There are many contenders for the coveted title of "Fifth Beatle." Some qualify due to their brief yet influential period as a fifth musical component of the Beatles' early career. Candidates include Stu Sutcliffe (bass) and Pete Best (drums) and to a lesser degree Chas Newby, who temporarily replaced Sutcliffe on bass, and who declined John Lennon’s request to join the group permanently in Hamburg in favour of returning to University.
Others qualify due to their business relationship with the group, Brian Epstein and Neil Aspinall spring to mind. Then you have production candidates: Geoff Emerick, Norman Smith and of course "Fifth Beatle" extraordinaire, George Martin. There is one candidate however who fits almost all criteria as "Fifth Beatle", and who spent more time with the group than possibly anyone else in their short professional career. Road manager, bouncer, minder, nursemaid, travelling companion, loyal friend, session musician, talent scout, producer and general dogsbody: step forward, Mr. Fixit, otherwise known as Mal Evans.
Born in 1935, Malcolm Evans was already married with a young family, a mortgage and a steady job as a communications engineer with the Post Office when he stumbled into a lunchtime Beatles session in 1962, altering his fate forever. After quickly befriending the group, George Harrison recommended Evans to Cavern owner Ray McFall as a bouncer at the chaotic underground entrance of the busy Liverpool music venue. This was a job that fit naturally with his calm demeanour and intimidating 6’6” hulking frame. In August 1962, just before Ringo Starr replaced Best and the group’s career began to take off, Evans was hired by Brian Epstein to assist Aspinall in roadie duties. He soon became the default van driver, the man who patiently set up the group’s backline equipment, tested it, stood by prepared for all disasters, and packed the van up again after the show had ended.
As Beatlemania emerged, Evans fulfilled a pivotal role beyond stage duties by serving as the royal guard, protecting the group from hordes of fans while also performing the discreet role of minister of selection for female companionship. In other words, Evans would be sent out from hotel rooms to find suitable groupies to party with the boys. Evans has the unique distinction of being present at every Beatles concert from the time he started working with them. From the ballrooms and clubs of early 1960s Britain to the baseball stadiums and orchestral bowls of the world’s finest cities, if there was a fly on the wall, it was Mal Evans.
It was Evans who punched out a cracked windscreen on a freezing motorway and drove hundreds of miles through the night into howling winds while the group drank whiskey and huddled for warmth in the back. Evans was also frog-marched off the plane alongside Epstein in Manila, and punched by crowds when the Beatles came close to being lynched by a mob in 1966. His duties on the road brought him into close personal contact with the group, and Evans maintained a relationship and trust with all four Beatles which perhaps extended beyond that of their own wives and girlfriends.
He seemed to have enjoyed a particularly close relationship with both Lennon and Paul McCartney. He accompanied McCartney on a European road trip and African safari during the group’s career hiatus after ceasing touring in 1966, and he was also known to serve as the group’s watchdog when they were dropping acid. As they "turned on", Evans would remain with them to ensure their trips did not go bad or end in disaster.
This relationship was, however, almost completely one-sided. Although Evans was an insider on the rollercoaster that was Beatlemania, he was also often subjected to verbal abuse, becoming the scapegoat for anything that went wrong during a gig. He was subjected to Lennon’s wrath many times, particularly for the theft of his beloved Gibson J160E acoustic guitar after a Christmas show in 1963. His role in the group’s circle was somewhat accurately portrayed in the 1964 film A Hard Day’s Night by the roadie character Shake. Harrison’s line “Shake, where’s me other boot? And would you get us some tea while you’re there" seemed to echo Lennon’s supposed trademark bark in Evans’ direction: “Mal, Socks!"
Evans not only appears in A Hard Day’s Night himself (carrying a cello down a hallway), but he has the distinction of appearing in every Beatles film, Yellow Submarine excepted. He appeared as a lost long-distance swimmer (Help!), a magician (Magical Mystery Tour), and several times as himself (Let It Be).
The highlight of Evans' career with the Beatles, however, must have been August 27, 1965. The big man never made any qualms about the fact that his idol was the King of Rock 'n Roll, even if his wages were paid by the Beatles. So it must have been the most surreal event of Evans' life to find himself suddenly socialising in the Bel Air mansion of Elvis Presley himself. Evans had worn a suit and tie for the occasion, and was reported to have been totally starstruck after shaking Presley's hand.
Paul [McCartney] is really cutting down on the Apple staff members. I was elevated to office boy and I feel very hurt and sad inside—only big boys don't cry. Why I should feel hurt and reason for writing this is ego... I thought I was different from other people in my relationship with The Beatles and being loved by them and treated so nice, I felt like one of the family. Seems I fetch and carry. I find it difficult to live on the £38 I take home each week and would love to be like their other friends who buy fantastic homes and have all the alterations done by them, and are still going to ask for a rise. I always tell myself—look, everybody wants to take from, be satisfied, try to give and you will receive. After all this time I have about £70 to my name, but was content and happy. Loving them as I do, nothing is too much trouble, because I want to serve them. Feel a bit better now—EGO?
It seems some Beatle associates were more equal than others. One might speculate that his position as dogsbody lost him the respect of the employers he saw as friends. As a jack of all trades, he never seemed to settle on one role.
Evans found himself in such dire financial straits by 1969 that he was forced to ask Harrison for a raise, and when the Beatles imploded the following year, Evans found himself adrift and out of work. He roadied again for Lennon and his Plastic Ono Band, and spent the next few years alternating between sparse production work and various solo Beatle projects.
When Lennon separated from Yoko Ono and stumbled drunkenly around L.A. for a year and a half, Evans was on hand to serve his old master. Once Lennon had reunited with Ono however, he was again surplus to requirements.
In 1976, while still living in LA and separated from his wife and kids, Evans was working on the memoirs of his Beatle days Living The Beatles' Legend. He became increasingly depressed after his wife requested a divorce, and was drinking and taking pills. Following a fracas with his partner at his rented house in an L.A. suburb, the police were called and informed that Evans had a gun. Apparently drunk and disoriented from valium, Evans refused to drop his gun upon request, and 36 years ago on January 5, 1976, he was shot several times. He died instantly, and later was found to be in possession of an air rifle.
Like his friend and former employer, shot dead four years later, Evans was 40 years old. Sadly, none of the former Beatles attended his funeral service or cremation, although Harrison did see that his wife receive £5,000. Evans became another victim of life after the Beatles’ success, and like Brian Epstein and John Lennon, had his life cut tragically short.
Evans was there throughout all of Beatlemania, through the drugs, the fights, the triumphs, the letdowns, the implosion, even the fisticuffs. No one, aside from Lennon/McCartney/Harrison/Starr, was as exposed as Evans was to the Beatles’ incredible rollercoaster ride. As yet, no book has been published from his memoirs. This unique fly-on-the-wall witnessed it all. Evans, the old workhorse and real unsung hero of the Beatles' incredible saga, could have told some stories.