Getting to speak with Paul McCartney at the TV Critics tour about his new Showtime documentary, The Love We Make, which chronicles his experience putting together his Concert for New York following 9/11, led to other questions about his memories of the first time he came to America with The Beatles, and his life now including the recent News of the World phone tapping scandal.
What’s your set list for a show nowadays? And how do you divide it between Beatles’ songs and solo songs?
The proportion of Beatles songs has grown, we do quite a lot of them, but I try and mix it with Wings, which is also very popular because there’s a younger generation out there that comes to our shows now.
Then I mix that with stuff that is my kind of own solo stuff, but the largest proportion these days is Beatles songs. I try to give audiences what they want. It’s not bad music!
What do you remember most vividly about your appearances with the Beatles in New York, both on The Ed Sullivan Show and Shea Stadium? Does it seem like they were a really long time ago or are they fresh in your mind?
I wouldn’t say fresh, no. They’re etched in my mind. The truth is memory is sort of a funny thing. I certainly remember them, but I think you get the story in your memory and you tell it so many times it’s not necessarily the truth anymore.
We met Elvis Presley, which was a big event in my life and in the other Beatles’ lives, but when we came to recount the story, we all had different version. I said, ‘He met us at the front door and greeted us.’ Ringo said, ‘No, he didn’t. He met us on the couch.’
Ed Sullivan was fantastic. It was really a high spot in our career. We didn’t actually know who Ed Sullivan was.
Then he’s holding the curtain for me as I was about to go on and sing Yesterday solo with a string quartet. He said, ‘Are you nervous?’ I said, ‘No,’ slightly bluffing. He said, ‘Well, you should be, there’s 73 million people watching.’
Shea Stadium was fantastic. What I do remember is a lot of screaming and the hysteria that that evoked in us because we couldn’t believe that we couldn’t hear ourselves.
We were kind of used to vaguely hearing what key we were in or what was going on. You really couldn’t hear anything. It was like a billion seagulls screaming. You can see it if you look at the film. We’re just in hysterics.
When was the first time that you came to America and actually got to enjoy the trip without the hysteria?
I did that a few times, actually. I had a girlfriend Jane Asher in the ‘60s, who was an actress, and she was touring with a Shakespeare company. And I got to go out to Denver and spent time in Colorado, just hanging out, which was very nice.
Used to just go up in the mountains and hike. That was a very gentle pace.
And then later, I would come to New York a lot with Linda who was from there and whose relatives were there. So we would just go and hang out.
Do you watch TV shows like America Idol or The X Factor?
I think all of that is cool because it’s what’s happening today and you always have to understand that. It’s got some value. I feel a little sorry sometimes for the performers because they don’t have a background.
We had years before we hit it big time. They tend to hit it overnight. But I think the shows are fascinating, and I watch those kinds of shows.
Your private life has been dragged into this whole phone hacking scandal in the UK over that last few weeks. You’ve always been a very private person, how has that affected you?
When I go back to [England] after this tour, I’m going to talk to the police, because apparently I have been hacked. I don’t actually know much about it, but they won’t tell anyone except the person themselves.
I do think it is a horrendous violation of privacy. And I think it has been going on for a long time, and I do think more people than we know knew about it. But I think I should just listen and hear what the facts are before I comment.
Does performing have the same meaning for your now or is there a different satisfaction than when you began?
It’s fabulous how it has evolved. With The Beatles we were asked to guess how long it would last, and we came up with 10 years, but we really didn’t think it was going to last that long.
When we started off, like anyone, you’re very nervous because you don’t know how to do this thing and so you’re learning as you go along. Then we got to The Beatles stage, we were better, we had evolved into something different. There were still nerves attached.
Then it became Wings and I had a whole new thing again. So those kinds of nerves attached to it. But it was something exciting because it was different. And now more recently, the audiences have gone on fire.
I’ve been with my band for nearly 10 years, and dare I say it, we’re playing great. The audiences are fabulous, and it has evolved into something completely different from the early days of The Beatles and Wings.
People say to me, ‘Why do you do it? You don’t do it for the money. You don’t do it for the fame.’ I say, ‘I do it because I’m genuinely enjoying it; I’m really loving it.’