Birth of The Beatles
Biographer Mark Lewisohn reveals the untold stories of the most successful pop group in history
The Beatles have been in our lives for half a century and surely always will be. Still, somehow, their music excites, their influence resonates, their fame sustains. New generations find and love them, and while many other great artists come and go, the Beatles are proving beyond eclipse.
So who really were these people, and just how did it all happen?
In his series All These Years, Mark Lewisohn — the world-recognised Beatles historian — presses the Refresh button to relate the entire story as it’s never been told or known before. Here is a full and accurate biography-history at last. It is certain to become the lasting word.
Tune In is book one of three, exploring and explaining a period that is by very definition the lesser-known Beatles: the formative pre-fame years, the teenage years, the Liverpool and Hamburg years … in many ways the most absorbing and incredible period of them all. The Beatles come together in this book, all their originality, attitudes, style, speed, charisma, looks, appeal, personalities, daring and honesty, the tools with which they’re about to reshape the world. It’s the Beatles in their own time, an amazing story of the ultimate rock band, a focused and colourful telling that builds, builds and builds some more, to leave four sharp lads from Liverpool on the very brink of a whole new kind of fame, a white hot and ever-royal celebrity.
Lewisohn came to Second Home to tell The Beatles story as it really was. Throw away what you think you know and start afresh.
Rohan Silva: Beyond living there, how much of a role did Liverpool play in the formation of The Beatles?
Mark Lewisohn: There is a generation like The Beatles who were born during or immediately after the war. The Beatles are all war babies. That meant, among much else, that they lived through a time of great austerity and rationing, which eventually began to be lifted through the 1950s. They were the right age at the right time to receive skiffle and particularly rock and roll music from America — 1956 is the great breakthrough year, that’s when they first hear Elvis, and without Elvis there wouldn’t be a Beatles. So they’re consumed by this music from America, and they’re the right age to be able to start playing it. They’ve got pocket money, they do paper rounds, they take on little jobs and they try to earn money to buy guitars. And they’re not alone.
Uniquely in the cities around Britain, a substantial number of young lads in Liverpool are feeling the same way. The consequence of that was there formed this little community of promoters, manager, the young musicians, announcers, DJs, whatever. Once they came back from Hamburg they had the opportunity to play up to seven days a week if they wanted to, and they did. Though Paul McCartney briefly had a job in 1961, he was encouraged by John to chuck it in — John Lennon gave him an ultimatum: ‘It’s the job or The Beatles’, and he chose The Beatles. They had the opportunity to play seven nights a week, which meant when they broke through they had incredible experience. Not only did they have the experience, they had the ability that comes with competing.
Because there was so many other groups in Liverpool, it even had its own local music paper, the first regional music paper in this country — like a fanzine, except it was pretty professional, Mersey Beat. [The Beatles] were the winners of the readers’ poll. Nowhere else had its own music zine, let alone its own newspaper. So The Beatles derived enormous benefit from being part of a very competitive scene where they had rivals. They wanted to give themselves a creative edge over their rivals.
“The Beatles derived enormous benefit from being part of a very competitive scene where they had rivals. They wanted to give themselves a creative edge over their rivals.”
Had they been operating alone, they wouldn’t have played very often because there wouldn’t have been the need to play very often, but also they wouldn’t have had the advantage of having been competitive. So they really thrived in that scene, and they dominated the scene in the same way they would dominate nationally and then internationally.
Rohan Silva: When The Beatles came down to London there was not a rock scene to be found.
Mark Lewisohn: One of their first significant trips to London was June 6 1962 when they went to Abbey Road for the first time and recorded for George Martin — not an audition, as it turns out, but actually their first session for Parlophone, for EMI.
They had been to London before, they had driven down and then gone straight back again. But this time they had time off. They arrived early, it was the middle of summer, it was actually a really beautiful day in terms of weather, and they had time to look around. What did they see? Knowing the kind of interests that they had, where did they go? So I did a really good chunk of research into what they might have seen and what was going on in London at the time.
They would’ve gone to Charing Cross Road where they would’ve seen the musical instrument shops, looked in the windows, ogling the guitars like bands do. But beyond that, if they were looking for any kind of a music scene like they had back home, there wasn’t one. There were dances that you could go to at the lyceum, where you would dance to records, and there were twist groups playing in certain ballrooms, or Palais-de-Danse — like the Hammersmith Palais — but the idea of there being, like in Liverpool, so many church halls with rock bands playing, that simply wasn’t happening.
So they came to London and they looked around, although they felt provincial, they knew that there was nothing really to fear there.
Rohan Silva: One of the things that comes through very strongly about The Beatles through your story is that the character of these four was there all along.
Mark Lewisohn: I was interested in telling the story of The Beatles not only from their childhood, but through their family lines, because you do get character traits. None of us suddenly arrive as adults with a blank canvas; we are the product of all the years of upbringing and the influences upon us. So you look at The Beatles’ childhood — each of The Beatles as children — and you get to see exactly the characters that are emerging.
Paul McCartney for example, who literally from infancy, from primary school onwards, would always do the opposite if someone told him, ‘You should do this’. If someone ever tries to tell him what to do, to this day he will always do the complete opposite, which is why some of the things that he’s best known for — not his music, which of course is superb — some of his private life decisions have been made in the face of encouragement not to do it.
Rohan Silva: The famous image of The Beatles crossing the street at Abbey Road, long pored over by conspiracy theorists, Paul not wearing shoes — which gave rise to the ‘Paul is dead’ rumour, because of the dead body in a coffin — your interpretation of that is that’s him wanting to be different and stand apart.
Mark Lewisohn: If you really study your Beatles and you look at all the photographs — they’re almost uncountable, there are vast numbers — if you look at them all as a body of photographic images, you see a recurring pattern, which is that Paul will often do something that makes himself different from the others. Again, you can trace it back to childhood.
“If you really study your Beatles and you look at all the photographs you see a recurring pattern, which is that Paul will often do something that makes himself different from the others.”
There’s a photograph of him in the school playground when he’s about 10 or 11 years old, and it’s just a bunch of motley-dressed schoolchildren of the 1950s all looking at the camera, except one of them who is standing in the corner reading a comic. He knew that in doing that he would draw the eye — you look at the photograph and you see that one in the corner who’s not looking at the camera. He was just aware. This awareness pervades The Beatles’ years.
John Lennon noticed it too, and in one of his interviews — I think it was the Playboy interview just before he died — he said, ‘Paul’s always got a blue ear’. That’s a typical Lennonism, he never actually had a blue ear but you know exactly what he means. There are other pictures of them in ’69 where Paul’s got his flies open. There are just little subtle things that he will do, and taking his shoes off is another one, because I think it is the first thing you see.
Rohan Silva: John, of course, no shrinking violet, one of the things that I was really shocked by reading your book was how much he did impressions of crippled people, disabled people, mentally retarded people — really brutal. What’s your reading of that?
Mark Lewisohn: There’s no short answer to it, but I’ll try. He actually traced it back to a specific moment, which was after or before a school speech day. So I was able to work out the precise date when he started to do this. In those days, in the 1950s, we didn’t have the political correctness that exists today. There was also a strong vein in those immediate post-war years of cruel humour. There were a lot of injured people around, of course, because of the war — either people who had served in the forces who had come back in some way injured, or there were people who had been bombed at home and picked up an injury.
“There was a lot of cruel humour about, and John used to do this thing where he would put on a crippled face or stamp his feet like a convulsed spastic, and people laughed. He took to doing this on stage.”
So there was a lot of cruel humour about, and John used to do this thing where he would put on a crippled face or stamp his feet like a convulsed spastic, and people laughed. He took to doing this on stage. He does it all through 1963/4/5. On Sunday night of the London Palladium — which was the big TV show on British TV in those days — they were live, they’ve got a four-act set, it’s probably about 10 minutes, they’re topping the bill — they’re already big and a substantial proportion is watching this, John does it on that. And yet, here’s the truly interesting thing, no one says a word.
There was nothing in the newspapers the next day, there was nothing at all. I really looked for any kind of public response to this and there wasn’t one. So he carried on doing it. He does it at Shea Stadium, he does it at Washington Coliseum, pretty much every time he played live he did it. And no reaction. That is the most interesting thing.
Rohan Silva: He seemed to stop doing it after taking LSD.
Mark Lewisohn: The last examples of it are in the same time period that he starts to take LSD. I think LSD obviously, as it would for pretty much everyone who takes it, would have a profound effect on him. I think he began to come to terms with who he was a lot more.
If you look at all the newsreel film of The Beatles — a lot of it’s on YouTube — when John Lennon pulls these faces, a lot of that is when he’s feeling self-conscious. So I think there was an element of it that was him being self-conscious about the camera being on him, or in some way it’s a reflection of [being] crippled inside, for want of a better phrase. I think he may have felt crippled inside in some way, and goodness knows he had enough cause to. And then it stops, and it stops in that period. I don’t exactly know why he stopped doing it but that’s a reasonable assumption.
“I think John may have felt crippled inside in some way, and goodness knows he had enough cause to. And then it stops, and it stops in that period.”
Rohan Silva: John was significantly older than Paul and George in relative terms, at a time when being two or three years older than someone was a big deal. How do you think that shaped the dynamic between them and how did that evolve?
Mark Lewisohn: The point about John is that A) he started it, B) he was the eldest, C) he did deign to stay friends with younger kids, which is not something common to all teenagers — when you’re 17 you don’t necessarily want to hang out with 14/15 year olds.
John had already left school and gone to art school, they were still at school, he was growing sideburns, having sex, he was [noticeably] older, having had so many other, older experiences than Paul or George, and yet he was prepared to accept their company on an even basis. But they in turn, if you can put yourself in the position of being 14/15, you’re hanging out with a 17-year-old, you do look up to that person. So they did always look up to John.
Paul McCartney came up with the perfect phrase of how he idolised John as a ‘fairground hero riding the dodgems’ — you see it in the old films, there’s always someone going around the dodgems collecting money, hopping from car to car, and you think, ‘Cor, this guy’s grown up’, and you’re just the kid wanting to bump people around. So he was Paul’s fairground hero, and that is a key thing to keep in mind. It meant that Paul had to be really determined in his quest to impress this guy, and he obviously did. John, to his great credit, accepted the possibility of being impressed by someone who was a couple of years younger than him.
“When John suddenly began to pay less attention, to look elsewhere, to look to Yoko particularly, a vacuum was formed. Paul stepped up because he felt that he could, and that shifted everything. George and Ringo didn’t want to be there anymore once Paul was thinking he was the leader.”
So John was the leader of The Beatles, and although they used to say they had no leader — and in many respects they didn’t — he actually always was. The Beatles as a group begin to fall apart in the period where John suddenly abdicates his leadership in 1967/8, he’s looking elsewhere, he’s not so concerned about leading these guys anymore. Imagine any group of people — there is a dynamic within that group of people. When John suddenly began to pay less attention, to look elsewhere, to look to Yoko particularly, a vacuum was formed. Paul stepped up because he felt that he could, and that shifted everything. George and Ringo didn’t want to be there anymore once Paul was thinking he was the leader. So it upset the apple cart.
Rohan Silva: I’m also struck by the moment when John and Paul have gone off to Paris, they get their Beatles haircuts, and George sort of copies them but goes further.
Mark Lewisohn: Yeah, George was the youngest and the quietest, but not quiet. It was always the myth that he was the quiet one; he just only spoke when he felt there was something worth saying. He did bring great strength and stability to The Beatles. There’s the moment that you mention with John and Paul, their Beatle haircut was something like an Adolf Hitler haircut, believe it or not, and they weren’t modelling it on Hitler, but it was styled for them and it had a kind of diagonal sense to the fringe, whereas George just cut it in what we would now know to be the Beatle haircut and took it a little further than they had. They then adjusted theirs to be like George’s.
Rohan Silva: The same with leather?
Mark Lewisohn: Yeah, George was always the Beatles’ fashion leader — he was sharp, a very sharp dresser. He was a great rebel at school, because they went to a very strongly conforming grammar school — The Liverpool Institute — with fierce teachers, and particularly a fierce headmaster. You had to adhere to the uniform. But George would always do everything he could to rebel.
There’s this friend of his called Arthur Kelly who I interviewed, who was with George in the corridor one day when this maths master — Dippy Dewhurst — walks down the corridor and goes, ‘Harrison, those are not school shoes!’, and George is going, ‘What are school shoes? I come to school, I’m wearing shoes’. But they weren’t regulation school shoes. He was always bucking the trend. In The Beatles he always went for things first like the leather jackets and then the leather trousers in Hamburg.
There’s also a point in the book in ’62 when they’ve got Brian Epstein as their manager, and Brian’s chief ambition is to get them a recording contract and he’s having no luck whatsoever. They’ve been turned down by everyone, including George Martin. They appear to have, at one point in the story, no hope anymore, because they’ve tried everywhere — or Brian has.
On that occasion when even John and Paul — who were great optimists and always believed that something would turn up — when they were at their lowest ebb, George was the one that said, ‘No, it will still happen. Something will happen at some point’. He kept them buoyant that evening they were out feeling a little bit morose. So the youngest one? Yes. The quietest one? Perhaps. But as strong as a rock.
Rohan Silva: John, Paul, George and Ringo is how everyone refers to them, but was that hierarchy formalised from the beginning?
Mark Lewisohn: Yes, there was a chain in The Beatles in that the famous name order that we know — John, Paul, George and Ringo — it appears to just drip off the tongue, and indeed it does, but there’s a reason behind it. The fact is that John started the group, so he comes first, John then brought in Paul as his first appointment as it were, Paul then recommended that they bring in George as guitarist, and then George brings in Ringo. So that is actually the order of appointment if you like.
It’s also a psychological chain between them, in that although they are all very tight, Ringo had his best relationship with George because he felt he owed George, because George had brought him in. That was explained to me by a guy called Neil Aspinall, he used to call it the chain. Evidently, the way Neil was explaining it to me, it’s as true now — though now two of them have gone, I’m not sure how it holds up — it was true until very recently, and may still be true in some respects, the psychological connection between them to this day.
When George brought Ringo in he was very savvy. He always had this wisdom, George, and he realised that since he had brought Ringo in — they always used to stay in twin-bedded rooms whenever they travelled, right up until ’66 — if he shared with Ringo all the time that John and Paul would never really have the opportunity to get to know him, to hang out with him, to understand this guy who was now one of them. So he came up with the idea — and he was only 19, George, when he thought of this, and had no role model for thinking this — he just thought, ‘We better share Ringo out’. So whenever they were travelling they’d do a, ‘Whose turn is it to share with Ringo tonight?’, it sounds like they’re being dumped with him, but it meant that Paul — who initially was quite superior to Ringo in his head and was treating him like someone who was less important than he was — actually got to realise that Ringo was a cool dude. It meant that they were much more together as a group, they didn’t have these little cliques that form in other groups. Very savvy of George to realise that.
Rohan Silva: One of the things that’s so striking about your book as well is how easily none of this might’ve happened — these points where they came close to giving up, the record labels rejecting them and so on — what’s your favourite example of that arbitrariness?
Mark Lewisohn: It was a great surprise to me to discover — from a man whose word actually is believable, a guy called Bob Wooler, who was a key player on the scene in Liverpool in the early days — he emphasised in a couple of interviews that were really obscure, and it took me a while to find them, that at the very point when Brian Epstein comes along and offers to become their manager, they are about to break up. Had he not come along in October/November 1961 then The Beatles may well have broken up and we wouldn’t know anything about them at all. Our culture would be quite different if that was the case.
Why were they going to break up? For the simple reason that they were bored. Why were they bored? Because when they came back from Hamburg the second time, July 1961, they were the kings of Liverpool. That scene I was talking about earlier, they were the bosses. They flexed their muscle by demanding the highest possible fee from the promoters who would put on these dances which they played, and they were pretty much expecting to be told where to get off. But these promoters knew that The Beatles were great box office, so they paid.
Whereas The Beatles, instead of being delighted to be being paid a fee that was about five or six times as much as anyone else was being paid, it was too easy. It was like, ‘We can ask for anything now and we’ll get it, so where’s the challenge?’. That is the key point about The Beatles as a creative unit. They needed constantly to be challenged. Without that challenge, they got bored, and if they got bored they broke it up.
You advance that story seven/eight years, by the end of the ’60s, there is an incredibly flourishing music industry, a vast number of talented artists all creating original work in Britain, America and many other countries of the world. Rock is absolutely established now as a medium, for self-expression and as something for young kids to do. The Beatles are just one of a great many bands now, one of hundreds if not thousands. They are still creating great work, but where’s the challenge? John in particular is just like, ‘What do we do next?’. Next for him was with Yoko, not with the others, so they broke it up.
“I see that they broke up as a sign of their strength, that they had the courage to break up when they thought that they had reached the end of the line, rather than let it drag on, and use it in some way than is less artistically satisfying.”
The Beatles’ break up is often written as this kind of tragic turn of events, but I don’t see it that way. I see that they broke up as a sign of their strength, that they had the courage to break up when they thought that they had reached the end of the line, rather than let it drag on, and use it in some way than is less artistically satisfying. They just went, ‘This is no longer working, let’s do something else’. I think that’s strength.
John Lennon did an interview in ’71 when he said, ‘What’s all this fuss about The Beatles? It’s only a rock group that split up’. One way of looking at that is to go, ‘He’s just being John, he’s underplaying it’, but from his point of view that’s what they were. They were still alive; they were still able to create.
Rohan Silva: They were also the first Liverpool band ever to go on tour
Mark Lewisohn: They were and they got it through luck really. Paul actually skipped an A Level to go on this tour, and then had to fabricate a note to the headmaster in his dad’s handwriting to actually get away with it. They actually went out on tour before they played locally in Liverpool. So they went on tour to Scotland, they played the first night in Alloa, which was the biggest night of the tour. It was a Friday night and it was the dance so people went. They were just the backing group for a guy that they hadn’t met until that night — a singer called Jonny Gentle, who was one of the Larry Parnes’ boys, Larry Parnes being the archetypal British pop manager before Brian Epstein.
They then get in the van and they cross the Cairngorms, and they get themselves to Inverness. They play that Saturday night in a ballroom in Inverness upstairs, it’s a venue with a ballroom upstairs and downstairs. Downstairs — I know this because I went to The Inverness Courier newspaper and found the advertisement for the show — the dance, these were dances not gigs.
Downstairs was an act called The Lindsay Ross Band. Lindsay Ross were a Scottish music group, they played for people to dance reels and jigs and highland dancing basically. I thought to myself, I recognise that name, and I recognised it from doing a deep study of Parlophone Records, which was eventually The Beatles’ record label. So I’m thinking, ‘Hang on, they’re on Parlophone… Who produced it?’. I got out the recording sheets in the archive at EMI and found that, as I hoped, it was produced by George Martin. So they’re playing upstairs while downstairs there’s a group celebrating their new George Martin-produced record. It’s as simple as that. It’s just one of those nice little moments that as a researcher you’re always, when you dig deep, you’re looking for things that will enable you to make the story more rounded.
Rohan Silva: Incredible research. Another example of that is the incredible insight you have that The Beatles doing a cover of Please Mr. Postman was responsible for the first time the British public had ever heard a Motown record.
Mark Lewisohn: Yeah, they were on BBC Radio in March 1962; it was their first broadcast. They were on the radio before they were on record. Why were they on radio? Because there was this thing that used to exist in British radio called needle time. Needle time was a device by which the Musicians’ Union ensured that the BBC couldn’t simply play records all day long and had to continue to employ actual, live musicians. So the BBC always gets a very bad press for having been so meagre in its output of records in those days. In fact, it was very tightly controlled — 22 hours a week across the whole BBC Radio and television spectrum. So they had to book groups, orchestras and soloists and so on. So The Beatles had the opportunity to go in and do live shows or sessions before they ever made records.
“The first ever appearance they did on the BBC, they played Please Mr. Postman, which was The Marvelettes, and that was one of the earliest records on Tamla in America.”
The first ever appearance they did on the BBC, they played Please Mr. Postman, which was The Marvelettes, and that was one of the earliest records on Tamla in America. In this country I think it was on Fontana because Motown didn’t exist as an independent label in this country until about ‘65/’66, I think. So their records would be licensed to a label and they came out on Fontana.
So I’m thinking when, prior to this, was a Motown song played on the BBC? Maybe on Radio Luxembourg there might have been one, because record companies could buy airtime on Luxembourg, but on the BBC I wasn’t sure.
So I decided to go to the BBC Written Archives’ [Centre] in Caversham in Berkshire — phenomenal repository of information, probably one of the best British archives of all open to researchers. The only way to check this out was to go through the programme records for the BBC Live programme — which was the only radio station that would’ve played a pop record — and to go through on microfilm looking at each day’s output from the period when a Motown record was first issued in this country.
It was a couple of days of very heavy eye strain, but it lead me to prove that when The Beatles played Please Mr. Postman, that was the first ever exposure of a Motown song on British radio.
Rohan Silva: That is amazing. It winds up as a sentence in this incredible book. It also tells us something about how daring The Beatles were and curious about influences that ranged far beyond the people around them.
Mark Lewisohn: Absolutely they were curious, always, eternal curiosity. That was one of George Martin’s phrases — there was an eternal curiosity about them, and that’s part of what makes them so incredibly special.
“There was an eternal curiosity about them, and that’s part of what makes them so incredibly special.”
Because Liverpool was such a thriving place for music, they had the opportunity to be professional musicians much earlier than most others. They were professional from the beginning of 1961. So that gave them a lot of free time, and they spent that free time, like all music enthusiasts do, absorbing the music. In particular, in those days, that meant being in the record shops — in those booths that record shops used to have called browseries where you would stand and ask for the record to be put on and go and stand in this booth. Because of their curiosity and their absolute passion for this music, they listened to everything. They had a much broader, deeper knowledge of the music than pretty much anybody else of their generation.
Rohan Silva: Am I right in thinking that part of the reason for the stamping and the hand-clapping was to help keep Pete Best in time?
Mark Lewisohn: Yes, they were known — when they came back from Hamburg — as the big beat stomping Beatles, they were advertised as the big beat stomping Beatles. They came back from Hamburg with American cowboy boots with hard wooden heels — and they pretty much played on town hall stages, which were wooden — so wooden heels on a wooden stage, you could get a good kind of beat going there.
They needed to do it because they had gone to Hamburg with a guy who was a beginner as a drummer, and who they realised — when they started to play with him, because they hadn’t played with him before they got there — that he was not very good in their opinion at keeping the beat. He would vary, which is common to a lot of drummers, because there’s that joke: ‘How do you know when a drummer’s knocking on the door?’ ‘Because the beats aren’t even’ [laughs].
“‘How do you know when a drummer’s knocking on the door?’ ‘Because the beats aren’t even’”
So they found that the best way to keep Pete on the beat was to do this stomping on stage. When they got back to Liverpool, this was extraordinary. They not only looked and sounded different, they were doing this stamping, which nobody else was doing — but others soon copied. The thing about Pete was that they couldn’t only just stamp their feet all the time, and The Beatles’ repertoire was always — they didn’t only just want to do four-in-a-bar rock and roll, they wanted to vary it and do ballads and waltzes and so on. [Pete’s] days were numbered pretty much as soon as they got home; it just took them about another 18 months to actually do the deed of getting rid of him.
Rohan Silva: Something that comes across so strongly and warmly in your book, was how special George Martin was, and also Brian — someone who was just so incredibly honest and committed, but also ready for this kind of challenge.
Mark Lewisohn: I’ve said this many times and it’s so true, The Beatles had the ability, because of who they were, to attract the right people who were also like-minded. In Brian Epstein, George Martin — and others too — they were incredibly fortunate to have them as manager and producer respectively. Except that they made their own luck by being who they were.
It was extraordinary. They were waiting for a manager in 1961 – they were bored, they needed new opportunities, new ways of conquering another field, in some ways broadening their horizon. But there was no one in Liverpool they knew that could actually do the job. They were very tough, The Beatles, and those people on the scene who reckoned that they might stand a chance of managing The Beatles — and quite a few people were jockeying for position — wouldn’t have lasted five minutes.
Then along comes Brian Epstein who is the perfect guy for them. One of the first things he recognised was — and this flies in the face of one of the biggest myths about Brian which has prevailed for so long — is that he recognised immediately that you can’t change these guys, all you can do is show them the choices and let them choose. You can’t force anything on them, because if you try to, that’s the end of it, especially if it’s something they don’t want to do. So that’s exactly what Brian did. He didn’t change them, he just showed them that if you want to make it, you may have to make a different choice, then they took that step.
“Epstein didn’t change them, he just showed them that if you want to make it, you may have to make a different choice, then they took that step.”
Similarly with George Martin, they were incredibly lucky there, he was the youngest record producer in London — well, he had been, Tony Hatch had just taken over that role — the second youngest, and in terms of outlook he was by far the biggest maverick, which meant he was the most rebellious in breaking convention, which was exactly how they were.
Rohan Silva: Very straight and not forcing his own b-sides or whatever on them as other producers did
Mark Lewisohn: George Martin’s biggest rival at that point — it was a rivalry felt only by George, not by the other man — was Laury Parramore, who was Cliff Richard’s producer, a colleague at EMI, who actually George Martin kind of slightly stitched up. Well, more than slightly.
He told this guy David Frost, who was then a TV researcher, about how Laury Parramore used to slide his records onto the b-side in order to claim half the record royalties or the broadcast royalties. The first ever addition of That Was the Week That Was, which was November 1962, by far the most vicious thing in it was the seven-minute tirade against Laury Parramore, whom very few viewers knew the name of because people didn’t look at record labels and record producers were rarely credited then anyway. And that was all because George Martin had spilled the beans on his colleague.
But the thing about George was that he was very straight in his dealings. He was not going to try to do anything nefarious with these guys like record producers had a tendency to do. So they met a man who was honest, who was younger than most, but still older than them, an avuncular figure, and who had the same ambition as they did to keep trying something new. Most producers then, having found a hit formula, would’ve tried to stick to it. But he, like them, was saying, ‘No, we did that, let’s try something else’. They were very lucky to have George Martin, but he was incredibly lucky to have them.
Rohan Silva: It’s a beautiful lesson for all of us — being authentic, being honest; being yourself is always the best way to go.
Mark Lewisohn: That, for me, is probably the ultimate moral of The Beatles’ history — be yourself and stick to your guns. Everyone was saying, ‘Don’t call yourself The Beatles because it’s a horrible name’. The very idea of that is such a good name, it still sounds good now, it’s such a clever name, it’s so simple, there were no other groups called The Beatles — they couldn’t be confused with anyone else — it was a name that stuck in the ears and the minds of everyone who heard it.
So The Beatles were true to themselves at all times. They were non-conformist at all times; they moved on and advanced their career because they wanted to not because someone was telling them to. They were the perfect example of how artistic bravery is the ultimate asset to have in your armoury.
“The Beatles were true to themselves at all times. They were non-conformist at all times; they advanced their career because they wanted to not because someone was telling them to. They were the perfect example of how artistic bravery is the ultimate asset to have in your armoury.”
This talk took place at Second Home, a creative workspace and cultural venue which brings together diverse industries, disciplines and social businesses. Find out more about joining us here: secondhome.io