Continuing with the One On One theme and following Paul’s recent announcement that he will return to Australia and New Zealand, we are posting more questions and answers for the second of our two-part edition of ‘You Gave Me The Answer’ – Tim Minchin style!
Tim Minchin [TM]: Someone asked about the six-month break between your last tour and this one or something? I mean you obviously tour and tour and tour. Is the live experience now… Asking how it differs from fifty years ago is obviously a huge question, but what makes you want to get up again and again and how does it feel now compared to those days as an experience?
Paul McCartney [PM]: Yeah, you know, it’s a simple answer! It’s just ‘cause I really like it. It’s a big operation these days, you know, there’s around 140 people who put it together. So I think of it like Formula 1 or something. We’ve got these amazing technicians who can change a tyre in 3 seconds. Can’t tune a guitar…but! [Jokes] No so you’ve got these great guys all working and I think that’s very exciting. And like that’s my team so I love that, and we get on very well, so it’s kind of good to go back to that. It’s like a family reunion. Then the audience is the other big thing. The audience is amazingly warm these days – I hope you heard that! [Laughs] – you’re going to be amazingly warm! No, but there is this thing that comes often which is like, “Woah!” And what I do is I tell my promoter, I’ll say, “Just put one of the shows on sale and just see how we’re doing”. And he might ring me back and say, “Fantastic! Sold out in an hour, the whole thing!” So I go, okay, I’m cool. They like me. It’s funny, I remember that I think when I was younger, when we were starting out with The Beatles, they didn’t necessarily like us. There came a time where they liked us too much and just screamed but in the beginning, you know some of the Teds in the audience, and throwing money at us and things, which we did collect and put it in our pockets! But you know it wasn’t always easy so the fact that the audiences now are very warm is a great thing.
TM: And when you’re there and you’ve got a perfect mix in your ears, do you have a visceral memory of you know playing in 1966 and not being able to hear? I mean, do you remember what that was like compared to now?
PM: I don’t use the in-ears. So everyone else does and I’m told I should but I like to hear the audience. If someone shouts out I don’t wanna go, “Excuse me?” I’ll just go, “Yeah, sure Tom!” Whatever my response is. So yeah, but we can be heard no matter how loud the audience is now we’ve got big speakers so yeah, you do think, “Wow! There was a time when we couldn’t”. Funnily enough what I’m thinking isn’t that – you accept that and you just go, “Oh, it was terrible then” – we plugged my bass and two guitars into one amp one time.
TM: I just don’t understand. I don’t understand how you sang in tune? Like I was listening to that Hollywood Bowl recording, I literally don’t understand how you guys were in tune so much. It’s like you had played so many gigs that it’s just muscle memory.
PM: I think that’s what it was.
TM: It’s unbelievable.
PM: Yeah, that’s what it was. I always say we were a great little band. And that for me is what’s precious about The Beatles. Okay, we were a great little band that expanded beyond all expansion. But the fact that we could sit down and just go, “One for the money!” [Sings] and we all knew it.
TM: You were so tight.
PM: But for me, instead of thinking about the quality of the sound, what I’m thinking about is when we recorded it, or the young kids that recorded this ‘cause you know I was like mid-twenties when I did something like ‘Eleanor Rigby’, so I’m singing it going, “This is pretty good this kid’s not bad”. You know, “Oh, I like those words”. You know, “Her face in the jar by the door”.
TM: That’s the other thing that freaks me out. And I am just gonna collapse into Paul the fanboying, but that all those lyrics you wrote in your twenties! I’m a lyrics guy – I care very much about them and I find it very hard to listen to a song where the lyrics are lazy or reductive or clichés or whatever. I just, I can’t, yeah. The fact that you were writing those lyrics in your twenties freaks me out!
TM: Anyway I’m gonna ask a question from someone else now, I’m completely monopolizing!
PM: Who’s the someone?
TM: It’s Sabina Connacanin, from Australia. “There seems to be a trend for musicians these days to turn their hand to writing musicals”, by which they mean pop musicals, Cindi Lauper, Neil Finn, Sting did one…
PM: And other people! [Points to Tim Minchin]
TM: And other people! Well, I didn’t have a pop career first I just went straight there. “So then, Sir Paul, can we expect to see something from you anytime soon?” Can I just say, “He’s not allowed!” You can’t go stepping in my world.
PM: Your territory. You know, I’ve been asked and still do get asked because it kind of is a natural progression. But John and I, when we started, were asked a lot because “Lennon-McCartney, Rogers and Hammerstein”, we liked it. It sounded like old writers. Sounds like a team. So we were asked a lot but we didn’t like it. John in particularly hated musicals. He liked ‘West Side Story’, we liked ‘West Side Story’ a lot because that was like innovative, it grabbed us and it’s really good. But, things like, John and I one afternoon went to see ‘South Pacific’ and we actually walked out ‘cause he just couldn’t stand it. I mean I would have sat and just watched it ‘cause I had paid my money and I would watch anything. But he’d go, “Oh, bloody hell”, you know because what happens is they start – you know the girl in it, Mitzi Gaynon I think it was – going, “I wonder if he’s looking at me. Can he really see me?” And we’d go, “Oh no!” And he starts like, “Oh, I think she’s looking at me, I don’t know”. And we’re going, “Oh, stop it!”
TM: I have to be very careful about how I talk about musicals ‘cause I’m meant to love them but yeah they’re very very hard to make not suck.
PM: Yeah, there are some very very good ones and there are some… The old ones, you know don’t survive quite as well these days, some of them.
TM: But they keep doing them. And I’m going, “You don’t need to see that one again! Let it die!”
TM: Alright, I’m scared we’re gonna run out of time before we do – “Paul, love your work!” thanks, George, so many questions…
PM: And so little time…
TM: So little time! George asks, “Hi Paul, what is your warm up routine before hitting the stage? Any traditional drinks, snacks or confectionery? A must-have?” Socks? Lucky scarf?
PM: Socks, no. Drinks, not a lot, no. Because I don’t eat and drink before I go on ‘cause I sort of like to feel light. And then afterwards, I can get heavy, you know I have a drink, but before I go on I don’t do that. But I do have little sort of snacky things in the dressing room that I might just grab. Like chocolate covered raisins.
TM: Famously good for the voice…
PM: I don’t think so! But anyway, it’s a little snack. But them, and equal amounts of salted cashew nuts…
TM: You are a total rockstar, you monster. This is how the stories start Paul!
PM: Well then that’s just after a bottle of vodka!
TM: Do you drink any alcohol before you?
TM: None at all?
PM: I used to try that kind of thing particularly in the early days of Wings when we thought we were…
TM: Loosen it up?
PM: Yeah, but it didn’t work. I’d just forget the lyrics that I didn’t know anyway.
TM: Yeah, forget the lyrics! Yeah I’ll have a red wine to chill me out.
PM: Yeah a couple of my guys do
TM: And a Red Bull too – it’s stupid.
PM: Red wine and a Red Bull?
TM: Upper and a downer, it’s ridiculous.
PM: It’s alright!
TM: It’s really bad for you, kids.
TM: “Paul, how do you keep your creative juices running? It seems like you have a never ending supply, do you have different methods?”
PM: No, you know I don’t think about it. I think that’s how! I’m very enthusiastic about stuff, you know so if I hear a great song, or hear an old song that I love, that’ll often kind of make me think, “Oh yeah, oh yeah I could write one like that”, and I’ll sort of – but even if I’m just sitting around, if I’ve got a guitar I’ll strum on it, and if I’ve got enough time I’ll try and write a song, or at the piano. So it’s just ‘cause I love it and they – you know, touch wood – they flow because I love it.
TM: I guess you’ve never not done it?
PM: Yeah, from the age of fourteen it’s been something I’ve done. But you do pinch yourself occasionally and think, “Wait a minute, I was fourteen and I wrote this little song little realising that would it actually be my job, and career, and the whole thing! I thought I was gonna be like a teacher or something sensible”.
TM: That is, it is unbelievable how much you’ve made. And when you say, “Alright, well let’s go on tour again”, do you go back just through your memory or through your discography? I’ve seen the set-list of this tour and you play 50 songs or something. You play almost twice as much as most bands do. You’ve got this obviously almost infinitely deep back-catalogue. How do you choose? Do you just think, “Oh, I haven’t played this one for years”?
PM: There’s a bit of that, yeah. Mainly I start with the fact that I used to go to concerts when I was a kid when I didn’t have any money and so I know what I want, so I think the average audience member wants what I wanted, which was the performer to do songs and hits you love. So I kind of start with that and I sort of will sit down – and there’s probably about ten songs that I think – I’d want me to do that. I’d wanna be in a ‘Hey Jude’ sing-a-long. So you know that’ll go in there. And as I get them and think, “We’ll do them”, and then if there’s anything new knocking around, I’ll sort of put that in, if there’s anything I particularly fancy or if the band makes suggestions about, “Hey, you know it’s Sgt. Pepper year, we could bring that back, we could do that?” So then we’ll rehearse them. And if they get past that stage and if we like them in rehearsal, then we’ll do them! And I always like to chuck in a couple that people won’t know. So we do a couple that – well I mean deep fans will know them – your average mom and dad who are coming along, who really liked The Beatles won’t know a few of them. But then sometimes people will come up to you and go, “What was that song you sang in the middle? I loved that”, and then, “Well that’s a little song I wrong for John,” or something, you know.
TM: Yeah. And if all you had done for the last 30 years is tour your sort of top 40 then you wouldn’t feel so motivated
PM: Yeah, you’d be a bit jaded.
TM: We have time for one more thing. So I’m just gonna take a minute. We’re just gonna stare weirdly towards the camera. Okay, Guy Sheppard from Australia says, “What is the best”, I mean, how do you answer this? “What is the best or most emotional fan encounter that you have ever had?” Do you have a sort of early career story?
PM: It tends to be more recent. The fan stories in the old days were just a lot of screaming and it was great, but you didn’t differentiate any. Now I can kinda see people in the audience. And there are two that come to mind. I do one of George’s songs – George Harrison – “Something in the way she moves”, which is always quite sort of moving for me because you know he’s no longer here. And he was my little mate, George. You know we got on the bus together, and stuff. So we lived our life together really. So when I do that, I’m a bit emotional anyway. And there’s a big picture of him at the back on the screen that we always use. So I’m looking at that and thinking, “Jeez, George, man”. And I’m loving him. And I turn back and the front row is the girl who’s completely [pretends to cry] lost it. And then I’m like [catches breath] and I’m trying to control it ‘cause I’m singing to a bunch of people who don’t know necessarily what I’m going through. So that’s a big memory of recent times. And then there was another lovely one in South America where there was this very tall man with a black beard. Very elegant kind of guy and he had his – what obviously looked like his daughter – and he’s put his arm around her. And she’s beautiful, South American, black hair and she’s just looking up at him and he’s looking down at her with such a look of love and I’m singing, “Let it be, Let it be”, and they’re [pretends to cry] and I’m [pretends to cry]. You know, so it’s hard to kind of control your emotions when you see that. So then you look away. But then you’ve gotta look back. And also I’ve learned audiences don’t mind seeing your emotion. I used to think that was the worst thing ever. You know, a guy crying. You know, Liverpool – you sort of didn’t do that! But now it’s okay! And you can. And I think audiences just kind of go along with it.
TM: Your music is so embedded in people’s histories and it’s obviously so full of emotion and truth from your personal history, and when you can feel that, you’re connecting to the songs that they can connect to. I think finding that authenticity on stage is the reason you go to concerts. I think that’s amazing, that’s beautiful.