Beatleweek 2016 was fab and gear! Like last year I attended with my mates Dean and Rich. Expectations were high as we had had such a good time in 2015. The concerts at the Royal Court Theatre last year were a treat with Donovan performing the ‘Shramrock’ show on the Friday night and the John Lennon Celebration Concert on the Saturday. The former saw the curly haired Scots troubadour teaming up with members of The Cavern Club Beatles to showcase many of the songs that The Beatles had written and recorded while staying with the Maharishi in Rishikesh in 1968. (I presume ‘Shramrock’ concert was a reference to ‘Ashram’). Jimmy and Tony Coburn from The Cavern Club Beatles were absolutely brilliant as John and Paul respectively and the band were dressed in the clothes the Beatles wore in India. Donovan appeared to still think he was in sixties Rishikesh and his introductions to the songs were absolutely hilarious as he tended to talk about himself in the third person. He took credit, rightly, for teaching John the ‘clawhammer’ fingerpicking technique on acoustic guitar, which John employed on many songs thereafter. He joined The Cavern Club Beatles on a spirited version of ‘The Word’ where his lack of memory of the actual words failed to spoil the audience’s enjoyment. The band then performed some songs on their own and their performance of ‘Mean Mister Mustard/Polythene Pam/She Came In Through the Bathroom Window’ absolutely blew my mind!
The John Lennon concert on the Saturday night at the Royal Court was even better. Various artists performed Lennon songs including Mark McGann who sang a beautiful version of ‘Across the Universe’ and uncanny Lennon lookalike Gary Gibson who performed a powerful ‘Stand By Me’ and a blistering ‘Bad Boy’. For me though the show was stolen by The Cavern Club Beatles again. Jimmy Coburn took to the stage wearing John’s velvet jacket from the ‘Imagine’ video and, from where we were in the balcony, it looked as if Lennon himself had stepped up to the mic. The band performed a stonking set including ‘How Do You Sleep’, ‘Oh Yoko!’, ‘Out The Blue’, ‘(Just Like) Starting Over’, ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ and, of course, ‘Imagine’. This performance was the inspiration for me to perform my own John Lennon tribute concert at the Subscription Rooms in Stroud in March this year with my Beatles tribute band, All You Need Is The Beatles:
Other highlights from last year’s International Beatleweek festival included watching Them Beatles, another top notch Beatles tribute band, this time from Scotland not Liverpool, recreate the Rooftop concert on the roof terrace of Liverpool library. It was a flawless recreation – the band dressed in clothes replicating those The Beatles wore that cold January day in 1969. Ringo was overheating somewhat in a plastic red mac when the sun came out! After performing all the songs The Beatles played on that famous day, the band gave George the opportunity to sing one and launched into a killer version of Old Brown Shoe. They are a hard working band Them Beatles and I think they gave three or four back to back shows of the Rooftop concert. This is the footage I shot of them performing ‘Get Back’ at the first one:
Prior to this, in a room in the library, we had heard Julia Baird, John’s half-sister, share her memories of her brother as extracts were read from John’s poetry and song lyrics. I had the great fortune of bumping into Julia later outside the Adelphi hotel with her husband and she was delighted to hear that we thought her talk was fab. Dean snapped a pic of us together. As you can see it is out of focus but we didn’t have the courage to ask her for another one.
So, all in all, it was going to be pretty hard to top all this, this year, or so I thought. The weekend began with a drink at The Jacaranda in Slater Street, the club that was established by The Beatles’ ‘first manager’ Alan Williams back in 1958 and the venue for some of their early gigs. The Jacaranda’s downstairs rooms contain murals painted by John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe - see the ‘Going Back to Liverpool video for evidence:
I had seen Alan Williams at the Hard Day’s Night hotel in 2011 when I was celebrating a significant birthday (I’ll let you guess which one). You can see him in the background in this picture of me, Rich and my wife Sarah. We were again too cowardly to go over and talk to him!
We then ventured down to Mathew Street and caught some Beatles tribute bands at The Cavern Club and over the road at the Cavern Pub. We saw Beatles bands from all over the world – Argentina, France, Australia, Spain, Brazil, Canada, Japan – and I was encouraged by the fact that most of them were older than me! Very few of them actually ‘wigged up’, too. Surprisingly, most seemed happy in civvies. Perhaps it was because the music is the main thing. Or perhaps, more probably, because they realised they could no longer get away with pretending to be twenty-somethings from Liverpool. An anxiety I feel every time I go on stage!
The Saturday began with a hangover curing fry-up and then over to St George’s Hall (appropriately) for the Concert for George tribute show. We were en route in a taxi when we witnessed a fight outside a pub and I had to call an ambulance for a poor lad who was very badly beaten up. We sat in the hall listening to a beautiful late morning raga played by Jasdeep Singh Degun on sitar with tabla accompaniment by Rishii Chowdhury, and the juxtaposition of this with the mindless violence we had just witnessed was very, very odd. The music was fantastic, though, and served to remind us that human beings are also capable of creating beautiful things. The Sir Frankie Crisp band from Italy played faithful versions of George classics such as ‘When We Was Fab’ and ‘Dark Horse’, followed by George (aka Paul Jones; George from The Cavern Club Beatles) leading a tight band, including Tony Coburn on bass and Clark Gilmour from Them Beatles on guitar, in fantastic versions of more fab George songs including ‘Here Comes The Sun’, ‘Think for Yourself” and ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’. This set was followed by Craig McGowan (George from Them Beatles) playing George in his Concert for Bangladesh white suit for a fantastic finale with his group ‘Dark Horse’ which included members of the International Society of Krsna Consciousness and all the participants from the previous groups gathering onstage to sing ‘My Sweet Lord’ at the end.
In the evening we made the trip over to West Derby to attend ‘Best Fest’, the annual Beatles celebration organised by Pete Best and his half-brother Roag at the Casbah Coffee Club. The Casbah was the venue for some of The Quarrymen’s earliest shows and is in the basement of Pete Best’s house. This large Victorian property was bought by Pete’s mother Mona in the early sixties (supposedly after winning a bet on the 1954 Derby on a 33/1 shot ridden by Lester Piggott) and, inspired by the 2i’s coffee club in Soho where the likes of Larry Parnes and Jack Good discovered many early stars of British rock n roll, including Cliff, Adam Faith and Joe Brown. The Casbah is literally unchanged since The Beatles played there over fifty years ago. We got chatting to a guy who told us that the fridge in the bar area was there in 1960 too! In the picture of the three of us you can see the white mural of John that Cynthia painted, still on the wall.
It was a thrill to think we were going to meet a Beatle face to face! Unfortunately, that didn’t quite happen, but this really was an amazing evening for me. I had been to the Casbah before (check out the ‘Going Back to Liverpool’ vid again) but to see a gig there was something else, especially one featuring the now legendary figures from Beatles mythology.
First on the bill was Lee Curtis who fronted ‘Lee Curtis and the All-Stars’, contemporaries of The Beatles and featuring one Pete Best after he was sacked from… well, you know the story. Curtis and the All-Stars were voted the second most popular band in Liverpool in the 1962 Mersey Beat end of year poll, behind The Beatles but ahead of Gerry and the Pacemakers. Lee (real name Peter Flannery) had to be helped off the stage after giving everything in his performance of rock n roll hits. I should explain that the Casbah’s main stage is tiny – I estimate about two metres deep by five metres wide – separated from the audience by some iron railings. The room itself is not much bigger (maybe 30 metres square) and was absolutely jam packed – maybe 60 people, maybe 100. There is no air conditioning, no window, no fire escape. To be fair, the H & S executive would have a bloody field day. However, it was the real deal – the authentic experience and that was what we were after. I think there were probably about 200 people at Best Fest and half of them were trying to get into this room!
After Lee Curtis’s performance the stage was cleared for Roag Best’s Beatles tribute band to play, 'The Roag Aspinall-Best Beatles Connection'. (In case you don’t know the story and are thinking ‘Aspinall’ that’s a name I’ve heard before, it’s because Neil Aspinall, Pete Best’s best mate turned Beatles road manager and eventually head of Apple Corps and, sadly, now deceased, became ‘romatically involved’ with Mona after becoming a lodger in the family home.) This was followed by an amazing performance from Beryl Marsden, the Liverpool singer (no relation to Gerry) who was on the scene in Liverpool at the same time as Cilla Black, and featured in the recent Cilla biopic starring Sheridan Smith. Beryl was later in Shotgun Express with no less than Rod Stewart, Peter Green and Mick Fleetwood! She gave an absolutely blistering performance. Check out this clip to hear the quality of her voice and how great her band are:
She was also dead funny, down to earth and modest. She said she remembered going to the Casbah when she was about fifteen and “getting told off”. She didn’t tell us what for though!
The room was then cleared for The Pete Best band to set up. This was a shame because I’d managed to get right to the front of the room watching Beryl. We went back into the garden and while queuing for the outside loo I met Chas Newby’s next door neighbor! Chas played bass with The Beatles in December 1960 when Stuart Sutcliffe decided to remain in Hamburg with his girlfriend Astrid Kirchherr after the Beatles first trip there. Although invited to return to Hamburg with The Beatles, Chas chose to go to university instead and his neighbour told me he doesn’t regret the decision at all. He became a maths teacher and has had by all accounts a very successful and happy life. I was asked what my connection with The Beatles was and when I said that my dad interviewed John Lennon during his bed-in for peace and I now play him in a Beatles tribute band, feeling a bit embarrassed compared with being Chas Newby’s next door neighbor, I received a loud cheer from the people in the queue for the loo – which was nice!
We then attempted to get back into the main room to see Pete and his band play (featuring Roag on drums, too) and although we just about managed to achieve this, we couldn’t see a thing because, having been crowded before, the Casbah was completely rammed now. I managed to catch a few glimpses of Pete drumming via people’s camera phones being held aloft, but we decided to make a run for it after a fight broke out when some drunken idiot started trying to push his way to the front. It was all happening, I tell ya!
We made our way back into town and caught some more Beatles tribute bands at The Adelphi before heading off to Lennon’s bar in Mathew Street for a final drink of the night to digest what we had witnessed.
On the Sunday we headed over to the Adelphi for the final event that our £245 ‘White Album’ ticket package gave us access to, the Beatles Convention. I managed to immediately pick up a second hand copy of a book I’ve been looking for for ages, Get Back: The Beatles Let It Be Disaster by Doug Sulpy and Ray Schweighhardt. A chronicle of The Beatles’ infamous Get Back/Let It Be recording sessions at Twickenham film studios and in the basement of the Apple building in Savile Row London in January 1969 which culminated in the Rooftop concert and Let It Be album and film. A part of Beatles’ history so bitter that the Let It Be film remains unreleased to this day. Check out this section to get a flavour of the intensity of some of the sessions:
"Given the tome of this exchange, it's hard to believe The Beatles ever survived the morning of January 7th." What I find even more remarkable is that after all this bad feeling the group were able to pick themselves up and record the magnificent Abbey Road.
I also picked up a copy of 'The Lost Decca Tapes' on CD, which for some reason I’d never got round to buying before. It includes the ten tracks from The Beatles’ audition for Decca records on 1st January 1962. In hindsight it’s really inexcusable that Decca didn’t sign them. In an interview on the CD, EMI engineer Norman Smith describes the session as “absolute crap”. Well, it’s just not true. It’s all there in that session – the wit, the rock, the show tunes, the comedy songs, the Motown, the exquisite three part harmonies. It’s almost an embarrassment of riches. What’s not to like? Pete’s drumming is competent, too, and doesn’t detract. Although I dare say Ringo would have added a bit more pizzazz. Maybe it was just too weird because the material was so eclectic? Not easily pigeonhole-able. They may have been hungover but they were still brilliant. Maybe it needed Parlophone comedy records producer George Martin to ‘get’ them?
In the main ballroom at the Adelphi, Mark Lewisohn, fabled Beatles biographer and author of The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions and the monumental All These Years (get Volume One if you haven't already - it is bloody brilliant!) then began a series of interviews with various Beatle related people to a packed house. The three of us were seated at the back of the hall and had to strain to hear, but it was an absolutely riveting four hours or so.
First on the bill was Johnny Hutchinson, drummer with The Big Three, contemporaries of The Beatles. Hutchinson can be seen sitting in on drums in this photo of the then ‘Silver Beetles’ auditioning for Larry Parnes on May 10th 1960.
The Beatles actual drummer Tommy Moore was late for the session so Hutchinson, then playing with Cass and the Cassanovas, sat in. He looks remarkably bored. He told us that at that time he didn’t rate the group at all. Lewisohn remarked that John Lennon had once said that Ringo was the “second best drummer in Liverpool” and that the implication was that Hutchinson was number one. Hutchinson took the compliment and gave the strong impression that he didn’t rate Pete Best or Ringo as drummers. Lewisohn: “What did you think of Ringo’s drumming?” Hutchinson: “No comment.” He is on record as saying that he could play the drums better than Pete Best “with a drum stick up my arse”. Apparently, Hutchinson had needed a lot of persuasion to attend the Convention and he didn’t seem very happy to be there. He said he’d stopped playing the drums more than fifty years ago and found the attention he was getting very strange. He told the story of how Lennon owed him some money and he went round to his flat in Gambier terrace to collect it. Lennon said he didn’t have it to give to him so Johnny took a self-portrait John had painted instead. Hutchinson wasn’t confident that The Beatles would find success and soon afterwards the painting was used to patch up a hole in a door in his house. He estimates it’d be worth around £100,000 today!
It was Jurgen Vollmer’s turn to be scrutinised by the professorial Lewisohn next. (I had hoped that Lewisohn would be like he was – like an avuncular history teacher with an obsessive attention to detail). Vollmer is a unique character. An introvert – I think he mentioned that he’d later discovered he was on the autistic spectrum – he had some fantastic stories to tell. Vollmer went on to have a very successful photographic career, but he was also in the right place at the right time when it came to The Beatles. He took the only good photographs of The Beatles performing live in Hamburg (at The Top Ten Club; see below) and, of course, was responsible for giving them their mop top haircuts.
Lewisohn related the story to the hall of how John and Paul had taken a holiday to Paris in September 1961 with the money John got for his twenty-first birthday from a Scottish relative. Apparently, they bumped into Jurgen on the streets of the city, not knowing he’d moved there from Hamburg to study photography. This was a coincidence to have far reaching consequences because John and Paul said they wanted to have their hair styled like Jurgen used to have it styled in Hamburg. Jurgen told us that he didn’t feel like he fitted in with his peers in Hamburg and to make a rebellious statement he had started to wear his hair brushed forwards, in contrast to the slicked back ‘greaser’ look. Jurgen said he’d given up on this look but John and Paul were adamant that they wanted him to cut their hair like that – so he did and the ‘Beatle look’ was born. Funnily enough, Jurgen was highly critical of his photographs of The Beatles saying that the composition in many of the shots was terrible. He was happier with the photos he took of George, however, when he got him to pose for him by himself one day in Hamburg. Lewisohn was at pains to remind Jurgen that he had saved for posterity fascinating historical documents in these early portraits of the group and he received a standing ovation from the audience, to which he, like Hutchinson, seemed incredulous about.
Next up were Laurence Juber and Steve Holly from the final Wings line-up. They seemed like really nice guys and were very entertaining. They told the inside story of Paul’s 1979 Japanese drugs bust – why did he have it at the top of his suitcase?? – and revealed that the reason the chorus of the ‘Rockestra Theme’ from Back to the Egg is “I still haven’t had any dinner” is because it is the ‘musician’s cry’. I knew exactly what they meant. No time to eat because the soundcheck runs over and you end up having dinner at a motorway service station at 3 in the morning (see my song, ‘Goodbye Cruel Pop World’). The duo then performed the multi-layered ‘Rockestra Theme’ armed with just an acoustic guitar (Laurence) and a snare drum and brushes (Steve) and it was incredible! They are top-draw musicians and it was no wonder McCartney hired them.
Patti and Jenny Boyd followed, the two septuagenarians looking as elegant and beautiful as ever. Lewisohn showed them slides from their time in Rishikesh and they reminisced about their experiences there. They both loved it there they said – Jenny in particular didn’t want to leave – and they spoke with great affection about their life with The Beatles. I found it amazing that they wanted to attend Beatleweek – Patti did have a book to promote to be fair – but she was also at the festival last year. They signed autographs afterwards and came over as the loveliest people. Lewisohn didn’t probe too deeply about Patti’s relationship with George but Patti spoke very fondly about him and enjoyed seeing the pictures of her and George at Friar Park with Olivia in the nineties. They obviously remained firm friends.
Lewisohn’s next interviewee was none other than Klaus Voormann. Klaus had earlier been signing autographs in one of the rooms at the Adelphi where the convention was being held. I had queued up with a mono copy of Revolver I had quickly purchased at one of the stalls in order to get it signed, but when I got to the front his aides said “Klaus is taking a break now” and I thought my opportunity was gone. Fortunately, after his interview with Mark Lewisohn, Klaus returned to his signing duties and Rich snapped the following pic.
The grin on my face says it all! I can’t remember any startling revelations Klaus made during his interview, but it was interesting to hear him tell the story of how he came to be asked to design the cover and the trepidation he felt when he unveiled his design in front of The Beatles and Brian. John admonished him for including a picture of himself on the cover (which I had never noticed before). Brian asked Klaus to remove the picture of John with a toilet seat around his neck taken in Hamburg! I didn’t realise that Klaus had moved to London at The Beatles request – they were certainly loyal to their friends – and that he had played bass in several groups during the sixties, including Manfred Mann.
Finally, Mickey Dolenz took to the stage. He was really funny and self-deprecating and explained his lack of memory when quizzed by Lewisohn about various photographs of himself with The Beatles in the sixties as being due to constantly being “ten sheets to the wind” for most of that decade. He said how much he loved The Beatles and how they had, of course, been the inspiration for the creation of The Monkees, which, he pointed out, was a TV show first and foremost. His vocal pipes are still in excellent working order and he performed several times over the course of the weekend.
After the interviews were over we made a dash to Lime Street to catch the train home. I really want to return next year when, hopefully, All You Need Is The Beatles will be performing! A lot of the shows and interviews I've mentioned are easy to find on YouTube, by the way, as people were constantly filming everything. To book tickets for International Beatleweek 2017, click here. Maybe I'll see you there?