Includes some lovely photos...
Sir Paul McCartney up close and personal: A day in the life of a legend
No pop superstar has made the transition from teen idol to grand statesman quite like Sir Paul McCartney. To coincide with today's free McCartney CD, Live went backstage on his recent tour to present this unique insight into the man and his work
Charles Schulz's Peanuts cartoon strip is something that tends not to resonate very much with me. I doubt if it resonates with many men. After all, its rather trite homilies are the sort of thing appreciated by a select bunch: largely by overly sentimental senior citizens, lovesick teenagers or pre-pubescent girls looking for scrapbook alternatives to their torn-out photographs of Zac Efron or Robert Pattinson.
But there is one strip that has always stayed with me, even though I haven't seen it for over 30 years. The much-beleaguered Linus says the following to his pal Charlie Brown: 'Charlie, you know that one day of your life will always be better than any other?'
'Sure,' says Charlie Brown. 'Everybody knows that. Why do you ask?'
'Well,' says Linus, 'what if you've already had it?'
If you were a cynical person, you might think that this is a question Paul McCartney asks himself on a regular basis. Come on, seriously. What could possibly top having five records in the American Top Ten? What could top playing Shea Stadium to the loudest crowd in history? Or making Sgt Pepper? Or Hey Jude? Or Let It Be? What on earth could possibly top being revered by an entire generation? Or two. What could top being - along with David Bailey, the Rolling Stones and Michael Caine - pretty much responsible for the Sixties? What could top being a Beatle?
Here is a man who gave his name to the Ramones (Paul Ramon being McCartney's old stage name), who effortlessly recorded duets with Michael Jackson, whose much-lauded song Yesterday is the most popular of all time (2,400 mangled cover versions and counting), who conjured up the bass part for John Lennon's Come Together in a jot, whose performance at the 2005 Super Bowl was watched by a live TV audience of 145 million, and whose first concert in Moscow took on all the trappings of a state visit, including a more-than-warm welcome from Vladimir Putin.
However, the thing about McCartney is that just when he thinks he's had the best day of his life - his 'Elvis' day - along comes another to put it in the shade. As if conquering the world with the Beatles wasn't enough, he then conquered the world again with Wings, then again as a solo artist, every now and then setting new records, new standards for popular entertainers.
He's had more No 1 hits than anyone else in the world, made more money than any other entertainer, and - with or without Lennon - is responsible for the most important catalogue of songs ever produced. After a 50-year career in which his fame has only occasionally ever been overshadowed by presidents, despots and royalty, he is now justly acknowledged as one of the few genuine copper-bottomed elder statesmen of pop.
At the age of 67, when most musicians have already hung up their six-string (or in Macca's case, his Hofner bass), and have retired to the porch to sip their whisky or (more likely) herbal infusion, McCartney is still going for it; all of which is a long and winding way of saying that he had one hell of a 2009.
He played a series of increasingly well-received concerts (including a storming gig at London's O2), released the Good Evening New York City CD and DVD, received a Golden Globe nomination for his song (I Want To) Come Home taken from the new Robert De Niro film Everybody's Fine, performed seven songs on the roof at the David Letterman Show in July (stopping the Manhattan traffic as he did), and - how could 15 million people forget? - performed two songs on The X Factor final in December. Oh, and there was the little matter of sanctioning and overseeing the release of the long-awaited Beatles Remastered series, too.
Last month, between a soundcheck and the gig, McCartney reflected on his remarkable year. Seeing that The X Factor has become the default show for anyone wanting a large audience, one assumes it was an easy decision for him to appear on it.
'Well, actually, when the offer came through it polarised a lot of people. Lots of my friends told me not to do it and it's not exactly Jools Holland. It's a pop show. But what turned me around - apart from the huge audience - was the fact that it's a family show, and so many kids I know are obsessed by it.
'Also, Beyoncé was on it, and if it's good enough for her then it should be good enough for me. Plus, it threw up Leona Lewis, and she's no slouch. Know what I mean? It was a big deal for us playing two songs back to back like that. It's a live show and we decided to play it live, rather than to a backing track. Which means you have to act like an Aston Martin and go from 0-60 in three seconds. As a band we were really energised that night, which we had to be to make it work. Weirdly the show felt quite intimate, as the studio is a lot smaller than it looks on TV. They've done a great job with all the camera angles. But we put everything into that show - we're a real value-for-money band!'
McCartney is fiercely proud of his current band, who can career through any of his solo songs, or indeed any of the Beatles songs as though they recorded the originals. They have that rare gift of interpretation that works without having to resort to karaoke.
'We were backstage at the Letterman Show half an hour before we were due to go on, and I was just scribbling down songs we might do,' he says. 'I was thinking, well, maybe we can play Get Back, maybe something from Driving Rain. It was great, seriously great. Can you imagine Madonna half an hour before a gig saying, you know what, let's do Like A Virgin tonight?'
As for the De Niro film, it sort of crept up on him. The director Kirk Jones had asked him to compose a song for the end credits, claiming he'd used an existing McCartney song for the rough cut. The film revolves around a widower who realises his only connection to his family was through his wife, and who sets off on a road trip to reunite with each of his grown-up children.
When McCartney saw the film - which he found extraordinarily moving - he was shocked because Jones had used Aretha Franklin's version of Let It Be where he wanted McCartney to put his new song.
'It sort of knocked me sideways, because I can't write another Let It Be. What was I meant to do? But then the film kept me up at night and I couldn't stop thinking about it. One night I woke up at about four in the morning with the song fully formed.' This is almost exactly how McCartney composed Yesterday, and (I Want To) Come Home is a strangely similar animal.
A year of furious activity started last spring when he played California's Coachella festival, an event usually reserved for alternative bands of varying quality.