I was seated amazingly close to the stage given my ‘status’ as a BBC journalist. There was a lot of coming and going back stage and I saw Paul and Heather on more than one occasion just strolling around. Wix was kind enough to take my Tug of War sleeve and get it signed by Paul McCartney. Why I went armed with that particular sleeve I have no idea. The BBC asked me to write a report of the show which they duly published on their website. Here is a copy for your perusal. You may notice that the picture they used of Paul was completely wrong, and some of my text had been heavily edited: much to my annoyance. Still, the BBC didn’t pay me for doing it, again, so what the hell: their cock-up. The next night’s performance was recorded by the BBC and broadcast later that month complete with an interview with Sir Paul.
A Night When I Met Sir Paul McCartney & Ringo Starr
The man running to the loo in front of me was none other than Sir Paul McCartney. I followed him through the two large swing doors of the gents at London’s Odeon West End. We both hit the troughs together, Paul in rapturous vocal complimentary mood about Eric’s (Clapton) guitar work in the new tribute film, A Concert for George. But wait. How did a guy like me from a small borough in the middle of England end up having a wee with the ‘legend’ that is the ex-Beatle? Precisely one year after his death, on 29th November 2002, many of George Harrison’s super-talented pals got together for a concert tribute to the late Beatle at London’s Royal Albert Hall. “Concert for George” is a straightforward documentary of that once-after-a-lifetime show, and it’s made with such unobtrusive expertise that it is truly the next best thing to having been there. Directed by David Leland, a British screenwriter and filmmaker who has not — until now — lived up to his cheekily charming helming debut, “Wish You Were Here,” and shot on vibrant high-definition digital video by estimable cinematographer Chris Menges (“The Killing Fields,” “Dirty Pretty Things”), it’s the kind of music documentary that really knows what it’s about: the music. Leland basically takes us from the beginning to the end of the program, with a judicious few flashbacks to rehearsals, bits of backstage business and mercifully brief interviews of inarticulate rock stars. Even when this is done in the middle of a performance (and Leland picked the right ones to cut away from), the music fades but never leaves, and we always come back on stage for the big finish. Combining that with an unusual sense of big theatre intimacy, the documentary approximates the enveloping quality that the best rock shows create. But as I said, it’s about the concert. And what a great one it was. With Harrison’s romantic-rival-turned-dear-friend Eric Clapton acting as musical director and default lead guitarist and singer, the all-star line-up (captured in 5.1 surround sound) plays its collective heart out. Unlike most super group congregations — there are rarely less than half a dozen guitars and three keyboards and drum sets each per song, not to mention the full Indian orchestra and nine-piece classical string band — hardly a false note can be heard. The performers include Sir Paul McCartney, “Uncle” Ringo Starr, Joe Brown, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Ravi Shankar, Dhani Harrison, Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Billy Preston.
Then, on Wednesday night (8th October 2003), Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr were on hand for the London premiere of the film, A Concert for George. McCartney and Starr, who also attended the U.S. premiere of the film the previous month in Los Angeles, were joined by Harrison’s widow, Olivia, their son Dhani, Eric Clapton, who served as the musical director for the concert, Joe Brown, a host of other stars and, er, me. A few days earlier I had been offered two complimentary tickets by an agency in London to attend the premier. At that time I was employed by the BBC and I guess they thought it a good idea to grease the palms of such media types who may, in turn, promote the film. Anyway, following the screening, my guest and I ran to the back of the theatre before anyone had risen to leave. This was, of course, bad practise in the extreme, but it meant that as the VIP guests began to leave they would have to come past us. Sure enough, Olivia and Dhani Harrison slowly walked past us with various other hanger’s-on. Then I spotted Ringo with his wife Barbara Bach making their way towards us. Just as Ringo was level with me I slapped him on the back, shook his hand and said something like “Hi Ringo”. He stopped, looked right at me and with his thumbs up and a beaming smile said “Hey, we’re in England now, you can tell we’re in England now”. I couldn’t get over how small he was. I just handed him a picture of himself along with a pen which he just signed without question. Then, before I knew it I was standing next to Paul McCartney and his wife Heather. As I held out my hand he automatically took it with his left and we shook hands and I said, “Good to see you Paul”. He said “yea, likewise. Thanks”. Then I did something really cheeky. Before anyone else could pass I joined the slow moving line of celebrity and found myself directly behind messers Starkey, McCartney and their respective partners. We walked together up a short flight of stairs that lead to a foyer within the heart of the building. I was walking with Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney. I had needed to pee for the best part of the last hour so decided to head for the toilets. Just as I spotted the gents and began to make my way towards the door, McCartney shot past me heading in the same direction. As he held the door for me I blurted something like, “I’m not following you, honestly”. So, there I am in the same loo as Paul McCartney. Now, this was a rather large gent’s toilet, and as I stood at one of the troughs I was conscious that the ‘fab one’ was peeing next to me and on the other side was Ringo. I was having a pee between two peeing Beatles. God, who needs drugs. Anyway, I finished up, and washed my hands. McCartney, however, did not. He did chat to some other ‘muso’s’ and various other crawly-bum-lick-sycophantic types, but he did not wash his hands. Well, having dried mine I headed for the door, closely followed by Paul. As I emerged from the door into the foyer a heavily pregnant Heather McCartney asked me where Paul was. I just indicated with my right thumb over my shoulder and said, “Here he is”. Robbie Coltraine was in the corner having his picture taken for some promotional thing: probably Harry Potter. It was all so surreal. Later, outside, McCartney told reporters, “Our feelings will never change for George – we loved the happy times and we’re sad that George is gone. It’s a great film, it was a great night and it was lovely to take part in it and to be here with all our friends. We loved him. He was a lovely man and all these friends came together on this very special night.” Then I caught a cab and headed for St. Pancras. Olivia Harrison said, “This is a gathering of George’s close friends and family so it’s always going to be emotional. This concert pays tribute to someone we all loved. I think he’d enjoy it.” The Harrison tribute was in theatres for just a short time. It was then released on DVD on 17th November 2003.