Saturday, December 31, 2011

50 Years On, We Thank Decca Records For Rejecting The Beatles, Thanks Decca!

January 1st 2012  marks the 50th anniversary of the Beatles infamous Decca audition. When Brian Epstein had suggested managing the Beatles in December 1961, he set about securing them a recording deal through his contacts in the record retail industry. Epstein's NEMS store was one of the largest record retailers in the English North, and he used his status to pressure various labels to review his new proteges. One of the labels to respond and send an A&R man north was DECCA. Mike Smith was dispatched to Liverpool, and upon hearing the Beatles play at the Cavern, he agreed that an artists test should be set as soon as possible. 
This was hastily arranged for January 1st, 1962.  
The fact that Epstein had secured an artists test at a large and influential recording company, less than five weeks after first hearing and meeting them, must have impressed the group enormously. Perhaps Epstein's feat dazzled them enough to allow them to trust his judgment in choosing the songs to present to Decca staff. 
On new years even 1961, the Beatles drove south to London in a battered van, enduring brutal conditions, and losing their way several times en route. Arriving just in time for the stroke of the new year, they retired to a cheap hotel in a city they new little about, and appeared at Decca's west Hampstead studios at the arranged time the next morning. Running through 15 songs in just one allotted hour is hardly the best way to showcase your talent, but regardless, that's all the time the group were given.
Of the 15 songs, (while a little rough around the edges) the performances, musically and vocally, were considerably sound, with two Lennon-McCartney originals, "Like Dreamers Do" & "Hello Little Girl" offering potential single material. Others, obviously chosen by Epstein to showcase the group's eclectic appeal, made them sound comedic at best, and inconsistent in style at worst. The playing was tight, although understandable nerves can be detected in the singing. Interestingly, Pete Best's drumming, while a little erratic in time-keeping, was solid, and very different to the imploding mash of patterns he utilized at the EMI session later that year, which ultimately sealed his fate. 
The group left Decca, seemingly assured that enough had been done to secure a deal. So much so in fact that Epstein began to let it leak that his group were now Decca recording artistes. Three weeks later however came the crushing news that they had been rejected, with Lennon furiously blaming Epstein for his selection of the material. Incensed, Epstein traveled to London and demanded a u-turn by Decca executives. Realising this was futile Epstein is reported to have uttered that Decca were out of their minds, his boys would be bigger than Elvis Presley. Decca's reply was polite smiles; a boastful claim indeed. 
Apparently Dick Rowe, head of Decca A&R attempted to smooth the atmosphere by informing Epstein that guitar groups were simply on the way out. We will never have any way of knowing if either statement was ever made. For his part, Rowe denied ever saying such a thing. But of course he would deny it. If he had said it, he proved himself to be the most out of touch music executive in the country at that time, one who had just made a criminal error of judgment. 
Rowe has always been held up as the biggest idiot in A&R history, the man who rejected the Beatles! While George Martin has been hailed as his direct opposite, the man who discovered the Beatles, the genius who recognised the genius. 
This is however just a lazy conclusion, and simply incorrect. Another guitar band auditioned the same day as the Beatles for Decca. Brian Poole and The Tremeloes (or simply The Tremeloes) auditioned for the same staff. In the end it seems Decca signed The Tremeloes, from nearby Dagenham, in favour of the Beatles, from far away Liverpool. Perhaps it was a matter of cheaper travel expenses, or practical geo-logistical artiste management. Perhaps The Tremeloes were more confident in their performance, perhaps they appealed to Decca as the better option for a gamble. Remember, George Martin himself stated that he didn't really think much of the Beatles musically, in June 1962. He maintained it was their charm that encouraged him to take a risk with them.
The risk is also another factor. Decca were a big label with big artists. They would have been expected to turn a new signing into profit, quickly. Parlophone were on the other hand, an unfashionable gimmick label who produced comedy records, and the terms which George Martin initially offered that Beatles were so meager, that he stood to lose little financially. This meant his job was secure if they failed. 
In the end, Epstein's wild boast regarding his group toppling Elvis Presley was proved correct, and he had Decca to thank for it! It was while attempting to cut an acetate from the Decca tapes that Epstein finally ran into George Martin, and the rest as they say, is history. 
The Beatles career, often dazzling and seemingly the result of pure genius, was ultimately, the sum of many, many, apparently small parts. Around the same time Decca rejected the Beatles, they also rejected a request for employment from a 15 year old school leaver by the name of Geoffrey Emerick. Later, the engineer responsible for the sounds on Revolver and Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. 
Dick Rowe later signed The Rolling Stones, on the advice of one George Harrison, and was thus able to recoup some of his losses, and save his skin.
In a final twist, EMI staff (still unable to believe Decca had rejected their new Golden Geese) sent Rowe a plainly packaged acetate of the soon to be released 1963 chart topper "Please Please Me" 7". They were hoping to lure him into rejecting them a second time. No response was received from Decca.
If the Beatles had signed with Decca, chances are they would have recorded a few shallow and hasty singles (possibly covers) that may have flopped, sending them back to Liverpool for a life of anonymity. Fate intervened, and they fell into the hands of EMI and George Martin. I love fate.

Half a century on, I'd like to thank Decca for the 4 best things they ever did for us:

1. Funding and facilitating the Beatles contract with EMI
2. Rejecting The Beatles
3. Rejecting Geoff Emerick
4. Signing The Rolling Stones 

Happy New Year Decca

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Beatles - Please Please Me: The Album Guide, Video Demo

This video demo takes you through the functionality of Dinosaur Album Guides new Beatles iPad App & eBook: Please Please Me - The Definitive Album Guide

Starting with 'Please, Please Me; The Definitive Guide', Dinosaur Album Guides deliver the details you want to know in a style which is objective, interactive, engaging, educational and above all, fun. Each song is broken down into sub-sections of Background, Recording, Analysis, Impact and Discography, as we present you with all the details you ever wanted to know. Who plays which instrument? Which amplifiers were used? How many takes were involved? What were the individual influences behind each song? How were the songs recorded? And much more... In addition, quotes from the band and EMI staff complete the fascinating story behind this seminal album. Just $9.99 for iPad, Kindle and many more devices*

*If you don't have a Kindle or iPad, you can still download this book on most media devices. Amazon provides a FREE Kindle reader which is available for PC, Mac, Blackberry, Android, iPhone & more.
Get your free reader, and you can continue to download this exciting new Beatles guide from Amazon.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Beatles - Please Please Me, The Album Guide

Dinosaur Album Guides launch the first in an exciting new series; a definitive guide to The Beatles debut LP, Please Please Me. For iPad & Kindle

We leave no stone unturned as we trace the history of this seminal rock album. Each song is broken down into sub-sections of background, recording, analysis, impact and discography, as we present you with all the details you ever wanted to know. Who plays which instrument, which amplifiers were used, how many takes were involved, what were the individual influences behind each song, how were the songs recorded, and much more. In addition, quotes from the band members and EMI staff help to flesh-out the story behind each song, as well as the album itself. The perfect Christmas gift for your favourite Beatles fan.
Find out more about this app and eBook here, and get your copy.

iPad app screen captures

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ten Story Love Song - John Lennon's Top Ten

December the 8th is here again (ain't been round since you know when...)

31 years ago today, John Lennon, arguably one of the 20th centuries most interesting, and most paradoxical stars was gunned down by a demon on a New York street.
Doubtless today's papers, magazines, blogs and various online media will be filled with messages of peace, love and understanding...nothing funny 'bout that. However many will present the annual token deconstruction of Lennon's 'genius'. Some will refer to him as Gandhi, Jesus, or even a God- like figure (the irony is not lost), while others will counteract with the usual comments that he was a cruel and aggressive asshole who turned his back on his first family and served his own interests first. None of the former group is true of course, while some of the latter certainly hold water.

Don't listen to any of them. In truth it's all utter bollox.

What the man was, and what he did is irrelevant. His music however will never be such. Not to belittle the compositions of his songwriting partner and former band-mates, but Lennon was in a different league completely because he was cursed. He possessed an internal honesty and filter for bullshit that the careful sensibilities of McCartney, and the distracted spirit of Harrison could never quite aspire to. That's not to say that his lyrical conclusions or suggestions were always right, he was often wrong and too easily misled. However, he was always thought provoking, and has remained perpetually relevant. Lennon has never been passé.

I've taken the liberty to choose Lennon's ten greatest achievements on record. Many of these reflect his brutal honesty about how he saw himself, and the world around him.

But how do you pick 10 of Lennon's most notable songs you say? Seriously? Well, not without pacing the floor and losing sleep, that's for sure. There are far fewer tea bags in the tin than there were when this idea was first suggested to me. But if you're partial to other peoples musical suggestions, and you trust the opinion of someone who has been listening to John Lennon's music for 32 of his 42 years, then please, read on.

10. Imagine (1971)

Overrated? Perhaps. This is not John Lennon's greatest song, and it's certainly not the greatest song of the 20th century. I even toyed with the idea of excluding it from the top ten. I included it for two reasons however; 1. I don't want to hear a tap-tap on my back door only to open it and find hundreds of disgruntled Lennon fans holding a noose in the light of burning torches, and 2. I love how this song gets up the nose of cynics who miss the point. It's not called "Instruction", "Action" or "Do". The hint is in the title folks. It's as relevant today with our world crumbling and those who value possessions over people scrambling to protect their interests, as it was in 1971. I've included the acoustic version to distance this beautiful song as far from the candle carrying mob that I possibly can. 

9. Watching the Wheels (1980)

In the middle of the punk revolution in 1977 England, NME published an edition which featured John Lennon in Hamburg on the cover. The caption read: "Oh no, not another angry punk dressed in leather on the cover...which reminds us...where the hell are you John Lennon?". NME, and the UK wanted Lennon back, they needed him. His answer 3 years later was "Watching the Wheels". The song was the final installment in a career of self searching and self yearning that began with the pained "There's A Place" in 1963. It was followed through with "I'll Be Back", "I'll Cry Instead", "I'm A Loser", "Help!", "In My Life", "I'm Only Sleeping", "Good Morning, Good Morning", "I'm So Tired", "The Ballad Of John And Yoko", "Don't Let Me Down", "Mother", "God", "Working Class Hero", "My Mummy's Dead", "Crippled Inside", "How?" and culminated in "Watching the Wheels", "Woman" and "Just Like Starting Over". Placed chronologically, you can almost trace Lennon's life through his introspective habit of writing about what he knew best; himself. "Watching the Wheels" seemingly finds him at peace, two months before his death.

8. I Should Have Known Better (1964)

My own personal favourite from the giddy, bright and optimistic soundtrack to Beatlemania, and the endless possibilities of post-war Europe now that the future belonged to war-babies and not their warring, scrounging, sensible parents. It couldn't last alas, but this fabulous pop song is timeless in its simplicity. My 2 year old sings it enthusiastically, cutely muddling the words, but never the melody which seems to have him possessed. That's the point of pop music isn't it? If aliens landed and had an hour to absorb our culture, this would be the Beatles song I would play them. Sums the entire crazy 7 years up in 2 and a half  minutes. 

7. Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)  (1965)

Forget the perpetual stories about sitars and which female Lennon was referring to. Who really cares? What matters here is the sound of Lennon, and the Beatles' coming of age. Possibly the most beautiful acoustic intro sequence ever captured on tape. That Gibson is so rich, so lush. The strumming deliberately held back, escaping from its waltz-like structure through an enthusiastic accent at just the perfect moment. Rhythm guitar playing is an art, here in the hands of one its greatest masters, it can be heard at its best. 

6. Tomorrow Never Knows (1966)

Although this is the manic track that winds up Revolver, providing a perfect cliff hanger, and the missing link that bridges Revolver and Sgt Peppers; this was actually the first song recorded for the album. How they found the energy and enthusiasm for the rest of Revolver after recording this amazing feat of experimentation is a wonder indeed. Sampling, tape loops, and thundering break-beats were all pioneered with this recording. How sneaky of the Beatles to discover and then discard 'Drum n Bass', 20 years before it was 'invented'!

5. She Said, She Said (1966)

Again, a point of opinion on whether this is Revolver's greatest track or not, I've included it because, personally I think its the Fab's coolest albums' coolest track. It's effortlessly cool. And all the more so because while every other track on Revolver was painstakingly and expensively created over months and months, "She Said, She Said" was laid down on the last night of mixing as an afterthought. Interestingly McCartney does not appear on the track at all; Harrison plays bass. Now, I never suggested that's why it might be so bloody cool, you thought that in your own head! 

4. A Day In The Life  (1967)

Another lyrical Lennon trawl through his life of (dis)content in The City of London 'stockbroker belt', even the song's title betrays its origins; a narrative of his post-touring life (reading papers, reading film scripts, reading papers). So much has been documented about the recording of this incredibly beautiful pop song that to regurgitate it all here would be completely predictable and boring. McCartney provides the light relief, and the song wouldn't be the same without it. Starr provides lead drums, roadie Malcolm Evans is on alarm clock and countdown, and several pianos were used to create the crashing E chord at the end. Picture George Martin squirming as he told the 40 piece orchestra that he could give them the lowest note, and the highest note, but that in between, it was every man for himself.  "Of course, they all looked at me as though I were completely mad" 

3. I Am The Walrus (1967)

Conscious of the fact that his old grammar school (which had told him he would amount to nothing) was discussing his lyrics in English classes, Lennon set about composing these Lewis-Carroll inspired lyrics over the course of several acid trips. The anti-establishment lyrics are one thing, the aural landscape they are set within is another. George Martin always maintained that recording a song was like painting a picture in sound. If so, this ranks among the strangest works of Dali. The track contains a darkness and intensity that is unmatched in the entire Beatles catalogue. This is Lennon at his creative Beatles peak. The slope from this point on was ever so slightly downward.

2. Strawberry Fields Forever (1967)

I'm going to leave this one alone and let you enjoy it. I don't want to spoil it. There is nothing I could possibly say which could further enhance it. Pop music becoming high brow art becoming pop music. 

1. God (1970)

God is a concept, by which we measure, our pain.

This is not my personal favourite Lennon song. However, I'm awarding this my number one spot purely because the song contains a revolutionary lyric. The type of vitriolic denunciation contained in Lennon's lyric was previously the privilege of religious leaders, senate hearings, state departments or despotic dictators. As much as popular music had progressed by 1970, this type of honesty and scathing criticism of the failures of the apparent 'progress' of the past 6 years had never been seen or heard before. Lennon not only denounces his friends and the Beatles themselves (sharp intake of breath through teeth), he condemns organised religion, spirituality, politics, the far right, liberalism, and the entire counter culture movement itself. His prognosis accompanied by some tinkering piano parts a la "Love Letters" is that all that matters is you and yours. Everything else is irrelevant. This should be on every school curriculum.

And so dear friends, you'll just have to carry on...

Pugwash, The Olympus Sound

Beautiful harmonies, sumptuous melodies, swirling organs, Mellotrons, chiming Rickenbacker guitars and beguiling chords all mashed together with shades of The Jam, The Who, XTC, ELO , The Kinks, The Small Faces, The Beach Boys and, dare we say it, Peter Frampton: who else could it be but Dublin’s own Pugwash.

The Olympus Sound, released in August 2011, is the fifth offering from Pugwash front man/songwriter Thomas Walsh, and follows Almond Tea (1999), Almanac (2002), Jollity (2005), and Eleven Modern Antiquities (2009). Pugwash have always been something of an oddity, crafting intelligent and honest retro pop within a city, indeed a country, which cares little for the genre.
The Irish music scene has produced some wonderful pop groups over the last few decades, but few have been able to carve out a successful mainstream career with its financial rewards.  Such success seems all too easy for rock bands who take themselves too seriously, or artists with a traditional music variable who can rely on a heavy appeal to a pre-conditioned population. 
Ireland simply doesn’t have a huge tradition in pop, which is not surprising given the special hold trad has within and without the major towns and cities.  This is compounded by the damaging and one-dimensional legacy which followed on the success of the country’s major international rock acts throughout the ‘70s/’80s/’90s and beyond. 
"Dublin Is Dead" was the controversial slogan of one of Dublin’s few indie acts of the mid 90s. The city, and the country has however undergone a regeneration of sorts over the past 10-15 years, producing an eclectic array of pop acts which, while hardly rivalling the output of any major UK city, has still been a vast improvement on its sometimes dull musical past.

Over the past 12 years, Thomas Walsh and Pugwash have been at the core of this renaissance. Walsh, like many purveyors of his particular brand of classic pop (what some call "power pop") was weaned on the giants of the genre: The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Kinks, ELO, and XTC.
It was his discovery that Andy Partridge of XTC composed in his garden shed which led Walsh to erecting a wooden shed in his parents' back garden, filling it with cheap recording devices and instruments and running a power cable from his home in Drimnagh to his new abode. It was in this same shed that Walsh spent 10,000 hours learning his craft and amassing a wealth of demo tapes.
These tapes eventually led to his discovery by US producer Kim Fowley and hitting the touring circuit with Belfast singer/songwriter Andy White.

Walsh formed Pugwash in 1997, and their debut Almond Tea was released in 1999. Twelve years on, The Olympus Sound and its first single "Fall Down" finds Walsh in familiar pop territory (albeit with a more accomplished and mature sound), but still short of the mainstream success which you would expect this style and calibre of music to deliver. Walsh, thankfully, prefers to focus on what he has than what he has not. 
Commercial success may have eluded him thus far, but Walsh has never been short of critical acclaim. In fact the list of heavyweights who have heaped praise on his talent is, frankly, intimidating. Walsh met his idol Brian Wilson in 2005 following the release of the band's third album Jollity. The album contained the track "It’s Nice To Be Nice" which was a sublime homage to Wilson’s Beach Boys, and unsurprisingly, it caught Wilson's attention.

Not content with the praise of one idol ringing in his ear, Walsh next caught the attention of and befriended Andy Partridge of XTC, who called Walsh "the saviour of modern pop."  Walsh is a rich man indeed. His interest in XTC has been long and formative, with Walsh declaring that the group's 1986 release Skylarking "changed my life." 
Partridge signed Pugwash to his own label in 2009, and has even composed with Walsh. Their close friendship and Partridge’s high regard for the Dubliner's talent is evident in his remark that Walsh is "better than McCartney; fatter than Lennon". 
Walsh however got his closest brush with the high-rollers and mainstream success following his collaboration with The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon, and their cricket-themed work, The Duckworth Lewis Method (2009). Walsh was nominated for an Ivor Novello award for his contribution.
Following this project, Pugwash returned to the studio and the result is The Olympus Sound. Again, and unsurprisingly, Walsh’s influences shine through on the 12 tracks.

"Answers On A Postcard" contains some wonderful Beach Boys harmonies, and a syncopated rhythm section which is more than a nod to "Good Vibrations."   This single also contains swirling, hurdy-gurdy organs a la The Small Faces and an opening that evokes the intro of The Who’s "Out In The Street."   "There You Are’" contains shades of XTC and ELO, with a little of what The Who might like sound like if they’d been tamed by a spell in Borstal. 
The beautiful "To The Warmth of You" plants Walsh in XTC heaven, and could easily be an outtake from Skylarking itself, while a comparison with Paul McCartney’s Chaos And Creation In The Backyard seems fitting. The albums’ second single "Fall Down" is probably its strongest commercial track, sounding just a little like the late output of George Harrison; particularly the Jeff Lynne-stamped solo. 
"Dear Belinda" and "I Don’t Like It But I’ve Gotta Do It" return to XTC territory a la Skylarking while "15 Kilocycle Tone" sounds like earlier Pugwash, with a beat borrowed from Revolver’s "Tomorrow Never Knows."  "Such Beauty Thrown Away" and "Four Days" mirror Wilson once again, while "Be My Friend A While" is inescapably ELO. "Here We Go Round Again" is a sublime nod to ‘70s pop, with a just a hint of Frampton in the melody, yet just the right amount of late 60s Mellotron’s subjected to more XTC-influenced vocal melodies and harmonies.

The Olympus Sound is, overall, more tightly produced, somehow more compressed than its predecessors, with a palpable lack of the brightness of "It’s Nice To Be Nice."  But that darkness gives the album a maturity and consistency which previous Pugwash albums may have lacked. 
Walsh may find the constant comparisons to his idols in his work grating at times, but the truth is that he weaves these into his own songs so well that he escapes their clutches easily. Like their Scottish counterparts of power pop, Teenage Fanclub, Pugwash may wear their musical loves on their sleeves, but Pugwash still sound like Pugwash. In a city that will barely acknowledge beautiful, bright, shiny pop such as this, they will always be unique. 
Walsh isn’t fazed by his lack of international success. “If people are gonna remember me for something, it might as well be a beard. Some people never get remembered, so it might as well be a beard for me.” The Olympus Sound, the band’s four previous albums, and whatever Pugwash may still have up their sleeve ensures Walsh will be remembered for his honest and intelligent approach to pop music, and not his facial hair.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Free As A Bird: Easter Egg(man) Hunt

A goofy little game for you to waste a few moments on. How many song references can you find in the 'Free As A Bird' video? I can find a total of 25 (listed below). Have I missed any? I'm referring to songs only, and not albums or various other Beatle events/characters

1. 0:05 Photos on mantlepiece: In My Life
2. 1:03 Strawberry Fields gate: Strawberry Fields Forever
3. 1:14 Penny Lane: Penny Lane
4. 1:19 Eggman delivery van: I Am The Walrus
5. 1:31 Nurse selling poppies from tray and barbershop: Penny Lane
6. 2:02 Happy Birthday cake in window: Birthday
7. 2:20 Car crash scene: A Day In The Life
8. 2:35 Helter Skelter Slide: Helter Skelter
9. 2:35 Kite in air: Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite
10. 2:42 Ladder to upstairs window: She Came In Through The Bathroom Window
11. 2:50 Pigs in lane: Piggies
12. 2:56 Man typing: Paperback Writer
13. 3:09 Chairman Mao sticker on window: Revolution
14. 3:11 Blue Meanie in chimney: Yellow Submarine
15. 3:22 Woman leaving house getting into taxi: She's Leaving Home
16. 3:22 Chairman Mao picture crossing road: Revolution (again)
17. 3:24 Yellow submarine passing top of street?: Yellow Submarine
18. 3:31 Indian hunting party with elephants: The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill
19. 3:47 Sgt Pepper drum and cutouts: Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
20. 3:58 Eleanor Rigby headstone: Eleanor Rigby
21. 4:01 Old English sheepdog: Martha My Dear
22. 4:04 Paul McCartney dancing on wall: The Fool On The Hill
23. 4:04 Woman walking with suitcases: She's Leaving Home (again)
24. 4:05 Winding road to distance: The Long And Winding Road
25. 4:32 Hard days night footage: A Hard Day's Night

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Would The Real Drummer On "Please Please Me" Please Please Stand Up?

Most Fab Four fans are aware that "Please Please Me" was the Beatles' second 7” single release in the UK, and arguably their first number one record. The track, along with its flip side "Ask Me Why," was recorded on November 26, 1962, exactly 49 years ago this week. We all know that the single featured the now familiar line-up of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr on drums, and followed the shaky start of their debut UK single "Love Me Do." That track required a total of three drummers and three recording sessions to get it right.
However, the release of Anthology 1 in 1995, and particularly its inclusion of an earlier recording of "Please Please Me," introduced some confusion into the song’s history. The existence of that version also provokes some interesting questions which have, as yet, remained unanswered. From which recording session did this version originate, and depending on the answer to that question, who sat on the drum stool as it was taped? In the red corner we have Liverpool's own Ringo Starr; in the blue, Glaswegian session drummer Andy White. In the interest of historical accuracy (and Beatles geekery) we put this session under the microscope.
The stuttering start to the Beatles' EMI recording career between June and September 1962 witnessed the dismissal of one drummer (Pete Best), and the temporary suspension of another (Starr) in favour of installing a seasoned professional (Andy White) for the "Love Me Do" session of September 11, 1962. The fading memories of all involved have, too often, conflicted in comparative recollections regarding these early sessions.

Furthermore, the fact that EMI willingly destroyed the tapes and all session sheets after the recordings means that there is no existing evidence to study, other than the finished product itself of course. This is why the sudden appearance of an earlier recording of "Please Please Me" in 1994 is so interesting; here at last was an existing piece of evidence which could be compared with the final released version recorded on November 26, 1962. But at which early Beatles session was this earlier version captured – September 4 and 11, or November 26?
The official sleeve notes on Anthology tell us that the acetate (flexible plastic disc cut at the end of a session) dates from September 11, and various internet sources suggest this disc contains a catalogue number of E47852. This is of course the infamous session for which George Martin had hired professional drummer White, and during which the Beatles, with White on drums, cut the versions of "Love Me Do" and "P.S. I Love You" which were featured on the Please Please Me LP.
The sleeve notes also suggest that the song was recorded with White on drums and not Starr. These details match (or perhaps are based upon) session producer Ron Richard’s recollections that Starr did not play drums at all that day. However, the appearance of the acetate in 1994 seems to fly in the face of these "facts," particularly as it conflicted with the well-known remarks of Beatles producer Martin.
Martin has always claimed that the group brought him "Please Please Me" on September 11, and that he had deemed it unfit for release at that time. He claims it was "very slow" and "very dreary." He advised them to speed it up and add some tight harmonies. The problem is that these remarks just don’t fit the rediscovered acetate. Anyone with a half-decent pair of ears can tell that this version is incredibly close in arrangement and performance to the released version. It’s practically identical in tempo, and is certainly not "very slow" in comparison.
All the elements (harmonica excluded) in the final released version are present in this earlier version. The song’s signature hooks are clearly in place as are the stops and starts, as are Harrison’s scaled guitar intro on each verse, his verse-chorus splitting riff, the call and response “c’mon, c’mon” of the chorus, and the busy drum fills which permeate the track. Most convincingly, the tight harmonies (which Martin claims to have requested) are present and accounted for in this earlier version.
So, is Martin simply confused, a victim of mixed memories in a head rammed to the bursting point with dates and sessions, songs and faces? Perhaps he was referring to the yet earlier session of September 4, during which "Please Please Me" was first presented to EMI in a rehearsal, but not recorded?
Surely we can turn to the established Beatles scholars for answers. Famed Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn, author of the seminal and wonderful The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, attributes the drum credits on September 11 (including this attempt at recording "Please Please Me") to White, with no mention of Starr, aside from his tambourine and maraca cameos. Lewisohn was, after all, writing six years before the discovery of the earlier acetate version. His work was so definitive that its details have never been questioned or revisited, and pretty much every author who picks up the story thereafter falls in with Lewisohn’s production credits. John C. Winn in Way Beyond Compare: The Beatles Recorded Legacy also echoes Lewisohn’s credits.
Curiously however, critic Ian McDonald in Revolution In The Head: The Beatles Records And The Sixties, claims that the newly discovered version was actually an earlier take from the November 26 session which harvested the released version. McDonald seems to offer this alternate idea as an afterthought; it’s even presented in parenthesis. The problem is that he fails to reference it at all. A common problem throughout his book is the author’s replacement of fact with his own opinion, and this remark seems to be no different. Besides, why would EMI staff cut an acetate of an inferior and seemingly random take of a song, from an evening that produced the final released master version? It makes no sense.

It seems we are left to conclude that the rediscovered acetate was a cut from the session of September 11 after all, and the overwhelming written evidence seems to point towards White on drums.

But wait – the defence has just produced a star witness, and as his memories were recorded in 2005, none of the classic Beatles scholars have had a chance (or bothered) to depose him. Geoff Emerick, the young engineer behind the sounds captured on Revolver, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and so much more in the Beatles' later canon, was in 1962 a young EMI apprentice tape-op (button pusher to you and me). Emerick was present at the September 11 session (aged 16), and in his book Here There And Everywhere: My Life Recording The Beatles, he recalls that after White had recorded drums on "Love Me Do" and "P.S. I Love You," he packed up and left. Emerick witnessed Beatles roadie Mal Evans setting up Starr's kit, and later the group’s recording of "Please Please Me" with Starr on drums. Thank goodness for that, because to be honest, the drumming style and feel on both versions seems just too close to be the work of two separate drummers, captured almost three months apart. Of course Emerick too could be wrong.
Occam’s Razor specifies that all things being equal, the simpler explanation is the most likely one. With that in mind, are we to believe that White, during a short three-hour session which involved recording three songs, had time to work out and rehearse a drum pattern to a song which he had never heard before, and which contained a complex arrangement of stops and starts? If so, that means Starr must have copied White's contributions verbatim, and reproduced them for the November session. Or, is it more likely that White packed up for the night with his job done, allowing Starr the opportunity to step in on an unscheduled attempt at taping a new song, one which he and the band had previously worked on during rehearsals?
Why should we really care who played on that particular track? I mean does it really matter in the grand scheme of things who sat on a drum stool in a room 49 years ago? Of course not.
On the other hand, as interest in the Beatles shows no signs of waning, and the growing number of new and old Beatles books stress-test the industrial shelving in Amazon's aircraft-hanger sized warehouses, I think it's important to focus on facts over opinion. Many of these Beatles books still retain glaring inaccuracies, questionable myths, and more annoyingly, journalistic opinion. It's important that we continue to ask questions and seek the objective truth behind the band's history, in the same way we would treat any other historical topic.
We may never know for sure who sat on the "beat-seat" for this early recording, but based on the available evidence, my money’s on Ringo Starr.

If you like this article check out the new Please Please Me album guide, available on iPad/iPhone and Kindle, from December 2011. For more details visit:

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Acoustic Trio Elevens Release Second E.P. Torn At The Seams

Irish acoustic trio Elevens released their second EP, Torn at the Seams, at a performance in Dublin's Unitarian Church on Friday November 11th, or 11/11/11.
 Elevens is the new project of former Sack frontman Martin McCann, who is backed on acoustic guitar and vocals by Tony Barrett (ex-The Brilliant Trees), and Mark Healy (ex- Jerry Fish and The Mudbug Club).

Torn At The Seams follows on the success of the EP Tender To The Touch, released earlier in 2011, and finds the group in familiar territory. McCann's intimate and melancholy lyrics conjure images of broken dreams and empty lives which are sublimely backed by a sophisticated blend of acoustic layers, married with various guest instrumental elements, such as violin on "Torn At The Seams" and soprano sax on "We Really Do Care"' and "Love In An Instant."  These three tracks are joined on the EP by three more, which were recorded live in April 2011 at Dublin's Project Art's Theatre: "The Art Of Landing On Your Feet," "Dry Land," and "No Two Clouds The Same."

It's hard to put a foot wrong when you have the calibre of McCann's sweet and sentimental voice (said to be a favourite of former Smiths singer Morrissey) in your arsenal.  The sparse arrangements, with the accompaniment of hand-bells, omnichord, and melodica, make for an unusually sentimental and reflective pop style (sounding very close to some early EBTG) which thankfully continues the recent trend of emerging Irish acts with a distinctly non-Irish sound.

The asthetics and acoustics of the Unitarian Church on Stephen's Green provided the perfect setting for a harmonious 90 minutes of music  which set the tone for the release of the EP to a packed, albeit reasonably medium sized venue. Some clever usage of distant microphone placements enhanced the natural acoustics of the venue itself and the trio were joined on stage/altar by live additions of soprano sax and violin from Ciaran Wilde and Kenneth Rice respectively.

Torn at the Seams is available from Amazon & iTunes, and Elevens continue to promote the EP release on a mini-nationational tour of Ireland, playing Weds 23 - Cork -THE ROUNDY BAR and Fri 25 - Belfast - BLACK BOX (with Mary Coughlan).

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Forgotten Father of the Music industry

On November 9th 1961, Brian Epstein, an unknown Liverpool record store owner, descended the dark and grimy concrete steps of The Cavern Club in Liverpool for the first time to catch a lunchtime performance by The Beatles. That brief encounter 50 years ago was a watershed moment in popular culture which sent shockwaves round the world in a little over two years, turning the shy Epstein into an internationally famous promoter, and a rough and ready young local beat group into the most successful rock band of all time. On the half century anniversary of this fateful meeting of minds we take a look at Epstein’s life and career and ask how this introverted individual became a major music impresario. What was the main motivation behind making the leap from store manager to pop manager: a sexual attraction to his clients, a burning desire to succeed in the arts, or desperation to escape from provincial drudgery?

Today, the Beatles are arguably more popular and seemingly more relevant than ever before. The groups’ music and fascinating story holds an everlasting appeal which attracts and transfixes fans born years after they split in 1969. Yet, The Beatles modern profile is centred on the four core individuals of Lennon/McCartney/Harrison/Starr, with occasional focus given to the groups’ producer George Martin. Martin is often awarded the fans own Medal of Honour; that of ‘Fifth Beatle’, the individual or more accurately individuals with which fans and critics’ alike cite as the ‘X’ factor in the groups phenomenal global success and appeal. Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best, the groups’ original bassist and drummer, or Norman Smith and Geoff Emerick, EMI’s talented staff sound technicians often tend to crop up as alternative ‘fifth Beatle’ candidates. However these choices ascribe the groups’ success and appeal to a merely creative or musical variable, excluding the business elements which helped to engender their fame. Brian Epstein was the groups’ manager for the five years from 1962 until his untimely death from an accidental drug overdose in 1967. However his part in the Beatles story has faded since his death, overshadowed by the music and the legend.

Descended from Russian and Lithuanian Jewish immigrants who prospered in retail and manufacturing, Brian Samuel Epstein was born in Liverpool in 1934 and as a child was expelled from two schools for laziness and poor performance. In his teens Epstein informed his father of his intention to study fashion and become a dress designer; Harry Epstein overruled his sons dream and the young Brian was forced into a retail apprenticeship. During his military draft service and relocation to London Epstein’s sexual orientation began causing him problems. He was discharged from the army for impersonating an officer; a ploy to cruise bars in an alluring uniform, and on another occasion his wallet, passport, birth cert and wristwatch were stolen during a rough mugging which was commonplace for gay men who ran the gauntlet of ‘cottaging’ in public lavatories at a time when homosexuality was illegal in Britain. Upon discovering his sons sexual preference his father consented to funding Epstein’s enrolment at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art’s, away from Liverpool, where he plotted a career as an actor alongside classmates such as Peter O’Toole, Susannah York and Albert Finney. He soon dropped out however, later stating a preference for becoming a producer rather than walk the boards himself. After enjoying a period of self-exploration in a more sexually tolerant Barcelona he returned to Liverpool and took up a career in his father’s furniture store. When the family business added a music department to the empire, Epstein, with his keen interest in the arts grasped the venture with both hands and steered it to success with his flair for aesthetics and detail. Interestingly, Paul McCartney’s father purchased the family piano from Epstein’s store in the mid fifties. Epstein expanded the music department to incorporate the new genres of genres rock n roll and pop alongside classical and opera and as a result began writing a promotional column for the fledgling ‘Mersey Beat’ pop magazine, edited by an art school friend of John Lennon’s. Legend (perpetrated largely by Epstein’s own autobiography) has always maintained that a Beatles fan entered the store asking for a Beatles recording made in Germany, and that Epstein’s undying commitment to customer satisfaction led him to tracking the group down to obtain the record. However, this alleged event coincides with a period when the Beatles often loitered around Epstein’s store listening to, and perhaps even lifting favourite records to incorporate into their live set. In the autumn of 1961 he asked Harry to arrange a meeting, and so on November 9th he stood at the back of the Cavern and experienced the groups wild and frenetic rock n roll show on home ground. Epstein later created much of the legend surrounding that meeting himself stating that he was attracted to their style and image, their clothes, their look, and later their personal charm. His recollection was mocked cruelly in the 1976 comedy The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash, produced by ex-Beatle George Harrison, in which Epstein is portrayed as bungling, homosexual pervert Leggy Mountbatten.

His motivation for offering to manage the group has been the stuff of hot debate for decades, and certainly there was no smoke without fire. Drummer Pete Best recalled how he politely rebuked Epstein’s request to spend a night with him, and his interest in John Lennon has taken on a legend all of its own. In April 1963 with the group at number one in the UK charts Lennon and Epstein flew to Barcelona for a holiday while the rest of the group relaxed in Tenerife. Naturally this pairing raised a lot of eyebrows within the group and beyond, even becoming the subject of a 1991 film starring Ian Hart; The Hours And Times. For his part Lennon maintained he was interested in observing Epstein hitting on boys, confessing that he and Epstein had a pretty intense relationship that was never consummated. Years later Paul McCartney provided a much more pragmatic theory for the holiday, claiming that Lennon had an astute, political persona, and that he took the opportunity to get Epstein alone to impress upon him exactly who was the leader of the group he was steering to stardom. Tellingly, after they returned to London, the next and all subsequent Lennon and McCartney collaborations were accredited to Lennon-McCartney, instead of the previous format of McCartney-Lennon. McCartney was informed of the change by Epstein who batted away his protestations claiming “it ‘sounded better that way”. Lennon remained prickly about the nature of his relationship with Epstein and their trip. At Paul McCartney’s 21st birthday celebration months later, Lennon beat Cavern DJ Bob Wooler severely breaking his ribs and hospitalising him following a disparaging remark about his relationship with his manager.  Epstein saved their respective careers by pulling out the stops to keep the story out of the press.

Despite an early awareness of his homosexuality and familial warnings of financial dealings with a Jewish manager, the initially sceptical group were suitably bowled over by Epstein’s charm, demeanor and his material wealth...they finally put pen to paper on a managerial contract on January 24th 1962 (which Epstein did not initially sign). Within five months of signing with Epstein the group became EMI clients; within 12 months they were number one in the UK and within 2 years they were number one in America. While he may have been attracted to the rough beat scene with its attractive young men dressed in provocative clothing, the Beatles among them, sexual desire is too simplistic and lazy a motive to attribute to a man with Epstein’s cultured intelligence and business acumen. His prime motivation was almost certainly a burning desire to achieve success in the arts, and escape the provincial confines of the working class north, and his father’s store. With the Beatles he found his calling, and he launched himself into the making of their success.
While the group, and Epstein himself enjoyed a certain amount of good fortune on the road to fame, it was Epstein’s stewardship, his vision and his steadfast confidence in his, and the Beatles abilities which allowed him to orchestrate what no other British manager had done before him; to break America with a British artist. George Martin stated that although he wasn’t musically sold on the Beatles, he had an instinct that they offered something different in contrast to contemporary pop chart fare. It was Epstein’s confidence and belief in his artists however which swayed him to offer them a recording deal when all others had turned them down. Epstein worked his contacts in the music industry tirelessly and when Decca records declined interest in the group he famously dressed them down stating; "You must be out of your minds. These boys are going to explode. I am completely confident that one day they will be bigger than Elvis Presley!” A laughable boast in those days, yet Epstein prevailed and his wild prediction became reality within 2 years.

Epstein also lent his keen eye for fashion and the theatre to the Beatles act, convincing them to ditch leather jackets for the modernist fashions sweeping London’s cafes and high streets and, within a year their suits and haircuts would ignite a fashion revolution which swept the world and was reflected in almost all aspects of popular culture. He coached their on-stage behaviour, encouraging them to play constructed and less chaotic performances, and to bow for the audience. Epstein’s mentorship was playfully mocked in the Beatles first feature film, A Hard Day’s Night; upon entering an upmarket club, the groups’ fictional manager Norman Rossington pleads with the group to behave in such a posh place, to which Lennon replies; “we know how to behave, we’ve had lessons”.   These lessons’s paid off when the group landed in the US for the first time in 1964 and were greeted by an army of sceptical reporters who turned up to slate them. They were soon knocked off balance however by the Beatles behaviour and their straightforward answers to questions. The groups’ image and demeanour charmed and disarmed, but their acerbic wit shocked and alarmed, they were the perfect contrast; pop stars simply didn’t behave like this...and the media were instantly sold. Epstein had not stifled their personalities, but he had packaged the product perfectly. No doubt he stood in the wings at Kennedy airport and savored the fruits of his success.

After cracking America however Epstein had peaked. The world sought him out instead of the other way round. He was inundated with offers of business deals, films, concerts for obscene amounts of money and he took his eye off the ball as he built an empire of recording artists which brought him additional wealth and acclaim. As the circus that was Beatlemania ran itself, Epstein was faced with hard business decisions within an industry which could be unforgiving, and he began making mistakes. Critics, including the Beatles themselves, have pointed a finger at Epstein’s shortcomings and indicated that he was out of his depth, particularly his mishandling of merchandising. As Beatlemania crested and the Beatles presented the biggest marketing opportunity since Mickey Mouse, Epstein empowered Seltaeb to licencse everything from guitars, chewing gum, record players and toilet paper in the Beatles’ image. However he grossly underestimated the financial potential of merchandising and he struck a deal whereby Seltaeb took 90% of sales leaving Epstein and his clients with 10%. The Beatles cut was shared out only after Epstein deducted 25% of that 10% gross for himself. Epstein focused on record and concert sales primarily and publishing rights secondly. He viewed merchandising as a novelty venture which was beneath his esteemed perception of himself; it was simply not a serious business. Had he done his homework and investigated his nearest rival he would have found that merchandising netted Col Tom Parker and Elvis Presley $20 million in 1957 alone. By the time he realised his error it was too late. He dragged Seltaeb into court to renegotiate their deal but before that was settled John Lennon’s “the Beatles are bigger than Jesus” remark fatally wounded the groups’ popularity in the US, and the Beatles merchandising juggernaut sank beneath the waves. Epstein’s howler is estimated to have cost the group a potential $100,000,000.

As the group tired of Beatlemania and ceased touring in 1966, Epstein’s influence and relevance began to wane. His relationship with his boys began to harden and he found himself not only excluded but also on the receiving end of cruel remarks and jokes. When he once shopped for a title for his autobiography, Lennon cruelly suggested ‘Queer Jew’, unperturbed Epstein suggested a ‘Cellar Full Of Noise’, referring to their Cavern beginnings, Lennon retorted: “how about a Cellar Full Of Boys”. On another occasion he dared to offer some musical advice during a recording session only for Lennon to curtly remind him to stick his percentages and they would handle the music.
To counter his idleness Epstein leased the Saville Theatre on Shaftsbury Avenue in 1967 and finally realised his dream of becoming a producer while he enjoyed life as a wealthy socialite, dining each evening on expensive meals and fine wines in London’s top class clubs and casino’s. However, his success, his wealth and his social status brought him little happiness in the end. Largely irrelevant to the Beatles new artistic directions, Epstein sank into depression. His gambling and drug habits spiralled out of control to such an extent that he spent the entire period during the making of Sgt Peppers drying out in rehab, checking out briefly for the albums launch before checking back in again.
As the Beatles were basking in their creative peak during the ‘Summer of Love’, Epstein was wallowing in his own lack of worth. On August 27th 1967 he returned to his London flat at low ebb having arranged to spend the bank holiday weekend with a party of rent boys who failed to turn up. Alerted by his lack of response and his friends’ worried calls, his butler phoned the police, who found him dead in his bed the next afternoon. The verdict was accidental overdose from a cocktail of alcohol and sleeping pills to which he had developed a dangerous tolerance. He was 32.

Ironically, seemingly surplus to requirements to the Beatles needs Epstein’s death precipitated the group’s disintegration. Lennon reflected in 1970 that he thought they’d had it when Brian died, he knew it was the end. He was proved right. McCartney, who held form for irritating his colleagues with badgering and demands of perfection stepped into the vacuum left by Epstein and immediately steered the group into the Magical Mystery Tour film, the groups’ very first critical failure. Attempts to manage themselves and others resulted in a civil war which allowed business sharks like Allen Klein to walk into their camp unchallenged. The bitter fallout from the loss of Epstein’s business shield, and in particular the revelations of the poor business deals and losses he had concealed from them destroyed the creative Beatles. The group were forced to become businessmen, a role they were shockingly unskilled at. Lennon was right after all; they needed to handle the music while someone else stuck to the percentages.

Epstein should be remembered for his great triumphs...and there were many. He managed to take a rough group of talented individuals, polish them, and against all the odds launch them into the international limelight to dramatically change and influence global culture throughout the 60’s and each subsequent decade beyond. He repeatedly thought outside the box when promoting his artists, seeking bigger and bigger venues to promote for bigger and better purses. His greatest triumph was perhaps the seminal Shea Stadium performance of 1965 which ushered in the era of the stadium concert, while his many other ventures at the dawn of the modern rock era helped to shape and influence how that industry would evolve.  Epstein masterminded the British cultural invasion of America in the 1960’s, an act which profoundly altered the direction of rock music to such an extent that its shockwaves are still evident in popular music today. He was a man who dared to dream big and hit the jackpot... and yet found no comfort or happiness in his success. He was an influential mentor and guardian to his artists when required, he was a confidant, a discreet fixer, a banker, but most of all he was a man who needed to be needed. Incredibly he has yet to be inducted into the non-performers section of the rock n roll hall of fame, while George Martin was added years ago. This is an oversight which should be respectfully remedied immediately. Brian Epstein should be remembered fondly as the father of the modern music industry.

See more onlyanorthernsong work at PLEASE PLEASE ME album guide launches for iPad/iPhone & Kindle November 2011.

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