Russians delight in Paul McCartney's first Red Square gig
RUSSIA: In the shadow of the Kremlin and a few yards from Lenin's tomb, Sir Paul McCartney played to 20,000 people in a packed Red Square on Saturday night.
"Good evening Moskvichi!" the former Beatle shouted at the start of a 38-song concert on a warm and sunny night, to an eclectic crowd comprising fans from across Russia, businessmen and politicians including President Vladimir Putin.
Preparations for the Moscow leg of McCartney's 14-month world tour, which brings him to Dublin this week, have dominated the Russian media for days, and hundreds of ticketless people thronged the streets and squares around Red Square to hear what they could of the concert.
From a stage flanked by massive video screens, which carried Russian translations of McCartney's speeches between songs, the Liverpudlian played a set of songs recorded with the Beatles, the Wings and as a solo artist.
Probably the biggest cheer of the night, not surprisingly, was reserved for "Back in the USSR".
Mr Putin unexpectedly appeared among the crowd during the concert, but told cheering fans to clap instead for McCartney, who had played an acoustic version of "Let it Be" during a visit to the Kremlin earlier in the day.
McCartney and his wife Heather Mills asked Mr Putin if he had listened to the Beatles during the years when the band were deeply frowned upon by the Soviet authorities.
"It was very popular, more than popular," Mr Putin said. "It was like a taste of freedom, a window on the outside world." When pressed by McCartney on whether the Beatles were actually banned by the Communist Party, Mr Putin - an ex-KGB officer whom many accuse of trying to restore the power of the old Soviet security services - shuffled a little uncomfortably in his gilded chair.
"It wasn't banned exactly. But the fact you weren't allowed to play in Red Square in the 1980s says a lot," he said, adding that their music "was considered propaganda of an alien ideology". Despite official disapproval, the Beatles were hugely popular in the Soviet Union, where fans bought the group's albums on the black market and listened to them on crackly broadcasts of the banned BBC World Service.
McCartney is the first Beatle and one of a few artists to be allowed play on Red Square, a privilege not bestowed on the band's drummer Ringo Starr, who came to Russia with his All Star Band in 1998.
McCartney told reporters on Red Square that he had wanted to come to Moscow for years. "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," he said.
"It was a mystical land then. It's nice to see the reality. I always suspected that the people here had big hearts. Now I know that's true."