Sunday, 6 June 2010

Well, shake it up baby now

I've always loved the Twist and Shout EP ever since listening to my dad's copy when I was about 8 and dancing round my bedroom, blissfully unaware that the band who produced the wonderful and exciting sounds coming from my little record player had been broken up for more than a decade already.

As much as I loved the music of the EP's four songs - A Taste of Honey, Do You Want To Know A Secret, There's A Place, as well as the earth-shattering title track - the record cover always intrigued me. To me, it's one of those 'what happened next' photos, as I always imagined them falling off, of what looked like a rather precarious place to be jumping about on, after the picture was taken.

What's so great about being a Beatle fan is the things you learn about because they are in some way connected to the band. For instance, all the great photographers whose work I've discovered through them having taken famous beatle record covers or portraits.

One photographer remained outwith my radar until today. Browsing news items online I came across notice of a touring exhibition (currently in Norwich but, alas, not coming to Scotland) called Beatles To Bowie, which had been curated by the National Portrait Gallery. Featured in the exhibition is the work of one Fiona Adams, who captured none other than the iconic Twist and Shout shot.

To my shame, I had never heard of Adams, and had assumed that my fave EP cover had been taken by one of the big male beatle photographers of the time such as Angus McBean, Dezo Hoffman, Robert Whitaker or the like. In fact, apart from Linda Eastman, I wasn't even aware of any other female photographers working the 60s pop and rock circuit (though I'm sure there were plenty more, which I shall look forward to finding out).

Adams tells the story of the Twist and Shout 'Beatles on the wall' session on her website, where you can see the contact sheet for that photoshoot, as well as other wonderful 60s portraits (special interest for beatle fans are her photos and brief anecdote about working with the legendary psychedelic artists, and beatle faves, The Fool).

It's a great shame we don't know more about Adams (there isn't even a Wikipedia entry for her), though she is still very much alive and well and working in photography. Her April 1963 Twist and Shout image perfectly captured the vibrant and youthful spirit of the band about to change pop culture forever. Hopefully someone will rectify the Wikipedia situation soon and give her the recognition she deserves.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Ringo had a dead rat in drawer

Everybody's talking about the upcoming Sotheby's NYC auction (on Paul's 68th birthday coincidentally) of the lyrics to A Day In The Life in John's own handwroter - nice clear reproduction is featured here.

It seems they have resurfaced as the private collector who first bought them in 1992 is trying their hand (now for the 2nd time - they tried to sell them in 2006 but no joy, I blame Ebay...) at breaking the auction record for original handwritten Beatle lyrics. Speculation in the media is rife that ADITL will outsell a set of John's All You Need Is Love lyrics which sold for $1gazillion (or £655,450 in british money) five years ago.

Reading the various articles which the news of the auction has spawned led me to an afternoon of googling about Mal Evans, the gentle giant of the 2-man road crew/jacks of all trades who supported the boys from Cavern days to beyond the band break-up (Neil Aspinall, the George to Mal's Lennie, of course went on to run Apple till he passed away 2 years ago). It was Mal's widowed wife who first sold the ADITL lyrics back in 1992 you see.

One blog post I found from 2007 (which gives a nice potted history of Mal's life) particularly got my beatle detective antennae twitching. It makes several mentions of a book of memoirs called Living the Beatles' Legend which Mal had just finished writing before his untimely death, being shot by the LAPD in a domestic disturbance in 1976 (another tragic end for one of the beatle inner circle). The post also quoted several times from Mal's diaries. What's that now? Okay, hold the bus...that anyone in the inner circle kept a diary recording first hand the private and professional lives of the boys during the beatle years was news to me, never mind that extracts were to be found in the public domain!

A short google later and I had found the source of the extracts - it seems the Times newspaper had published them in 2005. After a magical mystery tour of their own following Mal's death, the diaries had been returned (along with many other precious archive items from his time working for the boys) to his wife Lily, who it seems had released these extracts to the Times.

Reading them (I've copied a few below but go here for the full portion that the Times printed) is by turns both a spine-tingling and rib-tickling experience for a fan like me. Mal's writing style is funny, sometimes unintentionally, and his throwaway nuggets about the some of the famous moments in beatle history are manna from heaven; but it's also sad to see the affect the band break-up had on Mal's relationship with the boys, who he certainly saw as more than just his employers.

January 19 and 20 1967
Ended up smashed in Bag O' Nails with Paul and Neil. Quite a number of people attached themselves, oh that it would happen to me... freak out time baby for Mal.

February 23, 1968
The Beatles all met Maharishi on his cottage roof... off to the beach after lunch, well it's not really the beach but the bank of the Ganges... Jane is still not well although the others minor complaints have been "faith healed", and Ringo had a dead rat in drawer.

January 13, 1969

Paul is really cutting down on the Apple staff members. I was elevated to office boy [Mal had briefly been made MD of Apple] and I feel very hurt and sad inside — only big boys don't cry. Why I should feel hurt and reason for writing this is ego... I thought I was different from other people in my relationship with the Beatles and being loved by them and treated so nice, I felt like one of the family. Seems I fetch and carry. I find it difficult to live on the £38 I take home each week and would love to be like their other friends who buy fantastic homes and have all the alterations done by them, and are still going to ask for a rise. I always tell myself — look, everybody wants to take from, be satisfied, try to give and you will receive. After all this time I have about £70 to my name, but was content and happy. Loving them as I do, nothing is too much trouble, because I want to serve them. Feel a bit better now — EGO?

January 27, 1970
Seem to be losing Paul — really got the stick from him today.

The full 5-page Times article is a must-read, giving an insight into Mal's contribution to the beatles as a mate and fellow traveller on their rollercoaster ride through the sixties, as well as more than a few key moments in their recording career - just one example: you can still hear Mal's ominous and echoing tones on A Day In The Life counting the bars between John's third verse and Paul's middle eight and back into John's final verse again - it was also Mal's responsibility to set off the alarm clock at the 24th bar as Paul comes in with 'Woke up, fell out of bed', and Mal joined John, Paul, and Ringo in producing the end of the song, a crashing E major chord played on the piano.

And of course we all know the great stories about Mal that the boys, particularly Paul, have told in their own words over the years (Paul getting Mal to write down the secret to life the first time they all got stoned; the Phillipines incident 'tell Lil I love her'; and Paul's fave: the beatle sandwich in the back of the van when Mal has to drive them home in a windscreen-less van one harsh winter early on in their career).
Lily has sold some of the memorabilia that belonged to Mal intermittently over the years (Paul successfully blocked her sale of his written lyrics to With A Little Help From My Friends, which he argued belonged to him as Mal was told to keep them as part of his job, not as a personal gift). I haven't been able to find out if the diaries are still in the Evans' family possession (I presume they are) and what their fate might be in terms of being fully published. And mystery also surrounds Living The Beatles' Legend - though I hope that some more knowledgeable fans than me might be able to shed light on this...

Sunday, 25 April 2010

A fan's a fan for aw that

A recent post at Kenwood (an exhaustive blog on both the insides of John's home and insights into his life while he lived there from 64-68) has got me all a-quiver with anticipation.

Kenwood had posted a photo of a school-age George on behalf of beatle historian extraordinaire Mark Lewisohn, asking for anyone who knew the location where the photo was taken to write in. A few days later, the answer was found and a reply from Mark posted up.

Apart from my no.1 jealousy of anyone who was a regular attendee at Cavern/Hamburg gigs, no.2 on my most-envied list is reserved for Mr Lewisohn. Why? Because in the mid 80s EMI gave him unprecedented access to the entire catalogue of beatle archives at Abbey Road which resulted in The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions. As the book states, outside of John, Paul, George, Ringo, and George Martin, Mark has heard more beatle recordings (both released, and more importantly, unreleased) than anyone else in the entire world. Lucky sod!

But what makes it even more incredible, and where my envy takes a break for a second, is that Mark is truly the fan's fan - he not only writes his beatle books with 100% accuracy (he won't print something unless he can verify it as being true, no lazy half-hearted guesses for him or taking what every other biographer has written as being gospel), but with a true fan's total respect and love too (see him recreating a Mad Day Out pic above for his Beatles London book, and what fan hasn't recreated a famous beatles pic at some point in their life?). Having added to his exhaustive account of every recording session with a comprehensive log of every gig they ever played (in The Beatles Live) and a day by day account of their career (in The Complete Beatles Chronicle), Mark is now writing a 3 volume biography of our most fabulous of foursomes. As meticulous as ever, it has taken him 6 years to complete Volume 1, which is now due out next autumn.

Why is this so exciting when there are already hundreds (or approaching thousands probably) of books about the Beatles, some of which you can find on every fan's bookshelf (eg Hunter Davies' authorised biography, Cyn and Julia's books, Paul's Many Years From Now, Revolution In the Head, to name a few). Because anything Mark has produced in the past becomes the last word on that particular aspect of the beatles. For instance, if you care about when John met Paul for the first time, then you have Mark to thank for pinpointing the date (which evaded tonnes of writers before him!).

I am a fact junkie and so Mark's books are manna from heaven for me. Other fans might like their beatle tales told with a bit more pizzazz, so I guess it's personal taste. I read all the major 'story' books when I was a teenager, nowadays I just want my beatle history served like my meat, lean and organic :-)

What I also think sets Mark apart from other respected writers is his leave no (rolling) stone unturned approach to the smallest of details - yes, it was Mark who also managed to finally confirm (by just asking Paul, simple really) that it was the Stones' Brian Jones who played sax on You Know My Name, and not the long debated namesake from the boys' former merseybeat buddies, The Undertakers.

So okay, writing this post has helped me exorcise my envy and remind myself that really it's admiration I should reserve for Mark. He is the fan who has gone that extra mile in uncovering beatle history for us, not because he's some bored journalist looking for an instant bestseller, but because the Beatles really matter to him. Just like they do to me, and everyone else who still loves the band 40 years after they have ceased to exist. I only wish we didn't have to wait another year and a half for the release!

Thursday, 22 April 2010

The more I learn the less I know

About a week ago I saw news of an interesting auction of very rare memorabeatlia (mostly items belonging to John or George which they had given to press officer and close friend Derek Taylor, who had then passed to beatle-book author Geoffrey Giuliano).

Michael Gerber over at the wonderful Hey Dullblog then wrote a thought-provoking post about the auction drawing attention to one of the items up for sale in particular. It's a memo from George which was posted on the wall at Apple HQ at the time, containing the following words "A flower on its own is pretty. A flower in a garden is beautiful" - apparently beseeching the other boys not to allow the continuing disintegration of the band.

My immediate reaction on reading this was that I would have believed that kind of sentiment from anyone else in the band - except George! Paul yes, because outside of Brian Epstein, he was the biggest fan of, and believer in, the Beatles right from the start. Ringo, cos the band was pretty much his life, with his actor-for-hire services enough to keep him busy once he had laid down his drum tracks on the latest record. John - well, okay he was pretty vociferous in comparing the break-up of the beatles as a slow death, a divorce, as painful as passing a watermelon (he might not have said that last one actually...), but in the end he wasn't the one to officially make the announcement that the band was over - Paul gazumped him on that in April 1970.

But George? Holy Radha Krishna Temple, Batman! I had been under the impression from various interviews and articles that George had pretty much lost his mojo for playing at being a beatle after his trip to India in 1966, and the world of consciousness which that opened up for him. In the Anthology he stated that during the worst of the 'winter of discontent' he knew he could be happy enough on his own rather than expend energy trying to combat the slog of the increasingly bickering band.

Michael Gerber had figured out that the memo could probably be pinned down to a date between John first declaring he wanted to leave the beatles (September 1969) to Paul's official announcement 7 months later. So out of interest I had a look at what George was up to in that period, as if something would give me a sign as to his state of mind and whether he really would have written a plea on Apple headed paper asking the boys to stay together.

The very first item I came across was that on 2nd December 1969 he took to the stage for the first time since the beatles played their last ever official concert at Candlestick Park in August 1966, forming part of the backing group for Delaney & Bonnie (alongside his good friend Eric Clapton). George ended up doing 6 consecutive gigs with them (the pic at the top of this page is taken from a gig in Denmark after these 6 UK dates), staying in local hotels along the way, very much like the package tours the Beatles played on from 1963-65.

Okay, George certainly wasn't the only beatle striking out on his own during this time, but I just can't reconcile the George of this period, gigging again as part of a large band, as having written that memo. However, if the memo is in fact above-board and genuine then I just have to accept the fact that maybe the final days of the beatles weren't as dark as I had been led to believe from all that I've read and seen in the past 25 years. Even on the Anthology I suppose that memories of the three remaining beatles could be skewered by emotions or forgetfulness 20 years later.

But the most significant outcome of the revelation of this memo is that it makes me realise there is still so much for a beatle student like me to learn! Write out a hundred times "must try harder"...:-)

Saturday, 17 April 2010

A Sprout of a New Generation

During the formative years of my beatle education the sources of information available to my fledgling fandom were a millionth what they are today (what with the internet and all that). Something that I revered with an almost religious dedication was a constantly played VHS tape called The Compleat Beatles, a 2-hour documentary released in 1984.

Pre-dating the Anthology by 11 years, it was a far from shoddy collection of archive material interspersed by some gems of interviews with key beatle people (especially from the Liverpool/Hamburg era, which is often completely marginalised by the mighty force of the 62-70 period) and a doom-laden narration by english actor Malcolm McDowell, who managed to make their entire career sound like a Shakespearian tragedy. Okay, there were some lows: the early deaths of both John and Paul's mothers; Stuart Sutcliffe's death at age 21; the untimely death of Brian Epstein...erm yeah, what was my point again?

The documentary contains one of my fave pieces of beatle-related archive film, and it doesn't even feature the boys at all. It's a sweet little interview [4:02-5:08 in the clip below] with a devoted fangirl waiting to see the Beatles, and who has produced an oil-painting portrait of Paul which she calls "A Sprout of a New Generation".

There are so many things I love about this girl: the fact that she has channelled her beatle-obsession into an artistic form (wonder why I love that so much...;-)) thereby creating a new piece of art, which is actually a really cool painting (when commentators of the time were dismissing the beatles as merely a passing phase in pop music, here was one teenage girl who was convinced that they were spearheading something much more significant); her hilariously valiant attempt at trying to deny she would tear the clothes off Paul if she met him (she only just manages to contain her hysteria while talking about him!); her wonderful accent (to me it sounds like New Jersey? But being scottish i'm no expert); and her final defeated acceptance that it's who you know and not who you paint that would garner an invitation into the sacred inner circle of her heroes.

I've always wondered if she did, against the odds, get to present her painting to Paul, and what became of her. I guess I identified with her so strongly when first watching that old VHS tape of mine because I felt all the things she clearly did - and in addition I was utterly envious of her, being around to actually experience the excitement of those times, instead of having to live it vicariously through grainy video footage.

I would love to hear from anyone who knows more about this clip, like when and where it might have been filmed (in the documentary it's placed in 1964 pre-Beatles for Sale, but going by the depiction of Paul in the painting, and the fashion of the girls, I think it's later than that, but again i'm no expert). And if anyone actually knows who this girl is...send me a postcard, drop me a line!

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

"That's What I Want" Wednesday!

I love Taschen art books, I love photography collections, and I love anything to do with the Beatles (who knew!), so this new book of Linda McCartney's photos don't need no fake ID to get onto my Most Wanted guest list this week. But at a princely triple-figure sum it's going to have to join all those gems from Genesis Publications on my Amazon Wish-for-a-lottery-win List cos this mama's got little kitten mouths to feed.

More in keeping with the sensible 'look after the pennies and they'll take care of the pounds' side of me is another book of photos, this time from May Pang (who I can't help adoring) called Instamatic Karma - worth the cover price for the great title alone, and which makes me want to trawl ebay for another addition to my vintage camera collection.

While looking for a photo to publish with this posting I found the image at the top of the page, which is taken from May's book. Now I know I gotta have it! Of course I was aware that John and Paul had hung out at least a couple of times during the 70s and I've even tried to listen to A Toot and A Snore all the way through, but I never in my wildest dreams imagined there had been any photographs taken of them together, and then I come across this. My heart is in my mouth as I write and I keep stopping to look at the picture again, as if it might vanish if I take my eyes off it.

It's been a bit of a downer lately what with all the recent articles and news items going on about the 40th anniversary of the official Beatles break-up (I'd much rather spend time and energy celebrating what they created while they were still together), so this picture is a reminder that the break-up was just the end of a chapter of John and Paul's relationship, and not the final word (as we all know, that tragically was to come later).

I'm depressing myself now, so to lighten the mood a final must-have today is for anyone like me who still gets a thrill from playing games which involve throwing dice and moving pieces on a board (call me old-fashioned...or just old). Spotted here on a great beatles blog by Megan (who has opinions and isn't afraid to wield them!) is the Beatles edition of Trivial Pursuit. Yeah I know I'm probably the last person on earth to hear about this, but it just means I'll get it at a discounted price now :-) Anyone up for a game?

Monday, 12 April 2010

The pool of life

It's the time of year when I start planning my annual pilgrimage to Liverpool, birthplace of the Beatles, and my very own Mecca (or should that be Macca?).

I've been going to the annual Beatles Convention held over the English bank holiday weekend (it's not a holiday in Scotland unfortunately) in August, almost every year since 1997. I actually went for the very first time in 1988 with my best friend from school and my dad, and lord knows why it took me so long to get back (forgive the pun) but it was probably due to being a skint teenager then student, then young homeowner. But suffice to say once I returned as an adult it has been one of the most important yearly events in my life since then.

Liverpool can be disconcerting for a Beatles fan as it is worlds away from the city in which the lads grew up in the 40s, 50s, and early 60s, and yet when you arrive for the first time you almost expect to see beehived girls and bequiffed boys roaming the city centre, clutching their latest 45-inch single purchased from Brian Epstein's NEMS record store before making their way up narrow Mathew Street to catch a beat-stomping lunchtime gig in the dark, dank cellar club known as the Cavern.

Unfortunately, modern Liverpool is nothing like this! However, there is something that is exactly how you dreamed it would be, and that is the spirit of the people. No matter how many times I have visited over the past few decades, and the various economic and environmental changes which have taken, and are still taking, place, Liverpudlians remain a breed apart with their good humour (it's completely true about the scouse quick wit) and lust for life (they don't do anything by half measures, including drinking!) which the Beatles so perfectly embodied.

Not that you have the chance to encounter that many Liverpudlians, or see much of the city, while at the Convention (or Beatle Week as it's now called). Mixing with thousands of other fans from all ends of the earth for four or five days doesn't leave much time for meeting the natives of Liverpool, and while you are watching bands from noon to the early hours in various venues across the city, daylight and the outside world become increasingly elusive.

However it's that cocoon of all things beatle and being amongst people full of love for the boys and their music that continues to rejuvenate me every year. The Beatles flew to India for their spiritual regeneration, I get the train to Liverpool for mine.

PS the photo at the top of this post is from the Casbah Club, where there will be a special party at this year's Beatle Week, and I can't wait to set foot in this hallowed place once again.