For all the company’s subsidiaries, history could have used Apple Stenography.
The Nagra tapes so ubiquitous around the Beatles during January 1969 weren’t rolling at Ringo Starr’s Brookfield House estate in Elstead on Sunday the 12th. George Harrison ditched the band midway through the January 10 sessions, and after a brief encounter with John Lennon and Yoko Ono on the 11th, he was back in the company of the entire band as they met to discuss their immediate and long-term future.
Even without minutes of the meeting, we have an excellent idea how it transpired thanks to those very recordings and the candor of others recapping and analyzing the meeting’s fallout the next day back at Twickenham.
For this and the next several posts, I’m going to be jumping between various parts of those January 13 Nagra tapes for the sake of the overall narrative. Specific quotes and certain discussion topics absent here will soon be tied back into the story. There will be redundancies and I may not get to specific points until later. But please trust the process!
We know nothing about the meeting from George’s perspective except an acknowledgment of its very existence. And we only know that much thanks to 21st century Photoshop trickery, taking his diary entry for the day before (as published in the Living In the Material World book), flipping the image and manipulating the colors to reveal what was on the opposite page.
Clearly and without further detail, George wrote: “Ringo’s for Meeting.”
Do-it-all assistant Mal Evans provided another rare written reference to the meeting, merely saying January 12 was the day “the fellows finally gave up all idea of doing the TV show.”
This tidbit was for public consumption, published in the March 1969 Beatle Books fan club magazine, months after the event, with the storm of George’s departure long passed and the group seemingly — at least in public — a unit again, the earliest Abbey Road sessions under way and more to come.
While we have reason to question if this January 12 meeting is exactly when the premise of a Beatles TV documentary was called off, at the very least because cameras were back at Twickenham the next day, remember Mal did keep a diary, so it stands to reason he checked the date.
Early January 13, the day the Get Back sessions resumed, Ringo summarized the proceedings in a dry voice: “The meeting was fine, a lot of good things. But then, you know, they all sort of fell apart at the end.”
While the meeting was held in the wake of George’s departure, it quickly became clear the missing guitarist wasn’t the group’s greatest concern.
“I love you laconic Liverpudlians,” film director Michael Lindsay-Hogg said on the 13th. “Because I said to [Apple chief] Neil [Aspinall], ‘And then the businessmen left and then there was just the five of you there, right?’ He said, ‘No, that’s the trouble. Six,’ he said with his flat voice.”
Sunday’s gathering featured two distinct components:
- A business meeting, which included John Eastman, Paul McCartney’s soon-to-be brother-in-law, and other accountants
- A personnel meeting, so to speak, to discuss the Beatles’ near-term future as a viable unit and to hash out issues better left to a modern HR department
There was only passing mention of the business element, with Ringo referring to “John from America” and the “new accountants we just moved with.” (On January 10, George explicitly mentioned John Eastman in the context of an imminent business meeting, a meeting that had Neil very excited and promised to have news that was “so good.”)
It’s feasible the Sunday meeting is when this document — which is only dated “January 1969” — was signed, giving the Eastman & Eastman law firm rights to negotiate contracts on the Beatles’ behalf. The timing works out — John Eastman was working on a deal for the successor company to NEMS less than a week later.
If only to justify what Ringo described as “a lot of good things” coming of the meeting, the business aspect must have pointed to a positive development.
Most of the subsequent recollections of the Sunday meeting were about the greatest strain on group.
“[John] looked great yesterday” Linda Eastman said in the open discussion early on the 13th between Paul, Ringo, Neil, Michael and Mal.
“Who was he wearing, the usual?” Michael asked, to laughter, including Paul, who repeated the joke.
To be clear, Yoko wasn’t the only non-Beatle or Beatle employee at Ringo’s on Sunday. Linda was there, and even if she regretted her own presence, Paul’s girlfriend (and the lawyer’s sister) was critical that she — and others — were even welcome to attend.
Linda: It’s harder being at a meeting and everybody putting their two cents in, and none of you all saying anything.
Paul: But that’s the other thing, having the meeting. You came with me, and [Linda’s daughter] Heather came.
Linda: Yeah, I was going to say I shouldn’t go.
Paul: It’s such a temptation going out to Ringo’s for the afternoon. It feels like a family outing. (said to laughter)
Paul: It should have been the four of us.
Ringo: Well you (Linda) were out of the way. It nearly was.
Paul: It’s still that thing.
Linda: When there’s something serious, a few other people talking about it, and you get off the tracks.
Paul would also describe the scene as being like “board meetings of ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries) and all the governors and all the wives, and mates and kids and animals.”
Neil explicitly said that Yoko’s participation undermined any chance for a serious discussion. “Everybody else is like, ‘Fuck it. You know it’s not going to be a board meeting, so let’s make it a party.'”
Yoko did “so much talking,” Linda bemoaned.
A “key moment,” according to Paul, came when John said he didn’t understand George’s desire for a meeting consisting exclusively of the four Beatles, explicitly excluding Yoko. Twice George told John, ” I don’t believe you,” in reaction to John’s stated confusion.
“I think John knew what he was talking about, too,” Neil said. “It’s like the bullshitting bit where that can go on. It’s silly.”
Paul agreed, but absolved John to a degree.
“John does bullshit. I bullshit. Ringo bullshits. George bullshits. You know, we bullshit.
“With John, you think you can influence it, you think he’s past it. So you start giving him more credit than he’s due for. With Yoko, they mean it.”
Paul consistently placed legitimacy on John’s dedication to Yoko (we’ll see more of this in the coming posts). John alone could be a slippery figure, but here Paul was insisting John really needed Yoko at his side, completely and sincerely.
Paul’s last remark was met with derision from Linda and Neil, especially. Paul’s tone implied maybe he didn’t really believe what he was saying out loud, either.
This meeting was scheduled to be about Apple. It would have helped to have been about George. But it became a meeting that revolved around Yoko.
John accused the others of pushing out anyone who threatened the sanctity of the four members of the group, a balance he and Yoko disrupted months earlier. Paul freely admitted as much the next day, describing the Beatles’ conscious decision to maintain a well-defined inner circle.
“The trouble with us, like John said [during Sunday’s meeting], is anything that comes in … with the egos, we try and push out,” Paul said Monday. “It’s always been that. Anybody who’s come in, Like with Michael Braun, with that book, [he] came in for a while, within the circle for a while, and then he gets pushed out cause we don’t want him in the inner circle. And he’s got to stay on the edges.”
Braun’s book — Love Me Do! The Beatles’ Progress — was published in 1964, and chronicles the group over the course of several months that year and the year prior. John later told Rolling Stone it “was a true book. He wrote how we were, which was bastards. ” Really, the book reads like a draft manuscript of the “A Hard Day’s Night” film, the group enveloped by Beatlemania with supplementary anecdotes of those dismissing the movement. It’s candid, and in the context of its original publication, it had to be a revelation by comparison to other portrayals of the group.
But to Paul’s point in January 1969, the proximity given to Braun, an American journalist who had his own colorful biography, was too much for the group in time. Yoko came in for a while, had been within the circle for a while, but she wasn’t getting pushed out. She was inner circle, with no reason to think she would be forced to the edges.
This wasn’t the only issue. John’s silence, in tandem with Yoko’s new role as his spokesperson, made for the untenable situation. After all, Linda was there too, but she didn’t attempt to speak for Paul.
Still why wouldn’t John talk? One of the greatest wits of his generation, the outspoken and leader of the Beatles — self-proclaimed by this point — silenced himself. John had already forced Yoko into the inner circle. He didn’t need to hand her his voice too. Unless, he didn’t think he needed his voice in the first place.
John openly discussed the Beatles’ ability to communicate non-verbally in Hunter Davies’ 1968 authorized biography.
I think communication all the time like mad, but putting it into words is a waste of time. We talk in code to each other as Beatles. … We understand each other. It doesn’t matter about the rest.
(Listen to the terrific One Sweet Dream podcast for the deepest of dives into this corner – and many others — of the Lennon-McCartney relationship).
If John was silent because he thought he didn’t have to speak at all, Paul cried foul the next day, ultimately mocking John’s telepathic approach.
“With our heightened awareness, the answer is not to say anything,” Paul said. “But it isn’t! Cause, I mean, we screw each other up totally when we don’t do that. Cause we’re not ready for heightened vows of silence.”
Paul started to laugh before conceding, “We don’t know what the fuck each other’s talking about.”
Paul then shattered the telepathy myth, explaining why he thought Yoko spoke for John.
“There was something the other day, I said, ‘What do you think?’ And he just didn’t say anything. And I know exactly why. … If one of us is talking about it, it’s a drag if the other three aren’t.”
John’s silence only made Yoko’s outspokenness more conspicuous by contrast.
“Yoko was saying yesterday, ‘This is my opinion. This is my opinion how the Beatles should be.’”
There was no indication of what John’s opinion was.
“John didn’t talk,” Paul later said. “Yoko talked for John.”
John, too, was a laconic Liverpudlian.
Despite having spent several years working with the band, Michael Lindsay-Hogg was, by simple logic of not being an insider, a Beatles outsider.
He also had a film to make — a film the Beatles hired him to make — and it wasn’t for quite some time into the January 13 session he finally asked about one of his missing stars, who had hardly been mentioned at all that morning.
“Did George stay?”
“Well, in the middle of all that, actually,” Paul answered, “George went. He said, ‘I’ll see you.’”