What we’re hearing about ‘Abbey Road’

Unconfirmed details of the upcoming 50th anniversary “Abbey Road” set are showing up on social media. Here, from a knowledgeable source in direct contact with Apple Corps, is what Beatlefan has heard: 

At this time, the “Abbey Road” 50th anniversary set is 3 cds and a Blu-ray. The first disc is the remix, the second CD is alternate versions in order (with “Her Majesty” in its original spot) and a third disc of tidbits and associated songs from the time period.

Our source heard the first run-thru of “I Want You” from Feb. 15, 1969, at Trident Studios and said it was “haunting.” The 5.1 surround mix has the “Because” vocals-only, as well as the separated vocals from “Come Together” (which finally settle that is is indeed Paul on backing vocals).

For the book, Paul has contributed 80 “never before seen” photos by Linda from the studio sessions, and Kevin Howlett has done the majority of the writing.

At this point, both Paul and Ringo are due to attend the Aug. 28 unveiling of the album at Abbey Road’s Studio 2 in London.

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Not much can top hearing ‘Mr. Blue Sky’ in concert

There might not have been a Beatle onstage at State Farm Arena, but Bill King reports there was a definite Fab aura surrounding the Atlanta performance by Jeff Lynne’s ELO. …

Jeff Lynne and Dhani Harrison onstage in Atlanta. (Photo: Bob Kern)

When it comes to fellow travelers of The Beatles, not many have racked up as much mileage as Jeff Lynne.

His work with Electric Light Orchestra obviously was inspired by the latter-day Beatles, to the point where John Lennon once referred to ELO as “sons of The Beatles.”

And, Lynne’s work with ELO led to a set of impeccable Fab Four bona fides: He went on to produce George Harrison’s “Cloud Nine” album and associated tracks, and Lynne joined George in the superstar band known as the Traveling Wilburys. He also ended up producing recordings for Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, and was producer of The Beatles’ reunion tracks, “Free As a Bird” and “Real Love” in the mid-1990s.

Lynne hasn’t changed his shaggy-hair-and-shades look in decades. (Photo: Bob Kern)

After Harrison’s death, Lynne joined George’s son Dhani (pronounced “Danny”) in finishing off the posthumous “Brainwashed” album. So, it wasn’t a surprise earlier this year when it was announced that Dhani would be the opening act on the 2019 tour by what’s now known as Jeff Lynne’s ELO.

The tour hit Atlanta’s State Farm Arena July 5, and, even before any of the musicians took the stage, Lynne’s impressive résumé as a producer was highlighted by the PA playing some of the songs he’s overseen, including tracks by Tom Petty (“I Won’t Back Down” and “Learning to Fly,” both of which Jeff co-wrote), Roy Orbison, Harrison (“When We Was Fab”) and even The Beatles’ “Free As a Bird.”

The concert was Lynne’s first in the city since a show by the original Electric Light Orchestra in 1981 that I reviewed for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The 2019 version lived up to the original and was, as my friend Melissa Ruggieri said in her AJC review, a sonic feast.

Dhani Harrison at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena. (Photo: Bob Kern)

First up was a 40-minute opening set of psychedelic rock from Dhani, George’s look-alike/sound-alike son. It was intense guitar-and-synthesizer-driven rock. While most of the music (aside from Dhani’s vocals) didn’t bring his father’s work to mind, the best tune, “All About Waiting,” from his 2017 album “In Parallel,” definitely showed some George influence.

Then came an hour and 45 minutes of ELO. (As Leslie noted, a regular-length concert like this makes you appreciate all the more how unusual McCartney’s nearly 3-hour performances are!)

An ELO selfie taken at the end of the regular set. (Photo: Jeff Lynne’s ELO)

The current incarnation of ELO boasts a baker’s dozen of musicians, including two cellists, a violinist and two backing singers. The 71-year-old Lynne, who hasn’t changed his look in decades, handled most of the lead vocals, though he swapped off the lead with singer-guitarist Iain Hornal on a couple of numbers, and Melanie Lewis-McDonald handled the female solos.

They did a great job reproducing the dense ELO orchestral-rock sound onstage — from the ever-present strings to the keyboards, guitars (Lynne even took the occasional turn playing lead) and those trademark backing harmonies. It all was supplemented by elaborate video effects behind them, screens on either side highlighting the action onstage, and enough light-and-laser effects to make you think you’d flashed back to the 1970s.

Lynne’s show brings home the point that he’s had a phenomenal number of hit records. (Photo: Bob Kern)

The 20-song set, which opened with “Standin’ in the Rain,” mixed smash-hit singles with album tracks. The numbers ranged from “10538 Overture,” from Electric Light Orchestra’s 1972 debut, to “When I Was a Boy” from 2015’s “Alone in the Universe,” and even included “Xanadu,” the movie song Lynne produced for Olivia Newton-John in 1980.

It really brings home the phenomenal number of hits Lynne has had over his career when you hear them performed one after another. High points included “Evil Woman,” “All Over the World,” “Do Ya” and “Livin’ Thing,” which featured violinist Jessie Murphy down front for the distinctive opening solo.

A particular treat was when Lynne (who doesn’t talk much) introduced a song from “my other band” (the Wilburys) and Dhani came out to sing his father’s part on “Handle With Care” (with Hornal handling the Orbison parts).

Spine-tingling!

The entire evening was richly entertaining, but the closing portion of the show rivaled McCartney’s concerts for sheer musical star power: “Sweet Talkin’ Woman” (Leslie’s favorite), “Telephone Line,” “Don’t Bring Me Down,” “Turn to Stone” and (my favorite) “Mr. Blue Sky,” followed by an extended encore of “Roll Over Beethoven.”

I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a better non-Beatle treat than seeing “Mr. Blue Sky” done live in concert!

All in all, a Fab evening of music.

 

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Macca’s Never-Ending Tour Continues to Please

Beatlefan Publisher Bill King and his family saw the Memorial Day stop of Paul McCartney’s Freshen Up tour at PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC. His thoughts on the evening …

The Hot City Horns are a key addition to Paul McCartney’s touring band.

Ever since Paul McCartney resumed touring in 1989, I’ve been waiting for him to do one thing that I missed terribly from the Wings days: Restore a horn section to his band.

Nothing against Paul “Wix” Wickens, his talented keyboardist, who filled the gap by playing the horn parts to songs like “Got to Get You Into My Life” on his synthesizers, but there’s nothing quite like the sound of real live horns being played in concert.

Back on the road for another leg of the Freshen Up tour.

So, ask me the highlight of my latest McCartney concert, and I’ll quickly answer with no hesitation: No more synth horns!

The show notably featured the Hot City Horns, who first performed with Macca at Grand Central Terminal in last September, and have been a part of the band for the Freshen Up tour. Two of the three members of the horn section, trumpeter Mike Davis and trombonist Paul Burton, met more than a decade ago while both were students at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, of which Sir Paul is lead patron; the third, saxophonist Kenji Fenton, studied at the Royal College of Music in nearby Manchester.

The horn section is featured on 10 numbers for this tour, and they really added a lot to the show, starting with the moment during the show’s fourth number, “Letting Go,” when the spotlights highlighted them playing out in the midst of the crowd of 16,000, to much applause. In Raleigh, they were performing in the aisle between Sections 102 and 103, just a few feet from my daughter Olivia! She got quite a kick out of that. At the end of that number, Leslie summed it up nicely: “That was cool.”

For the rest of the numbers that feature them —  “Got to Get You Into My Life,” “Come On to Me,” “Let ’Em In,” “Lady Madonna” (with a sax solo), “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” “Let It Be,” “Live and Let Die,” “Hey Jude” and the closing “Abbey Road” medley in the encore — the Hot City Horns were onstage, to Wix’s right, about where the old Wings horn section used to be situated. They also did quite a bit of energetic, choreographed dancing when they weren’t playing (especially on “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”). And, at the end of the regular set, the horn trio joined the rest of the band — Wix, Brian Ray, Rusty Anderson and Abe Laboriel Jr. — stage-front to take a bow.

These signs were up all over town leading up to McCartney’s visit to Raleigh.

Beyond the horns, this year’s iteration of McCartney’s never-ending tour show was very much like the show I saw two years ago in the Atlanta area. Besides the three songs from the “Egypt Station” album included this go-round, the only real “new” number is “From Me to You,” which he brought back last year at Grand Central for its first U.S. performance since 1964.

Here’s how the show went: “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Junior’s Farm,” “All My Loving,” “Letting Go,” “Who Cares,” “Got to Get You Into My Life,” “Come On to Me,” “Let Me Roll It”/“Foxey Lady,” “I’ve Got a Feeling” (with the instrumental reprise), “Let ‘Em In,” “My Valentine,” “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” (“Here’s one for the Wings fans,” Paul said, complete with the famous hand symbol), “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” “In Spite of All the Danger,” “From Me to You,” “Dance Tonight,” “Love Me Do” (a particular audience favorite that got everyone back on their feet), “Blackbird,” “Here Today,” “Queenie Eye,” “Lady Madonna” (another crowd favorite), “Eleanor Rigby,” “Fuh You,” “Being for the Benefit of Mr.Kite!,” his tribute to George Harrison with “Something” (the usual version starting out on ukulele before the band comes in), “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” “Band on the Run,” “Back in the USSR,” “Let It Be,” “Live and Let Die,” “Hey Jude.” Encore: “Birthday,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise),” “Helter Skelter” and “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End.”

PNC Arena greets fans attending the McCartney show.

Besides the first-time tour numbers, the only real new twist (other than the addition of horns) was a new opening/precede for “Live and Let Die,” featuring Wix and some creative lighting. Oh, and he continued to leave out “Yesterday,” a practice that began with the Nov. 1 Tokyo Dome show last year (though the tune had been omitted previously from some scaled-back festival set lists).

So, yeah, there were a lot of familiar numbers — it seems like whenever a set list from the Freshen Up tour is posted, somebody (probably thinking mistakenly that they’re being original) adds a comment to the effect that “Paul should freshen up his set list!”

Admittedly, I do wish Paul would swap out a few of the numbers in the first half of the show more frequently, but it’s hard to argue with that murderer’s row of classic songs from “Something” to the end. It’s still one of the best concert experiences imaginable.

One song he probably ought to consider swapping out is, unfortunately, a favorite of many of us: his deeply personal and affecting tribute to John Lennon, “Here Today.” For the first time that I’ve seen live, his voice failed him completely on the falsetto “oohs” in the number. He attributed his vocal problem to “a frog in my throat,” but he obviously knew the problem was pronounced enough that he couldn’t just ignore it. Afterward he noted: “OK, my oohs forsake me, forsook me.”

Macca was onstage 2 hours and 45 minutes in Raleigh.

I’m thinking he should pick a John song as his tribute and retire “Here Today” (as much as I love it). Something that won’t challenge his voice or emotions as much. Leslie suggested “In My Life” (she particularly loves the harpsichord-like keyboard solo in that).

Paul’s voice held up for the most part, though it definitely was rough the last third of the concert. Still, as I said to the family as we were driving home, “I didn’t see anything but smiles on the folks exiting the arena.”

As the reviewer for WRAL-TV put it, “Inevitably, McCartney’s voice is not what it once was, and there were times when his singing wavered. But there was poignance in that, too, an acknowledgement of time gone by and just how much McCartney’s music has meant to so many over the years. He wore those rough edges proudly on the solo acoustic portion of the program, performing The Beatles’ ‘Blackbird’ and his 1982 John Lennon tribute ‘Here Today’ from a raised platform above the stage.”

Like the bit on the riser, most of the show’s stagecraft remained the same, though a few of the videos played on the screen behind him did seem to have been freshened up. The band continued the four-flag entrance for the encore, this time with the U.S., U.K., North Carolina and  LGBT pride rainbow banners being waved. The latter was an on-point statement in a state that drew a lot of flak from performers (including Ringo) a few years ago for its anti-transgender “bathroom bill.”

One notable change in the show came right before “Lady Madonna,” when Paul told the crowd, “One of the things that people say to me when they’re seeing the show, ‘You didn’t take a drink of water the whole time.”

The show was a mixture of new, old and in-between numbers, as Macca put it.

“But tonight I’m going to,” he said. And he did.

“Alright, a rule is broken. That’s what rules are for.”

He took another sip later, before “Let It Be.”

As has been the case on all the shows on this leg up to this writing, he didn’t bring any fans from the audience up on the stage this time around, but he did do the bit where he reads signs being held up (some of which are shown on the big screen), and he even read another later in the show.

He was chatty throughout, telling a lot of familiar stories and a few that are newer (including about getting James Corden to add “McCartney” to his son’s name). He correctly knew how long it had been since he’d last played Raleigh, saying, “It’s great to be here again. It was 17 years ago, y’know. … We’ve got some old songs for you, some new songs, some in-between ones.” However, Paul did use the British pronunciation of the city’s name (“Rally”) as opposed to how it’s said in the U.S./North Carolina: “Rawh-lee.”

He introduced “My Valentine” as “one that I wrote for my wife, Nancy, and she’s here with us tonight. This one’s for you, Nance.”

After “Dance Tonight” (featuring Paul on mandolin), he made reference to his drummer’s hammy moves during the song, saying, “I mean, we don’t need 40 dancers, we’ve got Abe.”

The heat from the pyrotechnics on “Live and Let Die” could be felt out in the crowd. (Photo: Leslie King)

Of course, the pyrotechnics on “Live and Let Die” were as awesome as ever (with the heat from those flashpots easily felt in our lower-level seats about midway back from the stage).

Musical high points for me included Paul getting to play lead on his psychedelic guitar on “Let Me Roll It,” and him playing a nifty acoustic solo on “In Spite of All the Danger” (which was introduced with an expansive version of the story of the early recording the Quarry Men made of the tune and how fellow member Duff Lowe kept the disc for years and later sold it back to him for a very nice profit). The audience was asked to sing along on a reprise of that early number, but didn’t have to be asked to join in on other numbers, including “Love Me Do” and “Something.” As the reviewer from The News & Observer noted, “When you’re singing the same song with thousands of strangers, you can’t help but feel joy and a sense of unity. As you listen to the decades-old lyrics, the ones that stay with you after the confetti has been swept off the arena floor … still provide hope in a world that could surely use some.”

Only 100 copies of this Raleigh-specific poster were sold. (Photo: William T. King)

Merchandise on offer was pretty standard, with the most exciting item being a limited-edition tour poster for the Raleigh show featuring Paul and landmarks from North Carolina’s capital city. There were only 100 copies available and the lines were very long, but my daughter-in-law Jenny bribed a guy ahead of her to buy one for my son Bill, now the proud owner of poster #48!

Every time McCartney goes back out on tour, I have people ask me why he still does it when “he doesn’t need the money.”

He’s not doing it for the money, folks. He continues to tour because he truly loves playing his music in concert, feeding off the energy of the crowd (which helps explain how a guy marking his 77th birthday in June manages to play a show that runs nearly 3 hours).

I believe he’ll continue to tour as long as he’s physically able to do it.

And, as long as he keeps at it, we’ll keep coming. It’s a show that pleases young and old. My son was seeing his 14th McCartney concert; my daughter, her sixth. Said Olivia afterward, “I really hope I get to see him at least 10 times.”

If Paul has anything to say about it, she probably will. “We’ll see ya next time!” he promised the Raleigh crowd at the end, like usual.

I think he means it.

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Michael Lindsay-Hogg: From The Rolling Stones’ ‘Circus’ to The Beatles’ ‘Let It Be’

Contributing Editor Ken Sharp talked recently with director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, for an interview published in Beatlefan #237. Here is an expanded version of that conversation. …

John Lennon and the Dirty Mac performed “Yer Blues” as part of “Rock & Roll Circus.”

Some things are worth waiting for. Presumed lost for decades, “The Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus” TV special was filmed in December of 1968 and tragically was shelved for decades. Fast-forward many years later, the footage was discovered in a barn in England and, 28 years on, the landmark rock ’n’ roll TV spectacular finally saw release in 1996.

It was a fantastical music event, its playful traveling circus big-top atmosphere replete with clowns, trapeze aerialists, fire eaters, colorful staging and powerful performances captured some of rock’s legendary icons at the peak of their career — The Rolling Stones (marking Brian Jones’ last appearance with the group); The Who unveiling a supercharged rendition of their mini- pop opera “A Quick One (While He’s Away)”; the Dirty Mac, a one-off unit featuring John Lennon, Eric Clapton on guitar, Keith Richards on bass and Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell, delivering a raw take of the Beatles tune “Yer Blues”; plus guest spots by Jethro Tull (with future Black Sabbath founding member Tony Iommi on guitar), Taj Mahal and Marianne Faithfull.

Newly restored and having had a recent limited theatrical run, along with a DVD/Blu Ray release in the offing, we sat down with the show’s director, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, for the backstory behind this spectacular once in a lifetime musical event.

What sparked the idea of “The Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus”?

I’d worked with The Rolling Stones on this TV show I used to direct in England called “Ready Steady Go.” We’d worked together several times on that; we did “The Last Time” together, we did “Satisfaction” twice on two separate shows. We did “Paint It Black,” we did “Have You Seen Your Mother Baby (Standing in the Shadows).” I’d worked with them about five or six times on “Ready Steady Go,” and we got on very well from the beginning. This was early on, when Andrew Loog Oldham was their manager. Then “Ready Steady Go” went off the air at the end of ’66 and they didn’t particularly like being on “Top Of The Pops,” which was another big English music show ’cause it was very staid and dull to look at. Also, the big groups, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who, were looking to take their visual presentation more into their own hands and also to make videos so they didn’t have to go to all the plug shows in Amsterdam and in Paris. It was also done to show them on American television. There was “The Ed Sullivan Show” and the Smothers Brothers show, who both showed videos. I did “Paperback Writer” and “Rain” with The Beatles, so they were early to jump on that line of thinking. Then I did “Happy Jack with The Who.

It’s crazy, you’re rifling off these titles of videos that stand today as iconic in rock ’n’ roll history.

Michael Lindsay-Hogg.

[Laughs] I also realize that, and I’m grateful, but however my fate in the stars aligned, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, I was very lucky with the people I got to work with. I did many videos for the Stones. The first one I did for them was “Jumping Jack Flash,” that’s the first video they ever did, and I also filmed a video for the B-side, “Child of the Moon,” which we shot the next day.

You were in good stead with The Rolling Stones already.

Yeah, and that’s a very good question because they very much liked those two videos, especially “Jumping Jack Flash,” because that was the single. They’d never done a video before. We did two versions of it; but the one I’m referring to is the one with the makeup, which we shot second. When you said I was in good stead with them, that’s important, because they at that time were quick to judge, “That’s good” or “That’s bad.” They’re very smart; not only is Mick smart, but Keith, Bill, Charlie and Brian.  They were very, very bright guys, otherwise they wouldn’t have lasted almost 60 years. So, the first video I did for them was “Jumping Jack Flash” and “Child of the Moon,” and subsequently I worked with them on a number of other videos. I did “Angie,” “It’s Only Rock & Roll,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” Dancing With Mr. D.,” “Miss You,” “Far Away Eyes,” “Start Me Up,” “Waiting on a Friend,” and “Neighbors.” Usually, we’d do a three or four at the same time. It was usually a pretty full day.

You clearly passed the audition with them. What was the genesis of them wanting to do a TV special?

I think the genesis was that The Beatles had done “Magical Mystery Tour.” But it was not that the Stones wanted to copy what The Beatles did in any way. They didn’t want to copy The Beatles, because The Stones were The Stones and The Beatles were the Beatles, but The Beatles set an example. They laid down a big footprint of how to go ahead with your career. Although Andrew Loog Oldham was out of the picture by the time came to do the “Rock & Roll Circus,” he was always trying to get them to do a movie. He wanted to do a Rolling Stones movie, and there were various projects being kicked around, but, for some reason, it never happened, mainly because Mick at a certain point went off to do a solo acting career with films like “Ned Kelly,” “Performance” and other things, whereas The Beatles had a couple of fiction pictures made, “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help!” Then, there was that good picture that John Boorman directed for the Dave Clark Five, “Catch Us If You Can,” which was pretty good. He went on to have a big career and directed the film “Deliverance,” among other films.

So, The Stones under Andrew Loog Oldham’s prodding were looking for film projects, which just never happened. But, because of “Magical Mystery Tour,” they wanted to do a show of their own. So, we’d done the videos for “Child of the Moon” and “Jumping Jack Flash,” and they felt confident working with me and that I would come up with the goods and make something with them that people would be interested in.

Lennon and Mick Jagger on the set of The Rolling Stones’ TV special.

So, I went over to talk to Mick. Mick was mainly the one you’d talk to. Not that when you were all sitting in a room Keith wouldn’t have his extremely bright ideas, but Mick was usually the one who originated the conversations. In other words, that’s who you got the phone call from. So, I went to meet up with him and he said, “Let’s try and come up with an idea for a television special. Do you want to do it?” I said, “Oh yeah, OK, I’ll do it.” And so that was my job, and I went off to try and do it. Then that set in a period of frustration and anxiety, because I didn’t have any ideas. I used to sit in their board room in their offices on Maddox Street in London and think, Jesus Christ, what can this be? Then I thought, Are there any other rock ’n’ roll specials around? Jack Good had done a good one called “Around The Beatles,” which had I think PJ Proby, the Vernon Girls. In the show, The Beatles were doing Shakespeare and things like that. It was a very good show. It was very well-paced, but I didn’t want to copy it. It also didn’t quite have a Rolling Stones feel, because they not only are a unique band, but at that time they were carving out an image for themselves like someone said of Lord Byron, mad, bad and dangerous to know. So, they were distinct from The Beatles, and you had to figure out a way to make their particular quality, not only as a band but a group of five people, distinctive. So, I’m sitting in their office and I’m doodling, because I didn’t have anything else to do. I doodled a circle and looked at it and I kept drawing circles around it. The god of titles was on hand that day, because circle turned into circus and then I thought of “The Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus.” I thought, if nothing else, we have a good title. I called Mick up and said, “Try this on for size I’m gonna say seven words to you … The Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus, and then tell me what you think.” And he said, “Yeah fine, great.” He got it right away, because he is very quick, and immediately he started to talk about different ideas, like it’s an idea we’d been discussing for week as opposed to 2 minutes. He asked, “What kind of circus do we want?” We were pretty collaborative at that time. If I had an idea, I’d run it by him and he’d say, yes, no or maybe, and I could sort of move on from there. I liked collaborating with him, because he was very, very smart and he also had a very firm sense of who The Rolling Stones were as an image and as a brand. He’s the one who came up with the tongue image, along with Andy Warhol, which is now one of the famous logos of all time. So, he very much understands their brand. We decided the kind of circus we wanted was not a very successful one. We wanted something that looked like a traveling circus of a medium standard, not a very fancy one like Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. As for the circus performers, we wanted them to fit the vibe of the Rolling Stones version of a circus. The man and woman aerial act were not in what you’d call, their first youth. They were seasoned, old-school circus performers, and they enjoyed it. The fire eater was someone we got in; l I don’t know if he was with the circus, I can’t remember. So, there were the aerialists and there were the clowns. In an earlier cut of the film we had some stuff going on between the clowns, hitting each other with a plank of wood like clowns always do, but it didn’t stay in. It wasn’t really funny, but it slightly took the air out of the show and also it wasn’t necessary. The aerialists were good and the guy doing the fire eating was good.

Wasn’t there another circus animal left out of the cut?

John and Yoko in the costumes they picked for the players entrance.

The circus people brought various things, which they thought we’d like. I don’t know if it was the rehearsal day or the day of shooting, but it was in the morning, and John was there with Yoko and his son Julian, and I think Eric Clapton was there. We were auditioning  boxing kangaroos. These are kangaroos who stood up on their back legs and wore boxing gloves and boxed. Yoko came up to me afterward and said, “If the boxing kangaroos are in the show John won’t be in it,” ’cause she thought it was a cruel act. If you’re given the choice between boxing kangaroos and John Lennon, you choose John Lennon. [laughs] I don’t know if she talked to John about it; it may have been something that she thought. But, she sort of spoke for him in many ways as well. Anyway, we didn’t have the boxing kangaroos, but we did have John and the others. At one point, we had a classical pianist called Julius Katchen. He was good; I can’t remember what he played. We brought out a grand piano and put it in the middle of the circus ring. In and of itself, it was good, but it didn’t fit the circus. Mick and I wanted to see if a classical element would work, but it just didn’t fit. It wasn’t ’cause he didn’t play well, he played beautifully.

How did you decide upon Mick being the ring master?

Well, what happened is, we wanted to figure out who would be the best person to be the ring master. So, we decided the perfect person to be the ring master was not a man, but a woman, and that woman would be Brigitte Bardot. So, I go over to Paris for a weekend with the cameraman Tony Richland, and we were there to negotiate getting some cameras for the show, and then we also went to meet Brigitte. She was an extremely beautiful woman. The movies barely did her justice, she was beautiful, she was funny, and she spoke English pretty well.

John Lennon was infatuated with her and met her in the mid- to late ’60s.

For that generation, I’m the same age John would have been … the film, “And God Created Woman,” which came out around ’56, and she was the gorgeous, sexy gamine girl. As for the “Rock & Roll Circus” TV special, she immediately got the idea, and was thinking how to do it. She wanted to come in on an elephant [laughs], and then she wanted to know if she could be taught how to swallow a sword. She was totally into it. However, the problem was she had a deal with CBS to do a television special, and they had some kind of hold on her. Although Brigitte wanted to do it, her agent couldn’t get her out to do The Rolling Stones’ special. The other show didn’t happen, but they had her under contract to try and get her a TV special. So, we didn’t get Brigitte Bardot. What a show that would have been if we had The Rolling Stones, The Who, John Lennon and Brigitte Bardot! That would have been great. So, after we found out we couldn’t get her, Mick said he would be the ring master, which made sense. Then we stayed to figure out who would be on the show.

That brings up my next question, given your close connection with The Beatles, had they been approached to appear?

Hmm … No, that’s a good question. Just the way the balance was at the time, it wouldn’t have worked; The Beatles were the biggest rock ’n’ roll act in the world, and they were the most famous, no question. Therefore, I think The Rolling Stones thought, if they had The Beatles on the show, then The Beatles would be the tsunami and The Rolling Stones would be the high tide, you know?

How did you manage to land John Lennon for the TV special?

Lennon with Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Mitch Mitchell.

Well, Lennon came late into the production of the show. The Rolling Stones wanted the show to be great, but they wanted to be the greatest thing on the show. Mick wanted really good acts on the show, but acts that would not quite come up to the Rolling Stones’ standard, so that was the idea. The first person that he asked to take part in the show was Stevie Winwood. Mick wanted him to form a band and play on the show. I think Stevie had left the Spencer Davis Band by that point. So, we rang him up and Stevie said he would do it. But, then, time went on, and he wasn’t communicating very well. This was before he was in Traffic. He didn’t come up with any musicians that made sense to him. About three or four days before the show was gonna be shooting, this was early December of ’68, Mick and I spoke to him on the phone and he said, “I’m really sorry, I just can’t get it together.” And, in those days, rock ’n’ roll people gave other rock ’n’ roll people a lot of leeway here, so if the person says they can’t get it together it means it’s not gonna happen. So, Stevie said he couldn’t figure it out, and Mick and I were sort of stuck. Then we first thought, would Paul McCartney want to form a group for this show? Paul would leap into anything if he thought it was right, but given all the other stuff that was going on, we didn’t think that Paul would want to appear without The Beatles. Mick and I didn’t think it was gonna happen. Then, we thought John might have the temperament to jump into the water without his flip-flops on. We also knew he’d been playing for fun sake with Eric Clapton. It was Mick on one phone, and I was on the other phone, for our call to John. The advantage there was I was also a known quantity to The Beatles, because of “Rain” and “Paperback Writer,” and a few months before the “Rock & Roll Circus” show we’d done the videos for “Hey Jude” and “Revolution.”

What was the conversation like with John? Did it take some prodding for him to agree to appear on the show?

No. Mick said, “Here’s the deal, we’re doing this TV special and here’s who’s on it, The Who, Jethro Tull, Taj Mahal, Marianne Faithfull.” He told John it would be good to get a super group, a group of musicians who don’t usually play together. John said, “That’s great.” If John was enthusiastic for something, he’d jump right in. John said, “I’ve been playing with Eric, let me ask him if he wants to do it.” Everybody knew Mitch Mitchell, because he played drums with Hendrix and was very good. Then John asked, “Who can play bass?” And then Mick said, “Well, I think Keith would like to do that.” Before the call began, we didn’t have the super group, and 10 minutes later, we had the super group.

Who came up with the name of the ad hoc group, the Dirty Mac?

That was John.

I wonder with ‘Mac’ in the title if it was dig at Paul McCartney?

Well, it could have been an early little stab at him, who knows? In any case, as well as showcasing a one-off band on the show, we also wanted to include a newcomer band and give someone a break. By coincidence we’d seen Jethro Tull on a late-night TV interview show, and we thought they were pretty good.  Ian Anderson was a very interesting performer. The Who came into play early on. Mick and I together got them on the show. I think when I met up with The Rolling Stones in their offices, and we were tossing around ideas about who would be on the show, pretty much unanimously everyone said we’ve got to have The Who, so The Who were the first in. The call came from Mick on one line and me on the other to Pete [Townshend] and he agreed right away. Fortunately, I had the connection with The Who previously having worked with the on their video “Happy Jack” and from them appearing on “Ready Steady Go” and liking it. Also, I was personally very friendly with their managers, Kit Lambert and Chis Stamp.

We’d also been soliciting music from newcomer bands. We were thrilled with Jethro Tull, so we got them, but we turned down Led Zeppelin. Early on, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and the rest of the band were getting themselves sorted out, and we got a demo from them, but Mick thought it was too guitar-heavy. Also, maybe he thought that it would be very competitive to have a band like that led by Jimmy Page on the show. Can you imagine [laughing] if we had Brigitte Bardot, The Rolling Stones, The Who, John Lennon and Led Zeppelin on the same show? That really would be one for the ages.

Marianne Faithfull was one of the performers in “Rock & Roll Circus.”

We also had Marianne Faithfull on the show. She and Mick were going out at the time. That period of English rock ’n’ roll was a very guy world. There was Dusty Springfield, there was Marianne, there was Sandi Shaw, there was Lulu and there was Cilla Black. There weren’t many women at all, five women and 50 men kind of thing. So, it was really important to a have a woman on the show. Marianne typified so much of what was going on at the time. Yes, there was the sub story of her and Mick going out together. She was a very beautiful woman, a very sensitive woman. I liked her performance in the show enormously. I think she was really good, really sensitive. She had the advantage of being very beautiful and she was so still, and so within herself, when she did it. I think it’s a wonderful performance and it comes at a really great part of the show, which is before the great chat between John Lennon and Mick Jagger. They were doing their best to kind of mimic the American talk shows they’d either seen or been on.

Getting Taj Mahal on the show was Keith’s idea. He thought he was terrific, and so we did we. I wasn’t as familiar with him as Keith and Mick. We wanted an American act. The shooting of Taj was a little different than some of the other acts, because I couldn’t shoot it as wide as I wanted in some cases, including the audience, because there really wasn’t any audience except for five or six people. We shot him for the show the day before, because he was gonna be deported. The Rolling Stones office had screwed up getting the work permits for an American band coming over, so he didn’t have a work permit. There were lots of issues to do in those days with musician’s unions and Americans coming over and English artists going to America. When Taj and his band were stopped at the airport, they said, “You can come into the country, but you have to leave in three days and you can’t work.” So, we got that news the day before rehearsals. We were at Mick’s house in Chelsea and Mick and I were talking about who would take over from Taj, because we didn’t want to have any police problems and immigration problems. When Keith came over, he was vitriolic against Mick and me, saying, “What kind of pussies are you two guys? I want Taj on the show. Taj needs to be in the show. Let’s just figure out a way and not go to anybody else. It’s gotta be Taj.” So, faced with that kind of dilemma, Mick and I said, “OK, whatever.” [Laughs] Mick and Keith have a wonderful dynamic, the yin and yang, where one is soft in one way and the other one is hard, and when the other is hard, then the other one is soft. But Keith can be very demanding if he thinks something is not right. As can Mick. God knows, these are two extraordinary men who’ve been friends for 70 years. So,, we figured out what we would do is we’d shoot Taj the day before, with no audience except for a few people wearing ponchos and floppy hats. That’s why he looks different in the shooting of it and also he doesn’t get an introduction. I still wonder why I didn’t shoot an introduction.

Here’s another little aside for you: We didn’t shoot an introduction for The Rolling Stones, and I realized we’ve got to have an introduction for The Rolling Stones because it’s called “The Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus,” and so, when I was doing “Let It Be” with The Beatles, I got John to do that very funny sort of mimed introduction. So, for the trivia buffs, we shot John’s introduction for the Rolling Stones a couple weeks later, when we were doing “Let It Be.”

Tell us about the staging, the circus performers and where it was shot.

Brian Jones, Yoko, Roger Daltry, Clapton and John and Julian.

It was shot at a place called Stonebridge Park, near Wembley outside of London. It was an independent studio for hire and was a studio facility not far from where Rediffusion Television was. It was big enough for our purposes, but not too big. As for the set design, the brief was it was a circus. The designer, who I think was Roger Hall, was someone I’d worked with on some other stuff. We figured out it should have the look of a circus and a royal box above the entrance way for the fancy people, and then I should have bleachers like in a circle in a round configuration. All the performances would take place under the big top in the center of the audience.  The entire filming was shot in one day except for the Taj Mahal performance. The shoot began with a call time of 11:30 in the morning to get the entrance shots. One of the things that is unusual is the artists all showed up on time. As you can imagine, when we were doing “Ready Steady Go,” and we had a rehearsal at 1 o’ clock and we were live on the air at 6, the bigger the act was, the more likely they were gonna turn up late. [laughs] But, because they all respected each other — this was the creme de la creme of English rock ’n’ roll — they turned up on time. All the artists chose their costumes for the players entrance, which we shot at noon.

So, John Lennon, for example, picked out a costume?

There were different choices of costume there. Emma Porteous, who was our costume designer, she and her brother had a rack of costumes for people to wear. Mick had to be fitted for the ring master outfit, because we knew that had to happen. But John picked his costume that day for his players entrance, as did Yoko, who put on that spiked hat. All the artists, whether it’s Pete Townshend or Keith Moon, they all had chosen a costume off the rack, “Oh yeah, I’d like to wear that.”

How did you assemble the audience?

With a little bit of care. There were some audience members from the Rolling Stones fan club. We sent a scout out to some of the clubs in London and he found kids who looked right and could dance right, the way we used to do it on “Ready Steady Go.” Then there are a lot of people who heard about it and came and were let in if they had the right vibe. Although I didn’t know it, the Hell’s Angels were there, and so was Ken Kesey.

Run through the filming.

The Stones were the nominal stars of the show, but felt upstaged.

Being a part of “The Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus” TV special was a good time. I realized that, somehow, I was part of this weird collection of people standing in a makeshift circus, all coming from that doodle. [laughs] It started with me doodling a circle and then it ended up six weeks later standing there and realizing I was part of an event, which was an unusual one. During the shooting, I had plenty on my mind, but I also realized this was a one-time-only event. Because of “Ready Steady Go,” which was a weekly television show — I brought in all my camera men from that show — I was used to the kind of pressure that you have to get it done. It was a really long day, but we managed to pull it off.

Discuss the use of cameras that weren’t stationary up on a tripod and explain how the movement of cameras impacted the visual aesthetic of the film.

Well, how it’s shot and how it’s edited all goes back to “Ready Steady Go,” which was a live show. We couldn’t do it with all of the bands, because they couldn’t match how we shot them. But, if you had The Who, The Rolling Stones or The Beatles, I used to come up with ways to shoot them. If you have a chance, try to watch The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” from “Ready Steady Go” on YouTube, ’cause that was pretty good. What I always wanted was the camera to be part of it, so that whatever the musicians were doing, the camera would not only be reporting on it, but would be as active as they were. If it was The Who doing “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” on “Ready Steady Go,” there’s a bit where Roger [Daltrey] is hitting the amps and the drum kit with his mic, and it’s very wild. I put the camera somewhere, and the camera shakes. So, it’s quite an interesting event. You get the camera shaking visually as the sound is shaking also. So, for The Who’s performance on “Rock & Roll Circus” I knew when it starts getting really crazy I wanted to have the camera cuts with Pete jumping or Keith with the water on his drum kit; I wanted the intercuts of those and the close-ups to be as powerful as the music. So, it was of the music as well as watching the music, if you know what I mean. Because I had my guys from “Ready Steady Go,” the cameras we used were traditional studio television cameras, which could move. It had a wheel you could push right or left, and the camera would slide in that direction, and these guys were very skilled at moving the camera and focusing the camera. A movie camera has two or three people working it, one guy to push it, one guy to focus, but, with television, one person does the whole thing. He focuses it and moves it. I was in the control room, and all the images were coming in there, so I communicated with them with a microphone. I could say, “Give me a close-up of Pete,” or “Camera one, hold that shot of Keith on the drums.” Because I did 50 or 60 “Ready Steady Go” shows, I was used to directing rock ’n’ roll bands on the spot and in the moment. Obviously, I knew the songs, but you had to improvise a lot, ’cause everything changed all the time. It was live television at its scariest, but wonderful.

Watching the film, it exudes a real sense of spirit and camaraderie between all the acts, whether it was John Lennon, The Who, or Eric Clapton, they all stayed throughout the shooting and seem to be having the time of their lives.

No one wanted to go home. I was surprised. When I’d go out, in between takes of a song, they were all still there; The Who were there, John and Yoko were there. In the introduction to the film, Pete Townshend says that he really learned about Mick Jagger that night watching him perform “Sympathy for The Devil.” They probably hadn’t seen each other working for a while. With  “Ready Steady Go,” which was kind of a collegial show, they’d turn up to watch the other artists perform. But, now, all of these artists are either touring or making their album in the studio, so John Lennon probably hadn’t seen The Rolling Stones play live for four or five years, and same with The Who. The weird thing at the time is, although there was rivalry between them all, jockeying for position and being interested in who was gonna be No. 1, and for how many weeks, there was a real friendship among that generation of rock ’n’ roll musicians.

Speaking of John Lennon, he performs The Beatles’ “Yer Blues” with Clapton on guitar, Richards on bass and Mitchell on drums. Were you witness to them running down the song in rehearsals?

Lennon participated in the Stones special just a few weeks before filming began on “Let It Be.”

There was rehearsal a few days before,  in a hotel ballroom, with the Stones, Jethro Tull and The Who, but John wasn’t a part of that. John started rehearsing on the day of the show itself with Eric, Mitch and Keith. There was plenty of down time, ’cause the cameras kept breaking down and had to be fixed. They were revolutionary cameras, which  fed TV images into the control room, but they had a reel of film on them. So, you would end up with film, but you could call the shots like you would on television. I remember John went onstage with Eric, Keith and Mitch around 10 a.m. and ran through “Yer Blues” a few times. But, remember, even though they were young, they were very experienced rock ’n’ roll musicians at that point. I think they rehearsed it backstage a bit, and they rehearsed it once or twice on the stage, and then they did it. I think we probably also shot the rehearsal.

I’ve heard rumors that John and the band also ran through a version of “Revolution,” do you have any memories of that?

No, I don’t think it was performed.

Post-“Rock & Roll Circus,” did you ever have a discussions with John about his impressions of the show?

Yeah. We finished the show on Dec. 11th and then I think I went to sleep for 24 hours and then I had a meeting with The Beatles later the next week. Lightning had struck, and I was in the right place at the right time. We were all assembled there to talk about what would become the “Let It Be” film, and it was at that meeting John said something like, “Hey man, that was fun last week.” He had a good time, as you can tell from the movie, and liked it and understood that it was a very rare, never to be repeated kind of event.

Let’s talk about some of the most transcendent performances in the film, starting with The Who’s electrifying version of “A Quick One.” Were you surprised that, years later, many said that The Who stole the show with their performance?

The Lennons with Brian Jones, who was in his last days as a Stone.

It happened, I think, because the show didn’t come out for such a long time, and people were always trying to think why it didn’t come out. Then, there was the rumor, which was true to a certain degree, that The Stones thought The Who were better. But, The Who got onstage at 4 in the afternoon, they’d been touring, they were very tight and they delivered. The Rolling Stones had been in the studio and they hadn’t been on the road for a while, and they did not get onstage until 2 a.m. in the morning the next day. They’d been there since 11:30 in the morning the previous day.

What was the greatest challenge you faced working on the film?

Probably the greatest challenge was doing whatever we all could to get The Rolling Stones to be their best from 2 a.m. ’til 6 a.m. It just seemed, in a funny way, unfair, because it was their show. Mick has the constitution of a marathon runner. I mean, he can go forever. Brian was pretty wrecked by that time. As Pete Townshend said in his introduction to the film, “I don’t know what state Keith was in.” Charlie [Watts) was reliable, as was Bill [Wyman]. They weren’t as collected as they usually would be for an important show, just because it had been a really long day and they were tired and who knows what they’d been doing? [laughs]

It’s also the last filmed performance of the band with Brian Jones. I understand Brian was in bad shape, emotionally and physically, and there was an issue with him possibly not taking part?

Yeah, we lived near each other in Hampstead, which is an area in London. After the day’s rehearsal, he called me  around 10:30 at night to say he wasn’t gonna come to the filming the next day. I said, “Oh my God, you have to!” And he said, “They’re being really, really mean to me, and they’re not giving me any respect.” I said, “You have to come, what would The Rolling Stones be without you?” And, we know, a few months later he wasn’t a Rolling Stone anymore, and after that he wasn’t alive anymore. But, he felt he was being marginalized, and he may well have been marginalized, because he was not in good shape. He was only 26 or 27 when he died, and he’d been the golden boy of the Rolling Stones two, three years earlier. The Rolling Stones had been his band, and he got pushed aside by Mick and Keith, who have much more powerful egos and willpower. But, he turned up, and you can tell by looking at him in the show that he really isn’t in good shape.

The Rolling Stones’ performance is a master class led by Mick Jagger. He  stepped to the table and became Mick Jagger when he needed to become Mick Jagger. It’s notable how he instinctively knew how to play and work the camera.

Keith Moon and Pete Townshend with Mick Jagger.

On “Ready Steady Go,” the cameras were part of the frenzy of the crowd. The Rolling Stones used to get mobbed on the show and pulled off the stage, which made for very good television. Then, when we did the videos for “Jumping Jack Flash” and “Child of the Moon,”  that was a very controlled situation. There was no audience. There was just Mick playing to the camera and the band playing. But, here, he had to pull out of himself, especially on the last song, “Sympathy for the Devil,” at 5:30 in the morning, the last shred of the great performer that he is. Also, he was playing to the crowd, and the camera was right there in front of him to use as he wanted. It wasn’t observing him from a distance; it was 2 feet away from him, and he and the cameras were molded to each other, almost, because he used it so wonderfully. He got the difference between The Rolling Stones doing a big act onstage, The Rolling Stones with a crowd in front of them, or just Mick Jagger and the other Rolling Stones and the camera. Mick is a human being who will not lose. Even though it was 5:30 in the morning and maybe 6 o’clock in the morning when we finished with “Salt of the Earth,” he was determined that he would not lose the battle, that he would be able to give a performance that you wouldn’t forget, and do it directly to the camera, which is directly to the audience. It is as though he is looking at you and the audience with the camera in between, but he’s playing directly to the audience. I mean, The Who were playing to each other, they weren’t really playing to the camera so much. They were playing within their foursome, whereas Mick was actually playing to the camera, which I’d never really seen in a show before. I’d seen it on videos, if you want to do that, but I’d never seen six performances like that over six songs in a show.
There’s talk that outtakes exist of The Rolling Stones performing a song “Confessin’ the Blues,” any recollections of that?

Not that I remember.

After the show was finished, what were your next conversations like with Mick?

Mick was very pleased that we pulled it off. It started with me going to see him a few months earlier, September or October of ’68, we talked about the show and had come up with the idea  and got all these people together and the occasion was great. He was very high on it saying, “Yeah, we pulled it off.” Then, two days after we finished shooting, like I said, lightning struck and I was over with The Beatles starting to talk about another project, which turned out to be the “Let It Be” film. Then, Mick went on vacation — it might have been when he and Keith went to South America for Christmas vacation — and I didn’t see Mick until January of ’69, when we played the rough cut and his initial feeling was that the show was terrific, and The Stones had done terrific on the show. It was only after that, when we put the cut together, and he saw some of The Who, that he thought maybe they were just better on the day. As Keith Richards has said, “The show was not called ‘The Who’s Rock & Roll Circus.’”

Do you think that’s the reason why it was shelved?

Yeah. That’s why it was postponed.

For 28 years.

For 28 years. They didn’t regard it as finished, because they weren’t happy with their bit, and then they went on. I went on to do videos with them and they went on to tour and record.

The footage of the show was lost; where was it discovered?

The Stones special was lost for many years.

Yes. That’s right. It was discovered in a barn in England. Then, Allen Klein got in the loop, because he owned the pre-1970 Rolling Stones material as part of a deal with them. He’s the one who got the footage sent over to America. He’s the one who paid for its restoration. We had the rough cuts, and took that apart and re-edited it. A lot of it was very much like it was in the beginning, but it was tighter. Some footage had been lost, and Allen traced it down. He was very important.

So, you finally were afforded an opportunity to see the footage again a quarter of a century later. What was your fresh perspective upon seeing it again after many years?

I think it was better than I’d remembered. It was still there, and hadn’t been thrown out. Just to see it again, I thought it was very, very good, but that we could make it better with some editing. But, I was thrilled to have it exist again, because it had the hallmarks of being good and it still is very good. The Rolling Stones were happy it was released, and they acknowledged that the event was wonderful. They were satisfied with their performance and were thrilled that they got John and Eric in it, and they were thrilled with The Who. They just embraced the whole experience.

Over 50 years have passed since “The Rolling Stones Rock & Circus” was filmed; what would you like its lasting legacy to be?

That’s a good question. I’d like it to obviously still exist, and for many years [laughs] it didn’t exist, because it really was lost. I would like it to remain not only as a great rock ’n’ roll show, but also as a really insightful document about the times. There were all these talented people, and they were all in a room together. This is before rock ’n’ roll started to go sour. This is before Brian died, and before Keith Moon was gonna die. It was before the bad stuff started to happen, so it was really like the great flowering of this extraordinary movement, which came out of this little country, England, except for Taj Mahal. England was able to show itself to the world, so I would like it to be seen, not only as musically wonderful, especially given the recent restoration work done on the soundtrack, but also as a surprising little view of what the times were and what the potential of the times were, before things started to go bad with Nixon, Watergate, with Vietnam. England didn’t have Vietnam, so they were kind of sheltered, unlike what was going on in America at the time. So, it was the end of an era, really. Although ’69 saw the Woodstock concerts, it was also the Stones’ thing at Altamont.

Lastly, as the director of The Beatles’ “Let It Be” film, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask your thought about the Peter Jackson Beatles “Let it Be” sessions film and the long overdue accompanying reissue of your original.

What happened was “Let It Be” came out, it had a theatrical release and it won an Oscar for the soundtrack. But, unfortunately, by the time it came out in England, and certainly by the time it came out in America, The Beatles had broken up. So, as Peter Jackson called it, the film had become a little orphan ’cause there was no one really looking after it. They didn’t care anymore; they were off fighting amongst themselves and doing what they were doing. And it also represented to them, as Paul said, a kind of sad time, too, with The Beatles, as we learned, breaking up. Then, for many years, Apple in itself, with an archivist, were working on a documentary about “Let It Be.” I used to see cuts once a year, and would go over and look at them. I was interviewed for it, too, about what my memories were working on the film, and the rooftop performance. I kept agitating for “Let It Be” to be re-released in some form, because I knew it was very good. So, then, when I was over in London in October of last year, I had a meeting at Apple and they said, “We have a new plan, which is Peter Jackson is gonna have a whack at the material.” And I said, “fantastic!” because I would not have wanted to go in a time capsule back 50 years and do it again. The reason “Let It Be” is as it was 50 years ago is The Beatles were the producers as well as the stars, so there was a certain amount of stuff they didn’t want in the picture, because they thought they’d stay together at the time when we were editing. I did do some slightly self-censored editing of footage, but I did manage to get in some things, which were telling about the relationship between them, which was sometimes good and sometimes not so good.

For example, the argument between Paul and George takes on a life its own, captured in posterity on the film, and  that has colored The Beatles’ own perception of that period.

Yes, you’re right. That argument was a small thing, but it suggested there was certain amount of tension between them at this time in their life and, indeed, why wouldn’t there be tension? They’re musicians and artists, and they’ve known each other since they were teenagers, and so they got married very young.

After viewing hours and hours of footage, Peter Jackson has asserted there are some very positive moments that negate the perception that the “Let It Be” sessions were miserable.

The rooftop concert provides the big finale in “Let It Be.”

Oh yeah. That’s what attracted Peter to the project. We only had an hour and a half of screen time, so we could only put in certain things in the original film.  Some stuff was cut out for political reasons, internal reasons and length reasons. I think what Peter has been finding, as he started to look at the footage, is a lot of more fun stuff between them, which was a part of the the original cut of the film, but we had to get rid of it because of time, and some contractual obligations, stuff like that. We had a cut, which was half an hour longer than what was released. There was a lot of good stuff, but, for 15 different kinds of various reasons, we had to cut it out. So, I’m really thrilled and fascinated with what someone of Peter’s talent, who also loves The Beatles, is gonna come up with.

Apple is also going to finally release the original version of “Let It Be,” too, right?

Yes. That’s what makes me the happiest. They’ve restored it, and it looks great. We’ve been working on both sound and picture. It’s very good. So, that’s ready to go, and that makes me thrilled, because people will get a chance to see the film again, and then you’ll have the one Peter comes out with, which will have a lot of the footage of what it was like at the time. That’s what we tried to do in “Let It Be.” The Beatles had never had any extensive filming done of them rehearsing and recording in the studio ever, so this was really it. There’s plenty of wonderful material, and Peter will dig that out, “Let It Be’ will come out again, and we’ll all be happy.

 

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George Harrison: On the Record, February ’79

A complete transcript of Harrison’s comments from his February, 1979, Los Angeles press conference for his “George Harrison” album. This transcript originally was published in Beatlefan #3, April 1979.

George Harrison meeting the press in February, 1979.

Sporting a shaggy Beatle haircut and moustache, 36-year-old George Harrison not only has emerged from a two-year period of career inactivity with a new album and hit single in the past couple of months, he also has submitted to his first press interviews in a long time.

In fact, Harrison — always a reluctant interviewee — has been positively loquacious (for him) of late, with major interviews appearing in Melody Maker, Rolling Stone and Warner Bros. Records’ Wax Paper publication, in addition to a major press conference providing Los Angeles area reporters an opportunity to question him.

What follows is an exclusive Beatlefan transcript of Harrison’s comments at the L.A. press conference prepared by our staff from a tape of the proceedings.

HARRISON’S OPENING REMARKS

First of all, let me say I’m sorry about that to all of you who were supposed to be here on Monday. I ran over my foot on Saturday in a tractor and I had to go and X-ray it to make sure I hadn’t broken anything. I was a bit dizzy, you see, hopping about, trying to pack and I just couldn’t make it. I was driving a tractor along the road in the garden down a path and couldn’t find the accelerator to go faster so I knocked it out of gear and the thing just started rolling down this hill and I put my foot on the brake and the brakes weren’t working so I drove up a little bank to try and slow down a bit and put my foot in the road, ’cause it was only a small one of those things and ran over my foot with the back wheel and just — crash! It was just a bad sprain. I just couldn’t put my weight on it at all. I had to have a wheelchair for a few days. But I got a bit of sympathy.

• On the new album:

The “George Harrison” album.

I feel good about it. I feel happy about it. It seems, you know, the response to it is really nice. I mean, sometimes it’s like you can do something and it’s like swimming against the tide. You know, no matter what you do, it just doesn’t have that natural flavor with it, whereas with this one, it just feels like — I don’t particularly know the reason — the timing, everything, the songs, whatever, but it’s all as if it’s just being supported by positive reaction, which is very nice.

• On changes since “33 1/3”:

I think what happened between this album and the last album is that everything has been happening nice for me. My life is getting better all the time, and I’m happy, and I think that it’s reflected in the music. Also, on this one I decided that — the last couple of albums it became really difficult making these records because if you’re writing the tunes, you’re singing on them, you produce them and mix them, you know, you go crazy, or I do. I don’t know if everybody does. But usually, like in a group situation, you have a few people who all pull together and bounce off ideas together, whereas in my situation, I have musicians who come in to do the basic tracks, then they all split, and so all the decisions would be for me, and there’s a point where you can get at a loss, so I decided out front I would work with somebody else. So I prayed to the Lord that he would send me a co-producer, and I got a co-producer and that helped a lot, you know, just having somebody else out front even before the record was started, that helps to have some other opinions so that at least when you know you’re going crackers, you got somebody to tell you.

• On how he allowed himself to go hoarse during the “Dark Horse” sessions:

Actually, the album — there was only the one cut called “Dark Horse” that I was singing with a hoarse voice, and that was because at the time I was rehearsing to go on the road and I was losing my voice very quickly, and I hadn’t completed the studio version of “Dark Horse”. I had almost finished, so I decided, well, as I’m gonna do this live with the band, I’ll rehearse the band and also then we’ll just do it like a live take of the song and use that as the album cut, but actually I just listened to it the other day and I think it’s great. I love it. I wish I could sing like that more often … like Louis Armstrong.

• On his involvement in the new Monty Python film [“Life of Brian”]:

Harrison made a cameo appearance in “Life of Brian.”

They set up the movie. They were going to make this movie and I read the script that some friends of mine gave me, the script, but the producer, who is EMI Films in England, suddenly backed out of that after they had already gotten into it, before they were shooting it but they got into production and they were just left with no backing. So, a friend of mine just suggested — he said to me, “Can’t you think of a way of helping them raise the money?” And so, I said to my business manager, “Can we think of a way of raising the money?” And he said to me, “Oh, let me think for a minute, son. I think it can be easily done. Send a man to Highway 61.” So he thought of a way of getting the money and so really that’s my only involvement is that we — you know, ’cause I’m a fan of Monty Python and I would like to go to the movies and see the film — so we figured out a way of getting them the money to make the film, and that’s it, really. I’ve just dropped in the film for like ten seconds.

• On rumors he’s inviting “three old friends” to be in the film:

In the Python film? … Well, they’ve already finished making it, in fact. They’ve almost finished the complete edit. Maybe within the next couple of weeks they’ll have the final edit, so it’s a bit late for that.

• On an alleged lack of humor in his latest works:

At his February, 1979, press conference.

Well, it depends on which side of your face you smile, really. That’s been a problem for a while is that people always felt I was the “serious one,” but people don’t get concepts about people or they put a tag on somebody and no matter what you do, they seem to think that’s what you are, but if you go back through all those albums or even with The Beatles, it’s more like tongue in cheek. If you say a joke and you don’t smile, it doesn’t mean to say it’s not a joke. But this album, for example, “Not Guilty,” the whole lyric of that is kind of comedy.

  • On whether the song is about Paul McCartney:

No, it’s just about that period in 1968. It’s a complete joke, the lyric, in fact, if you go back on all the records, there’s a lot of comedy in it. You just have to look for it.

  • On his reaction to Robert Stigwood’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” film: 

Well, that got a bit out of hand. On a TV interview in England, they said to me, “What do you think of Sgt. Pepper, the Stigwood film?” I said, “Well, I don’t know. Everybody tells me it’s awful, but I haven’t seen it.” And then they said, “Are they allowed to do all that?” Referring to all the Beatles and side effects. You know, the people who do these stage productions. And I said, “I don’t think so.” You know, there are certain laws that protect individuals’ rights or name and likeness or whatever they call it in legal terms, and this is what I said on the TV show, that the problem is that The Beatles were all so spaced out over the last few years that nobody would ever get together again. But finally it’s all been unraveled and we’ve all agreed that what we’d do is we’d have a company — somebody in America — and it would be their job to license people if there’s any merchandising or if there’s any licensing to be done for these sort of things. And it would be that company’s job so they don’t have to bother us all the time. And at the same time, if anybody is doing anything illegally, it’d be that company’s job to also go out and get ’em. So that’s what I said, but the Daily Mail turned it into, “Oh, George is suing Robert Stigwood …” He’s cool. I’m sure they made up the script. It’s their own and they paid their performance right so, you know, it’s OK.

• On what he thought of the film:

I didn’t see it.

• On whether he will:

This was Harrison’s first major press availability in years.

Not tonight. Well, I mean, sure. I’m going to have to see it. I’ll probably catch it on an airplane somewhere. Everyone keeps telling me it’s awful, so why do you want me to see it? I’d rather see the Fab Four

• On Allen Klein’s New York tax trial:

I didn’t even know he was still up there [in New York]. I feel sorry for the man, really . . . he looks miserable always. But maybe, for him, he likes it. For me, it’s miserable if you’re always in court.

  • On the degree to which Klein resembles John Belushi’s take-off of him in the Rutles film:

Quite a lot, actually. I mean, that line was wonderful. “You ask me where the money is. I don’t know where the money is. But if you want some, I’ll give it to you.” I mean, that sort of summed it up.

• On how he selects his material:

Getting back to the music. That was what I was saying, that it was a great help to have someone to work with as another objective point of view. A lot of different musicians say, “Well, I like that.” Generally, they play on whatever tunes you give ’em. And they don’t have that much involvement, whereas if you’re in a band, it’s a livelihood or if you have a co-producer, that way you get much more of an idea if you’re going off the rails. So, in that respect, I wanted a co-producer — somebody to give me a hand for years. It’s very important to the selection of somebody because I’m sure a lot of people would come and produce me, but you have to live with someone for a long time. It’s important not only that musically you see eye to eye [but] as personalities you get on.

• On why he doesn’t collaborate more with people like Gary Wright:

One of my problems as a songwriter has been that John and Paul were always the songwriters and they started out writing together, or later when they had their partnership as songwriters. When John wrote it or Paul wrote it, it always said like Lennon-McCartney. But basically two people — again it’s like in production, you can bounce off each other. I’ve always only written on my own except in situations where I’ve been forced into writing with somebody else like, say, for example I wrote some tunes with Ringo because he started the tunes and then got stuck, so I had to come and help him finish the tunes, or like I did with somebody called Doris Troy, and that was because I was producing her album and we got to the session and she didn’t have any tunes, so we had to make them up on the spot. But, generally, there’s been very few cases where I’ve sat with somebody and tried to write … I’d love to do it if I could get over the initial problem. I’m sure if I sat with somebody like it was suggested, that I try writing some tunes with other people …  but if you don’t already have a relationship with somebody and just to go into a room and sit with them and say, “Hello, jinga, jinga, jinga …” — not too wise. I’m sure that will happen maybe for an hour or three or a week or something, and then once you get into some sort of communication there, it may work out. Or you may end up with a load of rubbish wishing that you’d just stayed on your own. I don’t know, but I’d like to do that.

• On whether he’ll tour again:

Onstage during his 1974 tour.

Come back on the road? I don’t know. This continual question is always asked. The honest way of saying it, the answer to it honestly at this moment, is no. But there’s always a 50-50 chance. There’s always a part of me that has enjoyed that once you get through all the barriers and all this and that. You get a band and there’s always great moments when you want to do less of a thing. But, basically, I’m not into touring like Eric Clapton, say, a close friend of mine, and he’s always on the road. And it’s like it becomes a sacred thing. “Hey, man, I’m on the road.” But on the road for a lot of musicians is a way out. It’s a way of escaping from the income tax and the bill collectors and the telephone … your mother-in-law. And it is. And in another way, it is good, too. It’s entertainment, and people need entertainment, but at the same time, it becomes or is like being an alcoholic, being on the road. It’s like a workaholic. It has its problems, too. So I’m not a great fan of touring, although at the same time, to try and think of a way to do it, controlled, sanely, because you find the madness overpowers you until it sucks you into it and until in the end you just become like a demon on this rolling mad tour while everybody else is sitting around, crackers, and you got pulled into it. Like in ’74, I was ready for the broom after that.

• On whether he’s entered a new phase in his musical evolution:

I don’t know. I’m always entering new phases each day as far as trying to enjoy the moment now. Just to experience the experience deeper. That’s the main thing, is just to remember that we’re all here now and that we’re all happy, and if we’re not, to try and be happier. And that’s the most important thing, no matter what you’re doing. I don’t think you get happy by going on tour or by coming off tour. I don’t see it as this phase or that phase. The phase is to try to manifest love in your life. And that’s all — that’s really all I can try to do.

• On deeper meanings in his music:

Sleeve for Harrison’s “Blow Away” single.

I think there has always been that element — music has not been just a beat to it. But it’s the same with art. There are paintings for you to sit and enjoy as well as to go into deep and understand the meaning and all that. And I think it’s the same with all types of situations. And I think there’s a time when you do this and a time when you don’t do it. In the early ’70s or ’60s, The Beatles had a lot to say and tell everybody else and me, too, as a solo artist in the early ’70s, and now it’s a recurring thing, but what I’m trying to say is that try and be happier, that’s all, you know. And that’s the only thing I’m trying to say. If you push “My Sweet Lord” down people’s throats too much, they jump back and try to bite you. And, in a way, that message has become a bit more subtle. “Your Love Is Forever” on the new album is just really saying the same old story. It’s “My Sweet Lord,” really. It’s just done in a way which maybe is less offensive to people or through me getting a bit older. And you know, just being a bit more laid back.

• On whether he’s heard of “Come Back Beatles” by The People on Zebra Records:

Nope, I haven’t. The last thing I heard was some guy in San Francisco who had this project to reunite John, Paul, George and Ringo. As I wrote to him — I don’t know what the others did — because he said if I don’t hear from any of you by such and such a date, I’ll take it it’s free to go ahead with it. And he had all the stationery and the letterhead and all that and all I could say to that was, “Look, that was then.” There is this thing that says one of the main problems in life comes from everybody encroaching upon other people’s lives. And that’s true. You see one country suddenly jump on another country’s territory and you have a big war. And I think that’s the problem, when somebody starts out, “Hey, you, I’m coming into your life now to tell you what you should do.” Well, the answer to that is, you know, he’s on a trip; this guy is on a trip about The Beatles. He’s built up this big fantasy about how The Beatles are the only thing that can save the world. And that is complete rubbish. You know, The Beatles can’t save the world. We’ll be lucky if we can save ourselves.

• On the possibility of a big new group escaping the tag of “the new Beatles”:

Somebody who is the New Beatles or the New Bob Dylan or the New Elvis Presley will be whoever he is. It’s all the people who don’t quite fulfill the public’s demands or desires or hopes. They’re the ones who get tagged with “they’re not the New Beatles or the New Bob Dylan.” Bob Dylan is Bob Dylan and The Beatles are The Beatles, and when the new one comes along, they’ll be whoever they are, and you’ll never have to ask the question, “When are they coming?” ‘Cause, The Beatles came when they came. You knew it. The same with Bob Dylan. They’ll answer the question just by being there.

• On whether he thinks music has become stagnant, sparking interest in a return to the ’60s:

Promoting his “George Harrison” album.

Yeah, although I hope that the ’80s would turn into or at least have the spirit that the ’60s created, because it was that desire musically to have more intrigue, deeper meanings, generate more love. And we went out of our way. That whole generation. That period. I was very disappointed when it got to like 1969 and suddenly everybody starts kicking each other and stabbing each other in the back again, after the whole Love Generation. Where did they go? Where are you? Suddenly it becomes all this hate and deceit and all that sort of thing, so I hope the ’80s — because the ’70s was a bit stagnant, and a bit lost the direction and it was this fad, that fad, and it was chopping and changing, and I don’t know what’s in store, but I hope, as your questions indicate, there is possibly that desire again to have some positive music.

• On whether The Beatles led the media in the ’60s:

Fifteen years earlier.

Well, I think the media, of course, you are the media, and you all know how much you will decide and go after a certain thing if it’s of news value. And also to the extent of how much you make a thing news value. That happened with The Beatles and it happens with anything. There is a point where they think, “Good, that’s a news tip for the papers” or “That’s something new and different to write about.” And they go after it and it gets to the point where, “OK, now what can we do, we’ve said everything about it. The only thing we can do is knock it,” and that’s what happened to The Beatles, too, because although everybody talks about The Beatles as being loved, we were loved for one minute and then they hated our guts, then they loved us again, then they hated us, and that was probably one reason why we all went into meditation, because as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi said, it’s like you being a little cork — like being a ship on the ocean at the mercy of whatever chopping and changing occurs, unless you’re anchored to the bottom. And that’s what was happening to us. One minute they were patting us on the back. And the next minute, they were stabbing us in the back and so the point is that we learned you can’t rely upon this external change that’s happening just to realize that it is a change, and you have to then find some real point. I just had to. So I don’t know what the original question was, but the media, you know how much you create the interest. Maybe there’s nothing interesting, so you go out and say, “Ah, well, we’ll go talk to George Harrison. That’ll fill the gap until something good comes along.” You know how much everybody gets sucked into something they can’t help but write about. You know to what extent you yourselves, day by day, write an article because it demands that you do or because your editor demands that you do or because society demands that you do. I really can’t tell. But I think things have a snowballing effect. You know, once it gets to a certain point, you know someone else kicks in. It’s like what happened to Pete Frampton in the early ’70s or Fleetwood Mac or The Bee Gees. It’s like in the record business. You can struggle to sell maybe half a million records or a million. You get to a point where if you can get over that normal sales thing until, suddenly, they were selling six million. I just wish The Beatles had been selling records in the ’70s.

• On whether he was distraught when The Beatles broke up like Paul says he (Paul) was:

No, I thought, “Thank God.” Not completely. I understand what he means. It was the same like, say, when our business manager, Brian Epstein, died. It was suddenly being faced with the realization that, hey, nobody thought that we haven’t got that side covered. “What are we going to do?” The idea of The Beatles being like a job, getting off at 5 and then the factory burns down. For me, I was sort of glad we burned it down. It became too stifling. If you can imagine if any of you’ve got 10 brothers and sisters and you’ve grown up and you’re all 40 years old and you still haven’t moved out. It was like that. You need your space. We had to try to help break that Beatle madness in order to have space to breathe to become sort of human.

• On why he makes it sound so gloomy, and if he’d ever consider a reunion:

It’s not gloomy. It’s just that it wasn’t as much fun for us in the end as it was for all of you. I’ve said a hundred times what was happening was that we were four relatively sane people going on in the world and everybody else was going crackers. They were using us an an excuse to go mad. “Here come The Beatles! Crash! Let’s smash up windows. Rip up limosines. Just let’s have fun and go mad!” And we were in the middle of it all getting the blame.

• On whether he resents people expecting a Beatles reunion:

Well, I don’t know. I did resent it for a while, but not anymore. Now, I face it. I must admit — it was a privilege to have that experience, to have been one of the Fab Four, because there were only four of us who had that experience. Now, I don’t resent it. I look on it like Laurel and Hardy or the Marx Brothers or like anything like that and think it was funny. But it was that time — that period in history. It’ll always be there. You can always go and look at the Marx Brothers movies. You can get fed up with it, but at least now I can deal with it on a sort of happier level. There was a period of years when it drove me crackers. I would say, “Why don’t you shut up asking those dumb questions about The Beatles?” But now it’s like [OK].

• On whether they’ll get together in something less than a full reunion:

Just a cup of tea together? To get the four people together and just put them in a room and have tea and satellite it all over the world and charge $20 each to watch it. We could make a fortune. What we could do is just sit there. “Well, John, what have you been doing?” “Well, Ringo, I think … ” But that would be just as difficult because everybody’s left home and they’re living their own lives. I haven’t even seen John for two or three years.

• On whether they’ve grown past the bad feelings:

Oh, sure, everybody’s cool now. We could all hang out together and have a great time, but the only thing that would spoil it would be all of you with the cameras and microphones.

• On whether it will happen:

I doubt it, and if it does, we won’t tell you.

• On whether a reunion LP would end up a collection of songs by the individuals:

It finally happened … 15 years after this interview.

There’s a good chance of that. It’s all daydreams. Until it ever happens; if it did happen — and I’m telling you it won’t —- then you’ll never know what it would be like. If it did happen, there’s no way we’d do a mediocre record. It would be very, very good. Maybe that’s what people want. Maybe people all want them to get together and they all fall over and everyone can say, “Yeah, well, I told you they would.”

• On why he’s no longer interested in signing acts to the Dark Horse label:

Now all I’m interested in is having peace, ’cause all they ever do is ask for your money and phone you all night long, you know.

• On the Beatles reunion questions not bothering him now:

There’s a limit to how many times a day you ought to answer the question. It doesn’t bother me once every blue moon or once every time I put an album out, we go through it all again. That’s not bad. If it was every day, it would drive me crazy.

• On what he’s doing the rest of the year:

I would like to ride motorcycles and make another album.

Thank you all for coming. It’s been pleasant.

Transcript copyright 1979, The Goody Press

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February, 1964: A Revelation

Beatlefan reader Connie Colvin looks back 55 years at her first reaction to The Beatles.

You might say that The Beatles snuck up on me, stealthily, to steal my heart.

I do remember seeing the little film of them on Jack Paar, but, it didn’t affect me … yet. I was 12 going on 13, then, and I heard more about them at school: This group called The Beatles were coming to the USA to be on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

Connie Colvin, wearing a Beatles button, with her mom in April, 1964.

First, I was curious, then became more interested. In the paper that my dear mom, Helen, used to get, they had the worst ever photo of them with an article. Things started to heat up.

More and more, my fascination grew. I kept the paper by my side. Then, it was so curious, I got my blackboard and, for the first time, I wrote those magical names, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. Just so I would know who they were, I said to myself.

Little did I know …

The Saturday before the Sullivan show, I took this little red and gold transistor radio out of the headboard of my bed, where it had been unused after my mom had given it to me for some event I can’t recall. I stuck some batteries in it, and just started dialing around, not knowing any stations. I hadn’t been into music at all. Boy, would I learn. They would be my teachers.

So, suddenly, I heard it, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” It struck me like lightning! Wow, it was incredible! This was The Beatles; it was a clarion call, a revelation!

Then, I came upon “She Loves You.” My mind was blown.

I kept listening for them; the stations WABeatleC and WINS, with Murray the K, would become known to me. I was being drawn inexorably out of the darkness into the Beatles light.

On “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

Sunday, Feb. 9, seemed agonizing, waiting for the Sullivan show. Little did I know what was building inside of me. Waiting, I watched “My Favorite Martian,” a cute show I liked, but it seemed to last a year.

Then … Ed Sullivan came on, finally. He gave his famous introduction, the four young men from England, “Here they are, The Beatles!!!”

It was a thermonuclear explosion inside my brain and heart, with a half-life of 500 years! I fell in love with adorable Paul; gorgeous George; handsome, formidable John (“Sorry girls, he’s married”); sweet, lovable Ringo; and I fell in love with their sublime music, those divine songs with the glowing harmonies opening up all of music to me! I was crying.

Just wow! It was an epiphany, one of the biggest, most overpowering events in my life.

Each of them had their own appeal, but I loved it when they lifted the camera up and it focused on Ringo! I loved him then, and now.

Paul on the Sullivan show.

They changed me in ways that affect me to this day. I wasn’t alone; 73 million tuned in that day, including Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen, who wrote powerfully about it in his great autobiography. Like them, a lot of others watching decided, “I must make rock ’n’ roll.” And many young girls, like me, were just swept away.

It was March 4 and, on my 13th birthday, Mom gifted me with my first little record player, and my first album, “Meet The Beatles!” It was the opening to my lifelong passion and musical education.

The Beatles gave that and so much more to me and the world. There has never been, before or since, a musical and cultural explosion like them. There never will be. Fifty-five years since they came out and they are still present, even with the untimely and tragic deaths of John and George. I predict their power will last 50 years from now, because their music is valid and timeless.

George and Ringo in Miami Beach, during The Beatles’ first U.S. visit.

They also turned out to be intelligent, funny, amazing guys, with wonderful senses of humor, and so much more.

It is my theory that they could not fail, as they each had an important element of life: John was fire, strong, not suffering fools gladly, his music full of passion and fire; Paul was air, the romantic, “Yesterday,” soft with silly love songs, a bit lighter, the natural showman; George was water, the quieter mystic, the spiritual searcher, the Pisces, as am I; and dear Ringo was earth, the down to earth, funny, hail fellow well met guy. They had it all, and they stole my heart and conquered the world.

John singing to 73 million viewers.

I feel so fortunate to have been graced with their magic, their power. They are part of my DNA now, they inhabit my bloodstream and heart. Only two other artists ever have gotten close, Bruce Springsteen and Elton John.

But, there is The Beatles, and then everyone else.

I will love them eternally. Blessings to Sir Paul and Sir Richard; I hope for long lives for them. Thanks, guys, for everything.

— Connie Colvin 

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Birthplace of the White Album

The Beatles’ dalliance with their guru may not have been long-lasting, but the time they spent in India did produce more than an album’s worth of songs. Susan Shumsky, author of “Maharishi & Me: Seeking Enlightenment with the Beatles’ Guru,” was a follower of the Maharishi’s for 22 years, and served on his personal staff for seven years. Here, she looks back at the Fabs’ time with the Maharishi …

With the Maharishi in India.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (1918-2008) was the mentor of megastars like The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, Deepak Chopra, Clint Eastwood, David Lynch, George Lucas, Tom Hanks, Howard Stern, Jerry Seinfeld and more. This extraordinary spiritual master first stepped onto America’s shores in 1959. Dubbed by the press “The Giggling Guru,” within 10 years Maharishi made “meditation,” “mantra,” and “yoga” household words. His brush with celebrities put him into the spotlight. But, his true legacy is his gift of Transcendental Meditation (aka TM).

George Harrison’s wife Pattie Boyd began practicing TM in February 1967. Feeling more alert and energetic, she believed it changed her life. So, three of The Beatles, with their significant others, attended Maharishi’s lecture at the Park Lane Hilton on Aug. 24, 1967. Ringo, at hospital with wife Maureen, who’d recently given birth, missed the lecture.

After the lecture the Beatles met Maharishi backstage. They expressed that they’d been seeking a highly spiritual experience, which drugs didn’t deliver. The guru invited them to a retreat in North Wales, starting the next day, Aug. 25. Attendees included The Beatles, Cynthia Lennon, Pattie Boyd, Jenny Boyd, Jane Asher, so-called inventor Alexis Mardas, Mick Jagger, and his girlfriend, singer Marianne Faithfull.

Maharishi and celebrities.

Three hundred course participants shared bunk beds in dorms at University College in Bangor, Wales, and ate canteen food. There, The Beatles learned TM. Since drug abstinence was prerequisite to starting the practice, the musicians stopped using drugs — for the first five minutes, anyway.

Sold on TM, The Beatles indicated they would set up a London meditation academy. They expressed enthusiasm about TM (and defended it to skeptics) in multiple interviews, including on “The Frost Report”. John suggested to his  fellow Beatles a world tour to turn on millions of people to TM. His song “Across the Universe,” an anthem to TM, included the appellation Jai Guru Deva (“hail to the divine guru”).

Once The Beatles became public advocates, Maharishi found himself all over the press, on magazine covers, and a recurring guest on “The Tonight Show.” Despite Johnny Carson’s derisive treatment of Maharishi, the shows resulted in thousands of eager students queuing to learn TM.

* * *

In February, 1968, the shock waves hitting Rishikesh, India, reverberated around the world. When Mia Farrow, The Beatles, Donovan, and other celebrities attended a meditation course with Maharishi, the planet paused for a moment, then changed orbit.

Maharishi and author Susan Shumsky, in a shot from her book.

Though struggling to keep his sparsely constructed ashram solvent, Maharishi provided his famous guests double beds with mosquito netting, sit-down toilets, and bathtubs.

The Beatles received private lessons on Maharishi’s bungalow roof or inside his meeting room. John and George embraced the teachings enthusiastically.

Ringo Starr’s allergies and peritonitis caused problems with ashram food. He brought one suitcase stuffed with Heinz beans. Terrified of insects, his wife Maureen demanded “Ritchie” kill them all and remove the carcasses. A single fly held Maureen hostage until Ringo returned hours later.

Eggs and meat were (still are) banned in Rishikesh, but Mal Evans (Beatles road manager) smuggled in contraband eggs. When the staff was caught burying eggshells, Ringo asked, “Can’t God see that, too?” He and Maureen returned home after two weeks.

When “Wonderwall“ film director Joe Massot smuggled in hashish, John Lennon didn’t hesitate to partake as they played Otis Redding’s “The Dock of the Bay” 20 times. John asked Joe to keep it secret from George.

Ravindra Damodara Swami, one of Maharishi’s brahmacharyas (monk disciples), noted in his diary that Maharishi said The Beatles had too much brain in the way, except for Ringo, who followed his heart and feelings. He declared George was the most spiritually advanced and this was his last life, but John had many more lives to go, and his weakness for women might ruin him.”

Two weeks into their stay, John moved into separate quarters from his wife Cynthia, where he waited with excited anticipation for secret telegrams and letters from Yoko Ono. Though Cynthia hoped for a second honeymoon in Rishikesh, John ignored her virtually the entire time.

* * *

Students gradually increased their meditation time and discussed experiences daily with Maharishi. After a few weeks, he told them to meditate in their rooms all day. John and George stayed inside for weeks, meditating eight hours daily.

The Beatles and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

The Beatles and wives competed over length of meditation. Debates raged about who was “getting it,” who wasn’t, and “who was going to get cosmic first.” Paul McCartney said the Beatles hoped for answers for personal and world peace. However, their towering expectations included the secret of life, astral magic, supernormal powers and global peace —all in one month.

John Lennon believed there was some secret to get — then he could just go home. He suspected Maharishi’s disciples knew the secret but were holding out. When industrialist K.S. Cambata loaned Maharishi a helicopter, John volunteered to ride with the guru in the helicopter. He figured Maharishi might slip him “the answer.”

* * *

The musicians (The Beatles, Donovan, Paul Horn and Mike Love) made music in the ashram — noisy music. Students who came for deep meditation became resentful. George started a daily mini rock festival on the lecture hall roof for 20-somethings, who envisioned a TM hippie revolution, without course fee, puja ceremony, or drug ban. The group pleaded their case to Maharishi, who responded with typical evasive giggles.

George converted a hut overlooking the Ganges into a music room, lined with carpets, cushions, and Indian musical instruments. He extended an open invitation for anyone to listen or learn to play. Maharishi hired a sitar teacher to instruct George and Donovan.

Away from the pressures of fans and fame, The Beatles’ creativity blossomed. Beatles fans, music critics, and audiophiles laud the album “The Beatles” (aka the White Album), consisting mostly of songs written in Rishikesh, as a masterpiece.

* * *

Maharishi offered The Beatles’ company, Apple Corps Ltd., exclusive rights to produce a movie about TM and Guru Dev. … But he’d made the same promise to someone else.

Author Susan Shumsky.

In August 1967, Charlie Lutes, president of Maharishi’s Spiritual Regeneration Movement (SRM) gave meditator Alan Waite permission to film Maharishi and The Beatles in Rishikesh. David Charnay of Four Star Productions of Hollywood contracted those rights.

On March 20, 1968, Neil Aspinall (manager, Apple Corps) and Denis O’Dell (associate producer of “A Hard Day’s Night”) arrived in Rishikesh to negotiate the Apple Corps film deal. Aspinall intended to thwart the project, since The Beatles were under contract with United Artists. O’Dell planned to convince The Beatles to make “The Lord of the Rings.” Watching this little bearded man in robes haggling about his 2 1/2 percent, Aspinall was perplexed that Maharishi knew more about making deals than himself!

* * *

On March 26, Neil Aspinall, Paul McCartney, and Jane Asher left for London. Not long afterward, the two remaining Beatles, John and George, cabled Aspinall to return to Rishikesh with a film crew and start shooting the Apple Corps film.

Despite obvious conflicts of interest, Maharishi paid no mind and declared everyone could “work together for the glory of Guru Dev” (Maharishi’s guru). Though Maharishi was warned contracts didn’t quite work that way, he seemed undaunted.

Charlie Lutes arrived on April 4 with a Four Star Productions lawyer and a signed contract —granting exclusive rights to film Maharishi for the next five years!

On April 9, the Four Star movie crew arrived overnight. At dawn, in The Beatles’ courtyard, the bed-headed, bleary-eyed, half-asleep John Lennon opened his door to a cameramen and director yelling “Action.”

Now, The Beatles were expected to be two-bit players in the Four Star film. John and George avoided the lecture hall, installed with lights and cameras. They refused to leave their rooms.

With this back-alley deal exposed, John and George suspected Maharishi’s motive all along was exploiting them for publicity. But, their disenchantment over the film contract was just the first rumble in a coming volcanic eruption. More heinous powers churned in the molten crucible below.

* * *

Johan Alexis Mardas, dubbed by John “my new guru ‘Magic Alex,’” seemed to have surgically attached himself to John’s hip. Cynthia, alarmed at his Svengali-like influence over her husband, declared Alexis “made her skin crawl.”

Alexis’ imaginary inventions included a force-field to keep fans away, and paint that made objects invisible. But his most improbable device, the size of a trash can lid, would power a radio station, broadcast Maharishi’s message worldwide, plus supply electricity to the entire region.

Reality check: Alexis was a TV repairman.

Alexis Mardas with John Lennon and Mal Evans in 1968.

Alexis arrived in Rishikesh near the end of March. No one ever saw him meditating — quite the opposite. Alexis told Charlie Lutes his real intention was to get The Beatles away from Maharishi.

Alexis described the ashram students as “second-rate American actresses … mentally ill old ladies, and a bunch of lost, pretty girls.” Yet, he had no compunction about practicing the “Kama Sutra” with one — a shorthaired blond schoolteacher from Brooklyn, Rosalyn Bonas.

Through the thin walls, Mike Dolan, Rosalyn’s next-door neighbor, overheard Alexis and Rosalyn nightly in flagrante delicto. Whiffs of a distinct herb wafted from her room, and bottles of fermented brews came and went. Brahmacharya Rhaghvendra informed Mike that Rosalyn would be expelled from the ashram.

Alexis and Rosalyn started spreading rumors that Maharishi had made sexual advances toward Rosalyn. Alexis claimed he hid in the undergrowth and spied Maharishi in his bungalow trying to hug Rosalyn (both fully clothed).

Whether Alexis actually saw the purported “hug” is immaterial. What is real — Rosalyn reported to Alexis, Cynthia, Pattie and Tom Simcox (a Hollywood actor) that Maharishi made a pass at her. Her accusation exacerbated John and George’s disillusionment about Maharishi’s exploitation of them — a wound still fresh.

Hypersensitive and suggestible after two months of constant meditation, the two Beatles and their wives stayed up all night debating the allegation. Alexis warned that the evil Maharishi might hex them with black magic and said they should leave immediately. Finally, George and John started to believe the rumor.

Early morning April 10, Alan Waite and Paul Horn were with Maharishi in his bungalow. When John and George showed up, Maharishi took them into his bedroom. Twenty minutes later, the Beatles announced they were leaving. No one knew what happened during that meeting other than John, George and Maharishi. Alexis claimed he was in the room, but he wasn’t.

John Lennon returned to his bungalow, ripped up his poster of Maharishi, and tossed it, face down, onto the cement floor. Alexis scrambled to find taxis to speed the group to the airport, before anyone changed their mind. As the taxis were loading, the shaken, weeping wives pleaded with John and George to reconsider.

Alexis got what he wanted — his Beatles back, and a job at Apple Corps. And Rosalyn left the ashram one day after she became disillusioned with her guru.

Susan Shumsky’s book on the Maharishi.

However, in September 1991, in Maharishi’s presence in Vlodrop, Holland, George Harrison revealed to Deepak Chopra the real story. Here’s what Deepak reported to The Times of India on Feb. 15, 2006:

“The Beatles, along with their entourage, were doing drugs, taking LSD, at Maharishi’s ashram, and he lost his temper with them. He asked them to leave, and they did in a huff.” Deepak said Maharishi never encountered anything like that before, and he strongly opposed it.

George told Deepak that, when he revealed this story, he felt a huge karmic weight had lifted, because he didn’t want to lie.

— Susan Shumsky

Shumsky is a spiritual teacher and author. You can find more on her at drsusan.org and divinetravels.com.

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