Sunday 31 January 2021






(visiting Liverpool, July 2014)

I wasn’t here 
this never happened 
rumours of a distant war 
once resented, now embedded 
once blood-raw, now no more, 
an endless autopsy, a history tour 
a heritage trail, a legacy project, 
when it all comes down to this 
laminated into a tourist map 
a twist in a leisure industry 
frozen reconstructions of 
memory-distort on pause 
in a national misTrust, 
no stylus bites play-in, 
days blur on the flip-side, 
it was light, it was dark 
this sad escapology 
eradicates every scratch, 
yet I’m here on Mathew St 
where once it happened, 
just six decades too late 
squint ears to catch echoes 
of screams on the screen 
see these walking dead, 
this never happened 
I wasn’t here, 
I’m still trapped 
somewhere in this photo… 

Collected into: 
Alien Buddha Press (USA – March 2018)





You can buy this album – you probably have, unless you’re just browsing, in which case don’t leave any dirty thumbprints on the sleeve! There’s priceless history between these covers. None of us is getting any younger. When, in a generation or so, a radio-active cigar-smoking child, picnicking on Saturn, asks you what the Beatle affair was all about – ‘Did you actually know them?’ – don’t try to explain all about the long hair and the screams! Just play the child a few tracks from this album and he’ll probably understand what it was all about. The kids of AD2000 will draw from the music much the same sense of wellbeing and warmth as we do today.
(liner-notes to ‘BEATLES FOR SALE’, 1964)

There are a million stories that take place within the arc of Derek Taylor’s life. 

Beatles’ historians argue about a lot of things. Like academics in any discipline, they dispute facts and interpretations of facts. But there’s one thing beyond dispute. Derek Taylor’s urbane charm. His easy intelligence, and the value of his contribution to the Beatles’ collective story. And the stories that lie beyond it… if you know what I mean? Derek Taylor lived a charmed life. One that describes a fiery arc that goes all the way from 02:00am, Saturday, 7 May 1932, in the Liverpool 17 suburb of Toxteth Park South, into being a writer best known as the press agent for the Beatles. He became the Beatles’ friend and intimate across a span of thirty years, or – as it’s blurbed on the paperback edition of his fragmented memoirs ‘As Time Goes By’ (1973), ‘journalist, publicist and honorary Beatle’. There’s no shortage of claimants to the ‘honorary’ or ‘fifth Beatle’ status. Starting off with those who were, even for a short while, Beatles themselves. The late Stuart Sutcliffe – who rejoins them for the sleeve-collage of ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, drummer Pete Best, or even Ringo’s temporary replacement Jimmy Nicol. And that’s before you get to Brian Epstein. But Derek’s claim to ‘honorary Beatledom’ is more valid than most.


In 1964 he co-wrote ‘A Cellarful Of Noise’, the best-selling autobiography of Brian Epstein. Soon after, he became Epstein’s personal assistant and Beatles press agent. Derek Taylor put spin on stories decades before the term Spin Doctor was concocted, with his droll, idiosyncratic way of speaking. In 1965 he moved to Los Angeles where he started his own public relations company, managing PR for bands like Paul Revere And The Raiders, the Byrds, and the Beach Boys. Brian Wilson called him a ‘PR whiz’ and ‘a colourful slick-talking Brit’. But he could also be a ‘theatrical, slightly conspiratorial man’ according to Ray Coleman. Derek was co-creator and producer of the historic ‘Monterey Pop Festival’ in 1967. He’s there in song when John rhymes ‘Derek Taylor’ with ‘Norman Mailer’ in “Give Peace A Chance”. Then spool forward a few years, to when Derek returned to England to work for the Beatles again as the press officer for the newly created ‘Apple Corps’.

He had a deep capacity for friendship. If there were people who disliked him, I haven’t discovered one. The thread running through the various aspects of this remarkable career is his easy personal charm, his ability to create a sense of delightful complicity. A glittering web of friendships through the austerity of the fifties, the hairstyles of the sixties, into the high decadence of the seventies. His own writing can be flip, humorous, spontaneous, wilfully infuriatingly imprecise when it’s exact detail you’re looking for. ‘As Time Goes By’ seems to be an episodic collection of essays and sketches doodled as the mood takes him between appointments. When names elude him, or perhaps when the possibility of litigation intrudes, he substitutes them for play-names that could have been culled from the John Lennon mind-set of ‘A Spaniard In The Works’ (1965). A legal partnership called Absalom, Bollocks, Profit And Motive Ltd based in New Ponce Street, Mayfair. Or Victor Vagina Associates. Another called A Associate & Associates in Fellatio Drive. Easy to see why he became an intimate of the magic sixties circle, but maddening for academics hunting clues. 

Derek Taylor died of cancer at his home in Suffolk on 8 September 1997, after a long illness. He was sixty-five years old. 

There are a million stories that take place within the arc of Derek Taylor’s life. I sometimes feel I have lived the entirety of my own life within them. I’ve spent many hundreds of hours discussing and teasing out details of that time, both in direct relation to, and around the events within which he lived his life. I talked to the late Gene Clark of the Byrds, Dave Davies of the Kinks, Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi of Status Quo, Grace Slick, Sid Griffin, Mick Fleetwood, Donovan Leitch, Graham Nash, Joe Brown, Sam Moore, ‘Country’ Joe McDonald. To my great regret, I’ve acceded to the few sources with first-hand knowledge of Derek’s personal and musical life who specifically request anonymity. However, to such people I’m indebted for their insight and contributions. A person’s inclusion or exclusion from a sequence does not necessarily infer that that person has contributed to this book. 

I’ve also conducted research through countless books, magazines and websites and have gratefully given credit accordingly. However, I apologise for those instances where I’ve been unable to correctly attribute quotes, despite my most exhaustive attempts to do so. I invite corrections to such omissions, which will be rectified in future editions. When it comes to sixties history, the forbidding tower of books and perilous mounds of newspaper cuttings, CD and DVD’s, that should be consulted before tackling the project, you wonder, with a doomy sense of futility in the deepest pit of your gut, how it will ever be possible to scratch your way through the veneers of other people’s words and get down a few of your own. When it comes to Beatles-related tales, try to suck any of it into a novel, try and invent it, and chances are you might be gripped and amused, but you’d not be believed. And there are those who find the truth stranger than fiction, but still plump for the fiction. 

To Derek, ‘I don’t think that if you have a tidy mind you will find this book easy to follow. But who needs a tidy mind? Who has one? No-one I know.’

Softcover with photo insert, 334pp
ISBN 978-1-78952-038-5

SonicBond Publishing

Friday 29 January 2021





DVD Review of: 
 (2007 – Prism Leisure/ Fremantlemedia FHED2024RD)

‘The inside story of the world’s greatest-ever pop group’ it says. And, as everyone knows, it’s a great story. Here, there are stills and non-copyright newsreel stock-footage, and it’s always good to see those familiar waving-at-the-airport clips, the quick-fire press conference sight-gags, the gurning at the cameras, and the Harold Wilson ‘purple-hearts’ quips at the Variety Club awards. In the gaps between there are some poor ‘reconstructions’ by some Beatles wannabes (The Prellies), a voice-over that pretends to be Ringo, but isn’t (it’s Bernard Hill), and no real Beatles music. That was ‘withheld’ as damage-limitation, because ‘every image is policed by the company they created’. In other words, this formerly-screened TV-documentary is another in the growing proliferation of non-authorised Fabs product. And secrets? Well – not exactly. 

Mostly it’s fairly routine stuff to anyone who’s read a few biographies, spiced up with some thrown-in conjecture. There was sex at Hamburg, apparently. Cue some gratuitous red-lit film of a pole-dancer. And penury. Allan Williams, who first booked the five Beatles there talks about how ‘Paul used to argue with John Lennon because it was one penny extra to have jam on your toast.’ ‘Look at all the jam he’s got now, the bastard’ he adds straight-faced. ‘He owes me £15 by the way, don’t know how he can sleep,’ perhaps unconsciously quoting Lennon’s own “How Do You Sleep?” Mc-attack on the ‘Imagine’ album? He then relates how he directed the young pre-Fabs to the Seamen’s Dispensary when they pick up their first dose of the clap.

Brian Epstein was gay, and had a thing for John Lennon. Hardly a revelation. Even their weekend together in Barcelona is fairly common knowledge, someone even wrote a play about it*. Admittedly, what happened there is less certain, but Tony Barrow – the first ‘Press Officer to the Fab Four’, suggests only that Lennon was ‘an intrepid sexual adventurer’, a description Poet Royston Ellis – who claims to have shared a three-in-a-bed romp with Lennon, extends to ‘ambi-sexual’. There are no scurrilous revelations beyond that. They dabbled with drugs too. Ellis claims to have turned them on to getting high, like the Beat Poets used to, by chewing on lint from prescription inhalers. Later, Epstein’s chauffeur talks of picking up mysterious packages of hash at Archer Street. Stuff like that. There are talking-head interviews with participants, including Tony Crane of the Merseybeats, posing stylishly with his guitar. And Klaus Voorman – who designed the ‘Revolver’ sleeve, and now contributes his own perceptive wash-art sketches. Long-time friend Tony Bramwell talks about Paul first meeting George upstairs on the no.86 bus. Both Bill Harry of ‘Mersey Beat’ magazine, and Tony Barrow have told their stories before, at greater length, in fact Barrow’s book is pretty much a standard Beatles text (‘John, Paul, George, Ringo & Me: The Real Beatles Story’, Andrė Deutsch, 2005). Tony Sheridan recalls how they stole socks from C&A, but later ‘sold-out’ when Epstein buffed up their image.

And as their career takes off chart-wise Alistair Taylor, Epstein’s assistant, talks about buying off paternity or sexual claims with NEMS money, and speculates about the trail of unacknowledged Beatles-brats, who maintain their anonymity. ‘Beatlemania Grips Gotham’ like ‘a collision of planets’ says the newsreel voice-over as they hit New York. But everyone already knows that. They tour America – according to Barrow, under conditions of ‘five-star house arrest’. Albert Maysles, who has his own Beatles tour-doc DVD jostling for space at the megastore, adds his own insider contributions. Nudging the story further, into the studio years, and what the newsreel voice calls the ‘psychedelic Garden of Eden’ which was Apple – ‘the company they created’. Chauffeur Bryan Barrett talks about Epstein’s early suicide attempts. Paul’s step-sister Ruth McCartney describes fannish excess. A raddled Francie Schwartz talks about shagging Paul. But that incident is more widely discussed in Tony Barrow’s book anyway. Finally, May Pang repeats her oft-repeated story about how Yoko Ono’s control extended to even masterminding Lennon’s adultery, adding little to what was already widely known. There’s an ongoing need for stories to re-told and reinterpreted, for the benefit of newly evolving audiences, or with new slightly titillating twists. So yes, this is ‘The inside story of the world’s greatest-ever pop group.’ The problem is, it’s a great story, as everyone already knows. 

(DVD Release 4 June 2007 through VDI Entertainment). 

In 1963, John Lennon (Ian Hart) & Brian Epstein (David Angus) spent a long twelve-day weekend together in Barcelona. Although a fictionalised account of an actual trip they took together, this is a hugely resonant piece of independent cinema that perfectly captures the calm before the storm of Beatle-mania. Its black-and-white cinematography starkly evokes the early 1960s. It’s filmmaker Christopher Münch’s suggestion that the Beatles’ brilliant but troubled middle-class manager Epstein (29), is hopelessly in love with Lennon, a working class lad six years his junior, whose career is on the precipice of sky rocketing. Nominated for Best Director and the Grand Jury Prize at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival, it convincingly conveys the complex emotional reality of Epstein and Lennon's strong and curious friendship.

Featured online at: 
(UK – March 2007)




Book Review of: 
by Debbie Greenberg 
(2017, Jorvik Press, 
ISBN 978-0-9863770-4-4 Softback. 176 pages)

Like Graceland or the Abbey Road crossing, Liverpool’s Cavern is a shrine for Rock-music devotees. There’s been a lot written about Brian Epstein’s ‘Cellarful Of Noise’, with books by Phil Thompson and Spencer Leigh diligently chronicling the venue’s beat-by-beat history, and its role in Pop mythology. But from her first visit – in December 1960, ‘greedy for our fix of non-stop beat music’ mini-skirted Debbie was a regular, so her’s is a more personal account. Her first-hand fan’s-eye gossipy chit-chat and fashion-notes have tactile authenticity. From resident DJ Bob Wooler’s ‘hi there, all you cave-dwellers,’ to bassist Stuart Sutcliffe standing with his back to the audience ‘so no-one could see how he was playing,’ and Pete Best ‘sultry, fiercely good-looking and oozed sex appeal.’ With Debbie and Sue running down to the Pier Head afterwards to catch the last bus home. 

The added dimension is that – following Ray McFall’s bankruptcy and the original closure of the club in February 1966, she became very actively part of the family concern that took over the lease while still aged just twenty. There’s a lot about those ‘magical and breathtaking’ moments, rich with photos and rare memorabilia. An opportunistic Harold Wilson is there for the re-opening, Solomon Burke, Long John Baldry, Edwin Starr and Chuck Berry (‘a wonderful musician but not a particularly nice man’) all play. Until the club’s 1970 closure and demolition under dubious circumstances. Of course, The Cavern is still a Mecca for Macca-fans, Beatles-aficionados, and tourists in general. I’ve been…

Published in: 
‘R2: ROCK ‘N’ REEL’ (Vol.2 Issue.61 Jan/Feb) 
(UK – January 2017)

Thursday 28 January 2021

Beatles DVD: 'From Liverpool To San Francisco'




DVD Review of: 
(August 2007 – Liberation Entertainment LIB6111) 

Pop stars need a ‘jimmick’ announces Ken Dodd. And the Beatles – according to Knotty Ash’s most tattifilarious son, have the best jimmick (gimmick) of them all – ‘talent’. In a brief DVD extra the four Fabs, plus Doddy are – what could loosely be termed, collectively interviewed by Gay Byrne. If memory serves, it comes from Granada’s regional news round-up ‘People & Places’ – the show that first screened the ‘Beatles-from-the-Cavern’ “Some Other Guy” clip. A weekday mix co-hosted by Byrne, later an engaging fixture on his own Irish TV chat-show, and Bill Grundy, who achieved a degree of notoriety some short thirteen years later when interviewing another spikier Fab Four. Would Dodd join his fellow Liverpudlians as a fifth Beatle? probes Byrne. Well… he’d need a proper rock star name. Paul helpfully suggests ‘Rock Dodd, Cliff Dodd’? No, something earthier insists our Ken. ‘SOD DODD’ adds John with a smirk, and a pleasing ripple of shock. Not quite the Sex Pistols ‘tirade of filth’, but enough to be going on with. Doddy perseveres by enquiring about the humour-content of the Beatles act, then suggests a movie-plot for them with George cast as an ‘evil-smelling peasant’ – why evil-smelling? ‘you should be standing where I’m standing’ gags Dodd with a distasteful sniff, to George’s obvious discomfort. John also responds to a question about his famously witty one-liner at the then-recent Royal Command Performance. He admits that the jibe about ‘shaking their jewels’ was not quite as spontaneous as it may have appeared, but that they’d worked it out the previous evening – if the gag works, they keep it in, says John, if it doesn’t, they’re dropped.

Of course, this insightful archive ‘People & Places’ film-clip would originally have included a Beatles performance. Which is not included. Copyright restrictions dictate that this DVD contains not a single note of original Beatles music. And in truth, the career-advice tutorial could just have easily have flowed in the opposite direction. In the unlikely guise of romantic balladeer Doddy had preceded the Beat Boom by charting with “Love Is Like A Violin” – no.8 in August 1960, a clear two years prior to “Love Me Do”. And he would go on to rival the Mersey Groups by topping the charts for five straight weeks with the million-selling saccharine of “Tears” in October 1965, while “Help” was still there in the top thirty beneath it. ‘Jimmick’ or no jimmick. Despite its glaring omissions – namely, the music itself, there’s much else of merit on this DVD. 

The period it covers is a time when Pop Stars were still new and seemed as powerful as gods. And it neatly encapsulates another often-neglected aspect of the time. When you watch the Shea Stadium or Candlestick Park events, you’re watching the birth of what we now take for granted as enormodrome rock. Prior to that, pop acts toured theatres. Despite the crude amplification the step-up to arena-venues was something unique in the history of Pop culture. One that would shape entertainment through the decades since. The fact that John Lennon’s eminently sensible comments about the irreversible decline of Christianity had been deliberately extracted out of context from a months-old interview and splashed across the American media timed precisely to coincide with their arrival for their fourth US tour was no accident. It was an act vengefully preconceived to provoke moral outrage. The confabulated scandal was in every way as convenient a focal point for a divided and embattled religious sensitivity as the Salman Rushdie affair would be. 

It was a useful excuse to exact economic and cultural revenge on a hitherto unassailable social revolution too. It was one thing for uppity southern good ole boys to be pelvis-gyrating the devil’s Rock ‘n’ Roll. It was quite another when effeminate long-haired foreign Brits capture the music industry with such ease. Their smiling loveable degeneracy incited a fatwah-in-waiting in the gorge of every small-town god-botherer, demonstrating that no religion has a monopoly on bigoted intolerance. So – at the behest of the same Klansmen who were out beating and lynching uppity blacks and Freedom Riders, they cast their Beatles memorabilia into the pyre. The albums, poster-mags, button-badges. Later regretted, perhaps. Or maybe that brief love affair with the Beatles formed a solitary moment of teen-rebellion in an otherwise spotlessly conformist god-fearing life? A secret frisson of forbidden excitement? But the Bible-belt has a long memory when it comes to grudges. When shopping-mall poppet Tiffany had a US no.1 with Tommy James & The Shondells’ “I Think We’re Alone Now” there was no murmur of complaint, despite a theme concerning under-age ‘children’ making-out in the long grass. But she incurred parental displeasure with her decision to follow it with her version of “I Saw Her Standing There”, and had to defy their objections about performing music by the ‘godless Beatles’. 

Tuesday 26 January 2021

Solo Beatles: RINGO





Book Review of: 
(Sanctuary 2005 – ISBN 1-86074-647-0 £7.95)

When Ringo was briefly hospitalised for a tonsils-removal operation in 1964, his Beatles-logo’d drum-seat got temporarily filled by stand-in drummer Jimmy Nichols for a European tour. That doesn’t happen much these days. Now, they just cancel the bloody tour. But back then, Ringo merely posed for a ‘Melody Maker’ cover-photo with a placard saying ‘I Feel Fine’, as his contribution to their current hit. Of course, it’s easy to write Ringo off as fame-by-association. He wasn’t there for the ‘Backbeat’-period Hamburg group-bonding. He wasn’t even there for the rejected Decca audition. Instead, he was drafted in last-minute for “Love Me Do” as the acceptable fringe when Pete Best refused to sacrifice his quiff. On such whims are history made. In some alternate time-stream could it have been John, Paul, George… and Jimmy Nichols – or Pete Best? If so, how would things have panned out differently?

Alan Clayson uses meticulously exhaustive research to navigate his eventful path, the years that lead up to him joining the Beatles – through Rory Storm & The Hurricanes. To how American fans single him out as ‘cute’ from the first tour. ‘If you had to be in a band’ he quipped, ‘it might as well be the Beatles.’ Probably the worst track the Beatles ever recorded was “Octopus Garden” – Ringo’s second-only writing contribution. Although afterwards he charts with a number of half-decent solo hits of his own. He plays on George’s ‘All Things Must Pass’ sessions (1970), then on John Lennon’s first solo ‘Plastic One Band’ album (1971), when they could have had their pick of just about any drummer in the world. He even drums on McCartney’s ‘Tug Of War’ album (1982). So – why Ringo?

He’s the jester, the good-guy, the cohesive force defusing the in-group tensions around him. His role throughout was not just to drum for the Fab Four, but to arbitrate between their internally warring poles. A demilitarised buffer-zone. But across the decades since, there’s only the indulgences, the rehab, and the long inactive spaces between, the occasional mediocre albums, and the mildly entertaining movies. Ringo’s amiable comedic talent first surfaced in the ‘Hard Day’s Night’ movie-sequence by the river. Although his subsequent acting career failed to develop whatever potential it indicated, sleep-walking through movie-adaptations of Terry Southern’s cult novels ‘Candy’ (1967) and ‘Magic Christian’ (1970). Yet the Beatles story must still be chockfull with secrets and untold stories unvoiced through loyalties to the dead, or to the living. And if Ringo won’t write it, and McCartney’s never likely to divulge it, this is about the best we’re likely to get. It is by turns sad, touching, comic, and never less than informative. But betrayingly – rather than checking out the ‘Ringo’ index-references, you tend to search out the more creatively-interesting names around it. 

(First published 1996 as ‘Ringo Starr: Straight Man Or Joker’, this revised edition 2005) Sanctuary Publishing Limited, Sanctuary House, 45-53 Sinclair Road, London W14 0NS

 Published in:- 
‘THE SUPPLEMENT Issue.30’ (UK – October 2006) 
‘ROCK ‘N’ REEL Vol.2 No.1 Jan/Feb’ (UK – December 2006)



Album Review of: 
(1998, Mercury/ Polygram 538-118-2) 

“With A Little Help From My Friends” is ‘the song that gave me a thirty-year career.’ Ain’t that sad? Best drummer in Rock? Naw. Ringo was hardly the best drummer in the Beatles. And he was their fourth best writer. As they simultaneously disinter a Lennon box-set of ninety-four out-takes complete with John’s “I’m The Greatest” written for one Mr Richard Starkey, Ringo assumes his ‘Thomas The Tank-Engine’ persona as laconic drone-over link-man for a live traipse through his own back-catalogue. Songs that might have been perfectly adequate if they’d been written by a member of the Searchers or Gerry & The Pacemakers, but which got sadly over-shadowed when compared with Lennon-McCartney. Or even Harrisongs. He’d been kicking “Don’t Pass Me By” around for years to general Mop-Top ridicule until they eventually donated space for it on ‘The White Album’ (‘Let’s hear it for ‘The White Album’. Let’s milk it for all we can get...’). And his ‘you were in a car-crash, and you lost your hair’ does have an attractively stoned oddness. But semolina pilchards climbing up the Eiffel Tower it is not. 

He follows it with “Octopus’s Garden”, his aquatic ‘Yellow Submarine’ retake from ‘Abbey Road’, probably the most skipped-over track in Rock history (‘I’d had one of those ‘herbal’ cigarettes’ he explains lamely). Then – a handful of solo hits co-written with ‘the one-and-only George Harrison. Let’s hear it for George...’ (“It Don’t Come Easy”), or taped after a night of drunken indulgence with Marc Bolan, ‘a very good friend of mine, god bless him...’ (“Back Off Boogaloo”), clear up to “I Was Walking” from last year’s ‘Vertical Man’ album. The ‘VH1 Storyteller’ project is a step on from ‘Unplugged’. Plugged. But with audience intimacy. And, as required, they hang on every Ringo-ism, ask questions (“who yells ‘I’ve got blisters on my fingers’ at the end of “Helter Skelter?” – hey, it was Ringo!), and supply rapturous ovations at the slightest provocation. The band includes Joe Walsh, plus a bunch of adequate session non-entities. And it all makes for a very undemanding pleasantly jog-along wallow in the soft thirty-year underbelly of amnesiac nostalgia. 

Album Review of: 
(2004, CNR Records 22.999052) 

It’s a thankless task, being Ringo. Eight years as a Fab. Then the longest lost-weekend retirement in Rock. Now he hollers ‘What’s my name?’ and they all holler back ‘RINGO!!!’ ‘It’s the only reason I’m here’ he adds. So at least he’s under no illusion, he knows it too. But apparently in the States that’s enough to keep the ‘All-Starrs’ on the road. This time round, it’s a live set in Detroit during an eighth tour, and there’s the solo Ringo hits, in lifeless facsimile. Beatles hits even more so. Paul Carrack is on piano and vocals (“How Long”), Colin Hay who I once interviewed when this – “Down Under”, was first a hit for Men at Work. John Waite (“When I See You Smile”), Shelia E (Prince’s “Glamorous Life”). Two songs each from these disparate also-rans. Updated with Ringo’s tribute to Sun records “Memphis In Your Mind” from his recent ‘Ringo-Rama’ (‘like you bought it, right?’ he mocks truthfully). Then “Don’t Pass Me By”, Carl Perkins’ “Honey Don’t” from the ‘Beatles For Sale’ album, and – inevitably a bored karaoke “With A Little Help From My Friends”. Utterly pointless. An appalling abuse of CD-space. 

Published in: 
‘SONGBOOK no.5 (Autumn)’ 
(UK – December 2004)

DVD Review of: 
(2012, Image Entertainment) 

Own up, who really needs another Ringo Starr DVD? With Global Warming, Syria, and Simon Cowell to worry about, does anyone still give a toss about another amiable jog-through of the usual suspect old clunkers? Even now they must be camping outside HMV stores and crashing websites with orders for this fifty-six minute package, NOT! The same old one-track-per-LP Beatles songs get dusted off alongside the handful of post-Fab solo hits, all to no real purpose. Done live at the Genesee Theatre in Waukegan, Illinois, and first broadcast in 2005 for PBS, Ringo’s without his regular All-Starr Band, but manages to rustle up Colin Hay (of Men At Work) to guest on “Who Can It Be Now?” And obviously a good time was had by all. But is that enough? Ringo was on TV’s ‘Loose Women’ a while back, talking-up his useless retread of Buddy Holly’s ‘Think It Over’ from his ‘Ringo 2012’ album, provoking pretty-much the same conundrum. Who needs it? What possible audience-need is this targeting?

Published in: 
‘R2: ROCK ‘N’ REEL Vol.2 Issue 33’ 
(May/June 2012 – UK)

Thursday 21 January 2021

DVD: John Lennon 'Love Is All You Need



Review of: 
(2010, DVD A2B Media, Odeon Entertainment) 83-minutes 
plus bonus features ‘Memories Of John’ about the Liverpool Cavern Walks 
project, ‘Interview With Tony Palmer’ director of early Beatles TV-documentary 
‘All My Loving’, + ‘Here There & Everywhere’ trailer

Plastic Ono Band images

He came to save the world, and they crucified him. John Lennon, that is. By now it’s possible to reconstruct the entire path of his eventful life through the medium of biopics, from Sam Taylor-Wood’s ‘Nowhere Boy’ (2009) covering his childhood, through the Hamburg years as Ian Hart in ‘Backbeat’ (1994), then into Christopher Eccleston’s ‘Lennon Naked’ (2010) taking in the Epstein years. There’s even Christopher Münch who fabricated his film ‘The Hour And Times’ (1991) around John and Brian Epstein’s much-discussed much-mythologised twelve-day Barcelona holiday jaunt together. While this documentary fills in details along the way, ably enhanced by lots of archive newsreel footage, with absolutely no Lennon or Beatles music whatsoever, but with linking narrative from Paul Gambaccini in a pink shirt. He could probably do this capsule history on autopilot, but there’s added comment from Bruce Channel – who topped a Liverpool bill over the early Beatles, Sting – who points out how the Beatles legitimised Motown by recording lots of Smokey Robinson songs (they actually recorded one, “You Really Got A Hold On Me”), plus George Martin. 

It tracks through all the usual Beatlemania shenanigans, what George Melly calls ‘turning mass-hysterical masturbation to profitable account’ (in his ‘Revolt Into Style’), punctuated by its fab mop-top crisis points. There’s the ‘Bigger Than Jesus’ Bible-belt controversy whipped up from a throw-away Lennon quip, an outrage magnified by the same kind of religious retards who now promote creationism onto American school syllabuses. Then the shock of Brian Epstein’s death, and the coming of the Maharishi. Film of the hippie era resembles distant footage from a strange lost realm of outlandish quaintly evocative oddness, something that can only have happened in a parallel less-cynical continuum, a flowering flower-powering Middle Earth in a fantasy realm similar to that of the pre-Raphaelites or the bohemian Romantic Poets. Did all that really happen? With the Fab’s as presiding deities. 

Feminist theorist Camille Paglia eloquently describes the intervention of Yoko One into the enchanted circle. She was a strong woman, inviting sexism, she was Asian, so leaving her open to racism, and she was older than John, hence going against the perceived natural order of male-female relationships. Worse still, she caused the Beatles split. Guilty as charged, according to fans and tabloids. Cynthia and Julian Lennon, talking to each other by the fireplace, are more generous. Whatever Yoko represented, she was good for John. She was the healing force he needed. John was art-school. That’s where he’d met Cynthia in the first place. His art was evolving. He explains how Dylan – ‘Bob, not Thomas’, had expanded his lyric horizons. Pop songs didn’t have to be ‘I love you, you love me’. They could be more than that. They could be ‘semolina pilchards climbing up the Eiffel Tower’, or ‘plasticine porters with looking-glass ties’. Yoko opened his head up further. She – as Stuart Sutcliffe had begun to do a decade earlier, influenced, confronted and seriously altered John’s consciousness. And he was strong enough to accept, and integrate those changes. Questioning the Northern cultural misogyny that had characterised his relationship with Cynthia, and expressed in songs such as “Run For Your Life” (‘I’d rather see you dead little girl, than to be with another man’). By the time of “Jealous Guy” he was apologising for such deeply-ingrained behaviour patterns, and struggling to amend them. He would emerge from the process a more complete human being, more at ease with himself. 

Yoko was already established as an artist. That was how they’d met, at one of her exhibitions. Soon, “The Ballad Of John & Yoko” became a no.1 single, incorporating their romance into the ongoing Beatles legend. It could be argued that Yoko sacrificed her own already high-profile art career to Lennon’s celebrity, getting a degree of mass-media scrutiny and access by way of trade-off which they were able to exploit into a series of prankster exploits. Bed-ins, Bagism, “Give Peace A Chance”. It’s all here. And the art-stunts they perpetrate together are as off-kilter as anything that Tracey Emin or Damien Hirst would much later concoct. In one clip Yoko explains to a baffled David Frost why the fragments of a broken cup placed on a podium is sculpture. Or perhaps David’s amused bafflement is affected for the benefit of the TV-studio audience, and the viewers out there in television-land, for surely he’s not unaware of the mainstream of conceptual art since Marcel Duchamp and the Dadaists, of which Yoko is a fairly creative representative? 

‘I’m a Peacenik’ says John, and as a thematic thread running through their arc of adventures, it’s a pretty healthy one. Yet after the way-out excesses of the experimental albums they inflict upon a confused fan-base, it’s interesting that Lennon later reverts to more conventionally acceptable Pop. As Paul Gambaccini points out ‘he got his chance to be a private citizen’ during his house-husband period. Until the final frames in the Lennon-life biopic. ‘Five gunshots are not a rare event on the streets of New York,’ but when they’re fired by what Gambaccini dismisses as an ‘attention-seeking creep’ – he refuses even to mention Mark Chapman by name, because that would only fulfill the assassin’s intention, the sixties was finally blasted into oblivion. It’s not mentioned in this DVD, but ironically Mark Chapman would be held in the same Attica Correctional Facility that Lennon had once themed on his double-album ‘Some Time In New York’. There, John sings ‘we’re all mates with Attica State’ in solidarity with the rioting prison inmates. 

(2010, DVD A2B Media, Odeon Entertainment) 83-minutes plus bonus features ‘Memories Of John’ about the Liverpool Cavern Walks project, ‘Interview With Tony Palmer’ director of early Beatles TV-documentary ‘All My Loving’, + ‘Here There & Everywhere’ trailer.

Featured on website: 
(UK – September 2010) 
& edited version published in: 
‘ROCK ‘N’ REEL Vol.2 No.24 (Nov/Dec)’ 
(UK – November 2010)

Wednesday 20 January 2021

DVD: Young John Lennon 'NOWHERE BOY'





Review of: 
 Directed by Sam Taylor-Wood, with Aaron Johnson (as John Lennon), 
Kristen Scott Thomas (as Aunt Mimi), and Anne-Marie Duff 
(Julia Lennon) (2009 Icon Films, DVD/Blu-ray May 2010, 
with extras ‘Lennon’s Liverpool’ featurette, Director 
interview & commentary, ‘The re-creation of 
Lennon & The Quarrymen’ featurette, and 
‘Anatomy of the scene: That’s When I Stole Him’) 

If ‘Genius is pain’, as John Lennon later claimed, this is where the pain begins. The film opens with a single crashing chord, a ghost-anticipation of “A Hard Day’s Night”, and a solitary teenage Lennon running, pursued by the faint future-echoes of teen-screams to come. As he cycles to school he passes the stone gates of ‘Strawberry Fields’. He sketches ‘walrus’ into his schoolbook pages. Then the vindictively punitive headmaster scolds him ‘you’re going nowhere’… with teasing hints and suggestions. All the events in this film have been explored and evaluated any number of times in a library-full of academic, trashy or scrupulously-researched authoritative books about Lennon individually, or the Beatles collectively. Seeing it all acted out on-screen gives flesh to the dry text sketches, adds emotional and period depth.

First-time director Sam Taylor-Wood, former Turner prize nominated Young British Artist, invests it with an accessible immediacy that goes beyond archivist musicology, and makes it real. There’s no attempt at replicating the character’s physical appearance, unlike – say, Ian Hart’s John Lennon in ‘Backbeat’ (1994), a movie that begins where ‘Nowhere Boy’ leaves off. Aaron Johnson does not resemble John Lennon, and there’s no way of contriving it. Instead, it’s more an inner portrayal. This is a fucked-over young Lennon caught up in a bewildering storm of adolescent hormones, half-memories, glimpses of things, the sounds of his mother’s sex-life in the night, pain and confusion, with the deep swirling tides of the Irish Sea to suggest hidden depths and unfathomable currents, topped off by the tawdry Blackpool funfair to suggest his aggressively-posed frivolity. 

Contemporaries continue to refer to the young Lennon as a ‘rebel’. Reviews of ‘Nowhere Boy’ routinely describe him in that way. Which is deceiving. Rebel is now the default setting. For an adolescent not to rebel is now in some way unnatural. It was not so in that conformist time. Elvis might have been perceived as a rebellious force, but at heart he was a patriotic god-fearing American good ole country-boy. Cliff Richard might have been briefly a disruptive Rocker, but he was into show-biz, not rebellion. To be the rebel then was not a marketable pose, it was to be the marginalised outsider. A trouble-maker, out of step with society. For Lennon to be a rebel was to mark him out as different. And his was a complex dilemma. 

John lives in the pleasant middle-class Woolton suburb three miles from Liverpool city centre, in a neat semi-detached called ‘Mendips’ on Menlove Avenue, with his morally uptight and elegantly respectable Aunt Mimi. There’s a photo of the real infant Lennon on Mimi’s mantelpiece. He listens to Tony Hancock & Kenneth Williams on the radio, unaware that his uncle George has collapsed on the stairs outside his room. Distressed when he dies, Aunt Mimi rebukes him for being silly. Then mother Julia reappears. She lives for ‘Fun Fun Fun’ – sorry, wrong sixties band! She takes young John to Blackpool and plays “Rocket ‘88” on the pier café juke-box, crediting it correctly to Ike Turner even though at the time she wouldn’t have known that, because it was issued under the Jackie Brenston alias. ‘You know what it means, Rock ‘n’ Roll?’ teases Julia ‘– sex’. In the film she takes him to see Elvis on the local fleapit newsreel. Others claim Lennon saw Elvis at his most surly in ‘Jailhouse Rock’ at the Palais de Luxe with early girlfriend Thelma Pickles. Perhaps Goldsmith graduate Taylor-Wood conflates the two incidents, enabling John to ask ‘Why couldn’t god make me Elvis?’ So that Julia can jibe supportively ‘Cos he’s saving you for John Lennon.’ Yes, we know, bigger than Jesus. Nevertheless, he greases his hair into a Presley quiff as “Shake Rattle & Roll” corrodes the soundtrack. 

John and sidekick Pete Shotton shoplift some jazz records from a music store – maybe NEMS? He trades them with a ‘Cunard Yank’ for a copy of Screaming Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You”. Julia is turning him on to R&B. She blows into his harmonica, ‘your spit’s my spit anyway.’ Then she teaches him the basic banjo-chords for “Maggie May” – a song the Quarrymen will use to open their first set. And a forty-second snippet of which will be squeezed into the play-out groove of the original un-stripped ‘Let It Be’ album. ‘Who’s Maggie May?’ he queries innocently. ‘A Whoo-er’ reveals Julia flirtatiously (whore). Soon he upgrades to a red £7 acoustic guitar, and rehearses “That’ll Be The Day”. ‘Nowhere Boy’ essentially charts the formative three-way love-pain equation that is John, Julia and Mimi. Julia wears red, and Mimi wears prim black. A moral colour-coding. With John torn between two mothers. Mimi, who provides stability and security. Julia who represents bohemian escape. ‘In Freudian terms’ explains ‘Observer’ film critic Philip French ‘the stern Mimi, a practitioner of what we now call ‘tough love’, is at work on John’s super-ego, while the rebellious Julia, offering unconditional love, is exciting his id. In religious terms they’re his good and bad angels.

But the film also puts in place the roots of the next big equation in his life, the one that goes ‘Lennon-McCartney’. The Beatles narrative begins when sixteen-year-old Lennon meets Paul McCartney in the leafy grounds of St Peter’s Parish Church where the Quarrymen play the annual Woolton Village Fete. That Sunday – 7 July 1957, is one of those fateful dates that has since assumed epic world-shaping significance, but at the time meant very little to anyone. Not even to its participants. It was a shy and awkward meeting. Former Quarryman bassist Ivan Vaughan introduces a boyish Paul in white sports coat and pink carnation. ‘Paul plays too’ prompts Ivan. ‘What? With himself?’ teases John, then more conciliatory ‘I do. All the time. It’s good for the wrist muscles.’

John notes that the new kid can play guitar, upside-down, pretty good for a left-hander. And he knows his way around the chords of some American Rock ‘n’ Roll. That’s something worth knowing. Paul works his way through Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock” as John appraises him critically. For Apple publicist Derek Taylor, this is the moment that ‘the Twentieth Century’s greatest romance’ began, when the two met and ‘clicked’. Was it really as ‘Nowhere Boy’ imagines? It seems feasible. It must have been something like that. Perhaps this is about the closest we’re ever going to get? They check each other out warily. ‘You don’t seem like the Rock ‘n’ Roll kind of guy’ accuses John. ‘Why, because I don’t go around smashing things up and acting like a dick?’ responds the ‘Scouse Duane Eddy’, ‘it’s the music. That’s it. It’s just the music. Simple.’ But when Paul admits his Mother Mary recently died of cancer, that firms the forming bond. Now Paul wears pointed-toe shoes. And there’s a running gag about John not wearing his glasses, despite Mimi’s regular prompts. It recurs when Paul is taken aback as he fumbles his specs on, the better to see his fingering as they rehearse “Blue Moon” together. ‘My Buddy Holly look’ he snaps defensively. 

Paul suggests ‘we should write our own stuff.’ He’s already astute, ‘that way you don’t get stiffed by record companies.’ This introduces a drawback, which also afflicts ‘Backbeat’. Movie-makers can soundtrack Duane Eddy’s “Movin ‘n’ Groovin”, and Paul croons “Love Me Tender” to Julia (‘that was for her, wasn’t it, your Mum?’ she says), and a bunch of studio-muso’s including Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory add incidental links, but the rights to Beatles songs are not so easy to acquire. After a evening of family revelations splurged out during a big Mimi-Julia confrontation on John’s birthday he walks out drunk into the Liverpool night, gets turned away by the bouncers at ‘The Cavern’, and sleeps on a bench overlooking the Mersey. The brief family reconciliation that follows is violently exploded when Julia is killed in a hit-&-run as she leaves Mendips. As John premiers his first song, “Hello Little Girl”, to Paul. The Beatles will do the song for their failed Decca audition. 

Gerry Marsden claims he turned the song down when John offered it to him to record. Eventually Brian Epstein bequeaths it to the Fourmost, as their golden ticket into Top Ten. Meanwhile, as the post-Julia family axis shifts, the new configuration emerges. John thumps Paul. Then they embrace. There’s an envelope left for him by Julia, with ‘a few bob in there’. A guy called Percy F Phillips has a small monophonic recording and mastering facility set-up in the front room of his Victorian terraced house at Number 38 Kensington. The group use Julia’s legacy to record “In Spite Of All The Danger” in his front-room studio, for 17s 6d. Oddly, the song constitutes the only extant McCartney-George Harrison collaboration, which is now available on ‘The Beatles Anthology 1’ double-CD. They also record Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be The Day” during the same one-take session. After which the group are set to embark for Hamburg. Mimi has to fill out the documentation. ‘What am I, parent or guardian?’ she wonders. ‘Both’ says John firmly, in final reconciliation. 

For the ‘White Album’ John writes “Julia”. He names his first son Julia-n. The credits roll over the third original song, an out-take version of John’s primal therapy “Mother”, from the ‘Plastic Ono Band’ album, recorded to exorcise the demons of memory. Turning pain into genius. To listen to “Mother”, is to hear the adolescent John Lennon screaming out the pain and confusion of separation, isolation and loss, crying out for his dead mother. And it’s possibly his finest ever artistic achievement, for this is an album that retains its ability to provoke highly unsettling reactions in its audience. Watching ‘Nowhere Boy’ now helps you understand it better. But what is there in the film for those not sufficiently steeped in Beatles-lore to tease out all the subtlety? Well, everyone is in on the tale far enough to get a powerful jolt from this movie.


Directed by Sam Taylor-Wood. Screenplay by Matt Greenhalgh (who also scripted the Ian Curti bio-pic ‘Control’). With Aaron Johnson (as John Lennon), Kristen Scott Thomas (as Aunt Mimi), Anne-Marie Duff (Julia Lennon),Thomas Sangster (Paul McCartney), Sam Bell (George Harrison), Josh Bolin (Pete Shotton), Eric Griffiths (Quarryman Eric Griffiths), Christian Bird (Jimmy Tarbuck), and David Threlfall (Uncle George) (2009 Icon Films, DVD/Blu-ray May 2010), 97-minutes with 54-minutes of extras ‘Lennon’s Liverpool’ featurette, Director interview & commentary, ‘The re-creation of Lennon & The Quarrymen’ featurette, and ‘Anatomy of the scene: That’s When I Stole Him’) 

Originally featured on website: 
‘VIDEOVISTA’ (UK – June 2010)