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.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

"That's What I Want" Wednesday!

Although I try to adhere to John's plea to 'imagine no possessions' sometimes there's just that item of memorabeatlia that I really really want! So "That's What I Want" Wednesday will be a chance for me to share the latest greatest fab gear to buy, sights to see, and places to go.

Come August this year it will be exactly 50 years since John, Paul, George, Pete and Stu first arrived in Hamburg to play a variety of seedy clubs in the notorious red light area of the Reeperbahn. So a must have for my wardrobe this summer has to be a Star Club
t-shirt to go with my bag of the same design, which has been a fave accessory for a few years now.

Next up is an
exhibition that I have no excuse for missing as it's just up the road in Dundee. "From Dundee To Abbey Road" is a celebration of the late scottish photographer Iain Macmillan (the Abbey Road cover shot is just a tiny portion of his long career) and runs till 3rd June at Dundee's Discovery Point Cafe. The lovely May Pang, John's girlfriend during his estrangement from Yoko in the early/mid 70s, was a recent visitor to the exhibition (nice wee interview about her attendance here). I just wish I had had a chance to meet her (she did make an appearance at Beatleweek in Liverpool once but it was only to introduce a band), as she is someone who has always upheld John's memory with respect and obviously loved him a great deal.

Last today is something I do already own, but fear I may have lost amongst the clutter of my home. It's a replica of a necklace John wore in the famous New York City t-shirt
photos taken by Bob Gruen in 1974. The necklace consists of a silver cross and a tablet engraved with the astrological sign for Libra. I bought my copy of the necklace from The Beatles Shop in Mathew Street a few years ago now. It's probably a geeky step too far to wear it with the famous NYC t-shirt, which I also have in my wardrobe, but what the hell!

Monday, 5 April 2010

Gimme Some Truth

Twenty five years after first becoming a bona fide beatlemaniac, I'm still learning things about the Beatles that I didn't know, largely thanks to the vast amount of information available via the internet.

For instance this morning I innocently googled 'John Lennon Hamburg' as I was looking for a pic to add as my mobile phone's wallpaper. I found the one I had in mind two hours later as I was diverted by this wonderful website on the way. Although I hadn't heard of him before, Jim has been a musician and songwriter for over 40 years (he co-wrote some of Bryan Adams' most famous songs, 'Run To You', 'Summer of '69', 'Heaven', as well as songs for Aerosmith, Ozzy Osbourne and Alice Cooper to name but a few).

The reason his website was one of the first returns to come up on the google search screen is because he owns the original work permit documents for John when the Beatles went to Hamburg in 1960-1962. Jim has lovingly posted up every single page of the permits on his website, and what caught my eye is a great photo booth shot of John stapled to one of the pages (which is the extract I have posted above). As usual, his expression is hilarious, and so out of keeping with the solemn, serious shot that would have been required for official West German work papers at the time (remember we are talking only 15 years since the Nazi regime had been toppled!).

Jim's website is a mine of information from the various projects that he takes an interest in, plus he's an interesting fella on his own anyway. Also of note to Beatle fans is the page he dedicates to shooting down the claims of a reknowned jazz drummer called Bernard Purdie who has said for the past 30 years that his drumming appears on at least 21 Beatles recordings. And not satisfied with that he also states that Ringo didn't drum on anything the Beatles ever released. Although I would never have believed Bernard's story for a second, for ye of little faith Jim patiently refutes the outlandish claim bit by evidential bit.

It's fans like Jim who take the time, money, and love to preserve such precious data about the Beatles who gain a world of respect from me. Even within my lifetime (I wasn't around when the Beatles were) it's becoming more clear as time passes that they are becoming significant historical figures. And for every book, article, documentary released about the Beatles, there is such a wealth of inaccuracy that can so easily become labelled as fact as it gets misunderstood, repeated, taken out of context, whether unintentionally or not.

I'm not going to go crying into my coffee at the delusions of Bernard Purdie, cos it's as clear as day to me that there isn't a word of truth in it, but information passed on enough times can drift from the realms of fiction to fact. And as John sang, "all i want is the truth, just gimme some truth".

PS here's the pic I had been originally looking for, which, if memory serves, Mimi labelled his 'come hither' look, sarcastically of course!

Friday, 2 April 2010

A suitable beginning...

How I first met The Beatles?
My Dad's copy of the Red Album LP. I don't think he had the Blue Album, or if he did I never saw it.

When was Beatles music never a part of global society after 1962? But I guess I remember being about 7 or 8 and putting the Red Album on the record player all by myself, plugging in the headphones with the giant-sized ear pads (which were so tight on your head they would squash your face up till you were one big pair of lips) then sitting on our Seventies couch with the inner record sleeve on my lap and reading along to the lyrics as each song played.

First favourite song?
Besides the obvious rugrat-oriented Yellow Submarine, I was particularly fond of She Loves You because as a wee kid I liked the story element of it. I could clearly picture the four beatles standing talking to some heartbroken lassie who was telling them about how upset she was and asking them to pass on a message to her boyfriend, and the fab four trotting off, finding the guy, and telling him if he didn't pull his finger out he was basically going to f*ck up the best thing to ever happen to him.

First favourite beatle?
Don't think I had one till much later (about 12 years old) when I read the Hunter Davies authorised biography. Not much contest really, the walrus was always John as far as I'm concerned! Though I suppose with his tragic death having taken place while I was a child he was probably more in my consciousness than any of the other three, particularly post-Dec 1980.

Somehow I don't remember his murder, though my old school friends have since told me that the day it was on the news we talked about it all the way to primary school (a 20 minute walk, longer if you doddled, but no family car school runs in those days). I have no memory of that, but I do recall Imagine being in the charts, which was immediately re-released after he died, and really liking the song (the simplicity of the lyrics and ideas within are tailor made for children as much as for adults who know better about the complexities of human nature) and the video even more so (for some reason the all white room and piano seemed to appeal to me).

I'm away now to put on my Red Album CD (forgive me, oh gods of vinyl), the track listing of which, in my humble, though let's face it correct on this occasion, opinion contains more perfect expressions of genius than any other artistic collection in the history of the world (maybe excepting the collected works of Shakespeare but the Red Album only has 26 of the 200+ songs the Beatles ever recorded, so not really a fair fight eh Will?).