Paul Performs His Feat On Saturday At Bishopsgate

By Regina Burch, correspondent; Off The Beatle Track, Issue 24

Bishopsgate Memorial Hall in the East End of London was a hive of frantic activity on 17th May. The historic site bristled with earnest security men speaking into cell phones and two way radios. Workmen hauled huge bundles of fibre optic cable off transfer trucks and through the black wrought iron gates of the courtyard where Sir Paul McCartney's blue Mercedes eventually would be parked. Wide-eyed fans clustered to speculate on the arrangements going on inside the heavily guarded brick building.

An enthusiastic group with black LIPA SCRUFFS t shirts chanted, sang, and danced to Flaming Pie songs that blared from their boom box in the beautiful sunny weather. Tourists visiting this side of town for sightseeing gawked unabashedly around corners of buildings to find out what all the commotion was about. Inside, VH1 employees busily worked on readying the set and the audio/visual facilities. Tension mounted as more security forces joined the throng in front of the building. Anxious fans maneuvered for optimum viewing space against metal crowd barriers, clutching cameras, and collectibles to be signed.

When Paul McCartney's driver eased the blue Mercedes with 900 MPL on its license plate to a stop in front of the screaming crowd, the singer and songwriter emerged to wave and to sign a few vinyl Flaming Pie albums from the crowd. Then he disappeared into Bishopsgate leaving his loyal fans who would wait all afternoon and evening just to catch another glimpse of the charismatic ex-Beatle. They would be rewarded later in the afternoon with a photo opportunity when Paul did indeed walk out into the courtyard to enjoy his fans' dancing and singing to his newest album.

Inside Bishopsgate, posted schedules kept the crews of experts on target to meet the 6:00 P.M. live telecast. The computer-generated lighting was tested, the make up artist set up, and a rehearsal and camera block ironed out the fine details. Then the second of three catered meals was served. Because of concern for the ethical treatment of animals, McCartney had requested that all the meals served to the staff and crew would be vegetarian. Breakfast had included cereals, fruit, croissants (both butter and chocolate), tea, coffee, and fruit teas. Lunch included trifles, sorbet, stuffed tomatoes, vegetarian sausage rolls, and beverages. Following the crew meal, work continued as UK, Germany, US, and international satellite tests were made. A test was also made to confirm the Internet connection that would be needed for the second event of the day, a live Internet chat with McCartney.

Outside, the Americans who had won trips to London from American radio shows arrived together by bus and were promptly ushered into a pub connected to Bishopsgate called the Slurping Toad. As Club Sandwich members who had been invited to attend began to drift into the crowd to wait, a few disgruntled fans began to express their frustration that most of the invitees were very young. "I've been a fan of Paul's since 1962," murmured a man who was probably in his late fifties. "I've seen all of his solo concerts. I hope age wasn't a consideration in this. I think Paul is the greatest musician of all time!" Other fans expressed their concern too. "Look how young all of them are! Doesn't it seem strange there's only 1 or 2 middle-aged people in the bunch?!" remarked a woman in her forties with a picture of Sir Paul on her shirt.

Each American prize winner and Club Sandwich member was given a pastel-colored index card and was asked to write down one question he/she would like to ask. After all questions were submitted, a staff member came back with a few 'chosen questions', and the folks with those questions were allowed into the hall first to sit down front or in aisle seats. The contest winners, Club Sandwich members, and relatives of Paul were seated on bleacher type benches that were constructed by a full crew of carpenters specially for the broadcast. Paul came into the hall before the show, dressed in baggy cotton orange and red trousers, a blue and white shirt, and sandals. He greeted everyone and thanked them for coming. Then he told everyone he would be back in a bit, after he had changed into 'post' clothes.

The crew and staff made the broadcast look effortless. Every detail had been planned for, and the end result was success. One crew member indicated his respect for the professional job done by VH1 and MPL (McCartney Productions Limited) with the following statement: "Nothing is left to chance. There will be no surprises in this broadcast!" When I asked both John Fugelsang and Geoff Baker (Paul's publicist) if Paul's inclusion of the song Paul wrote in the dressing room right before the live program was spontaneous, each one confirmed that the inclusion of the song was a surprise to both of them and had not been discussed or planned before the broadcast. I'm sure Paul's fans agree that that kind of surprise is a good one!

During the commercial breaks, Paul sang along to his songs that were playing in the hall. He also entertained the crowd by dancing a bit, drumming, and playing 'air guitar'. The audience especially enjoyed his winks, smiles, and his thumb's up he gave to the various people. When Heaven On A Sunday was played, in which Paul and Linda's son, James, plays electric guitar, James traded significant looks with his Dad and played 'air guitar' with the tape. One of the audience members commented that this interaction allowed him to see an indication of the good relationship the two had.

During the televised question and answer period of the show, Paul McCartney explained that the arrangements were made to televise from Bishopsgate Hall because it was mentioned in For The Benefit of Mr. Kite, a whimsical Beatles song written by Lennon and McCartney. Paul also mentioned that the location came to mind when he was working with a choral group, but on camera he didn't identify which group that is.

A British fan present at Bishopsgate said that she thought he was referring to a group of singers who will be performing in Standing Stone, Paul's orchestral arrangement at the Albert Hall in October. She said that the choral group had used Bishopsgate as their rehearsal rooms when they weren't recording at Abbey Road.

Some of the production people told me that before the show, Paul was talking about the children that practice singing Beatles songs at Bishopsgate as a part of their theatre training. This group, called Theatretrain, is rehearsing for a gala performance at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in London on Sunday, 22nd June. These 300 young people hope to raise enough money with their celebration of the Fab Four to build a theatre for children in the East End of London. Mr. Kevin Dowsett, Deputy Director of International Theatre Exchange is the teacher of this group and is currently touring with the Slovakian Theatre Co. Tickets for the Theatretrain performance may be purchased by calling 0171-494-5060. The fact that this is the group that McCartney was referring to has not been confirmed with MPL, however it is a cause worth supporting. If the children's group is not the one that McCartney was referring to, perhaps he will become involved.

The host of McCartney's Town Meeting, John Fugelsang, expressed how awed he was of working with Paul McCartney. "I was impressed," Fugelsang said. "It (the interview) was lovely…delightful." When asked to give his name on tape, the young freelance reporter working for VH1 said he was too shocked and exhausted from dry heaving to be able to think straight. He emphasized what a great fan he was of Paul's. When asked if he though Paul was prepared for the questions he received, he said that although Paul did not know in advance what questions would be asked, he was "prepared for everything. He was quick. He was Paul." Fugelsang indicated that although there were some areas that he wished there had been time to discuss, he thought the questions they did cover were interesting.

Geoff Baker, Paul McCartney's publicist, appeared to be a weary but happy man on the evening of the 17th May. I caught up with him in the cozy little pub on the corner next to Bishopsgate Hall.

Even in the dim light of the Slurping Toad, his lively eyes glittered with excitement. He spoke of the McCartney Town Hall meeting with exuberance and confidence. "Paul is quite pleased with the way everything went. I spoke to him by phone a few minutes ago," Baker said as he patted his mobile phone in his pocket. "I feel it was a success."

Baker assured me that production on Standing Stone, Paul's symphonic composition was completed and that tickets for the 14th October performance by the London Symphonic Orchestra could be purchased through the Royal Albert Hall soon. He confirmed news that was shared in the Town Hall broadcast that there was also be a premier in November in New York. When asked about future projects by Sir Paul, he said that no firm plans had been made, but that you could never tell what creative ideas Paul might have. He stated that although Paul was planning to display some of his artwork, no project had been planned which combined his music and painting.

What was Baker's comment about the newest release by McCartney, Flaming Pie? "Buy it!!" he replied with gusto. As he disappeared into the brisk British air through the cut glass doors of the pub, Geoff Baker threw a nod and a wave my way. With the successful completion of such an intricate communication project as the McCartney Town Hall Meeting and Internet Chat, he had earned a good night's rest. After all, days like 17 May are what publicists dream of.

And at last Bishopsgate Memorial Hall was a peaceful place again. The hustle and bustle was gone, but for all the people who were the 17th May either in person or through the 'magic' of technology, the memories will remain of the living legend, Paul McCartney.

Used by permission
All rights reserved, Regina G. Burch, Artists Unlimited, © 1997

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