“Onstage” with Paul McCartney 2005

Sir Paul’s stage in 2005

As you already know if you’ve read any of my “work” stories, film and photo production often beats a “real job.”  Occasionally we get to meet famous people, and this was one of those times.  I’ll say up front that my Paul McCartney experience was not nearly as personal as shooting the shit with Waylon Jennings for a couple of hours in my motorhome or as intense as singing with my idol Frank Zappa at a live show for an entire verse in front of 2,000 people!  That said, I did get to work as a video assistant at a Paul McCartney show on his 2005 US tour and it was pretty damned cool being part of a living legend’s show for a few hours!  I must admit I had to look on Wikipedia to figure out the year because he was with Heather Mills at the time (more on that to come), and it was the only US tour he did while they were together for about 4-5 years. 

My gig at the McCartney show began when I got a call around noon the day of the show from my good friend Denise, another local advertising producer.  She had gotten a call from a producer working directly with the McCartney tour video crew looking to pick up a local production assistant (a “PA” in our lingo) to help their two-man video crew shoot the show.  Apparently, Paul brought the video crew to shoot every show on the tour so they could edit the best stuff into a video version of the 2005 tour.  A “PA” gig is entry level grunt/”go-fer” job in our business, and I had long since graduated way beyond that level, so Denise was calling to see if I had a PA friend who might want to take the gig.  Of course, the show was that night, and they really wanted the PA there by about 4pm to meet the crew, get set up, etc.  It was a bit of an emergency scramble in the production department’s mind.

The first thought that went through my head was: “Wait a minute—You mean I could get into tonight’s Paul McCartney show not only for free (good seats were about $200 even in those days), but actually be PAID $200 to show up and work with the video crew, hangout backstage, and who knows what else?!!!  The only potential hang-up was that I was definitely NOT a technical guy, so the first question I asked Denise (with bated breath) was whether they really needed a CAMERA assistant with some technical know-how and not simply a production assistant who didn’t have to know jack shit other than how to carry this box here, and to stand over there, be a grunt who follows orders, etc.  If technical camera and lighting knowledge were required, I would have to decline the job in good conscience much to my potential dismay.  She assured me that absolutely no technical knowledge was required; the two camera dudes were running their own gear, and I immediately told her to call the McCartney tour producer back and tell her the gig was covered. 

Denise asked me how I knew I had a PA to do the gig so quickly, and I just said exactly what I was thinking (imagine that—Hahaha!): “Are you freaking kidding me?!!!  You call and offer to PAY ME $200 to go to a Paul McCartney show tonight and even wonder what I would say?!!!   She replied: “But you’re not a PA, and I didn’t even think you would be interested in working for a measly $200.”  I reminded her that I had played in bands long before I got involved in advertising (and for a lot less than $200/night!), and that Paul McCartney was one of the FREAKING BEATLES for Chrissakes!!!  I told that I was hanging up now and would be waiting very impatiently for her to call them back and confirm that the gig was definitely mine.  It was more than possible that the McCartney producer had put several PA feelers out there, particularly since it was on such short notice.  One of the first lessons you learn in self-employment is that the first person to answer the phone and say yes gets the job.  I paced around my house for about five minutes or so, the call came from them, and the gig was mine!!!  Some British chick told me when and where to show up, and I made sure I was early on that one!

I arrived around 4pm, and the show started at 7:30 or so.  I briefly met the two video guys I would be working with, and they explained that my job would be to help them “wrangle cable” as they walked around on stage shooting so they wouldn’t trip on it or disconnect it, and to mark the set list (as they handed me a copy) with which videotape numbers corresponded with which songs.  That took about 10 minutes; they gave me a brief tour of the backstage areas (including the dressing room where I first saw Paul and the band), and told me to meet them around 7 just before the show started.  They showed me the backstage area where the crew dinner was being served and told me to eat anytime between 5 and 6.  They went off and did their own thing leaving me free to do mine for the next couple of hours. 

I wandered around a bit and started getting hungry around 5:30 or so and hit the catering area for some food.  It wasn’t too crowded—There were a  few other crew members waiting in a short line, so I joined them.  A minute or two later, a  friendly, attractive woman with a British accent showed up in line behind me and started up a conversation about the caterer and the food.  She told me they traveled with their own caterer and that the food was five-star vegetarian.  I told her I wasn’t a vegetarian, but it all looked really good to me.  She assured me that it was because she picked the caterer and explained what everything was as we walked past the chafing dishes and were served.  I really do like any kind of food and took a helping of everything on the menu.

She then asked if she could join me for dinner, and who was Eric the lowly PA to turn down the company and conversation of an attractive English woman for dinner in VeegieVille backstage at the Paul McCartney show!  As we were walking to the table, I noticed that she walked with a limp (and she had already introduced herself as Heather), and then it suddenly hit me–My dinner companion was Paul McCartney’s wife Heather!  (Oh–THAT Heather–Hahaha!) I should also explain that a film crew dining room is typically banquet table seating of 8-10 people per table like a wedding.  We sat down at an empty table and I kept expecting others to join us (as would be typical), but nobody ever did.  My guess is that everyone else knew who Heather really was and didn’t want to intrude (though that clearly wouldn’t have been the case at all!)  We talked about everything from vegan food, the current tour to our past experiences on fashion photo shoots and a bunch of other stuff for about 30 minutes, and that was dinner.  I was already old and wise enough not to bring up her beyond famous husband in the conversation, although she dropped a few hints to let me know who she was at certain points during dinner.  I don’t mean that in a bad way—I think she knew that I really didn’t know who she was for quite a while and wanted to keep me from saying something stupid.  (Can you imagine if I had asked her who her favorite Beatle was—Hahahaha!!!  Or told her mine was John Lennon?)

After dinner I wandered around the hallways backstage at the arena for a while, and who should walk around the corner all alone but Paul McCartney himself!  I obviously knew after 15 years in the biz that I wasn’t supposed to acknowledge him, but I practically brushed shoulders with him as we approached each other, and I instinctively smiled and nodded my head “hello.”  Sir Paul politely nodded back, and that was the last I saw of him until the concert began. 

I met the video guys, and they gave me a few more details of what we were going to do.  Fortunately for me, we spent about 75% of the time on the stage itself wandering all around and getting Paul and the band from a variety of angles and views as they played.  The video guys were extremely bored with things since they had already been doing this the entire tour, but I was “wrangling that cable” and taking copious notes whenever they told me to! 

I do recall the show being a really good mixture of Beatles, Wings, and Paul’s solo stuff, and I’ve attached the set list below which indicates this was indeed the case.  In spite of the fact that the show was more that 3 hours with 2 encores, it went by really quickly for me.  My mind constantly switched back and forth between amazing enjoyment and awe at standing on stage listening to Paul McCartney from only a few feet away, to having to focus on my work enough to not fuck it up and make a major faux pas in front of Sir Paul and 20,000 other people!!!  Fortunately, it was really an easy PA job, and the video guys were pretty casual about everything.  Even if we (or the band!) didn’t get something exactly right, they had it from a previous show or could get it at the next based on the notes I was taking. 

It was a really great show in that Paul did some solo stuff on piano and guitar as well as the huge variety of music with the entire band as well.  Oddly enough, no one moment or song stands out for me, but it was just so cool moving around the stage for a few hours getting shots of Paul McCartney playing live.  We did spend about an hour in the house getting audience reaction footage, and I wasn’t very excited about that.  We did that during the encores and it was rather anti-climactic for me to say the least! But overall, I’d have to say that was the most fun I’ve ever had making $200. 

“And I get paid for doing this…”—Frank Zappa

4 thoughts on ““Onstage” with Paul McCartney 2005”

    1. Thanks, Man. I had completely forgotten about it until Tim sent that vid the other day. Now it’s a somewhat vivid memory again. It’s interesting that writing about stuff really turns over the brain cells and makes you remember long-forgotten things. I’m certainly grateful for that memory. Thanks to Tim for unearthing it from my ancient brain!

  1. What an amazing story! Can’t believe you got to do that AND eat with Heather. You must have been smiling all night long. 🙂

    1. Thanks for reading it, Lee Ann! We’re all pretty lucky in that we all have similar stories. At least our jobs are not always boring, and it’s at least a little different every day!

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