Elvis took me aside and told me that he had been approached by an old friend asking about the possibility of working with us on a very specific project, writes Paul Cassidy.
Elvis [Costello] assured him that the combination could work beautifully and suggested that this gentleman give me a call. And, so, it was that, at the appointed moment, my phone rang and I found myself talking to Paul McCartney.
Now that’s an odd experience, suddenly speaking to someone you’ve idolised all your life, someone whose songs you know by heart, inside out; someone who feels like your best mate and, yet, you’ve never met. We had a long chat, me mumbling gibberish, him being gracious and charming.
He explained that he wanted us to join him for a concert at St James’ Palace to celebrate his recent award of an Hon. Fellowship from the Royal College of Music. Various half-formed platitudes dribbled from my lips before Paul wound up the conversation, cutting me loose in nevernever land. We were about to work with Macca.
Our first meeting was in the recital room at the RCM, on the very stage where I had performed many times as a student. There was an inordinate amount of people around, mostly Paul’s entourage. Managers and minders, cooks, guitar gurus, photographers, runners – the list went on – and, yet, there was Paul in the middle of all this, cool and friendly as you like.
He was an expert at making us feel relaxed but standing right next to him, I found myself unable to take my eyes off him and incapable of concentrating on what I was doing. Consequently, I rather embarrassingly played a wrong note in the very first song we rehearsed; ‘Yesterday’, no less.
Without even thinking, Paul looked round and started the second verse, “Yesterday, the viola was such an easy thing to play.”
We had so much fun working with Paul; it was a pure delight. As for the concert, we stood there in St James’ Palace with the biggest fulllength portrait of Henry VIII you’ve ever seen overlooking proceedings, surrounded by all kinds of royalty, both in the audience and on the stage itself. The highlight of the show was playing ‘The One After 909’ with Paul and Elvis singing together live for the first and, maybe, last time. These two giants had so much love and respect for each other, it was palpable.
Remember, Paul once remarked that Elvis was the closest thing to John [Lennon] he’d ever come across. That’ll do!
Having had such a lovely time with Paul at the St James’ Palace concert, he invited us to get involved in his next project, his ‘Standing Stone’ Oratorio. The two gigs were in the Albert Hall with the London Symphony Orchestra and Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic. Warming up before this show, I heard hysterical screaming coming from outside. Rushing to the window, I could see that it was the arrival of Paul’s Limousine that had caused the madness currently unfolding on a cordoned-off and packed West 56th Street. As he emerged from the vehicle, he was engulfed by a sea of love, over-excited well-wishers clambering over each other in a frantic attempt to catch a brief glimpse of this icon who had helped pen the fantasy storybook of their childhoods. Elvis had warned us from the start that, though we had experienced some stuff, this was Beatlemania. Even twenty-five years after the event, this was something else.
My brother, Joe, who had helped ignite my passion for the Beatles all those years ago, and his family had come down from Toronto for the occasion, and I managed to get him – and only him – past the intense security byintroducing him as our roadie. Joe acted the part perfectly. So, I had got him into the same space as his idol, but how to now affect an introduction?
This was clearly a big day for Paul on many levels and I could see he was under pressure. In my little life, however, this was an even bigger day, I could get my favourite big brother to meet Macca.
I chose my moment carefully and asked Paul if he could possibly, at some point during proceedings, just say a brief hello to Joe.
“Where is he?” asked Paul.
“There,” said I, pointing to the big, cuddly bear standing alone in the auditorium.
“Tell him to stay there and I’ll be along when I can.”
I thanked Paul profusely and ran to warn Joe of what might be about to happen. By now the orchestra had taken their seats and were tuning up. The rehearsal kicked in and Paul was in constant demand. By the break, I had all but given up the ghost. How could anyone under these circumstances remember to come and say hello to a total stranger?
Paul, who had been clearing up some phrasing issues with the concertmaster, suddenly fixed us with his gaze from afar and, jumping down off the stage, came haring up the aisle towards us. He started shadow-boxing and fooling around, teasing Joe.
“Hey Joe, Joe Cassidy. Come on, then, let’s do this thing, right here, right now.”
Joe rose to the challenge and, for a moment, two of my favourite men in the world sparred together. Paul soon dropped his guard and gave Joe a huge embrace, and the two men chatted fondly for what seemed like an age. Before he departed he said to Joe, “You must come to the party tonight after the show.”
“Aw, I’d absolutely love to, but I’ve got my wife and kids with me,” said Joe, not wanting to impose.
“Bring them along. They’re very welcome and I’d like to meet them.
“T’rah, then.” And he was off.
Nora and the girls did come to the aftershow party, which was a blast. Joe and Nora shot the breeze with Paul Simon.
It was the other Paul, however, who had made all this possible.
Through being ultra kind and considerate, he had given a whole load of people, me included, a day to remember.
* ‘Got Beethoven’, by Paul Cassidy, is published by Matador. It’s available to buy from booksellers and online. For more information, check out www.paulcassidy.org