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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Beatles "White Album" Showdown: Round 2

8:39 AM Posted by Nicole M

Welcome to Round Two of The Beatles "White Album" Showdown! Last week, we spent a good deal of time ignoring the yard work that needed to be done, and instead pitted the 30 individual tracks on The Beatles (aka "The White Album") against each other in head-to-head matchups, resulting in 16 tracks being declared winners. A splendid time was guaranteed for all, and the resulting bracket looked like this (click to enlarge the image):

This week, because there is still yard work to be done, those 16 tracks will be further narrowed down to an Elite Eight. Highly scientific methods were employed here: musical structures were evaluated against lyrical content, production value was taken into consideration, and then ultimately it was decided that this seemed like a lot of work, and flipping a coin was easier.

So let's get to it!

#2 Dear Prudence vs #18 Why Don't We Do It in the Road?
Paul McCartney's fun little novelty song about committing acts of indecent exposure was fun while it lasted, but John Lennon's masterpiece wins this round easily, not least because of some seriously cool guitar picking in the intro and outro. "Prudence" advances.

#1 Back in the USSR vs #17 Piggies
Both songs employ the use of clever sound effects, but Paul's send-up of Chuck Berry-style lyrics and Beach Boys-style vocals is fantastically clever, and a driving good rocker to boot. "USSR" wins hands down, with a paper bag on its knee.

#9 While My Guitar Gently Weeps vs #8 I Will
A very close matchup, right down to the final buzzer. "I Will" is one of the sweetest love songs ever written, but "Guitar" has a special claim to fame: it was the final song George Martin ever scored for orchestra strings. (See the version on the Love album.)

#4 Helter Skelter vs #13 Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey
Two rocking tunes, lots of screaming, an overdose of dirty guitar -- this is one close contest. Have you ever listened to the shrieking background vocals in "Helter Skelter," though, especially in the mono version? Absolutely spine-tingling. "Helter Skelter" emerges victorious. See you at the bottom!

#12 I'm So Tired vs #5 Revolution 1
Let's face it: the faster, heavier version of "Revolution" was cooler. And "I'm So Tired" has that weird mumbled bit at the end that, when played backwards, reveals clues about Paul McCartney's death. "Tired" was never going to lose this round.

#10 Julia vs #7 Sexy Sadie
John's surly take-down of the Maharishi in "Sexy Sadie" is crammed full of quotable lines, set to a catchy tune and capped off with that memorable, haunting falsetto "oooooh." It's tough to beat, and in this contest, "Sadie" wins.

#3 Happiness is a Warm Gun vs #14 Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
Yes, Paul's bouncy little jingle is happy and go-lucky, but John's three-part opus is legendary, and features some sizzling guitar work by George Harrison in the middle section. "Happiness" wins without much of a struggle.

#22 Honey Pie vs #6 Blackbird
Does "Blackbird" have what it takes to win here, with its fancy guitar work, simple tap-tap percussion, and hopeful lyrics? Obviously. "Blackbird" moves on to the next round.

For those keeping score at home, then, the Elite Eight of The Beatles "White Album" are these:

  • Dear Prudence
  • Back in the USSR
  • While My Guitar Gently Weeps
  • Helter Skelter
  • I'm So Tired
  • Sexy Sadie
  • Happiness is a Warm Gun
  • Blackbird

Next week, we'll narrow these down to the Final Fab Four, the Semi-Finals, and -- drumroll, please, Ringo -- the ultimate winner, the without-a-doubt best song on the entire album. I'm certain we'll all agree on the results!

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Beatles "White Album" Showdown: Round 1

10:23 AM Posted by Nicole M

This whole thing started with a fairly innocent question: can The Beatles' double-LP, commonly known as The White Album, be reasonably trimmed down to a single, cream-of-the-crop disc? George Martin famously said in The Anthology that he wished they had done exactly that, but we're talking about throwing away half of the 30 songs on the album here. It can't be done! Or can it?

And that's when this innocent little question somehow got bit on the arm by a zombie and became an un-dead monster with a life of its own. Not content with devouring 15 of the 30 songs, the query became "What if 15 songs become eight, and what if eight became four, and WHAT IF WE HAD A BRACKET-STYLE TOURNAMENT TO DETERMINE THE ALL TIME GREATEST SONG ON THE WHOLE WHITE ALBUM?!?!?!"

It might just be the most awesome thing ever, especially if adult beverages are involved. The tournament bracket looks like this (click to enlarge the image):

So here we go with the opening round, in which both "Back in the USSR" and "Dear Prudence" get a bye, and the rest of the songs just thrash it out until we're left with a one-disc album.

#16 Martha My Dear vs #17 Piggies
Animal song against animal song, sheep dog versus swine, big cheery brass taking on baroque harpsichords and strings. It's a close one right down to the wire, but the piggy sound effects and "one more time"-plus-big-strings-coda push "Piggies" over the edge into victory.

#9 While My Guitar Gently Weeps vs #24 Savoy Truffle
This is a tough one. On the one hand, you've got a beefed up saxophone section driving a song about Eric Clapton's mouthful of cavities and toothaches, but on the other hand you've got Eric Clapton himself playing a searing guitar solo for the ages. Did I say this was a tough one? It's not. "Guitar Gently Weeps" by a landslide.

#8 I Will vs #25 Don't Pass Me By
A sweet acoustic ballad about the wonders of love, lilting and wonderfully delivered via McCartney's tenor vocal, will always beat Ringo honking out an overly simple barn-and-hay tune that includes lyrics like "you were in a car crash, and you lost your hair." Winner: "I Will."

#4 Helter Skelter vs #29 Wild Honey Pie
I've never considered these two songs side by side, but I think I just discovered the Yin & Yang of the Maccaverse. One song shows what Paul could do when he set his mind to executing a plan ("all I wanted to do [was] make a very loud, raunchy rock 'n' roll record"), and one shows what happens when you smoke a joint the size of a large burrito. "Helter Skelter" wins easily.

#13 Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey vs #20 Mother Nature's Son
Paul's finger-picking ode to daisies and mountain streams is lovely, but it's a solo effort that probably belonged on McCartney or Ram, while John's screaming, thrashing, caffeine-induced urgings to "come on, come on, come on, come on, come on" are a full band effort. The gnarly bass lick at the end kicks the song into the next level. "Monkey" wins this one.

#12 I'm So Tired vs #21 Good Night
Songs about being tired versus songs about going to sleep? I guess I'd rather stay up, have the cigarette and the drink that John suggests, and continue cursing Sir Walter Raleigh until the wee hours. "I'm So Tired" takes this contest without much trouble.

#5 Revolution 1 vs #28 The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill
"Bungalow Bill" is a silly song, oddly constructed, badly ended (did someone forget to tell the Mellotron player the song was over?), needlessly long-titled, and -- worst of all -- contains 250% more than the FDA-recommended amount of Yoko Ono vocals. "Revolution 1," for the win.

#15 Long, Long, Long vs #18 Why Don't We Do It In The Road?
Play the first 8-10 seconds of "Why Don't We Do It In The Road?" That drum riff, with the whip-crack handclaps? Yeah, that's why this song wins.

#10 Julia vs #23 Cry Baby Cry
John gets massive points for spinning an oddball yarn about kings, queens, dukes, and seances interrupted by prankster kids, but let's face it: his tightly constructed song of mourning for his mother is a masterpiece. "Julia" was always going to win this contest.

#7 Sexy Sadie vs #26 Birthday
Yes, I did say it's my birthday, but I do not for even a second believe that it's your birthday too, Paul. Also, there's more Yoko in this song. "Sexy Sadie" wins for being an awesome, biting rebuke set to music.

#3 Happiness Is A Warm Gun vs #30 Revolution 9
After waiting around for over eight minutes, the other team never even showed up to play, so "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" wins this round by default.

#14 Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da vs #19 Yer Blues
Yes, a lot of people like the little bluesy jam-fest in the closet, but consider this: no. The Beatles and blues are a tenuous partner to begin with, and authentic blues is usually a bit more subtle and metaphorical, lyrically speaking. You say things like, "I went down to the crossroads and tried to flag a ride," or "The sky is crying, can you see the tears roll down the street," or even "Boom, boom, boom, boom," but not usually something so on-the-nose as "Yes I'm lonely, wanna die." This round goes to the chirpier, cheerier "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da."

#11 Glass Onion vs #22 Honey Pie
In a stunning upset, the homage to the dance hall defeats the imagery-loaded lyrics full of callbacks to previous Beatles songs. It's not that "Glass Onion" isn't a great song, it's that "Honey Pie" is just a really, really well-written genre tribute with wildly interesting chord changes, and a once-in-a-lifetime jazz guitar solo played to perfection by John, of all people. "Honey Pie" advances to the next round.

#6 Blackbird vs #27 Rocky Raccoon
Both songs are about animals, both songs are Paul compositions, and both are played out on a simple set of acoustic guitar chords. Except that "Blackbird" is a parable with profound meaning, hung on a musical architecture that is both simple and stunning at the same time, and "Rocky Raccoon" is about a trash-digging animal who is apparently in an intimate relationship with a human female. (No wonder she changed her name three times.) "Blackbird" soundly wins the round.

And that was that. Your newly fashioned, "guaranteed not to crack," single-LP version of The White Album is as follows:
  • Back in the USSR
  • Dear Prudence
  • Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
  • While My Guitar Gently Weeps
  • Happiness Is A Warm Gun
  • I'm So Tired
  • Blackbird
  • Piggies
  • Why Don't We Do It In The Road?
  • I Will
  • Julia
  • Revolution 1
  • Helter Skelter
  • Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey
  • Sexy Sadie
  • Honey Pie
Stick around, though. There's more White-whittling left to be done.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

30 fun facts about The Beatles White Album (take 2)

10:36 AM Posted by Nicole M

In part one of this two-part series, we took a little ride through the first half of The Beatles White Album and dug up some fun facts for the initial 17 tracks. As promised, let's carry on now with the second half of the double album!

The entire song was written in the studio one September evening while Paul was waiting for the others to show up for a White Album recording session. By the end of the evening, the song was fully recorded. A cool trick, to be sure, but there's a flip side to banging out something that quickly: John famously said of the tune, "it was a piece of garbage."

Yer Blues
This was one of Ringo's favorite tracks on the album it was recorded "live," in a tiny room next to Studio 2 in Abbey Road. At a time when the band was already starting to splinter and fracture, this eyeball-to-eyeball effort was a throwback to the good old days: "you can't top it ... the four of us were in a box, a room about eight by eight, with no separation. It was this group that was together." (Ringo, as quoted in Anthology)

Mother Nature's Son
This track was recorded during the same session that saw Paul record "Wild Honey Pie," and as on that track, so also here Paul handled all of the vocals and instruments himself (not including the brass, of course).

Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey
Fact: this track is not very good, until you crank up the volume to nose-bleed levels, at which point it becomes awesome.

Sexy Sadie
A lot of Beatles fans know that this song was John's disgusted, disillusioned parting jab at the Maharishi, but not everyone realizes that this song was so much about the Maharishi that John initially wrote the lyrics:

Sex-y Sa-die
What have you done?


What have you done?

George Harrison wisely talked John out of being quite so on-the-nose about the whole thing.

Helter Skelter
The mono version of this recording does not contain Ringo's cry at the end of the song, "I've got blisters on my fingers!"

Long, Long, Long
On the final, drawn-out chord of this song, the recording features a rattling sound that was quite deliberate. A bottle of Blue Nun wine sitting on top of a speaker was the culprit, but The Beatles liked the odd little addition so much that they had their assistant producer put microphones around the bottle so they could capture the sound more fully.

Revolution 1
At the end of each chorus there is a short acoustic guitar riff that is introduced by two loud, crashing drum and cymbal hits, such as the one found at 1:17 on the track. However, at 3:24 this drum crash is heard *three* times instead of two, adding an extra beat to the measure. This was an accident in the editing room. At this point in the song, a different take was spliced in, but it was added one beat too late.

Honey Pie
This track is just one of a very small handful of Beatles songs on which John -- not George or Paul -- played the lead guitar solo. (Other examples include "Get Back," "You Can't Do That," and "Hey Bulldog.") As George Harrison later said, it was "a brilliant solo ... sounded like Django Reinhardt or something."

Savoy Truffle
John gets all the credit for turning an antique circus poster into the lyrics of "Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite," but let's give it up for George and his magic trick of turning the contents list of a box of "Good News Chocolates" into the lyrics of "Savoy Truffle." (Bonus fact: the two chocolates named by George that did not come from the box were "Cool Cherry Cream" and "Coconut Fudge.")

Cry Baby Cry
The haunting "can you take me back?" outro of this song was a bit of spontaneous nonsense recorded by Paul between takes of "I Will." The snippet heard here only lasts a few seconds, but the extended recording (which can still be found on YouTube) goes on for almost two minutes, and includes Paul singing lines like, "I ain't happy here, my honey, can you take me back?"

Revolution 9
The name "Revolution 9" suggests some link to the earlier track "Revolution 1," and indeed, there is. While recording Take 20 of "Revolution 1" (which begins with Geoff Emerick announcing "this is Revolution, take ...", followed by John's interjection, "take your knickers off!"), The Beatles went into an extended ten-minute jam. This jam, featuring John screaming "all right!", is what was later used as the base for "Revolution 9." Tape loops and effects were added later, and we're all richer for it, I'm sure.

Good Night
Going back to the Rubber Soul album, this track marks the fifth consecutive (and final) album to end with a John composition:

  • Rubber Soul: "Run For Your Life"
  • Revolver: "Tomorrow Never Knows"
  • Sgt Pepper: "A Day In The Life"
  • Magical Mystery Tour: "All You Need is Love"
  • The White Album: "Good Night"

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

30 fun facts about The Beatles White Album

8:36 AM Posted by Nicole M

The year 2018 marks the fiftieth anniversary of The Beatles' first and only double album, officially called The Beatles, but unofficially known to fans all over the world as The White Album. Full to bursting with 30 different tracks, The White Album certainly provides a great deal of variety to the listener, as well as perhaps a few clues as to where each band member was heading individually.

Here, then, is the first part of a two-part look at The White Album, with some fun facts for each of the 30 songs.

Back In The USSR
In the opening lyric, Paul sings, "Flew in from Miami Beach, B.O.A.C.", a reference to the British Overseas Airways Corporation airline -- known today as simply "British Airways." Paul's facts are correct: British Overseas Airways Corporation did indeed historically service airports in both Miami and Moscow.

Dear Prudence
Ringo does not appear on this track, because he had temporarily quit the band. He wasn't gone for long, but in his absence, the other three Beatles went ahead and recorded the basic tracks for this song, with Paul on drums. (Bonus: at 1:46 in the song, Paul accidentally hits his bass note too soon.)

Glass Onion
This is a dovetail joint:

And all this time, I'll bet you thought John was talking about pot.

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
The first time Paul sings the closing lyrics, "Desmond lets the children lend a hand," John and George can be heard yelling "arm!" and "leg!" after Paul sings "hand." On the second pass, "Molly lets the children lend a hand," George can be heard saying, "foot!"

Wild Honey Pie
Paul did this entire track himself, including all the vocals, percussion, and guitars. Historians are still trying to figure out why.

The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill
The opening flamenco guitar riff that starts this song was actually just a demo sound clip that came with the Mellotron The Beatles used in the studio.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Most Beatles fans are aware that Eric Clapton played the lead guitar solo for this track (at George Harrison's request), but not everyone knows that Clapton was quite concerned that his solo didn't sound "Beatle-y" enough. To that end, extra effects and wobble were applied to the tape in the studio, which is why on the album his guitar appears to drift in and out of tune.

Happiness Is A Warm Gun
When John begins the section, "When I hold you in my arms," the bass, guitar, and vocals all shift into 3/4 ("waltz") time while Ringo's drums stay in standard 4/4 time. The two competing time signatures are what give this section its trademark push-and-pull feel.

Martha My Dear
Much like "Blackbird" from this same album, "Martha My Dear" was born out of Paul's attempts at challenging his technical abilities. As he said to Barry Miles, "this started life almost as a piece you'd learn as a piano lesson ... it's slightly above my level or competence really, but I wrote it as that, something a bit more complex for me to play."

I'm So Tired
Why does John want to "curse Sir Walter Raleigh" after saying he'll "have another cigarette" in the final verse of this song? Because Sir Walter Raleigh was the historical figure who (so they say) first brought tobacco to England. There's even a brand of cigarette and pipe tobacco with Raleigh on the label!

The singing bird effects used in this piece are different depending on whether you're listening to the stereo mix or the mono mix. In the mono mix, that bird is singing his head off! (I wonder where that bird is today?)

George had an extra verse for this song that didn't make the final cut, but you can hear him sing it on recordings of his live concert in Japan:

Everywhere there's lots of piggies, playing piggy pranks
You can see them on their trotters, at the piggy banks
Paying piggy thanks to thee, pig brother

Rocky Raccoon
This is the third track in a row to feature an animal: birds, piggies, and now raccoons. That was deliberate. When George Martin came to the end of producing this album, he had to decide how to sequence these 30 tracks to give them some kind of coherent running order. No small task! One decision that was easy? Take the three "animal songs" and group them together.

Don't Pass Me By
It took Ringo five years to write this song, which means that he started working on it back in 1963, when the lads were still mop-tops who hadn't yet even conquered America. During an interview with the group on the BBC's show "Top Gear" in 1964, Brian Matthew asks Ringo if he plans to write any songs, and Paul starts singing the chorus from "Don't Pass Me By." So, yes, it was in Ringo's head way back then.

Why Don't We Do It In The Road?
Perhaps more than any song on the album, this track is a glimpse into Paul's near future. Barely two years later, he would be doing exactly what he did on this track: recording half-finished song ideas, and supplying (nearly) all the instrumentation and vocals himself. This track is our first taste of the future McCartney album.

I Will
There is, strictly speaking, no bass on this track. No bass guitar, anyway. The low notes are from Paul, making bass guitar noises with his mouth.

John credited Donovan with teaching him the peculiar finger-picking guitar style he uses on this song. It wouldn't be the last time he used that style, either. Play this track back-to-back with "Look at Me" from John's first solo release, the Plastic Ono Band album, and it's nearly like hearing the same song twice.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Octopus' Garden Review of Beatles Poetry Book

9:36 AM Posted by Nicole M
Adapted with permission from Octopus' Garden fanzine, Volume 26, Issue #4, May 2017. Review by Tom Aguiar.

Any Rhyme At All by Terri Whitney. The Rockin' Rhymer, U.S.

 Poetry is more than writing. It is an art form that is responsible for projecting the feelings or ideas of the writer and causing an effect on the reader on some level. Whether the poem is about a person or an event, it must have the ability to touch you and make you feel something inside. Good poetry does that.

 The title of this book is a great play on the title of the Beatles song “Any Time At All,” and grabs you as soon as you pick up the book. The subtitle, “A Fan’s Journey,” gives you a hint of what’s inside – a story about the Beatles… and yet not about the Beatles.

 The book is separated into four chapters, each highlighting a part of the history of the Beatles and, by extension, the fan’s history. The Beatles are the backdrop to each poem but each poem projects more than the Beatles. Whether it is the Beatles themselves and those connected to them or the legacy that they have given us, the reader will feel an emotional element within each poem.

 The style of Whitney’s poetry appears to be narrative within free style structure. She uses both 4 line and 6 line form in talking about a subject, event, or person. Her work is well structured and clearly conveys a feeling or attribute about the topic of the poem. Each poem is sprinkled with personal feelings or general feelings about the topic that effectively depict the impact that resulted from the existence of “a world with the Beatles.” They made a difference in people’s lives whether individually or collectively and that message comes through in her writing.

 Each poem is accompanied by classic style charcoal artwork done by Amy Heintzelman. The drawings add character to each story that Whitney is telling. They are rendered in the perfect style for the book as it brings a visual understanding to the feelings conveyed within the poem.
What do you do when two of your loves are writing poetry and the Beatles? You incorporate the two and publish what you have put into words. The trick is to avoid the appearance of “hero worship” and Whitney accomplishes this with ease. The reader will walk away feeling that this book is more about Whitney’s journey in life, one that will mirror most people’s, and reveals how she was affected by the Beatles rather than about the Beatles themselves. This is what the author most likely intended and she has succeeded in her goal. It is warm, and it is from the heart and a good read. You learn more about Whitney and the person that she is within her words and that is what I walked away with after reading Any Rhyme At All. To me the Beatles were secondary in her poetry. I got a glimpse into the person and I recognized the emotions. That was the real pleasure of her poetry.

Any Rhyme At All is available for purchase through Terri Whitney's website: TheRockinRhymer.com

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Beatlefan Interview with Youngerman Art

2:28 PM Posted by Nicole M
Article by John Firehammer and originally published in Beatlefan magazine (P.O. Box 33515, Decatur, GA 30033). Adapted with permission.

Many visual artists draw inspiration from The Beatles’ image and music. But Manchester-based printmakers Ivan and Ed Chapman have ties to the group that date to its earliest days. Their mother, Margaret, attended the Liverpool College of Art with John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe. She dated Stu and roomed with both John and Stu in the infamously grungy  “Beatnik Horror” flat on Gambier Terrace. Back then she was Margaret Duxbury and known by the nickname “Duckie.” She went on to have a distinguished career in art, known for her Edwardian street scene paintings, before passing away in 2000. Ivan and Ed gravitated toward the arts, too, and produce a variety of graphic works under the name “Youngerman.” Their pieces include bright, Roy Lichtenstein-style prints of The Beatles, The Who, Jimi Hendrix and more, along with a series of maps where the street names of Liverpool and London are replaced with song titles. Here, the Chapman brothers respond to a series of email questions from Beatefan contributor John Firehammer. 
Can you provide some details on your business? When did it open? The map designs first went on sale in mid-2015 as soon as a license had been granted by mapping companies A-Z and Ordnance Survey, on which the real streets are based. The pop art originals and prints have been on sale for longer. The works have sold all over the world. There are fans on every continent!

What is you background in printmaking and art? Did you study professionally? Do you create the art together or individually?All Youngerman designs are created as a team. Our parents were both qualified artists and passed on their knowledge from an early age. Later study was at college. 
 What type of printmaking is this, in terms of the techniques and materials used?
The Beatles “All You Need is Loverpool” is a GiclĂ©e print utilizing the latest lightfast dyes and printing techniques on distinctly textured Hahnemuhle heavyweight German Etching board, which recreates the desired “vintage” style look of the design perfectly. The premium mould-made paper meets the highest industry standards regarding density, colour gamut, colour graduation and image sharpness while preserving the special touch and feel of genuine art paper.

Your mom had a close connection with the early Beatles. She attended Art College with John Lennon and Stu Sutcliffe and shared a flat with them. What time period was that? 
She studied at Liverpool College of Art for five years from 1957-62. She was especially good at painting, as was Stuart Sutcliffe. She went on to have a successful career as a professional artist creating works of Edwardian street scenes, from the early 1970s, with several sell-out exhibitions. She continued to paint professionally until she died in 2000.

How did she end up sharing the flat? Were there other roommates?She was Stuart's girlfriend at the time when they moved into rooms in a large, austere 19th century house on Gambier Terrace, very close to the art college opposite Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral, along with another couple, also college friends studying art.After some time, Stuart asked her if it was OK if his best mate and their fellow-student John Lennon could move in as he was finding it hard living with his Aunt Mimi, or had possibly been kicked out already. She agreed it was OK and John moved in, along with all his musical equipment.The place itself was the scene of the national newspaper article called ‘The Beatnik Horror’ (1960) which showed pictures from inside the flat and the apparent squalid living conditions, maybe somewhat exaggerated!

Did she see the Beatles play frequently? Did she get to know the other members of the group, too?The Beatles were not even called The Beatles at the time she first met Stuart. It would be the period when they were changing the group's name regularly. John Lennon asked her one day if she could think of a name and she suggested the jazzy title “John Lennon Quartet,” which apparently John liked although presumably this was quickly vetoed by his band mates! She also referred to art college non-friends as “nowhere people” and teachers as “nowhere men,” which John liked and found amusing. Maybe he remembered this?She remembered Paul and George, who used to call round to rehearse at the flat, coming up the wooden fire escape at the rear of the property and in through a window. Presumably songs like “Love Me Do” would be rehearsed at this time. They all called her “Duckie” (her maiden name was Duxbury) and she recalled George being very good-looking and Paul confident even then, both of them very polite too. They would all play cards and Monopoly, which she said John, Paul and George all cheated outrageously at. She never liked the game much after this! Even though she was five weeks younger than John she never saw them at the Cavern, possibly considering herself too old - at the age of 20!

Did your mom share any stories about those days that you haven't heard elsewhere, that haven't come out in any of the Beatles books?Yes. Albert Goldman got her name incorrect in his biography of John, surprising considering how in-depth he supposedly researched and interviewed for that book. Philip Norman and Ray Connolly both mention her, although in Connolly's book the story about hanging spiders above her bed as she slept is incorrect. She actually helped John and the others make the spiders from, of all things, potatoes with straws for legs. She was always very good at coming up with creative ideas as a mother too.However, none of them mentions how she vividly recalled the first time she was alone with John Lennon. This was at Gambier Terrace, waiting for the other flatmates to come in. She was little short of terrified as John was notorious around college for making sharp, witty put-downs whenever fellow students walked by and she dreaded the encounter one-to-one.It turned out John in private was actually quite shy and polite and he asked her would she like to read some of his writing. She did and she told him it reminded her of an author called J. D. Salinger. John didn't know of Salinger, so she leant him her copy of “The Catcher in the Rye,” which he later said he enjoyed a great deal.She later signed her paintings M. Chapman (her married surname) and was known as “Marg,” an eerie coincidence being as close a female name can be to John's assassin's name, who was, as we know, obsessed with the same book.John never did return her book. Maybe Yoko still has it?

What were her recollections of John and Stu as people and personalities? It seems like they were quite different in temperament, yet such good friends.She said Stuart was a lovely person, same height as she was at 5' 5'' and could be self-effacing and comical despite his talent, and as an art student was generous with advice, which she took on board and employed later in her own work. John was decidedly more all bravado in a group, a leader, but certainly with her seems to have always been fun and courteous, wearing the glasses he normally eschewed in public. John and Stuart got on she said, perhaps because they were the same age (Paul and George were younger) and had creativity in common beyond music.

Describe some of the inspirations behind your work. Obviously, the pop art prints are very 1960s inspired, with their bright colors and Roy Lichtenstein influence. Maps are another big influence.Pop art definitely is an obvious influence, yet surprisingly The Beatles and other famous people have not really been created in the traditional pop art style before, with speech bubbles and the Ben-Day dots integral to the work. The Beatles are so heavily associated with and so massively influenced the 1960s when pop art was at its height so it seemed logical to create them in this style.The map designs are absolutely true to the real roads of the area in question. They have been changed, stylized to a lesser or greater degree. Some real roads and landmarks remain too. Maps and diagrams have long made for interesting art. With the map prints, fans look for their favorite song in the designs.

What's the connection between music and your work? It's not just the Beatles, but you also have prints inspired by Hendrix and Dylan, as well as punk-era groups like The Clash and The Jam.Music plays a massive part in people's lives so creating music legends in art, with luck, is going to be popular. The map designs seem like a logical extension of the musician portraits, something not really seen before yet maintaining a pop art flavour.

You gave one of your Liverpool maps to Paul McCartney and got a very nice response. Can you tell a little bit about that?There was an interview with Paul from about a year or so ago and he was saying how he was so fond of and even nostalgic for Liverpool. The city, as we know, had a special effect on the band. We thought it was a nice idea to see if he would like to own the first print in the limited edition combining songs with the streets of his hometown. It turned out he was interested and was really delighted when he received it at his office in Soho, along with a note to say thanks for the songs!

Where do you see this going next? Do you think you'll do more in your current style of maps and pop prints, or get into other subjects and styles, too?
There will definitely be more map designs coming soon. They are proving very popular with fans. Currently being worked on are designs for David Bowie, Pink Floyd and another for The Sex Pistols, all maps based in London.
Youngerman prints are available online at www.youngerman-art.com and in various galleries in the U.K.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Beatlefan Interview with Jim Berkenstadt, Author of 'The Beatle Who Vanished'

2:56 PM Posted by Nicole M
Article by John Firehammer and originally published in Beatlefan magazine (P.O. Box 33515, Decatur, GA 30033)Adapted with permission.

The news broke recently that author Jim Berkenstadt’s 2013 book, “The Beatle Who Vanished,” about temporary Beatles drummer Jimmie Nicol, is being developed as a film or TV project.

The Beatles hired Nicol, a London club and session musician, to fill in for an ailing Ringo Starr during the early part of their 1964 world tour. Altogether, Nicol was a Beatle for 13 days, yet the experience colored the rest of his life.

Berkenstadt’s book turned up a wealth of information about Nicol, including the fact that – though rumored to be dead – the drummer is still alive, or was when the book was published. All attempts to track down and talk to Nicol in recent years have been unsuccessful.

In this interview, Beatlefan contributor John Firehammer talks to Berkenstadt about his research into Nicol’s story and about the movie/TV plans.

On the development deal, it sounds like this will be a dramatization of Jimmie's story with a script and actors as opposed to a documentary, is that the case? As the author, what do you hope to see in this adaptation, in terms of the tone it takes and its scope?
The plan of producers Alex Orbison (son of singer Roy Orbison) and Ashley Hamilton is to transform “The Beatle Who Vanished,” into a dramatic feature biopic or TV series. In terms of the adaptation, I am hopeful the project will feature Jimmie’s back-story leading up to his selection by The Beatles; and of course, his experience in the eye of the Beatlemania hurricane, with all of the pressures; and especially his post-Beatles life. I want the viewer to feel what it was like for Jimmie as he made choices in his post-Beatles career, in his efforts to re-create the fame he experienced as a Beatle. How does a person live with 15 minutes of fame the rest of their lives? I want people to appreciate why the mysterious Mr. Nicol kept vanishing.

It's obvious in reading the book why you took on this project. You covered a fascinating story and uncovered a lot of information not just about Jimmie's life before and after the Beatles, but also about how he was picked to deputize for Ringo. But what made you think there was something there to begin with? You obviously had a sense there was a good story that hadn't been covered.
At first, I was curious why Jimmie Nicol was always a one-sentence footnote in every Beatles history book. So I began to wonder how his career had put him in position to be selected to replace Ringo. No one had ever looked into this.

I knew I could write an entire book about just his two weeks with The Beatles. However, the more I discovered about him, the more I wanted to flesh out his entire career. He was beloved by all of the musicians he played with. Yet he also virtually abandoned his family to pursue his career. As I began to slowly locate and interview the people in his life, it became clear that this story was much more than an untold chapter in Beatles history.

Then, as I began to find out where Jimmie worked and lived around the world after his first disappearance, I became intrigued, searching for his every move. The book moved from music history to a true mystery. For example, it took six years to locate and interview his ex-wife Julia in Mexico. I couldn’t finish the book until I was able to fill in his Mexican life. It was a combination of my research skills as a former trial attorney and a bit of good fortune that led me to discover so many people connected to Jimmie Nicol’s life.

What are some of the things that surprised you most as you researched Jimmie's life?
I was intrigued to find out that Jimmie started out in the first wave of British Rock and Roll and played behind many of the old stars that The Beatles looked up to, including a short stint in Tony Sheridan’s early London band. Then when he moved from rock into big band touring and even briefly recording with a ska band, I realized he really was a serious student of the drums who wanted to learn every style.

His big band era led him into the exclusive and lucrative world of London recording sessions. Then I located some amazing lost BBC video footage of Jimmie playing drums on a Tommy Quickly session with Brian Epstein watching him inside the studio! When I interviewed Sir George Martin, I discovered that it was Epstein who told George Martin to call Jimmie in for The Beatles tryout, not Martin. The myth of Martin working with Jimmie Nicol before The Beatles continues to be perpetrated online today! Fake news from the Sixties…

I was also surprised how many albums Jimmie recorded after The Beatles, but not as a session player. For example, he became a full member of Sweden’s Spotnicks, who were thrilled to have him in the band for his playing, not for his Beatles connection. And they had a number one hit with Jimmie in Japan. Another stunner was Jimmie recording a psychedelic album in 1967 in Mexico (called “Nicolquinn” on RCA Mexicana) at the same time The Beatles were recording “Sgt. Pepper”.

The funniest discovery was finding a lost Mexican underground film in which Jimmie composed and performed the soundtrack. The highlight was clip of him playing butt bongos on a naked woman in the film! Oh the Sixties, and experimental films…

What are your impressions of Jimmie as a drummer? By all accounts, he was very good from a technical standpoint - maybe the most-skilled drummer the Beatles ever had, Ringo included.
Jimmie Nicol was an excellent drummer. He could play rock’n’roll, blues, R&B, ska, big band and jazz; so he was quite versatile. Unlike Ringo, Jimmie also learned to read music, which was important in big bands and in the studio for recording sessions.

Ringo, as your readers know, was not flashy and did not really go in for drum solos. However, Ringo was perfect for - and complimented - the Lennon-McCartney songwriting style. He was part of a four-person team that put the song above the individual players.

Jimmie was used to playing wild solos. There is a perfect example of his wild solos in a video posted on my author site, www.thebeatlewhovanished.com. He liked to take the spotlight in concert. In “The Beatle Who Vanished,” I placed a photo of John, Paul and George bowing at the end of a song in Adelaide. Meanwhile, the photo shows Nicol playing a drum flourish after the song has ended! Ringo would have ended at the same time as the others, and bowed with The Beatles. Jimmie was playing a post-song flourish to milk applause, something that was totally unnecessary with The Beatles! Yet something he had learned along the way.

From a stylistic standpoint, Ringo played live what he had recorded with the group on record. Ringo sat low and used mostly his wrists to play drums. Whereas Jimmie raised Ringo’s stool and used more of his arms and hit the drums much harder and louder than Ringo in concert.

Were you surprised that Jimmie's story wasn't discussed at all in the "Eight Days a Week" documentary film? It seems like a major oversight and a lost opportunity.
I wasn’t surprised at all. It was no oversight. There was an attempt to locate Jimmie, get him on camera and have him tell his story for potential use in the film. But, as you know, Jimmie is still missing in action. He was also shown and discussed by The Beatles in “Anthology.”

By nature, it sounds like Jimmie was a free spirit. He was fairly relaxed and easy to get along with. It seems like the other Beatles liked him and got along well with him? Do you think that's the case?
Yes I do. Jimmie was well-liked by every musician I interviewed. It helped that Jimmie had played with many of the early British rockers The Beatles looked up to as kids; such as Marty Wilde, Vince Eager, Joe Brown and Tony Sheridan. When Tony Sheridan accidentally turned up on The Beatles plane ride from London to Hong Kong, I relate in the book how Sheridan’s stories of Jimmie bridged the gap and helped The Beatles begin to bond with Jimmie socially on tour. And of course, when Paul asked Jimmie on tour each day how he was doing, handling the drumming, press conferences and pressure, Jimmie told Paul, “It’s Getting Better every day”. Everyone I interviewed on that tour said that Jimmie and The Beatles got along very well and enjoyed each other’s company.

Brian Epstein reportedly asked concert promoters to treat Jimmie "like a Beatle," yet Jimmie later blamed Brian for sabotaging his post-Beatles career. Is this more a case of him needing a scapegoat? Do you think his brush with Beatles-level fame unmoored him in regard to his musical career? He had such high expectations of himself for what he could accomplish, as if he were on the same plain as the Beatles because he'd played with them.
That is an excellent observation and question. First, I read the entire archive of the Australian promoter’s letters and plans for the tour Downunder, in a Melbourne museum vault. This took about 10 hours! The letters from Epstein did in fact state Jimmie should be treated as one of The Beatles in every aspect - from first class seats on the plane; using the same car as The Beatles in all parades; room accommodations; and much more.

Perhaps the strangest story I found was that Jimmie truly believed Brian Epstein had blacklisted him from getting lucrative gigs when he formed a solo band after The Beatles.

I do think Jimmie’s brief brush with Beatles-level fame gave him unrealistic expectations about his own career potential. If he had gone back to London and kept his session work, he could have retired by 1970 as a rich young man of 30. Also, if he had stayed in Georgie Fame & the Blue Flames, he would have ridden a wave of popularity that that band was about to experience both in Europe and the U.S.

Instead, Jimmie invested all of his money in paying musicians to tour with him, even as attendance began to wane after his “Fifth Beatle” glow wore off. His choices for 45-rpm singles on Pye were misguided in that his B-sides were usually superior to the A-sides. He got very little airplay and virtually no record sales other than through his “Fifth Beatle” connection. And, most of all, he used a nameless, faceless lead vocalist, while he sat in the back playing drums. Imagine if Dave Grohl had started a new band after Nirvana, sitting back on drums while a “nobody” sang songs written by another nobody. Would we ever have heard about the Foo Fighters?

The biggest revelation of your book is that, contrary to long-standing rumors, Jimmie is still alive, yet he did "vanish." He seems uninterested in talking about the Beatles - or about anything else - with the media. His son, Howard, recently said Jimmie would be "horrified" about plans for a TV series or film based on his life. What is your response to that? Do you hope that Jimmie might emerge to comment or help with this project?
I believe Jimmie is alive. He was definitively alive when I published the book. However, at this point even his own son cannot confirm if he is dead or alive.

Jimmie Nicol’s story is both fascinating and mysterious. I would love to hear from Nicol himself as to what he thinks about “The Beatle Who Vanished.” However, no one has seen him since the mid 2000s. His son Howie has not seen or heard from him in over a decade. So really, we don’t know what Jimmie would think about “The Beatle Who Vanished” being turned into a film or TV series.”

I spent six years researching his career before, during and after The Beatles, across eight countries; reading through archives; listening to his recordings; talking to musicians, friends, and family members; all in order to build an accurate profile of Nicol’s remarkable career. I believe the producers of the film or TV series intend to make a beautiful, respectful movie about his fascinating, mysterious and enigmatic life; hardly ‘mortifying’ or ‘horrifying’ as described by Howie Nicol.

Is there a timeframe, yet, for production of the book's adaptation?
There is no time frame yet for production. There are many details to work out during pre-production, such as: financing, securing a director, leading men and women, a screenwriter, music and budgets.

Will you be involved in the production?
I am an executive producer on the project. However, I hope to assist in two ways: I would of course like to serve as a historical consultant like I did for Martin Scorsese’s George Harrison: Living in the Material World, and I would like to assist the musical director with the selection of music that best represents Jimmie Nicol’s entire career.

What’s next? Do you have any other projects, Beatles or otherwise on the horizon?
As for other projects, I can be seen on the TV show Celebrity Legacies as an expert on the Reelz Channel, and I am working on a new book at this time. There is a Beatles connection to the book, and it does involve another mystery or two. Stay tuned.

Jim Berkenstadt’s book is available at thebeatlewhovanished.com and amazon.com. He can be reached at jim@rockandrolldetective.com.