Paul McCartney is telling critics of his upcoming concert in Quebec City to "smoke the pipes of peace."

In an interview with Radio-Canada, the former Beatle said he doesn't understand Quebec nationalists who say his presence is out of place at Quebec City's 400th birthday bash.

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Paul McCartney is seen here in Las Vegas in June 2006, attending Love, the Cirque du Soleil's Beatles-inspired show. ((Associated Press))

A small group of sovereigntist artists and politicians publicly criticized McCartney's free concert, arguing his presence is overly "Canadianizing" the city's celebration.

McCartney said his free show on Sunday is about friendship, not politics.

"I think it's time to smoke the pipes of peace, and to just put away your hatchets," he said in the telephone interview. "I think it's a show of friendship. I'm very friendly with the French people I know. I know people of all nationalities."

His sovereigntist critics argue he shouldn't be playing such a prominent show in Quebec City  because it would be too reminiscent of the battle between his native Britain and the French in Quebec in the 1750s.

McCartney said that logic means he should never visit Germany because of the world wars that pitted Britain against Germany.

McCartney suggested wryly that it was time to let bygones go. "They won," he said. "What are they moaning about? They won."

'Go watch a DVD or something'

"I wouldn't have minded if they lost. It's me that should be moaning, right?" He pauses for several seconds. "I'm only kidding you know."

He said he doesn't pay much attention to naysayers, as a rule, and thinks that "people who are just really nationalistic like that should go watch a DVD or something."

McCartney said he’s been in similar situations in the past.

When the Beatles played Tokyo, Japan for the first time in 1966, he said some people were up in arms about the band's choice of venue – the Budokan – an arena originally built for martial arts.

"People sort of were saying ‘I’m going to commit suicide, they shouldn’t be playing in there,’ you know. I mean, that didn’t last long," he recalled.

McCartney has never been to Quebec City but said he's looking forward to his visit and hopes to take in some of the sights.

He said he's excited about playing with his band, and although he wouldn't reveal what songs they will play, promised "plenty of hits in there."

His hope is that people say "this was the best night of [their] lives."

"I know I'm aiming high, but why not?" he said.

He also urged all "Quebeckians" to love him, and expressed his hope that he and his band would "conquer Quebec this time."

He said he trusts his French lessons will help.

Organizers are expecting about 200,000 people for the open-air show on the Plains of Abraham.

PQ leader backs away from colleagues' comments

Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois distanced herself from members of her caucus who criticized McCartney.

In an interview with Quebec newspaper Le Soleil, Marois' assistant, Marie Barrette, said the PQ leader was not aware of the open letter until it was made public, and does not share her fellow party members' opinions on McCartney's free show.

If Marois was going to be in town this weekend she would go see the show, Barrette said.

PQ national assembly member Sylvain Gaudreault, who represents Jonquière, is planning to attend the show, she said.

With files from the Canadian Press