Bigger than big.
Greater than great.
“The Toppermost of the Poppermost, Johnny!”
It makes my heart burst to think that I’m from the same place as them.
I became a Beatlemaniac in the aftermath of my parents’ divorce at the end of the 1980s/dawn of the 1990s. I didn’t watch Top of the Pops, listen to the radio (apart from 5 Live for football) or take any notice of contemporary music at all from the age of about 11 until, well, ever since really. I’ve dabbled in and out with modern stuff, moved around and about through Delta Blues, early American Rock ‘n’ Roll, Tamla Motown, Stax, a bit of Ska and Reggae, Punk Rock, some New Wave, the stuff I love from the ’80s when I was a nipper, I had a brief flirtation with Oasis as a teenager but more out of being a Northern soul trapped in the south of England and to place myself in the opposite camp to Blur, who I’ve realised I probably like just as much, if not more than them Gallaghers. But I’m really not bothered about either. Paul Weller grabbed me briefly but I always felt he was a fraud, passing himself off as a genuine ’60s relic when he was in fact a Burton suited bit-part in the Punk era. All of that music from my ’90s youth pales into insignificance. I genuinely wouldn’t care if I never heard any of it ever again.
I have always loved Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band. As a kid I thought bands were like football teams, you supported one as a family and they had their own stadiums where you went to watch them play. I thought originally we supported The Police, but then changed to Bruce. Weird. I have a crystal clear memory of walking through Barclay Park in Hoddesdon with my mum and dad and our Andy as a toddler, talking about this very thing. I must’ve been about 6.
I’m not sure of the exact chronology of my Beatlemania. I remember listening to a compilation tape in the car on the way back (I think) from my first ever Springsteen concert at the old Wembley Stadium in 1987 or ’88. Tunnel of Love tour. Or I might be wrong and it might be on the way back from my first ever gig, around the same time (ish), which was Paul Simon, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and guest star Miriam Makeba – still in exile at the time – at the Royal Albert Hall. TOP THAT! Anyway, Yellow Submarine came on the tape and that is my first memory of The Beatles. I would’ve been 7 or 8. On top of the world. I went to my first Everton match in May 1987 when the Toffeemen were presented with the League Championship trophy. What could possibly go wrong…
I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t aware of John, Paul, George and Ringo, but that Yellow Submarine moment is my first actual memory of hearing them.
In recent years since I reconnected with my dad he has revealed a fairly disparaging (and typically at odds with popular consensus) opinion of his that the Fab Four weren’t even the best band in Liverpool, let alone the world. He quotes Rory Storm & The Hurricanes and Beryl Marsden, recalls passing Rory’s house on the bus to school and generally doesn’t admit to having much time for The Beatles. He would have been 12 or 13 when they hit it big, having earned their corn at places like Pete Best’s mum Mona’s Casbah Club just 1.4 miles from the house he grew up on on Lambourne Road in Clubmoor.
I love the fact that my mum’s side of the family (my Grandad Yates’ line) have deep roots in the Woolton area, South Liverpool where John, Paul and George all grew up and first met and “it all began” – there’s even a chance that my infant mum and her little sister would have been at Woolton Village Fete with their mum, scoffing fairy cakes and perusing the stalls on that fateful day in 1957 – but that they really blossomed as performers in and around my birthplace (and where my dad’s family lived for generations) in North Liverpool, initially at The Casbah in West Derby and onto places like The Lathom in Seaforth (both of which I visited for the first time this year), before taking residence at The Cavern in the city centre, off to Hamburg and back to world stardom.
I’m not sure how Beatlemania really hit me. I remember a somewhat bleak trip my mum, my brother and I took to Poole in Dorset not long after my parents seperated. I refused to join in with much in terms of holiday capers and remember vividly sat in the car on the seafront while mum and Andy went for a walk and opening a paperback copy of Philip Norman’s book Shout! The opening lines talk about John Lennon’s auntie Mimi looking out of the window of her house, on the seafront at Poole in Dorset, the famous plaque above her fireplace bearing her legendary line “The guitar’s all right as a hobby John, but you’ll never make a living out of it“… Weird. I didn’t put the book down until I’d finished it and I was hooked.
I’m not sure if Shout! came before my schoolfriend Sam and I travelled up from Hertfordshire to stay with my grandparents in Woolton for a week in the summer of 1991. Needless to say though, we went on a Beatles ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ bus. I wore my new Everton shirt and shell suit and was photographed in front of all the sites. I’d got my mum’s work colleague and friend Mike to tape some of his vinyl for me, including the Twist and Shout E.P. and various singles tagged onto the end of The Best of John Lennon. I’ll never forget the crackle and hiss of the vinyl, the mad reverb and fuzz on songs like Paperback Writer and Rain that just never shows up on remastered stereo versions. I’ve still got the cassette. It is grey with a green, black and white label and was made in West Germany.
I immersed myself in every book I could get my hands on, including a couple of beautiful copies of John Lennon’s own In His Own Write and A Spaniard In The Works which I picked up at a Beatle fair in Liverpool. I later lent them to my brother who lent them to a pal who kept them. Nice. I read Mark Lewisohn’s epic reference book The Beatles: Studio Sessions cover to cover as was never intended. Every miniscule note. At school I made an early failed over-ambitious effort at a creative project (I continue to be over-ambitious and fail to this day), attempting to come up with an alternative packaging concept for the mind-blowing Anthology video and album series. I wrote to the actual designers who sent me an incredible package of print outs detailing the entire design process and topped off with a post-it note featuring Klaus Voorman’s telephone number. You know Klaus Voorman whose girlfriend designed the moptop haircut and fell in love with the tragic fifth Beatle Stu Sutcliffe? Yeah him. It’s a lifelong regret that 16 year old me never had the bollocks to ‘phone Klaus. Wow. Mad stuff happens to me though, eh? There’s always a story.
I gradually amassed most of the albums on varying degrees of quality vinyl. I set up two stereos side by side and taped an entire day’s airtime Kenny Everett dedicated on Capital Gold to his memories of, interviews with and favourite songs of his old mates The Beatles, switching between stereos as cassettes ran out and needed turning over to ensure I didn’t miss a second. I still miss the radio hiss on tracks like Words of Love and the compilation tapes I made of all the songs, with the inevitable voiceovers appearing at the start and end of the clips I made, songs ending with “…ON CAP…” which would have been the announcer saying “ON CAPITAL GOLD…” cut off as best as I could. I still expect to hear bits like that when I hear certain songs today. I also often tap out a rhythm which was one played by Ringo soundchecking in the background as Kenny interviews George Harrison. Unforgettable. I wish I still had all that stuff.
I bought The White Album at HMV, Thurrock Lakeside on a double cassette with my birthday money and remember my mum complimenting me on a “classy” choice. I never warmed to the album. It’s the most un-Beatle-like. My favourites are the first and last, pure rock ‘n’roll to pure Beatles-invented magic. Just unbelievable. And there’s never, ever and never will be a better first (original composition) song on a first album by anyone than I Saw Her Standing There, nor for that matter a better closing cover version than Twist and Shout. The story of that album, the recording in one day, Twist and Shout saved for last as Lennon’s voice was dying (he was full of the cold), he lay flat on the floor with the mic dangling above him and let rip. Primal therapy. Unreal.
ITV did a great McCartney at 50 documentary in 1992 which I taped and watched a trillion times, I also saw the sublime A Hard Days Night and Help! for the first time around this time and the ridiculous (shit!) Magical Mystery Tour not long thereafter. A decade or so later I would be “working” at the National Portrait Gallery in London when an old fella with funny insect badges all over his bunnet wandered up to me and started rambling about how John Lennon was always trying to buy his songs but that he wouldn’t sell them and how he’d been in Magical Mystery Tour himself. It was Ivor Cutler.
My art teacher at school Mr. Rigby was a Beatlemaniac too and adored the fact that I could reel off every last piece of trivia just like him. He gave me a few tatty books and other bits and bobs of Beatle stuff and we’d talk all lesson about particular songs. I’ve made a similar friend with a brilliant guy in Oban. I’m hoping I can persuade the cinema to do us a screening of Eight Days A Week in the next few weeks. On the big screen and loud.
My first serious relationship was built on mutual love of The Beatles. My girlfriend and her best mate had an obsession with the “Paul Is Dead” hoax. One of the last things we ever did together was travel to Abbey Road Studios for a screening of A Hard Days Night. I wrote to Ringo, George Martin, Victor Spinetti, Pete Best and various other Beatles alumni and received signed pictures from them for her 21st birthday. I stalked Macca around Soho for weeks but never managed to nab a signature from him. I still love him though and hate it when people start moaning about him. One of the greatest singers, songwriters and givers of incredible joy, pleasure and entertainment to BILLIONS of people ever. Leave the guy alone.
I got married in an authentic replica Beatles suit from a shop called Beatwear just yards from The Cavern. With my cuban heels on I stood almost 6′ 8″ tall and I loved it. My brother, my best mate and I had a photoshoot on the back alleys around Mathew Street, legging it along the cobble stones in the full garb. The Chesterfield suits from A Hard Days Night in the blue that they wore at the London Palladium… “…the rest of you, if you could just rattle your jewellery”.
A great friend I have made in recent years is an official Beatles tour guide in Liverpool, a friend to everyone left with a connection to the group from their Liverpool beginnings, plus several others worldwide. He floored me once with a throwaway line about “picking Mae Pang up from the airport…”. It was he who took me to The Lathom Club to see Lee Curtis and The All-Stars in October this year. His knowledge is encyclopaedic. And he’s an absolutely avid Evertonian. I’m so lucky to find such amazing people.
The other day Enid sang the opening verse of I Wanna Hold Your Hand to me. She has pictures of John, Paul, George and Ringo on her bedroom wall. She’ll grow up to love them too. I’m so proud and delighted to be able to pass them on to her. I used to sing Hello Little Girl to her, rocking her in my arms and walking the dark passageways in the middle of the night while she attempted to scream the walls of Achnacloich House down.
If I could go back in time I know where I’d go. Liverpool in the late ’50s. Watch it all unfold. They’re the soundtrack to my life. My comic idols and style gurus, if only I had the hair.
Four lads who shook the world.