Thursday, May 31, 2012


June 1962

Every once in a while, I like to reflect on the history of the Beatles, look back on where they've been and what they are looking forward to.  Try to get inside their heads.  As they are finished with their third and last trip to the seminal St Pauli district in Hamburg, now is a really appropriate time for that.

If you follow this blog, you know that by now, the Beatles are really a professional band.  They've come a very long way in a pretty short time.  Only two short years ago in 1960, they were not really even a band.  They were in a constant search for a drummer.  They had three guitarists playing more-or-less crappy bottom of the barrel guitars and judging by the amateur recordings that exist, their arrangements were very much catch-as-catch-can, with each musician playing the part he felt most appropriate, but with no "unifying principle", which has since become the signature "Beatle sound".

They had not yet been to Germany and had only just started hanging out at the Jacaranda, run by Alan Williams, who will get them their first trial by fire stint in Hamburg, Germany (in the wake of a Caribbean steel drum band) and with whom they have since had a falling out.  They really get started on a short trip to Scotland, backing Johnny Gentle for a couple of weeks and then make their first trip to Germany where  the hours are long, the living conditions worse than spartan, and the pay barely adequate.  But the experience and practice time will begin to knit them into an (almost) unbreakable unit both personally and musically.  At the same time, the long hours start them on an endless quest for material to perform, much of which is American rock and roll, but some of which comes from very unlikely and diverse sources.  Arrest and deportation is their lot at the close of that year and they straggle home to lick their wounds before jumping  in again.

1961 would see them lose founding member Stuart Sutcliffe to cupid's arrow and hitch their wagon to Sam Leach et al.and the burgeoning local movement toward jive hall dances.   Those dances provide the demand for the Beatles to continue to improve their stage presentation and lead to a second trip to the continent, followed by an almost triumphant return to Liverpool a very much improved band. For the first time, kids come to their shows not just to dance and hang out together, but to watch and listen to them.  And they begin to play regularly at the Cavern.  Something special is happening  here, for those who have the ears to hear it.

In 1962, their equipment is all professional grade and their prospects for a longed for recording contract are looking better and better when they hook up with a local record retailer, Brian Epstein, who agrees to become their manager and to pull all the strings he knows to get them into a proper studio.  Of course, there is a price to be paid.  They can no longer be just that scruffy crowd who dress like dock workers or worse and who smoke and eat and make private jokes on stage.  The hours of playing are less taxing, but also less wild and crazy.  The money is better now, but the sheer young rebel "in your face" fun is coming to an end.  Perhaps, it is time.  All things must pass.  Let's see whether this recording session in London leads to something interesting, eh lads?  

Friday, May 25, 2012

Mailcall for Mr Epstein

May 25, 1962

Brian Epstein receives a copy of the "Application For Artiste' Contract" from George Martin, representative of Parlephone Record Company of London, England.  Just a few signatures and the Beatles are well and truly on their way.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Mr Martin Prepares the Ground

May 18,1962

Mr Martin back in the day
Today, somewhat straitlaced George Martin starts the legal paperwork for signing the Beatles to a recording contract.  He wants to have the necessary documents in hand for everyone to sign, if they "pass the audition" when they do finally get into Abbey Road Studios.   Organizational efficiency is not usually the strong suit of creative types.  George Martin is already proving to be a happy combination.

Mr Martin has a strong background in music, having studied piano and oboe at the prestigious Guildhall School of Music and Drama after a stint in the Royal Navy at the end of the war.  He started his professional career at the BBC and then moved over to EMI (Electric and Musical Industries).  EMI is a pioneer in the "vertical  integration" business model, having fingers in all the recording pies, professional recording and consumer playback equipment as well as production and marketing of recorded performances.

He is assigned to EMI's Parlephone label and is now mostly producing comedy and novelty records for the likes of Peter Sellers and the Goons.  (Monty Python's Flying Circus owes a lot to the humor invented by the Goons.)  Abbey Road is his factory floor where the production takes place.  At the same time, classical recording is also taking place across the hall for such as the London Symphony Orchestra to be marketed on EMI's prestigious Columbia label.

Parlephone was originally a high status German imprint that was acquired by EMI and has since fallen on harder times.  Mr Martin is now casting around for something to revive the label.  Could this rock and roll band from the Northern provinces be the answer to his quest?

The Beatles are nearing the end of their short residency in Hamburg and are now excited to know that a recording session with Parlephone is "in the works".

Friday, May 11, 2012

Cyn and Dot Get Their Own Place

May 1962

While John is in Hamburg, Cynthia Powell, his long time girlfriend has been living a rather gypsy existence.  Her mother has left for Canada and Cyn first moved in with John's Aunt Mimi.  After having had her fill of Mimi's cold demeanor, she moves in with some local cousins.  (Do I detect echoes of a "scene"?)  Now, she decides it's time to rent her own flat or room, really.  One that will be closer to her student teaching job.  Finally, she comes across a place that needs work but fills the bill.  And to make matters even better, a short time later Paul's girlfriend Dot Rhone moves into the same building.  John's beautiful letters continue to come across to the new love nest that Cyn is preparing for his return.  The letters are full of protestations of love and longing and she sees in them palpable evidence of his deep seated fear of being left alone again.

Paul is working on a sweet new song, "When I'm Sixty-four" written in an old fashioned music hall style familiar to his dad's generation.  Also, there is some evidence that "P.S. I Love You" is written now as a song-letter to his girlfriend back home.  Gonna need some new material for that recording session.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Telegram Goes to Germany

May 9th, 1962

Brian Epstein travels down to London to meet with George Martin, this time at Abbey Road Studios, in St John's Wood, a well-to-do London borough.  They are to firm up plans for recording the Beatles.  The meeting occurs at 11:30 am.  (After all this time of dealing with conjecture and fallible memory, it is wonderful having some historical documentary evidence to settle such obscure questions.) Imagine how he must have felt climbing the steps up to the front door to this "Cathedral of the Beatles Music".

Wife Karen and I on the steps leading to the holy of holies in 1996. 
BTW.  If memory serves, this picture was taken by the Beatle Brain of Britian, Richard Porter. 
(That was before 9/11 and "enhanced security measures".)

After the meeting, Brian sends the good news to the boys in Hamburg.  He informs them that he has secured them a recording session and instructs them to "rehearse new material".  He also dispatches this to Mersey Beat Magazine.  Gotta pump up that buzz!

(If blogspot is punctual, this post should be posted "exactly" 50 years before the meeting begins.  Woo Hoo!)

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Leachy Side Bar

If you are anywhere near Liverpool, next Friday is your lucky day!  Sam Leach is back and he's at Knotty Ash!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Let's Talk Set List

May 1962

Time to listen to some music.  While the Beatles are sharpening their act, they are also picking up some new songs, much of it material that Beatle fans will become familiar with in coming years.

In 1962 their sets begin to feature a song written by a lesser known American soul singer called Arther Alexander, called "Anna (Go With Him)".  And a couple of new "girl group" covers enter the repertoire, "Baby It's You" from the Shirrells and "Devil in Her Heart" a call and response song from the Donays .  For comparison, listen to the Beatles "Devil".  They take so much from the American girl groups, an unlikely source to say the least.  And I just love how George "revises" the lyric to "No, no, nay will she deceive".  A very sweet north of England touch.  And there's something endearing in the miscues on this live BBC version, too.

Also, a new Carl Perkins tune is added "Honey Don't", originally sung by John, later to feature Ringo.  Still love Perkins' original version.  He is the coolest of all the cats!  No wonder the Beatles latched onto it.  And that sixth chord at the finish!  So, that's where the they got that from!

The practice of song writing has tentatively begun to creep into the set list in the form of a Lennon tune "Ask Me Why" (you-woo-woo-woo-woo :-) and a McCartney one "I Fancy Me Chances".  The great songwriting competition/partnership is really getting into gear now as the boys begin to explore their conjoined musical talent that has been developing subconsciously over the last five years of intense performing at each others elbows.  The Beatles strength is in their willingness to evolve their craft, to move on the the next challenge and embrace it willingly.