Tuesday 12 January 2021

72 Western Avenue, Speke, L24 3US

The McCartneys moved to Speke in August 1947 the first time anyone in the family had lived outside of the Everton / Kensington area in the north of the city.

Paul had just turned five and the move south arose when his mother Mary was appointed as resident Municipal Midwife on the new, still expanding housing estate.

Western Avenue at the time the McCartneys moved in. Today those same saplings are substantially taller!

The house at 72 Western Avenue came with the job, rent free which was undoubtedly a relief for the family after the years of hardship experienced during the war. After a short term job at the Cotton Exchange Jim had been able to return to his pre-war job at Hannay's but the market was no longer stable. Sometimes he was lucky to bring home £10 a week (£6 after deductions) and seeing himself as the breadwinner in the family Jim was said to have been embarrassed that Mary was earning more than he was. In reality her salary wasn't much better than his, a basic £6 8s a week with the maximum being in the region of £8 8s.   

Paul McCartney: Whilst we weren't a poor family, we weren't rich by any means, so we never had a car, or a television till the coronation in 1953. I was the first one in the family to buy a car with my Beatle earnings. My mum, as a nurse, rode a bike. 

In the post-war baby boom Mary was certainly kept busy day and night and for this reason the house had a telephone but it was strictly off limits to the boys. The midwife's house was identifiable by the brass plaque on the gate reading Mrs M.P. McCartney SRN, SCM and Paul would later remember many occasions when a member of the community knocked at the house to give her gifts in thanks for the babies she'd helped to deliver. 

Paul: I have a crystal-clear memory of one snow-laden night when I was young at 72 Western Avenue. The streets were thick with snow, it was about three in the morning, and she got up and went out on her bike with the little brown wicker basket on the front, into the dark, just with her little light, in her navy-blue uniform and hat, cycling off down the estate to deliver a baby somewhere.

The move to Speke deliberately coincided with the start of Paul's schooling. Stockton Wood was only one street away, just behind the McCartney's house, but as more and more houses on the estate were built and Speke's population continued to expand the school which had been built to accommodate 1000 eventually had a roll-call of 1500, which reportedly made the infants school the largest in Britain (1).   

Many of the new families on the estate had been moved from underprivileged slum areas of the city where high unemployment was only one of the hardships they faced.  Inevitably many (but not all) of the children from these families had grown up tough and mixing with them on a daily basis both Paul and his brother Michael found out quickly that the only way to survive in school was to fight.

Paul: I started off going to school in a dead rough area of Liverpool. I used to have just as many fights as anyone else. I remember one day getting hold of this fellow and clubbing him with a big bar. I was only about five.

For this misdemeanor Paul received a telling off from the Headteacher during an assembly in front of the whole school, and a more severe rebuke when he got home. 

Paul: We used to have fights regularly around Speke. I used to have fights all the time, and I wasn't doing too bad - I was winning a few and losing a few. I did it because I was in that environment. Everyone was fighting and everyone believed in fighting.    

You can read more about his time at Stockton Wood School here.

Of course it wasn't all bad times. One of the best things about living in Speke was the proximity of the countryside.

In a couple of minutes they could be in Dungeon Lane, which led through the fields to the banks of the Mersey. The river is very wide at this point, with the lights of Ellesmere Port visible on the far side across enormous shifting banks of mud and sand pecked over by gulls. On a clear day you could see beyond the Wirral all the way to Wales.(2)

Paul: This is where my love of the country came from, I was always able to take my bike and in five minutes I’d be in quite deep countryside. I remember the Dam woods, which had millions of rhododendron bushes. We used to have dens in the middle of them because they get quite bare in the middle so you could squeeze in. I’ve never seen that many rhododendrons since.

Jim McCartney took great pleasure in gardening, an interest which led to him become the secretary of the Speke Horticultural Society. He also kept his eye out for horse manure, and it was his sons' job to collect it. 

Paul: Talk about peer pressure, you would hope your friends didn't catch you shovelling the sh*t in the bucket. Then you'd have to carry it around to the garden.

Paul and Mike with the neighbours in the back garden of 72 Western Avenue with the rear of the houses on Goldfinch Farm Road behind them (notice the unaltered arrangement of the windows on the rear of the houses as viewed from the back garden in 2015)  

Mike McCartney: There was a girl, whose name I can’t remember – she was our next door neighbour in Western Avenue, Speke (we were number 72, so she would have been 70 or 74). She was more our kid’s age. (I've) got a picture of her.  (see below)(3). 

She looks to be the same girl who appears in the middle of the group photo above.

'Wishing to take up employment that [would] not entail absence from her home and family at night and weekends' Mary gave notice to terminate her employment on 30th September 1950. She wanted to spend more time with the boys. 

Her replacement midwife was the confusingly similarly named Mrs H. E. Carney and it is my belief that this is why there are so many former residents of Speke who claim to have been delivered by Paul McCartney's Mum even though they were born after she gave up her midwifery role.  

Mary knew that by leaving her job she would lose the house that came with it. In accordance with the terms of their tenancy agreement the McCartneys were given one week's notice to vacate 72 Western Avenue. 

Rupert Bear annual, property of Paul and Michael McCartney , 72 Western Avenue

A privately recorded cassette of George Harrison surfaces

Clatterbridge Hospital
Clatterbridge Health Park
Clatterbridge Road
Wirral, CH63 4JY

Clatterbridge Cancer Center had its origins in the accommodation provided for the treatment of infectious diseases for the Wirral Poor Law Union Workhouse in 1888. A purpose built infirmary block was erected in 1899. 

In the aerial photograph above the original workhouse buildings can be seen in the foreground.

In 1930, with the end of the workhouse system, the site became the responsibility of Cheshire County Council who renamed the facility Clatterbridge General Hospital. After it joined the National Health Service in 1948, it became simply Clatterbridge Hospital. 

In the early 1950s, Liverpool was struggling to re-build after the war in a climate of fear about radiation and atomic war and the decision was made to take radiotherapy away from built up areas. 

The green spaces of Clatterbridge adjacent to the general hospital, were the preferred site and the Regional Radiotherapy Centre, now known as the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, was established on the site and opened by Lord Cohen in 1958. 

There were various extensions and name changes over the subsequent decades before the hospital became known as The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre NHS Foundation Trust in 2012.

In 1969 George Harrison' Mum Louise was diagnosed with cancer and as her condition worsened George made frequent trips up to his parents home in Warrington, and later to the specialist cancer centre at Clatterbridge on the Wirral. 

He was on one such visit on 20 September 1969, missing a business meeting at Apple where John Lennon suddenly announced that he was leaving the Beatles.  

On 4 January 2021 somebody called Beatles Leaks posted a 12 minute audio sampler tape on YouTube of a previously unheard cassette of George Harrison performing around a dozen songs on acoustic guitar.

Internal evidence on the tape - which I'll cover in this post - indicates that the recording was made in Clatterbridge during a visit to see his parents Harold and Louise, circa May 1970. 

As this is a sampler tape only excerpts of the songs are heard. Accompanying the post on YouTube is information about the length of each track on the original cassette:

1 Dera Duhn (George Harrison) 01:23

2 'Welcome to 'Top of the Spots'' (chat) 00:22

3 See Yourself (George Harrison) 01:49

4  .....(dead air) 00:18

5 Going Down to Golders Green (George Harrison) 02:17

6 '..here's another one' (chat) 00:03

7 Everybody, Nobody (George Harrison) 02:25

8 '...better sing you this one then' (chat) 00:34

9 Here Comes the Sun (George Harrison) 03:24

10 chat with Louise (dialogue) 00:39

11 Behind That Locked Door (George Harrison) 03:16

12 chat about doing his own LP 00:34

13 All Things Must Pass (George Harrison) 05:18

14 Let It Down (George Harrison) 00:11

15 discussion about Badfinger 00:47

16 Come and Get It (Paul McCartney) 00:27

17 dialogue 00:41

18 Five Year Slog (Son of Taxman) (George Harrison) 02:32

19 inaudible chat 00:32

20 Window, Window (George Harrison) 03:20

21 chat 00:14

22 Lay, Lady, Lay (Bob Dylan) 03:30

23 Mother Divine (George Harrison) 04:31

24 Get Outta Bed You Lazy Bugger 01:01

25 background noise 00:22

26 We’re Gonna Move (Vera Matson/Elvis Presley) 02:13

27 Hey Mr. Tambourine Man (Bob Dylan) 03:04

28 Long, Long, Long (George Harrison)

The sampler tape starts with George midway through 'Dehra Dhun', a song written in India in 1968 and recorded but not released during the 'All Things Must Pass' sessions. George performs a snippet for Paul and Ringo in the 'Threetles on the lawn' section of the Beatles Anthology.

After announcing 'welcome to Top of the Spots' George, thinking about what to play next says 'I wrote this one ages ago but never finished it' before giving what to date is the earliest performance of 'See Yourself', written in 1967 in response to how the press treated Paul McCartney's LSD admission but not released until the album 'Thirty Three and 1/3' in 1976. 

Following some dead air (papers rustling) we get a performance of 'Going Down To Golders Green', another candidate for 'All Things Must Pass'. A rough version has appeared on bootleg sounding very like something from Elvis Presley's Sun era if he'd been backed by the Plastic Ono Band. Golders Green was where the Apple group Badfinger resided.  

Parts of 'Everybody, Nobody' were used in 'Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)' on 'All Things Must Pass'. After some more dead air while George must be thinking what to play next he says 'I'd better play you this one then' and launches into 'Here Comes The Sun'.      

He plays the wrong chord on the bridge and apologises 'sorry about that Mother' to Louise's audible amusement. Still thinking of what other songs he might play her he says 'oh, there's one, I don't know if I've got the words, but there's one I wrote the other night....this one is country and western'. 'Behind That Locked Door' follows.

 Why are you still crying?*

Your pain is now through
Please forget those teardrops
Let me take them for you

The song is said to have been inspired by the disappearance of Bob Dylan in 1966 after his motorcycle accident accident and subsequent re-emergence at the August 1969 Isle of Wight festival, but in the context of Louise's illness the lyrics take on a new poignancy.  

Louise asks him if the song will be on the new LP and George says 'I don't know, I may make an LP on my own, just to do all me songs, because once you've done 'em you want it out so you can stop thinking about them, and go on to the new one. There's another one that is quite nice (clears throat) it's a bit high though'. 

He then performs 'All Things Must Pass' with a false start before the tape cuts into a brief performance of 'Let It Down' which quickly edits into a conversation George is having with his Dad, Harold about the group Badfinger. 

George:'...some songs in Ringo's film 'Magic Christian'  

Harold: I was wondering after that single ('Come and Get It') nobody even heard of them did they? It was good I thought. It was great that single, and then they disappeared. 

G: They did an album which wasn't all that good. (inaudible) .... just did this thing which is probably gonna be out.

Badfinger's next single, 'No Matter What' was recorded in May but not released until November 1970.

George then attempts a version of the Paul McCartney composed 'Come And Get It' but struggles with the words...and the chords...

As the tape cuts back in George seems to be talking about the premise of the 'Magic Christian': '.....money all the time to do things and they don't believe it, it's like if you stand on the street and try and give ten bob notes away they all go what's this, they don't believe it, so he's always doing that'.

Following an inaudible question from Harry, George replies 'oh that's one I've got, this is funny, erm. yeah I've seen that, yeah what was that one I was trying to remember'.  He then sings:

I'm telling you for 29 years now,
I've been slogging like a dog...

He stops playing and comments: I'll start again. This was about Harold Wilson again, 'Taxman'...  'Son of Taxman'. 

Harold and Louise make a comment about Wilson being glad about something inaudible as George agrees and starts tuning his guitar.

He plays 'Window, Window' familiar to scholars of the Beatles January 1969 sessions. It sounds very close to the demo recorded with Phil Spector at the end of May 1970.

After another inaudible question from Louise, George performs Bob Dylan's 'Lady Lady Lay', the tape cutting into 'Mother Divine', another unreleased Harrison composition.

IF the tape was recorded in Clatterbridge Hospital then the surroundings may be subconsciously influencing George's choice of songs. You can almost picture him and his Dad sat at the side of a big brass (hospital) bed** on which his divine Mother lies, especially when his next, clearly improvised song seems to be offering Louise some words of encouragement to get out of there: 

Get off your bed pan, you lazy bugger,

Get off your bed pan, and get home,
Get off your bed pan, you lazy bugg-er
'cause there's cookin' and cleanin' at home
Get out of Clatterbrige, you lazy bugger...

... and then the tape cuts into some dead air before we return to George, now performing Elvis Presley's 'We're Gonna Move' which again has lyrics indicating he wants his Mum out of there ('there's a crack in this old ceiling, we're gonna move to a better home'). Perhaps they're in a part of the hospital that was formerly one of the old workhouse buildings.

We then hear what might be one of the highlights of the tape if it's ever released in full, a well sung and played version of Bob Dylan's 'Mr Tambourine Man'. I would have liked to hear more to see whether he's performing Dylan or the Byrds' arrangement.       

Finally we have another edit and George is performing 'Long Long Long' before the tape cuts for the last time.

Sadly Louise was unable to beat this terrible disease and passed away on 7 July 1970 aged 59 years old.***

The 50th anniversary edition of George's triple album was due to get the deluxe reissue at the end of 2020 but like so many projects planned for last year it was delayed, presumably due to the current pandemic. The cassette of George singing to his parents was described on YouTube as a leak from the All Things Must Pass 2021 Box set. But was this particular tape ever under consideration? I'd be surprised.

I'm one of those fans who likes to hear new tapes of George singing anything, and especially songs I've never heard which is why I enjoyed the Early Takes: Volume 1 album in 2012. IF the performances on this cassette tape are as complete as the person behind Beatles Leaks says they are then I'm sure some of the songs could be cleaned up and released in some form, and I'd certainly enjoy listening to them. 

However, the circumstances behind the existence of this tape trouble me. This is clearly NOT a tape that was intended for public consumption when was recorded. 

In it's current, unedited form this is a highly personal tape recording during of one of George's private visits to see his ailing mother and listening to it with the dialogue intact between the songs I can't help but feel like I'm eavesdropping on what was undoubtedly an emotional time for the Harrison family.

I am surprised that such a personal tape would be handed over to those responsible for compiling new material for release. I had reasoned that it was more likely the cassette was stolen from the Harrison's at some point and found its way to bootleggers who are using the delayed 'All Things Must Pass' box set to drum up interest but other scholars and collectors have been in touch to advise that this tape first appeared on the legitimate allmusic site where there was a recent copyright dump of around 100 'All Things Must Pass' tracks which we must assume were put there to secure their legal ownership ahead of their appearance on the now delayed box set. I have been informed in the comments below that the cassette audio has been registered with the YouTube copyright ID, suggesting that the Harrison family have the tape under consideration for release, or are aware that the tape has fallen into the wrong hands and simply want to infer their own legal rights to the material.    

When I Iast checked YouTube today the link to the audio had already been removed.


* Behind That Locked Door (c) George Harrison

** a lyric from Lay Lady Lay (Dylan)
*** Ringo's 30th birthday, Jim McCartney's 68th birthday

Thanks to Dan Matovina for suggesting the conversation George was having about giving away money tied in with the themes of the film 'The Magic Christian'. In the context of the preceding discussion that suggestion makes perfect sense.