feeling a little anxious, which doesn’t usually happen. We await our Paul’s arrival outside the studio, dodging sporadic showers along with some super-dedicated fans. Around 1pm, Paul’s car rolls up and he jumps out smartly dressed in a black suit. The reason for the sombre attire is that he has come straight from Sir George Martin’s memorial service where he has delivered an incredibly heartfelt and moving eulogy.
Inside, Paul takes a look around, happily chatting to the programme team about how things will work. Of course he is an old hand at playing Maida Vale. It is 53 years since he played the first of many sessions there with The Beatles, many of them brought together for the Live At The BBC compilation album. The studios are rich with history – they were the location for BBC News operations in the Second World War, became home to the BBC Symphony Orchestra in the 1930s and hosted decades of John Peel sessions. Around the studio today, hanging out and waiting to say hello, are Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller, both of whom ask Paul questions during the recording.
Just before we begin, a buzz sweeps the room that Brad Pitt is in our midst. I scout around to check so I don’t misinform Paul before the interview and, sure enough, there he is. It turns out he is a friend of Weller and when he heard where his pal was going this afternoon, he didn’t want to miss out. We are accustomed to having A-listers around, but as the Daily Mirror’s reporter explains: “You don’t expect to see Brad Pitt perched on a plastic chair on a drizzly Tuesday afternoon…”
Then again, it is not every day that Paul talks about his craft in as much detail as he does today.
In the space of 90 minutes (it is being trimmed slightly before transmission), John talks to Paul about his entire career. It is a fascinating chat with loads of fascinating anecdotes and insights. I am standing in the wings looking on and am so engrossed that it seems to be over in an instant. I can barely believe it is over so quickly. In the days to come there will be plenty of breathless excitement about the recording.
The Radio Times says of the occasion: “A rare and visible quiver of excitement ripples through the room as we take our seats and the presenter, John Wilson, introduces ‘the man who’s created the soundtrack for people around the world for successive generations and who’s one quarter of the greatest group of all time’. Brad Pitt leans sideways to get a better look. James Bay is in the row in front, near Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze, and a powerfully sun-tanned Paul Weller is about to ask a question beginning with the immortal words ‘Your Highness’.”
The Telegraph will say of the programme, which gets a clean-sweep as newspaper previewer’s ‘pick of the day’: “Mastertapes was the event of the week. McCartney was relaxed, conversational, occasionally revealing... Paul is admirably slim and limber, but his words tell more than pictures.”
A columnist from The Observer declares (taking a cue from the all-consuming EU referendum debate): “Leave? Remain? I’d rather listen to masterful Macca. I really enjoyed this programme, its atmosphere and detail, and also because McCartney clearly enjoyed it too. A gem.”
At the end of the recording session, people assemble outside Paul’s dressing room to congratulate and thank him for such an entertaining afternoon. The production team and John are on a high, explaining it has exceeded their already high expectations. A job well done by both Paul and the Mastertapes team (you may still be able to catch it on the BBC iPlayer if you live in the UK).
Mastertapes is in the can and Paul has to head home and pack for his week in Argentina. But let me hand over to John Wilson for his thoughts on the Mastertapes session:
“Despite having made around 30 previous episodes of Mastertapes, and having interviewed Paul many times over the years, I was pretty nervous. There was a lot riding on the show, as Radio 4 had commissioned it as an hour-long special edition, plus it was being filmed, so we had to get it right! But nerves are good, they focus the mind.
“In a way I’ve been preparing for this programme all my life as I’m a massive fan, and he was always my favourite Beatle as a kid! In the week before the show I re-read Barry Miles’s biography of Paul and read the new Philip Norman book, as well as creating a playlist for my phone. I mapped out a route through the interview, starting with the first solo album, using key songs as conversation markers. I knew it would be unlikely we'd get new, untold stories from Paul - he’s done so many interviews over the years - but I hoped that by keeping it fast, probing and conversational we might get a fresh perspective during the hour.
“Brad Pitt was shooting a film round the corner and the first I heard about him coming was when I got a text from Paul Weller saying ‘can Brad Pitt have a plus-one?’. I thought it was a wind-up, obviously, but just before we started recording, he turned up in a Second World War greatcoat and slicked-back hair, straight from the set. I was waiting to go into the studio and said, ‘Ah, just in time, take your seat please sir’. Two minutes later he was grinning at me from row two, probably the weirdest thing that’s happened during a Mastertapes recording.
“Having met Paul many times over the years, I wasn’t too fazed, although when he started doing 'Every Night' I did think, ‘wow, McCartney himself is showing me how to play that tricky Emaj7 chord’.
Hearing him talk about John Lennon was very moving, especially when he played a bit of 'Here Today'. And Noel Gallagher asked a question – supplied by Paul’s daughters Stella and Mary, asking which of them is his favourite - which was hilarious.
_“We’ve had some great sessions but this has got to be the best of the lot - the atmosphere was electric in the room, it was a very special afternoon. I would like to say that Paul and I jammed backstage for a bit to wind down, then went on to a Soho speakeasy, but that wouldn’t be quite true. For me, it was probably red wine and Springwatch that evening.
“Afterwards I got a lovely email from Paul. I was very touched, but mainly I was just very happy that he enjoyed it so much. As he said in his email, ‘it was a bit of a laugh’!”_
Cordoba, Argentina (14th May 2016)
This is Paul’s first visit to the city of Cordoba – Argentina’s second largest city –and the sense of anticipation is heavy in the air. At the airport there are huge welcome banners, thousands of fans mill around the hotel and the streets are plastered with McCartney posters, giving the feeling of a national event. Bars and cafes are running McCartney-themed evenings which further heightens that rush of excitement and sense of occasion.
This visit will become the largest ever concert in the region, in terms of attendance, with a crowd of 45,000 (beating artists such as Madonna, Justin Bieber, Bon Jovi and Aerosmith) and the national press are making much of the visit as a wonderful economic boost. It is expected that a concert by someone of Paul’s magnitude will draw other acts of huge international musical stature.
Today is the eve of Paul’s first Argentinian date, and he arrives at the Mario Alberto Kempes Stadium at 4.40pm for a rehearsal with the band. It’s a sunny but breezy afternoon and Paul is looking suitably 'rock star' in shades. He appears preposterously fresh for someone who has just been on a plane for 15 hours. We should all take tips. Paul takes a moment before his rehearsal to send an Instagram message heralding his arrival, which is enough to make the national news. The rehearsal itself causes quite a stir too. Fans and media gather outside the stadium, chatting on social media about what they can hear coming from the massive venue and what people can expect tomorrow.
Cordoba (15th May 2016)
“Cordoba is ready to listen to Paul – tonight McCartney will make history here”, reads the front page of the region’s biggest newspaper this morning. No pressure there then, eh boss? It is autumn in Argentina, and following a week of rain, there is some welcome respite as we see a clear blue sky overhead. It is chilly though. In fact, as the locals keep telling us (with a curious sense of pride), it’s unseasonably cold. It’s taken the crew and Paul by surprise. As Paul says to us after the show: “We didn’t think it was going to be this cold. When you think of Argentina, you think of beaches and sunshine!”
At 3.05pm in the Kempes Stadium itself, the whine of police sirens signal the arrival of our man – there is no slipping in quietly – and he heads straight to the stage for his soundcheck. An hour later and Paul is in his dressing room taking a Spanish lesson and learning local phrases to connect properly with the audience. His dedication to giving the best show possible is a never-ending source of inspiration and continuously impresses the entire Team Macca.
At 7.33pm, the stadium lights go down, and Paul strides out to the centre of the stage to a swell of noise and a standing ovation. And here I will hand over to the Argentinian media to tell you how he is received:
“A Miracle: Paul McCartney in Cordoba,” runs a news headline after the show. It continues: “Paul McCartney gave an unforgettable show on his first visit to Cordoba. He showcased his career in detail with the impressive strength of an immortal. Over 40,000 people attended this event, which was historic from every point of view. The stadium was packed with people and Paul McCartney left the audience in shock and awe. It's very difficult to put into words the mixed feelings of excitement, euphoria, melancholy and happiness we all shared. The crowd’s reaction and excitement forced you to think, ‘how will I continue after this experience?’”
Argentina’s largest national paper Clarin reports: “Cordoba rocked with Paul – McCartney thrilled the crowd in Kempes Stadium."
It is safe to say Paul’s opening show is a big moment for Argentina. And so, as he leaves the stage, it is on to a tour bus to the airport and a jet transfer to the next tour stop, the capital Buenos Aires.
Buenos Aires (17th May 2016)
After the excitement of Cordoba, the bar has been ratcheted up so high for the next show in Buenos Aires. I start the day with my usual tour routine: a walk around the hotel neighbourhood to check the newsstands. In my pursuit of newspapers, I’m impressed with the high visibility of Paul’s presence – there are gig posters all over the place, as well as some which seem to have random song titles! I’m delighted when I find a newspaper kiosk to discover my boss has a heavy presence; in fact, he appears to be dominating the local news agenda.
Tonight Paul makes a dream come true for a ten-year old girl in the audience at the Ciudad de La Plata Stadium; indeed, young Leila Lacase will remember this night for the rest of her life. Towards the end of an incredible show, where the enchanted audience broke into spontaneous chanting at least five times, Paul spots Leila’s sign which reads: “Sign my monkey.” Intrigued and impressed, he invites her onstage with her mother, and asks if he can indeed add his signature. “No, I want to play bass with you,” she replies. Game for a bit of spontaneity, Paul hands her the instrument and they perform 'Get Back' together. (In the days to follow Leila is all over the TV news and makes several newspaper covers).
Paul has been inviting fans on stage at almost every show recently. This has led to fans around the world trying desperately to catch his eye, with signs as far as the eye can see, explaining why they should be chosen. Of course, none of this is predetermined; Paul simply makes his mind up on the night.
Back in La Plata, there is plenty to remember alongside Leila’s star-turn, with Paul giving his all for 55,000 people and the reviews match his performance. This may be his third visit to Buenos Aires, but the appetite of fans shows no sign of diminishing. Clarin reports, “A genius in La Plata – Macca stirred up a storm”, while La Nacion declares: “Not even all of the information circulating the Internet, or the experiences shared on social networks from his show in Cordoba or anywhere else in the world could tell the story of this night. They couldn’t even give us a clue of what we would feel when Sir Paul actually entered the stage.”
To exit the stadium at the end of the show, Paul and the band have to walk up a very steep ramp of 50 metres or so to the tour bus. I am flabbergasted to see Paul sprinting – yes, sprinting - up that incline after almost three hours of intense performance. I walked it earlier in the day a couple of times and it is not easy. Yet not only is Paul hurtling up, you can see that (and I’m putting myself at personal risk by typing this out for the world to see) the super-fit security team are having trouble keeping pace.
Buenos Aires (19th May 2016)
After the second show which was also a total smash, I have an opportunity to ask Paul about his week in Argentina. Clearly buzzing from the experience, Paul tells me: “We’ve had a brilliant week. I always love coming here. There is a great tradition of music here and it helps us knowing they love it. It inspires us and spurs us on to do better. I was surprised that the audiences were predominantly young, which is great because they come to the shows to party – I expected to see a few more people my age! It’s great though, as it means you are appealing to the next generation. It was amazing in the stadiums we played when they put the house lights up and you could see the people at the back going crazy too. It's really gratifying.”
As this particular trip comes to a close, it is apparent to the team that we have been lucky enough to witness first hand such a special and historic week for Argentina. It is one that people will be talking about for years to come, and in the case of Leila for a lifetime. It may inspire her to a musical career of her own – and we may have found a stand-in for the next time Paul plays here if one is ever needed. It is also clear from the audience reaction, that it isn’t just Leila whose evening was the stuff of dreams. That is the case for the hundreds of thousands of fans who managed to get tickets for this leg of the tour too.
In my role as publicist I’m lucky enough to meet some amazing music journalists from around the world. On our trips to South America over the past decade, Clarin’s Eduardo Slusarczuk has been one of these. Eduardo took his young children to the show, as well as his older brother. As we wind up our trip, he emails me to say: “I’m still trying absorb the emotions I experienced before, during and after the shows.” I know exactly how he feels.
Next stop Europe!