The Beatle thing was fantastic. I loved every minute of it.
— Paul McCartney —
I was just so sick of it. I think we all were.
— George Harrison —
Liverpool, London, and the World
To no one's surprise, Paul didn't last long as a delivery boy. Within only a couple of weeks he was sacked by the powers that be as "unsatisfactory," his labors at Speedy Prompt apparently neither particularly speedy nor prompt. His major transgression, it seems, was falling asleep in the back of the van during several of the company's longer out-of-town runs. "If that were the army you'd be put up to a wall and shot!" Jim McCartney roared, only half joking when he heard the news. "I hope you still don't actually think you're going to make a living out of that beat group, son." Deep inside, Paul too was beginning to have serious doubts.
A short while later, McCartney found himself another job, this time as a lowly coil winder at Massey and Coggins, a prominent Liverpool electrical engineering company. With a whopping starting pay of seven pounds a week, it seemed this time things might really work out. Spending his days winding miles of stiff copper wire, he even considered staying on, in his mind eventually to become a high-powered young salesman. Unfortunately, McCartney lagged behind his colleagues in his winding work so significantly that he was once again let go after only a few weeks on the job. Asked about his indenture at the wire works many years later, the multi-millionaire ex-Beatle had apparently erased the entire episode from his memory with the exception of one foggy remembrance of his supervisor referring to him sarcastically as "Mantovani" because of his outrageously "long," collar-length hair.
One of the quiet turning points for the Beatles was their accidental meeting, in 1960, with future Cavern Club compere, Bob Wooler. A clever punster, the wordwise former railway clerk first ran into two of the boys at a Liverpool bus stop. "It was on Penny Lane," he told me in 1985. "Just George and Paul. McCartney spoke first, telling me they were in a group. To be honest, I had only vaguely heard of them, but I did know their old drummer, Tommy Moore. I used to work with him on the railroad years ago. He died in 1980, you know. Most people don't realize it, but we lost two former Beatles that year, Lennon and Moore." Wooler next met up with the group at Allan Williams' Jacaranda coffee bar on Christmas day. After a couple of celebratory rounds of Cokes, Paul told Bob about their being booted out of Hamburg and wondered if perhaps he might be able to set them up with something locally. Wooler recalls:
At the time, I was doing a bit of work with a promoter by the name of Brian Kelly, so I was able to offer them a half-hour spot at the Litherland Town Hall as an extra. When I asked him [Kelly] for eight pounds he went all quiet. This is a terrible town for that, you know; everyone wants something for nothing. After regaining his composure he begrudgingly offered four, but I reminded him that with five Beatles and their driver, Neil Aspinall, that didn't even amount to one pound per man. Anyway, after a lot of hoggy boggy, Kelly eventually agreed to six and I gave them a very good spot on the bill. From the moment they first stepped out on stage the audience was transfixed. It was the beginning of what would soon become known as Beatlemania.
At this point, Stu was still in Hamburg, having fallen in love with artsy young photographer Astrid Kirchherr, which quite inconveniently left open his position on bass. To fill the gap a young chemistry student, Chas Newby, was quickly ushered in, first playing with the group on December 17 at the Casbah Club, a smoky teenage dance cellar run by Pete Best's fun-loving mother, Mona.
Almost immediately the Beatles became the hottest thing going. Soon, however, Newby left the group to continue his studies, shifting his duties on bass to Paul. Playing his battered old bass (both backwards and upside down to accommodate his stubborn left-handedness), McCartney quickly came to terms with what was actually quite a difficult instrument to just pick up and play. The Beatles' sudden homegrown success was certainly a boon to Paul's oftentimes fairly rocky life at home with his father and brother. At least now he had something positive to point to when defending his musical aspirations to his dad. "I brought home nearly twice this week what I would have been making anywhere else," McCartney would gloat in his cheery, offhand, convincing way. "We'll see, son," the older and wiser Jim muttered between puffs on his pipe. "I only hope for your sake things work out. If your mum were here she'd say the same. All I ever want is what's best for you boys."
Hand in hand with the Beatles' rapidly rising popularity began the manic adulation which was later to become the true hallmark of Beatlemania. Their sexual curiosity was at its peak, and although the money was still pretty shabby, the birds definitely were not. Paul in particular was, as they say in Merrie England, "a bit of a lad," loving and then leaving broken-hearted some of Liverpool's tastiest young maidens. One of McCartney's "fave raves" during this period was Iris Caldwell, the pretty blonde sister of fabled Liverpool rocker Rory Storm. The romance lasted about a year and six months, during which time they both all but stopped seeing other people. Pretty heady stuff for a young man as full of hormones as Paul McCartney. Iris had trained as a dancer from the age of fifteen, appearing at local variety shows and holiday camps throughout the North. In fact, her lovely, long legs were one of her most alluring features.
Longtime Beatle buddy and respected journalist Bill Harry recalls the inception of their whirlwind affair. "I remember her appearing on one of the bills at the Tower Ballroom which featured the Beatles and several other Mersey acts. She was wearing a brief costume which highlighted her slim legs in fishnet stockings, and Paul couldn't keep his eyes off her." After Beatle manager Brian Epstein came onto the scene in November 1961, he did his best to cool off the liaison, apparently in the interests of protecting the group's guise of eligibility to their teenybopper fans. Liverpool insiders, however, hint that the covertly homosexual Epstein may have simply been jealous of Ms Caldwell's affection for the handsome and charming McCartney. Iris remembers:
Epstein was not very pleased that I was going out with Paul, and I wasn't allowed to go anywhere with the group in case any of their fans saw me. But every night after they'd appeared at the Cavern, Paul would come round to our house, and when they went away to Hamburg he used to write me the most fantastic letters which I wish now I'd kept because they were very funny. Talking about all the things that happened to them, sometimes he'd illustrate them with a little cartoon. In those days they had funny names for people and Paul always used to call me "Harris" and he signed his letters "Paul McCoombie." I can remember one letter he'd sent in which he wrote: "We've been down to London jumping around" and he illustrated it with a little picture of himself leaping around on his bum.
Despite all the sophomoric shenanigans, says Iris, Paul was capable of displaying very real and tender emotions. A strong and passionate lover, when the spirit moved him he could also be a very good friend as well.
"Paul was very hard to dislike," she recalls. "Even in his teens there was something about him, a sort of charisma that used to strike people when they met him for the first time. And he always knew exactly where he was going, even though people often used to tell them they would never make it."
Eventually, in 1964, Iris married singer Shane Fenton (later to become seventies glitter king, Alvin Stardust), and accompanied him out on the road as part of his stage show. During her days with Paul however, there was never anyone else, at least for her. McCartney, she suspects, may have still occasionally sowed a few wild oats.
I'm quite sure there were many other girls around but I didn't actually know he was going out with anyone else, if you see what I mean. I used to say to him, "Why don't you go out with somebody else?" though I never thought he did, and then when he came back from London once and said he had met Jane Asher, I didn't want to go out with him anymore, though we remained friends and kept a good relationship.
The Beatles' second trip to Hamburg commenced on Friday, March 24, 1961, with the boys loading their tatty gear into the baggage car of a Liverpool train and then scrambling for a seat together in second class. Arriving exhausted, three days later, they stumbled into a taxi for the ten-minute-plus ride to their new, somewhat improved digs, supplied courtesy of promoter Peter Eckhorn, four shaky flights above their latest venue, the Top Ten Club.
Their salary was a duly modest thirty-five deutsche marks per bobbing Beatle. Not a fortune by any means, but mixed in with the many attractive perks the boys enjoyed on the Reeperbahn, it was enough to scrape by. The contract, negotiated over Mona Best's telephone by the band, demanded basically the same grueling schedule of their earlier trek. They would perform nightly from 7:00 p.m. until 2:00 a.m., Monday through Friday. Weekends, they played an hour later, switching off their ragged amps at 3:00 a.m. Every hour on the hour they were entitled to a fifteen-minute break, plus all the free beer and booze they could manage to guzzle.
By this time, Stu had quite rightly decided to leave the band permanently in order to concentrate on his art work, not to mention his smoldering affair with Astrid. Occasionally, however, he would still sit in with the lads, and sometimes even with other visiting Liverpool groups as well. Music was definitely still very important to Sutcliffe but it was his love and respect for John Lennon that compelled him to stay close. That notion, apparently, was one of the few things he and Paul McCartney had in common.
It was at the Top Ten that the Beatles first met and later began playing with transplanted British rocker Tony Sheridan during their raucous, late-night sessions. "My first impression of the Beatles," remembers Tony, "was that they were brighter than most Liverpool people I'd known, who frankly, aren't really famous for their intelligence. Because of this I could identify with them easier than these really hard, tough guys. They weren't like that at all, despite the image Lennon had. He was not a fighter, not aggressive in that sense. On the contrary, he was a bit of a coward, actually."
Sheridan recalls the band swaggering around St. Pauli, politely telling the Germans to fuck off, betting they couldn't understand the exact nature of this peculiarly British "greeting." Fortunately for the boys, they were right. "The clubs were all pretty rough," says the singer, "the atmosphere ultra-explosive, and the waiters very aggressive. The bouncers were all ex-boxers, and virtually every night there was at least one big free-for-all. So a lot of people got injured, some very badly; it was vicious. I don't know if it was an aftermath of wartime with all the kids that grew up during the war like I did. I think that has a lot to do with the emergence of rock 'n' roll altogether — the pent-up aggressiveness we tried to express in some other way."
The unquestioned highlight of this particular visit to Hamburg had to be the Beatles' first professionally produced recording session, held, disappointingly, onstage at an infants' school somewhere in Hamburg's lookalike suburbs. Tony Sheridan recounts the momentous occasion:
Polydor's A&R [Artist & Repertoire] man, Bert Kaempfert, came along to the Top Ten one night with this entourage of people. He brought us all over to the table for a drink and said, "How would you like to come and record an audition for Polydor?" We said all right, and as we were an entity at the time all went together.
I remember John Lennon's voice conked out during the session. He was overworked, so he didn't get anything much done. I was doing most of the singing. I don't know why Paul didn't do any. Perhaps he wasn't too interested in the limelight at the time. Anyway, he was just learning bass as Sutcliffe had only recently left.
For their work on the session the Beatles received a token 300 deutsche marks each, as a one-time fee, thereby surrendering any further rights or royalties to the project. Ironically, a single pulled from the session, "My Bonnie," backed by a hardrocking Lennon rendition of "The Saints," eventually went on to sell an estimated 100,000 copies after reaching number five on the West German hit parade early that fall. The boys weren't even properly credited on the label of the disc, billed only as "The Beat Brothers," "Beatles" apparently sounding a bit too close to the German schoolboy expression for the male organ, "peedle." It wouldn't be the last time they were referred to in that regard either.
The Beatles' second trip to Hamburg ended on July 2, 1961, after their twice-extended contract with Peter Eckhorn finally came to an end. Nine days later, Paul McCartney was comfortably back home with his father and brother enthusiastically plotting for the future. They had made a record after all, something clearly beyond the reach of nearly every one of Merseyside's hundreds of teenage bands. It was now obvious that the Beatles were something quite special, an undeniable fact nobody's uptight auntie or shortsighted teacher could ever reasonably hope to dislodge. It seemed only a matter of time now before the rest of the world would catch on.
What followed then was a whirlwind of frenzied, on-the-road activity for the still mostly skint group. Throughout the rest of the summer and early fall, they pounded out their brave new music nightly at venues everywhere from Huyton to Knotty Ash. One look at their dizzying itinerary from those days tells anyone they were in great demand. As John Lennon once told me:
They were all good gigs because everybody loved us. But no matter where we went it was the Cavern that was home. I could tell you a thousand different stories about the place but it wouldn't matter. You had to have been there. People talk about how wonderful it was to see us performing down there, but remember, it wasn't just us four guys making it all happen. It was a lot of little indescribables all tossed together that created the magic. The smells, the crazy birds, the smoke. That was definitely a big part of it as well.
The Beatles' love affair with the Cavern first started years before, in August 1957, when Lennon's Quarry Men mounted the wooden stage to perform the rock classic "Come Go With Me," and Elvis staples "Hound Dog," and "Blue Suede Shoes." In those days, however, the club was strictly a Trad Jazz establishment, prompting the owner, Alan Sytner (obviously a purist), to send a terse note on-stage demanding that the boys "Cut out the bloody rock!" Paul McCartney, by the way, didn't join his mates onstage for that historic session, opting instead for a camping holiday with the Boy Scouts. "It was terrific!" Lennon raved to McCartney following the epic evening at the Mathew Street hot spot. "There were so many kids packed in, the walls actually started to sweat. They used some weird disinfectant stuff apparently to keep it down. Afterwards, everything — the gear, our clothes — all reeked of it. Mimi just about went spare trying to get it all out."
Paddy Delaney, the club's eternal doorman, was, as always, on duty the first time the boys ever played there as the Beatles. The date was February 21, 1961, a day forever etched into the big man's memory. "The first one I ever saw was George Harrison," recalls Delaney.
In those days hairstyles were very strict and tidy, but George's hair was down to his collar. He was very scruffy and hungry-looking. Fifteen minutes later, Paul McCartney tumbled down the street with John Lennon in close pursuit. Paul was carrying his bass guitar, and John had his hands dug deep into his pockets. I had an idea they were with George because they all had the same sort of hairstyle. A little while after they strolled in, a taxi pulled up and out came Pete Best. He was carrying the Beatles' first sound system, two cheap chipboard speakers, and a beat-up looking amplifier. He also had a set of old drums, which he unloaded by himself and took down the stairs.
From the first night they descended the eighteen stone steps of the former wine and spirits warehouse cellar, Liverpool's music-loving teens had found their band, and the Beatles' safe refuge from a grownup world of Doubting Thomases who just couldn't understand. Julia Baird remembers:
Everybody went to the Cavern, even Mimi, who was in a furious fit about it all at first. She went down to see what was going on. I think she just gave up after that, realizing John was going to do just exactly what he wanted to anyway. Personally, I didn't go as much as I might have done, but we lived quite a long way out of town and the last bus back was ridiculously early, so we couldn't stay out very late. All I can tell you was that it was the Beatles all in black leather, and lots of noise. We loved it.
The Beatles' steadily advancing career apparently well in hand, the band played on to the thunderous delight of Liverpool's legion of dance-happy teens. That fall, however, Lennon and McCartney took a well-deserved two-week sabbatical to Paris, hitchhiking south and then taking the Channel ferry to the northernmost tip of France. Even in those days hitchhiking was considered seedy and dangerous, a point not lost on either Jim McCartney or John's Aunt Mimi.
The two set off from McCartney's Forthlin Row home on October 1,1961, on their spur-of-the-moment holiday. Funded in part by a twenty-first birthday gift of a hundred pounds presented to John by his Auntie Mater in Edinburgh, the trip proved a significant bonding experience for the two. McCartney fondly remembered the occasion during my 1986 interview:
That was one of the things I undoubtedly found very interesting about John's family. As my mother was a nurse and my dad a cotton salesman, we always lived in the nurse's house on the estate. So to actually see this sort of middle-class thing was fascinating for me. Christ, I can even recall John getting one hundred quid for his birthday off his relatives in Edinburgh I mean, I still say I'd like it now! Someone just hands you a hundred quid, still feels good to me. So I thought, "This is amazing, I've never seen people like this!" I remember John talking about people the family knew from the BBC, friends who were dentists, and uncles and aunts up in Scotland, so it was very exotic to me, all that. We went to Paris on that money. It was supposed to be Spain, but we never got past Paris, we enjoyed it so much. We suddenly thought, "We can't really get to Spain on a hundred quid." I don't really know if he was fond of me or just into spending. And I would be there for the banana milkshake! I think I actually paid my own way. We soon realized though we needed a bit of a gimmick to get people to stop so we both wore bowler hats in addition to our leather jackets. We thought they might take the edge off the kind of hoody look, or ruffian image we had then. I guess people would just think, "Whoa, look, there's a couple of daft kids in bowler hats there. You know, they don't really look like a threat." We got a bit drunk on the French beer. We had been drinking the British stuff and so we thought we could handle it, but this foreign stuff really went to our heads. It was all just so adventurous. I had never done anything like that. I'd hardly ever been out of Liverpool before. We'd been to Pwllheli, Skegness, and Lemington Spa before, but that had been the whole of my travels. It was very exciting to get off on your own with a mate. John was a great guy because he was never boring.
While in Paris, Lennon and McCartney mostly just hung out in sidewalk cafes accosting the City of Light's young female population; they also found time to attend a concert by singer Johnny Hallyday at the Paris Olympia, and took in several evenings of Parisian rock at a local beat club in Montmartre. The trek to France produced one rather significant happening in the Beatles' long and winding road to success, the unexpected birth of what the world would soon come to know as "the Beatle haircut."
The humble origins of this most celebrated object of Fab Four lore came about as a result of the band's friendship in Hamburg with Jurgen Vollmer, a beat group enthusiast and talented freelance photographer. Meeting up with Jurgen in Paris, the boys were impressed by his daring, over-the-ears hairstyle and within a few days summoned up the nerve to brush forward their formally greased-back pomp into a Caesar-like fringe. Once back home, George quickly adopted the new look with only diehard rocker Pete Best refusing to follow Lennon and McCartney's lead. It would be the first of several such differences of policy between Best and the band and the beginning of the end of his time as a Beatle.
From this point onwards events in the group's meteoric rise to the zenith of popular music rapidly gained momentum. On October 29, 1961, a Huyton boy named Raymond Jones walked into Liverpool businessman Brian Epstein's family-owned NEMS (North East Music Stores) in Whitechapel and wondered if the immaculately attired manager might have an import copy of "My Bonnie" by a local group called the Beatles. He didn't. But priding himself on NEMS ability to satisfy even the most obscure requests, Epstein immediately set about trying to find the Polydor single. Alistair Taylor, Epstein's personal assistant and longtime Apple office manager, remembers his employer's frenzied search for the hard-to-find disc.
After a hell of a lot of calling around we finally got hold of a box of twenty-five, then another twenty-five, and they just kept selling as fast as we could import them. Then a few weeks later we went down to meet this group at the Cavern. They were sensational. Not necessarily musically, as a matter of fact; they were bloody awful as musicians — then, anyway. Liverpool was full of guys like that at the time, but the Beatles had something else — charisma. I call it "Ingredient X."
Following the Beatles' performance that afternoon, Brian and Taylor met the boys backstage to say hello, but only George has any recollection of the event. The others, it seems, were unimpressed to the point of non-recall. Epstein, after all, with his posh manners and gentrified presence, was hardly the kind of person the Beatles were naturally drawn to. It was, in fact clearly the other way around. From the moment they all tramped on stage, Epstein was smitten. And not just with the prospect of perhaps one day making a buck off the band either. This was something far deeper, far more sensual. To put it bluntly, clad in their Hamburg-period, skintight black leather, these bouncy, outlandish boys quite simply turned him on.
Dining that same fateful day at the Peacock on Hackins Hey, Epstein and Taylor enthusiastically reviewed the possibilities of what they had just seen. "There's been a lot said about how Brian went around saying they were going to be bigger than Elvis," says Alistair. "But I don't remember it being as blatant as that. I mean, we were excited, of course, and talked about what we should do. It was just something new and fun." Ironically, Epstein offered Taylor two-percent-plus of the group's future earnings if he would consider lending a hand in their management, but the recently married assistant turned him down cold. "What I need is a bigger weekly salary, Brian," he offhandedly replied. "What'll I do if they never make any money?"
Paul McCartney's final assessment to me of the Beatles' manager was that, although Epstein had a definite theatrical "flair," on a business level he turned out to be rather naive and "green." The same was not at all true, however, of Epstein's dark and seamy personal life. Here was a man obsessed, a solitary figure completely torn in two over his secret yen for the "rough-trade" homosexual binges in which he frequently indulged. "He was a very complex man," confides Alistair Taylor. "And I think there's far more to it than just being gay. He wasn't happy at that. He tried very hard not to be. Twice, I had a phone call from him saying goodbye, he was committing suicide. I've often said, in many ways I would have been happier if he had."
Longtime Beatle insider Peter Brown remembers that in 1959 when Epstein was just twenty-five, he was viciously humiliated, beaten, and robbed in a public lavatory in Liverpool's West Derby, where he apparently accosted an ardently heterosexual longshoreman. Picking himself up off the floor, the terrified young man tore down the road, jumped into his smart new Hillman California sportster, and frantically drove home to his parents' house in Childwall.
Confessing to his understanding mother, Queenie, a slightly cleaned up and edited version of the tawdry episode, Brian sank down on the chesterfield, nursing a cherry brandy and a battered psyche. Within minutes of his return, however, his assailant, having discovered from Epstein's wallet how well-heeled a victim he had just bashed, rang up and demanded a significant amount of money in exchange for his silence concerning young Brian's unconventional sexual preference. Queenie, in the best tradition of British iron ladies, was not about to bend. She immediately rang the family solicitor, Rex Makin, who discussed the matter with Brian and then advised him to report the entire incident to police. A few days later, using Epstein as bait, a trap was set for the blackmailer (who turned out to be the holder of a long criminal record for similar offenses); he was charged with extortion only yards away from the Epsteins' immaculate family business in White-chapel. It was the kind of pathetic tale told over and over again in Epstein's short and troubled life, a cross that all who were close to him were forced to bear. The morally conservative McCartney, in particular, seemed to feel that Epstein's not-so-private personal life could have a negative effect on the Beatles' image. Epstein was undoubtedly immensely encouraging and helpful to the band during those first struggling years, and frankly, there probably wouldn't have been any such thing as the Beatles without him. Later, however, he became a source of acute embarrassment and heartache for the upwardly mobile McCartney, who even today, although he acknowledges that Brian was "basically a lovely guy," maintains that Epstein's many personal trials and limited business acumen caused the Beatles much needless grief.
The Beatles themselves and their closest friends were not exempt from Epstein's homosexual advances. Pete Best remembers that one afternoon, while he and Eppy were driving around Liverpool discussing business, Brian propositioned him, asking if he might consider spending the night with him in a nearby hotel. Thoroughly embarrassed, Best quietly declined and never mentioned it to him again.
Pete Shotton, too, tells an almost identical tale in which Epstein invited him to come for a ride in order to speak to him confidentially about John. "Actually, Pete, I'm afraid I brought you here on somewhat false pretenses," Epstein began. "What I really want to talk about is you. John has told me so many wonderful things about you, I was thinking we might go back to my apartment together and get to know each other a bit better."
"I don't get it," replied young Shotton innocently. "What for?"
"I think you know what for," said Epstein, sliding over closer to the bewildered teenager.
"No way, Brian. I'm afraid that's not really my scene, mate." This incident, however, was cast aside by the former Quarry Man, and he and Epstein went on to become good friends. In his memoir, John Lennon in My Life, Shotton wrote that even now he considers Epstein one of the nicest people he has ever met.
Incredibly, in spite of so much indisputable evidence to the contrary, Epstein used to like to pretend that no one actually knew he was gay. "Why did you tell John that I am queer?" he demanded one evening of Neil Aspinall, who was busy unloading the group's gear at an out-of-town gig.
"Because you are, Brian. You are. You're queer and we both know it."
"I am not!" he shouted.
"Oh fuck off, Eppy. Who are you trying to kid? Me or yourself, huh?"
"I tell you, I'm not, and you had no right to ever say such a thing."
"Suit yourself then, mate. Some people just have to play their little games, don't they?"
Up until the very end of his life, Epstein persisted with this peculiar charade, despite the fact that he allegedly had a sexual encounter with one Beatle, came on heavily to another, and later freely flaunted his many lovers and boyfriends in front of just about everyone. It was unquestionably a compulsive and embarrassing aspect of his life. Such was the dichotomy of Brian Epstein, as thoroughly confused and unhappy as he was competent and hopeful.
Tony Mansfield, former drummer for the Merseybeat-era band, the Dakotas, and a latter-day NEMS talent, remembers the quiet, introspective manager with his so-called Stable of Stars.
Brian had that same flair of authority as George Martin. I remember Eppy, as we called him, used to get very annoyed at Billy Kramer occasionally. We were doing "Thank Your Lucky Stars" once, and he came running in after the show and glared at Billy, saying, "The Dakotas were lovely... but you, Billy, ha!" and steamed out of the room like a little boy. We were all dying to crack up laughing but we just couldn't. Sure, Brian was gay, but we never really thought of him that way, it just never came up. I don't think even Brian knew what he really was. He tried to go out with girls, didn't he? Eppy had a few girlfriends. He often dated the late Alma Cogan. We met him out one night with her at a posh London restaurant.
Tony (the brother of popular sixties singer Elkie Brooks), eventually left the Dakotas to open a Manchester boutique after several uneasy years playing sideman to the only marginally talented Billy J. Kramer. At one point, prior to Ringo Starr's ascension to the throne as the Beatles' easygoing drummer, Mansfield says that he was actually considered for the job but turned it down. Tony, whose real last name is Bookbinder, looks back fondly on his days hanging out in the Beatles' inner circle, but like so many reared under Brian Epstein's motherly wing, still isn't all that sure that what Brian did, he actually did for them.
I was always a bit frightened of Brian. I could never speak my mind to him. We looked up to him like you would a schoolmaster. We were very much manipulated by him, I think. He was trying to help us and he got very well paid for it, but I don't think he really put the interest into us that he should have. Now you can't give somebody something if they don't already have it, but Brian could have groomed Billy a bit better.
I mean he was a nice enough person to the degree that he always remembered your birthday and made sure he bought a present. . . . Actually, he bought all the acts presents on their birthdays or at Christmas time. He was very meticulous in the way he looked and always bought extremely expensive clothes. With the normal calibre of personal manager running around at the time being the fast-talking, cigar-smoking type of guy, Brian was a real gentleman. The business wasn't used to a Brian Epstein and didn't always know how to treat him.
Epstein officially became the Beatles' manager in January 1962, through a contract, incidentally, which the former record store executive never actually signed. Now all he had to do was to find them some sort of a deal. Any deal. A tall order for a guy who only a few miserable months before had confided to his younger brother Clive that he actually felt quite depressed about his future.
By January 1, 1962, things had moved along considerably. Guitars in hand, the Beatles traveled down to London for a recording test with Decca Records at the request of A & R man Mike Smith, who had first heard them rip it up at the Cavern. During the session, Paul in particular laid down several exciting lead vocals, but the label ultimately turned them down with recording manager Dick Rowe's memorable line, "I'm sorry, Mr. Epstein, but groups with guitars are definitely on the way out."
Although by now Stuart Sutcliffe had well and truly put his Beatle days behind him, he and John still maintained a close relationship through an exchange of long, chatty letters. Once or twice Sutcliffe related that, for some unknown reason, he was having very severe headaches. Not every day, but still often enough to cause some concern. Even as far back as Christmas of 1961, during a visit home to Liverpool, Lennon had silently noted just how pale and sickly his old friend looked. When he fainted once at the art college in Hamburg, Astrid and her mother realized there must be something seriously wrong. The family doctor was called and Sutcliffe sent for an exhaustive series of X-rays, but nothing untoward showed up.
In addition to the now-devastating headaches, Sutcliffe was experiencing terrible temper tantrums. Increasingly abusive and violent for no apparent reason, he became difficult for the Kirchherrs to cope with. After coming home one afternoon from an appointment with yet another specialist, he sat staring blankly out the window, into the empty street below, and observed calmly to Astrid: "I don't want a black coffin like everyone else. I saw a lovely, bright white one today in a window. I want one like that." Needless to say, such morbid talk was extremely upsetting to the dedicated and loving woman. Allan Williams, a faithful and caring friend, remembers the last bleak days of Sutcliffe's brief, eventful life:
Stuart was complaining to me about his recurring headaches and fits of depression. He spent many sleepless nights literally beating his head against the wall to stop the pain . . . Stu agreed with me that the headaches stemmed from injuries he had received when he was beaten up by a gang of hostile youths outside Lanthom Hall after a Beatles gig. Paradoxically, Stuart's work improved immensely in this period, though it took on a somber, ghost-like quality.
Now securely under the tutelage of Brian Epstein, the Beatles cut a significantly more professional image due in large part to their new manager's well-honed sense of style and passion for the theatrical. Henceforth, they were strictly forbidden to swear, chew gum, or, God forbid, drink or eat on stage, prohibitions particularly irksome to the naturally rebellious Len-non. McCartney on the other hand, ever the promoter, clearly saw the wisdom of it all and actively encouraged the group to toe the line. "At least until we get what we want," he would mutter under his breath to John.
It was these new improved Beatles who jetted off to Hamburg on April 10, 1962, to begin their third stint on the Reeperbahn. This time, thanks to Epstein's fastidious advance planning and skillful PR, they would play the Star Club, then one of Hamburg's most upmarket, high-paying venues. Just as they were about to leave for Speke Airport, however, an urgent telegram was received from Astrid. Cut down by another blinding attack at the Kirchherr's home in Altona, Stu was rushed by ambulance to the hospital, unconscious and only barely alive. He never made it, dying enroute, cradled in Astrid's arms.
At first, the cause of the young painter's death was a mystery. Listed on his German death certificate as cerebral paralysis, it wasn't until almost two years later that the truth was finally uncovered. Following his death and the return of his body home to Liverpool, his mother, Millie, donated the cadaver to scientific research, hoping that their work might provide some answers. As it turns out, Sutcliffe suffered from a tiny benign tumor housed surreptitiously in a small depression in the skull. Carefully examining the exposed brain tissue, doctors confirmed the Beatles' theory that the growth was probably the direct result of a swift, traumatic blow to the head, just like the one he had suffered outside Lanthom Hall in Seaforth on May 14, 1960.
Pete Best remembers: "Stu had just walked outside and a couple of so-called hard knocks were giving him a good going over. Anyway, John and I immediately stepped in and broke it up. A lot of people have turned around and said, no, it was a direct result of Stu overworking himself in Hamburg. I don't really know. I'm sure that didn't help things any, but for my money what happened that night definitely seems the most likely." In that terrifying instant, Stuart Sutcliffe became the very first victim of out-of-control violent Beatlemania. Sadly, he was not to be the last.
The devastating news hit the Beatles like a bomb. John burst into hysterical laughter, unable to stop. George became predictably quiet, while Paul, despite his long record of run-ins with the former Beatle, appeared genuinely shocked and upset. So did Pete. That same day, Paul, Pete, and John flew on to Germany, meeting Astrid at the airport for a somber, tearful reunion. George, Brian, and Millie Sutcliffe, meanwhile, arrived the next afternoon, joining Astrid and the other three for an unusually demonstrative, emotionally charged encounter in the arrivals lounge. Grasping for something comforting to say to Mrs. Sutcliffe, Paul reportedly told the grieving fifty-four-year-old woman that within six months of his mother's passing, most of the deepest hurt had disappeared. Millie smiled weakly. "That's because you are young," she replied softly through her tears. "It's different when you're my age, Paul."
Years later, Astrid summed up her still-tender feelings for her lost love to author Ray Coleman in his masterful 1984 work, Lennon. "I know Stu would have preferred to have died rather than go on in the pain he was suffering. But the loss to me was great, and to anyone who knew him, because he was a genius, with a great mind and an original talent as an artist. He would have been outstanding if he'd lived. How John got over that period I'll never know."
Within days of the Beatles' solemn arrival in Germany, Lennon and McCartney, still enthusiastically pursuing their songwriting partnership, had penned a tune then called "Love, Love Me Do." Both knew it was a good song, "a keeper," as Lennon put it, and he went right to work creating a catchy harmonica riff for the intro. The duo was beginning to take its composing duties a little more seriously than before, soon amassing a considerable portfolio of well-structured, upbeat material.
To everyone's complete surprise and delight, an urgent telegram was received from Brian Epstein in London on May 9, 1962, after he had finally secured a provisional recording contract for the group with Parlophone, a small subsidiary of the vast EMI empire: "CONGRATULATIONS BOYS. EMI REQUEST RECORDING SESSION. PLEASE REHEARSE NEW MATERIAL."
The four young men were on top of the world. This was it, the big break they had all been waiting for. And Eppy had made it happen.
"I told ya he was alright," said Lennon, gleefully jostling Paul as they read and then re-read the stiff white paper. "Oh right, you bastard. Who's been pushing you lot to go along with all his bullshit? You can thank me for this, lads."
"Now all we gotta do is come up with a hit," said George, his usual pessimistic self.
"Don't worry about that," McCartney replied. "We'll do alright. I know we will. But first things first. Anyone for a drink?"
Upon their return from Hamburg seven weeks later, the boys immediately began to ready themselves for their London trip, whittling down to a fine point their already razor-sharp musical instincts during a private, closed-door practice session at the Cavern the first week of June. Several days later, Brian and the boys arrived at EMI House, Manchester Square, London, to sign their contract. Though strictly provisional, if the sessions turned out well and the music and material measured up, the Beatles had themselves a deal. Forty-eight hours later they were bounding up the stone steps of 3 Abbey Road, St. John's Wood, to meet producer George Martin and begin work on what would eventually become their very first single, "Love Me Do," backed by the romantic ballad, "P.S. I Love You."
The whole Parlophone experience was a significant high point in the Beatles' ever-advancing assault on the music-loving youth of the world, but behind the scenes there was big trouble brewing. Pete Best, long regarded as the group's most handsome and sexy member, was soon to experience an excruciatingly cruel twist of fate. After four years of virtually full-time, mind-bending commitment and hard work, the quiet, gentlemanly drummer was about to be cheated out of his one and only shot at the big time. All things considered, the sacking of Best from the Beatles was a very nasty business, heartless naughtiness engineered, some suggest, by no less a personality than Paul, due to Pete's amazing popularity with the Beatles' female fans. Mike McCartney, however, hastening to the aid of his big brother, disagrees:
Actually, it could have been any one of them fate chose to go. George could have been the one, you know. None of them was that fucking strong. But when they all got together, that's when the magic happened . . . The other three were very quick on the street level, but Pete was very moody, magnificent, and good-looking. The girls screamed for him and that was a big asset. They wouldn't have sacked the sod for that! Think about it. That would have been much bigger. A good-looking drummer out of the way behind with Paul, John and George fronting it. It was basically down to his drumming ability in the end. There were quite a few very good drummers around Liverpool then and I used to go home and tell Paul about Ringo. I used to see him play with Rory Storm. We didn't think about how ugly he might have been, or about the white streak in his hair. Those things weren't important. It was just that this guy with Rory was a very inventive drummer. He goes around the drums like crazy, right? He doesn't just hit the drums, he invents sounds. He moves around the kit, and he's unusual. His feel is a little different and he can deliver the goods ...
No matter what the motivation, changing drummers midstream was definitely a very tricky maneuver for the band at such a critical stage. And a controversial one.
Vaunted New York record producer Bob Gallo, Best's mentor following his split with the Beatles, remembers:
I always felt Peter had a very big challenge in life just to try to overcome what had happened to him. He did say that there was a hell of a lot of jealousy between him and Paul in the early days. Of all the Beatles, Paul and Peter were certainly the best looking. When they played the Cavern, apparently the girls would scream for him while Paul was singing. Now the story I got from Peter was that McCartney became very tired of all this and wanted to get rid of him for stealing his thunder. He also said that the Beatles went to Brian Epstein and told him Peter was taking pills, and that became one of the reasons he was dismissed as well. The fact is Peter might not have had the charisma Ringo had. The story goes that when they were considering tossing him out of the band, Paul went around Liverpool trying to find the ugliest drummer he could that had his own drum kit. Now, to be honest, technically Best is probably a better drummer than Ringo. His timing and feel are exceptional and as a producer doing a whole album with Pete, I can tell you he is a very talented player. The point is, according to Pete, it was jealousy that started the whole thing, not musicianship.
Too much of a gentleman to make a fuss, Pete quietly caved in to his former friend's betrayal and resigned his role as a Beatle. Although a few years later he was pushed by Gallo and his partner to sue and then settle for a relatively small sum with the band, he walked away terribly torn and confused about both his past and future. When I first met him in 1986, he still seemed hurt by the ordeal, and his faithful mother, Mona, was still reeling with anger over her son's unceremonious sacking from the greatest rock 'n' roll band of all time.
"Tell him about that Ringo, Pete!" she shouted from the stone stoop of her surprisingly grand West Derby home. "Why don't you tell him about the times we paid for him to go to the pictures when he didn't have a penny to his name! People forget he was your friend as well. The little bastard!"
"Please, Mum," the obviously embarrassed Best replied, smiling helplessly to his incensed mother. "Just forget it. It still upsets her," he apologized, "even after all this time." Sitting in the spacious back garden once filled to overflowing with sweaty teens seeking a bit of fresh air after dancing themselves to distraction in Mrs. Best's Casbah, Best waxed philosophical about his crazy days as a Beatle.
GEOFFREY: Was there a competition between you and Paul throughout your entire term with the Beatles?
PETE: Not unless Paul had taken it onto himself that there was a rivalry. Of course a lot of people have said there was a significant jealousy factor. My answer to that is, if he was jealous then it was bloody stupid. Personally, I was never vying to be number one.
GEOFFREY: Did you ever sing lead?
PETE: Yeah, I sang a couple of numbers —"Matchbox," "Roses Are Red," "Peppermint Twist," — that's about it.
GEOFFREY: To this day, do you know for sure exactly why you were kicked out of the group?
PETE: I wish I did. A lot of it is the fact that they didn't want me being a focal point in the band. Remember, I was the drummer. And it must have hurt knowing I was taking attention away from them.
GEOFFREY: It seems to me you were a very strong complement to their wild aggressiveness, being so laid-back and cool.
PETE: We were a unit. As far as I was concerned, if the birds screamed and paid more attention to me it didn't make any difference. They were just contributing to what the Beatles were. It all just added to the atmosphere.
GEOFFREY: I think it must be said that as a drummer it seems as though you were certainly as good, if not better, than Ringo Starr.
PETE: I've always advocated that. Even other drummers from that period have said to me over the years that as a Liverpool drummer I was top dog.
GEOFFREY: Obviously, all this must have been hell for you. I mean, you're world famous now as the guy who wasn't good enough. It's got to really hurt.
PETE: But there's two sides to it. That's the way I look at it. Sure, by a Kiffey trick, I was ousted. I wasn't there to share in the fabulous wealth and acclaim we all worked so hard for. But the other side of the coin is that now I have a great family and good friends. I can basically do what I want now without fear or trepidation.
GEOFFREY: They certainly can't. I mean, look at what happened to poor John.
PETE: As far as I'm concerned, that counts for a lot. I'm still a happy guy.
GEOFFREY: I suppose it must have taken quite a long time to really come to terms with the disappointment though?
PETE: Many years of heartache and resentment.
GEOFFREY: Did you ever personally speak to the other Beatles about it?
PETE: Never saw them. It was a funny thing. Of course my new band played on the same bill as them on two occasions, but nothing was ever mentioned. There was a stone-cold silence. And from that day to this that's the way it's remained.
GEOFFREY: It's well known you were very good friends with Neil Aspinall since day one. Did that friendship go out the window then as well?
PETE: The funny thing was Neil was with me the day I was let go. He'd driven me down in the van that afternoon I met Brian. When I came out of NEMS he looked at me and said, "Peter, what's happened? You went in happy as Larry, and you've come out like you've been kicked in the crotch." "Basically," I said, "that's what happened; they've kicked me out." So Neil turned around and said, "Well, that's it. If you're out, I'm out!" I remember we went out for a couple of pints and I said to him, "Look, Neil, they're going places, you can feel it. What's the use of cutting off your nose to spite your face? Stay with them. You've worked too damned hard to quit now." And of course he did, and he's with them to this day as executive director of Apple. GEOFFREY: What do you think you'd say if you happened to meet Paul McCartney again after so many years?
PETE: Well, as far as I'm concerned the animosity was gone long ago; only the good memories are left.
GEOFFREY: You wouldn't want to sock him would you?
PETE: (Laughing) No. That would ruin everything! Meeting him again would probably be very embarrassing for both of us. But I should imagine, knowing Paul, it would probably just be a case of, "Hi, how ya doin', man?" Where the conversation would go from there, I don't know.
GEOFFREY: How did you react when John died?
PETE: You know a lot of people have said to me, "What difference should it make to you? You hadn't seen the guy in twenty years." What they fail to remember is that I still harbor very affectionate memories of the guy. I knew him for three or four years. I spent a lot of time alone with him. We fought fights for one another. We swapped birds with one another in Germany. I had a lot of respect for him. I always will.
Despite a fairly bumpy transition between drummers, the Beatles' hometown popularity continued to skyrocket. On October 5, 1962, the "Love Me Do" single was released in Great Britain, eventually climbing to number seventeen on the charts. Several weeks later, the group traveled down to London once again to begin sessions for what would later become their second single, "Please Please Me."
Julia Baird recalls the impact of hearing her big brother's band's first recordings:
I remember tramping up the stairs of the Cottage to [our cousin] David's room, clutching John's demonstration disc of "Love Me Do." What a thrill it was to finally hear on record the fruit of the band's many years of struggle. Another big occasion for us all was hearing the Beatles on Radio Luxembourg for the first time.
Unfortunately, the reception was absolutely dreadful so we were all crouching down around the wireless trying to pick out the music from all the terrible static coming through the tiny speakers. Still, that was my big brother on the radio there and I couldn't help thinking how Mummy would have loved being part of our happiness. Another time, I remember hearing Jimmy Saville introducing "Please Please Me" by saying, "Well, here it is, the big new record from Liverpool's Beatles, and I hope it pleases somebody out there, 'cause it sure isn't me!" I wonder how many times he's lived to regret that rather hasty assessment of Britain's greatest gift to the world of show business!
Despite deejay Saville's skepticism, "Please Please Me" soon became the number one tune in England, conquering the summit of the coveted New Music Express charts on January 11, 1963. Twenty-four hours later it would do the same on the Disc chart. The Beatles had finally, and forever, arrived.
Meanwhile, back home at Forthlin Row, Mike McCartney was beginning to think seriously about his career as well. A super-talented all-rounder, Mike was himself a fine singer, writer, illustrator, and wit, eventually forming the highly original musical comedy troupe, the Scaffold, with Liverpool poet Roger McGough and funny man John Gorman.
The genesis of this legendary fool's paradise was typically as offhand as the trio's sly, infectious humor. Mike, who for want of anything better to do had offered himself as an apprentice performer in the 1962 Merseyside Arts Festival, was asked by Gorman to play the part of an old man in a comedy sketch with him and McGough. At first he declined, politely insisting that he "didn't do that sort of thing," but after a little gentle coaxing his comedic talent soon blossomed. Listed in the official program as "Mike Blank," the principled younger McCartney had no wish to try to cash in on his Beatle brother's newfound success, and so adopted this reasonably dotty pseudonym for the event.
From there the three irreverent loons became the Scaffold, performing initially in minor-league reviews all over Mersey-side, including Allan Williams' Blue Angel club, various local political gatherings, and even, rather incongruously, the Cavern. "We didn't actually go down too well," says Mike, "because they were used to pop groups and we'd come out spoutin' poetry and bloody comedy."
Riding the crest of a wave wrought by the popular British television institution, "Beyond the Fringe," and the lesser-known "American Happenings," the zany Scaffold soon began to catch on. During the heady heights of Beatlemania, Britain's ABC television even offered the group their own seven-week series. "The first TV Scaffold ever did was our most successful in terms of the public," remembers Mike. "I only ever go on the public. That's the criteria because if they remember you years after the event, then you've done something that is unique... We came up at about the same time as the Beatles."
Despite his relative success, Mike was still standing in the giant shadow cast by Paul, and so, in 1963, unofficially changed his name to Mike McGear. "To protect the innocent and retain a little dignity amongst the absolute chaos, I decided to change my more-than-ample, historically proud family name (I can assure you it was that crazy)," McCartney/McGear Wrote in his 1981 family biography, Thank U Very Much. "And it wasn't only the desire not to cash in on my brother's new found Beatle fame that made me do it. You see, my parents had taught me certain ethics, standards, pride, whatever you call it, which were impossible to go against, even if I wanted to."
As it became clear to everyone that indeed both McCartney boys were exceptionally gifted, Brian Epstein suggested to Mike that perhaps he too might consider climbing aboard the NEMS bandwagon for a go at the big time as a pop singer. McGear, however, quite astutely declined. "This was when [NEMS] was just getting Gerry [Marsden] and Cilia [Black] organized," he remembers. "I said, 'Brian, you must be jokin'. We've got one up there already who is doin' rather well, thank you.' To try and emulate that, to try and put myself up there and draw on Paul as a comparison would be a pretty dumb thing to do. I'm as good as him. He's a natural singer, a natural player of instruments and things. I'm a natural singer, too, though I've never been relaxed enough to let anybody hear it." McGear and his fellow Scaffolders did eventually sign a record deal with EMI, releasing a commercially disappointing first effort with the nonsense ballad, "Two Days Monday," in 1966. One year later, EMI's gamble on the batty trio paid off with an easy number one — their off-the-cuff, bouncy comedy classic, "Thank U Very Much."
On June 7,1968, McGear married Angela Fishwick in a high-spirited family ceremony in the tiny village of Carog, North Wales. Paul was best man, accompanied for the afternoon by his intended bride, popular British actress Jane Asher. That same month the Scaffold was booked into London's Royal Albert Hall joining show business greats Cleo Laine, Sammy Davis Jr., and Jonathan Miller, for one of the first-ever anti-apartheid concerts, entitled "Come Back, Africa." Later in the year, the irreverent comedy consortium played the famous London Palladium, meeting and later schmoozing with the likes of Princess Margaret and her then-husband, Anthony Armstrong-Jones.
That Christmas the Scaffold received a very special present: their latest musical offering, an uptempo satirical masterpiece, "Lily the Pink," became their second British number one, prompting even the usually tight-lipped Paul to break a long-standing personal resolution not to comment publicly on anything to do with Mike's up-and-coming career. When he first heard the happy news he told reporters:
That's terrific! I've always given Mike brotherly advice because I reckon I know something about recording. But my advice to him has always been wrong! When the Scaffold recorded "Thank U Very Much," I told him not to sing about the Aintree Iron because it was too obscure — yet that became a big talking point about the song. And I also told him I wasn't too sure "Lily the Pink" was the right thing to record either!
On December 17, 1968, the BBC presented a show, dedicated to the collective lunacy of the Scaffold, entitled "The Talk of the Town Scaffold Special." It was the beginning of a reasonably long and prosperous career for the three on British TV. Children, it seemed, were especially fond of their somewhat ... well... childish humor, which led to their very own kids' series. "How about that? Talking about drugs, we called our show 'SCORE with the Scaffold!'" Mike recalls. "But the BBC thought it was very innocent you see. They thought it was SCORE POINTS. We had these big badges on, saying, 'Score Now Kids.' It was the BBC, and they couldn't understand an innocent little thing like that could have two meanings."
Unfortunately, the lighthearted appeal of the group eventually began to dissipate: their incredible popularity with the British public was short-lived. "One of the biggest problems with the Scaffold," McGear reflects, "was that we were always the next 'That Was the Week That Was,' the next 'Beyond the Fringe,' the next 'Monty Python.' We were never '#'! We were always the next one. McGough's writing is just too clever. He used to write this verbal poetic imagery stuff, that was far too advanced for its time. One day you'll all catch up though."
Quite apart from his duties in the Scaffold, Mike was also making significant inroads as an author. His first work, described by him as a "children's/adult" book called Roger Bear sold well, paving the way for his next two — Thank U Very Much, and most recently, Mike Mac's White and Blacks, an oversized trade paperback of his justly famous, mostly Beatle-era photographs.
Towards the end of its time, the Scaffold amalgamated with former Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band refugees, Neil Innes and Vivian Stanshall to form "Grimms" in the early seventies. Together this unholy tribe of unpredictable musical fools performed live throughout England, recording two superb albums for Island Records, Grimms and Rockin' Duck, before they imploded and dissolved into the outer reaches of pop history.
All things considered, McGear did pretty well for himself with the Scaffold, creatively, if not financially. It is important to note that any success he has won hasn't been because of his big brother's incredible achievement, but rather in spite of it. "The only way to survive was to choose a theatrical comedy concept," he explains. "If I'd chosen pop music I'd be dead now. It's like young Chris Jagger. I did a TV show with him in Munich recently. I mean, he's practically on the dole. He's into acting now; he got out of pop music, luckily. Now he's trying to survive as an actor."
Although Mike later went on to record a few solo albums as a singer, he is best remembered as the Scaffold's cheery, effervescent straight man. The group attempted one final reunion in 1984 as part of an outdoor show filmed in New Brighton, but things didn't quite work out as planned: "The sound was so bad nobody could hear," Mike recounts. "Everything was done at the last minute — bad news. Anyway, at least the three of us have a tape of us working together again. . . . The producers liked us. It just didn't go well. They ended up taking our segment out of the film — and I'm glad, to tell you the truth."
On June 18, 1963, Paul McCartney legally, and officially, became a man, finally turning twenty-one. No small event in anyone's life, let alone the number-one teen heartbreak in Britain's number-one band. To celebrate, a full-tilt blowout was held a few days later beneath a colorful marquee in the back garden of his Auntie Jin's home on Dinas Lane, Huyton. Tony Mansfield was one of the guests: "The Shadows were all there. I think even the Beatles would tell you they looked up to Cliff Richards and the Shadows. The party went on all night as I recall. It wasn't really an outrageous piss-up, but we were certainly all enjoying ourselves. I don't think anybody was too drunk or disorderly, except maybe John Lennon."
Lennon's "disorderly" conduct was the talk of Liverpool for weeks afterwards. Having had far too much to drink, he exploded like an artillery shell after Bob Wooler insinuated that he and Brian had engaged in a homosexual union while vacationing together recently in Spain. Wooler reportedly referred to Lennon's well-deserved respite from the rigors of Beatle-hood as his "Spanish honeymoon." Lennon answered the accusation by pummeling the stocky compere, mercilessly hitting and kicking the poor sod almost into unconsciousness. Epstein immediately drove him to the hospital where he was admitted with a black eye, torn knuckles, and several bruised and battered ribs.
Of course, this kind of violently aggressive behavior was totally abhorrent to the gentlemanly McCartneys. Paul was definitely very annoyed with his out-of-control songwriting partner, as was Mike. It was Jim McCartney, though, who was the most upset, and despite the fact that Lennon fancied himself one of Jim's great mates, the elder McCartney cooled towards John from that night on.
Despite John's violent protest at the time, Pete Shotton recalls that years later Lennon actually confessed that he and Brian did indeed consummate their relationship while on holiday together.
Eppy just kept on and on at me, until one night, I finally just pulled me trousers down and said to him: "Oh, for Christ's sake, Brian, here, just stick it up me fucking arse, then."
And he said to me, "Actually, John, I don't do that kind of thing. That's not what I like to do."
"Well," I said, "what is it you like to do?"
And he said, "I'd really just like to touch you, John."
And so I let him toss me off... Yeah, so fucking what! The poor bastard. He's having a fucking hard time anyway. So what harm did it do, then, Pete, for fuck's sake? No harm at all. The poor fucking bastard, he can't help the way he is.
After he came to his senses, John reportedly felt remorseful about the incident with Wooler and instructed Epstein to fire off a telegram, apologizing for the whole stupid mess. It read as follows: "REALLY SORRY BOB. TERRIBLY WORRIED TO REALIZE WHAT I HAD DONE. WHAT MORE CAN I SAY. JOHN LENNON."
Fortunately, this and a token settlement of £200 seemed to put the unseemly matter to rest, but not the continuing allegations of Lennon's rumored homosexuality. Paul McCartney, however, has steadfastly denied the rumors, insisting that after having spent so many years in Lennon's company he would have surely picked up on it if his famous colleague were in any way so inclined.
Following "Please Please Me," "From Me to You," scored big for the Beatles, giving them yet another number-one tune on April 26, 1963. Their next musical coup, the hard-driving, boy/ girl mantra "She Loves You," rocketed to the top of the Melody Maker singles chart on September 7, 1963. Written by Lennon and McCartney in the music room of Jane Asher's parents' house in London, the wild success of "She Loves You" proved once and for all that the Beatles had real staying power as artists. After all, three successive top-flight number-one singles could hardly be called a fluke. Perhaps McCartney's biggest personal thrill of that incredible, eventful year was the Beatles' October 13 appearance on what was then Britain's top television show, "Sunday Night at the London Palladium."
True to the end, the boys' many London fans virtually surrounded the venerable Argyll Street theatre, prompting police to call in hundreds of extra forces to help cope with the crunch. Predictably, the uproar attracted the attention of Fleet Street and virtually filled the pages of Britain's newspapers with exacting accounts of the phenomenal show both inside and outside the legendary hall. From that moment on, virtually everything the Beatles did became front-page news, at least in Great Britain. America, of course, was another story altogether.
It was not until the Beatles' heralded appearance at the Royal Variety Performance on November 4 that much news about the charismatic new teen group taking England by storm finally filtered across the sea to America. It was a great honor, to be sure. Jim McCartney was reportedly almost in tears that his son was about to personally perform before the Royal Family. "Wouldn't Mary be proud," he wondered to his sister Jin, the morning of the grand event. "She is, Jim, she is," came the reply. It was perhaps the single happiest moment Mr. McCartney had known since those first carefree days with his young family back in their humble two-bedroom home on Roach Avenue in Liverpool.
By the time the curtain rolled up at The Prince of Wales Theatre that evening, it seemed almost certain that a successful American invasion by the group could only be a matter of time. The sense of optimism and control was almost palpable. Lennon's visionary "toppermost of the poppermost" was finally, and impossibly, true.
"We'd like to thank Sophie Tucker," said Paul, nodding his head in the direction of the hefty songstress who had only seconds before left the stage to thunderous applause. "She's probably our favorite American group!" To which the entire theater exploded in laughter. The Queen Mother, speaking to them after the show, wondered where they were playing next. "Slough," answered Paul. "Oh," she replied, quite unintentionally delivering one of the evening's most memorable Quips, "that's very near us."
McCartney remembers the event:
Obviously the main thing about a Royal Command show was telling your family, imagining all your parents, uncles and aunties seeing you meet the Queen. On the way to the thing, John said, "Oh God, we've got to have some announcements; what are we going to say?" Then he said, "Oh, I'll do something about clap your hands," because he used to do a thing on stage about, "Those at the back, clap your feet and stamp your hands!" So he did a variation of that, coming out with the famous line, "Everyone stamp your feet, clap your hands," and then added, "and those of you at the front just rattle your jewelry." We met the Queen afterwards and she was great. We were quite elated because we'd gone down well and we'd all been so scared.
At the end of November their fifth single, "I Want to Hold Your Hand," was released in England and shot directly to number one. A few days later, the group's second LP, With the Beatles also came out, amassing immediate advance orders of 2.5 million. Not even Elvis had ever been able to do that.
By the winter of 1964, America was more than ready for the Beatles. Midway over the Atlantic on board Pan Am flight 101 to New York, Paul McCartney was untypically somewhat apprehensive about the reception they might receive. "America has always had everything," he confided to record producer Phil Spector. "Why should we be over there making money? They've got their own groups. What are we going to give them that they don't already have?"
Any lingering doubts were magically swept away when at 1:35 on the afternoon of February 7, 1964, they touched down on Kennedy Airport's long, icy runway. As the plane inched its way to the terminal, the shrill sound of over ten thousand teenage voices, all chanting and screaming for the Beatles, penetrated the hull of the aircraft like gunfire. Peering out of the frosted windows of the DC-10, the Beatles saw for the first time the wild reception America had in store for them. McCartney, for one, was almost in a state of shock. Ultimately, the boys were led to the airport press lounge where they held the largest and most disorganized conference in the history of New York City. John Lennon yelled at everyone to shut up and the entire room applauded! Beatlemania now held the entire world in its grasp as an untold number of hustlers, con men, and copycats all clamored to jump on board the bandwagon. After the press conference, the Beatles were ceremoniously driven into the city and installed in a palatial suite of rooms at the Plaza Hotel. George had come down with a bad case of strep throat and was definitely not impressed by either the room service or the food. The management wasn't particularly bothered as they didn't really care for the Beatles and their fifteen thousand crazed fans tearing up their hotel. This it rather ungraciously made known to the entire world by offering the group to any other five-star hotel that would have them. George's older sister, Louise, remembers the madness:
George asked me to meet him at the Plaza, so I checked in and headed up to the Presidential suite. The security man said, "Where do you think you're going?"
I said, "I'm going to meet my brother."
"Have you any idea how many times that's been tried today?" the whole crowd just laughed. Reporters, fans. I was shocked.
"Is your name on the list?" he said.
"List?" of course, George never thought about putting my name on any list. I was standing there, looking like a dummy. Then one of the reporters went up and got George. He ran down the corridor and hugged me and spun me around. And then everyone applauded.
The Beatles' famous appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show-two days later confirmed the smiling, winking, precocious Paul McCartney as the "sexy one" of the group. It was a label that fit as well, discreetly squiring, as he was, a long line of stewardesses, fans, and even complete strangers he happened upon, from London to Miami Beach. One of those ten-minute liaisons came back to haunt him when, in the spring of 1964, a young Liverpool woman, Anita Cochrane, gave birth to a baby boy, Phillip, she claimed was fathered by the amorous McCartney. That March, the girl and her mother visited one of the Beatles' associate attorneys, D. H. Green, Esq., of Liverpool, and let it be known that they wished the famous Beatle no ill will and only wanted enough money to buy a decent pram for her young son. Anita's mother, Vi, commented on the allegations in a rare 1983 interview in the British press. "They would go out together regularly, although it was not really serious," she said. "Then one day she confessed she was pregnant by Paul. It was a bombshell to the family."
Accordingly, McCartney's London counsel, David Jacobs, was in the midst of putting together a small, one-time settlement for the girl when her maternal uncle involved himself, demanding what he termed "proper compensation" be paid to his broken-hearted niece — £5000 was the sum he had in mind for the family's continued discretion. Brian Epstein, meanwhile, felt that even if the money were offered there could be no real guarantee that down the line they wouldn't elect to come crawling back for more, or worse, sell their story to London's infamous gutter press. In the end, a £3000 payment was made with no admission that McCartney was the boy's father. Additionally, Anita was prohibited from ever making any further claims against the millionaire Beatle, and if she did the entire amount would be forfeit.
Although mother and son appeared to be satisfied, the disgruntled uncle, who had personally received only £5 wasn't. During the Beatles' triumphant Liverpool homecoming that summer for the grand premiere of A Hard Day's Night, Anita's uncle reportedly distributed handbills among the crowds, alleging McCartney's paternity. Despite David Jacobs' threats to press extortion charges against the man, he persisted for the next three years by sending long, cynical poems to the local newspapers concerning his niece's alleged relationship with McCartney. Cynthia Lennon later summed up the whole unsavory episode: "It appeared from the evidence on the solicitor's desk that Paul had been a bit of a town bull in Liverpool Claims for paternity suits rolled in ... Whether the claims were true is anybody's guess."
Young Phillip, meanwhile, wasn't told about any of this until he reached his late teens and then steadfastly refused any comment to the media. His family did say, however, that he was not interested in any of McCartney's money and preferred instead to try to make his own way. "My daughter just wants to forget the whole business and so does Phillip," Mrs. Cochrane later commented. At the time, Anita was happily married with two young children and had no interest in reopening old wounds. "We just want to forget the past," her husband, Christopher, told reporters.
In a curious postscript to this affair, a diehard teenage McCartney fan outside his Soho Square office in London told me that he had been out one afternoon in the early eighties waiting for Paul to arrive, when a middle-aged woman and a boy approached the singer, screaming, "This is your son! This is your son! Don't you care, you bloody bastard?" So infuriated was the unidentified woman that she actually attacked the thoroughly astonished McCartney, ripping his shirt to tatters before his roadies, Trevor Jones and John Hammel ran over and pulled her off. No charges of any kind were ever filed.
Such intensely personal and disturbing episodes aside, 1965 saw the Beatles just as popular as ever, playing to jam-packed houses everywhere they went. Julia Baird remembers a typically frantic concert at the Astoria Theatre in Finsbury Park on December 1: "I remember riding into London with John that evening and commenting on how nervous he seemed.
" 'Just because I've been doing this rubbish since I was fifteen is no reason not to be edgy,' John explained to his kid sister. 'You've no idea what these shows are really like, Ju. Twenty minutes of out-of-tune madness played to an audience of blithering idiots. None of us really like it, you know.'"
Of all the Beatles, it was Paul McCartney who seemed to most enjoy the pleasures and privilege of playing in the planet's number-one band. By far the friendliest and most accessible of the four, Paul worked just as hard at being helpful and congenial, as Lennon did at being oblique and inscrutable. Alistair Taylor says that if one of the boys were needed to perform some sort of immediate promotional activity it would most likely be Paul who volunteered. Immaculately attired and ever ready with a sly smile or a slap on the back, the diplomatic McCartney definitely knew how to push people's buttons. To him, being a Beatle wasn't so much an inconvenience (as it often was to the others) as a hard-fought-for honor. To call him the "yuppie Beatle" might be a little unkind, but it's frankly not too far off the mark either. At the very least he was (and is) a dedicated overachiever, "It does seem to have fallen my role to be a bit more kind than the others," McCartney has said.
I was always known in the Beatle thing as being the one who would sit the press down and say, "Hello, how are you? Do you want a drink?" and make them comfortable. My family loop was like that. .. But you're aware you're talking to the press. You want a good article, don't you? So you don't go slagging the guys off. . . I'm not really tough. I'm not really lovable either, but I don't mind falling in the middle. My dad's advice: moderation, son . . . You don't love everyone you meet, but you try and get on with people, you know? You don't try to put 'em uptight; most people don't anyway... I mean there's nothing wrong with that. Why should I go around slagging people? I really didn't like that John did.
When the Beatles learned that they would be inducted as Members of the British Empire and awarded the coveted MBE at Buckingham Palace by the Queen herself, Lennon, not untypically, thought it was a load of bollocks and shoved the invitation into a pile of papers at the bottom of a drawer. Paul McCartney, conversely, was ecstatic. "In the beginning it was a constant fight between Brian and Paul on one side, and me and George on the other," Lennon recalled.
Brian put us in neat suits and shirts and Paul was right behind him. We had to do a lot of selling-out then. Taking the MBE was a sellout for me. You know, before you get your MBE the Palace writes to ask if you're going to accept it, because you're not supposed to reject it publicly and they sound you out first. I chucked the letter in with all the fan mail, until Brian asked me if I had it. He and a few other people persuaded me that it was in our interests to take it, but it was hypocritical of me to accept it.
The investiture took place on October 26, 1965, in the Great Throne Room of Buckingham Palace. Standing on a dais, dressed in a golden gown, the Queen broke into a wide infectious smile upon seeing the boys. At a pre-arranged signal from an usher they bowed low and took exactly four paces forward. A moment later, they bowed again as Lord Chamberlain Cobbold officially announced their arrival.
THE QUEEN (to Paul): How long have you been together now?
PAUL: Oh for many years.
RINGO: Forty years.
THE QUEEN (to Ringo): Are you the one who started it?
RINGO: No, I was the last to join. I'm the little fellow.
THE QUEEN (to John): Have you been working hard lately?
JOHN: No, we've been on holiday.
After the big event the Beatles were ushered into the royal courtyard where they cheerfully faced off against the press.
PAUL: We've played many palaces including Frisco's Cow Palace. But never this one before. It's a keen pad and I like the staff. Thought they'd be dukes and things but they were just fellas.
REPORTER: What about the Queen?
PAUL: She's lovely, great. She was very friendly. She was just like a mum to us.
REPORTER: Were you nervous?
JOHN: Not as much as some of the other people in there.
REPORTER: How did the other medal recipients act toward your award?
JOHN: One formally dressed, middle-aged winner walked up to us after the ceremony and said: "I want your autographs for my daughter, but I don't know what she sees in you." So we gave him our autographs.
REPORTER: How did you know what to do during the ceremony?
JOHN: This big fellow drilled us. Every time he got to Ringo he kept cracking up.
REPORTER: What will you do with your medals?
PAUL: What you normally do with medals. Put them in a box.
After a time, the rigors of the road began to catch up with the band. John and George were especially adamant: if running around like monkeys on a stick from one concrete baseball stadium to another was all they had to look forward to in playing before live audiences, then forget it. Following the Beatles' final bows at San Francisco's Candlestick Park on August 29, 1966, they said goodbye to touring forever and with it the uncontrolled, scrambled lunacy of their kamikaze fans.
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Only Paul McCartney harbored doubts. Too long out of the spotlight, he reasoned, and people might begin to forget — an eventuality that, quite frankly, scared the wits out of him. He had, after all, worked damned hard at being a Beatle.