Monday, June 14, 2010

Paul McCartney in Paris

By Royston Ellis

Meeting Paul McCartney

On Thursday 5 October 2006 at Le Bristol Hotel in Paris, by sheer chance, I met up with Paul McCartney, and we recalled our earlier meeting in Liverpool in June 1960. On that occasion I was backed by the then Beetles when I read my poetry to music provided by Paul, John Lennon, George Harrison and Stuart Sutcliffe.

It was because I was a beat poet and the boys played beat music that I suggested to them that they spell their name with an "A." Thus they became the Beatles from June 1960 - and went on to Hamburg and then fame and fortune. I left England too and found a different fame and fortune.

In Paris that day 46 years later, I was sitting in the lounge of the bar sipping a champagne cocktail when I noticed a slim man with a jowly face and a fine thatch of hair sweep in, accompanied by three men and one woman. He led the way into the alcove but apparently there weren't enough seats, so he sat himself at the bar counter.

I thought at first he was French and just happened to look like Paul McCartney whose likeness I knew only from old photographs as I do not have television or receive English newspapers at my home in Sri Lanka. So I wasn't sure if I was seeing the real Paul McCartney. I listened carefully but because of the chatter in the bar couldn't hear if he was speaking English.

I gave a passing steward my business card and asked him to give it to the man at the bar. Paul took the card and looked at it quickly. He stopped what he was saying and asked the steward where I was. The steward indicated where I was sitting and I stood up as Paul turned on his bar stool and got to his feet. We embraced fondly, shaking hands.

I told him he looked good, reacting to how smooth his face seemed, if slightly puffy. He actually looked quite athletic and dashing and I was conscious that I looked so much older. And in the course of our conversation, he referred to me being a couple of years older. He told his companions excitedly that he was a boy when he knew me. "We met when Royston came to Liverpool and stayed at the Gambier Terrace flat. We spent the night together." I told him I didn't remember that.

He grinned and explained that we spent the night talking our heads off. He said that he and the boys were fascinated because I was a beat poet from London. He said that he remembered a line from one of my poems: "Grease me in easy, grease me in easy" he quoted. I told him that actual words were "Break me in easy." He said that his version sounded right and I told him I was surprised he remembered.

He explained to his friends that I was very important to them then. "The things you told us. You remember telling John, George, Stuart and myself that one in four people were gay? We looked at each other and wondered which one it was." I commented that at that age and that year none of us knew much about anything. I recalled travelling with him and John in a van and Paul asked me about the slang being used in London. And I explained to them then about benzedrene nose inhalers." "Yes!" said Paul, almost nostalgically. "You turned us on."

He asked me what I was doing and I told him I was still writing and had more than 60 books published, many under different names, but I was no longer a beat poet. He commented then on how earlier that day he had been walking in the Place de la Concorde and thought how amazing it was that the old buildings remained intact while people had become modern. He sounded philosophical, saying that it was the same with us. He thought that like the buildings we hadn't changed, even though it was 46 years since we had met, and we were drinking champagne in Paris instead of tea in Liverpool.

Royston Ellis, author of over 60 biographies, novels and travel guides, now lives in Sri Lanka having left England, where he began as a beat poet, in 1961, age 20, for a life of travel. His latest book, The Big Beat Scene, has just been published by Music Mentor Books.

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