Jan. 8: Look Around

It was 12 days until their scheduled concert, and on January 8, 1969, the Beatles were loose, relatively upbeat and open-minded, uncommon characterizations associated with Get Back/Let It Be sessions. Still, there wasn’t even consensus on what continent to stage the concert, much less what venue or what kind of audience would have tickets to the show.

What they lacked in plans and new material — Paul would insist the group would produce a few “rockers” soon — the Beatles at least had no shortage of live productions against which they could reflect and project.

Two classes of potential inspirations highlighted discussions to this point: recent live broadcasts by their peers (eg., Cream’s Farewell Concert, the Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus) and the Beatles’ own history on stage and on the small screen. The audience was as much a consideration as the venue.

In the final hours of the day’s sessions, as the group continued to work on George’s new song “I Me Mine,” John and Yoko waltzed the room right into a continued deliberation of the staging of the imminent show.

“I think the thing to do is just put you all in a framework, which will be just, like, the audience and a stage,” pitched Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who was tentatively willing to settle for a simple approach if his preferred idea — an overseas trip — was denied. “And by the time we get to the stage, we’d have a routine of numbers. We can find each number how they fit theatrically, like your dance for that one, like the song that you cry in and the song you do that brings tears to everybody’s eyes.”  Off mic, it was joked there’ll be the one song that’s done in the wrong key.

Twickenham's Stage 1. What a pretty palette!

Twickenham’s Stage 1. Simply gorgeous!

“Seriously,” the director continued. “Almost, we should end with ‘Good Night’ or whatever song is going to be like ‘Good Night’ this time. … The end of the show should be a tearjerker like ‘Hey Jude’ or like ‘Good Night’ or like something else.”

Two large signs promoting the show’s working title — “January 20, 1969” — would hang as a backdrop. “And it’s the 19th of February, 1982,” John injected for a laugh and commentary on the decision process’ plodding pace.

When Paul asked about the composition of the audience, Michael answered forcibly, “Human beings, and the first thousand who queue up.” John was more specific, positing “pastry cooks from Walton-on-Thames” would be in attendance.  (John’s joke was told nine weeks before the London suburb actually became a footnote in Beatles history: George and Pattie were fined for drug possession in Walton-on-Thames on March 12, 1969 — the same day Paul and Linda married.)

To snickers, Michael proposed voice overs for each song. E.g.: “Now Paul sings a song of true love.” 

The audience seated at Twickenham’s Stage 1 would sit in the round, either at three-quarters or fully encircling the group. “You could build this place great like that, all of it like a coliseum,” Paul said. “Four sides, then on the top of it all, your cameras, or a camera.”

“I still don’t think that’s our best idea, for the record and on tape,” Michael replied, resigned. “But I think if that’s what we’re going to do, it’ll be fine. Because I’ll make it fine, and you’ll make it fine.”

Coliseums real (Sabratha, top) and fabricated (Rediffusion's Wembley Park studio)

Coliseums real (Sabratha, top) and fabricated (“Around the Beatles” at Rediffusion’s Wembley Park studio)

The bar for the Beatles’ triumphant return to the stage re-established at “fine,” Michael conceded “torch-lit is for next time.”

While the coliseum-style arrangement recalled to Michael the currently shelved Sabratha, Paul was reminded of a moment in the group’s history from four and a half years earlier, when Beatlemania was at its peak.

“It’s a bit like ‘Around the Beatles.'”

“Ah, I was thinking about that,” Michael said. “That was a very good show. That’s why I think it should be kind of theatrical. … Also the Presley show they’ve just done, apparently, which has more of an ‘Around the Beatles’ audience.”

In reality, the live sequences in the ’68 Comeback Special — broadcast on NBC as “Singer presents … Elvis” — had more of a “Hey Jude” vibe than an “Around The Beatles” one; there was always a distance between fans and the band in “Around the Beatles,” while “Hey Jude” and the Comeback Special put the musicians within reach of the crowd, and the King several times interacted directly with the commoners. What “Around the Beatles” and the Comeback Special did share in their audiences was its enthusiasm-cum-mania.

The Comeback Special was being cited in discussions of the Beatles ’69 show, but it had no influence on the “Hey Jude” taping, or vice versa. Elvis filmed the concert portion in late June 1968 but those tapes weren’t broadcast until December. “Hey Jude” was filmed in early September 1968 and broadcast days later. The two paths never crossed.

compare

Way beyond compare: Around the Beatles (left), Elvis’ Comeback Special (center) and the “Hey Jude” promo film.

Elvis triumphantly rehabilitated his rock and roll credentials with his special; the Beatles didn’t need to do that. Yet …

“One of the things we’re up against,” Michael continued, “is all the past things you’ve done.”

Here we are with a reference to the past again. The Beatles did a lot. But surprisingly, although they were commonly featured across all facets of the media, they had very few their own television programs.

“There’s only about three of them,” Paul said, and John rattled off the list: “‘Magical Mystery Tour,’ ‘Around the Beatles’ and ‘Shea'” — the latter the landmark 1965 concert at the former New York Mets ballpark that was broadcast a year later on BBC and in 1967 in the U.S. on ABC. (It recently had a run in theaters in 2016, remastered and looking downright fab as the capper to the enjoyable “Eight Days a Week” documentary).

But “Magical Mystery Tour” was a scripted musical, and “Shea” was a concert film. So that means …

“‘Around the Beatles’ is our only ever TV show, isn’t it?” said Paul.

“And it was good,” Michael said, as Glyn Johns — who had long, but falsely  claimed second-engineer duties on the show (see the postscript of this post for more on that)  — called the program “fantastic.”

After John broke into a few seconds of “Shout” — the finale of that show  — Paul complained to Michael about a theater-in-the-round setup, arguing it’s a step backward, replicating the set of “Around the Beatles.”

“I think with every idea we will have is bound to be …  any of us can pick out a negative side to it,” Michael countered.

“Yeah,” Paul replied. “But it should’t be too heavy negative a side.”

Michael asked the others for input, but John replied by playing Chuck Berry‘s “Sweet Little Sixteen” — a song Michael said, without explanation, “always frightens me” — and swapping in a variety of British locales for the original American cities. (John delivered a more serious reworking of the song six years later on his Rock ‘N’ Roll album).

Returning to “I Me Mine,” Michael remarked John and Yoko’s waltz is “kind of theatrical. And it’s also romantic, and it also fits the song.” Michael was also concerned about the complete bill and “what’s going to be our mind-blasting topper at the end, which I think ought to be a weep-weep, myself. A bang or a cry.”

Paul leaned toward the bang, saying, “we intend to write a couple of rockers.” That worked for Michael — at the beginning, at least. “I think you should open exciting and end with the audience in tears.”

John launches into another Chuck Berry number, this time “Almost Grown,” and is soon joined by Paul. Pleased, Michael said, “That’s what January 20, 1969″ is all about.”

The documentary portion of the production returns to Michael’s forefront when he asks his crew if this performance is being filmed — don’t forget, while the Nagra tapes recorded sound throughout the sessions, the group wasn’t consistently filmed.

Despite the illusion, it was time to get back to work, and Paul returned to setting the agenda.

“Are we all right on George’s number (‘I Me Mine’)? I’m not. Are you? Should we keep doing it a bit more?”

And so, for the time being, the Beatles ended negotiations regarding the live show. The metaphors don’t come much easier: The Beatles’ recounting and considering a return to a theater in the round left them talking in circles.

9 Comments

Filed under Day by day

9 responses to “Jan. 8: Look Around

  1. Pingback: TMBP Extra: Around the Beatles | They May Be Parted

  2. CW

    I suppose they could have chosen a different London rooftop – Big Ben, Tower Bridge, Tower of London, etc. It would have been only slightly less convenient, they’d have been similarly removed from the masses, and the film would probably have looked more impressive.

  3. Pingback: TMBP Extra: Jan. 8, 1969 recap | They May Be Parted

  4. Peter Robinson

    Glyn Johns is a liar. He did not engineer the Around the Beatles soundtrack session. Alan Florence did. I know because i was second engineer.
    I have proof.

    • Peter, first off, thanks for visiting, reading and dropping a line! Just doing a little bit of research, I believe what you’re saying. To your memory, did Glyn have any role with Around the Beatles? He was pretty explicit in his memoir that he was second engineer – why do you think he would have had such a misplaced memory? And what are your own memories of that session? Thanks again!

      • Alan Florence

        Hello Dan, Thanks for your interest.
        I was an engineer at IBC studios along with Glyn Johns in 1964, GJ had done some recordings with Jack Good and had left IBC before Jack Good was involved in the production of “Around The Beatles”, our studio Manager Allen Stagg, unknown to me, had blocked GJ from coming to IBC as an independent engineer as he only wanted IBC staff to engineer any recordings at the studio, Jack Good booked the studio about 2 – 3 weeks ahead to record all the music for “ATB” and I was told by Allen Stagg that I was to be the engineer that weekend and Peter Robinson would be my tape-op. From that moment GJ stopped being a friend to myself and just a few years ago I bought his book where I read he had been on that recording along with Terry Johnson who was an engineer at Decca studios at that time but had been at IBC before my joining in 1962, GJ also stated in the book he couldn’t remember meeting The Beatles at that time, sad that someone need lie about this as how much “kudos” does he need?? Peter Robinson was understandably upset to read such a blatant lie. I spotted the item where he again had obviously been telling people the same lie as on your website. I find it sad that GJ who had a unique talent for pop group recordings needs to lie all these years.
        There are other old friends and ex-engineers who were at IBC if you want more proof.
        Regards, Alan Florence IBC engineer 1962 – 64

      • residentsresearch

        Hi Dan,
        Please can you give me an email address so that I can forward relevant emails from 2014.
        Thanks,
        Pete

  5. Alan – Thank you very much for stopping by here and telling your story here — I’m glad you’re able to share it. This is all quite remarkable, and I’m not even sure where to begin! I’ve seen references to Glyn working that session in books going back to the ’80s, long before his own book. But I guess with a lot of the Beatles’ history — and all history, for certain — the story we know isn’t necessarily what actually happened.

    What were your memories of the session itself?

    Pete – Feel free to reach me at theymaybeparted@gmail.com. Thank you!

    • Alan Florence

      Hi Dan, I’ve been asked at every interview about how The Beatles were on the weekend recording at IBC. As a young 20 year old finding I’m about to have to record the biggest band in the world was daunting as I had to record almost everything in one go unlike their recordings at Abbey Road having the luxury of time and over-dubbing and be expected to match the sound as near as possible as their studio recordings. When the lads arrived they were, like all the big named famous bands of the 60’s and 70’s, very easy going with no prima-donnas in sight, they didn’t even make any comments listening to playbacks, just did their job as was required by Jack Good, for me a pleasure to have worked with. Unfortunately Jack added at the studio lots of young girls screaming over the music tracks, they were brought in to listen and react to them in the studio, then on the transmission night they had a screaming audience so the music for me was swamped but just a few years ago someone had put the clean audio tracks I had recorded on You Tube and listening to them I was actually very pleased with my efforts on that day 19 April 1964, Peter Robinson my tape-op that day did go to the Rediffusion studios at Wembley to watch the show go out.
      One other snippet of music history, on the Saturday night finishing with The Beatles after a very long day Jack Good surprised me with the announcement that a bunch of session musicians such as Jimmy Page, Big Jim Sullivan are arriving at 10.00pm for a three hour session to record an unknown guy who had sat in my control room since lunchtime, P.J.Proby, we recorded “Hold Me”.
      Alan Florence – Engineer “Around the Beatles” IBC studios 1964

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