Over the following week he’ll play five more shows across the Ditch before finally playing Mt Smart Stadium next Saturday night.
“We’re practising on the Aussies,” he jokes. “Getting up to speed.”
In a summer crammed with big shows, McCartney’s is undoubtedly the biggest. As a Beatle he wrote songs that, quite literally, changed the world. Now, after nearly a quarter of a century he’s back. His last gig here was in 1993. That’s a long time between drinks.
“It is, yeah,” he laughs. “For a lot of that time I was having to be Daddy and do the school run. I had a young kid I was bringing up, so I couldn’t get enough time away to make it practical.”
He’d planned to visit in 2002, as part of the Driving tour, but the Bali terrorist attack in Kuta prevented it.
“We thought we can’t go waltzing in with a happy show while the whole country’s in mourning, so we had to call that off.”
An odd footnote in Beatles trivia is that the Fab Four toured here at the height of Beatlemania in 1964, playing all four main centres. Does he remember much about that tour?
“I remember rubbing noses with the Maori,” McCartney answers, referencing the traditional hongi greeting that welcomed the band at the airport. “That was very good.”
News reports from the time suggest a sleepy country struggling to comprehend, let alone contain, Beatlemania. Woefully inadequate policing levels struggled with unprecedented crowds and the band was besieged by screaming fans.
“It was a lot of screaming girls, which was great, ’cause we were screaming boys,” Paul recalls.
One headline shrieked, “Screams and eggs greet the Beatles,” and led with this wonderfully loony paragraph: “The Beatles are in New Zealand. And they were met by deafening screaming, singing and yelling, Maori songs, and eggs – hurled at them.”
“I don’t actually remember that,” Paul laughs when asked about the eggs. “But you block out all those things, don’t you?”
Instead, he remembers the tour fondly.
“It was lovely to finally get to New Zealand, to experience a place we’d heard so much about. Coming from Liverpool a lot of people you knew had relatives who’d emigrated. I felt the bond with New Zealanders. It was great. We had a lot of fun. The shows were really good. That’s always the main memories, enjoying the crowds.”
He briefly pauses, and says, “I don’t remember any eggs, anyway. I just remember having a good time.”
That good time also includes a yarn that’s slipped into local Beatles lore. While trapped in their Wellington hotel, he requested a guitar so he could work on a song. He got the guitar, accounts differ on how, but no one knows what song he was working on.
“Let’s pretend it was Yesterday,” he quips, when asked to shed some light on this mystery. “No, it’s a little too long ago to remember. It might have been a great mysterious lost song … I don’t think there was a lost song, because I normally remembered those songs. But it would have been one of the songs throughout that period that we recorded.”
Whichever song it was, I’ll Follow the Sun perhaps, maybe I’ve Just Seen a Face or, probably not but let’s pretend, Yesterday, there’s a good chance he’ll play it next Saturday.
That’s because Paul’s playing more Beatles material now than ever. His set’s packed with it. Onstage for over three hours he’ll play far more Beatles tunes than the Beatles did during their 28-minute New Zealand sets.
“The first thing I ever do when trying to choose the setlist is think, ‘If I was going to this show, what would I want to see them do?’,” he explains. “There’s certain songs I wouldn’t want to see the band leave out. Those start the list. Then you go on from there.
“Sometimes I’ll hear something over the radio and think, ‘Oh, I’d love to do that,’ so we’ll take it into rehearsal and learn it up.”
Then, a surprise confession.
“Sometimes it’s a bit daunting because in the early days of recording, you know with The Beatles, sometimes I wouldn’t put the bass part on ’til we’d done the song. That enabled me to get quite complex with the bass lines.”
Because The Beatles had retired from touring this was never a problem. Until now…
“When it came to do it live it was like, ‘Oh my God. I’ve really set myself a problem’. I’ve got this complicated bass line and I’ve got to sing this song that’s going in a completely different direction. It’s one of those co-ordination things. There are a few that I’ve got to concentrate. They’re quite hard to do, particularly the ones with the crazy bass lines. But it’s good to have a challenge. I wouldn’t like to be phoning it in.”
He says sometimes he fluffs it, “that used to really panic me, the shame of it all”, but nowadays he’ll just stop the band and restart.
“It proves we’re live,” he says. “The funny thing is, the audience like it. It gives them a special memory, ‘remember when they blew it?’.”
That audience connection is the thing he’s enjoying the most.
“There may be thousands of people there but there’s something about the show which feels like I’m talking to you directly,” he says. “It’s me and you.”
Coming from anyone else, it’d be easy to be sceptical, but when the guy who has written some of the world’s sincerest love songs says it, you believe him.
“Why I write about love, I think it’s a great feeling. It’s a universal feeling. That’s the one thing that ties everybody on this planet together. Whether you’re single, married, young, old, life involves love in one way or another. It’s a very special thing.
“Sometimes I think I don’t want to get too soppy, I don’t want to get too corny, but I do like the subject so much that I find myself returning to it.”
His car’s pulled into the stadium now and the singer’s got to sing a song. He genuinely wants you all to sing along. We’ll get our chance next weekend. I can’t wait.
“Great, man,” he enthuses. “I know we’re gonna have some fun.”
Then Paul McCartney, one of the world’s greatest musicians, reassures me by saying, “I’m practising!”
Who: Paul McCartney
When: Next Saturday night
Where: Mt Smart Stadium. Tickets available
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