First published in the London Evening Standard, March 4, 1966
❚ MAUREEN CLEAVE [left] died this week aged 87. She was a long-time colleague and friend who was refreshing to know and a perfectionist at work. She was the author of this landmark piece of journalism in 1966 in which Beatle John Lennon said ironically: “We’re more popular than Jesus now.” Bang in the middle of the Swinging 60s, at the height of Beatlemania, the most successful pop group in history became possibly the most hated. In America’s Bible Belt, outrage sent fans out to burn The Beatles’ records and radio stations round the world banned their music. The Fab Four never played live concerts again.
Maureen had written the first significant critique of the band in the London Evening Standard in February 1963, headlined “Why The Beatles create all that frenzy”. What she identified was the band’s unique stage presence while acknowledging the Liverpudlian scallywags as fresh young jokers in the Max Miller cheeky-chappie mould. This kick-started her career as probably the most clear-sighted interviewer of her generation and her survey in 1966, “How does a Beatle live?” still makes a riveting read as John Lennon guides her through his 22-room home deep in the Surrey banker-cum-oligarch belt…
Maureen Cleave elaborates on 1965’s interview with Bob Dylan (above), filmed by D A Pennebaker for his documentary Don’t Look Back. The discussion below is extracted from The Bridge, Number 6, Spring 2000 (courtesy of @bob_notes). Click on image to enlarge…
…AND AGAIN IN 2011
Blogger Stephen McCarthy explored this filmed interview with Bob Dylan in the light of his conversion to Christianity in 1978. We see Maureen Cleave ask Dylan: “Do you ever read the Bible?” because she hears echoes of its ideas in so many Dylan songs. Yet Dylan seemed uneager to follow that line of questioning.
McCarthy writes: “Remember now, this was prior to the recording of songs like Highway 61 Revisited which begins with the lines, “Oh God said to Abraham, ‘Kill me a son’. Abe says, ‘Man, you must be puttin’ me on’” … Granted there were allusions to The Bible in earlier songs, such as Gates of Eden etc, but in my opinion, it was fairly perceptive of Maureen Cleave to have discerned the religious thread that could be found woven into many of Dylan’s earliest songs. And it also begs the question, did she somehow instinctively suspect that times they were a-changin’ for Bob Dylan in some sort of spiritual sense?”
◼ HERE’S ONE OF THE MOST exhilarating interviews you’re ever likely to read with a godlike genius of the American music industry who has won 28 Grammy awards and co-produced Michael Jackson’s biggest-selling albums. The Beatles aren’t the only stars to receive blunt verdicts today from Quincy Jones. But then he did train under the celebrated Nadia Boulanger who during seven decades taught hundreds of leading composers and musicians of the 20th century at the elite Paris Conservatoire, so he does know his stuff. Jones also reckons Jacko “stole lots of songs” and claims to know who shot JFK in 1963. Jones is about to turn 85, so what does he have to lose? Read his eye-poppingly frank revelations in a Q&A interview with Vulture, the culture and entertainment site from New York magazine. He does also pay respec’ to six young stars “doing good work”.
❏ Zayn Malik tells Elle India that he has recorded a tune in Hindi for a forthcoming Bollywood movie. Bradford-born Zayn is the son of a British Pakistani father and English mother who converted to Islam when they married.
❏ The Libertines to headline Kendal Calling, 26-29 July.
❏ Kylie to play two intimate shows in March in London and Manchester.
❏ Spice Girls ‘to kick off world tour in UK this summer’.
Beatles live onstage in Stockton, Nov 22, 1963: George Harrison at the microphone on the night Kennedy was shot
❚ WHERE? LIVE, ONSTAGE IN STOCKTON-ON-TEES.Count the simple Vox amps behind the band and note how one is perched on a chair! This picture was taken on Friday Nov 22 1963 at the 2,400-seat Globe theatre when the Beatles played the art-deco venue on their first nationwide tour. The band’s half-hour set during twice-nightly performances at 6.15 and 8.30 was supported by seven other acts with tickets priced from 6 shillings to 10s 6d, when a workman’s weekly wage might be £7.
During the first house in Stockton, England, the assassin’s bullets killed John Kennedy in Dallas, USA. At 43 he was the youngest man elected to the US Presidency and during the cold war era as the Soviet Union threatened world peace the hopes of the West rested on his shoulders. In Britain TV programmes were interrupted to break the dramatic news just after 7pm.
In those days we’d seen nothing as electrifying as the Beatles and while their audience at the 18th date on their first serious tour were discovering the power of The Scream, these fans remained respectfully seated throughout the show. Even so, personal accounts say the second house in Stockton was distinctly more subdued. Shocked by the news about JFK, Lynda Richardson, a fan travelling back to Redcar by coach, said: “No one spoke a word all the way home.”
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The Globe, Stockton, Nov 22, 1963: Beatles fans learning to scream. (Picture, Evening Gazette)
The Globe, Stockton, Nov 22, 1963: Beatles fans firmly seated. (Picture, Evening Gazette)
Pre-Beatles hysteria: massive queues along Stockton High Street when Tommy Steele played the Globe in 1957
The Globe, Stockton, today: awaiting its £8m restoration
Also on this day the Fab Four’s second album With The Beatles was released on Parlophone eight months after their chart-topping debut LP and it immediately broke sales records. Lennon’s raw vocals barked fresh life and sexual danger into the Motown covers Please Mr Postman, Money and You Really Got a Hold on Me. With its eight original compositions, this was the album that moved William Mann, classical music critic of The Times, to write that Lennon and McCartney were “the outstanding English composers of 1963”.
Earlier in the year three Beatles singles had gone to No 2 and to No 1 twice in the UK chart and now another with advance sales of a million copies – I Want To Hold Your Hand – was racing up the chart to become the Christmas No 1.
This November, too, the Daily Mirror coined the word Beatlemania to describe the tour’s first gig, a phenomenon really triggered with the release of the single She Loves You in August. During the tour, The Beatles had also stopped the Royal Variety Performance – playing four numbers and watched by half the nation in a TV show of recorded highlights – when John Lennon famously quipped: “Will those in the cheaper seats clap your hands. The rest of you can just rattle your jewellery.” The group guest-starred on BBC TV’s flagship Morecambe & Wise Christmas Show, while their own Beatles’ Christmas Show was to run at London’s Astoria Finsbury Park for 30 performances (100,000 seats) featuring the Fab Four in comic “skits” with six pop acts in support including Cilla. By this stage the Fabs could go nowhere without a personal police escort. [See, How does a Beatle live? – at Shapersofthe80s]
The Globe, Stockton, 2009: a glorious interior in art deco style
Today the Globe in Stockton, a small market town in County Durham, is a disused shell which is Grade II-listed. Built in 1935, its facade is enlivened with fluted plaster and the interior retains riotously colourful art deco features typical of the period. As a “super-theatre” the Globe hosted opera, ballet and an annual pantomime, together with touring variety, musicals, and pop concerts by Tommy Steele, the Rolling Stones, Searchers, Seekers, Billy J Kramer, Herman’s Hermits, Animals and Swinging Blue Jeans. It closed as a theatre in 1975, eked out the role of bingo hall until 1996 and then closed its doors.
The Theatres Trust describes the Globe as “an excellent example of its kind” and it is one of 68 buildings on its At-risk register. In 2009, Stockton-based Jomast Developments Ltd announced plans to restore the Globe and recruited theatre expert David Wilmore to the task. He called the Globe “a real Sleeping Beauty”. Finally last month Jomast reported that the Heritage Lottery Fund has earmarked £4m towards an £8m project to transform the Globe into a live entertainment venue for music, comedy and other events, with a capacity of 2,500 and the potential to create 64 jobs. The new venue is likely to open in 2016.
THE DAY AMERICA’S CAMELOT FELL
❏ View The Beatles on CBS Morning News with Mike Wallace on November 22, 1963 (despite the erroneous date on the video), the day JFK was shot … In old-school TV style Alexander Kendrick reports grudgingly on Britain’s energetic threat to The American Way under the title, The Beatles, New Phenomena In Britain. Asked about the band’s future Paul McCartney says: “We could have quite a run.”
ANOTHER LEGEND IN THE MAKING
➢ At the Northern Echo in 1963 its young editor was Harold Evans, who went on to build the international reputation of The Sunday Times. On Nov 22, after putting the Echo to bed, he was being driven to Stockton for the annual press ball when news of JFK’s assassination came over the car radio. He immediately returned to his Darlington office and produced an entirely new paper. Evans decided The Beatles were worth a few downpage column inches squeezed into the Teesside edition only.
Fabled charabanc outing in 1967: Find the Fab Four among fellow travellers on their Magical Mystery Tour. (Top left we see fanclub secretaries Jenni and Sylvia)
❚ ROLLING STONE CALLED IT “the most important rock’n’roll album ever made … by the greatest rock’n’roll group of all time”. Crowning the era of LSD-fuelled psychedelia in 1967 came Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Its impact was extraordinary. The Beatles’ eighth studio album marked the height of their rise to global fame. With Dick Lester’s pair of high-octane feature films behind them — Help! and Hard Day’s Night — the Beatles decided to go straight on to direct their own unscripted, improvised film and it backfired in their faces.
Magical Mystery Tour was a dreamlike story of the Fab Four taking a typically British daytrip by coach with friends and family and a cast of crackpot characters exemplified in the eccentric humorist Ivor Cutler. Their adventures were intended to be “magical” and indeed the I Am the Walrus sequence has passed into legend. Generations of British comics such as Monty Python point to the film as their inspiration.
Yet its TV audience greeted Magical Mystery Tour with outrage and derision. It was seen by a third of the nation on Boxing Day when an expectant family audience, hoping for some light entertainment, were confronted by a drug-rinsed shambles in festive prime time. Paul McCartney told the press later: “We don’t say it was a good film. It was our first attempt. If we goofed, then we goofed. It was a challenge and it didn’t come off. We’ll know better next time.”
The critical reception was so hostile that the film’s negative didn’t become properly archived, which makes tonight’s BBC TV premiere of its meticulous restoration, overseen by Paul Rutan Jr, a significant landmark. The new DVD with remixed 5.1 soundtrack is due to be released internationally on October 8–9, packed with special features.
What few of us remember is that, as well as its new Beatles songs, MMT gave a guest spot to the founding fathers of anarchic musical comedy, The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, with Death Cab for Cutie, a spoof “teen tragedy” song from their own seminal 1967 album Gorilla. The Bonzos performed it onstage at the Raymond Revuebar as accompaniment to a stripper and the number turns out to be a show-stopper.
The mystery tour itself proves to be an affectionate travelogue about Britain’s quintessentially working-class hinterland (in the fish-and-chip shop, we hear marvellous strains of She Loves You rendered on a fairground organ). In contrast to his band’s reputation as fierce cultural pacemakers, McCartney concedes that “the whole film has a bit of a village fete atmosphere to it”. Even so, as deejay Paul Gambaccini remarks in a new Arena documentary also broadcast tonight, the film fizzes edgily with the very elements of advanced psychedelia the Beatles themselves had introduced into the culture. One surprise is Martin Scorsese saying this film influenced a lot of the work he has done! Restored to pristine colour, MMT emerges as a celebration of a defining moment in harmonic innovation and of the energy that made British pop glorious.
❏ Tonight’s Mystery Tour screening is preceded by a real treat from Britain’s leading arts documentary team, Arena, who have rounded up much unseen footage.
“ Series editor Anthony Wall says: “The idea that there’s anything you don’t know about The Beatles is startling enough. But the film was, consciously or unconsciously, suppressed. The out-takes were in the Apple vault, which is deep below the streets of London in a World War Two-type bunker. Sleeping down there for many, many years.”
Wall thinks Magical Mystery Tour will soon be re-appraised as “a piece of work in a very surreal, British, literary, visual tradition: from gothic to Lewis Carroll to H G Wells to William Golding to the Goons to what became Monty Python.
“For practical purposes it’s not been seen since 1967. The documentary tells the story — which in retrospect is hilarious, although it wasn’t for The Beatles at the time because they got such a drubbing — and contextualises it by looking at 1967 and what The Beatles were responding to: in London it was a very intense time, artistically.”
The cultural shifts of that specific part of the 1960s are key to understanding Magical Mystery Tour, Wall says, which meant the new Arena film had to represent the trends of the time accurately. “Very few films about the 1960s get it right. They usually mix things up hopelessly. It’s very important when you use archive to be precise — try to get it to the month. It invariably looks earlier than it is. When you see ‘1967’ it’s usually footage from 1970!” … / Continued online at Radio Times
❚ TWO BEATLES FANCLUB SECRETARIES recall how they hopped on board The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour bus at 7am one day in 1967 as special guests of the Fab Four. Sylvia Hillier was a 19-year-old receptionist in a factory who lost her job as a result, while 16-year-old schoolgirl Jenni Evennett bunked off school to join the week-long filming. They told this morning’s Saturday Live on Radio 4 that it was a bit like a “happening” where nobody was given lines or seemed to know what they were doing. Sylvia was dressed all psychedelic in orange, “my flower-power stage, with kaftan, flairs, bells and beads”. Jenni said that for continuity they couldn’t change for a whole week: “I wore a little brown spotted dress with white collar, bells and beads and lots of deodorant.”
Fan Sylvia Hillier from Bognor: seen here with Paul McCartney, she lost her job by ducking out of work to join the 1967 magical bus tour. (Pic from Facebook)
Spot the difference: Annie Lennox in 1983 and La Roux in 2009. Photograph: WireImage/Redferns, Guardian composite
From synth pop to Hollywood remakes to collecting manual typewriters, we’re busy plundering the past. But why the fatal attraction? Today’s Guardian runs an extract from a new book by music writer Simon Reynolds. Here’s a taste…
❚ “THERE’S NO SINGLE THING that made me suddenly think, Hey, there’s a book to be written about pop culture’s chronic addiction to its own past… But if I could point to just one release that tipped me over the edge into bemused fascination with retromania, it would be 2006’s Love, the Beatles remix project. Executed by George Martin and his son Giles to accompany the Cirque du Soleil spectacular in Las Vegas, the album’s 26 songs incorporated elements from 130 individual recordings, both releases and demos, by the Fab Four.
“Hyped as a radical reworking, Love was way more interesting to think about than to listen to (the album mostly just sounds off, similar to the way restored paintings look too bright and sharp). Love raised all kinds of questions about our compulsion to relive and reconsume pop history, about the ways we use digital technology to rearrange the past and create effects of novelty. And like Scorsese’s Dylan documentary No Direction Home, Love was yet more proof of the long shadow cast by the 60s, that decade where everything seemed brand-new and ever-changing. We’re unable to escape the era’s reproaches (why aren’t things moving as fast as they did back then?) even as the music’s adventurousness and innocence make it so tempting to revisit and replicate.”
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MORE INTERESTING THAN MOST PEOPLE’S FANTASIES — THE SWINGING EIGHTIES 1978-1984
They didn’t call themselves New Romantics, or the Blitz Kids – but other people did.
“I’d find people at the Blitz who were possible only in my imagination. But they were real” — Stephen Jones, hatmaker, 1983. (Illustration courtesy Iain R Webb, 1983)
“The truth about those Blitz club people was more interesting than most people’s fantasies” — Steve Dagger, pop group manager, 1983
“See David Johnson’s fabulously detailed website Shapers of the 80s to which I am hugely indebted” – Political historian Dominic Sandbrook, in his book Who Dares Wins, 2019
“The (velvet) goldmine that is Shapers of the 80s” – Verdict of Chris O’Leary, respected author and blogger who analyses Bowie song by song at Pushing Ahead of the Dame
“The rather brilliant Shapers of the 80s website” – Dylan Jones in his Sweet Dreams paperback, 2021
A UNIQUE HISTORY
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❏ Header artwork by Kat Starchild shows Blitz Kids Darla Jane Gilroy, Elise Brazier, Judi Frankland and Steve Strange, with David Bowie at centre in his 1980 video for Ashes to Ashes
VINCENT ON AIR 2022
✱ Deejay legend Robbie Vincent returned to JazzFM on Sundays 1-3pm in 2021… Catch Robbie’s JazzFM August Bank Holiday 2020 session thanks to AhhhhhSoul with four hours of “nothing but essential rhythms of soul, jazz and funk”.
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UNTOLD BLITZ STORIES
✱ If you thought there was no more to know about the birth of Blitz culture in 1980 then get your hands on a sensational book by an obsessive music fan called David Barrat. It is gripping, original and epic – a spooky tale of coincidence and parallel lives as mind-tingling as a Sherlock Holmes yarn. Titled both New Romantics Who Never Were and The Untold Story of Spandau Ballet! Sample this initial taster here at Shapers of the 80s
CHEWING THE FAT
✱ Jawing at Soho Radio on the 80s clubland revolution (from 32 mins) and on art (@55 mins) is probably the most influential shaper of the 80s, former Wag-club director Chris Sullivan (pictured) with editor of this website David Johnson
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