Monthly Archives: November 2016

Remembering George Harrison

Today we are remembering George Harrison, who passed away on this day in 2001. I was lucky enough to meet George on a couple of occasions – at the premiere of the ‘Handmade Films’ ‘How to Get Ahead in Advertising’ and a few years after that, at a concert by Ravi Shankar. In each case, they were very public events, and I barely got to say ‘hello’ – I would have loved to have the opportunity to sit down and have a long conversation with him, but it was not to be.

Here are some photos I took on those occasions.

 

George and Olivia Harrison at the Premiere of 'How to Get Ahead in Advertising, London 1989
George and Olivia Harrison at the Premiere of ‘How to Get Ahead in Advertising, London 1989
George Harrison at a Ravi Shankar Concert at the Barbican, London, 1996.
George Harrison at a Ravi Shankar Concert at the Barbican, London, 1996.

Alistair Taylor – The Beatles ‘Mr Fixit’

Alistair Taylor was Brian Epstein’s personal assistant at NEMS. He accompanied Brian to the Cavern Club when he met the Beatles for the first time. He then became an integral part of ‘NEMS Enterprises’ and after Brian’s death, General Manager of Apple. His time with the Beatles was only ended when he became one of the victims of Allen Klein. In this interview from 1995, Richard Porter talked to the Beatles ‘Mr Fixit’ at the Heroes of Alma pub, just around he corner from Abbey Road Studios, where the Beatles used to drink after recording sessions. Before the interview, Alistair had gone to Abbey Road to be reunited with George Martin for the first time in many years. 

What do you remember of your first meeting with the Beatles?

It was on November 9th 1961. He had imported the record by Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers (really the Beatles) and it had sold like crazy. One day, Brian came in and said ‘Do you remember that record we sold by the Beatles?’ I said ‘Of Course’ and he said, ‘Well, they are playing at the Cavern Club today, at lunchtime, let’s go to lunch and call at the Cavern’.

So we went to the Cavern. Ghastly place. We went in suits, like I’m wearing today, and there were these four ghastly youths up on stage, wearing black leather jeans, black jackets, smoking and drinking, and so loud. Brian and I sat at the back, we only heard 4 or 5 numbers, and they were so charismatic and so exciting. What really struck us was the final number, which Paul announced that they had written. It was ‘Hello Little Girl’. It was a damn good number.

We went to lunch, and Brian asked my what I thought of them, and I said, ‘I thought they were bloody awful but absolutely incredible.’ We talked a bit more, and Brian said ‘I’m thinking of managing them’. I said ‘My god, you’re kidding!’ He said, If I do manage them, would you come in with me? Who do you work for, me or NEMS?’ I said, ‘I work for you’. So he said, ‘If you come with me, I’ll give you two and a half per cent of the Beatles’ earnings’. I replied, ‘I couldn’t possibly accept that Brian’. I had no money to put up and I knew it would be very expensive. I said all I wanted was a better salary and that’s all.

That was my intro into the boys.

In the early days Brian wanted to clean up the Beatles act and put them in suits. Do you remember any friction about this?

Not at all – although it has often been said. I was surprised when John Lennon said about this in his ‘Rolling Stone’ interview. However, at that point, if Brian had said jump off the Liver Building into a bucket of custard, and you will have a hit record, they would have done it. It’s all very well resenting it in hindsight, but at the time they were more than happy.

You went to work for Pye  for about a year and came back to your first taste of ‘Beatlemania’. What do remember about  that day?

I had been back with Brian for about a week, and Brian said, ‘I’ve just spoken to the boys, and they’re thrilled you’re back with us. They’re playing at the East Ham Granada on Saturday night and will you go along because they’d love to see you again.

At the end of the show, they asked me back with them. They had a flat in Green Street at the time. I didn’t know what was going on, and when they closed with ‘Twist and Shout’ they had the limo by the stage door. I got in the front of the car, and Ringo got his foot stuck in the door. There were about 3,000 people lining the route and I could see the line of policeman breaking. Finally, we got Ringo in the car and it shot off and I saw the line had broken, and wondered what I’d let myself into. It was quite a terrifying experience and we hurtled into Green Street with a police car in front, and another behind. I got used to it very quickly though.

Tell us how you one deputised for John Lennon at an awards ceremony. 

Brian had forgotten about it and it was about 10 o’clock in the morning of the ceremony. I rang John, but he refused to go, so then I rang Paul. He was living with the Asher’s and Mrs Asher answered the phone and said they’d been out late the night before, and she could not disturb him. So I rang back a while later and she said she wouldn’t wake Paul. I said it was urgent and I’d take the blame if Paul made a fuss. Paul was the PR man, and I explained the situation, and he asked what time we were due, and I said 5 minutes ago. He told me to pick him up about 20 minutes later. When I arrived he was waiting and looking totally immaculate, shaved, great suit etc. We hurtles down to the Savoy Hotel and took him to the door and said I would arrange to pick him up afterwards. However, he said I was to come in with him, and if I didn’t, he wouldn’t go in either. So I agreed. Everyone in pop was there. There were three empty seats at the top table. I saw Dick James at another table and said I would sit there. But Paul insisted I sit at the top table. I walked up and sat down and everyone was wondering who I was. David Frost gave us a life home in his Merc.

How did you get the nickname ‘Mr Fixit’?

The boys by now could not walk down the street like you and I can. So I became the person who went to get them a packet of fags or whatever. I got the reputation for doing the impossible, things that the Beatles or Brian thought could not be done.

Was Apple really set up for tax reasons?

Brian Epstein didn’t want to know about Apple. The Beatles had vast bank accounts and were advised to reduce the tax burden. We had to submit plans of how to invest this money so we could save three of four shillings in the pound – which of course with their money was a substantial amount. So we set up what was laughingly called ‘the executive board’ to plan how to invest this money. I was on the board along with Neil Aspinall and Pete Shotton, and we just kicked around plans and ideas. The first real idea was to open a chain of greetings card shops. They are now on every street corner, but they were unheard of in those days. So we finally thought this was a good idea and we put it to the Beatles. They just sat there for a moment, and then John said, ‘What a f****g boring idea. We had been weeks on this so one of us asked them to come up with something better. So that’s how ‘Apple’ as it became, evolved from that meeting. Really the whole thing was crazy, but it was their money.

How did Brian Epstein die?

Accidental overdose. He was on two particular tablets, and one was building up in his stomach and one passing through, and that particular night, he took two tablets instead of one.The number of times I’ve had to say to people, no, he did not commit suicide. Apart from me, the only people that we there were the doctor and Joanne Newfield, Brian’s PA. I was with the doctor when we smashed the door down. On the bed was a plate of chocolate digestive biscuits and by the side of the bed was a half empty bottle of bitter lemon. There was no booze around and one the side table were about six of seven bottles of tablets, all had plenty of pills in them and had their lids screwed on. My argument is that if you are going to commit suicide, you don’t take a few pills and take the trouble to screw the lids back on. I’ve read stories ’til I’m blue in the face about how a suicide note was found. I’m the guy that was in the room, and there wasn’t one.

How did the ‘This Man has Talent’ ad come about?

Paul stopped by my flat in Montagu Place, which was an ‘Apple’ flat. He said, ‘I’ve got this great idea. We are going to put an ad in NME to get some tapes of music into Apple’. Finally we hit on this idea of a one man band. We wanted a straight guy in a bowler hat. Paul looked at me and said ‘Well, we’ve got a straight guy, do you have a bowler hat?’ It just so happened I did. We went down to Soho to hire a one man band and did the photo session. I was miming and it wasn’t working, so Paul said, ‘Sing a Beatles song’ So I tried that and he said ‘Forget that!’ – it was a disaster area. So in the end, that picture is of me singing ‘When Irish Eyes are Smiling’ – badly.

Was ‘Apple’ really as chaotic as people said it was – was it ‘The Longest Cocktail Party?

Yes, that was a wonderful book, incredible. I had nothing to do with music, and certainly not the Beatles, for years, and I went to America, and someone showed the book to me. I just flipped through it and read bits, and just laughed and laughed. It was brilliant.

Tell us about your adventures at High Park, Paul’s farm.

No-one in the office knew that Paul had bought the farm. Then one day he came in and asked if I would go up for the weekend. I It had a clapped out old farmhouse that Paul wanted to knock down and wanted me to find a suitable spot to build a new one. So I went up and plodded around and realised the Scots aren’t stupid because the current location was the only place to build a farmhouse. It was windy even on a calm day. I took some photos and came back and told Paul it was the only place. Paul asked what it was like and after I showed him the photos he thought it was great and said let’s go up. So myself, Jane and Paul flew up. He said he wanted it to be spartan and asked me to organise some second hand furniture. We then built furniture ourselves, and found some potato boxes and asked me to go into town and buy some nails and things and we built a settee and some bedside cabinets.

We flew Martha up, and she was as good as gold. A car met us at the airport and we were driving along. Martha is an old English Sheep Dog, but had lived in London, never been in the country, and never seen a sheep. We turned up the lane to the farm and into a field of sheep, and Martha went spare. We had the window half open and she had her head half way out the window.

What is your abiding memory of Apple?

I was trying to run a sensible business and in a way I shpt myself in the foot again, after turning down the 2.5%. I was getting exasperated as money was flowing out like there was no tomorrow. I managed to get the four lads together and said we need a top business man here. So off they went and three of them got Allen Klein and I was sacked – end of Beatle career. For about 15 years after I was sacked I didn’t want to know about pop music and sold more of my Beatles records.

I believe you had a reunion with Paul McCartney recently?

I went to the ‘Let it Be Liverpool’ concert, which was a bit sensational. To hear 25,000 people on the banks of the Mersey singing ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Give Peace a Chance’ was an unbelievable memory.

I know Geoff Baker, Paul’s publicist, and he said I should come back and meet him. However, it was too late to organise passes and all the business and so I just went up to the gate and asked for Geoff Baker. The girl came back and said here are two tickets. I asked whether they would get me backstage and she said they were just for the concert. I told her that Geoff Baker was going to organise it for me to meet Paul. I had to explain who I was, and she went off again. There were other people trying to do the same and she came back and out these badges on us. I had a gold one and they got red ones. There were two marquees, one saying ‘press and VIPs and one for family. I just followed the others to the press tent and the girl said ‘No, Mr, Taylor, you go to the other one.’ By now time was running out and there was no sign of Paul but I saw Linda and followed her and there was Paul surrounded by a big circle of people with chains on, like Mayors. I stood at the back and I saw Paul’s eyes flick around, he’s always done that, and he suddenly say me and everybody stopped. I didn’t know what to expect and just walked forward and put out my hand and said ‘Hi fella’. He said ‘Come here’ and there were big hugs and commented on our grey hair, who had the most. It was nice. He said to one of his aides to get hold of my address, but I haven’t heard from him from that day. It is very sad. But it was nice while it lasted.

Alistair Taylor reunited with Paul McCartney in Liverpool
Alistair Taylor reunited with Paul McCartney in Liverpool

 

Note from Richard Porter: I got to know Alistair very well during the 80s and 90s. I even guided some Beatles tours of London with him. One day we went to 24 Chapel Street, where Brian Epstein lived, and died. It was the first time Alistair had been back since that sad day in August 1967, and Alistair was very moved. 

Alistair passed away in 2004, and is much missed by all Beatles fans. 

Blogger Richard Porter, guiding a Beatles tour of London with Alistair Taylor
Blogger Richard Porter, guiding a Beatles tour of London with Alistair Taylor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

November 24th 1966 – 50 Years Ago Today – Strawberry Fields Forever!

November 24th 1966. The Beatles go to Abbey Road Studios after a long, well-earned break to begin recording what would be their new album. The first track recorded was Strawberry Fields Forever (what a start!) However, it was decided that the song should be left off the album, but released instead as a single, along with Penny Lane. Of course the album became Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Kenny Everett and the Beatles – an Update

I’ve just found out that BBC Radio 2 are broadcasting a special show on Kenny Everett’s relationship with the Beatles. I wonder if they are going to include any of the interview I did with Kenny in 1992, as I believe I am the only person who interviewed him just about the Fabs. You can read the interview below at http://blog.beatlesinlondon.com/an-interview-with-kenny-everett/

The show, presented by Paul Gambaccini, will be broadcast on BBC Radio 2 on the 21st December at 10pm. 

Why Don’t We Do it in Abbey Road

Here is a great film about the Abbey Road Crossing – made by Chris Purcell, and narrated by the great Roger McGough, with a little help from me! I narrated a couple of lines too – that’s me saying the line about Neil Armstrong :>)

I love the way the film captures people doing weird things on the crossing. “Somebody spoke, and I went into a dream”

The Beatles meet Bob Dylan in London

In his new autobiography, Robbie Robertson has revealed how Bob Dylan nearly drowned in his bath when the Beatles visited him at the Mayfair Hotel in London, during his 1966 UK tour.

Dylan was “practically unconscious” when the Beatles came to visit, so to freshen him up, Robertson put him in the bath. Dylan was high on drugs that Robertson “ hurried back into the bathroom, only to find that Bob had sunk down into the water and was starting to bubble.” “My heart stopped for a moment. Damn, I thought, he could really drown here. I pulled him back up in the tub,” Robertson wrote.

Read more at: https://inews.co.uk/essentials/culture/music/bob-dylan-nearly-drowned-bath-beatles-visited-london-hotel/

It was also during that visit that Dylan and John Lennon shared a car back to the Mayfair hotel, filmed by DA Pennebaker, for his film on Dylan ‘Eat the Document’. Dylan was extremely stoned, and Lennon plays the ‘straight man’, during a rambling conversation, which getting very entertaining when they talk about Cass Elliot of the Mamas and Papas. To see the film go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A5YLdHG83U0

John and George both attended Dylan’s concert at the Royal Albert Hall on 27th May 1966, at which Dylan was booed by the folk purists, who objected to Dylan going electric with the Band.

Letter from John Lennon to Paul and Linda McCartney Goes up for Sale

A letter from John Lennon to Paul and Linda McCartney has gone up for auction. The letter, believed to be written circa 1971, seems to be in reply to a letter from Linda. It was around the time that relations between the Lennon’s and McCartney’s were at their lowest.

It begins: “I was reading your letter and wondering what middle aged cranky Beatle fan wrote it, I resisted looking at the last page to find out—I kept thinking who is it—Queenie? Stuart’s mother?—Clive Epstein’s wife?—Alan Williams?—What the hell—it’s Linda!”

John seems especially bitter about saying to the others he was leaving the Beatles in late 1969 – but asked by the others to keep quiet about it, only for Paul to announce he was leaving. In the letter he says

“PAUL and Klein both spent the day persuading me it was better not to say anything—asking me not to say anything because it would ‘hurt the Beatles’—and ‘let’s just let it petre out’—remember? So get that into your petty little perversion of a mind, Mrs. McCartney,”In another part, John lays into Paul for making out that the Beatles are bigger cultural icons than they really are (I must say I’m with Paul on this one!)John says: “Do you really think most of today’s art came about because of the Beatles?—I don’t believe you’re that insane—Paul—do you believe that? When you stop believing it you might wake up! Didn’t we always say we were part of the movement—not all of it?—Of course, we changed the world—but try and follow it through—GET OFF YOUR GOLD DISC AND FLY!”

Yes, things were pretty bad between John and Paul at the time, and really came to a head with John’s song ‘How Do You Sleep’. However, years later, relations thawed, and they hung out together a few times in the mid 70s.

For more on the letter, and to bid, see http://www.rrauction.com/bidtracker_detail.cfm?IN=7015

The Beatles First London Concert?

I’m often asked on my London Beatles Walks where and when the Beatles first played in London. I wish there was an easy answer! It looks like it was in the early hours of December 10th 1961, but how many of the Beatles actually got onstage, and where it was, remains something of a mystery to this day!

The Beatles came down to the south of England on December 9th 1961, to play at the Aldershot Palais. The Beatles were looking to get a recording contract but could not encourage any record company people to travel from London to Liverpool to see them. Therefore, a good friend of theirs, Sam Leach, who was also a concert promoter, decided to book them into a club in the London area and invite some record company people along. Sam’s geography was not very good – the place he booked them into, the Aldershot Palais, was some 30 miles from London. No record company people would even travel that far to see them, so that idea didn’t work.

The Beatles’ problems didn’t end there. Due to a mix up between Sam Leach and the local newspaper, the advert that Sam sent them for the concert was not printed. When the Beatles arrived at the Palais that night, there was no one there at all because no one knew about the show.
To try to get some sort of crowd at the Palais it was decided that all the local clubs and pubs in the area should be visited to persuade people to come along. No one had to pay to get in, but only 18 people showed up – surely the lowest ever attendance for a Beatles concert! After the show the concert hall owner refused to pay the Beatles as no one had paid to get in. They were extremely broke at the time and couldn’t afford a hotel room in Aldershot. They messed around in the concert hall for a few hours until the concert hall owner, keen to go home for the night, called the police, who not only escorted the Beatles out of the hall but out of Aldershot too!

Rather than have an overnight trip back to Liverpool, the Beatles decided to make the far shorter trip into London. According to Sam Leach, they remembered that an old friend of theirs, Brian Cassar, who used to belong to a group called Cass and the Cassanovas, had moved from Liverpool to London and opened a club called the Blue Gardenia. Luckily, the club stayed open all night and so they headed straight there. When they arrived Brian asked them to get on stage and sing a few songs. It was the Beatles’ first performance in London.

Or that is one version of the story. Regrettably, the location of the Blue Gardenia remains a mystery to this day. As the club was illegal it didn’t register with any local authorities, so there are no official records of its location. In fact, there is now some doubt to whether the club even existed, and Sam Leach confused it with another club! In his extensive biography on the Beatles ‘Tune In’, Mark Lewisohn now thinks that the Beatles actually went to the ‘All Nighter’, in Wardour Street, which is the name the Flamingo Club changed it’s name to after midnight. He also states that only John and Paul got onstage, with the band that happened to be playing there that night.

I have been trying to get to the bottom of this story for years, and had no luck. However, a few years ago, a lady came into the Beatles Coffee Shop and said that she knew where the Blue Gardenia was! She said she used to go there, and that it was in Wardour Mews, just off Wardour Street, in the same building as another club, called the ‘Take Five’. I have since found reference to the Take Five club, but still none of the Blue Gardenia, though maybe it did exist after all. There is also a reference to it on Bill Harry website at http://www.triumphpc.com/mersey-beat/a-z/cassanovas-earlymemories2.shtml – though, regettably, no address.

One person who could throw some light on this is Brian Cassar. After the Blue Gardenia club, he changed his name and formed a band called Casey Jones and the Engineers. The lead guitarist was a young man called Eric Clapton (whatever happened to him!). They played a few gigs in Liverpool, at which time Eric saw the great power trio, The Big Three, and though it would be a great model for a band. The Big Three were actually formed when Brian Cassar left Cass and the Cassanovas to come to London, and the rest of band carried on as a trio. Brian Cassar (Casey Jones) then moved to Germany, and then seemed to disappear. However, at the last Beatles Convention in Liverpool, Mark Lewisohn interviewed Johnny Hutch, formerly of Cass and the Cassanovas and the Big Three, who said he knew where Brian Cassar was. Hopefully he can be tracked down, and the mystery forever solved!

The Beatles Onstage at the Aldershot Palais 8th December 1961 - 1/9th of the total audience!
The Beatles Onstage at the Aldershot Palais 9th December 1961 – 1/9th of the total audience!

 

Blogger Richard Porter is a professional Beatles tour guide in London. For more details of his tours, see http://www.beatlesinlondon.com

His book, Guide to the Beatles London, is available at http://www.beatlescoffeeshop.com/shop/product.php/2/guide_to_the_beatles_london__guide_book_by_richard_porter

 

Me With Paul McCartney

Over the years as a Beatles fan, I have had the pleasure of meeting Paul McCartney on many occasions. Here are a few pics of me with Paul.

Me with Paul McCartney 1982
Me with Paul McCartney 1982

This pic was taken in May 1982, outside AIR Studios in Oxford Street, London. I had been a Beatles fan for years, but pretty much on my own. After the tragic murder of John Lennon, I wanted to meet other fans, and put an ad in Beatles Monthly for penpals. One guy I wrote to, John Challis, told me he had met Paul McCartney many times in Oxford Street. I didn’t believe him at first, as I had been past the building he’d told me about, and didn’t even know there was a studio there. However, he persuaded me to come up to Oxford Street at about 6pm (the time he said Paul came out the studio) and I would meet him. I thought there was nothing to lose. Sure enough, about 10 minutes after they arrived, Paul McCartney was standing right in front of me!! That night I got a Paul McCartney and Wings book signed by Paul – as someone had told me (wrongly) that Paul didn’t sign Beatles items.

I went up to AIR Studios many times after that, and became friends with the regular fans who would hang out there. I saw Paul many times, and finally got the above picture taken with him. I later went back and got it signed. When Paul saw it, he said, “Oh, aren’t we a lovely couple”!

Me with Paul McCartney outside Abbey Road Studios 1997.
Me with Paul McCartney outside Abbey Road Studios 1997.

This pic was taken in 1997 outside Abbey Road Studios. I was on my Beatles walking tour, standing by the Abbey Road crossing, talking about the Paul is dead rumour. I saw Paul’s car coming up the road, proving beyond doubt he was still alive!

He was filming an interview with VH1 that day. He was in a very good, but reflective mood, and was please to pose with me again.

I have met him many times since. Another memorable occasion was at the memorial service for Victor Spinetti at St Paul’s Church Covent Garden. I hadn’t seen Paul up close for around 10 years. After the service (which was very moving) Paul came up to me, shook my hand, and said ‘Hi Richard, how are you?’ Not only did he recognise me, he remembered my name too! Classy bloke :>)

Tea with the Rutles!

In 1995 I had the great pleasure of interviewing Nasty, Stig and Barry of the Rutles, otherwise known as Neil Innes, Rikki Fataar and John Halsey. Their new album ‘Archeology’ had just come out and I talked to them at the Virgin Records headquarters in London. Here is the article I wrote from that interview – as it first appeared in Off the Beatle Track in 1996.

The Rutles – Mythology

For those who weren’t around in those heady days of the 60s, here is a brief history of the Rutles – as told by Gilda Radner in ‘All You Need is Cash’

‘The Rutles were an English pop quartet of the 60s who set the foot of the world a tapping with their catchy melodies, wacky Liverpool humour and zany off the wall antics, epitomised by their films ‘A Hard Day’s Rut’ and ‘Ouch!’ Dirk and Nasty, the acknowledged leaders of the group were perfectly complemented by Stig, the quiet one, and Barry, the noisy one, to form a heart warming, cheeky, loveable, talented, non-Jewish group who gladdened the hearts of the world. In 1962 they played the Cavern, after that they spent several months in Hamburg. Then in 1962 they released their first single, ‘Twist and Rut”.

The Rutles went on to be a legend in their own lunchtime but things started badly when they started their own business, Rutle Corps. The idea was for people to help themselves. Unfortunately people helped themselves to Rutle Corps’ money for years. In the end things got so bad within the group that Dirk and Nasty got married. Rutle Corps started losing more money than the British Government. At the last meeting of Rutle Corps 134 legal people and accountants filed into a small 8 by 10 room. At the end only 87 came out alive. Savile Row had taken its toll on the best merchant banking brains of a generation. Luckily that’s not too serious. However during the legal wrangling and public bickering ‘Let it Rot’ was released as a film, record and a lawsuit. In December 1970 Dirk sued Stig and Nasty; Barry sued Dirk; Nasty sued Stig and Barry; and Stig sued himself accidentally. It was the end of an era. However, amid squabbles and lawsuits, the band were recording a new album. The project was abandoned and the master tapes were buried. Literally.

As was widely reported at the time, all of the tapes were placed in a time capsule and buried in a secret location. Announcing that action, a spokesman for The Rutles stated that this was “to thwart bootleggers. And tax authorities.” Furthermore, the capsule would “stay buried for a thousand years.” He added that the album wouldn’t be released unless it was “discovered by archaeologists or whoever digs these things up.” This led to Rutles fans dubbing the interred recordings the ‘Archaeology’ tapes.

Asked why the legendary tapes have been dug up by The Rutles themselves, a mere 26 years later, Rutles member Ron Nasty stated simply, “Things change.” All further queries have been referred to the band’s accountants.

The new Archaeology album comes at a time when interest in The Rutles is at an all-time high. Many of today’s hottest bands, including Oasis, Pulp, Blur, Smashing Pumpkins, Gin Blossoms, and Soul Asylum, cite The Rutles as a major influence.

Not addressed in The Rutles announcement is whether the band will reunite to record any new tracks or perform live. Apart from their famous rooftop concert, seen in the ‘All You Need Is Cash ‘ documentary, the band has not given a public performance since 1966.

The Rutles Reunion – the Real Story

In September 1994 there was an official celebration of Monty Python’s 25th anniversary held in Los Angeles. It took the shape of a film and TV festival – and included the presentation of various spin-off projects – including the Rutles film.

As an adjunct to the festival Neil Innes performed a show of Rutles music – in character of Ron Nasty. Teaming up with local Beatles Tribute band, The MopTops, the concert was jokingly billed as a performance by Ron Nasty and the New Rutles. The show, held at the legendary Troubadour club in Los Angeles, was an immediate sell out, and a second show was added – which also sold out.

Critical and public acclaim was glowing – and was a major factor in inspiring this first-ever reunion of the original performing Rutles. (the Los Angeles Times Review of the show described the concert as ‘Fabulous! Beatles music from a parallel universe! Among the stars in attendance at the shows were new Beatles producer Jeff Lynne, Julian Lennon, Seal and Spinal Tap member Harry Shearer. Long time Neil Innes friend and Rutles fan George Harrison was unable to attend the shows – but sent a special greeting to be read to the audiences – and insisted on Innes giving him a first hand account of the shows when he returned to England.

In Rutles mythology, the ‘Archaeology’ album consists of disinterred tapes of the group’s abandoned last album – which had been buried in a time capsule. In reality the album was freshly created in the spring and summer of 1996. Neil Innes reassembled all of the original team responsible for creating the original Rutles music.

Multi-instrumentalist Ricky Fataar, who in recent years has been the studio and touring drummer for many top musicians, including Bonnie Raitt and Boz Scaggs, returned to reprise his Stig O’Hara role. On the new album, he contributes lead and backing vocals, guitars and drums. Drummer John Halsey returned to perform as the Rutles own Barry Wom -and contributes both drumming and his distinctive Barry Wom vocals. Neil Innes, who again wrote all of the words and music of the 16 new Rutles songs, contributes lead and backing vocals, guitars and keyboards.

Interestingly the ‘Archaeology’ album has a genuine parallel with The Beatles ‘Anthology’ albums it affectionately lampoons. Original ‘4th Rutle’ – guitarist/singer Ollie Halsall, who was the key fourth musician in the recording of the original album, passed away tragically at the age of 43 – in 1992. In preparing material for this new album, Neil Innes uncovered master tapes of the rehearsal sessions he had organised in 1977 to prepare the Rutles for their album. Buried within these tapes he discovered two complete songs which had been fully rehearsed and performed – but which were not subsequently recorded for the album. He also discovered a backing track to a third song – which had not been completed.

Since all the tracks were very in line with the new material he was writing and assembling for the new album – and, with added poignancy, featured the original Rutles line-up – he decided to incorporate the tracks in the new album. The two completed songs – We’ve arrived! (And to Prove it We’re Here) and Now She’s Left You were left intact – including humorous false starts – and were simply restored. The uncompleted backing track was used as the basis for a new song entitled Unfinished Words.

The Archeology LP

The ‘Archaeology’ is a very enjoyable album. Neil Innes’ personal style is a lot more evident on the Archaeology than on the original LP – especially in the lyrics. In fact Neil wrote a number of the songs long before the second Rutles LP was thought of – he even sung a few (i.e. Eine Kleine Middle Klasse Music) on his 1980s TV show ‘Innes Book of Records’. However in those days the songs didn’t have a Beatlesque backing. The LP opens with perhaps the most obvious Beatles ‘copy’ – Major Happy, which is based on Sgt Pepper. It even starts with an orchestra warming up. Major Happy segues into the Barry Wom sang tune called Rendezvous. Not surprisingly it is based on With a Little Help from my Friends but with a few piano bits similar to Good Day Sunshine. The harmonies on Rendezvous are spot on – certainly a feature of the entire album. The call and response section here is funny. When the backing singers start answering Barry sings ‘who invited you to sing along?’ and when they sing ‘We were only trying to help’ Barry sings ‘I don’t want any help!’

The next song Questionnaire strongly resembles I am the Walrus musically – but here is where the similarities end – the song is very Innesesque song -sung from the point of view of a questionnaire.

We’ve Arrived (and to Prove it We’re Here) was one of the outakes from the first LP. It’s based around Back in the USSR (complete with airplane noise). It’s obvious this version wasn’t meant to be the final take as there is a false start and the ‘ooos’ are incredibly out of tune. However if anything the fun the band are having more than makes up for this. The atmosphere on the track is very similar to And Your Bird Can Sing on ‘Anthology 2’.

Lonely Phobia is an acoustic based track and one of my favourite tracks on the ‘Archaeology’. The musical style isn’t so easy to pin down to one Beatles song as others – in fact it sounds almost Wilburyish. The backing tracks for Unfinished Works were recorded by the original Rutles and Neil Innes built this new song around them. It has nonsense lyrics and mentions legendary unreleased Beatles songs like Colliding Circles and Pink Litmus Paper Shirt..Incidently, these song titles were made up by Martin Lewis, a Beatles afficionado who is also great friends with the Rutles.

Easy Listening is a classic Ringo/Barry Wom song -a bit like Act Naturally. It’s an incredibly catchy song and you’ll be singing the chorus for days after hearing it.

Now She’s Left You was the second complete song from the original sessions -it’s an early period Beatles pastiche and very catchy. Knicker Elastic King has a classic Neil Innes lyric with a backing similar to Penny Lane, and I Love You is early period Beatles. Eine Kleine Middle Klasse Music is an old Innes song which he sang at the Liverpool Beatles Convention a few years ago – as is Joe Public. Here Eine Kleine sounds like Come Together and Joe Public like Tomorrow Never Knows. Shangri-La is the first single from the LP and an obvious one at that. An incredibly catchy song with a backing that is almost a condensed version of the whole of the ‘Sgt Pepper’ LP. The long singalong fadeout at the end is a cross between Hey Jude and All You Need is Love (or should that be Love Life. This song deserves to be a hit but whether it will get the necessary airplay remains to be seen.

The last two tracks I Don’t Know Why and Back in 64 are a bit of an anti-climax but overall the LP is great and highly recommended. The Pre-Fab Four are back with a vengeance.

Tea With the Rutles

It was a great honour to meet the ‘prefab three’ over tea and biscuits at Virgin Records recently. Stig, Nasty and Barry (alias Neil Innes, John Halsey and Rikki Faatar) chatted about the old days of the Rutles and the new ‘Archeaology’ LP. It was a very amusing half hour with the three guys and with them regularly going in and out of character it was like interviewing six people.

I first asked the Rutles how they got together. Nasty said ‘according to Eric Idle we bumped into each other at a quayside and discussed haircuts’
‘We still do’ added Barry, ‘especially from my salon days’
‘We spend too much time talking about hair which is why we’ve taken so long to put out another album’ said Nasty.
I asked them whether they had something to say to Brian Thigh, the guy that turned down the Rutles.
‘Yeh, thanks for the pizza – keep the change’ said Nasty.
‘Don’t forget to set your runner bean flowers in cold weather’ said Barry.

I then asked the Rutles about what they’d been doing since the Rutles. Barry said ‘I had a hair dressing Empire, the Hackney Empire. However after a berserk lady customer run amok with hot curling tongs and I suffered a terrible injury I sold the empire.

Stig said ‘I’ve been with lots of airlines since ‘Air India’ When asked whether he was still with Arthur Sultan, the Surrey Mystic, Barry butted in ‘No, he’s mainly under the influence of red wine!’

Nasty is no longer with Chastity but they became firm friends after she gave up the Nazi stuff. She changed he name to Gwen Taylor and went on to become a famous and very talented actress.

Neil Innes (as himself) told me that George Harrison was a big influence on the original Rutles film. ‘He was in on it up to his neck!’ said Neil. ‘George thought of all the Fabs it would be great idea to have a jokey biography because pressures on them at that time to get back together were emormous and unbearable – it wasn’t a very pleasant time for them. The others also saw the fun of it and agreed to let us have footage’. George also arranged them to see the original ‘Long and Winding Road’ film. ‘It was a great help’, said Neil, ‘ because the true story makes you very depressed – so that’s why it needed a silly band to tell the story’.

George has also been supported of the Rutles comeback. ‘Like all The Beatles’,said Neil, ‘they want to get everything out of the cupboard and say ‘that’s it,that’s us!’ We we said to him about the Rutles, because lots people were asking me about us doing something, he said ‘It’s all part of the soup’.

Of course it is no coincidence the ‘Archaeology’ is coming out close to the Beatles ‘Anthology’. However as Neil remembers, ‘The last Rutles LP came out the same day as Paul’s ‘London Town’. At the press conference he gave they were just asking him about the Rutles. I did apologise to him about it. This time it doesn’t matter though as we’re all cleaning out our cupboards’.

The similarity between the Rutles and The Beatles is no coincidence, but led to a strange thing happening. ‘A guy from NME rang me up one day and said, ‘Mr Innes, we’ve got in our possession a Beatles bootleg and there’s a Rutles song on it. What have you got to say?’ I said ‘What’s it like?’ They played it to me over the phone and it was the version of Cheese and Onions I did for ‘Saturday Night Live’

Both John Halsey and Neil Innes had encounters with the Fabs before the Rutles. ‘I met Paul McCartney once in a Wimpey Bar in Piccadilly in 1964’ remembered Barry. ‘I was a teenager then. It was a Sunday night and the bar was packed. Paul walked in and was looking around for somewhere to sit and saw 2 chairs at our table at came over. We chatted for a while and he said it was nice to meet us and paid for our burgers and shakes. When we left we got as many funny looks has he did. As soon as we walked out a stranger came up to us and said ‘I’ve got two tickets to the London Paladium for tonight to see Sammy Davis, would you like them?’ So I saw met Paul McCartney and saw Sammy Davis in the same night. I’ve been up to Piccadilly every week since but nothing’s happened!’

Neil Innes was part of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. He remembers how they got to appear in ‘Magical Mystery Tour’. ‘It was through Mike McCartney’ said Neil, ‘The Bonzos and Mike’s group ‘The Scaffold’ used to bump in to each other a lot at gigs and became friends. Mike suggested to Paul that this silly band would be good for the film so we went along. Viv used to hang out with John Lennon a lot in clubs. It was at a club that Viv was moaning to Paul that our producer only let us spend two hours on each track and they weren’t finished. So Paul came down and produced ‘I’m the Urban Spaceman’ for us and did a great job.’

We finally got around to talking about the ‘Archeaology’ LP. Neil said the main inspiration to do it was from Rutles fans. ‘It was nice that people kept the Rutles music alive’ he said. ‘Because the Fabs were putting out the Anthology people asked us if we were going to do anything. This time around though we have have to acknowldege The Beatles did exist – the first time we didn’t to tell the story’.

Some of the tracks on the ‘Archeaology’ were written some time ago. ‘Shangri-la is as old as Cheese and Onions ‘ said Neil. Knicker Elastic King. was in ‘The Innes Book of Records’ and part of Rendevous was written when I was in the Bonzos – but I didn’t finish it then.’ This time the songs are more in Neil’s style than before. ‘You’ve got to remember that the first time we had to be accurate to the story. There were obvious musical signposts in the Beatles career. This time we had more freedom and we didn’t spent so much time trying to sound like old fashioned recordings.’

‘We really missed Ollie Halsall who sang on the first one, but we’ve got him on the archive tracks. We’ve done the best we can singing wise between us but he had the best singing voice of all of us. Though it’s widely tipped that Barry Wom is going to be made male vocalist of 1997’ ‘I’ve been nominated for a Granny!’ Inturrupts Barry.

When asked about the possibility of live performances Neil said ‘It depends on how the LP goes – but we could certainly do the songs live’. ‘Its been 20 years since the last LP’ said John, ‘If we wait any longer we’ll be making dead appearances! Here they are – the Rutles dead on stage!’

The video for Shangri-la was recently done in the US. However Neil said ‘Its a bit of a mess but hopefully there’s something there in the edit. Lots of people said they’d like to be in the video and we thought it would be nice to have some lookalikes too. We had Columbo, Madonna, Woopie Goldberg, Rod Stewart, Pat Boone…’ ‘No he was real!’ added John. There is a possibility of Rutles TV appearances in the UK and US.

All too soon it was time to say goodbye. While the interview was going on Rikki Faatar (alias Stig) was living up to his ‘quiet one’ image by laying on a sofa. he was suffering from jet lag. When I asked for some pictures, rather than Rikki having to get up John and Neil joined him on the sofa!

Neil’s final message was ‘We’re very happy to be together again’ while John said ‘This LP is dedicated to John, Paul, George and Ringo’.

The Rutles after a long tea session
The Rutles after a long tea session

Blogger Richard Porter is a professional London Beatles Tour Guide. For more info on his tours, see http://www.beatlesinlondon.com