International Beatleweek 2015
30 August 2015
I wrote most of this last year straight after attending the convention, didn't get around to finishing it and ultimately I forgot about it until I started thinking about this years convention due to take place at the end of this month. So, better late than never as they say.
For over 25 years the last bank holiday weekend in August has seen hundreds of fans flock to Liverpool to attend the annual International Beatles Week. Organised by Liverpool’s leading tour operator Cavern City Tours, this is a week long programme of Fab Four related activities, including exhibitions, memorabilia sales, guest speakers, video shows, sightseeing tours and live music featuring 70 bands from over 20 countries at a number of venues around the city centre culminating in the Bank holiday Monday convention at the Adelphi Hotel.
I'm not particularly interested in Beatles' tribute bands so the Adelphi convention has always been the biggest draw for me as it gives fans the opportunity to meet and greet a number of guests who grew up with, worked with, or even married one of the Beatles. Over the years I've met some great people including Bob Wooler, Allan Williams, Pete Best, Cynthia Lennon, Alastair Taylor, Tony Barrow, Alf Bicknell, Astrid Kirchenerr, Klaus Voormann, Barry Miles, May Pang (John Lennon's girlfreind in the mid-1970s), Denny Laine, Steve Holley and Laurence Juber (all members of Wings), some not so great guests - Alan Parsons springs to mind as despite engineering the White Album and Abbey Road and other Beatles themed projects he had NOTHING to say - and some perplexing guests - I remember watching Tony Sheridan perform with a band he'd picked up in Liverpool whom I imagine quite reasonably expected to be backing him on Beatles and Rock n Roll standards - instead he decided to perform Leonard Cohen's First We Take Manhattan…. I'm not sure the backing band had even heard of the some of the songs never mind played them. Not only wasn't Tony on the same key, I'm not sure he was even in the same port...
I think my first convention was around 1988 which I attended with my old mate (or at that time, 18 years old mate) Chris Turton. I remember us queueing outside the Adelphi with an American dressed like George in A Hard Day's Night and somebody began burning a copy of Albert Goldman's "The Lives Of John Lennon" biography to great cheers. We were on the lookout for bootleg tapes and LP's of rare Beatles recordings, this was a couple of years before bootleg CD's became commonplace and decades before you could download pretty much anything you wanted - if you know where to look. We went for the next few years before life took us elsewhere.
By chance I saw the guests booked for this years….. and decided it was time to return. I mentioned it to Chris and he promptly bought a ticket while I was still thinking about it. Now there was an added reason to go - we probably hadn't been to the convention together for about 20 years. The most important reunion since the Threetles was on.
The IBW 15 promotional material from Cavern City Tours says you don't have to be a Beatles Fan to enjoy the festival though it probably helps. In truth I think if you're NOT a Beatles fan you'd be crazy to go anywhere near it.
We spent the first hour walking around the "flea market" a daft name really to describe what in some cases are stalls dealing in expensive Beatles memorabilia. It was great to catch up on some familiar faces here - my old mate Dave Glover from the Fab Forum days, Steve Holmes, and Dave Ravenscroft who was acting as roadie/assistant for the day to Beatles expert and author Mark Lewisohn, more of whom soon.
(Left) How much Steve?!!!!!
As the souvenir programme of events shows, there's so much happening during the day it pays to make a rough plan of what you really want to see and do pretty much as soon as you arrive. I'd come wanting to get photos for the blog and listen to the interviews with the guest speakers figuring I'd mooch around the stalls in between and have a couple of pints.
Chris was happy to go along with it so just before 11am we made our way over to the ballroom where Mark Lewisohn was about to conduct his first interview of the day. First up was Denny Seiwell, the first drummer in Paul McCartney's Wings from 1971-1973. He told some great stories including how he first met Paul and Linda McCartney in New York, how he came to join Wings, their recording sessions, getting busted for pot in the UK and later in Europe, and how he came to leave the group just as they were about to fly to Lagos to start recording the next album (which would become "Band On The Run" generally agreed to be one of Paul's finest).
Mark Lewisohn: So Denny, tell me about the one that got away?
Following each guest's hour long interview was a meet and greet session where you had the opportunity to get a photo with them and have something signed. It sounded simple enough but the execution was flawed. The guests were interviewed in the ballroom at the back end of the hotel whereas the meet and greets took place in Jenny's bar near the front entrance. After each interview the guest heading for the meet and greet would have to make their way through the main flea market hall, which by lunchtime was packed, leading a procession of eager fans following from the ballroom, me included.
Thankfully, the meet and greets were well organised (my friend Jean Catharell was looking after the guests) and fans were happy to wait their turn, sometimes for some considerable time depending on whether it was one of the "bigger" guests just for a minute or two with them.
Things I learned at the convention in 2015 #1: Read who the guests are going to be in advance and then look for a portable, fairly small sized item that you'd like signed by the guest and be happy to carry around for the rest of the day.
I knew Denny was going to be one of the guests and that morning contemplated bringing my Wild Life or Red Rose Speedway LP's to get signed. But they were too big to lug round all day so I didn't bother. Of course, I should have brought the much smaller CD versions with me but didn't so I asked Denny to sign my program and mentally kicked myself.
Me and Denny Seiwell. A great guy.
After our meeting with Denny we shimmied back through the main hall to catch the end of Mark Lewisohn's interview with legendary rock photographer Bob Gruen, probably best known to Beatles fans for taking the famous John Lennon "New York City" t-shirt photographs. The ballroom was now rammed and standing room only and I'm sure I heard some wag next to me ask "Is Bob minding Phil Spectors' wig while he's in prison?".
Bob Gruen talks with Mark Lewisohn
There was no stampede to meet and greet Bob as he'd unfortunately been scheduled to go on right before the guest who, in our opinion, was the big draw of the day, George Harrison's first wife Pattie Boyd making what I believe was her first appearance at a Beatles' convention. As a result most of the ballroom audience stood firm and waited for Mark to introduce her.
Pattie was shy and looked visibly nervous but after a few of her stories got a laugh or applause from the audience she began to relax, and Mark Lewisohn wasn't the only person completely charmed with her.
She started by telling the well known tale of how she first met the Beatles on the set of A Hard Day's Night when she was a teenage model . One day her casting agent called and told her to go for an interview. When she got there she saw the Director Richard Lester and as she had previously made some TV commercials with him assumed the interview was for another one.
Understandably she was shocked when her agent called her later and told her she had got a part in a Beatles film!
She only had one line and I was delighted when Mark asked her to say it, which she did to huge cheers from the audience.
Pattie's first day of filming was on a train running to the West Country and back and as the cast and crew were packing up for the evening George Harrison asked her to go out with him for dinner. Pattie recalled she said 'I'm sorry, I can't, I'm seeing my boyfriend'. George looked crestfallen so she added 'you can join us if you like'!
Her boyfriend was quickly dispensed with and as George's girlfriend - and from 1966 his wife - she quickly became part of the inner circle present for some of the key events in their career.
In this extract from the interview Pattie talks about their first experience of LSD in 1965.
Whenever you see pictures of the Beatles' wives together Pattie is usually with Cynthia Lennon so I was surprised when she admitted that during that period the one she felt closest to was Jane Asher because like her, she hadn't come down from Liverpool and known them before they were the famous Beatles (and also I suspect that coming from London and having their own careers they felt more sophisticated and worldly than their northern counterparts). As well as tales about the Maharishi there were some great lesser told stories too, one involving the day a dirty bearded tramp turned up at the door of the Knightsbridge flat George and Ringo were sharing. Pattie and Ringo's girlfriend Maureen were inside. Patti: He wanted to come in and I was trying to push him out of the door, and so was Maureen. Then suddenly he started laughing and said 'it's me, Paul'. He'd tried to fox us, and he did!
Like the audience Mark was utterly charmed by Pattie
The program of events stated that each meet and greet with the guest would only last for 30 minutes but such was the procession following Pattie out of the ballroom there was no way she would be out of Jenny's Bar after half an hour. And so it proved, the queue snaked out of the bar along the corridor and up the stairs back to the main entrance. As a result we saw none of May Pang's interview with Mark but we did get to see some notable characters in the bar while we were waiting including the Quarry Men sitting with their families (I nabbed Colin Hanton and got an autograph while he was ordering drinks), Howie Casey, Joey Molland (Badfinger) and a Sid Vicious lookalike that everybody seemed to be going up to for photos. I'm ashamed to admit I didn't realise he was the legendary guitarist Earl Slick (probably most famous for his work with David Bowie and John Lennon). I have it on good authority from someone looking after him that day that he was an absolutely lovely guy.
On a personal level , the nicest guest I met was Mark Hudson. After first rising to prominence as a performer, songwriter and TV personality in the 1970s as a member of the Hudson Brothers trio Mark achieved independent success as record producer and songwriter – working with a broad variety of artists including Cher, Aerosmith, Ozzy Osbourne, Harry Nilsson and for ten years starting in 1998 Ringo Starr. He appeared on several series of the X-factor as a vocal coach and, as composer, achieved his first UK No.1 in the Top 40 singles charts in 2006 with a song he had written for the X Factor contestant Chico Slimani entitled "Chico Time". Yes, that one.
I'd missed Mark's interview in the Derby Suite as it co-incided with Pattie's but as I was queuing to meet her he came through into the bar so I seized the opportunity.
What a warm, friendly guy. He couldn't do enough for me. He was happy to sign the programme and dedicating it to me checked that I spelt my first name the same was as him ("the right way").
Chris took a photo of us at the table and then Mark said "Why don't we get one over there" suggesting we move to a better position. So we did.
As I say, apart from his work with Ringo I knew very little of him before then but by giving a few minutes of his time he made a brilliant impression on me which would be heightened even further when I saw him in concert at the Royal Court Theatre the following evening. I'll post photos from THAT event shortly.
When we finally got to the front of the queue for Pattie I reckon she'd spent well over an hour posing for photos and signing autographs and I may be mistaken but she looked like she was starting to tire (let's not forget the lady is 71 now).
Pattie was selling her book "Wonderful Tonight: George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and Me" which she was signing for fans but she was happy to sign other items including my Beatles Anthology Book which I decided years ago would make a great autograph book for all the people connected with the Beatles. It looks great signed but it's a huge book to lug around all day.
The still lovely Mr Christopher Turton (top) and me with the still lovely Pattie Boyd.
We realised that by queuing for Pattie we'd missed some of the interview with the other "Star" guest, Sixties folk legend Donovan. Racing back to the ballroom we caught about the last ten minutes of his interview with Mark Lewisohn. He was everything you'd expect , a lovable psychedelic old hippy still extolling the virtues of Transcendental Meditation and his life was clearly all the better for it.
Chris couldn't face another queue and went for a pint but I had to get Donovan to sign my Anthology book so it was back through the Adelphi to wait my turn for the meet and greet. This time I didn't even get down the stairs before the line ground to a halt. I think next year the Adelphi really should consider hosting the signings in a room closer to the ballroom. I spent the time chatting with a couple of Americans, one of whom had brought a copy of Donovan's "Sutras" CD to get signed, figuring that because the album was so obscure (i.e. it didn't set the charts alight) Donovan would recognise him as a true fan. He certainly had a good chat with him when it was his turn to step forward.
I felt bad not buying Donovan's latest greatest hits CD but I have several previous versions and he was gracious enough to sign my Anthology book. When I asked if I could have a photo with him he stood up and said 'sure, let's do that thing where we press heads' which was a first for me, and slightly surreal but here's the photo to prove it! He's a one off.
Pressing heads with the Hurdy Gurdy Man. How could I refuse?!
I found Chris in the ballroom listening to Peter Asher talking with Mark Lewisohn. I'd missed all the chat about his pop career as a member of Peter and Gordon and they were already deep into the troubled history of the Beatles Apple corporation where Asher was in charge of signing new artists, his major find of course being the American singer songwriter James Taylor. Peter came across as quite laid back with a dry sense of humour, and not especially fazed by working for the Beatles. His working relationship with them wasn't particularly affected when his sister Jane split up with Paul and when asked what he thought of John and Yoko's experimental albums and he had no hesitation in admitting he thought they were a load of sh**!
It was time for a pint and a sit down for the first time all day. After 5 solid hours conducting interviews with the guests it was time for Mark Lewisohn to take the hot seat for a questions and answer session in the Empire room. Nabbing a front row couch we sat down as my old mate Dave Ravenscroft took the microphone and announced to the audience that for "those of you who came in the eighties, you may remember a little section called "Ask Mark", so we've revived, for one day only - "Ask Mark!"
Mr Lewisohn pointed out that Dave must have confused him with someone else because he wasn't around in the eighties, he wasn't even born then!
So followed, an interesting and often humorous chat, predominantly, but not exclusively about the first volume of Mark's Beatles' trilogy "Tune In". Pleasingly the entire session was filmed and later uploaded on Youtube. You can watch both parts here.
I got to "Ask Mark" two questions.
In my opinion one of the main things that sets "Tune In" apart from previous Beatle biographies is that this is the only one to have had access to Neil Aspinall, a schoolfriend of Paul and George who after running the Beatles Apple corps for nearly 40 years decided when he retired in 2007 that the time was right to finally talk to an author about his part in the story. Tragically, having spoken to Mark on only a few occasions he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and died in 2008.
I asked Mark whether he had got enough material from Neil before he passed away. Yes, he had got a lot of information, but not nearly as much as he would have liked. A great shame.
My other question concerned whether Mark had received any feedback or comments from the people who were likely to have been affected by some of the findings of Mark's research. Two in particular spring to mind. For years there has been an element of mystery about just why Pete Best was sacked from the Beatles. In my opinion, "Tune In" answers the question. While Pete was a nice guy, his personality simply didn't fit in with that of John, Paul and George, and his drumming never really improved to the level that their musicianship did. They asked him to go with them to Hamburg at the last minute because no one better came along and they were always planning to ditch him the minute somebody did. According to Pete's brother, Best agreed with some parts of the book but not all of it.
More unfortunate was Mark's admission that since the publication of his book, Julia Baird (née Dykins, John Lennon's half sister) would no longer speak to him.
During his research Lewisohn discovered that in the summer of 1958 John Dykins, Julia's father, was arrested for drink-driving on Menlove Avenue, which resulted in him losing his job. With no income he could no longer afford to feed himself, Julia (John's mum), their two daughter's Julia and Jackie and have John stay with them too. Lennon would have to go back to his Aunt Mimi's. So it was that on 15 July 1958 Julia Lennon visited her sister Mimi and explained the situation. Mimi agreed to take John back. No doubt relieved, Julia bade her farewell and made her way back to the bus stop on Menlove Avenue. She was about half way across when she was struck down and killed by a car driven by an off-duty policemen. Without any sensationalism "Tune In" suggests that Dykins' arrest set forth a chain of events which ultimately led to Julia's tragic death.
In all likelihood Julia Baird had lived her entire life knowing nothing of this until the publication of "Tune In". After nearly 60 years one can only imagine the fresh heartache this revelation must have caused. It must be difficult for an author having to make the decision on whether to include information like this, knowing that there are people still alive who could be adversely affected.
With the "Ask Mark" session concluded it was time for a final mooch around the stalls before saying our goodbyes and heading for home. In summary, it was a great day which I enjoyed immensely. It was nice to go and be a fan for the day. The guests were all great during their interviews and really friendly afterwards during the meet and greet sessions. Although it was nice to see a few old faces during the earlier part of the day I didn't get a chance to speak with any of my friends working during Beatle weekend who only turned up later in the day. Time seemed to fly by (admittedly a lot of time was spent running from one end of the Adelphi to the other after the guests). I don't think I bought a thing from the flea market but I recommended some essential Beatles books for Chris and I think he got them all. A great success then for Cavern City Tours who continue to promote Liverpool in a positive way and bring in hundreds of visitors each August. Chris and I are already talking about going again this year when one of the guests will be Micky Dolenz from The Monkees (I'm currently rather enjoying their new album "Good Times").
The following evening I was back out on the Beatle track, spending Monday night at the Royal Court Theatre for a show entitled "With A Little Help From My Friends - The Boys Who Knew The Lads". You can read all about that fantastic night shortly.
A massive thank you to Jean Catharell, without whom, Jimmie Rudolfsson for the "Ask Mark" video, Dave Ravenscroft and me old mucker Mr T.
See you all at the Adelphi, August 2016