Friday 28 April 2023

Fab Four Tops Backdrop sketches by Paul McCartney unveiled at Liverpool Beatles Museum

Liverpool Beatles Museum
Mathew Street

Thursday 27 April 2023 

Some of the invited guests waiting for today's big reveal at the Liverpool Beatles Museum

This morning I attended the latest reveal at the Liverpool Beatles Museum, on Mathew Street owned by Pete and Roag Best. 

The Saville Theatre (now Odeon) opened on Shaftesbury Avenue, London, in 1931.  In 1965, Brian Epstein, a former drama student, leased the theatre and began promoting plays and Sunday night concerts by such acts as the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Chuck Berry, and The Who.  The Beatles filmed the promotional videos for 'Hello Goodbye' on the Saville Stage in 1967.

In late 1966 while George Harrison was in India, John Lennon was busy filming 'How I Won The War' in Almeria, Spain and Ringo Starr was spending time with his family at home, Brian Epstein invited Paul McCartney to design the stage backdrop for the upcoming appearance by Tamla Motown artists the Four Tops.

Revealed today were 12 of Paul's designs, preliminary sketches from which his eighth design featuring the stars and stripes which he entitled American Set, was chosen and used as a backdrop for the Four Tops first performance at the Saville on Sunday, 13 November, 1966. 

Asked by Roag Best to talk about Paul's designs, Merseyside artist, Anthony Brown, who unveiled the piece said: “The most amazing thing is that it still exists… What we’ve got is not just a piece of paper or a series of designs, it’s a conscious flow from one of the world’s geniuses”.

Brian Epstein with The Four Tops (Renaldo “Obie” Benson, Abdul “Duke” Fakir, Lawrence Payton and Levi Stubbs) at his Saville Theatre, where he booked and promoted the groups’ first UK concert 

This was to be the Four Tops only UK appearance in 1966 following the success of their number one single “Reach Out I’ll Be There”.

He [Brian] was a real gentleman. He contacted us and asked us if we sang like our records – we laughed. We’d been singing together for 10 years. We grew up singing. If you couldn’t do those harmonies you had no business being on the stage. We went to audition for him and he gave us a song to sing that none of us knew. We said ‘give us 10 minutes!’ and we came back with the song note perfect. He signed us up on the spot.

We did one of our best shows and he was so happy, he was almost crying. The audience was standing in the aisles calling for more and more and he said, ‘You guys did it!’. When we came back, we were front page news, and it was like that for years.

- Abdul “Duke” Fakir.

Note: It probably didn't happen exactly as he recalls.

The NME reveals Paul McCartney's involvement, November 1966

Paul's previously unseen designs were given by Epstein to Director of Productions for NEMS enterprises, John Lyndon, and were hung on his office wall.

In the lead up to the reveal, Roag told us that Paul's sketches had never been seen in public before.

"We were contacted by the (anonymous) owner, who said he'd had the pleasure of these designs on his wall for two years and wanted other people to be able to share in it. The owner is a collector and had spotted this at auction with a reserve of £3,000, but he ended up paying around £25,000.

This is a total one-off, and I think Beatles' fans and art connoisseurs will love to see it''.     

McCartney's designs were annotated, including one with a warning of "slow moving machinery", one with the note "this way up" alongside a sketch of an upside-down house and another reading: "This piece of the set falls on the stage, revealing red curtains through which performers emerge, smiling."

Paul's mirrors design. More than one person today wondered whether Paul had deliberately included a drawing of female genitalia on this particular design.

Another design showed 12 mirrors for "the audience to glimpse themselves in" - a very Yoko Ono sounding idea - while a further sketch with glasses and moustaches on the backdrop has the note: "Plain comedy set. Comedian enters through mouth, not smiling, crawling."

A week later, Brian Epstein threw a party at his home at 24 Chapel Street, Belgravia, for the Four Tops after the Saville triumph. It was attended by John Lennon and George Harrison among other guests.  

This is another unique addition to the ever expanding Liverpool Beatles Museum, which promises new items every time you visit. Thanks to Roag Best and his team for the invite, coffee and pastries. See you at the next one.

Epstein with the Four Tops in January 1967 at the Royal Albert Hall, London.

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