When the Beatles reconvened at Twickenham Film Studios the morning of Jan. 6, 1969, it was the prior evening’s television that dominated early conversation between the band and director Michael Lindsay-Hogg.
And, hey, why not? Twickenham is their office, and the piano is the water cooler, so what else would the grunts talk about as another work day begins?
Just seconds into the day’s tapes the discussion goes right into the Cream farewell concert that aired on BBC the evening before. And with it, it’s the Beatles’ first reasonable reference point* for their eventual film. Or, at least, a great example of what they didn’t want to do.
The documentary is, in fact, really lousy — I watched the whole damn thing in prepping this post. Cream, as a band, is great. But what a terrible program, from the seizure-inducing cuts to the wildly melodramatic narration and ridiculous band interviews. The camera’s always on the wrong thing, the songs aren’t complete, there’s continuity errors and it’s just an effort to get through. (Try it yourself here! This playlist should cover it all across several clips. The full concert seems to come and go off the internet quite a bit.)
“Ginger Baker’s was the only interesting interview,” Lindsay-Hogg said to Paul, explaining that he himself is “really uncoordinated” and learned a bit of drum technique from Baker.
“I just thought they were interviewed badly,” Paul said.
Paul likened the interviewer to “a 3-year old kid” in suggesting Eric Clapton play his parts again on guitar.
The talk shifts to a tangent when Lindsay-Hogg compares the Cream production to the grandiose “Eloise” by Barry Ryan (the song itself, not the promo clip below), a chart-topper from a few weeks earlier.
“All form and no substance,” the director said of the song after using the same term to describe the Cream doc.
“It’s great I thought,” Paul replied. “I loved it.”
“All form, no substance, I hated it,” Lindsay-Hogg said before again repeating “All form and no substance.”
“That’s too big a put-down,” Paul said. “All form, and not much substance.”
“It was my least favorite record from the last five years,” Lindsay-Hogg insisted before adding under his breath,”I really hate it.”
Paul then sings a bit of “Eloise,” and Lindsay-Hogg is incredulous, although he would admit he liked the musical break.
The conversation wandered a bit, and included a quick take of “Oh Darling!” by Paul solo on the piano. But after Ringo, and then John and Yoko arrived, discussion of the Cream documentary resumed.
“We ought to think this week sometime about the show,” Lindsay-Hogg said to the group. “We could do it at the Albert Hall with those quick cuts.” Paul again expresses his disappointment, especially focusing on those edits.
Paul asked Ringo if he saw the show.
“Bits,” said the drummer.
“That’s all there were! Just bits, terrible quick-cutting,” replied Lindsay-Hogg.
Hard to tell what John or Yoko said as they were well off-mic.
George is the last to arrive. He was already good friends with Clapton — who contributed his part on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” four months earlier and had played in Lennon’s
Plastic Dirty Mac just weeks earlier on the Rock & Roll Circus. Despite the friendship, George doesn’t shy from criticizing his friend’s production.
“There were some nice bits, but … what was … with the photography? You don’t see anything,” George said.
George calls Baker “great,” and Paul asks Ringo if he’s met him “as star drummers.”
Conversation shifted again, George talks about a new song he wrote (“Hear Me Lord”) and then his equipment arrives at the studio (“like an ambulance for ailing documentaries” according to Lindsay-Hogg).
But they can’t shake talking about Cream’s own doc, again mocking the interviewer.
Then, finally after 40 minutes of the tapes, the band’s finally ready to start the business of making music, and a documentary of their own.
I found it interesting, in retrospect, is they’re discussing a farewell concert, which is what Let it Be ended up being — not planned that way, of course (of course?) — and that’s what they would spend so much of the sessions attempting to organize. Not that Lindsay-Hogg would end up producing anything that looked like the Cream special — nothing he’d done I’ve seen had given that indication — but Let it Be was certainly not anything like the Cream farewell.
But having that reference point so early in the sessions could only have helped light even the smallest of sparks in encouraging the band to do what they always have done, and that’s do something better than every other band.
*(Of course, Lindsay-Hogg had directed the Rolling Stones’ Rock & Roll Circus weeks earlier, but it wouldn’t see the light of day for another 25 years . And, while Lindsay-Hogg was behind the camera and John Lennon in front of it, I can’t imagine the film was edited to any significant degree at this point to be considered a comparison piece for the eventual Let it Be/Get Back film barely in-progress. It wasn’t the same concept anyway — the Stones weren’t trying to document the making-of the show; it was just the show itself that was being produced.)