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Club Sandwich 54

            There is a child. A little mite of five. The world is a confused blur to her. She neither recognises nor understands it. Colours mean nothing to her, shapes matter very little.
            She doesn't talk, nor seems to listen. She was born autistic.
            For the child, on June 30th Paul McCartney joins on stage the greatest assembly of British rock and roll all-stars ever amassed in this country since the glory of Live Aid.
            For Paul, the Knebworth festival is more, much, much more than another gig in his current world tour. That 120,000 fans - his biggest audience ever in Britain -will stand and cheer when he ambles on matters not most.That rock history will be made here this day is unimportant.
            The Paul McCartney who goes to Knebworth is not Paul McCartney, rock and roll's greatest-living star. The Paul McCartney on that stage will be Paul McCartney, the father of four whose guts wrench for fathers like the Dad of the child above.
            To understand Paul McCartney is to understand one thing - that children matter most to him. And it grieves him that whilst he has happy, healthy kids, others live with the pain of the hope that one day, maybe, their child might laugh.
            "Part of the reason I'm doing Knebworth is because I'm a father", says Paul.
            "I'm very sensitive to my kids and their needs and when I see those parents at The Centre, I think 'There but for the grace of God go I....'"
            The Centre' is the Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Centre, for which the Knebworth charity festival is being largely staged.
            At its London base staff spend taxing hour after hour trying to reach the autistic, handicapped and disturbed children through the magic of music. And that's not being glib, somehow - magically -music can draw out partly into the world,the children from their disabilities.
            For Paul, there's no question that this treatment' works. He learnt that first-hand when, taking only an acoustic guitar, he visited the children, sat on the floor and played to them and left marvelling at the results.
            "Before I went there I didn't really think this idea of the music therapy was up to much", he says.
            "But I learnt that music actually does motivate retarded people, it seems to reach them much better than the spoken word can.
            "It was put to me that when you are talking to autistic people it's like talking to someone from the end of a long tunnel. If you say 'hello', they see a person a long way down the tunnel saying 'hello' and they ignore it.
            "But if they hear a cymbal, it catches their attention, they look for the sound and you can involve them. Whereas just speech makes it very difficult to involve these children, because they are used to withdrawing from it, they are much less used to withdrawing from music.
            "I've got a hunch that the whole power of music is very unusual, much more so than perhaps we imagine.
            "After all, music is only a series of vibrations. All sound is vibration, you tune a piano to 440 vibrations per whatever. The A note is merely a certain amount of vibrations and so is the E note. But there is something mystical behind it - like, if it's just vibrations why does it affect us so deeply?
            "Why is it, when these vibrations are played in a certain series to give the impression of trickling water, why can we actually see a running stream in our minds?"
            It was Paul's own wonder at the mystic power of what has been the base of a 30-year career that drew him close to the children at the Nordoff-Robbins centre.
after all, had no idea who he was. They weren't impressed by the presence of such a star. Paul met them raw; neither his talent nor his legend - he knew - would impress them. And, he admits, the prospect of such a virgin audience was daunting.
            "Sitting with those children on the floor was just like being at a playgroup'' he says.
            "And it was like no performance I'd ever given before. I was pretty nervous - just because of the thought that these kids could just ignore me. They are not like a paying audience, it could have ended up with them all sitting over in the corner and me on the other side of the room.
            "But in actual fact, the opposite happened and this guitar, this simple piece of wood with a hole in it, attracted them in much the same way as the early sounds of rock and roll attracted me back in my childhood.
            "By the end of it, the kids were all over me and their parents just looked so happy to see their children invovled and motivated.
            "Unless you are the parent of an autistic or disturbed child, you cannot possibly imagine the hope it can give to see that child of your's reacting after such long bouts of ostensible indifference.
            "And what they say about it is that when the parents take their kids home, if the kids have been playing around with a drum or a tambourine, then when they get home they will pick up a knife and', fork and start playing with them -and that is the start of teaching them to use a knife and fork, items that they otherwise would normally see no significance in".
            Paul's empathy with children is remarkable to watch. With him, the youngest always bring the greatest delight.
            During the McCartney Tour's recent visit to Japan, he was celebrated all over as some form of Sun King; fans rioted at Tokyo airport on his arrival, 950 journalists attended his Press conference and the crowds stood and cheered the longest and loudest of any audience this tour.
            But in the midst of this total adulation, his greatest pleasure came when a primary school invited him to to visit and plant a tree in their playground. The children garlanded him and Linda, sang to him, danced for him - he joined in the Japanese jigging - and he left looking the happiest man in Tokyo.
            It's not that he's childlike, let alone childish, in his outlook. But Paul McCartney retains an innocence in his vision that most others lose as they grow up.
            "I find a lot in common with these kids", he insists.
            "Because I'm musically dyslexic. I can't notate music. If you showed me a score of Yesterday written out I wouldn't know what it was unless it had the title on it.
            "Even now, I still can't write music. All those dots on a page don't look like music to me , because to me music is much more colourful than that. I don't know what all that EGBDF is, I don't understand it and I don't communicate on that level - I communicate more on the level that these kids at the centre do. I just react to music".
            The Knebworth festival will raise around $10 million for the needy. Half will go to the Nordoff-Robbins centre and the remainder to the BRIT School for Performing Arts, a college that encourages and trains the young showbusiness talent of tomorrow.
            With TV rights already sold, the show - which will star, among others, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Tears For Fears, The Who, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Cliff Richard, Elton John , Mark Knopfler and Status Quo - will be seen by audiences all around the world.
            It will be THE rock event of the Nineties, but more importantly to the stars taking part maybe some of The Songs That Changed The World will reach the little ones who only now, through music therapy, are learning the joy that we've lived with for granted.
            For once, the real stars of the day won't be on the stage. But they'll be in the hearts of those who are.
            As Paul says: "If you add it all up, all the fame, the success and the years I've had of both, it doesn't compare to your kids, does it?

Geoff Baker