Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney - Howard Sounes (2010)
PART ONE. WITH THE BEATLES
Chapter 5. THE MANIA
THE FIRST ALBUM
Seeking to capitalise on the success of ‘Please Please Me’, George Martin called the Beatles back to EMI and asked them to perform their stage show for him, thus creating in one amazing day, Monday 11 February 1963, a complete album. The Beatles recorded ten songs on the day, to which EMI later added the four numbers previously released as singles, making a 14-track LP. It opened with John and Paul singing in joyful harmony ‘I Saw Her Standing There’, one of eight original Lennon-McCartney compositions on the record, and ended with John alone - his voice by now in shreds - screaming ‘Twist and Shout’.
This, the Beatles’ début album, established the convention whereby John and Paul would write and sing most of the songs, with at least two lead vocals reserved for George and Ringo. Not yet a songwriter in his own right, George was given ‘Do You Want to Know a Secret’ on the first LP, while Ritchie croaked out the Dixon-Farrell number ‘Boys’, as he had with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Ringo’s voice was limited, but a Ringo song was part of what became the successful recipe. Here then was essentially the sound of the Beatles on stage in 1963, as they would have sounded at the Cavern: four young men having the time of their lives, as emphasised by the album cover photo of the lads grinning from the stairs at EMI headquarters in Manchester Square. Entitled Please Please Me, to hook fans who’d bought the single, the LP went to number one in May 1963 and held the top spot month after month, right up until the band’s second LP displaced it. This was sensational.
A careful reading of the fine print on Please Please Me reveals that the original songs on the LP are credited to ‘McCartney/Lennon’ (sic), and published by Northern Songs Ltd, details that would cause Paul more angst than almost anything in his career. The first two songs the Beatles released, ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘PS I Love You’, the A- and B-side of their début single, had been published by Ardmore & Beechwood, the firm Brian Epstein stumbled upon shopping the Beatles around London. Brian was disappointed by the way Ardmore & Beechwood promoted these songs, so when ‘Please Please Me’ was ready he asked George Martin to suggest a new publisher. Martin directed him to another friend, in the small world of the British music business, Dick James.
George Martin and Dick James had enjoyed a hit together in 1956 when Parlophone released a recording of James singing the theme to the television show Robin Hood. In mid-life, Dick settled down to work as a song-plugger and music publisher, latterly operating from an office on the Charing Cross Road near the junction of Denmark Street, where music businesses cluster. It was Dick who brought the Tin Pan Alley tune ‘How Do You Do It?’ to George Martin, and George assured Brian Epstein that his friend was honest and hungry for success. Like Brian, Dick was Jewish, which helped the two form a bond. Dick also knew how to charm the younger man. Forewarned that Epstein was dissatisfied with the promotion Ardmore & Beechwood had secured for ‘Love Me Do’, Dick telephoned a contact at BBC television while Brian was in his office and talked the Beatles onto the TV show Thank Your Lucky Stars. Brian was so impressed he offered Dick the rights to John and Paul’s new songs. ‘Please Please Me’ and its B-side ‘Ask Me Why’ were duly published by Dick James Music, with a new company created to handle John and Paul’s subsequent compositions.
The boys wanted a company. ‘We said to them, “Can we have our own company?”’ Paul recalled. ‘They said, “Yeah.”’ Northern Songs was thereby created, named in honour of the fact the songwriters were from the North of England. It was not entirely Paul and John’s company, though. Dick and his partner Charles Silver owned half of Northern Songs. John and Paul were assigned 20 per cent each, Brian the remaining 10 per cent. Furthermore, Northern Songs would be managed by Dick James Music, the publisher taking a 10 per cent commission off the top, which meant that James earned more money from publishing John and Paul’s songs than they did themselves. Under the terms of the deal all the songs John and Paul wrote for the next three years would go into Northern Songs, with an option to extend the agreement for an additional three years. Brian wasn’t experienced enough to know whether this was good or bad. He was, after all, merely a record-shop manager. He took George Martin’s advice that the deal was sound, and it wasn’t unfair for its day. So it was that one February morning in Liverpool, before hurrying to Manchester to do a show, John and Paul signed their songs away to Dick’s company. Paul came to regret deeply the fact he hadn’t taken independent legal advice before doing so, for he was agreeing to more than he realised at the time; ‘we just signed this thing, not really knowing what it was all about,’ as he complains now, ‘and that is virtually the contract I’m still under. It’s draconian!’
Paul’s other eternal bugbear is song credits, the form of which was also established at this early stage in the Beatles’ story. In the tradition of the great songwriting teams of the past - from Gilbert and Sullivan to Leiber and Stoller - John and Paul paired their surnames together when they became published writers, styling themselves ‘McCartney and Lennon’ on Please Please Me. This suited Paul, but his business partners didn’t think McCartney and Lennon euphonious. ‘You’ll be Lennon and McCartney,’ he was told.
‘Why not McCartney and Lennon?’
‘It sounds better.’
‘Not to me it doesn’t.’ Yet Paul agreed to the change, implemented for the Beatles’ third single, ‘From Me to You’, which went to number one in May 1963, and remaining the form for every subsequent song published in their name. This came to irk Paul when Beatles songs he had written entirely on his own, notably ‘Yesterday’, were credited to Lennon and McCartney, and he could do nothing to change it.
For the time being, though, there was just the pure, innocent joy of making music and seeing it successful. On one of his increasingly rare mornings home in Liverpool, in the spring of 1963, Paul awoke in his bed at 20 Forthlin Road to hear the milkman coming up the garden path whistling a familiar tune, ‘From Me to You’. It was the moment that Paul felt he’d made it. And now he met the girl of his dreams.
She was a lovely-looking young woman, just as pretty as Paul had seen in the newspapers, for Jane Asher was equally if not more famous than Paul McCartney in early 1963, an actress on stage and screen since she was only five years old, recently a regular panellist on the television pop music show Juke Box Jury. Tonight, Thursday 18 April 1963, Asher, two weeks shy of her 17th birthday, was helping review a pop concert at the Royal Albert Hall for the BBC’s listing magazine, the Radio Times.
The show was the Beatles’ first engagement at what is perhaps the most famous concert hall in England: a colossal, oval-shaped theatre built in the 1860s to commemorate the life of the Prince Consort, Prince Albert, and a venue Paul would return to many times to perform and watch others play. The Beatles were on a bill with a host of other acts including fellow Liverpudlians Gerry and the Pacemakers and singer Shane Fenton (whom Paul’s ex, Iris Caldwell, was now dating and would marry) for a show named Swinging Sound ’63, part of which would be broadcast on BBC radio. ‘Noisy’ was Jane Asher’s less than enthusiastic verdict of the concert until the Beatles bounded on stage. ‘Now these I could scream for,’ she remarked, and duly did so for the Radio Times’ photographer, showing herself a good sport. When the Beatles met Jane backstage, they clustered around this pretty celebrity, kidding and flirting, asking - as they typically asked their female fans (even though Lennon was already married with a child, Julian, born the previous month, a fact Brian was keeping from the press) - if she would marry them. Pretty though she was, Jane looked different to what Paul had imagined. Although he had seen her many times on TV and in the papers, these were monochrome media in 1963, leading him to assume that Jane was blonde. In real life, Miss Asher was a spectacular redhead.
After the show the Beatles, Shane Fenton and Jane adjourned to the Chelsea apartment of journalist Chris Hutchins, where the boys popped pills and drank up all the wine in the flat. ‘John, who could be waspish at the best of times, was in a lethal mood without the required amount of alcohol to dampen the effect of the uppers,’ Hutchins recalls in his memoir, Mr Confidential. Falling into a contrary mood, John invited Jane to tell him and his friends how she masturbated. ‘Go on, love,’ he said. ‘Tell us how girls play with themselves. We know what we do, tell us what you do.’ Other crude and embarrassing sexual remarks followed. Paul rescued Jane from his boorish friend, taking her into the bedroom where they talked of less provocative matters, such as the food they enjoyed. Like her mother, Jane was an excellent cook. ‘It appears you’re a nice girl,’ Paul concluded, having realised that a person he perceived initially as a ‘rave London bird’ was a well-brought-up young woman of whom his mother would have approved. So began the most significant romance of Paul’s young life to date.
Paul’s new girlfriend was almost four years his junior, having been born in 1946 to Margaret and Richard Asher. Mrs Asher, to whom Jane owed her red hair, was a member of the aristocratic Eliot family, whose seat, Port Eliot, is a stately home at St Germans, Cornwall. The Earl of St Germans was her uncle, the poet TS Eliot a distant American cousin. Margaret Asher was a professional musician, an oboist who had taught George Martin at the Guildhall School of Music. (The story of Paul’s life is filled with similar, almost Dickensian coincidences.) Jane’s father was an equally interesting person: head of the psychiatric department at the Central Middlesex Hospital, an expert on blood diseases, published writer and shrink whose clients had included the Arabian adventurer T.E. Lawrence. Like Lawrence, Dr Asher was an eccentric and depressive. Shortly after Paul and Jane got together, the doc went missing for a time, causing such consternation that the story made the daily newspapers. He ultimately took his own life.
Jane was one of three children, with a younger sister, Claire, and an older brother named Peter: three personable, carrot-top kids who’d all been encouraged by their parents to go into show business from an early age. Jane’s acting career had been the most notable, but Claire Asher had also made a name for herself as a regular actress in the radio drama Mrs Dale’s Diary; while Peter Asher appeared on stage, screen and radio, and had recently formed a singing duo with his school friend Gordon Waller. The whole family was musical, Jane playing the classical guitar and Claire the violin. The Ashers often performed en famille at home in Wimpole Street, ‘the most august of London streets’, as Virginia Woolf observes in Flush, her book about a literary romance a few doors up. For 50 Wimpole Street was the former home of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who famously eloped with fellow poet Robert Browning in 1846.
The Ashers lived at 57 Wimpole Street, a tall eighteenth-century townhouse with a basement music room in which Mrs Asher gave music lessons, a first-floor, book-lined drawing room in which Dr Asher kept a grand piano and, adjacent to that, his consulting room; the bedrooms arranged on the upper floors. All day, Ashers young and old dashed up and down the stairs, and across the checker-pattern threshold to pursue their interests outside the home, gathering in the evening for one of Mrs Asher’s gourmet meals, and conversation, after which it was often out again to the theatre or concerts. Everything was wonderfully close at hand, with the Wigmore Hall, for example, where Jane started to take Paul to hear classical music, just around the corner. Jane was more interested in Beethoven than the Beatles when she met Paul; a cultured girl who read Honoré Balzac in bed.
Paul was welcomed into this stimulating home, which was akin to his Liverpool family in that the Ashers were another clever, energetic musical clan, but obviously socially a world apart. Paul’s home life was the epitome of the northern working-class; the Ashers were an upper-middle-class London family with aristocratic connections and sophisticated interests. Sitting at their dining table, Paul began to receive the education he might have had at college, if he had turned his back on pop music. It was a world he was intellectually equal to. Paul had, after all, attended one of the best grammar schools in England. Mum would have been proud to have seen her son welcomed into this fine London home, while noticing that Paul was starting to sound different. Her son never had a strong Scouse accent, not like George Harrison, and he never lost his Liverpool twang entirely, but there was a refinement in his speech from the time he met the Ashers, teenage slang words - such as ‘soft’ (stupid) and ‘gear’ (great) - appearing less frequently in his conversation. There was, some say, an element of social-climbing in Paul’s relationship with the Ashers. ‘He felt it was important to be in the centre of things,’ says the Beatles’ PR man Tony Barrow. ‘And that’s where Jane Asher came in, to a great extent, being not just the girlfriend, but somebody who could lift him up that social ladder … He felt that she would be helpful to him and useful to him in progressing his march up through London society … there was nothing to achieve in the way of Liverpool society.’
In a deeper sense Liverpool would always be home, though, and when he turned 21 in June 1963 Paul celebrated his coming of age on Merseyside. Four days prior to his birthday, driving himself back from a Beatles’ gig in New Brighton, Paul was stopped by the police for speeding. He was subsequently fined and disqualified from driving for 12 months in what was the third speeding conviction that year for a young man in a hurry. On the morning of his birthday, Tuesday 18 June, the Epsteins hosted a drinks party for Paul and Jane - suddenly very much a couple - at their house in Queens Drive, followed by a bigger, livelier party in the evening at Aunt Ginny’s in Huyton, the party held here partly in order to avoid the fans who had started to find their way to Forthlin Road, and because Ginny and Harry had a big enough garden for a marquee. Paul’s many relatives were invited, as were his fellow Beatles, NEMS staff and other musicians, including various Mersey Beat bands and brother Mike McCartney’s new group, the Scaffold.
Having left school, Paul’s lanky kid brother Mike had started work as a ladies’ hairdresser in Liverpool, then formed a Beyond the Fringe-style comedy troupe, the Scaffold, with mates John Gorman and Roger McGough, the trio landing a TV contract in 1963 simultaneous with the Beatles’ rise to fame. When Mike, now a tall, toothy 19-year-old, went into show business he took a stage name, Mike McGear, a play on the trendy teen term ‘gear’ (good). So long as he remained Mike McGear, Paul was relaxed about his kid brother’s aspirations, and supportive. When Mike dropped the McGear mask and became a McCartney in public life, as he sometimes did, friends and associates noted a degree of tension between the brothers, though Paul never spoke about it in public. ‘I think he probably got pissed off occasionally because Mike would be McCartney, occasionally, rather than McGear,’ says Tony ‘Measles’ Bramwell, who became a Beatles roadie in 1963. ‘Mike McGear was [one thing]; Mike McCartney was his brother and should not be [in show business].’
The Scaffold performed at Paul’s 21st birthday party. John Lennon, in an obnoxious mood, heckled the trio, then swung a punch at fellow guest Cavern MC Bob Wooler, who had apparently teased John about a recent holiday he’d taken with Brian Epstein. Everybody knew Brian held a torch for John, so there was some surprise when, in late April 1963, John chose to leave Cynthia and baby Julian at home and go off to Torremolinos with Brian (while Paul and George spent a few days with Klaus Voormann at his parents’ holiday home on Tenerife). On John’s return, friends sniggered about Brian and John’s ‘honeymoon’, a reference to the fact that John hadn’t seen fit to give Cynthia a honeymoon yet. It is this wisecrack that Wooler supposedly used to John’s face at the party. In another version of the story, Wooler, who was gay, propositioned John. ‘Bob Wooler fancied John, and made a pass at him at Paul McCartney’s 21st birthday party, and John reacted by socking him on the nose,’ states Epstein’s lawyer Rex Makin, who was hired to resolve the dispute. Whatever the reason, Lennon certainly attacked Wooler. Not content with this, Lennon also lunged at a girl named Rose, grabbing her breasts. Rose slapped him. ‘So wonderful, save-the-Earth John Lennon turns round and chins her. Bang! Down she goes. And as she was on the floor he was going to kick her,’ recalls Merseyside musician Billy Hatton, who intervened to stop John going further. Wooler went to Makin, threatening to sue the Beatle, and Makin struck a compromise whereby the MC received £200 ($306) damages and a written apology. The Beatles’ new PR man was given the job of managing the story. ‘It was one of the first damage limitation jobs I did,’ says Tony Barrow, who gave a cleaned-up version of the fracas to Don Short of the Daily Mirror.
Was John gay? A question mark has been set against his sexuality. As noted, Pauline Sutcliffe has suggested John had a love affair of sorts with her brother, Stuart; while John’s school friend Pete Shotton has affirmed that John told him he’d had sexual contact with Brian Epstein in Spain. Shotton says John told him Brian had made a pass at him on holiday, John’s response being to drop his trousers and invite his manager to ‘stick it up me fucking arse then’. Brian said this wasn’t quite what he had in mind, so John masturbated him. This is only relevant in as much as what stock Paul McCartney puts in such stories about his best friend and, on balance, he rejects suggestions John was homosexual, not least because he and John spent countless nights together in hotels on the road, ‘and there was never any hint that he was gay’. Certainly the suggestion has never been made about McCartney himself.
SHE LOVES YOU
John behaved loutishly at Paul’s 21st, but considering the pressure the Beatles were under it is hardly surprising they let off steam occasionally. The next day the boys had to be back in London to appear on BBC radio, and hardly a day passed during the months ahead without a radio or television broadcast, personal appearance, recording session or concert. They worked like dogs and as they did so the Beatles refined their image. Paul was instrumental in this as in so many of the changes the band went through. Just before Christmas the Beatles visited Dougie Millings, a Soho tailor who dressed many celebrities, and McCartney worked with him on designs for new stage suits. ‘Between my father and Paul McCartney, they started sketching, and the idea of the round-neck suit came into being,’ comments Gordon Millings. This was a twist on a Pierre Cardin design, a distinctive suit with braided edges, bell cuffs and pearl buttons. Worn over shirt and tie, the suits were very light, suitable for stage work, and became an important part of the Beatles’ look.
Some of the gigs the Beatles were performing during their now rapid rise to the top assume greater significance in retrospect, such as when they played the Plaza Ballroom, Old Hill, on Friday 5 July 1963, on a bill with Denny and the Diplomats. The front man, genial brummie Denny Laine, helped Paul form Wings in the 1970s. Then, in early August, the Beatles played their last show at the Cavern, two and a half years after they first got up on the stage that Paul’s Uncle Harry had built. Their following had grown considerably during that time, boys and girls queuing down Mathew Street to get into the club for their last appearances.9 ‘To see people like that, with their hur like that, it was looking at Martians, like looking at something from another planet,’ recalls schoolboy fan Willy Russell, who became a notable playwright and associate of Paul’s in later years. ‘You just knew the world had changed.’ As ever, though, it was the girls who were most affected by the Beatles, and there was a sense of bereavement after they played their final show at the club. ‘The best time really to me was the Beatles before they became famous,’ says Frieda Kelly, Cavern-goer turned NEMS employee, where she was now mailing signed photos of the boys to fans across the UK, thus working, ironically, to distance the boys from original fans like herself. ‘We wanted them to become famous, but as soon as they became famous you knew you’d lost them, lost the good side of them, the close contact.’
John and Paul wrote their next hit on the road, inspired by a Bobby Rydell number, ‘Forget Him’. Paul: ‘I’d planned an “answering” song where a couple of us would sing “She loves you …” and the other one answers, “Yeah, yeah.” We decided that that was a crumby idea as it was, but at least then we had the idea for a song called “She Loves You”.’ The single had the energy, directness and undercurrent of sex that characterises the Beatles’ early hits, the lyric referring to a triangular relationship in which a young man is telling a male friend about a girl who loves him. The refrain was banal - ‘Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!’ - but John and Paul’s harmonising was irresistible. George Martin was initially doubtful about the song ending on a sixth, an interval in the harmony, which sounded like a musical cliché to his experienced ears.
I loved it but when they ended the phrase on a sixth, as they do with the harmonies, it was a bit like Glenn Miller, and I said [to myself], I wonder if they are doing the right thing here. ‘Isn’t this a bit unhip, laddeys?’ They looked at me as though I was mad. And Paul said, ‘It’s great! It’s great!’ I said, ‘I’ve heard it so many times before.’ He said, ‘We haven’t, and nobody else our age has either!’ So they stuck with it.
Paul was right. Released at the end of August, ‘She Loves You’ went directly to number one.
As their fourth single rode high in the charts the Beatles grabbed another quick holiday, Paul and Jane travelling to Greece with Ritchie and his Liverpool girlfriend, Maureen Cox. Around the same time, John finally took Cynthia on honeymoon, to Paris. Photographs from the Greek vacation show Paul and Jane, and Ritchie and Mo, behaving much as any young couple abroad might, having a laugh, getting sunburnt, snogging in the back seat of a tour coach wearing silly Greek hats. With Jane, a trip to Greece had to involve culture, so after they booked into the Acropole Palace in Athens the foursome trooped up to the Parthenon. ‘I remember going around the Parthenon three times - I think to keep Jane happy - and it was really tiring,’ grumbled Ringo.
When they returned to the UK, the Beatles started to live in London full time, all four men initially sharing a flat in Green St, Mayfair,10 within walking distance of the night clubs, restaurants and pubs of Soho and the West End. Jane Asher’s house in Wimpole Street and the EMI studios were a short cab ride away. Paul soon got to know his way around Central London, often walking and using the bus and underground. If he avoided places where fans knew to congregate, and kept moving, he found that he could get about without limousines or bodyguards, though he had access to a chauffeur-driven car when he needed it.
One of the addresses Paul visited regularly was Brian’s new office in Monmouth Street, Covent Garden. NEMS Enterprises had grown like Topsy in the wake of the Beatles’ breakthrough as Brian signed up a roster of other Liverpool artists that included Gerry and the Pacemakers, Cilla Black and Billy J. Kramer, plus lesser names such as Tommy Quickly, a young telephone engineer who’d caught the impresario’s eye. Rather like Larry Parnes, Epstein sometimes picked his boy clients by their looks. Still, he achieved a remarkable success rate. When Gerry and the Pacemakers released the Beatles’ reject ‘How Do You Do It?’ in March 1963, it went to number one, as did the Pacemakers’ next two singles. Brian was also in the fortunate position of being able to offer Lennon-McCartney compositions to his artists, some of whom (Cilla and Kramer notably) recorded them with George Martin for Parlophone, which was a neat arrangement. Black, Kramer and Quickly all released Lennon-McCartney songs in 1963, Kramer achieving number one with ‘Bad to Me’. Paul was delighted. ‘John and I were a songwriting team and what songwriting teams did in those days was wrote for everyone - unless you couldn’t come up with something, or wanted to keep a song for yourself and it was a bit too good to give away,’ he later told Mark Lewisohn. ‘John and I would get together, “Oh, we gotta write one for Billy J., OK” [sings “Bad to Me”] … we just knocked them out.’ Perhaps the most interesting of these Lennon and McCartney song gifts was to a new band named the Rolling Stones.
After picking up an award at the Variety Club of Great Britain luncheon at the Savoy Hotel on 10 September 1963, John and Paul found themselves mooching around the music shops on Charing Cross Road. As they did so they bumped into Andrew Loog Oldham, a young hustler who’d worked briefly in the PR department at NEMS before meeting a bunch of youthful blues aficionados who went by the name of the Rollin’ Stones. Loog Oldham quit Epstein’s employment to manage the group, altering their name to the Rolling Stones.
The Stones were of an age with the Beatles, both bands led by clever, ex-grammar school boys infatuated with American music. ‘Although it was not exactly the same thing, partly because we were more blues-orientated, there was an awful lot of crossover,’ drummer Charlie Watts observes. ‘We could all meet around Little Richard and Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran and Carl Perkins.’ The musicians met while the Stones were still obscure, and became friends, Paul forming a particularly close and enduring association with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.11 It was thanks to George Harrison putting in a good word for the Stones that the London-based band got their record deal with Decca. Their début single, a cover of Chuck Berry’s ‘Come On’, reached number 21 in the summer of 1963.
The afternoon Andrew Loog Oldham bumped into John and Paul on Charing Cross Road his band were in a jazz club on nearby Great Newport Street trying to work out what should be their next single. ‘I explained I had nothing to record for the Stones’ next single,’ Loog Oldham recalls of his chance meeting with Lennon and McCartney. ‘They smiled at me and each other, told me not to worry and our three pairs of Cuban heels turned smartly back towards the basement rehearsal.’ So it was that John and Paul gave the Stones what proved to be their breakthrough second single, ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’, teaching the band the chords that afternoon. ‘They ran through it for us and Paul, being left-handed, amazed me by playing my bass backwards,’ Bill Wyman noted. The record went to number 12, from which point the Stones were in the ascendant, becoming almost as popular as the Beatles themselves. Although it is often assumed the two bands were deadly rivals, their friendship actually strengthened as they became more famous. ‘They were all living that same sort of life so when they did see each other, socially, they would be some of the few individuals that they could actually sit and be completely normal with, because they were sharing the same experience,’ notes record producer Glyn Johns, who worked with both bands in the Sixties. ‘Mick Jagger wasn’t sitting with Paul McCartney because he was Paul McCartney.’
By now the Beatles were a youth sensation in Britain. Every teenager who listened to the radio knew about this exciting new band, which had achieved three smash-hit singles and had a number one album. The Beatles were a major concert draw; lionised on Merseyside; supported by a large and well-organised fan club, their activities chronicled in the music press and a new dedicated monthly fanzine, The Beatles Book. Yet the national newspapers based in and around London’s Fleet Street all but ignored the band, notwithstanding the fact that the fight at Paul’s 21st birthday party had made a short piece in the Daily Mirror. There was less entertainment news in the papers in those days, anyway, and most show business writers considered home-grown pop groups of less interest than American stars. Derek Taylor, show business correspondent for the Daily Express in the North, felt differently. Taylor managed to review a Beatles concert in Manchester for his paper, on the basis of regional interest, and followed up with a profile of Brian Epstein, the beginning of a long and important association with the band. Taylor’s interest was almost unique so far as the national print media was concerned until Sunday 13 October 1963, when the Beatles appeared on Sunday Night at the London Palladium.
The Palladium, a big old music hall on Argyll Street, near London’s Oxford Circus, was considered the most prestigious venue in British light entertainment. A variety show was broadcast live from the theatre every Sunday night on national television, and acts from around the world made it their ambition to top the bill. ‘Only the biggest acts in the world did Sunday Night at the Palladium. That was the ultimate career high. Lots of them would come over from America,’ explains the show’s presenter Bruce Forsyth, adding that when an invitation was extended to the Beatles to top the bill in 1963 it was the sign that ‘they really had arrived’. Forsyth and his producer Val Parnell went to see the Beatles in concert in advance, and were troubled by the racket their fans made. It was customary for artists who topped the bill at Sunday Night at the London Palladium to talk to Forsyth on the show. If Beatles fans got tickets, nobody would be able to hear a word that was said.
So I hit on the idea of them doing a conversation all with idiot boards that were facing the audience. Paul would rush on and say, just written on the board, ‘It’s great to be here tonight.’ Then John would rush on from the other side, ‘Yes, what a lovely audience.’ They did a whole conversation [like that] because they couldn’t be heard if they’d spoken.
The fact the Beatles were topping the bill at this very important show made national newspaper editors pay full attention to the group for the first time, sending writers along to meet the Beatles at rehearsals. ‘At the end of each song they bowed to an imaginary audience,’ Godfrey Winn reported for the Daily Sketch. ‘George [Harrison] went through the introduction a dozen times. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are very pleased to be here at the Palladium.” The Palladium, the Palladium, they shouted out, screaming like their own fans …’ On the night, the Beatles performed briefly at the start of the programme, and again at the end, to a raucous reception from their fans, whom John mocked with his horrible spastic routine and half-jokingly told to ‘Shut up!’, which only made them laugh and scream more. Finally the boys joined Forsyth on the revolving stage, waving goodbye to the audience in the theatre, and the wider TV audience, to the tune of ‘Startime’, as every edition of the show concluded. Forsyth: ‘That night we could have gone round 50 times and those young fans would have kept screaming.’
Sundays are typically quiet news days, editors struggling to find enough good stories to fill Monday’s papers. On just such a quiet Sunday in October 1963 editors were only too happy to seize upon the Beatles’ success at the Palladium, and the extravagant behaviour of their fans, and blow it up into front-page news. The next morning’s papers thereby presented the Beatles as the stars of a new youth phenomenon, one that was not seen by journalists as dangerous and unpleasant, like the recent Teddy Boy cult which was associated with violence and vandalism, but that was approved of as part of mainstream family entertainment.
The Daily Sketch devoted two inside pages to an interview with the band. ‘Good morning. Did you watch the Beatles on television in the Sunday Night at the London Palladium show?’ Godfrey Winn asked his readers conversationally, going on to report that 12 million Britons had, and he was ready to reveal what these ‘new kings of pop’ were really like. The Evening News similarly reported on the ‘Sweet Sound of Success’, noting in a thumbnail portrait of Paul McCartney that he was ‘a head in the clouds dreamer who lives for nothing but music’. Paul’s egoism and personal ambition had not yet been detected, though the British press would never be keen to portray Macca, as they came to call him fondly, as anything other than a decent bloke touched by genius. Paul enjoyed good press from day one.
The Beatles’ appearance at the Palladium also signalled a change in the way British newspapers covered the entertainment industry. ‘Suddenly the golden years of Hollywood seemed to come to an abrupt end when the music era came in with the Beatles’ music and the Rolling Stones - all the old film stars of Hollywood seemed to be of no more importance any more,’ notes the Mirror’s Don Short, one of a coterie of Fleet Street reporters who documented the Beatles’ exploits over the next few years, becoming close to the band in the process, especially Paul who cultivated writers who could help them. As an example of how accommodating he could be, Paul once picked up Don personally at the Mirror building in Holborn and drove him to a West End club to interview his dad; another time Paul and George came round to the Short household for dinner and Paul sang a lullaby to the journalist’s six-year-old daughter. As time went by, Paul learned to manipulate his press contacts, feeding them stories that would benefit him personally, but making himself scarce when it was not to his advantage to talk. ‘If it wasn’t going to be helpful to Paul, he wouldn’t surface,’ notes Short.
It wasn’t only the popular press that had become closely interested in the Beatles. At the end of 1963 William Mann, music critic with The Times, wrote a serious appraisal of the Beatles’ music that still stands as one of the most highfalutin but perspicacious articles about the band ever published. ‘The outstanding English composers of 1963 must seem to have been John Lennon and Paul McCartney,’ Mann began his seminal piece, going on to explain that he was not interested in the showbiz antics of the band and their hysterical followers, but in their music, which he found fresh and authentically English.
For several decades, in fact since the decline of the music hall, England has taken her popular songs from the United States, either directly or by mimicry. But the songs of Lennon and McCartney are distinctly indigenous in character, the most imaginative and inventive examples of a style that has been developing on Merseyside …
It was when the writer came to analyse the songs in academic language that he lost some of his readers, ‘the major tonic sevenths and ninths built into their tunes, and the flat submediant key switches …’ Yet Mann was clearly right when he praised ‘the discreet, sometimes subtle varieties of instrumentation’ on the Beatles’ records, and noted that their stylised vocals had not tipped over into cliché, concluding: ‘They have brought a distinctive and exhilarating flavour to a genre of music that was in danger of ceasing to be music at all.’
With the national press, tabloid and broadsheet, finally paying full attention to the Beatles, the band became a nationwide phenomenon in late 1963. The term Beatlemania started appearing in newspapers in late October, as journalists documented the hysterical fan reaction to the group’s appearances. ‘This Beatlemania’ was a headline in the Daily Mail on Monday 21 October, over a feature article by Vincent Mulchrone, asking ‘Would you let your daughter marry a Beatle?’ The same day the Sketch ran a profile of Ringo Starr under the heading ‘Beatles Mania!’ When the boys returned to Britain on 30 October 1963 from a brief Swedish expedition, hordes of fans screamed welcome at London’s Heathrow Airport. By chance, the American television compère Ed Sullivan was passing through the airport that day, shopping for talent for his Ed Sullivan Show. Show business legend has it that, seeing hundreds of girls holding up signs for Beatles, Sullivan assumed this was an eccentric, and eccentrically spelt, British animal act. When Sullivan was put right, he saw a booking opportunity: ‘I decided that the Beatles would be a great attraction for our TV show.’
All of which served as the build-up to the Beatles appearing, in November 1963, on another very big show, the Royal Variety Show, staged that year at London’s Prince of Wales Theatre. As with Sunday Night at the London Palladium, the Beatles were appearing on a mixed variety bill with comics, TV stars and crooners, the show broadcast via television to the nation. The unique aspect of this particular show was that it was traditionally attended by senior members of the Royal Family, this year Her Majesty the Queen Mother, her second daughter Princess Margaret and the Princess’s husband the Earl of Snowdon. The presence of Royalty always drew big stars and a large television audience, but tended to inhibit the performers and audience on the night, making for stilted, often disappointingly bland entertainment. In being their own slightly cheeky selves, the Beatles proved a breath of fresh air.
After performing their latest hit single, ‘She Loves You’, Paul introduced a slower song, ‘Till There Was You’ from The Music Man, telling the audience jokingly that the song ‘has also been recorded by our favourite American group - Sophie Tucker’. This safe, well-rehearsed quip - at the expense of the heavy-set Ms Tucker - earned a typically polite ripple of Royal Variety Show laughter. Then John introduced their final song, ‘Twist and Shout’, by asking the audience for help: ‘Would the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands?’ he said, adding with a nod to the Royal box, ‘And the rest of you, if you just rattle your jewellery. ’ At a time when Royalty was treated with greater deference than today, this was considered a daring remark from young Lennon, one that fell just the right side of insolence. The audience was highly amused, with the press the next day praising the boys’ naturalness and wit, further stoking the bigger story of the Beatles being a new national sensation. The Daily Mirror put Beatlemania on its front page, in a glowing review of the show by Don Short, who doesn’t believe - as has been suggested by others - that pressmen like him created Beatlemania. Rather the relationship between the papers and the band was symbiotic. ‘A lot of people think the press puffed it up, but in actual fact I think the Beatles used the press and the press used the Beatles as much as each other.’
MONEY, THAT’S WHAT I WANT
Two months after moving into the Mayfair flat with his fellow Beatles, Paul moved out again to lodge with the Ashers in Wimpole Street. He was spending so much time at Jane’s house it made sense to stay over, though not in Jane’s room. The Ashers gave him the use of a box room at the top of their house, opposite the bedroom of Jane’s brother Peter, who became a great mate, while Jane and her sister Claire slept in rooms on the floor below. Paul loved his garret, where he had a piano installed so he could sit and compose new tunes in the style of a jobbing song-smith, a self-image he enjoyed, though in reality he was an increasingly wealthy and famous star.
One indication of Paul’s celebrity was the fans who stood sentry outside the Ashers’ front door all day, hoping to catch their idol coming or going. To help Paul avoid these pesky kids Dr Asher worked out an arrangement with his neighbours whereby Paul could climb out of his bedroom window, four storeys above the street, climb back inside the apartment of a retired colonel living next door, go down in the lift and exit the building courtesy of the people in the basement flat, whose back door brought him into the mews behind Wimpole Street. While Dr Asher deserves the credit for this ingenious escape route, it is a mark of how charming Paul was that neighbours felt sufficiently well disposed to the young man to let him use their homes in this way. It was a lesson he learned well. In years to come, when he owned many homes in Britain and abroad, Paul came to similar friendly arrangements with his neighbours whereby he could drive in and out of his properties via their land when he wanted to avoid fans and the press.
Life at Wimpole Street suited Paul so well he lodged here for the next three years, long after the other Beatles had bought houses outside the city, the sanctuary of the Ashers’ home almost as important to Paul as his relationship with Jane, whom everybody in the Beatles’ circle liked. ‘She was lovely. She was good for him,’ affirms Tony Bramwell. ‘The Asher family were good for him, [too], gave him a bit of stability in London.’ Margaret Asher fed Paul up between engagements and her basement music room became a cosy den for Paul and John to write in. ‘We wrote a lot of stuff together, one on one, eyeball to eyeball,’ John would say of these sessions.
Like in ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’, I remember when we got the chord that made the song. We were in Jane Asher’s house, downstairs in the cellar, playing the piano at the same time. We had ‘Oh you, you got something …’ and Paul hits this chord and I turned to him and said, ‘That’s it! Do that again.’ In those days we really used to write like that.
Songwriting sessions such as these - some of the happiest and closest times John and Paul ever enjoyed - were all the more precious for being squeezed between concert engagement, the Beatles travelling considerable distances every week to play cinemas and dance halls from Cheltenham to Carlisle, a punishing regime that saw Paul succumb to flu in mid-November. The Beatles had to postpone a show in Portsmouth as a result, one of the few times Paul has ever missed a concert due to ill-health. Brian Epstein was also booking his boys onto a plethora of TV and radio shows, where they were obliged to tell jokes and act up like a comedy troupe. Before pop music became self-aware as an art form, before anybody talked of ‘rock music’, groups like the Beatles were considered part of mainstream show business, no different from the jugglers, ventriloquists and comics with whom they found themselves on shows like Late Screen Extra where, for example, they appeared on 25 November 1963 with Liverpudlian comic Ken Dodd. ‘It was a way of getting [exposure],’ says Dodd, who used the Beatles as a foil. ‘At the time, I was hungry for publicity as well as the Beatles, and if you get a chance of being on television you go along with it.’ It helped that Paul enjoyed the play-acting. As with so many members of his family, there was something of the ham about him.
With everything else that was going on, the boys still found time to record their second LP, With the Beatles, released in time for Christmas a mere eight months after Please Please Me. The cover photograph, by Robert Freeman, presented the Beatles solemn-faced in black turtle-neck sweaters, a monochrome image reminiscent of the early photographs of the band taken by Astrid Kirchherr, and an indication that, while the Beatles would play the fool on TV, they had ambitions to be taken more seriously as musicians. Again the 14 tracks were a mixture of original compositions and covers. The album began with John’s insistent ‘It Won’t Be Long’ followed by an equally commanding lead vocal on ‘All I’ve Got to Do’. As if spurred on to better his friend’s performances, Paul was heard next on the explosive ‘All My Loving’. The song the boys had given the Rolling Stones was also on the album, sung by Ringo, while George sang one of his own compositions for the first time, ‘Don’t Bother Me’. The rest of the tracks were covers, including the closer, ‘Money’, which had new significance now the Beatles were earning £2,000 a week ($3,060) from touring alone, a sensational sum at the time.
The new album went to number one, ‘She Loves You’ only relinquishing the top spot on the singles charts when the Beatles released ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’. Suddenly everybody wanted to meet the Beatles. They were invited into the EMI boardroom for lunch with the chairman, Sir Joseph Lockwood, posing with Sir Joe for a photo under the iconic painting of His Master’s Voice. The band was also being inundated with requests to invest in projects or lend their name to good causes. In Liverpool, Brian Epstein introduced the boys to two beady-eyed Oxford University students, Jeffrey Archer and Nicholas Lloyd, who persuaded the boys to back a fundraising drive for the charity Oxfam. ‘I thought Paul and John were very bright, though I found John a little cynical, whereas Paul was enthusiastic, and what clearly struck me - both in the case of John and Paul - was that if they’d wanted to go to Oxford themselves they so clearly had good enough brains to go,’ recalls Archer, later Lord Archer, novelist and disgraced Tory peer.12
A week later the Beatles were presented with further evidence of their fame when they met 3,000 fan club members at a ballroom in Wimbledon, South London. First the Beatles greeted their excited admirers in person, the boys sheltering behind the theatre bar for their own safety as they signed autographs. ‘They shook hands with all the fans,’ noted Neil Aspinall, ‘about 10,000 of them, actually, because they kept going back to the end of the queue and coming round again.’ The band then performed in a cage for their protection, which was a first. ‘It was like being in a zoo, on stage! It felt dangerous. The kids were out of hand,’ commented Ringo. As if being in a cage wasn’t strange enough, as they performed the boys were pelted with jelly babies. John had mentioned in an interview that he’d recently been sent a present of the sugary sweets but George had eaten them all, a casual remark that caused girls to inundate the band with what they now presumed were the Beatles’ favourite treats. Unable to deliver the jelly babies personally, they threw them. George stalked off stage in protest, already irritated by ‘the mania’, as he pointedly described it, emphasising the real madness at the heart of what was happening to them. Paul kept on smiling, showing a greater tolerance for all aspects of their burgeoning success, as he always would.