30 Years Ago: Paul McCartney Gets Nostalgic During Rehearsals for Comeback Tour
Paul McCartney began public preparations for his first U.S. tour in 13 years by returning to his storied – but often avoided – past.
He blended in plenty of songs from his just-released album, Flowers in the Dirt, during a July 26, 1989, rehearsal show at London's Playhouse Theatre. There was some Wings stuff too. But the preview made it obvious that a lengthy jaunt titled the Paul McCartney World Tour would boast a new openness toward his work with the Beatles.
It was an entirely new thing. The 28-song track listing for 1976's Wings Over America, culled from McCartney's last U.S. tour, featured just five Beatles songs. McCartney typically played four of their tunes over a 22-song set during his most recent live shows, dubbed Wings U.K. Tour 1979. McCartney's earliest solo concerts didn't include any of his old group's material.
On this night, however, there were just as many songs by the Beatles as there were from Flowers in the Dirt.
"Those were great years," McCartney mused in a Los Angeles Times interview held during his 1989 rehearsals. "People never understand the thrill wasn't just being in the Beatles, but helping created what made the Beatles – the magic of creating something, making a rabbit come out of a hat."
Earlier practices had, in fact, stretched to include around 30 songs, as McCartney settled in with a new band lineup that included his wife, former Wings bandmate Linda McCartney; Hamish Stuart of the Average White Band; Robbie McIntosh, a late-period member of the Pretenders; and Paul "Wix" Wickens and Chris Whitten, both of whom had most recently worked with Edie Brickell.
All of them were holdovers from sessions for Flowers in the Dirt, which had just been released to critical – if not quite commercial – acclaim. McCartney returned to the top spot in his native U.K., but the album couldn't break the Billboard Top 20, extending a four-album slide that dated back to 1983.
Nevertheless, McCartney felt invigorated. "I like this band and I still very much like making music," he told the Los Angeles Times in 1989. "Every time I hear a good piece of music, it makes me think there are acres left to plow."
Tickets to the Playhouse Theatre, which held around 300 people, were distributed to the Paul McCartney Fan Club. This was the first of two intimate shows before a live audience, to be followed by the official announcement of a globe-circling tour that kicked off on Sept. 26 in Norway.
McCartney also played a trio of songs from Wings at the first preview, and he lobbed a curve ball or two. The evening was rounded out with three more legacy tunes that had inspired him as a youth, including Fats Domino's "Ain't That a Shame" and and Eddie Cochran's "Twenty Flight Rock."
"It's always a little difficult to get comfortable on stage," McCartney said in a subsequent talk with The New York Times. "So, one thing I'm trying to do is keep the band loose, so that we can just call a few ad libs. We did a few preview shows in London, and I was able to throw in a couple of numbers, like 'Summertime,' that the band didn't know I was going to do. I'd like to keep it like that. The good thing about this band is that they can do that. They're accomplished enough."
Still, fan and media focus remained on the promise of Beatles songs, many of which were recorded after the band left the road to focus on studio work.
Asked about a still-forthcoming final set list by The New York Times, McCartney said: "We'll be playing some early rock and roll, from before the Beatles. We do some Beatles songs, mainly ones I'm associated with. And the interesting thing is, quite a few of those the Beatles never played on stage – things like 'Sgt. Pepper,' or 'Hey Jude,' which we did after we finished touring. We do some Wings favorites. And we do things from the new album, Flowers in the Dirt. It's a selection from all my writing, basically."
Maybe McCartney was in such a nostalgic mood because the Playhouse Theatre had been the setting for the Beatles' famed BBC recordings back in the '60s. Or maybe, as McCartney suggested, enough time had passed that he was finally becoming comfortable with his own legacy.
"It was just too painful, with all that went on after the breakup, to chirpily sing a little Beatle song," McCartney told Maclean's in 1989. "But time is a great healer."
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