Paul in Kremlin
Moscow, May 24 (Reuters): Paul McCartney became the first Beatle to sing inside the Kremlin walls today, treating President Vladimir Putin to an impromptu version of Let it Be before singing to thousands of Russians on Red Square.
Putin, who confessed to being a Beatles fan in his youth, told McCartney the band had been an inspiration during Soviet times, despite Kremlin efforts to discourage Western music.
“It was very popular, more than popular,” Putin said when asked whether he had listened to the Beatles when contacts with foreign music were discouraged. “It was like a breath of fresh air, like a window on the outside world.”
McCartney met Putin in the Kremlin for tea and a guided tour, hours before the first Russian show in the musician’s 40-year career. Putin told McCartney he knew of his plans to play in Russia in the 1980s — ultimately quashed by Soviet authorities. “It was considered propaganda of an alien ideology,” Putin, a former KGB officer, said of Beatles’ hits.
Although not banned in Soviet times, Beatles music was hard to obtain. Some albums were locally manufactured and many fans heard songs on the Voice of America and BBC radio. “The Beatles did make a lot of changes. We didn’t set out to make changes, but we did,” McCartney said later.
McCartney, on a 14-month world tour, is not the first Beatle to sing in Russia; Ringo Starr travelled to Moscow in 1998. But he is the only member of the band and one of a handful of artists to be given permission to perform in Red Square.
“(Putin) seemed to be a really nice guy,” McCartney told hundreds of reporters in the square.“I sang him a song — he couldn’t come to the concert tonight.”
He said later he had sung Let It Be.
Ahead of Saturday's open-air show a group of nationalist Russian deputies objected to plans to stage a pop concert metres from the graves of Soviet leaders Lenin, Stalin and dozens of other communist-era heavyweights.
Thousands flocked to the concert. Tickets sold for hundreds of dollars in a country where monthly wages are below $100.
McCartney, thronged by fans since arriving in Russia, said he would treat 20,000 spectators to three hours of hits, including“Back in the USSR”.
Strolling through the Kremlin grounds, McCartney said his trip to Russia had dispelled many notions he had held, including what he might have thought when he wrote that song.
”I didn't know anything about it then,” he said.“It was a mystical land then. It's nice to see the reality. I always suspected that people had big hearts. Now I know that's true.”