Brighton Festival 2021 - 1 2 3 4 The Beatles In Time by Craig Brown
REVIEW BY Richard Amey
Brighton Festival 2021 literary – Book and Author: “1 2 3 4 The Beatles In Time” by Craig Brown interviewed by Dymphna Flynn in the Main Hall at Brighton Girls School, Montpelier Road, Brighton, Thursday 20 May 7.30pm (65mins, no interval).
First live event featuring this book, published 18 months ago, already in paperback. All 80 tickets sold (normal capacity 320). No sales or signing, owing to Covid restrictions.
The Beatles sell out another event without even being there! And well might they have sold out a non-Covid restricted full house. It wasn’t an all-silverhead audience, of course, because their appeal is ageless. But take away the music, and what that’s written about them is truth or myth? We tend to put aside that doubt as we gobble up each word.
Around 1,000 published books re-tell The Beatles’ story. That mass media recording and re-writing of their history, sometimes probably even guessing it, immediately became its own industry, sometimes chancing its arm in authenticity. Researching what’s dubious or outrageous, are you probing hearsay or folklore? What is which? It’s a minefield of traps.
Those 1963-1970 adolescents and 20s watching that birth of a still unremitting world phenomenon were the only genuine witnesses. Certain formative-years memories don’t much fade, even less alter. But writers, academics and documenters unborn then are unavoidably on the borrow.
Author Craig Brown was there. His septuagenarian generation’s opinions and contemporaneous reactions and feelings are liable to be those most trustworthy – solidified and reinforced, amid subsequent story-spinning, with received misinterpretation or misinformation, and lazy research.
“1 2 3 4 The Beatles In Time” (the definite article must always have a capital letter in front of The Beatles) is ducking brickbats, maybe from rivals with vested interests in their own publications, bearing conflicting accounts, maybe some whose affectionate, perhaps inaccurate conceptions are offended. Did none of Brown’s information stem from people with tinted spectacles or mind-altered memories?
Storytellers from the parallel advent of western drug culture may always have carried hazed-up memoirs. And The Beatles themselves became deeply and very publicly the guinea pigs in that template-moulding onset of rich, successful pop stars’ purchasing power rendering them vulnerable, malleable, naive, impressionable, unwitting or in plenty of cases adventurous targets of dealers.
What interested the BBC’s makers of their Radio 4’s Book of the Week five-edition series this Spring was that the Etonian Brown’s approach wheedled out coincidental destiny-determining circumstances his published forebears thought too tangential. Things quirky, off-beat, yet sobering or comical. Brown’s angle was seen as finding a new definition of the biographical documentary.
Brown told his Brighton Festival audience: “Their story was not self-propelling. But things happened all so quickly. George Harrison was only 17 in Hamburg, then there were only four years between I Want To Hold Your Hand and Why Don’t We Do It In The Road.”
One of Brown’s 150 short chapters (is there even a biography of Methuselah with that many?) deliberately charted the vagaries and variations of memory after asking different witnesses of a John Lennon fist-fight at Paul McCartney’s 21st birthday party what actually happened.
Critics have labelled Brown arrogant for gloatingly pinpointing National Trust factual curation errors at the preserved Lennon and McCartney childhood homes. Yes, it would have been cruel of Brown, a critic, satirist, and a parodist in Private Eye, to belittle employed guides reading faulty or presumptuous scripts from on high. But what museum, however faultlessly researched, is 100% correct everywhere you look?
And what first-hand Beatles 1960s veteran onlooker (Rolling Stones fan) or absorber (Fab Four fan) is not cynical or at least suspicious of, or now wearied by, the improbability or artistic/dramatic licence in some handed-down anecdote or mal-informed opinion projected by someone born since?
Brown said: “There have been books even by their families or housekeepers. I wanted to go down unfamiliar alleyways, talk to some people who disliked The Beatles, report things that interest me. Suddenly they were the future. Established stars Like Elvis and Cliff Richard were put out and with some that still rankles.”
The author shared with the audience some of his examples. How with the Rolling Stones there was rivalry but real friendship. George Harrison, to a man from a record company who had rejected The Beatles, recommended that he go and check them out. [That was Decca, lo and behold, who later released the Stones’ debut album] And when McCartney audaciously got his mint-new pressing of Hey Jude played at the Stones party launch for their Beggars Banquet album.
There was Jimmie Nicol who on an Australian tour replaced Ringo when ill, then formed a tribute combo, but nobody knows where he is now. The band themselves designated John Lennon their one middle-class member because his house had a name instead of a number, and Mimi was his aunt and not his auntie.
And Brown deduced that Lennon, once settled in New York, never wanted to go back and see his guardian Aunt Mimi because it would have inevitably meant saying goodbye to her for the last time. There was the driver of the police car involved in Lennon’s mother Julia’s accidental death who later became McCartney’s postman, desperate to stay anonymous.
McCartney’s girlfriend Jane Asher’s mother, Marjorie, had tutored the Beatles’ producer George Martin in oboe at Guildhall music school. And there was Melanie Coe of Golders Green, chosen by celeb judge McCartney to win a TV dancing contest, whose later sudden domestic disappearance was a national press story – becoming the prototype for She’s Leaving Home.
A murder detective’s appreciation of irony lies in the fascinated Brown’s spotlight on band manager Brian Epstein’s “unease with life”. Despite his counter-intuitive instinct in spotting beneath their Liverpudlian loutishness the group’s potential he could guide and supervise, he became their saddest victim and, professionally, arguably their most damaging loss.
Brown told his audience how record-shop proprietor Epstein succumbed even deeper than they to the peddled substances and having, for them, shouldered significant unseen pressures of their unprecedented fame, he could not haul himself out and became The Beatles’ first career fatality. His death merely carried less import – tragically, poignantly – because he didn’t write or play the songs.
Audience measures: Masks mandatory, one-way routes. Seating bookable in household groups, sitting together, three empty seats separate those occupied by individuals or groups.
Audience measures: Search and Trace, hand sanitisation, temperature test, tickets scan-checking, bag search (max size A3). Toilets in use. No cloakroom. Social distancing everywhere. At the end, the audience are stewarded out, section by section.