McCartney rocks Red Square

Musician relishes first Russian concert

Sunday, May 25, 2003

— Paul McCartney kept the Russians waiting. Until the demise of the Soviet Union. Then more than another decade. And finally an extra 20 minutes Saturday.

But when the former Beatle kicked off his Red Square concert, near Lenin's mausoleum and Stalin's grave, thousands of his Russian fans weren't holding it against him.


AP Photo

Former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney performs during his concert in Red Square in Moscow. The performance Saturday was McCartney's first in Russia, a country he also is visiting for the first time.

"I've waited my whole life for this," said Vladimir Snopov, 52, of Samara, about 550 miles south of Moscow, who recalled when the only way to hear McCartney sing was by listening to banned and often-fuzzy broadcasts over Voice of America and the British Broadcasting Corp.

McCartney told journalists that he tried to get to Russia in the 1980s, but was told a concert here was out of the question.

Now, though, Russia bestowed royal treatment on the ex-Beatle.

McCartney met Russian President Vladimir Putin, who confessed that in Soviet times the Beatles were considered "propaganda of an alien ideology." Putin, an ex-KGB agent, had no such hang-ups Saturday, giving McCartney and his wife, Heather Mills, a personally guided tour of the Kremlin.

In return, McCartney serenaded Putin with "Let It Be."

McCartney also pulled off the remarkable coup of commandeering the main portion of Red Square for the evening -- usually rock bands are relegated to lesser space. Even the upscale shopping mall GUM got into the act. It was converted into "Strawberry Fields" for a champagne and strawberry invitation-only bash.

"Good evening, Moskvichi," McCartney yelled to an estimated 20,000 fans -- a mixed crowd including those who arrived in chauffeur-driven Mercedes and sailed hassle-free through the heavy security at the gates, to families and couples wearing old Beatles concert T-shirts.

Tickets ranged from about $30 to $300. With average monthly wages around $140, the concert was a splurge for many.

"I bought the cheapest ticket there was," said Irina Trifonova, of St. Petersburg.

But the music was still audible far outside Red Square, and thousands of Russians took advantage of the warm weather to gather behind police barricades and listen.

McCartney told journalists before the concert that he was thrilled to be in Russia and performing on the doorstep of the Kremlin.

"When I was a little kid growing up, we didn't know much about Russia. We heard about Siberia and saw the marches pass through this square. We thought it was very military," he said.

The first-time visitor was clearly in awe of his surroundings. "It's a long way from Liverpool, isn't it?" McCartney said during a sound-check ahead of the concert. And when asked where he could perform that would top Red Square, McCartney didn't hesitate: "Next stop: the moon," he said.

But the concert did cause some controversy, with a few Russian lawmakers complaining that it was in poor taste to stage a rock concert on Red Square, usually the scene of more sedate events.

Earlier Saturday afternoon, more traditional music filled the square. A Russian Orthodox procession -- columns of bearded priests and women-only choirs -- wound its way slowly past the giant, temporary stage erected in front of St. Basil's Cathedral.

"Who needs this," said Nadezhda Romova, gesturing disgustedly toward the stage as she clutched an icon to her chest.