From The White House To The Queen's Back Yard
A Month In The Life
Firstly, apologies to regular readers of this column for the delay in delivering the latest installment. As you may have noticed, June has been a manically busy month for the Paul McCartney news team. Our boss has certainly been keeping us busy in the best possible way with all his extraordinary headline grabbing antics. If hes not been hanging with the US supreme leader, hes been packing out massive parks or stadiums, performing to hundreds of thousands of fans across Ireland and the United Kingdom (250,000 people in five shows). Even on a smaller scale, hes had equal impact, rocking out in the iconic setting of Battersea Power Station, raising funds for the Old Vic and for his very own Meat Free Monday campaign with celebrity groupies in tow.
Its truly been a mind-boggling month. Now the whirlwind that was June has passed, I finally have a chance to let it all sink in and realize how privileged I am to have been a part of it all. Reading through my diaries and notes from the last month brings it all back. The thrill of seeing the greatest show on earth never wanes and each concert has now become a stand-alone event in its own right with each and every crowd giving Paul a staggering reception. To see Macca smashing it back home in the UK has topped it all and every review of the shows seems to use the only word that can sum it all up: Maccamania!
Certainly, theres no doubt that the Up and Coming Tour has found its rhythm and is now up and running at full pace. In fact, you could say its up and sprinting. Its turned into the Usain Bolt of tours, breaking records, turning heads and making headlines along the way.I still cant quite believe Im allowed along for the ride!
Of course, June kicked off with a visit to a place that doesnt ordinarily feature on the average tour schedule. Unless youve been living on the moon with your fingers in your ears for the last four weeks, you may have heard that Paul found time at the start of the month to drop into the White House. Yes, thats THE White House, where he was honoured by the President of the United States. Yes, thats THE President, Barack Obama. Turns out hes quite a fan of Pauls too! While there, Paul became the first Englishman ever to be awarded the Gershwin Prize For Popular Music, Americas most prestigious music prize. Turns out that President Obama throws the best parties too, with some of the biggest names in music turning out to pay tribute to Paul while performances came from Dave Grohl, Elvis Costello, Herbie Hancock. Jack White, Faith Hill and the Jonas Brothers. President Obama addressed the assembled VIP guests and dignitaries in the Eastroom, telling them that Pauls gifts have touched billions of lives and thanking the Englishman who shared his dreams with us.
How did Paul celebrate this amazing award? He did what he does best and rocked the White House in true Macca style, naturally. As one US paper reported, If the first British invasion of the White House ended with the house afire, the latest had Barack and Michelle Obama and their kids rocking out. Highlights included Paul teaming up with Stevie Wonder for a rendition of their hit single, Ebony and Ivory, a stirring performance of Hey Jude that had the President singing along on stage and serenading Americas First Lady with his classic Michelle. Paul even admitted hed been itching to perform the track at the White House, though he wisely asked Obamas forgiveness in advance and admitted he might just become the first guy ever to be punched out by a president! Luckily, no punches were thrown and the UKs Daily Express later wrote, There are few men who can steal a loving glance from Michelle Obama but the First Lady looked enamored when Sir Paul serenaded her at the White House.
Even Paul a man who has surely seen and done it all - seemed blown away by the occasion, telling the audience, I dont think there could be anything more special than to play here. He even cheekily offered to make it a residency, promisingWere cheap. Lunch times we could come round. He later told us it had been a career high, which is seriously saying something when you consider Pauls spectacular career and all his achievements.
After all the excitement of the White House, it was straight back to business afterwards as Paul headed straight to Dublin to kick off the UK and Ireland leg of the Up and Coming Tour. Still buzzing from their Presidential encounter, Paul and the guys spent Friday night rehearsing before joining the team for a quick night cap and an early night. After all these years, he still takes nothing for granted and ensures hes at his best for every show. It certainly does the trick as Paul woke up raring to go on Saturday and headed straight to the gym before a cycle ride. Oh, all topped off with a marathon show lasting three hours! None of the team knows how he does it or where he gets his tireless energy from. The amazing on the road catering department certainly helps, but his seemingly endless get-up-and-go helps to inspire everyone else on the tour and we do our best to try keep up.
Its a good job we do try, as the pace never stops, so the very next day we moved on to Maccas second ever UK festival appearance at the Isle of Wight Festival. Paul did the business once more, uniting both young and old in the cross-generational audience within minutes of taking the stage and ending the festival in serious style. Even as the tour bus pulled away afterwards, we could hear strains of Hey Jude being sung around the site, which really took our breath away. Festival director John Giddings summed it up by describing it as a stunning performance of one of the greatest song catalogues of all time, a breathtaking display of showmanship, accompanied by incredible visuals and pristine sound. Sir Paul McCartney created a lifetime memory for the Isle of Wight Festival. Job done then.
Glasgows Hampden Park was up next, remarkably Pauls first ever UK stand-alone stadium show and his first in Scotland for almost twenty years. And what a show it was with the Scottish News of the World saying that Nothing really prepares you for the incredible impact of watching Paul seated at a psychedelic piano, belting out 'Hey Jude' accompanied by a capacity Hampden crowd. The effect is sometimes overwhelming. Even the most hardened cynic has a lump in the throat. We certainly all did as Paul was joined by the Loretto Pipe Band for an unforgettable version of Mull Of Kintyre, the only time he played the song during his UK tour. The boys from Keane who were watching it with us were blown away too even plucking up the courage to ask Macca for his autograph afterwards!
From there, we moved on to Cardiffs Millennium Stadium. After the soundcheck the night before, we relaxed over dinner at the hotel and Paul proudly showed us some handkerchiefs hed received for his birthday the week before, saying he had to get round to writing thank you notes for the presents hed been sent. There was no time the next day though as Paul played his first gig in Wales for 35 years to an unbelievable reception. City centre bars celebrated by playing his greatest hits as fans gathered before the stunning show, which The Western Mail later said felt like an intimate gig during Pauls unique, down to earth chats between songs. Fans watching included Super Furry Animals, former Spice Girl Mel C and support act Manic Street Preachers, whose bassist Nicky Wire was so overawed by meeting Macca, he forgot to ask for his autograph and had to ask for one to be sent on later.
The following night Macca did it all over again in Londons Hyde Park, his first ever stand-alone show at the world-famous park. The guest list alone read like a whos who of Britains A-list, with the likes of Chris Martin and Led Zeppelins John Paul Jones watching from the side of the stage, with David Walliams, Stephen Merchant and Kaiser Chiefs singer Ricky Wilson in the audience. Ricky even emailed us afterwards to say it was the best performance hed ever seen from Paul, while GQs editor Dylan Jones and The Suns editor Dominc Mohan both also emailing to sing Pauls praises. In fact, the Hyde Park audience must have been the only people smiling in Britain that night, as the England football team dismally crashed out of the World Cup the same evening. We were all too busy singing along to care. As the Evening Standard put it, who better than Paul McCartney, the national songsmith, to remind us the English do some things well?
It wasnt just those in the crowd that got the chance to enjoy Maccas classic set on the night either. Sixteen tracks from the show were broadcast on the Born HIV Free YouTube channel after Paul was asked to appear by Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. Over 1.2 million people watched the show online and Bruni-Sarkozy later told the news room, I am thrilled with the great success of the concert broadcast on the Born HIV Free channel. Paul McCartney was enthusiastic about participating in the campaign, and he showed his support by giving 16 of his best tracks to be visible on the channel.
Phew! What a month! Most people would probably need a few weeks off after that sort of schedule but Paul had other plans and we just about managed to keep up. Macca then played a party at Battersea Power Station to raise money for the Old Vic Theatre and his own Meat Free Monday campaign. This wasnt exactly your average party though! In front of an audience that included the likes of Dame Judi Dench, Joely Richardson, James Corden, Boris Becker (clutching a candle during Let It Be) and even Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Paul was joined on-stage by one of his biggest fans none other than Old Vic boss and actor Kevin Spacey.
From the most powerful politician in the world to Hollywood royalty in just a few short weeks, it really could only happen to Paul, although I reckon even he thought last month was pretty special. It will certainly take some beating for me and the rest of the team. But then, who knows what might be round the corner in the coming months?
More from the road in the coming weeks.