We meet the most successful rock 'n' roll musician in history
Here are three things we bet you never knew about Paul McCartney: At the grand old age of 69, he works out for at least an hour a day (but doesn’t seem to think that’s a big deal). He loves Marvin Gaye’s cover of ‘Yesterday’ but was utterly unimpressed by him changing the lyrics. And finally, Sir Paul really, really seems to like a good pun. So it was racing gags a-plenty when we caught up with the legendary singer-songwriter for a quick chat with him ahead of his Formula One concert this weekend.
Are you looking forward to your trip to Abu Dhabi? Yeah I really am! I’ve been that way before, to Dubai, but never to [puts on slow, dramatic voice] Abu Dhabi and the added bonus of it being for Formula One makes it really special, so I’m really looking forward to it.
Will you be watching the races yourself? Well one of the big incentives for coming here, (not that I need many) is that a couple of the guys in my technical crew are rabid F1 fans, and they will just go nuts to be around that atmosphere. For me it’ll be just a flying visit unfortunately, because right after the show I have to go to LA. But anyway, I’m gonna have fun!
Have you got any surprises lined up for the Abu Dhabi concert? Well you know, we’re basically doing the [On The Run] show that we have been doing in North and South America, because we haven’t played that anywhere else, other than those two continents, so I think we might be able to put in a few surprises, yeah. We haven’t started rehearsing yet, but I have a few ideas I’d like to try out.
Can you give us a hint what they might be? Uhhh… nope! These days with the social networks, everyone knows what our setlist is the minute we play it, so I always say to people now there’ll be a surprise element but I don’t want to give it away. So anyone who comes to the show gets the benefit of actually being there. The first leg of your On The Run tour got rave reviews – you must have some tricks up your sleeve to delivering a great performance by now… The main thing really is the feedback from the audience. That’s number one and is just so inspiring, it really drives you onwards –which is appropriate for a Formula One show! [chuckles to himself] Then there is the fact that I have a really great band at the moment and we love playing together, so we’re always raring to go – which is also appropriate for an F1 race show. These are the jokes, folks!
Did you prepare these gags in advance, Paul? No! No I didn’t, but I know I’m really milking this, haha, well at least there are a few headlines for you, certainly…
Well, thank you. The other thing is I just love performing. I love what I do and these days we don’t go out on backbreaking tours, so whenever we do play, me and the band are always keen and I think this comes across – these three reasons means we look forward to doing the shows. It’s not an ordinary tour because the shows we do tend to be events. So we play in Lima, Peru or Santiago or Sao Paolo or Rio or we play the Yankee stadium in New York… they’re special events rather than just a big slog of a tour that everyone gets bored with. So obviously Abu Dhabi qualifies as one of those, and we’re all really keen to get going.
You’re generally on stage for around two and a half hours, which must be quite a strain – do you make any special preparations in the lead up to your shows? It’s a weird thing, if you had asked me years ago if I could see myself, at this point, doing that long on stage, I would have probably thought that would be surprising. But the fact of the matter is, although people say, ‘You must be exhausted,’ in actual fact it’s energising. I don’t analyse this whole thing too closely, so it’s good enough for me that I just wanna do it, I’m looking forward to it and that the two and a half hours for me seems to fly by. I really do enjoy it – I mean y’know, I’ll probably sleep well that night though! I do make sure I’m fit too – I won’t just slob around the week before a tour. I’ll get up to speed a bit, physically. All I mean by that is going to the gym a bit more or something, but that’s not crazy, my maximum is just an hour or so a day. Then as far as the singing and that kind of stamina is concerned, I have a few rehearsals with the boys in the band to make sure we know we have the stamina, so there aren’t any surprises, we don’t get on the stage and suddenly feel knackered.
What’s been your most memorable gig? The truth is there are so many that it’s difficult to pick a winner. But the one that popped into my head when you said that, was when The Beatles first played Shea Stadium in New York. That was really the first big stadium gig for music. No one had ever done that before, but we were able to draw that many people. I think there were 56,000. It was hysterical from our point of view because the fans were so crazy, we couldn’t really hear anything we were doing. It was a first, and was a forerunner of all the big stadium shows that have happened since. We had such a laugh, there was nowhere to go but just to laugh hysterically, so I think that made it very memorable. It really was crazy. You couldn’t hear a thing, it was just like playing in the middle of a billion seagulls, it was quite a noise. But there have probably been a hundred other gigs since then that I could go down the list and say – that was memorable too.
At the Abu Dhabi Film Festival a few weeks ago, there was a screening of George Harrison, Living in the Material World. You appear in the documentary – what memories did it bring back for you? It was really great because I got to talk about George at length, so y’know I was going back to the very first moment I saw him, when he must have been about 14 or 15. I saw him on the bus on the way to school, becuase we shared a bus route. I went right through from there, to the formation of The Beatles, through all our recording and touring days right through to the end. So it had many aspects to it, it was joyful, crazy, serious, mystical and in the end… sad. Overall it was great for me to have the opportunity to talk about how much I loved him.
Did it make you see him in a different light at all? Yeah it was nice. I knew my perspective and I had a pretty good idea of Ringo’s perspective but there were quite a few surprises from some of the other people in the film that knew George and some of the other facts that they’d dug up about him. For me that was another nice thing about the film, it added to what I knew about him in a really great way. ‘Yesterday’ is one of the most covered songs of all time – what’s your favourite version? Yeah! It’s been covered about 3000 times which is ridiculous. One day I said to one of my guys, ‘Look can you get me what you would consider to be the top twenty cover versions?’ I think my favourite was Marvin Gaye’s. I loved his version and Ray Charles’, and Sinatra did one and Elvis – well come on, talk about superstars! So y’know, there were loads of great versions but I felt that Marvin’s was the coolest. But there was one funny thing when Marvin, Elvis, and Sinatra sang it. In the middle I sing [bursts into song] ‘I did something wrong, now I long for yesterdaaaaay.’ But on their versions, somehow they go [singing again] ‘I must-have-said something wrooong…’ You know: ‘I don’t think I did, but I suppose I must have said something wrong…’ Like, come on boys – those aren’t the lyrics! I thought that was pretty funny. Total abnegation of responsibility! It could not have been me, coz I’m so cool…’ Paul McCartney will bring his On The Run tour to Yas Arena on November 13. Entry for F1 ticket holders only. www.yasmarinacircuit.com