“A day in the life” I will never forget.
Maybe I’m amazed? No, forget maybe. I’m amazed! Here’s my story. I want to share it with you in case you just like me have had this dream for some time. I’ve been very thankful over the years for being able to listen to or read about any story about meetings with Paul McCartney (whether it has been one of my lucky friends or some famous person like Dave Grohl, Ozzy Osbourne, president Obama or whoever…). So this is my little contribution to the mythology of meeting a true legend. I met Bob Dylan in 1992 (which I will blog about some other time). And that was as high in the world of popular music as you can get. At least in theory, since he was the only person (except for Elvis Presley) that The Beatles themselves were dying to meet when they came to America back in 1964. But still – for me, and millions of other people around the globe, nothing beats meeting a Beatle! (As comedian Dana Carvey so well describes here). It will take a while to read so enjoy your favorite beverage and put on your choice of music on Spotify. You can for instance, just as a suggested starting point, choose between my solo debut album Soundshine or Paul McCartney’s second solo album RAM.
As everyone who knows me know very well… I breathe The Beatles. They are my religion. I was born in 1970, only some forty days before the Beatles officially broke up. My fascination with the band, however, began after the tragic death of John Lennon when I was only 10 years old. Already a month later I held my first “lecture” about the Beatles in school, and when I was eighteen, I went on national television in a quiz show on the subject. In 1994, my last year in university, I played and sang the role of Paul McCartney in an insanely ambitious project – the world premiere of Sgt Pepper Live. We performed the whole album both in a choir version and in an original version featuring the three of us in The Merrymakers in the roles of John, Paul, and George. We ended up going on tour with an ensemble of more than 150 people from my hometown of Piteå, via Stockholm (with a show at Cirkus) to Liverpool’s Empire Theatre to perform for an audience including John Lennon’s first wife Cynthia and the mayor of Liverpool. In the preparations for the project I got to meet Beatles’ legendary producer Sir George Martin. We also did the whole Beatles tourist trip including visits to the barber shop at Penny Lane and Strawberry Field. I also got the opportunity to chat with Cynthia Lennon at the after-party, and I even signed autographs in the street the next day AS Paul McCartney. My little “hobby” had kind of gotten out of hand. (More about this Sgt Pepper Live project later in the fall since ”it was twenty years ago today”…)
Anyway, after all this I thought that it was time to prioritize our own music and so we did with The Merrymakers in the 90’s. (see me singing “April’s Fool” with the Merrymakers here). But as much as I tried to tone it down… the Beatles stayed with me and almost increasingly so. Apart from the enormous influence they’ve had on my own songwriting, musicianship, production and general attitude in life, little Beatle-related things always seemed to happen. I sang (again with The Merrymakers) ”No More Lonely Nights” on an American McCartney tribute album (check it out here), I give lectures every year about the Beatles at various institutions, I’m regularly making performances performing Beatles music in Sweden, Finland, and in Spain, from my one-man act ”The Living Beatles Jukebox” to being a part of bigger productions… and a couple of years ago it even led to me recording in the Abbey Road Studio! For full report and video from that exciting day see this old blog post. So… as you can see… I’m in full agreement with one of my other heroes, Tom Petty, on whom, like for so many others, The Beatles have had a ”great profound effect on my life” and the following words from him ring true for me as well:”I still think the Beatles [made] the best music ever, and I’m sure I’ll go to my grave thinking the same thing.”
So I met Sir George Martin, I met Cynthia Lennon, I even bothered James McCartney and Olivia Harrison to pose for “selfies” with me. And of course I have seen Paul McCartney live many times. Beginning in 1989 when I saw him twice in Stockholm (and once in London –I just couldn’t get enough!). And every tour since then that passed by Stockholm. And again in London a couple of times in later years. Every time it has been just as emotional and every time I have been so thankful that I have been able to see him in concert. And hey! Not to forget… I saw Ringo in concert too (at Gröna Lund in Stockholm)!!!
But yet… there was one piece of the puzzle still missing. I never got to meet a Beatle in person… I’ve been kind of “close”. And sometimes not so close. I remember for instance how frustrated I was when he was in my quarters on the island of Kungsholmen in Stockholm in the late 90’s when he wanted to get his mind off the loss of his very very loved “long-haired lady” Linda. Lovely Linda! So he came over to ”hang out” with some very loosely selected current songwriters and I thought, ”that should have been me! Or if not – at least someone really important like Benny Andersson of ABBA!” And then at The Royal Albert Hall in 2012 (where I bumped into Ron Wood!) I was kind of close to be able to attend a “meet and greet” afterwards through the help of a good musician friend of mine with some very important Paul-related connections. But it ended up with me circling around outside the arena for a couple of hours in the cold and finally not even seeing Paul’s exit from the building. I’m not saying it wasn’t worth the effort. But still… it didn’t happen then. And I kept dreaming (and I mean for real – and regularly – just ask my wife…). Until on the 31st of July, 2014, when it finally happened!
Through my work and my position as a senior lecturer in song writing and music production the School of Music in Piteå (my staff profile here), I had the wonderful opportunity earlier this year to go and see how they work over at the music department at LIPA (Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts) – the school that Paul McCartney is the Lead Patron for. Housed in the building that Paul himself attended as a young boy in the fifties. I was told that Paul traditionally attends graduation every year and I, being the open and straight-forward person I am, didn’t make any great attempts to hide the fact that I am a life-long, highly devoted Beatles fan, with one of my biggest dreams (well that’s a lie… it should be THE biggest dream) being to one day meet Paul McCartney in person. And to my great luck, it turned out they welcomed me as a guest to the event alongside people like Billy Ocean, and other leading figures in the entertainment industry.
So as if on auto-pilot I flew over to Liverpool, took in at the fab gear Hard Day’s Night Hotel (with John and George watching over my bed as you can see in picture below). I did my regular visit to Matthew Street, to the Cavern, and I even went to one of the pubs John, Stuart, Cynthia and other art school people used to hang out at, the legendary Ye Cracke. But again… this is just the ”normal” touristy Beatles-nerdy stuff that anyone of the 600,000(!) people coming every year to Liverpool can do while walking in the footsteps of The Fab Four. (As Howard Sounes points out in his book FAB; “it’s a fact that, alongside that of Elvis Presley, the Beatles are now the object of the most obsessive cult in popular music”). All these things are really worthwhile (for true fans) and great fun and very emotional… but still…. nothing beats meeting Beatle Paul himself… so here’s my recollection of what actually happened:
I attended the graduation ceremony which turned out to be an enormously well executed event by LIPA. The 280 students nicely lined up on stage sporting their traditional academic regalia and a whole auditorium filled with parents, family and friends from all over the world. And suddenly, accompanied by pompous music, in comes a procession with Paul in the lead together with Mark Heather-Featherstone-Witty OBE, Founding Principal and Chief Executive of LIPA. And after them, all of those who were to become LIPA Companions including (most importantly to me) the ”not the son of Phil Spector” (as he puts it himself in his Twitter bio), but rather the son of Sir George Martin, the very talented and highly successful Giles Martin. Paul was in the building! And he looked fresh, fit, smart, stylish and as much of a superstar as he always has been. Such an exciting moment! He was kind of half-dancing his way through the audience as he passed me by only a few metres away from where I was sitting on row 4. Once he reached the stage, he was put in the center where he remained for another three hours. Yes, three hours. It might sound long for a ceremony but it was highly entertaining to see when Paul shook hands and posed for pictures with each and everyone of the graduating students as they got their diplomas. All of the LIPA Companions also held very inspirational and funny speeches to the graduates giving them advice about how to make it in the tough business of performing arts. Sir Paul himself offered his own guidance in his speech at the very end. He joked students should ignore what they had learned from tutors and said his advice was to “be yourself”. As Liverpool Echo reported in this article he said: “I just love to come here and see this amount of talent, this amount of hopefulness, the spirit, about to be launched into the world. Just go out there, be wonderful and be yourself.”.
What was even better was that I, as LIPA’s guest, was invited to a private reception after the official ceremony. This was an unbelievable honor, and something that I will be forever grateful to LIPA for. I didn’t really know what exactly to expect from this occasion. A ”meet and greet” that maybe, maybe… maybe… would include Sir Paul himself… and lo and behold, only minutes after I arrived myself and was served a glass of champagne, there he was! In the same room. Starting to mingle around and greet people and exchange a few words here and there. Basically doing the same thing as everybody else. Very early on I realized that Paul has a LOT of other VERY important people to say ”hi” to so I kept a low profile enjoying my vegetarian (what else?) egg and mayonnaise sandwich while at the same time enjoying the beautiful view of the river Mersey. All the time thinking to myself: Well… here I am. Little David from Piteå, Sweden, with my little career in pop music… and over there… there’s this other guy. Big Paul from Liverpool, England, with the biggest career ever in the history of show business. The most successful songwriter of all times. But we were both there. Just mingling.
And then… suddenly…. before I knew it… a woman took Paul aside and they started to walk right in my direction. Towards me!? It took a split second to realize that they were actually heading towards an older couple that was standing right behind me. And on his way over… (this is where my memory is starting to ”black out”) Paul ”saw me standing there”. Alone. With a dumbfounded look on my face. (My champagne glass strategically put on the table beside me in order to keep my hands free for any eventuality). I was obviously not able to look elsewhere as he approached me. And on his way to the people just behind me he suddenly reaches out his hand to me saying “-Hey! How are you, man…?” (or something similar) as he might be thinking ”well this guy here doesn’t seem to have anyone to talk to – and since he’s here in the first place, he probably wouldn’t mind shaking hands with me so why not….”. Or something like that.Who knows what he thought…. anyway, he did reach out his hand. To me! And the realization that Paul McCartney was coming towards me with his hand reached out kind of freaked me out. (I remember reading a funny story when Meg Ryan’s sister was introduced to Paul in the 90’s and puked from her nervousness. So it could have been worse.) People who know me can attest that I am usually not a shy guy. Not at all. And if someone “important” is supposed to be approached, I always seem to have been the one who’s had to do it. But this… this was different. To me, it was like Superman himself would come out of the movie, or Napoleon from the history books, or something… reaching out his hand. It was JUST surreal.
I took him up on the invitation and shook his hand. That hand! The “I want to hold your hand” hand… the hand that invented the intricate fingering on the guitar for “Blackbird”. That performed the wonderful bass line on “Something”. That played ”Live and Let Die”… the list is endless. Mindblowing!
OK, so NOW was the time for my very well thought-through once-in-a-lifetime ”elevator pitch.” How many times during the last thirty years haven’t I been asked ”–What would you say if you ever were to meet Paul McCartney?” I remember for instance an after-show talk over beers almost ten years ago with some of my students. I made an impromptu dramatization of such a fictitious moment that lasted over five minutes including how I got nervous, things I said wrong, and so on… my students, laughed and we all concluded maybe it’s better if it doesn’t happen.
So, in the middle of the hand-shake my mouth started making moves intended to formulate something articulate, wise, tongue-in-cheek, and with a certain level of sophistication and catchiness at the same time in order to make Sir Paul interested in me, my life, my music ”career”, and what I had to say….
On my way over to England, I had not managed to decide on anything specific to say. The same way as when I teach or give lectures, or even go on stage. I very rarely know exactly what to say. Even though my intention always is to have it planned beforehand. Just like my brother Niklas Myhr on his way to his classes as a marketing professor in California I have a tendency to think: ”-It is going to be interesting to hear what I am going to say today”. Scary. But I’ve come to know myself and trust my instincts.
But this day… well… I can say it already. It didn’t work! In the back of my head, I’ve been thinking ever since the day I ”was Paul” in Liverpool in 1994 I’ve been considering saying something along the lines of: ”-Hey Paul! Incredibly great to meet you!!! You know, you really did change my life. For real! I know thousands of people have said that you over the years. But again, it’s really true! And you made me become a musician! And I’m very happy for that. It’s not that I’m very well-known or anything but back in the 90’s I had a band called The Merrymakers and we had quite a bit of success in Japan. I’ve gone solo now and have an album out on an English label called Lojinx. And another high point as a musician was when we did your masterpiece Sgt Pepper… live! From beginning to end. As close to the original as possible. With a full symphony orchestra. I sang your songs, man! It was fantastic to sing”She’s leaving home” with a string section. Loved singing”Getting Better”, ”Fixing a hole,” and ”When I’m sixty-four”…. the whole lot! And it was wonderful to be there! At the Liverpool Empire!!! It was where you played your last show ever in Liverpool with the Beatles in 1965, wasn’t it? And it was certainly a thrill! A memory for life! And here I am with you now! It’s crazy! By the way I was once called the ’Paul McCartney’ of Piteå (that’s where I grew up) in the local paper. And they even called me to ask for my “view” when you released ”Free as a bird”. Man, Jeff Lynne did a great job there, didn’t he? I really love Jeff! And… also, we once covered ‘No More Lonely Nights’ for a tribute record to the memory of Linda. Did you ever get to listen to that record? It was great. Neil Finn was on it! But whereas all the others chose your predictable 70’s hits, we chose your underestimated 80’s song. You know it really does have a wonderful melody…. uhmm… you should play it live yourself sometime… but anyway, man… thank you thank you thank you… for everything you have done… I love RAM… I love your first album McCartney… I love the Beatles. I love Wings. love all your stuff… thank you Paul!!!!”
Something like that was what I would have wanted to say (in lack of some wise comment that really could evoke his interest, whatever that would be… vegetarianism…. “Meat Free Monday”…. the pubs in Liverpool…?). But instead this came out (recollections from a black-out): ”–Hi…! Wonderful pleasure… to meet you…. I once did… Sgt Pepper Live…. twenty years…. here in Liverpool….. uhmmm…..”.
By which time. Paul was already heading past me. Towards the people he was actually going to say hello to (I later figured out that the woman who had taken Paul aside most likely had said: ”-You should meet my parents!”). He heard me fumbling with the words… and noticed that I wanted to express something… but being the professional he is… he had to prioritize… and in the end…. I think I heard him saying, as he turned his head against me one last time, something like ”cheers, mate!” And it was kind of a relief for me. Because I could stop looking for words. And instead just take a step back. Trying to realize what just had happened. I started to grab for my iPhone in order to maybe get some kind of discrete photo of him. (We had been kindly informed, since it was a private occasion, to not ask Paul to pose for photographs or ask for autographs, which itself was kind of a relief, instead of having to worry about selfies at the same time of a potential hand shake). As I was grabbing for my iPhone in my little bag I noticed my hand shaking considerably. When I took it up it kind of dawned upon me… that was it! It just happened! David… you just shook his hand! That was all you wanted! Relax!!! And already then. A minute afterwards it was already surreal. Did it happen? Yes. It happened!!!
So I took a deep breath. Went on with my champagne. I made a quick analysis of the situation. The highly entertaining founder Mark Featherstone-Witty was carefully guiding Paul through the meet and greet. He seems extremely passionate for the school and its students and had made a remarkable speech earlier about the importance of performing arts in academia. Mark came up to me and said hello and we exchanged a few words. And so did his lovely wife. I felt very well taken care of. A little bit further away some of the teachers were standing, including Martin Isherwood, the head of the music department, whom I was fortunate enough to have gotten to know a little bit through work. So I knew I had somewhere to go after this unbelievable moment. But still… there he was. Still only a couple of meters away. I could almost hear what he was saying to people but obviously I didn’t want to intrude. So in a last attempt to capture the moment forever, and to be able to show my grandchildren one day, I thought… Ok… I’m not going to ask him for a photo. But since other people were doing just that. I thought to myself. Well if they do… there shouldn’t be a problem if I take a photo of the photo shoot so to speak. And in these times of ”selfies” I thought I’d better make one. And I wouldn’t “mind” to have Paul in the background. So that’s what I did. And between us is the above mentioned Mark Featherstone-Witty. So with all the love and respect for everybody involved in this occasion and for those that made it happen. I want to express a very humble, and deep gratitude. Looking very much forward to finding ways of working together in the future!
Afterwards… well… what can I say… I was deeply moved by the occasion. Obviously extremely nervous. I chatted to some people here and there. And I left the arena some half hour later. The first thing I did was to call my wife Paula (for whom, by the way, I wrote “The One” in typical Macca fashion). She was anxiously waiting for my update. After all… even minutes before the ceremony started I wasn’t sure that Paul was going to turn up at all. For any possible reason. Busy schedule to begin with (to say the least). But, as a dedicated follower I was well aware that his U.S. tour wasn’t going to start over again until two days later. In Minneapolis. Two days? Is that really enough. I mean he’s 72… but in theory it should be possible. But still. And only recently he had to cancel a few shows in Japan due to some mysterious virus. But that whole incident had blown over luckily. And I had seen in the papers Paul was back on track even enjoying a nice vacation in Ibiza with his beautiful wife Nancy. But even the smallest flu could have stopped him from attending. Or whatever… I don’t know. I just couldn’t fully count on being in the same room this day. But, as you can see, he was… and very much so!
Paula could clearly hear over the phone back in Spain how shaken I was and how taken I was by the experience. I was truly moved. My voice even cracking up from time to time when I was trying to tell her that… “Yes… it worked!”. Mission accomplished! She shared the excitement with me because as anyone who knows me… and she knows me best… she knows what it meant to me. And so did more than five hundred(!) friends and followers on Facebook on my artist page. (Feel free to check out the more than one hundred comments (and my response to each and everyone of them) in my post from this day. I am truly, deeply thankful for all the supporting comments I’ve received there!
So after that I was on a “high” that still is lasting. It just felt logical the day after to take a guided tour to the childhood homes of John and Paul. Enormously interesting and so well executed and presented with so much personality, love and respect by Colin and Sylvia Hall of the National Trust. They really made those young days of the ”lads that shook the world” (to use one of the old clichés) come alive. As I was walking through his house, playing (as always when I see a piano) “Lady Madonna”, walking through the rooms where John and Paul rehearsed and wrote their first hits. I was thinking. I met him. Yesterday!!! And all my troubles seemed very far away…