Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney - Howard Sounes (2010)
PART ONE. WITH THE BEATLES
Chapter 10. HELLO, GOODBYE
THE WANDERER RETURNS
Having searched long and hard for a new movie project, the Beatles now committed to two films, both of which originated with Paul. His airplane doodle about the group going on a charabanc ride had been sanctioned by the others, who promptly recorded an introductory song similar to ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, with fairground huckster introduction - ‘Roll up! Roll up!’ - and brass fanfare. Fun though it is, ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ lacks the charm and polish of its forerunner - a criticism that can be levelled at the whole project - though the Beatles would record some very good songs for Magical Mystery Tour, not least Paul’s ‘The Fool on the Hill’.
The second movie was an animated feature based on Paul’s children’s song ‘Yellow Submarine’. Starting in 1965, an animated children’s TV series, The Beatles, had been running on American television, and syndicated internationally, each half-hour episode based on a Beatles song. The series proved popular with children, but not the band because the American producer, Al Brodax, used American actors to voice their characters. ‘I couldn’t have them sounding like themselves because the American kids would not understand them,’ reasons Brodax, who now had the idea of spinning a feature-length movie out of ‘Yellow Submarine’. It would complete the Beatles’ three-picture deal with United Artists, while requiring them to do little work. ‘They wanted to go to India,’ remembers Brodax. ‘I said, “You go to India. I’ll do the picture.” That’s how I got the deal, really.’
The agreement was reached in May 1967, Brodax arranging to have the animation done in London by TV Cartoons (TVC), the same company that made The Beatles series. It was TVC executives John Coates and George Dunning who had the inspired idea of hiring German poster artist Heinz Edelmann to create a Pop Art look for the film, which was rush-produced on an 11-month schedule for release in 1968, when it was hailed as a masterpiece. Interestingly, Paul didn’t like it. Although McCartney has gone out of his way in recent years to make the public aware that he was the Beatle most in tune with modern art in the 1960s, in his authorised biography Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now, and elsewhere, the star singularly failed to appreciate the Pop Art aesthetic of Yellow Submarine. ‘He thought that a modern-day animation feature would [look like] a Disney production,’ says TVC boss John Coates, who didn’t warm to McCartney. Paul was also unhappy at being characterised as John’s number two in the picture, as he had been in the cartoon series; and he didn’t like the voice the film-makers gave him. Though the Beatles were voiced by British actors in the film, McCartney considered the Liverpudlian accents too broad. ‘He was always worried about what impression everyone was making. That seemed to be one of his hang-ups,’ says Coates. ‘He seemed so wrapped up in himself.’ As far as making a contribution to this film, the Beatles were contracted to record three new tunes, palming the film-makers off with their leftovers to a degree, though Paul’s ‘All Together Now’ was another attractive children’s song.
At the end of May, Brian Epstein threw a weekend house party at his new country retreat in Sussex, to which all four Beatles were invited. Epstein had a grand piano brought down from London so Paul could play. But Paul didn’t show. ‘Why couldn’t he have come?’ Brian asked his staff. The answer was that Jane Asher was due back from the USA and Paul had to get the house ready. ‘He could have tried,’ Brian whined. ‘This was so important to me.’
Cavendish was in a heck of a state, having served as a bachelor pad for Paul and his mates for the past four and a half months. In the hours before Jane’s return, on Monday 29 May, Paul dashed about cleaning, and herding waifs and strays out the door. Nico and Prince Stash had finally left, but Dudley Edwards was still painting the wallpaper. Paul hinted that it was time for Dudley to move on, too. Pausing to shave off his moustache, Paul drove to Heathrow, arriving at the airport in time to meet Jane making her way out of arrivals, a pack of pressmen closing in on the couple as they reunited. Reporters asked when they planned to marry. ‘Not now,’ replied Jane, travel-weary and nervous about meeting a lover who had been like a stranger to her for months, their Rocky Mountains tryst notwithstanding. After posing for a quick photo, Paul drove Jane home, which was the cue for the last house guest to leave. ‘When Jane came back I think I was probably in the way,’ says Dudley Edwards. ‘Paul told me that Ringo actually wanted a mural painted in his place, and so I straight away went over to Weybridge to stay with Ringo.’27
Three days later, on 1 June 1967, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was officially released, acclaimed by press and public as a triumph, enjoyed as a popular work of art, and taken seriously by critics. Composer Ned Rorem told Time that Paul’s ‘She’s Leaving Home’ was as good as any of Schubert’s songs. Sir Joseph Lockwood, chairman of EMI, hoped the company would sell seven million copies of the album. ‘I’m sure everyone will want one …’ He was right. Sgt. Pepper went straight to number one, in Britain and America, selling more than 11 million copies in the United States alone. Moreover, Pepper has become recognised as the key transition record from pop to the more self-consciously serious form of rock music, perhaps the most significant album in the history of rock. A considerable amount of the credit goes to Paul. Pepper had been his idea, he contributed the largest number of songs, and he oversaw the packaging. The successful release of the LP was therefore a personal triumph, perhaps the high point of his career. Even John conceded in later years, when he usually spoke about Paul with scorn, that ‘Pepperwas a peak all right’, the last time he worked properly in partnership with Macca, ‘especially on “A Day in the Life”’.
To celebrate the release, Paul and Jane threw a party at Cavendish Avenue that lasted all weekend. Sunday evening they went to the Saville Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue - a building Brian was leasing - and saw Jimi Hendrix perform ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ as part of his act. Paul was thrilled to hear a significant fellow artist already covering the material.
IN THE HIGHLANDS
Paul and Jane then packed their bags, grabbed Martha the sheepdog, and hopped on a plane to Scotland, where Paul had recently bought a holiday home, one that was to become very important in his life. The house was on the Kintyre peninsula, a finger of land trailing in the seas off western Scotland, the Firth of Forth on one side, the Atlantic Ocean on the other. The Mull of Kintyre, which Paul later made famous in song, is the headland at the southern end of this peninsula. Just short of the mull lies the ‘wee toon’ of Campbeltown, home to 6,000 people, many of whom work in fishing, boat-building and on the small farms that dot the hill country. Paul had bought one of these farms, or steadings as they are known, as his holiday home.
The principal attraction of High Park Farm was its remoteness, and thereby the privacy it afforded a man who, while he enjoyed his fame, sometimes felt the need to get away from it all. High Park is only ten minutes’ drive from Campbeltown, but Campbeltown itself is one of the remotest towns in the United Kingdom, 500 miles from London, the last 138 miles of road, from Glasgow, through wild and mostly empty country. Even if Paul broke his journey by stopping off to see Dad at Rembrandt, it was a seven-hour drive from Merseyside. Paul and Jane made the journey by car the first time they came up to High Park. As they headed into the Highlands they entered a seemingly more ancient land, the long and winding road leading past lochs reflecting snow-capped mountains, which gave Paul an idea. ‘ [I] was in Scotland, there was a road sort of stretching off up into the hills, you could see it go for miles, and I thought [of], “The Long and Winding Road.”’ The final leg of the journey was south along the A83, beside long, empty Atlantic-facing beaches, into Campbeltown and thereby the end of the road. People don’t come to Campbeltown en route, because there is nowhere to go from here, unless you get on a boat, so every visitor is noticed, especially a Beatle and an actress in a sports car. But once local people got over the surprise of seeing Paul about the place he found that they treated him much the same as anybody else and were in fact quietly protective of his privacy, helping make Kintyre an ideal retreat.
Like most of the neighbouring farms, High Park was originally owned by the Duke of Argyll, sublet to a tenant farmer named John Brown, who kept 60 sheep and eight dairy cows on his 183 acres. Old man Brown was ready to retire when Paul’s lawyers bought the farm, without revealing the identity of their client. The tenant farmer was tending his stock when McCartney came by for the first time. ‘Christ, it’s a Beatle!’ the old boy exclaimed. His farmhouse proved to be a basic single-storey stone cottage, built in the nineteenth century, with one bedroom, a roughcast floor, an old cooking range, open fires and corrugated tin roof. There was no heating or running hot water. Many friends wondered why Paul bought such a place when he could afford luxury. It was the peace and quiet that appealed, also the rustic contrast to his metropolitan life, while a penchant for roughing it on holiday is often found among the moneyed English. Jane thought the cottage delightful and Paul, who had adopted some of her upper-crust ways, agreed.
The setting was beautiful. A meadow lay between the farmhouse and Ranachan Hill, which rose steeply in the near distance. Planted in the meadow between house and hill was a phallic finger of rock, 12 feet tall, one of the mysterious standing stones that are a feature of this part of Scotland, erected time out of mind by the Celts. Up on top of Ranachan Hill were the remains of an equally ancient fort, possibly built as a defence against the Vikings. These artefacts caught Paul’s imagination and fuelled an interest in Celtic mythology. As Ranachan Hill guards High Park on the south, the steading is closed in to the north by woodland, the fields between bright with flowering primroses in spring, turning purple with the heather in autumn. Crystal clear water ran through the burn. Rabbits, hares and foxes scampered hither and yon, a veritable Eden, dead quiet, with fabulous starry skies. When Paul climbed Ranachan Hill he could look across the sea to Ireland, which helped him connect with his ancestry.
Paul introduced himself to the neighbours. ‘He wanted to meet his neighbours, and he came to see us [with] Jane Asher,’ recalls Katie Black, who welcomed the Beatle into her cosy kitchen at Tangy Farm. The Blacks were musical, Archie Black loving nothing better than a singsong around the piano, and Paul joined in, though Mrs Black’s elderly mother was unimpressed when the music went past her bedtime. One night when they were all having a session downstairs, the old lady stomped on the floor. ‘What is that noise? ’ she asked her daughter when she came upstairs to ask what she wanted.
‘Mother, it’s Paul McCartney.’
‘I don’t care if it’s Winston Churchill, I’m not having it!’
Firm friendships were formed with established farming families like the Blacks, who proved loyal and discreet. When fans and members of the press started trickling up in search of Paul, the neighbours didn’t say where he lived, nor did they trouble Paul for autographs, or resent the fact he wasn’t a real farmer. Paul employed a local man to look after High Park, a fellow named Duncan Cairns, later Duncan’s son Robert, but they didn’t work the land for profit any more.
Paul also found the townsfolk agreeable. He could wander about Campbeltown doing his shopping, and using the pub and wee cinema, without being bothered, while also feeling welcomed into a small, tight-knit community with an everyday friendliness less common in more populous parts of the U K. New friendships were formed in town. One day a drummer from the Campbeltown Pipe Band - ordinary working men who came together in the evenings and at weekends to play traditional Scottish music on bagpipe and drum - introduced himself to Paul, who invited the band to High Park to make a home movie with him and Jane. ‘He wanted us to go down in this park well below the farm, playing up and down, and Jane was supposed to be lost out in the hills, and she’d hear the band and come running down as we are marching up and down,’ recalls drummer Jim McGeachy. ‘We played there for an hour or so. He made a film of it.’ Later Paul’s association with the pipe band would lead to one of his most successful recordings.
When the sun shone, there seemed no better place to be than High Park, and the weather was glorious when Paul and Jane visited in June 1967, so nice they stayed a few days longer than they’d intended. And when they had to go home, they were able to fly to London. Another attraction for Paul was that, while Kintyre was very remote, private planes could use nearby RAF Machrihanish, which meant he could get back to Beatles business within two hours.
ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE
Paul had only just got home to Cavendish when a Sunday People reporter knocked on his door asking about a story in Life magazine that Paul had taken LSD. Paul asked the reporter inside, confirming that he had used LSD, four times, and had no regrets.
[It] opened my eyes to the fact there is a God. A similar experience could probably do some of our clergy some good. It is obvious that God isn’t in a pill, but it explained the mystery of life [to me]. It was truly a religious experience.
He added that he hoped world leaders would try LSD, commenting, ‘I believe the drug could heal the world.’ The interview made the front page of the Sunday People on 18 June 1967, Paul’s 25th birthday: BEATLE PAUL’S AMAZING CONFESSION ‘Yes - I took LSD’. When a television crew came to Cavendish to follow up, Paul told them much the same, helping create a major news story, though his drug confessions were only partial.
Paul had succumbed to peer pressure to try LSD when his late friend Tara Browne offered him acid some months back, after a night at the Bag o’ Nails. Paul’s first trip wasn’t pleasant. He became overly conscious of how dirty his shirt was, and felt too exhausted the next day to do any work. Then came a time, during the making of Sgt. Pepper, when John took acid by mistake. George Martin led John up to the roof of the EMI building to get some fresh air, not realising John was tripping. Paul rescued his friend from this perilous situation, taking him home to Cavendish, where he dropped acid to keep John company. Again, Paul found the experience less than pleasurable. He had a vision of John as ‘a king, the absolute Emperor of Eternity’, which would seem to betray an unconscious inferiority complex. Paul had taken acid once or twice since then, not nearly as often as John and George Harrison, but as he revealed in his authorised biography many years later, he had tried other, harder drugs. His art dealer Robert Fraser introduced Paul to cocaine, a legal, pharmaceutical supply of which the Beatle kept at home for a time, as we have seen. But Paul didn’t like the come-down from a coke high. A normally upbeat person, he didn’t see the point in making himself depressed, so he stopped using it, a demonstration of his strength of character. Paul also sniffed heroin with Fraser. ‘I said afterwards, “I’m not sure about this, man. It didn’t really do anything for me,” and [Fraser] said, “In that case, I won’t offer you again.” And I didn’t take it again.’
Paul didn’t share his coke and smack experiences with the press in 1967; that came 30 years later. The little he said about his use of LSD at the time caused enough fuss, coming when the newspapers were full of stories about pop stars and their associates being busted for drugs. A photographer friend of the Beatles, John ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins, was jailed for possession of marijuana the day Sgt. Pepper was released. Following the police raid at Keith Richards’s country house, Robert Fraser, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger were ultimately sentenced to six, 12 and three months respectively. The Stones were released on bail in a matter of days, pending an appeal, but Fraser served four months in Wormwood Scrubs (an experience he likened to being back at Eton). Although the intelligentsia took the view that unjust sentences had been handed down-the editor of The Times writing a celebrated leader that helped the Stones win their appeal-there was a feeling that the police, encouraged by and in cahoots with the tabloid press, were working up to the biggest prize of all-busting a Beatle. Paul’s LSD confession was therefore awkward for John, George and Ritchie, who found themselves the subject of unwanted scrutiny about their own drug use, while the irony was that Paul had been the last among them to try acid. ‘It seemed strange to me,’ George Harrison commented sardonically years later for the Anthology, ‘because we’d been trying to get him to take LSD for about 18 months-and then one day he’s on the television talking about it.’ George appeared to suggest by saying this that Paul craved the attention.
Paul’s Liverpool family were concerned by the news of their Paul taking drugs. Aunt Ginny called a family conference to discuss what to do, with the result that Ginny came down south to have it out with Paul. ‘So she goes to London to stay with Paul,’ says family member Mike Robbins. ‘About five days later she comes back and we all meet - I’ll always remember - in her little cottage, in Mersey View, [my wife,] me, Milly.’ The family asked if Ginny had been able to see Paul, whereupon the 57-year-old took a spliff out of her handbag and asked dreamily: ‘Have you ever tried one of these?’ The ‘relies’ sparked up and had a smoke of Paul’s weed. ‘We laffed like bloody drains,’ says Mike. ‘That was Ginny, see.’
As it turned out, Paul’s drug confessions didn’t do the Beatles’ reputation any serious harm. The boys were still loved by the British press and public, deemed fit to represent the nation in a prestigious television broadcast that summer. Television stations around the world were marshalled together on Sunday 25 June 1967 for a unique TV show, Our World, featuring contributions from 18 countries via the new technology of a satellite link-up, the Beatles appearing on behalf of the United Kingdom briefly at the start and again at the end of the show, when they would perform a specially written song, John’s ‘All You Need is Love,’ live from Abbey Road.
As with the orchestral climax to ‘A Day in the Life,’ Studio One was transformed into a Beatles happening for the broadcast, the band joined by their friends and family. Sitting at the Beatles’ feet before the cameras were Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, together with Pattie Harrison (née Boyd, having married George the previous year), Jane Asher, Mike McCartney and other McCartney relations. During the show, audience members paraded for the cameras with ‘All You Need is Love’ spelled in different languages on sandwich boards. One of Paul’s cousins held up a sign that read ‘Come Back Milly!’ intended to be read by Paul’s aunt who had recently gone to Australia.
Presiding over everybody was George Martin, the picture of cool in a white linen suit, though he was having a trying week. George’s father had died on Tuesday; his second wife Judy (formerly his secretary) was expecting their first daughter; and the Martins were moving house. On top of this, George was finding the Beatles increasingly wilful: George Harrison had tested his patience to the utmost in the run-up to the Our World broadcast by expressing the desire to play violin, even though he didn’t know how. An ensemble of professional session musicians would fill that role, Martin hiring a selection of string and brass including David Mason, the trumpet-player on ‘Penny Lane’. The session men would perform the introduction to the song, and a collage of background tunes that included ‘La Marseillaise’, to lend an international flavour to proceedings. The whole thing was so complex, it was almost bound to go wrong, yet it worked perfectly on the night, John delivering an immaculate vocal, the band playing without a hitch to speak of, all looking happy and confident as they sent their message of love to the world.28 Released as a single a few days later, ‘All You Need is Love’ went to number one in Britain and the USA and embodies all the charm and optimism of the hippie era, as well as the intellectual vacuity of the beaded and bearded. It is the quintessential sound of the summer of love.
A FOOLISH AFFAIR
The Beatles were due a huge amount of money from EMI. The reason was technical. In 1966 the band’s recording contract with EMI had lapsed. While Brian Epstein renegotiated their deal, EMI temporarily stayed payment of royalties. Then in January 1967, with the new contract in place, the company paid over a very large sum in back royalties, with much more to come thanks to new, enhanced royalty rates. If the Beatles retained this avalanche of cash as income they would suffer punitive surtax. If they invested the money in business they could legally avoid taxation. So the Beatles decided to establish a company, Apple Corps, a madcap enterprise the very name of which was a joke (a pun on apple core), and embarked on the weird, often comic final phase of their career.
Although Apple was a tax dodge, the Beatles were sincere about creating a company that had the financial clout of a major corporation, but that was run with kinder hippie ideals, creating and selling the groovy things they and their friends were interested in, at a fair price, to like-minded people - a kind of hippie socialism. From the main apple tree would hang many little apple companies, dealing in all sorts of things: records, of course, Apple would be prominent in the music business, its record label based on the Magritte picture of an apple that hung in Paul’s drawing room; movie-making was also an important part of what Apple Corps would be about; but there would be many, smaller and more off-beat enterprises: Apple clothes, Apple Electronics, a spoken-word recording unit named Zapple; even an Apple school for Beatles children and the children of their friends. Paul’s pal Ivy Vaughan was put in charge of this venture, which like so much that Apple tried to do, was well intentioned but hopelessly unrealistic.
Apple started life in offices at 94 Baker Street, a couple of bus stops from St John’s Wood, which made it convenient for Paul. While Apple business was conducted upstairs, the ground floor became the Apple Shop, managed by former Quarry Man Pete Shotton, whose head Lennon had once crowned with a washboard, the intention being to sell hippie clothes and other items designed mostly by the Fool, an art group led by an attractive young Dutch couple, Simon Posthuma and Marijke Koger.
Having travelled around Europe together, Simon and Marijke established themselves as members of the London in-crowd in 1966, befriending Brian Epstein firstly, and through him meeting the Beatles. George Harrison invited the Fool to paint a mural over the fireplace of his new home in Esher, Surrey. Pattie Harrison and other Beatle womenfolk began wearing Fool clothing, giving them the look of gypsy fortune-tellers, while Simon and Marijke were invited to Beatles sessions and the Our World telecast, during which Marijke was seen shaking a tambourine.
Despite having had their design for the Sgt. Pepper sleeve rejected by Paul, Simon and Marijke were now commissioned to decorate the Apple boutique, inside and out, and to produce posters and affordable hippie garments for sale. ‘It is wrong that only a few should be able to afford our things,’ Simon told the newly launched American music magazine Rolling Stone. ‘We want to be for everyone.’ The concept was confused from the outset. ‘I don’t know why it was labelled a boutique as it was intended to be more of a cultural centre with books and musical instruments, art lectures, etc.,’ says Marijke. ‘Unfortunately the whole thing was badly managed, which was nothing to do with the Fool. We were just the creative idea[s] people.’ To decorate the façade of the Apple building, Marijke painted a fabulous picture of a genie, four storeys tall, transforming an everyday London street corner into a psychedelic fantasy. It was the best thing about the shop.
Marijke regularly visited Paul at nearby Cavendish Avenue, giving the Beatle private Tarot readings (he kept drawing the Fool). One thing led to another and they ended up in bed. ‘Paul’s was a sympathetic and warm personality and he had a great sense of humour,’ remembers Marijke. ‘I saw empathy in the way he dealt with his hired help and he loved animals. As a lifelong animal-lover and vegetarian I could really relate to that.’ Simon guessed something was going on between Paul and his girlfriend - ‘Paul and Marijke were very good friends - they had this electricity’ - and stormed into Cavendish one morning to confront Paul. He found the Beatle in his kitchen eating breakfast and reading his fan mail.
‘What the fuck is going on?’ Simon yelled.
Paul admitted the affair. He said he couldn’t help it, and gave Simon to understand that Jane had found out, too. ‘He had a problem, with Jane, of course … There was also hurt on Jane’s side.’ The men agreed that the affair would end, and they remained friends, just about. Not long afterwards, Simon and Marijke took LSD with Paul, a strange and disturbing trip for Simon, the drug serving to make the Dutchman intensely aware of what had transpired between Paul and his girlfriend. ‘That was a tough trip.’
AUGUST BANK HOLIDAY, 1967
Simon and Marijke were not the only colourful characters to enter the Beatles court at this time. Another new face was Alex Mardas, a Greek-born TV repairman whom the clever but ever-credulous John Lennon came to believe was an electronics genius, and duly made head of Apple Electronics. Magic Alex was set up in a workshop behind Marylebone Station where he strove to develop such stupendous inventions as light-emitting paint and a spaceship that could be powered by the engine from George Harrison’s Ferrari. Unsurprisingly these inventions didn’t work. Alex also took the Beatles back to his homeland that summer, shopping for a Greek island the band could buy as a commune. After looking at several islands the boys lost interest and flew home, where they fell under the sway of another absurd character.
Born Mahesh Prasad Varma in India sometime around 1917 (nobody was sure), the self-styled Maharishi Mahesh Yogi had studied maths and physics at Allahabad University before going into the Himalayas and re-emerging as a holy man whose message for the world was that heavenly bliss could be experienced through ‘transcendental meditation’ or TM. Knowing which side of his poppadom had curry on, the Maharishi went to Los Angeles to set up his Spiritual Regeneration Movement, which, rather than helping initiates for free - in the Indian tradition - asked for a week’s wages (the more you earned the more you paid). In exchange for this donation, one received a mantra - simply a phrase - to repeat endlessly until lulled into a state of oneness with the universe. Many wealthy Californians signed up.
Next the Maharishi came to London, where he recruited more rich, unhappy fools. Pattie Harrison was first in the Beatles circle to embrace the Spiritual Regeneration Movement, informing her husband that the Maharishi was giving a talk on Thursday 24 August. They had to go. Perhaps surprisingly for a Himalayan yogi, the Maharishi was meeting the people of Britain at the Hilton Hotel, the luxurious high-rise favoured by the Rolling Stones’ sybaritic manager Allen Klein. George Harrison obtained the tickets - ‘I needed a mantra - a password to get through into the other world’ - and corralled John, Cyn, Paul, Jane Asher and Mike McCartney into joining him and Pattie at the master’s feet. When all were assembled the yogi emerged from behind a curtain to greet his audience, giggling and clutching flowers. He was a funny, happy little fellow with long hair like a girl. The Beatles were amused and impressed by the yogi’s shorthand route to nirvana, and acceded to an invitation to spend a few days with him at a teacher-training college in Bangor, Wales, where the holy man was to give a series of seminars starting that bank holiday weekend.
The Beatles arrived at Euston Station just in time to catch the 3:50 to Bangor on Friday 25 August, before the metropolis disgorged its workers for the weekend. The weather was warm and sunny and there was a holiday mood in the Beatles party, which included Magic Alex, Donovan, Marianne Faithfull and Mick Jagger, who trailed about after the Beatles like their kid brother these days, eager to be where the action was. In the inevitable kerfuffle at the station, Cynthia Lennon was held back by a policeman who mistook her for a fan. ‘Tell them you’re with us!’ John yelled to his wife, but the train left without Mrs Lennon. ‘It was horribly embarrassing,’ Cynthia later wrote of the moment she found herself standing tearfully on the platform, watching her husband’s train pull away. ‘My tears were not simply because of the missed train. I was crying because the incident seemed symbolic of what was happening in our marriage. John was on the train, speeding into the future, and I was left behind.’
There were other pockets of darkness surrounding the Beatles that August week. Two days earlier, Joe Orton had been found battered to death by his lover, Kenneth Halliwell, who then committed suicide. ‘A Day in the Life’ was played at Orton’s funeral. Then there was Brian Epstein, who had been in decline since the Beatles’ last, unhappy tour, which reached its shabby conclusion in LA when Brian’s boyfriend stole his briefcase. Not long after that depressing incident Brian took an overdose at Chapel Street, leaving an ‘I can’t take it any more’ note, according to Peter Brown, who found him and took his friend’s word that he wouldn’t try anything so silly again. ‘When I discovered him, when I found him that night, you know, when I took him to the Priory [Clinic], and they pumped his stomach and everything, obviously we had a conversation subsequent to that. The conversation was him full of remorse.’
The main problem was that Brian had become dependent on amphetamines, which made him erratic. Once so immaculate, so businesslike and well organised, Brian now slept late, missing appointments and key events, such as the Beatles’ last concert in Candlestick Park. ‘So that showed, you know, bad behaviour,’ notes Brown. The stable of acts Brian had built up and made good money with during the heady days of the Mersey Beat looked tired. The Mersey Sound was yesterday’s music, and Brian’s recent signings hadn’t made much impact. His new group Paddy, Klaus and Gibson had, for example, already disbanded. Then, in January 1967, Brian merged NEMS with the Robert Stigwood Organisation, allowing Stigwood, a young Australian, to take over part of his company. Brian kept the Beatles, but now that the boys had given up the road they didn’t need him on a daily basis. Brian had never been welcome in the studio, and his suggestion that Sgt. Pepper should be packaged in a plain brown sleeve showed how out of touch he was with the lads. He had successfully renegotiated the band’s contract with EMI in January, but the rumour was that when his own management contract came up in the autumn the Beatles might drop him in favour of Allen Klein, who’d impressed Paul by getting the Stones a $1.25 million (£816,993) advance from Decca.
Brian had always found Paul slightly difficult, more questioning and less biddable than the other Beatles. One Liverpool acquaintance recalls Paul ‘taking the piss’ out of Brian’s sexuality, ‘sort of mincing along after him’, though McCartney’s friendship with the art critic Robert Fraser, who was openly gay, is evidence against him being truly homophobic. When Paul went to Paris with Fraser to shop for pictures, some of his fellow Beatles made comments, as Paul later recalled in his authorised biography: ‘Because he was gay [but] I was secure about my sexuality. I always felt this is fine, I can hang out with whoever I want and it didn’t worry me.’
Above and beyond having a laugh at Brian’s expense, as all the Beatles did to a degree, there is, however, evidence that Brian Epstein had problems with Paul. When Epstein was dictating his memoirs to his assistant Derek Taylor, published in 1964 as A Cellarful of Noise, he said critically: ‘Paul can be temperamental and moody and difficult to deal with,’ adding that McCartney had a tendency not to listen to what he didn’t want to hear and possessed an ‘angry exterior’. Yet Brian’s American business partner Nat Weiss insists that Paul and Brian were on better terms by the summer of ’67, having resolved many of their issues, adding that he expected Brian to retain management of the Beatles. ‘As a matter of fact I think Brian - and I can say this from a conversation I had with him - his thinking was to keep Cilla Black and the Beatles for himself and let Stigwood handle the rest of NEMS artists, and adjust the commissions down to 15 per cent.’
Still, Brian was increasingly volatile, bad-tempered and drug dependent, sleeping late at Chapel Street and losing his temper with his staff when he did get up. In May he checked back into the Priory Clinic. In July Brian’s father died, which he took hard. His mother Queenie came to stay at Chapel Street. Paul saw Brian and his mother there on 24 August. Brian minded Martha while Paul and Jane went to see the Maharishi speak at the Hilton. When the Beatles told Brian they were going to Bangor to spend more time with the yogi, he said he’d join them after the weekend, which he planned to spend in the country with Peter Brown and Geoffrey Ellis from the office. Brian drove down to Sussex in his white Bentley convertible on the Friday, while the band was travelling to Bangor. He had arranged for some young men to visit over the weekend, but dinner came and went without the guests arriving. Brian tried to rustle up other companions but, being a bank holiday, his contacts were unavailable. He told Pete and Geoff that he was driving back to town, and headed off into the night.
London has an enervated feeling during bank holidays, especially the August bank holiday when the streets are empty, the shops closed, and many residents are away. Those who remain in the city are often lonely people like Brian, who returned home to Belgravia in his ghostly car in the middle of the night and went to bed. He telephoned his country guests the following afternoon, and assured them he was coming back. He also mentioned that he’d taken some sleeping pills. Sunday dawned. Brian didn’t stir. His staff knocked on his bedroom door to see if he wanted anything, but there was no answer. The door was locked. Eventually they called a doctor, who forced the door and found Epstein dead, surrounded by pill bottles. Peter Brown called the Beatles in Bangor, getting Paul on the line. ‘Paul was shocked and saddened but strangely sedate.’ The press were on hand to cover the Beatles’ weekend with the Maharishi. They clamoured for a reaction. John looked lost. George spoke twaddle about there being ‘no such thing as death’. Paul muttered that he was deeply shocked and put his arm around Jane, who looked increasingly like she was in a play she wanted her agent to get her out of.