I had already read Jon Savage’s book 1966: The Years the Decade Exploded and seen the V&A exhibition, You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970 when, just before Christmas, Steve Turner’s book, Beatles ’66: The Revolutionary Year, fell into my hands. Would I be up for a return trip to the year now regarded as a turning point, not only in music but more widely in culture and politics? Could Turner turn a chronicle of the Beatles’ day-to-day activities that year into a readable and engrossing narrative? The answer was resoundingly affirmative. Continue reading “Beatles ’66: The Revolutionary Year Steve Turner’s book about a pivotal year in the life”
Seven astonishing things I learned today: Continue reading “Seven astonishing things I learned today about Robert Velline, Elston Gunnn, and the son of Evelina Maria Bettina Quittner von Hudec”
Since Christmas Day I’ve been reading Tune In, the first of three volumes in which Mark Lewisohn intends to tell the definitive story of the Beatles. It’s a grand book in every sense of the word: this volume clocks in at close on a thousand pages and ends just as the group travel to London to record their first single ‘Love Me Do’; it’s also meticulously-researched and written with passion, authority and elegance. This is not your average pop hagiography, but an informed and insightful social history of Liverpool and the emergent youth culture of the 1950s.
As the year turned, I found myself coincidentally reading Lewisohn’s evocative descriptions of two New Year’s Eves in Liverpool at the close of the 1950s. I thought I’d share them. Continue reading “New Year’s Eve, Liverpool, at the close of the 1950s”
I got born into the material world
Getting worn out in the material world
Use my body like a car,
Taking me both near and far
Met my friends all in the material world
Walk a mile or so from where I live, across the park that locals call the Mystery, and you will arrive outside 12 Arnold Grove, the small terraced house where George Harrison was born in 1943. Here, for me, is another mystery: how did this boy from a family of working class Catholic Liverpudlians come not only to be a member of a musical partnership that changed the world, but also to embrace the spiritualism of Hinduism, Indian philosophy, culture, and music.
Strangely, this is not a question that Martin Scorsese seeks to explore in his sympathetic , sprawling documentary George Harrison: Living in the Material World which I watched at FACT the other evening. There is next to nothing about Harrison’s early life in the film, except for a few shots of the blitz and wartime destruction in the opening minutes. Instead, the closest Scorcese comes to pursuing the thread of a unifying idea is, as the title suggests, to tentatively explore how Harrison balanced his intense spirituality with his life in the ‘material world’ – the hedonistic lifestyle of a rock musician, property-owner, businessman and tax-payer; a sensualist deeply attractive to women, and a man who loved fast cars.
But Scorcese, though incorporating interviews with a great many who knew Harrison (including his wife and son, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and many other musicians) doesn’t probe too deeply. Tricky issues are raised, but rather superficially. Beatles press chief Derek Taylor and his wife Joan talk about Harrison’s battles with addiction; Eric Clapton recalls the love triangle between Harrison, himself and Pattie Boyd; while McCartney speaks of the tensions between himself and Harrison as the Beatles began to drift apart. But Living In The Material World pulls back from really delving into these aspects of Harrison’s life, instead building a sympathetic portrait of a gentle and quiet man, much-loved by family and friends, and one who constantly questioned the nature of his existence.
Watch out now, take care
Beware of falling swingers
Dropping all around you
The pain that often mingles
In your fingertips
Beware of darkness
This is an epic film – four hours with intermission at a cinema screening – and, like No Direction Home which dealt with Dylan, Scorcese’s aim seems to be to gather together the definitive document of the man’s career, incorporating interviews as well as beautifully restored archival footage. It’s successful in that respect, skilfully edited to yield a strong narrative drive from the mass of material (although I did wonder, in the absence of any narration or very many captions, how easy certain sections – such as Astrid Kirchherr and Klaus Voormann talking about the Hamburg days – would be to follow if you hadn’t lived through this stuff or were not au fait with all things Beatles).
There’ll come a time when all of us must leave here
Then nothing sister Mary can do
Will keep me here with you
As nothing in this life that I’ve been trying
Could equal or surpass the art of dying
Harrison is intriguing for the intensity of his spiritual yearnings, expressed in his music and his quest to absorb the principles of eastern thought. For a short period at least, he brought the Beatles under the influence of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, and he came to accept their teaching that the material world is maya, an illusionary state that should not be the final goal in life, but an opportunity to prepare for a good death. Scorcese explores this aspect of Harrison in some depth, and reveals how his spiritual values affected his attitude to the attack and stabbing by an intruder in his home and his final losing battle with cancer.
Martin Scorsese has spoken of hearing Harrison’s All Things Must Pass for the first time, of ‘the overwhelming feeling of taking in that all glorious music for the first time. It was like walking into a cathedral. George was making spiritually awake music – we all heard and felt it – and I think that was the reason that he came to occupy a very special place in our lives’.
There’s a crucial scene in the film which focusses on a letter Harrison, aged 22, wrote to his parents while in India in 1965 with the other Beatles studying meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. In the letter, George says the Beatles had been lucky to acquire early in their lives so many of the material goods that most people spend their entire lives yearning for – because as a consequence, they had learned relatively young how hollow material success can be:
I know that this isn’t it. I knew I was going to be famous, but now I know I can reach the real top of what man can achieve, which is self-realization.
The second half of the film explores Harrison’s solo career, his financial backing for the Python’s Life of Brian and the subsequent emergence of Handmade Films, and his involvement in the Travelling Wilburys, before dealing with the struggle with cancer and his near-fatal stabbing in 1999. The events of that dreadful night are remembered by Olivia Harrison, who tells in terrifying detail of the attack that left her husband with multiple knife wounds and a collapsed lung. She wielded a poker to subdue the assailant, and recalls how later at the hospital she and George were shaken by how fiercely they had fought, almost in defiance of their spiritual values.
There’s a strong sense in the film of the friendships that Harrison forged – with musicians, obviously, but with others in the fields of comedy, motor racing and film. All speak of George with tremendous affection. There’s Tom Petty remembering the day that George dropped by and left him a great many ukeleles; Ringo admitting his bafflement at Harrison’s new love for eastern music and recalling the time while recording Abbey Road when Harrison brought in the tune for ‘Here Comes the Sun’:
He infused Indian musical technique into songs where people normally wouldn’t recognize it. In ‘Here Comes the Sun’, there were seven beats, not the usual three or four beats for the drum’s rhythm. George comes in and says ‘Oh, I’ve got this song, it’s in 7 and a half time’. He might as well have talked to me in Arabic.
It’s Ringo, too, who produces the most moving moment of the film. He recalls how, when George’s cancer returned, he flew to Switzerland where George was being treated. George was very ill, unable to lift himself from his bed. Ringo sat with him for a while, but then had to explain to George that he must leave him to fly to New York where his daughter was facing an operation for a brain tumour. With tears in his eyes, Ringo recalls George’s response – the last words he would hear from his lips – ‘Do you want me to come with you?’ Tears and sniffles throughout the cinema.
In 12 Arnold Grove, the only heating was from one coal fire, and the house was so cold in winter that George and his brothers dreaded getting up in the morning. The toilet was outside in the yard. The house had tiny rooms – ten feet square – and a small iron cooking stove in the back room, which was used as the kitchen. George described the back yard as having ‘a one-foot wide flower bed, a toilet, a dustbin fitted to the back wall and a little hen house where we kept cockerels’. George also said:
Try and imagine the soul entering the womb of a woman living at 12 Arnold Grove, Wavertree, Liverpool 15. There were all the barrage balloons, and the Germans bombing Liverpool. All that was going on. I sat outside the house a couple of years ago, imagining 1943, nipping through the spiritual world, the astral level, getting back into a body in that house. That really is strange when you consider the whole planet, all the planets there may be on a spiritual level. How do I come into that family, in that house at that time, and who am I anyway?
And in the end
The love you take
Is equal to the love you make.
Keep that one – mark it ‘fab’.
Abbey Road was released 40 years ago today. I remember on the evening of September 26, 1969, in the student flat we were living in at the time, we tuned into BBC2 on a litle mono TV set for the then unprecedented of having the whole second side of the album previewed on Late Night Line Up, with accompanying psychedelic images.
This was the Beatles last album in chronological terms: work on Abbey Road began in April 1969, making it the final album recorded by the band, though Let It Be was the last album released before the Beatles’ dissolution in 1970. I seem to remember that we were aware of this as we lay there watching the album preview.
The track that has always seemed to epiomise Abbey Road is ‘Here Comes The Sun’, written by George,
‘at a time when Apple was getting like school, where we had to go and be businessmen– all this signing accounts, and ‘sign this’ and ‘sign that.’ Anyway, it seems as if winter in England goes on forever; by the time spring comes you really deserve it. So one day I decided, ‘I’m going to sag-off Apple,’ and I went over to Eric Clapton’s house. I was walking in his garden. The relief of not having to go and see all those dopey accountants was wonderful. And I was walking around the garden with one of Eric’s acoustic guitars, and wrote ‘Here Comes The Sun’.’
Before the ‘hidden’ track, ‘Her Majesty’, the suite that makes up side 2 of the LP ends with ‘THe End’, a favourite Paul song:
‘We were looking for the end to an album, and ‘In the end the love you take is equal to the love you make’ just came into my head. I just recognized that would be a good end to an album. And it’s a good little thing to say– now and for all time, I think. I can’t think of anything much better as a philosophy, because all you need IS love. It still is what you need. There aint nothin’ better. So, you know, I’m very proud to be in the band that did that song, and that thought those thoughts, and encouraged other people to think them to help them get through little problems here and there. So uhh… We done good!!’
Abbey Road medley
George Harrison: Here Comes The Sun live
Paul McCartney: The End live
Last night Paul McCartney last night played to nearly 40,000 people at Anfield in one of the highlights of Liverpool’s year as Capital of Culture.
Before the gig, Liverpool had been deluged with rain, but the power of rock and roll made sure that the Liverpool Sound concert took place in dry weather, albeit under leaden skies.
Paul himself took to the stage close to 9.30pm wearing a dapper modern-day version of the famous button-up Beatle suit. He never once forgot that he was playing before a local crowd, making reference to the fact he was born just down the road from Anfield, at Walton hospital.
The set itself covered the whole spectrum of his career, from the height of Beatlemania to his most recent solo work. Addressing the crowd between numbers, and clearly overcome with emotion, Sir Paul said: “I don’t know what to say. Every time I come up to Liverpool, all the memories come flooding back.”
It was a simple but highly effective stage set, with the word Liverpool spelt out in huge letters at the top and facing the Kop end of Anfield. At points, the Anfield roar was well in evidence as Sir Paul played songs such as Something on ukulele – as a tribute to George Harrison – Band on the Run and Back in the USSR.
As always with any home-coming appearance by Sir Paul McCartney, the adoring crowd did not want to let him go, and he crashed through his scheduled finish time to end with a rousing version of I Saw Her Standing There, and finishing off with a spectacular firework display.
Paul McCartney Live at Anfield: Dance Tonight
Paul McCartney Live at Anfield: Yesterday
Paul McCartney Live at Anfield: I Saw Her Standing There