TOP TEN: January 2014

A personal chart of current listening, reading, viewing and thinking

With The Beatles

Having spent most of my spare hours since Christmas immersed in Mark Lewisohn’s All These Years: Tune In, the first volume of his projected three-part biography of The Beatles (see review here), it occurred to me I could devote this month’s (yes, overdue) Top Ten to a few things I learned from its 850-odd pages. Such as:

1• Some time in 1960 the Beatles accompanied beardy London ‘beat poet’ Royston Ellis in a performance of what he called ‘rocketry’ – a combination of performance poetry and live rock’n’roll. Patti Smith, Thurston Moore, Henry Rollins – all were still light years away, somewhere in their suburban childhoods.

2• All four Beatles were “utterly indifferent” to sport - ten-pin bowling and George’s interest in motor-racing being the only exceptions.

3• At one point the Beatles went by the inelegant name Japage 3. That’s J for John, A for And, P for Paul, And again, and GE for George. 3. At this point, success of any kind seemed a very long way away…

4• Before he became the Beatles’ bass player, Paul was (at different times) the group’s guitarist, pianist and drummer.

5• After repeated mis-spellings of his name – McArtney, McArtery, MacCartney - he almost changed his name to Paul James.

6• Contrary to his own accounts, George Martin didn’t sign the Beatles to Parlophone because he liked them and saw their potential; he was forced into it by a complicated set of circumstances that involved the company’s publishing arrangements, Martin’s strained relations with his employer and an ongoing affair with his secretary.

7• …and Decca didn’t ‘turn down the Beatles’ as legend would have it, either; they actually made Brian Epstein an offer but he turned it down, telling them they had been offered a better deal by another company. They hadn’t.

8• It was Walter Smith, senior tailor of Beno Dorn, who measured them up for their first suits. According to Smith they had “very strong views about the kind of suits they wanted – in fact they were very lively lads all round, and their swearing was appalling. I had to remind them they were in a tailor’s shop and should moderate their language.”

9• Though they had been heading up their notebooks with ‘Another Lennon-McCartney Original’ since 1958, by the time Brian Epstein became the Beatles’ manager John and Paul had barely written a song together in two years. It was with Epstein’s encouragement that they rekindled the partnership.

10• “I’m sure Brian was in love with John. We were all in love with John, but Brian was gay so that added an edge.” – Paul McCartney

 Roughs reunion

The other thing that has dominated my year so far has been the brief reunion of Rough Justice, the group I played bass with for two-and-a-half years in the late 70s. Since we last played together at the Brown Trout Festival in Danniverke 34 years ago, the various members have been scattered around the world, though most of them have continued to make music for a living. On New Year’s Day, seven original members met up in Auckland to see how much of our old repertoire we could reconstruct. One founding member, guitarist Peter Kennedy, was unable to make it back from Zurich, where he has lived for the past three decades, but we did have the services of trombonist Frank Dasent, who wasn’t  born when Rough Justice last played, but has many connections to the band and brought much bonhomie and musicality. Some members of the group hadn’t seen each other in 30 years, others had kept in touch, a few continued to play together off and on. Remarkably, it almost immediately felt like the same old band, but with a new maturity. Everyone seemed to be more refined in their playing, listening more attentively, leaving more spaces for the other players to sit in. There are dozens of things that were memorable for me about the three rehearsals and three subsequent gigs, but a few of them were:

1• Martin Highland’s drumming. He found the groove and kept it there, as long as anyone needed it. He certainly made this bass player’s job easier.

2• “Infinity’s too long” – Rick Bryant, on being told how long the outro of ‘Baby I Love You’ could potentially be extended. 

3• Tony Backhouse’s singing. And the good humour with which he coached the rest of us until we almost sounded like respectable backing vocalists.

4• Boyd and Frank. Boyd was our saxophone player in the old days; Frank wasn’t born yet (though his mother used to play in the Wide Mouthed Frogs, who were often our support act.). This time the combination of Boyd’s baritone and Frank’s trombone created the New Orleans street parade feel I’ve always loved, especially on the Bobby Charles/Fats Domino tune ‘Before I Grow Too Old’, which I also had fun singing.

5• Mike Gubb’s monster groove. On everything. I especially loved playing those Meters and Booker T tunes on which he played Hammond, but his piano on ‘God Bless The Child’ and ‘The Thrill Is Gone’ was equally sublime.

6• ‘Clean Up Woman’. I was always fascinated by Little Beaver’s arrangement of this Betty Wright tune, in which all the little riffs lock together like cogs in a very funky machine. This time we came close to replicating it.

7• Stephen Jessup’s guitar. His Gibson 335 wailed on the B.B. King tunes, and turned him into Chuck Berry on ‘Maybelline’. He even did the duckwalk.

8• ‘Winning Streak’. Tony’s great song, which we really should have recorded as a single back in the day.

9• The friends who came. It was always going to be special getting together with the Roughs again, but playing to so many of the same people who used to come and see us in the 70s was overwhelming. And seeing Joan Clouston, on the dancefloor at age 87, was inspirational.

10• Rick Bryant, who got us all together in the first place.

Tags: paul mccartneybeatlesjohn lennon

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