When we left the gang at Twickenham in the last post on the timeline, Michael Lindsay-Hogg was wrapping up his “pep talk,” imploring The Beatles to challenge themselves make a show worth staging. After saying he didn’t know what would make the production unique, Paul asks for a “bad example.”
“The bad example is going away,” Lindsay-Hogg replies.
An overseas adventure has been nixed several times already, and was about to be again. But less than a week into the sessions at Twickenham, the director wasn’t ready to let his dream concert die.
How could the band resist playing in the fresh, open air?
MLH. Pow, there you are. And pow, what are you going to do with it? And pow, it’s going to be fantastic. That was pow, you see. And we ain’t got no pow at the moment.
Paul: The only thing about that is [pause], we don’t want to go away. A group decision.
For George, the refusal to go overseas goes beyond Ringo’s veto. The logistics would be overwhelming.
“It’s going to be the same thing as here, but it’s a bit nicer place to be in, George says. “It’s going to be even more complicated, trying to plug in all mics and tapes and all that crap, video. …”
Complications are all the more reason to go that route, Lindsay-Hogg says. Go big, and don’t put together a show like Cream’s. And if Lindsay-Hogg is going to stage a Beatles extravaganza, he’s made clear he wants precisely 2,000 Arabs in the audience. Apparently, no more, no less.
MLH: Visually, the thing that worries about here, it’s going to make it look like Cream, with a couple shots held a bit longer. .. If we went away, we’ve got the enormous plus of the visuals. Think of a helicopter shot over the amphitheater, with the water, with the lights. Torchlit, 2,000 Arabs. Visually, it is fantastic. Therefore, that was a challenge. And you see, I just myself am trying to think of any other framework to put us in to make it work. But it does really need a framework. And it doesn’t need to be done in just the back of an auditorium.
George, those kinds of obstacles are kind of good. I don’t mean this in any sense of discipline. I know you’ve done it all, but maybe you haven’t been there. Its a very difficult thing once you are, you to create false obstacles, because what you’ve been trying to do for five years is eliminate obstacles.
You don’t want to play the show in straitjackets, that’s the wrong kind of obstacle. … At the moment, it is too soft.
While they never played in a straitjacket, The Beatles did play from inside a “cage.”
Paul’s memory of a night in Wimbledon steered the conversation to a Beatles gig in late 1963, when they played a fan-club show that included a meet-and-greet with the 3,000 fans.
** For a longer, but silent look at that night, check this newsreel (un-embeddable, unfortunately): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JeTczCaZcck **
In his 2006 memoir John, Paul, George, Ringo and Me: The Real Beatles Story, Beatles PR man Tony Barrow recalls the event.
After these close encounters with the Fab Four, the fans were treated to a special stage show in the main ballroom area where an over-protective Palais management had constructed a high-walled metal cage inside which the group were to perform on an extended makeshift stage beneath a huge banner that screamed: WIMBLEDON PALAIS WELCOMES THE BEATLES. Welcomes? The cage didn’t make it look like that!
The Beatles threatened at first to walk out unless the whole intimidatiing barricade was demolished and there were mutterings about “prison conditions” and “more like a zoo than a dance hall”. Eventually, for the sake of their fan club members, they went on and gave an enthusiastic mini-concert. During this, as the crowd surged forward pinning those with a place in the front row against the cage, John remarked in a loud stage whisper: “If they press any harder they’ll come through as chips.”
At Twickenham, George remembers the night as “hell.” And no wonder Lindsay-Hogg is having a problem getting traction for a “different” kind of Beatles show, when their past is dotted with experiences like this.
Despite calling that night “terrible,” Paul offers an opening.
“But that kind of thing gave that particular show a different thing, because it was like playing to a hospital,” Paul says. “Playing to a thing. Like a fan club, like a hospital.”
Lindsay-Hogg brings it back to the “Hey Jude” promo.
“‘Jude’ to me is a tear-jerker the way we did it, with black and white and the postman and old mothers, and the children and the bellboy and the guy who adjusted his spectacles at one point. I think part of your music is tear-jerky.”
“Really would be great for us to get something, a serious intent,” Paul says. “Say we were all very charitable. Which we’re not, particularly. But say we were really sort of charity nuts…” And then the tape cuts off, before picking up after a roll announcement.
The group had in fact done a few shows for charity — the Royal Variety Performance most famously for its jewelry-rattling. It wasn’t until their solo careers when charity work and concerts became part of their fabric, led by George and his pioneering Concert for Bangladesh. Now, desperately searching for a catch, they stumble into the idea of playing for a greater cause merely because it would be a unique hook.
A remark by Lindsay-Hogg about pop-culture heroes sparks an animated monologue from Paul about a recent telecast of “Late Night Line-Up,” a live, late-night talk show with a focus on the arts that wrapped BBC2′s programming day. The particular episode — Paul described at once as “incredible” and “wasn’t very good, but it was pretty good” — saw students given the keys to the show, with one segment featuring the camera zooming in and out on a man watching himself on a monitor drinking tea as “Revolution” plays in the background.
Praising the anarchic quality of the show, Paul finds inspiration. “It’s that kind of opportunity we’ve got for an hour.”
The potential of doing a political broadcast — like “All You Need is Love” — appeals to George for the moment, but he realizes “whatever we have to say to do with anything is always incidental, hiding behind the chords of the tune.” Unspoken, it’s perhaps an acknowledgement the current crop of potential songs for performance lack the clear-cut message of “All You Need is Love.”
A joke from Paul about the potential of staging the show at the Houses of Parliament — “we tried for the [Rock and Roll] Circus; they didn’t go for it” was Lindsay-Hogg’s reply — led to another thought that was quickly passed over. But it foretold one of the greatest moments in popular music history, one which was only three-and-a half weeks away.
“We should do the show in a place we’re not allowed to do it,” Paul suggested. “We should trespass. Go in, set up and then get moved, and that should be the show. Get forcibly ejected still trying to play numbers. And the police lifting you.
“You have to take a bit of violence.”
Lindsay-Hogg simply brushed it off.
“It’s too dangerous.”
The lengthy early Jan. 7 discussion resumes in the next post, here on They May Be Parted.