Thursday, August 23, 2012

Jackhammers for Wedding Bells

August 23, 1962

Brian Epstein, who is taking charge of all of the mundane details of the Beatles lives, has applied for and received a license for John Lennon and Cynthia Powell to be married.  They decide to do it with a minimum of fuss at the Mount Pleasant registry office, kind of a mini-city hall which each neighborhood has in English towns.  There is sort of a family tradition being upheld.  It's the same building in which John's parents, Fred and Julia, were married in similar circumstances more than 24 years earlier.

John is worried about how being married will affect his public persona, now that the band is really beginning to get somewhere,  But he suppresses them and decides to go ahead  and marry Cyn anyway.  I think one can sense, even at this remove, how much John relied on Cynthia's love and approval, much as he would do with Yoko Ono later in his life.  Cynthia remembers that, like young lovers, they joke and teases each other about settling into married life together.

Pic of MP RO from my collection
George Harrison and Paul McCartney are there, as is Brian and the official registrar.  Cyn's brother Tony and his wife Marjorie complete the wedding party.  The bride's mother, who had been visiting a few days earlier, had decided not to change her plans and had left for her home in Canada a few days ago.  That is painful for Cyn, but she knows she had to soldier on.  John's Aunt Mimi, over-principled as always, declines the invitation.  Ringo, not yet a full member of the Beatles brotherhood, isn't present either.  Outside on the street, a jackhammer breaks up the pavement in preparation for a public improvement.  John and Cyn have to shout the responses to be heard above the din from outside.  There are no photographs taken, but Cynthia (a promising art student, remember) later sketched the scene for us.

Cynthia Lennon's wedding sketch - How charming!

The wedding luncheon is a rather casual affair at a local cafe, where the party toasts the bride and groom with glasses of  good old H2O.  For a wedding present, always generous Brian allows the couple the use of a pied a terre flat he has that he seldom uses for as long as they like.  No questions are raised about what the flat may have been used for, before it was their first home together.

In the afternoon, John and Cyn (lucky couple!) move a few belongings into the flat in Falkner Street.  That night, John and the boys play the Riverpark Ballroom in Chester twenty miles away and across the River Mersey.  The show must go on!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Beatles and Some Other Guy

August 22, 1962

Beatle fans have seen it a million times.  A short poor-quality clip of the Beatles playing "Some Other Guy", a Leiber-Stoller song, on stage at the Cavern.  The video is recorded by the UK's Granada TV a privately owned network, based in the North of England.  Granada was an alterrnative to the government run BBC.  It is kind of wonderful how the Beatles story has gone for years with mostly snapshots and conflicting reminiscences to document it and then,as they impinge more and more on the public consciousness, we get better glimpses into that past.

Today is one of those days.  The very first sound+pictures film of the band that has come down to us is made today.  Our closest approach to what the audience sees and feels at a pre-fame Beatles performance.  The quality leaves something to be desired.  Still, it is one of the most precious 2 minutes of film to every Beatle fan.  And it was 50 years ago, TODAY!

Paul looks a bit nervous, John supremely confident. George's duojet carries the musical backing. Ringo Starr joined the band only a few days ago and hasn't even had time to adjust his hairstyle. If you listen carefully, at the end of the film, you can hear a fan shout at the stage "We want Pete!".

The original unedited footage is available here.

And John Lennon is scheduled to become a married man tomorrow.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fab Four!

August 18, 1962

The big days are coming thick and fast.  Today is the day that the Fab Four are officially born.  They appear at Hulme Hall in the appropriately named Port Sunlight.  It's Ringo Starr's first public appearance with them.  They rehearse for a couple of hours and then take the stage at 10pm, the musical attraction of the Horticultural Society Dance.  (You couldn't make this stuff up, if you had to.)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Last of Pete

August 15-16, 1962

On the 15th, Pete Best plays, unbeknownst to him, for the last time with the Beatles. After the evening Cavern gig, manager Brian Epstein asks him to come to his office tomorrow for a chat.  It is there on the 16th that he delivers the devastating news. Pete is going to be replaced behind the skins by Ringo Starr.  At first in a state of shock, Pete agrees to play for an important gig in the Riverpark Ballroom in Chester that night, but then he decides, no, he can't face it. And who can blame him?

Pete's friend, Neil Aspinall, offers to quit as road manager for the band, but Pete talks him out of it. A less generous man would, no doubt, have encouraged him.

There is some evidence that the change is instigated by Paul and especially George, and may have been opposed by Epstein.  After all, Pete is the one with the most enthusiastic following, especially of girl fans. Brian would naturally think that the way to handle his unsophisticated technique is to bring in a studio drummer for recording, as George Martin insists.  If they let Pete go now, there's going to be hell to pay in the fan base.

It is a black day in the Beatles history. But taking the long view, it had to be done. There are two reasons why. Probably the most important has to do with the style and spirit of the Beatles. They (with Epstein's encouragement) are working hard to get across to audiences their sense of fun, as well as their new up-to-the-minute "look". Pete seems more like a throw back to the emotionally "cool" vibe of James Dean and the leather and greased hair style of Gene Vincent.

Secondly, Pete's drumming is very high-energy and LOUD, compared to Ringo's more laid back, measured, and polished technique behind the kit. Pete is the last link to be severed with the Beatles rough-and-ready balls-to-the-wall origins.  I'll bet it was especially hard on John Lennon, who never spoke to his friend Pete again, very likely ashamed of the conspiracy he had been part of.

It is my belief that both aspects play a role in the replacement. Still, after all they have been through together as virtual brothers, it has to be hard for Pete to accept. And difficult for the Beatles to go ahead with. But, the big time beacons, and she is a demanding mistress. The Beatles get Johnny Hutchinson from rival band the Big Three to sit in until Ringo can be available on Saturday, next. There is a very great video of a contemporary interview with Pete and his mother Mona here. The course of true love (and true fame) never did run smooth.

For true Beatle fans, it is a very bittersweet moment.  Look back on all of the undeserved criticism, fighting and personal assaults, poor travel arrangements and worse accommodations they endured.  Held together only by an unbreakable bond of musical  brotherhood, in common pursuit of a one-in-a-million rock and roll dream.  But,as George Harrison later was to philosophically observe, "All things must pass."

Peter Randolph Best, the music world thanks you (and your mother) with all of our hearts for all that you have given to make the Beatles possible, and fervently hopes that there is some measure of reward and satisfaction for you!

P.S. Pete's "new" album is called "Hayman's Green".

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Difficult Time

Early August 1962

For John Lennon, it is a very difficult  time.  He has just learned that his girlfriend is "up the spout" and his band mates, Paul and George are leaning on him heavily to agree to the replacement of their drummer, his friend Pete.  They think it would be an improvement to bring in an outsider, Ringo Starr from the rival band Rory Storm and the Hurricanes.  Ringo's a good sort, but why can't they just go along.  Haven't they been getting success just as they are.  What does that old ponce, George Martin know about a good solid rock and roll beat?

Still, there's only one thing to be done about Cyn.  She'll have to be married.  John truly loves her and he won't just cast her aside like an old napkin.  Brian Epstein and his Aunt Mimi try to explain the alternatives to him, but he simply won't listen, as he never has, to those in positions of authority.

Ah, what the hell!  Let George and Paul have their way on the drummer change.  He can reluctantly bend on that point, like he already has on the stage suits and ties.  There is so much on his mind just now.  But he'll stand firm on Cyn.  He asks Brian to make the arrangements for a civil wedding ceremony - as soon as it can be arranged.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Cyn Gets the News

August, 1962

Well, Cynthia Powell is aware about now that her life is about to undergo a dramatic change. First she has failed one of her student teacher qualifying exams and now she has missed a monthly and visits the doctor who confirms it. She's pregnant! Times were so different then. The female MD that sees Cyn gives her a stern lecture about proper behavior for a young woman. Thank goodness for her friend Phyllis McKenzie, who stands by her old friend through thick and thin. But what will John do?