The greatest musician on the planet: An awestruck JAN MOIR joins 69-year-old Paul McCartney as he completes an exhausting world tour
By JAN MOIR
24th December 2011
Before the concert begins, he stands in the shadows just to the left of the stage. In his lifetime, he has played more than three thousand shows just like this. Some bigger, some smaller, but all of them to a devoted following whose fidelity has never waned.
For over half a century, he has walked out, again and again, into the heat of the spotlights and the unceasing roar of the crowd. For decades, each public appearance has been greeted with fans shouting: ‘Paul, Paul, Paul!’ It haunts his every entrance and exit. He must hear it in his sleep.
In an era of overnight sensations, of pygmy careers, of the instant but cheap gratifications of here-today-gone-tomorrow stars, his fame resonates with a unique density. Paul McCartney is, without question, the most popular musician on the planet.
Songwriter extraordinaire: Sir Paul McCartney returned to his hometown Liverpool at the close of his exhaustive world tour
He has written more hit songs than anyone else. His endless list of classic and enduring tunes unfurls like one long sonic boom of greatness, from She Loves You to Yesterday and beyond.
Whenever he travels abroad, people come up to him to tell him that they first learned to speak English through listening to Beatles songs. That in itself would be an incredible legacy, but that is only the start of it.
Of course, all of this has made him fantastically rich. He could retire comfortably without ever picking up a plectrum or tapping a toe again. Yet there he is, at the age of 69, still waiting in the wings for his cue, eager as a cub.
And then, suddenly, he is on stage, moving swiftly towards the microphone, absorbing the roars of his 11,000-strong home-town crowd in Liverpool.
You can see that it means just as much to him as it does to them.
In his smart suit with its Nehru collar, a pink shirt and a pair of Beatles boots, Macca still cuts a remarkably lithe figure.
Still at it: The Beatles legend is 69 but still as eager to perform as ever
All those lentils, all those decades of tofu and meat-free sausages, all that yoga in the Seventies — all of it has served him well. Really, he looks amazing.
His backlit, hazelnut bouffant glows like an eclipse. He stamps out the rhythm with his Cuban heels, his trusty Höfner bass guitar is strapped on, ready for action.
With a new gold wedding ring glinting on his left hand, he cranks out the chords for Hello, Goodbye — and the last concert of Paul McCartney’s six-month On The Run world tour is under way.
Whatever way you look at it, this has been an incredible year for Sir Paul McCartney. It has been a long and winding road to happiness, but 2011 finds him, as he might say, in a very good place.
All his children and his eight grandchildren are happy and well, his tour encompassed sold-out concerts from South America to Russia — and he even managed to get married as well.
His wedding this summer to American trucking heiress Nancy Shevell marked a turning point in Macca’s turbulent affairs of the heart. What a time he has had!
Home to roost: The singer was warmly received in Liverpool
That difficult second marriage to Heather Mills may have resulted in a much-loved eight-year-old daughter, Bea, but the torrid divorce in the London courts in 2008 gave a glimpse into a difficult and tempestuous relationship.
There must have been moments when being married to Heather was like being shackled to a lunatic in one of the darker corners of Bedlam. It is amazing that he has emerged, relatively unscathed, ready to love again.
Yet here he is, all smiles as he straps on a different guitar to play Paperback Writer — the very guitar he wrote it on back in 1966.
His new wife is watching in the wings. Later, he will take her on a tour of the Liverpool he grew up in, the humble terraced houses and grotty rehearsal rooms where it all began. He goes back to his roots every time he comes home to Liverpool — it’s almost as if he can’t believe it himself.
With one of the greatest back catalogues at his fingertips, the hits keep coming on stage. Junior’s Farm, All My Lovin’, Jet, Baby You Can Drive My Car. He plays Something on the ukulele in memory of George Harrison, and he pays generous tribute to John Lennon.
Humble beginnings: Sir Paul took his wife on a tour of the Liverpool he grew up in, the humble terraced houses and grotty rehearsal rooms where it all began
Fleetingly, Macca finds himself coming slightly unstuck with the niceties of reacquainting himself with a Liverpool audience.
He is taken aback when a whimsical anecdote involving the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge — greeted with applause and cheering in London — is received by a loud chorus of boos.
The same thing happens when he mentions his old friend Cilla Black. ‘Whaaat?’ he cries, amazed.
‘What? If that gets back to her . . . oh! I won’t tell her if you don’t. What a night, Liverpool. The royals and Cilla getting booed.’
In the comfort zone of his rich, hippy lifestyle and plush homes around the globe, McCartney is not to know that Cilla’s great sin in the city is to have once voiced admiration of Margaret Thatcher and to appear to have more than a smidgeon of sympathy with Conservative politics. That’s enough to ensure she is despised in her home town.
McCartney is much more prudent. He always has been.
He supports Liverpool and Everton football teams and he is both founder and generous benefactor of the Liverpool Institute For The Performing Arts. He may still be in demand all over the globe — but he makes sure he comes back every year to present the end-of-term prizes.
Endurance: McCartney plays non-stop for nearly three hours, with only one brief ¿costume change¿ ¿ when he takes his jacket off and rolls up his sleeves
Meanwhile, on stage at the Liverpool Echo Arena, he moves on to safer ground. ‘Let’s hear it for
John,’ he shouts. ‘Let’s hear it for George.’
The pace is frantic. The hits just keep on coming.
He plays Let It Be and Maybe I’m Amazed at the piano. The opening notes of Eleanor Rigby are as poignant as ever, sounding as if it was written yesterday. Penny Lane has a wistful resonance all of its own.
I can almost forgive him for playing Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, and note that when he plays the occasional new song, there is a rush for the bar. Live And Let Die is accompanied by denture-rattling pyrotechnics. Get Back still hammers along with the usual driving confidence.
The powerhouse band rock on. ‘We don’t even stop for a glass of water,’ the drummer will say later.
By the end of the evening, McCartney will have played non-stop for nearly three hours, with only one brief ‘costume change’ — when he takes his jacket off and rolls up his sleeves.
Liverpool means a lot to McCartney. All the earlier songs — some would say his greatest — are rooted here. Penny Lane, Eleanor Rigby; their presence is everywhere in this amazing town.
Liverpool's sons: Paul McCartney with John Lennon in Manhattan, New York, 1964
In the city centre, you drive past the register office where John married his first wife Cynthia — a handsome stone building with a yellow door which is now a refuge for asylum seekers.
Brian Epstein’s one-time home is around the corner, opposite a cosmetic surgery clinic that specialises in breast implants and nose jobs.
George Harrison grew up in a tiny cul de sac of back-to-back houses. There is local uproar because developers want to tear down Ringo Starr’s former home. A few miles south of the Echo Arena, McCartney’s childhood home is now a tourist attraction run by The National Trust.
From there, he would get the No 86 bus into town to play lunchtime sessions at the Cavern Club in Mathew Street.
McCartney has recently revealed that they didn’t expect The Beatles to last ten years. They thought the success might last for a couple of years at most. ‘Yet, ten, 20, now it is coming up for 50 years,’ he said recently.
The multi-millionaire has surely earned a Christmas rest. But he has also just announced another new solo album, due for release next February. It features his old pal Eric Clapton on guitar and jazz singer Diana Krall.
He has also just released a single, a beautiful love song called My Valentine, written for his new wife.
What is the enduring appeal of McCartney and The Beatles? The simple but brilliant songs that speak of love and hark back to a simpler time, and McCartney‘s knack of being able to express complex emotions simply.
For the thousands who have trudged here tonight, shaking the winter rain from their coats as they pack the arena, that’s the secret of the magic.