Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney - Howard Sounes (2010)
PART ONE. WITH THE BEATLES
Chapter 8. FIRST FINALE
SUMMONED TO THE PALACE
In a few short years Paul McCartney had become one of the most famous people in the Western World, the Beatles as recognisable as the President of the United States, the Queen of England, and the biggest stars of sport and film. The Beatles were moreover a living cartoon, followed daily by the public as avidly as they read the comic strips in the newspapers. The lads were a source of entertainment not only to people in Britain and North America, but throughout Western Europe, in Asia, South America, even behind the Iron Curtain, where Beatles records were banned, along with other forms of degenerate Western culture, but traded avidly on the black market. The Beatles were not the first global pop icons, Elvis had that honour, but even Elvis hadn’t been fêted so lavishly so far and so wide. It had all happened in the blink of an eye.
At home perhaps only the Queen was more famous, and in 1965 the boys became the first pop stars to be honoured by Her Majesty as Members of the Order of the British Empire, another way in which the Beatles broke new ground. In the future Her Majesty would bestow chivalric awards on numerous rock and pop stars, in recognition of the export income they earned, for their charitable works and to mark their popularity. When the fab four received their MBEs on 26 October 1965, they were the first pop stars to be invited into Buckingham Palace in this way and, just as it is hard now to comprehend how famous the Beatles were all those years ago, it is difficult to comprehend the fuss caused by the Queen’s decision to bestow the award upon the band, albeit that it was the lowest class available in the circumstances, a lesser honour than the humble OBE and a full five ranks below a knighthood. Some old soldiers sent their hard-won military medals back in disgust (even though the military system is separate), while a large crowd of over-excited schoolgirls gathered outside the Palace to shriek the Beatles through the iron gates, the clash of pop and pageantry broadcast on TV as national news.
While many onlookers didn’t think the Beatles deserved to be honoured for essentially having fun and getting rich, others saw the pragmatic sense in what was at root a political gesture orchestrated by the nation’s publicity-conscious Prime Minister. Harold Wilson saw correctly that the Beatles were good for Britain. As McCartney himself says, ‘most people seemed to feel that we were a great export and ambassadors for Britain. At least people were taking notice of Britain; cars like Minis and Jaguars, and British clothes were selling … in some ways we’d become super salesmen for Britain.’ George expressed this same thought more cynically, as was his way: ‘After all we did for Great Britain, selling all that corduroy and making it swing, they gave us that bloody old [medal].’ John sent his MBE back in 1969, ‘in protest against Britain’s involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing19 … and against “Cold Turkey” slipping down the charts’. Ritchie also became disenchanted with the Royal Family, stating in 2004, after Paul had got his knighthood but he had been passed over: ‘I’m really not into Her Majesty any more, I’m afraid.’
After smoking a cigarette in the toilets of Buckingham Palace (not a joint as Lennon later claimed) the Beatles were presented to the Queen in pairs to receive their MBEs. Paul and Ritchie went up together. ‘How long have you been together as a band?’ Her Majesty asked politely, as an equerry handed her the presentation cases. In reply the boys sang a snatch of the music hall song, ‘My Old Dutch’:
We’ve been together now for 40 years
An’ it don’t seem a day too muchl
The Queen looked at the young men with amusement, the beginning of a long and surprisingly warm relationship between Paul and his Queen.
The Buckingham Palace investiture took place during the making of an important new album with George Martin, whose situation at EMI had changed significantly. After a long-running dispute over pay, Martin had quit as head of Parlophone that summer to start his own company, Associated Independent Recording (AIR), striking a deal with EMI whereby he would continue to produce the Beatles on a freelance basis for a producer’s royalty. It may or may not be coincidental that, with his enhanced financial stake in the band (though not an overly generous one), Martin became more involved in the creative process from this point, increasingly adding the orchestral touches that are a hallmark of the Beatles’ mature work and that do so much to raise the band above the pop herd. Indeed, their next album together was the breakthrough.
Working with George, the boys had got into the habit of delivering two LPs a year to EMI, and at the end of 1965 the company wanted a Christmas release. So it was that they went into Studio Two at EMI Abbey Road on 12 October, with few songs prepared, and worked like the devil to crash out a new record against deadline. Bearing in mind the circumstances in which it was made, the LP Rubber Soul is hugely impressive, the best work they had yet done, musically and lyrically rich, inventive, fun and exciting to listen to, a true turning point. The album title was a twist on a self-deprecating remark Paul had made after recording his song ‘I’m Down’ that summer. ‘Plastic soul, man. Plastic soul,’ he said at the end of a take, meaning his performance wasn’t soulful enough. A rubber soul would have more bounce, and Rubber Soul explodes with energy. Placed together with the album that followed it, Revolver, and the singles made at the same time, the Beatles closed the first half of their career, when they had essentially been a good little dance band, recording up-tempo love songs with adolescent lyrics, and became a far more ambitious creative unit. As has often been observed, with Rubber Soul and Revolver it was as if the Beatles stepped out of the black and white world of the early 1960s and began broadcasting in colour, with a concomitant new exuberance in their appearance and interests.
An Indian theme first insinuated itself into the Beatles sound at this stage. While shooting Help! George Harrison had taken time out to chat with the musicians hired to play in the movie’s Indian Restaurant scene. Subsequently, he had taken up the sitar, which he now played inexpertly but effectively on John’s song ‘Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)’.
There are of course ‘John songs’ and ‘Paul songs’ on Rubber Soul, both men increasingly writing on their own as well as in partnership. How much help they gave one another is sometimes disputed. While ‘Norwegian Wood’ is considered very much a John song, for example, McCartney’s recollection is that they finished it together. Paul also claims a significant hand in writing ‘In My Life’, while Lennon said McCartney only helped with the bridge. By comparison, ‘Drive My Car’, a motoring metaphor for sex, was a true collaboration, based on a melody by Paul, with John writing most of the lyrics. Paul’s bass and piano are superb. The travel theme segued into drug references on ‘Day Tripper’, which would be released as a double A-side single with Paul’s ‘We Can Work it Out’, hitting number one. The words of the latter can be read as an insight into Paul’s dominant, my way or the highway personality. In the lyrical dialogue, apparently recounting a lovers’ spat, Paul repeatedly implores his girl to ‘Try to see it my way’, warning that if she doesn’t they will be finished. John Lennon wrote the middle eight, appealing counter-intuitively for reason in this fractuous relationship, life being too short to fuss and fight, making ‘We Can Work it Out’ even more interesting. Working together in this way, Lennon and McCartney were truly complementary writers.
Side One of Rubber Soul closed with ‘Michelle’, one of the most beautiful and commercially successful songs Paul ever wrote. It was based on a party trick of improvising a smoochy love song with cod French lyrics to a finger-picking tune à la Chet Atkins. Coming over all French at a party was a good way of pulling girls. When John and Paul faced the problem of filling this new album quickly, John suggested Paul develop his party trick. He turned for help to Janet Vaughan, French teacher wife of his old school friend Ivan, who was living in London and often saw Paul socially. One evening, when Ivy and Janet went round to Wimpole Street to visit Paul and Jane, Paul asked Janet to help him with a song he was writing.
I think what happened was that Paul said he’d written a song and could I think of a Christian name of a girl - I can’t remember exactly how he put it - and then an adjective that went with it, and I think I thought of ‘Michelle my belle’. We went through different French Christian names, and then we tried to find something that would rhyme and that would qualify that. Then he said, ‘I want to say after that “These are words that go together well,”’ having decided on the belle. So I just translated it: ‘Sont les mots qui vont très bien ensemble. ’ And that’s it, really.
Paul’s other ‘love songs’ on Rubber Soul are almost as strong, though different. As ‘Michelle’ is sweet, ‘You Won’t See Me’ and ‘I’m Looking Through You’ are bitter, the latter sang with anger:
I’m looking through you, where did you go?
I thought I knew you, what did I know?
You don’t look different, but you have changed.
I’m looking through you, you’re not the same.
Songwriters, like novelists, write from the point of view of characters that are often entirely or partly imagined, so it is rash to read a song too readily as autobiography. Yet Paul has made it clear in interviews that ‘You Won’t See Me’ and ‘I’m Looking Through You’ give a contemporaneous insight into his relationship with Jane Asher. This is intriguing because Jane is one of only a handful of the Beatles’ close associates who, apart from a handful of brief comments, has never told her story, a policy of discretion she adopted in the first flush of her romance with Paul and has stuck to, despite repeated requests by journalists and authors, myself included.20 Her silence has inhibited the normally garrulous McCartney, who has said little about his time with Jane, but he has revealed that he wrote ‘I’m Looking Through You’ at Wimpole Street at a time of tension in the relationship, essentially because Jane insisted on pursuing her acting career, which took her away from London, whereas Paul wanted her to wait at home for him.
When Paul met Jane she was only 17, a former child star living at home with her parents, not sure what direction to take in adult life. In the early days Jane allowed her older, more worldly boyfriend to take the lead. Paul decided what they did, where they holidayed, even what clothes Jane wore, and she seemed happy with this. Almost three years had passed and the girl had grown into a young woman approaching 20, with her eyes set on a career as a stage actress. Paul and Jane still seemed well suited, but Jane was no longer as biddable as she had been, or as other Beatles partners were. ‘I thought they were adorable together. She was wonderful. She was a very calm person and, in the middle of all this, you felt that she was a wonderful balance for him, and you felt that she was his equal, for sure,’ comments artist Jann Haworth, who along with her husband Peter Blake had got to know the Beatles socially in recent months.
It didn’t ever feel to me as though Paul was the big deal and she was trembling along behind, whereas you felt that a bit with Pattie Boyd and some of the other gals. I mean Cynthia was left standing still, basically, by John. Whereas you felt Jane was an absolute equal to Paul and had a very supple mind. She wasn’t a dumb girl. She was really smart.
When Paul was in London recording Rubber Soul, Jane was in Bristol rehearsing a play. After Christmas she went into a Bristol Old Vic production of The Happiest Days of Your Life, which kept her down in the West Country. One can imagine Paul calling Jane’s Bristol digs, becoming suspicious if told that she was out, demanding to know where she was, who she was with, the jealous boyfriend of ‘You Won’t See Me’. The conflict was serious enough for the couple to separate briefly. ‘It was shattering to be without her,’ Paul admitted, and they soon patched it up. But Paul was not faithful.
Several women have attested to affairs with the star during his time with Jane, and when he came to work on his authorised biography in the 1990s, Paul admitted: ‘I had a girlfriend and I would go with other girls, it was a perfectly open relationship.’ A true open relationship would mean Paul and Jane were both free to see other people, but it seems the relationship was more open on his side than hers. Certainly Jane had more reason to be insecure about what Paul was up to. He was a member of the most famous group in the world, the best-looking Beatle to many eyes, and one of only two bachelor Beatles left. Girls threw themselves at him. ‘You’d go down a club and half the girls on the dance floor would all immediately manoeuvre their partners so they were dancing right in front of Paul, and they would let their dresses ride up and everything. It was astonishing,’ comments the writer Barry Miles, who became a friend at this time. ‘All he would have had to do was say, you know, “Let’s go” and off. The boyfriend would have been left standing!’
Miles was an enthusiast for American beat literature, who wanted to open an alternative London bookshop. One of his friends was the art critic John Dunbar, who was married to singer Marianne Faithfull (who in turn had a hit with ‘Yesterday’) and wanted to open an art gallery. With investment from their friend Peter Asher, who was coining it now as a pop star, Miles and Dunbar opened an art gallery cum book store named Indica (after the cannabis plant) at 6 Mason’s Yard, Piccadilly, between a gentleman’s toilet and the Scotch of St James nightclub. Miles’s bookshop was on the ground floor, Dunbar’s art gallery in the basement. Paul became friendly with the two young men via Peter Asher and started hanging out at Indica. Having completed Rubber Soul, and conducted a few concerts in December 1965, the last British shows the Beatles played as it turned out, Paul had the luxury of taking the first three months of 1966 as a holiday, part of which he and Jane, now reconciled, spent helping get Indica ready for its opening, painting the walls and putting up shelves. ‘I remember once he and Jane arrived and there were about 50 people following them,’ recalls Miles, who became both Paul’s pal and cultural guide. ‘It was very hard for him. He hated that really. He loved going on buses and generally being part of the city, behaving like a normal [person].’
Paul had an interest in literature and often quoted, or misquoted, Shakespeare, but he didn’t have the time or inclination to read seriously. The books at Indica - modern poetry and literary fiction mostly - were therefore only of peripheral interest. Although he wasn’t a great reader, Paul did have a voracious appetite for meeting new people and imbibing their ideas, and Miles and his friends were instrumental in expanding his cultural horizons. ‘Through us he met all the art people, people like [the art dealer] Robert Fraser,’ recalls Miles. ‘He got to meet David Hockney [and] Claes Oldenburg, [when] he was over for his first show. He met Richard Hamilton through Robert Fraser.’ Fraser was a hip young art dealer who accompanied Paul on a shopping spree to Paris, where he acquired two works by René Magritte. Paul later bought a third Magritte, a picture of an apple entitled Le Jeu de mourre that inspired the Beatles’ record label. These were judicious purchases, relatively cheap in 1966 at two or three thousand pounds each, forming the basis of an extensive art collection. With Fraser’s advice, Paul also commissioned art, hiring Peter Blake to paint a pop art variation on Landseer’s Monarch of the Glen, which he hung over the fireplace at Cavendish. An Eduardo Paolozzi sculpture, Solo, a reminder of Paolozzi’s student Stuart Sutcliffe, was given pride of place in the upstairs music room.
Although he wasn’t a great reader, through Miles Paul met the American writers Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs and became interested in the ‘cut-up’ technique of assembling stories from random newspaper clippings, a method popularised by Burroughs which later found its way into Beatles’ lyrics. Another writer who caught Paul’s imagination was the nineteenth-century French dramatist Alfred Jarry, a celebrated production of whose play Ubu Roi, with sets by David Hockney, Paul saw at London’s Royal Court. One of Jarry’s ideas was a quasi-science he named pataphysics, ‘the science of imaginary solution’, which later cropped up on the Abbey Road album. The inquisitive Miles also squired Paul to musical performances by avant-garde composers such as Luciano Berio, who presented an electronic piece in London in February 1966. Paul was furious when the press came to photograph him at the concert, spoiling the ambience. ‘All you do is destroy things! Why don’t you think of people, why don’t you create things? ’ he raged at the snappers. Thankfully, there was no press present when Miles took Paul to see fellow avant-garde composer Cornelius Cardew, a follower of John Cage, who ‘played’ the piano by tapping the legs of the instrument or reaching inside and plucking its strings, anything but touching the keyboard. From attending oddball events like this Paul became generally aware of and interested in modern composers and their experiments, using atonality, collage, repetition, curious instrumentation and new technology to create, among other works, music made up of spliced tape recordings and tape loops. Inspired, Paul started to make tapes of his own at Cavendish Avenue.
London’s avant-garde set were also a hedonistic bunch of people, and part of the pleasure of hanging out with his hip new friends was that Paul could smoke pot with them discreetly and get laid. Visiting the Dunbars in Lennox Gardens, Paul struck up a relationship with their attractive nanny, Maggie McGivern, who claims to have conducted a three-year affair with Paul behind Jane’s back. ‘Our relationship was a secret from day one.’ She says they met surreptitiously in auction rooms, where Paul was buying antique furniture for his new house, and in Regent’s Park where he walked his new pet, Martha, an Old English Sheepdog. When Jane was away from home, Maggie further says that she and Paul slipped over to Europe for illicit holidays. ‘They saw each other on and off for quite a few years,’ says Miles, noting that Maggie was ‘only one of many’.
Another aspect of Paul’s new London set was connections with the aristocracy. Marianne Faithfull was the daughter of a baroness, and the London scene was as thick with the scions of famous families as it was with the sons and daughters of the working-class. One posh mate was Tara Browne, son of Lord Oranmore, head of the Guinness brewing family, who was due to inherit a fortune when he turned 25. Until then, Tara was living recklessly on credit. Having left Eton, he married at 18, had a couple of kids, then abandoned them, more interested in running his Chelsea boutiques and roaring up and down the King’s Road in his hand-painted sports car. As 1965 segued into ’66, Paul found himself more and more in this moneyed, druggy, fast-paced world of aristocrats, bohemians, writers, artists and beautiful girls, which is to say he was having a wonderful time. The sun seemed to shine every day during the summer of 1966; English music and youth style was applauded; the England soccer team won the World Cup; and the Beatles’ Revolver was the soundtrack album of the season.
In these exciting, one might say revolutionary times, Paul must have looked back on the first few years of the Beatles’ existence as a distant, far less interesting age when he and the rest of the group were just learning their trade. Paul certainly seems to have placed a low value on the Beatles’ early songs, judging by the fact that he signed away his rights to their first 56 tunes in the spring of 1966 for a modest one-off payment.
As we have seen, John and Paul had assigned the copyright of their compositions to Northern Songs, a company owned by them in partnership with Brian Epstein and Dick James. They had recently extended the agreement so all their compositions until 1973 would be held in this company. Royalty income from the initial 56 Lennon-McCartney songs, registered between 1963 and 1964, was paid to the boys via another company they’d formed with Brian named Lenmac Enterprises, a combination of John and Paul’s surnames. In April 1966, John, Paul and Brian agreed to sell Lenmac to the now-public Northern Songs for £365,000 ($558,450) of the shareholders’ money, Paul apparently judging it wise to take the cash before these early songs - numbers such as ‘She Loves You’, ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ and ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ - became as obscure as skiffle tunes. From the start, the boys all felt, in common with most people in show business, that their type of music was ephemeral, and that they should look ahead to a longer-term career as professional songwriters in a more mature style. Interestingly, they didn’t dispose of songs written after 1965 in the same way. As a result of the Lenmac sale, Paul stopped receiving royalties directly for those 56 early Beatles numbers, though he and John still owned shares in Northern Songs itself, which now included and was enriched by Lenmac. This was an extremely unwise decision as it turned out, because their early songs proved to be evergreen.
Having disposed of part of the family silver in this careless way, the Beatles returned to EMI in April 1966 to make Revolver, a complementary album to Rubber Soul, and one in which Paul’s newfound interest in avant-garde music came to the fore, most notably on the track ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, featuring John’s spacey vocal, echoing drums, Indian tambura and tape loops which seem to make the sound of screaming seagulls or what one imagines Hieronymus Bosch’s flying monsters would sound like. ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ is an amazing song, a leap forward for a band that just recently had been yelling Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! at their fans, and Paul’s tape loops are a large part of what makes it one of the Beatles’ ‘heaviest’ tracks. So it is almost schizophrenic of Paul to have also recorded his first children’s song on Revolver, the nonetheless delightful ‘Yellow Submarine’, complete with nautical sound effects. Children’s songs would become an occasional, and perhaps underrated, McCartney specialty. They have proved popular with generations of children.
Another uplifting creation was Paul’s ‘Good Day Sunshine’, which again is quite a contrast to the dark ‘For No One’, with its lyric about a love that should have lasted years, providing further insight into Paul’s troubled relationship with Jane Asher. ‘I suspect it was about another argument,’ McCartney told Miles. ‘I don’t have an easy relationship with women, I never have. I talk too much truth.’ When it came time to record ‘For No One’, Paul asked George Martin to get in a French horn player. George hired Alan Civil, the best available. Unable to express what he wanted in writing, or in technical language, Paul sang the horn solo he had in mind to Martin, who wrote notation for Civil, who played the part perfectly first time. It was a mark of Paul’s inexperience that he asked Civil to do it again, as if he could do better, which exasperated producer and horn player. ‘Of course he couldn’t do it better than that,’ recalls George Martin with irritation, ‘and the way we’d already heard it is the way you hear it now.’ Aside from sheer inexperience there was a touch of arrogance in Paul’s request, not rare in young men, but nonetheless unattractive. Musician Gibson Kemp, then signed to Brian Epstein’s management, puts his finger on an aspect of Paul’s personality when he describes him at this point as: ‘Quite serious, sarcastic [and] slightly up himself’.
If we read ‘For No One’ as an insight into the sporadic problems Paul and Jane were experiencing in their relationship, ‘Here, There and Everywhere’ suggests a love so nurturing that the singer hopes it will never die. Paul seems to be yearning for a settled, balanced life with a lover who would also be a home-maker, which with the previous caveat about being careful not to interpret songs too quickly as autobiography is another side of Paul’s personality. The problem here is that perfect happiness rarely makes for great art, and lovely though ‘Here, There and Everywhere’ is, the song has an insipid quality that became more pronounced in Paul’s songwriting as he got older, as if he determined at some stage not to dwell on the darker side of life. In 1966, however, Paul was still willing to explore all emotions.
There is certainly nothing insipid about ‘Eleanor Rigby’, one of the best songs Paul ever wrote, where the quality of the melody is matched by the poetry of the lyric. ‘I just sat down at the piano and got the first line about Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in a church where a wedding has been. That came out of the blue. I didn’t know where that came from …’ McCartney has said of the creation. He had to work hard to explain this intriguing premise to himself, deciding the tune was about a ‘lonely old lady type’. The mournful melody in E minor, with stately orchestration by George Martin, the strings arranged in the style of Bernard Herrmann, composer of the music for Psycho, is a revelation, the words evocative and moving. Too often in his songwriting Paul seems to have no original idea to convey, or particular story to tell. He just fits rhyming words to a melody, like a hack. For all its prettiness, ‘Here, There and Everywhere’ sounds like that. In ‘Eleanor Rigby’ he created a poignant, original narrative reminiscent of the isolated broken figures in a play by Samuel Beckett: the story of a lonely woman who dies and is buried without mourners by a priest who seems to have lost his congregation and faith. London may have been swinging in 1966, but in the midst of the Cold War, Britain was also a place where faith in the old religions was fading, and where many feared annihilation in an atomic Third World War. There is a bleak end-times feel to ‘Eleanor Rigby’:
Wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from her grave,
No one was saved.
All the lonely people, where do they all come from?
All the lonely people, where do they all belong?
It is surely more than a coincidence that an Eleanor Rigby lies buried in St Peter’s Church, Woolton. Paul had played in this graveyard as a child, and met John at the 1957 St Peter’s Church summer fête. He must have seen this grave and remembered the unusual name. Yet the musician has always resisted the suggestion that he took the name from that headstone. ‘It is possible that I saw it and subconsciously remembered it,’ he says, insisting however that the primary inspiration came from seeing the name Rigby on a shop in Bristol when he was visiting Jane.
MRS MARCOS LOVES BEADLES MUSIC
As the Beatles began to make increasingly sophisticated music with George Martin in the EMI studios they wearied of the profitable but unsatisfying business of performing to live audiences who would rather scream at them than listen to their songs. The shows the boys had played in England and Scotland prior to Christmas 1965 had been typically dispiriting in this respect, and they had no desire to repeat the experience. In fact, the Beatles never toured Britain again. Neither did they have the inclination to continue appearing on every TV show that extended an invitation to them, for surely they had outgrown the likes of Blackpool Night Out. So the Beatles decided to cut back on their live television work and produce promotional films to be broadcast in their stead. They started by miming to ‘We Can Work it Out’, ‘Day Tripper’, ‘Help!’ ‘Ticket to Ride’ and ‘I Feel Fine’, early versions of the pop video.
In the spring of 1966, the band made two further films to promote singles released in advance of Revolver, Paul’s ‘Paperback Writer’ and John’s weird, droning ‘Rain’, which in its use of saturated sound and manipulation of tape speed has more than a touch of the avant-garde, showing that Paul was certainly not alone in his musical experimentation. To make these promotional films, the Beatles worked with a New York-born television director named Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who had the appearance of the average, trendy young man-about-town, but who - like many people the Beatles were mixing with now - had aristocratic roots. The great-grandson of the 1st Baronet of Rotherfield Hall, a stately pile in Sussex, Michael would eventually inherit the baronetcy, becoming Sir Michael Lindsay-Hogg. Back in 1966, he was plain Michael, 25-year-old employee of the independent television company Rediffusion, working mostly on the pop music show Ready, Steady, Go! One day he was summoned to meet the Beatles for lunch at Abbey Road.
Mal Evans came in and said, ‘They’re coming,’ and then almost immediately in they came, and it was them. When I say it was them, in these days it’s hard to remember how famous they were. It wasn’t only that they were talented, but somehow they’d caught the temper of the times, and also they somehow inhabited their fame in a way that other people weren’t able to do.
The Beatles sat down to eat, leaving their guest standing. Finally, Paul acknowledged Lindsay-Hogg, who continues the story: ‘Paul was like the host. That is something he is very good at. Paul is famously charming when he wants to be [and] in my experience, my relationship with them, he was more the driver of certain projects.’ Over time the film-maker would come to realise something else about Paul: ‘Charm for him is like a weapon.’ Beneath the charm, ‘he is very, very tough’.
When Lindsay-Hogg shot the films for ‘Paperback Writer’ and ‘Rain’, at Chiswick House in London, Paul paid close attention, looking through the cameras himself before the shots were taken. The Beatles were under contract to make a third feature film for United Artists, and Paul was thinking about what they might do, and how they might have more creative control. In short, he wanted to become a film-maker himself, an ambition which threads through the ensuing years, usually with disappointing results. In thinking about what sort of picture they might make, Paul also consulted widely, taking advantage of his fame to meet diverse and interesting people.
Around this time Paul and Jane were granted a meeting with the philosopher Bertrand Russell to gain the Nobel Laureate’s views on Vietnam and the Cold War, which Paul and Jane were both concerned about, half-expecting Armageddon to come by way of a nuclear strike from the East. ‘I think that made us more determined to enjoy ourselves and live for the moment,’ Jane has said. When Paul told the philosopher that the Beatles had a mind to make their next picture an anti-war film, Russell suggested Paul speak to his friend, the author Len Deighton, who was developing the First World War musical Oh What a Lovely War as a picture.
Deighton invited Paul to dinner to discuss the movie, an invitation to dine with Deighton being a great treat as the author was, among his other talents, a gourmet chef. Deighton served an elaborate Indian meal. Paul expressed an interest in the Beatles starring in Oh What a Lovely War, the project falling down when it came to how they would use music in the picture, as Deighton recalls:
I couldn’t use Beatle music as the whole point of Oh What a Lovely War was that all the dialogue, words and music, were taken from those actually sung or spoken at the time of the war 1914-18. Paul explained that they wanted to be in a film with a more direct reference to modern war.
Paul thanked the author, and continued his search for a suitable movie vehicle.
First the Beatles were contracted to play a series of concerts, their last as it turned out. What became their farewell tour began on 24 June 1966, when the band played three shows in Germany. Before they did so, Brian Epstein - intent on avoiding what his assistant Peter Brown describes as ‘general embarrassment’ - dealt with Hamburg barmaid Erika Wohlers’ claim to have given birth to Paul’s illegitimate daughter. Erika had recently married, becoming Erika Hübers, but her daughter Bettina, now three, was nevertheless still living in care. Erika claims that the German Youth Welfare Office had issued an arrest warrant for Paul that would have made his life difficult had he come back to Germany before reaching a settlement with her. ‘He would have been arrested if he stepped foot on German soil again.’ As a result, Erika says that in January 1966 a lawyer came to her home, explained that he represented McCartney, and made her a cash offer.
On the instructions of the office in England, he should offer us a so-called ‘hush-money’ [payment] amounting to 21,000 Deutschmarks, 21 so that neither I nor my husband would ‘go public’. The lawyer explained that the Beatles were coming to Germany in July 1966 and that my daughter Bettina would receive more money, money which would be held in trust until her eighteenth birthday.
Erika agreed to the deal, receiving 10,000 DM on signature, the balance payable when the Beatles left Germany. A further 30,000 DM was placed in trust for Bettina. No word of this story appeared in the press during the Beatles’ valedictory tour of Germany.
Though the Hamburg barmaid had been mollified for now, the Beatles’ progress around the world that summer was dogged with trouble. From Germany, the boys flew to Japan where they had been controversially booked to play the Nippon Budokan Hall, a Tokyo auditorium with special, spiritual status because of its association with the martial arts. Many Japanese considered it a desecration to stage a pop concert there. NEMS had received death threats in advance of the tour, and when the Beatles arrived in Tokyo there were street protests, members of the public holding up signs that read BEATLES GO HOME. The authorities sequestered the band inside the Tokyo Hilton prior to the show for fear they might be assassinated, stopping the boys when they tried to sneak outside. At least the Beatles had some dope to smoke. Peter Brown claims they were carrying a supply on tour, which was reckless. The Japanese took a hard line on drug use. Luckily, they weren’t caught.
This difficult world tour became seriously unpleasant when the Beatles flew from Tokyo to the Philippines to play two stadium concerts in Manila. Led by President Ferdinand Marcos, a former army officer with a murky past, the Philippines was a corrupt police state bolstered by the US as a strategic Cold War ally in South East Asia. With US patronage, Marcos was shaping up to be a fully-fledged dictator, while his young wife, Imelda, lived like a queen. Imelda Marcos was 27 in 1966, her husband a relatively young despot of 48, ‘so we were still attuned, we were close enough in age to be aware and sensitive and admirers of the Beadles’, says the former First Lady, mispronouncing the band’s name. Indeed, Mrs Marcos and her husband owned all the Beadles’ records and very much wanted to meet the group when they came to their country, as did most of the government, which is to say Ferdinand’s political and military cronies. An invitation had already been extended to visit the First Family at their palace. Brian received the invitation in Japan, and declined. The boys had grown to loathe civic receptions of this type. Unfortunately, nobody in the Philippines was brave enough to tell Imelda that the Beatles had turned her down.
A large number of Filipinos gathered to greet the band at Manila Airport on Sunday 3 July 1966, but the Beatles weren’t permitted to meet their fans. Instead the boys were taken off the plane by police and driven to Manila Harbour, where they were put on a boat. ‘We’ve no idea why they took us to the boat,’ George Harrison said in an interview for the Beatles’ Anthology. ‘I still don’t know to this day.’ In her first interview about the Beatles’ visit to her country, Mrs Marcos says the boat was for their protection.
Remember, ’66 was at the height of the Cold War, when China, Russia and America were fighting in Vietnam. And the Philippines was in the centre of all of this, the Left was fighting the Right and the communists were very strong nearby, which was China. They had their cultural revolution [and here in the Philippines] the rich and the poor … So it was not a secure place. [So when the security services] saw the mob and the hysteria that met the group they placed them in the boat to make them secure.
When Brian threw a tantrum, and demanded they be taken ashore, the Beatles were transferred to the Manila Hotel. Officials came to their suite the next day to remind them they were expected at the Malacañan Palace as honoured luncheon guests of the First Family. Mrs Marcos had promised her friends the Beadles were coming and members of the Cabinet, Congress and Senate had assembled in readiness, with their wives and children, many dressed in Beatles costumes. Furthermore, the Filipino people had been informed by television that the party was to be broadcast. ‘And they were sure of course that [we] would ask them to perform a bit,’ says Mrs Marcos, revealing her real purpose: she expected the Beatles to give her a private show at the Malacañan Palace. Without consulting the boys, Brian Epstein waved the men from the palace away, saying he’d already declined this invitation.
The Beatles played their two Manila shows on schedule on Monday 4 July, a matinée and evening performance. That night they started to see news reports on television about how they had insulted the nation by standing up the First Family. When the boys called downstairs for breakfast the next morning, inedible and apparently tainted food was sent to their suite. The newspapers screamed news of the snub. ‘I was a little embarrassed,’ Mrs Marcos now says of the Beatles’ failure to come to the palace, insisting however that she and her husband didn’t orchestrate the censure in the press or the way the band was mistreated as they tried to leave the country. She had no idea, for example, that Brian Epstein was having trouble collecting money due for their concerts, or that officials were demanding a tax on the withheld takings. ‘We had nothing to do with [that],’ she says, claiming that the misfortunes that befell the Beatles after the shows were entirely a result of the hurt pride of the Filipino people.
When the Beatles party reached Manila Airport that afternoon airport staff refused to help with their luggage and switched off an escalator to inconvenience them further. The Beatles and their entourage were jostled, kicked and punched as they made their way to the departure gate for their KLM flight to London (via New Delhi, where George was planning to take his first Indian holiday). They feared they would never make it. When they finally boarded the plane, Mal Evans and Tony Barrow were called back by officials, who questioned them about irregularities in the Beatles’ paperwork. Brian was obliged to hand over $17,000 cash (£11,111) at the last minute, after which the jet was cleared for take-off. Mrs Marcos claims she was on her way to the airport to intervene on the Beatles’ behalf. ‘I was rushing to the airport, only to be told halfway that the Beatles had been to the plane already and gone.’ As the KLM jet climbed into the safety of international air space, the Beatles felt relieved to have got out of the country in one piece. Then they blamed Brian. When they stopped in New Delhi, the band informed Brian they wouldn’t tour again once they’d fulfilled the rest of their summer engagements. Epstein took the news badly.
‘What will I do if they stop touring?’ he asked Peter Brown. ‘What will be left for me?’
For her part, Imelda Marcos looks back on the Beatles’ now-notorious visit to Manila with regret. ‘I feel sorry that it had to happen in the Philippines during our time,’ she says. ‘I’m sure the Beatles were not there to humiliate the President and the First Family and the government. ’ She and Ferdinand continued to like Beadles’ music, and she has followed Paul’s career with interest. ‘It was a sad miscommunication. But you can be sure that the Filipinos are very sensitive to music and any great music is always appreciated by Filipinos. Even to this day they love the Beadles and I do, too.’22
THE LAST TOUR
Home again, Paul enjoyed a summer break in advance of the release of Revolver. The sleeve of the new LP featured artwork by Klaus Voormann: a collage of photos and Beardlseyesque drawings of the boys, John watching Paul through slit eyes. As the album was played and admired, widely considered an advance even on Rubber Soul, the Beatles steeled themselves for what would be their final live shows: a short, late summer tour of the United States, starting in Chicago on 12 August 1966. The cloud of ill-fortune that had followed them from Germany to Japan to Manila now turned black.
Earlier in the year, John and Paul had given in-depth interviews to one of their pet reporters, Maureen Cleave of the London Evening Standard , in which they let their guard down to an unusual degree. In his profile, Paul came across as a pretentious young man bent on self-improvement. ‘I don’t want to sound like Jonathan Miller,’ he told Maureen, referring to the polymath intellectual,
but I’m trying to cram everything in, all the things that I’ve missed. People are saying things and painting things and writing things and composing things that are great, and I must know what people are doing … I vaguely mind people knowing what I don’t know.
Paul criticised the US for the plight of its black citizens, contrasting their struggle for Civil Rights with life in dear old England, ‘O sceptred isle!’ he said, misquoting Shakespeare,23 as he often did. It was a habit that could make him appear pompous when reported in print, but may only have been meant playfully in conversation. ‘He was a relentless tease,’ recalls Cleave.
The journalist’s subsequent interview with John Lennon at Kenwood resulted in one of the best-observed profiles of the musician ever published. Cleave found John in many ways unchanged since she had first met the band at the start of Beatlemania, still peering down his nose at her, ‘arrogant as an eagle’. Kenwood was more a giant playpen than home: a suit of armour named Sidney in one corner, a gorilla suit in another; one room set out with model racing cars; another with blinking light boxes John had bought as Christmas gifts but forgotten to give away. Although he shared this house with a wife, son, staff, and a cat named Mimi, John lived like a millionaire teenager, staying up half the night playing with his toys, watching TV and reading Just William books; not knowing what day it was when he got up. ‘He can sleep almost indefinitely, is probably the laziest person in England,’ Maureen observed, which was not something one could say of Paul.
Like his partner, John enjoying pontificating, and religion held his interest at the moment. ‘Christianity will go,’ he predicted portentously. ‘It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I will be proved right.’ Paul had expressed similar irreligious sentiments to Maureen, saying he leaned towards atheism, but Paul would never have been so injudicious as to say: ‘We’re more popular than Jesus now,’ as John did in his interview. ‘I don’t know which will go first - rock ’n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary.’
Whereas British readers took John’s comments as no more than an opinionated young man sounding off, when Maureen’s interviews were reprinted in the American teen magazine Datebook American readers were hugely offended, the USA being a far more religious country than Britain. Alarming reports reached an already overwrought Brian Epstein that US radio stations were banning Beatles records because of what John had said, while their erstwhile fans were staging ceremonial burnings of the albums. The Ku Klux Klan was promising ominous ‘surprises’ for the Beatles when they came over for their tour. It was therefore in a state of high anxiety that the Beatles flew into Chicago in August.
Though they had enjoyed the United States in the past, the Beatles didn’t feel entirely comfortable in America now. George was scared of flying and disliked the long continental flights they had to take in order to tour the US, while the excessive reactions of American fans were disconcerting. The prevalence of guns in everyday life also struck the Beatles as strange and unnerving, as it did all British visitors, with Americans seeming to be a more volatile, violent people, especially in light of recent race riots and assassinations. Paul was fascinated with the assassination of President Kennedy in particular, reading everything he could about the Dallas shooting, and frightening himself into thinking he might be a target for a marksman. ‘Paul was always terrified of being shot,’ says Peter Brown. ‘So he was very nervous on stage.’ As to what John had said to Maureen Cleave about Jesus, that had made everything more tense and difficult. Paul didn’t blame John. None of the band members did. They took the view that John’s comments had been taken out of context in America. But they all had to deal with the fallout.
John attempted to diffuse the situation as soon as they arrived in the United States by facing the media at the band’s Chicago hotel. He apologised if his comments had been misconstrued, indicating that he was a Christian (which was more than Paul was prepared to say), and didn’t have any ‘un-Christian thoughts’. The Beatles gave their first concert the next day at Chicago’s International Amphitheatre, Paul scanning the bleachers at this and every subsequent show for a sniper. Though no shots rang out, there were other more banal indications that America’s love affair with the band might be waning. Most obviously there were unsold seats in Detroit the next day, also in New York where the band played a return engagement at Shea Stadium on 23 August. Sid Bernstein, who was once again the promoter, looked up from the baseball diamond to see a whole block of empty seats during the show.24Interestingly, standing in the press box shooting pictures was Paul’s future wife Linda Eastman, who had just embarked on a career as a rock ’n’ roll photographer.
The tour concluded in California, where the Beatles played firstly to a vast crowd at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on 28 August, an event that descended into a near-riot as fans swarmed over their limousine, threatening to crush it as they tried to leave the gig. The limo driver took shelter under a grandstand behind a high fence, which fans attacked, beaten back by cops with billy clubs. In return, the rioting concert-goers started hurling missiles at the police. ‘Meanwhile the Beatles, virtually imprisoned beneath the grandstand by fans stampeding from one spot to another in the vast outdoor stadium, made good their escape by armoured car at the opposite end of the field,’ wrote a news reporter of the warlike scene. The next day, the Beatles flew north to San Francisco for their final show.
The fact that Brian Epstein didn’t accompany his boys to San Francisco, electing to stay at the Beverly Hills Hotel with his American business partner Nat Weiss, showed he wasn’t his old self. Since Manila, Brian had been trying to adjust to the idea that the Beatles wouldn’t tour again, wondering where this left him. A large part of his life these past four years had been occupied arranging publicity opportunities and concert bookings for the boys. He’d never been much involved in the other side of their career, making records. That was something they did with George Martin.
As he pondered an empty future, Brian was joined at the Beverly Hills Hotel by a young hustler from Ohio, whom Brian had met the previous year. Their relationship had turned sour on that first occasion when the boy attempted to blackmail him. ‘I think Brian gave him $3,000 [£1,960] to get rid of him,’ says Weiss, dismayed to see the lad back at Brian’s side at the swimming pool and hardly surprised to find that, when they returned to their respective rooms, their briefcases were missing, apparently stolen by the young man, who was nowhere to be found. Brian’s case contained contracts, cash and amphetamine tablets, which he was using so heavily he was becoming addicted. Peter Brown says Epstein also had compromising personal letters and pictures in his case, and the hustler tried to blackmail Brian again with these documents. Weiss disagrees, saying there was nothing incriminating in Brian’s attaché case, and doesn’t recall any blackmail this time around, but concedes that Brian was very upset by the theft. ‘Whenever someone steals from you, you feel diminished and ripped off, and it certainly hurts your ego, [especially] if it’s someone you trusted and liked. That’s what really bothered him,’ says Weiss, who engaged a private detective to recover their property, which he did successfully. At the end of the day Brian wanted the affair hushed up. ‘He didn’t want any notoriety because of the Beatles being on tour.’
Meanwhile, the Beatles had reached San Francisco to play Candlestick Park, a baseball stadium outside the city. Although it was late summer, Monday 29 August turned out to be one of those unseasonal Bay Area days when cold air and fog rolls in from the ocean, making it feel like winter. Paul apologised for the weather from the stage, which was set up on the diamond as it had been at Shea, with the additional protection of being ringed with a wire fence, so they were effectively playing in a cage again.
Knowing it was the last show, Paul asked Tony Barrow to tape the concert. Tony did the best he could, but it was a futile exercise with the PA equipment as it was and the fans howling. The boys could just about make themselves heard when they performed boot stompers like ‘Long Tall Sally’, but when they attempted more subtle new songs, including ‘Paperback Writer’, with its harmonised intro, the nuances blew away on the wind. ‘All you heard was screaming and these flash light bulbs [were] going off everywhere,’ recalls Bay Area musician Marty Balin, who’d recently formed what would become an influential new band, Jefferson Airplane. ‘It was bright as day, and you could not hear a note they played.’ So it was, in a squall of white noise and white light, that Paul retired from his life as a touring Beatle.