In the latest instalment of his tour blog, Paul's UK publicist Stuart Bell reflects on a memorable return to Australia.
It’s been 16 months since Paul last played in front of an audience. That storming headline set at Glastonbury in June 2022 was the stuff of legend, and was the triumphant climax of the first part of his celebrated Got Back tour, which took him on a thrilling tour of stadiums and arenas across America. Since then, he’s hardly been idle…
Last year there was the McCartney I II III box set, a compilation of his three innovative and era-defining solo albums, which was followed by a considerably heavier package: The 7” Singles Box, a collection of 80 vinyl versions of Paul’s songs - and their B-sides - released between 1971 and 2022. Then earlier this year, he celebrated the 50th anniversary of Red Rose Speedway with a limited edition pressing of the album for Record Store Day.
Back in June, Paul published his outstanding book, 1964: Eyes Of The Storm, which documented his perspective of Beatlemania as it exploded in America, and was present at the opening of its accompanying exhibition in the National Portrait Gallery, London, where his unique and insightful pictures were breathtaking in their scale and significance.
But eventually he’d have to hit the road again, and the Got Back tour was scheduled to resume in Australia, kicking off in the capital of South Australia. So, I packed my bags and joined Paul, his band and the crew on a flight to a city that held a fond place in Paul’s heart.
“It's almost unfair how deeply satisfying McCartney’s concerts are. Packed with hits by the Beatles and beyond, attempting to pick faults is like searching for the corner of a sphere.” - The Australian *****, October 2023
Picture the scene: It’s 11.57am on Friday 12th June 1964 in Adelaide, Australia, and a chartered Ansett ANA jet has just landed at Adelaide Airport a couple of hours after its departure from Sydney. The Beatles - well, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Jimmie Nicol, who was temporarily replacing a hospitalised Ringo Starr - disembark the plane, and climb into an open-top car that is waiting for them. They have a 10-mile journey to make from the airport to the city centre, and it proves anything but ordinary.
A reported 350,000 people – literally more than half the city’s population - line the streets for the entire length of their drive, greeting the most famous band in the world with waves and screams. “It was like a heroes’ welcome,” Paul would later say. As The Beatles reach their destination - the Town Hall, where they’re due to meet the mayor - 30,000 Adelaideans cram around to catch a glimpse of the visiting dignitaries.
The sheer scale of that frenzy made an impactful impression on The Beatles, who realised that the growing phenomenon that was Beatlemania was truly beginning to span the globe. “Wherever we go, anywhere in the world,” John Lennon said that day, “this reception which Adelaide has given us will stick in our memories.”
“Paul McCartney’s Australian comeback tour awash with love, Lennon tributes and Beatles medleys. It seems the past is a weight McCartney carries lightly – with love, remembrance and, occasionally, an ear-splitting “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!” - The Guardian *****, October 2023
It’s no wonder, then, that Paul chose that auspicious city to open the Australian leg of his 2023 Got Back tour. Okay, so our reception this time around may have been a little more restrained in comparison, but nevertheless, it was clear to see that Paul was just as delighted to be back in Adelaide as they were to have him. On my own drive into the city, I saw the posters and banners that hung on the streets welcoming Paul back there. It was a returning hero’s welcome.
On the afternoon of October 18th, we held a special Q&A event for fans at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre, and of course the subject of that memorable arrival was brought up. “It was overwhelming really,” Paul remarked. “We’d got famous and we’d seen big crowds and we’d had all the screaming and stuff. But that many people, it was insane! We were just standing there like, this will do!”
The following evening, in front of a relatively intimate 8,000-capacity audience, Paul took to the stage for his first show in Adelaide in 30 years, and marked the occasion with a specially chosen introductory number: ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’, which incidentally was Number One in Australia when The Beatles touched down there.
“The audience hung on every word, every note, safe in the knowledge they were witnessing a slice of musical history. You know all the songs, every line, but there’s nothing like hearing them performed live, by the man behind the melody. For many it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event, and the fans soaked it up.” - Adelaide Advertiser *****, October 2023
From there, Paul’s set rode that transcendental adventure through his vast back catalogue that can magically please every generation assembled under one roof, with Beatles, Wings and solo songs all rocketing the excitement levels at different points. Rolling Stone Australia called it “the greatest rock and roll show on Earth,” and who could argue with that?
Three days later, Paul brought that astonishing show to the appropriately named Marvel Stadium in Melbourne. The previous show in Adelaide seemed like a small warm-up gig in comparison to the supersized crowd in Melbourne, as 56,000 people gathered to see Paul, who was primed and ready to rock all over again. With the final notes of the night still ringing in our ears, the Melbourne Herald were quick to call it “bloody amazing”.
“Hey Paul, you’ve still got it! McCartney ‘drinks in’ Melbourne, wows audience. His Saturday night Melbourne concert was full of Beatles hits, and bloody amazing.” - Herald Sun *****, October 2023
“Beatles legend Paul McCartney turns McDonald Jones Stadium into an arena of love, nostalgia and timeless music” - Newcastle Herald *****, October 2023
On October 24th, we were in Newcastle, and I found myself on a secret mission downtown. It was just after 3pm on a beautiful and hot sunny day when I sneaked down a back alley, where the walls were covered in graffiti and the ground was strewn with glass, for a special rendezvous. Lurking in a doorway was a man with baseball cap pulled down over his eyes. I cautiously approached him. “Mitch?” I asked. The man looked up and flashed a beaming smile.
Thus was my introduction to Mitch Revs, a brilliant and popular Newcastle artist who’d painted an incredible 160sq/m mural on the side of a building on Hunter Street in honour of Paul’s visit to the city. It celebrated Paul’s music and career in vivid technicolour, referencing songs ‘Band On The Run’, ‘Penny Lane’, ‘Say Say Say’ and ‘Yellow Submarine’ in stunning cartoons. I’d read about the mural and wanted to do a bit of recon and check out the surroundings, as I’d heard that someone else was interested in coming down and checking it out…
Sure enough, just after 4.20pm, a car pulled up on the busy street, and out stepped Paul to see for himself Mitch’s awesome work. Paul was visibly impressed by the colourful tribute, and since Mitch knew that Paul was a keen painter himself, he presented Paul with some paint and brushes and invited him to add his own stamp to the mural. Paul drew a couple of smiling faces and even signed his initials by them. By now, of course, a crowd had gathered on the street, as incredulous Novacastrians raced over to see Paul, who was more than happy to stop and chat in the sun. After numerous selfies and countless handshakes, Paul resumed his journey to the McDonald Jones Stadium, where he’d raise the rafters that night.
“A Paul McCartney concert might give you some of the most special live musical memories you will ever have.” - Sydney Morning Herald ****, October 2023
On the evening of October 26th, we were in Sydney ahead of Paul’s double nighter at the Allianz Stadium when I received a call from a friend of Wix and the Hot City Horns. His name was Paul Beard, a respected musical director to many big names and he told me about a choir that his wife is part of, which is made up of cancer patients from the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse hospital. The choir had received national notoriety the previous year with their performance of ‘Let It Be’ on Australia’s Got Talent.
He introduced me to their leader, Shirin Amirbeaggi, who told me about their amazing work and said they’d love to invite Paul to see the choir and hear them sing in person. I explained that sadly his schedule was crammed full and he’d be straight off to the airport after the final Sydney date. Nevertheless, I messaged Paul to let him know about their offer, and he immediately asked me to invite them all to his show (which I must point out was super sold out, but the amazing ticketing team worked overtime to make it work!) and also to pass on his best and how good he thought their rendition of ‘Let It Be’ was. What a lovely call that was to make to the choir, I can tell you.
Those attending the first Sydney show on the 27th may or may not have realised what they were hearing as they took their seats just before it started, nor how lucky they were to hear it at all, but Paul had decided to treat his audience to a very sneaky 30-second teaser of the then-unheard and forthcoming final Beatles single, ‘Now And Then’.
“It was the surprise song not even diehard Beatles fans expected to warm-up the crowd at Paul McCartney’s concert at Sydney’s Allianz Stadium on Friday,” reported The Australian Daily Telegraph. “It was a spectacular introduction - and a full circle moment six decades in the making - to a concert which has delighted and profoundly moved hundreds of thousands of Australians already.”
I’m just glad that none of the lucky Aussies leaked it!
“Sir Paul McCartney sends Sydney fans into a frenzy with epic 30-song nostalgia filled set at sell-out show” - Daily Mail (Australia), October 2023
As the world watched the countdown to the official release of ‘Now And Then’, the promo machine was in full effect in preparation, and it was my job to ready Paul for a pre-recorded interview with BBC Radio 1’s Clara Amfo. We’d heard a few days earlier that Radio 1 were going to make ‘Now And Then’ their Hottest Record In The World on the day of release, and while Paul was happy to get involved and chat with Clara, it’s not always the easiest task to pin Paul down on show day.
You see, regular readers of the blog will know that one of Paul’s pre-show chill-out rituals is watching Family Feud. Well, this leg was no different. One of the challenges for us on the road is if we need time with Paul to go through things, we need to try and get to him before Family Feud is switched on. Once it’s on, forget it: he’s hooked! Even if you’re with him and chatting, he still gets drawn in and will actually stop the meeting to follow the action!
Fortunately, despite the usual craziness that goes on backstage, not to mention the time difference between Sydney and London that made finding a mutually suitable time a real headache, we made it happen! Ninety minutes before Paul was due on stage on the 28th - roughly around 8am for poor Clara - the two connected on a great Zoom call that saw him fondly describe the song’s amazing history and creation. The call ended with Paul singing a bit of ‘Arrow Through Me’ to a delighted Clara!
As the second Sydney show was drawing to a close, the press office received a message from the Premier of NSW, Chris Minns MP. He’d said that he was loving the show and wanted to convey to Paul that on behalf of the state they were thrilled to have him perform in Sydney.
“A truly magnificent concert that will never be forgotten by those lucky enough to attend.” - News AU, October 2023
Brisbane was next, and I was backstage at the Suncorp Stadium just hours before the show on November 1st when a note got along to us from a lady named Sheena Gillman, who had apparently been part of the nursing team that had delivered Stella McCartney in 1971 in London. Now, don’t get any ideas, because we do receive an unbelievable amount of notes and emails as we travel around these amazing parts of the world, and some are the most incredible works of fiction you’ve ever read! But, on this occasion, something seemed very genuine in Sheena’s note.
So, just 90 minutes before Paul was due on stage, I showed him Sheena’s note to see if it rang true. After reading it, he looked up smiling and said, “Yeah, I’d like to say hi to her just before I go on stage.” Great news! However, the stadium was filling up - tens of thousands of people were in there - so finding Sheena was almost going to be a needle in haystack scenario, especially with mobile phones not working properly due to the volume of people. After a few attempts though, we were able to connect with Sheena, who was clutching her 7” of ‘Mull Of Kintyre’, and make the happy reunion happen!
That was a very busy day for me, actually. I’m absolutely loving being in Australia. The tour is going great - it’s beyond a thrill to watch the show every night; each one feels like a new experience as Paul takes everyone on the magical journey. But one thing I wasn’t quite prepared for on this trip, naively now I realise, was having to juggle international schedules to manage the ‘Now And Then’ campaign.
The short film was due to premiere on November 1st, so every night in Australia when the day was done and I’d finished all my work with Paul, it was time to jump on various calls and Zooms to discuss the most important musical release in decades! So, I’ve not been getting much sleep, but it’s obviously worth it. What a thing to experience and watch come together.
And then, on November 2nd, it was time for the world to finally hear the song!
It’s hard to put this into words. I was lucky enough to hear the song a while back. I was treated to a playback by Paul on his iPhone. Talk about a moment! Working in music is a dream come true, but weirdly enough the ‘business’ of music can overtake the fun and sometimes put a shadow over what this should all be about! And when you hear a song like this that gives you an instant emotional reaction and is so special in so many different ways, you really are hit by a tsunami of emotions.
Next comes the planning, label calls, marketing, etc, and it’s always impossible to know how things will actually land even when you know something is so incredibly special. Pre-release, anyone who had seen the accompanying documentary was moved to tears. The reactions in the lead-up were incredible. But again, until it goes public it’s hard to judge. I remember Paul once saying that releasing an album was like sitting an exam and waiting for the results.
The response was phenomenal. Just what the world needed. My inbox was blowing up with international reports and stats coming in from the label.
A few months before Paul got to Australia, a competition was launched where schools all over the country were asked to send in a video of their pupils performing a McCartney song. The #GotBackToSchool received thousands of entries, and some incredible stuff was sent in, before a judging panel that included top names in the Australian music industry chose Suncoast Christian College’s Senior Band - who’d delivered a soulful version of ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ - as the winners.
The prize was to attend a soundcheck and say hi to Paul in person. So, on the afternoon of the show at the Gold Coast’s Heritage Bank Stadium, the eight winning students and their two teachers were congratulated by Paul himself as they met and chatted inside the stadium, before being treated to a private concert as the band sound checked.
“The entire day was like a dream, I couldn’t believe we got to meet such a huge musical legend,” said Jacob Wiener, the band’s pianist/vocalist. “Sir Paul McCartney is my ultimate lifelong musical hero and it was the opportunity of a lifetime!”
Typically, despite a full fortnight of rocking and rolling, and everything else involved in touring and just naturally being Paul McCartney, the boss was on top form on the final date of the tour, and delivered another memorable night.
“Saturday night was a relentlessly entertaining 39-song setlist that approached three hours… As one of the greatest entertainers of all time, he knows exactly what we want, and he gives it to us, night after night.” - The Australian, November 2023
There were a couple of special moments that night - the first was Paul dedicating ‘Hey Jude’ to a famous face in the audience (British actor Jude Law, no less), and the second came as Paul began to introduce ‘In Spite Of All The Danger’, a number that he wrote back in 1958. “This is the first song The Beatles recorded,” he said, referring to a tape made by The Quarrymen in Liverpool that summer, “and now we’ve got the last song The Beatles recorded,” he added, alluding to ‘Now And Then’, which completed a particularly full and culturally impactful circle. “It’s a long way, baby.”
A long way, indeed. But there’s still further to go. After three weeks and seven storming shows in Australia that The Australian called “beyond compare”, we’re sad to leave, but give us a few days to take a breather and it’s all go again, as Paul gets ready to ‘Get Back’ to Mexico, and then on to Brazil. It’s gonna be one for the history books, so I shall endeavour to report back. Viva la Macca vida!