Tag Archives: lunch

Jan. 12: A family outing (Pt. 2)

FYI at the outset: I’m applying the same disclaimer from last time, when I started recounting the Beatles’ January 12, 1969, meeting at Ringo Starr’s house.  For this series of posts, I’m going to jump between various parts of the January 13 Nagra tapes that directly address January 12, for the sake of the overall narrative.  Specific quotes and certain discussion topics conspicuously absent here will soon be tied back into the story. I promise!

****

Twenty years after the breakup of the Beatles and in the midst of leading his own supergroup, George Harrison characterized the “Wilbury Attitude.”

From the March 1990 issue of Musician:

Somebody wrote in a paper things like, ‘Little Richard is a Wilbury. Madonna wouldn’t be a Wilbury but Cyndi Lauper would be.’ It was quite funny.

While there may have been “about 500” fifth Beatles, as George estimated in that same Musician profile, the four proper members of the Beatles were set in stone (Pete Best and Stu Sutcliffe screw up this accounting, so let’s just stick with the figure of four), and the lineup had been stable for more than six and a half years by the time we reached January 1969.

John Lennon proposed expanding the group more than once over the course of that month. The Beatles’ board meeting on January 12 was one such occasion.

Most of what we know about that meeting we learned from recordings of John, Ringo and Paul McCartney — among several other key figures — captured a day later. And while some of those January 13 conversations were filmed openly at Twickenham Studios on the set, so to speak, of Let It Be, a clandestinely recorded lunchroom discussion fleshed out the story. Remember Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s spy microphone? Documenting this lunch became the device’s greatest legacy.

“The Beatles, to me, isn’t just limited to the four of us,” John said on the 13th, candidly recounting what became a contentious point discussed during the previous day’s meeting and in response to Ringo relaying that George wanted a meeting limited to the four Beatles. It’s worth noting there were multiple occasions during lunch that Ringo and Paul explicitly referred to the “four” Beatles.

“I think that I alone could be a Beatle. I think [Paul] could. I’m not sure whether [Ringo] could. … I’m just telling you what I think. I don’t think the Beatles revolve around the four people.”

Maybe it’s hindsight speaking, but of course the Beatles revolved around four people, and it had since Stu stepped out in 1961, even if their nominal leader suggested otherwise by calling a critical upgrade at drums merely a reorientation.

“It’s like [Ringo] joining instead of Pete,” John continued. “To me, it is like that.”

We don’t hear Yoko Ono’s name explicitly mentioned in the context of being a part of an expanded Beatles, a proto-Plastic Ono Band, but it’s the clear suggestion amid her omnipresence and in the wake of her taste of the fab experience 48 hours earlier.

For her part, Yoko didn’t see George’s departure as anything but temporary. His return was, in her eyes, completely in the hands of the others.

“You could get back George so easily, you know that,” Yoko said during the lunch.

****

Reputation’s changeable, situation intolerable: George stuck on the third rung

“The third rung.”

That’s how Paul plainly described George’s place in the Beatles hierarchy on the lunchroom tape. (Paul conceded John was at the “front of the chute” and himself secondary. Ringo ranked himself as “the cabbage.”)

It was only a few days prior when George openly bemoaned his status within the group and the dead-end destiny of so many of his contributions: “I’ve got about 20 songs from 1948, because I knew very well at the moment I’d bring them into the studio that [splat sound], there its gone.”

This complaint on January 7 came immediately before he called for “a divorce,” which he pursued when he walked out January 10. At the January 12 board meeting, it only got worse, according to John.

“It’s a festering wound … yesterday we allowed to go even deeper,” John said early in the recording of the lunchroom discussion. “But we didn’t give him any bandages.”

Not only a reluctant medic, John wasn’t sure he wanted George to even be a Beatle anymore. Maybe the Beatles could be a four-piece after all, just with Yoko and without George.

“Do I want him back, Paul?” John said. “I’m just asking, do I want it back, whatever it is — the myth?”

That remark echoed George himself from the divorce conversation, in his response to Paul, saying the band used to be “switched on,” George had replied, “If that’s what doing it is, that’s why I don’t want to do it.”

Like George, John was searching for motivation to maintain the group’s status quo, even when the Beatles’ status quo was really a constant state of invention and reinvention, at least to the point of view of us on the outside.

During lunch on January 13, Paul and John agreed the duo would “connive,” when it came to their marginalization of George within the band and their maintenance of creative control. This, while George “could afford to be more insensitive” himself, as “some other part,” an other acting separately from the other members of the band, perhaps musically, perhaps socially.

“I do think that as grim as it all is,” Paul said, “that [George] is right. And I do think that our sole approach is exactly what he’s been saying.”

John simply said that he knows he’s treated people this way since primary school and offered the customary breakup excuse, “It’s not him, it’s just me.”

Yet while the duo acknowledged the problem of their treatment of George as a tertiary Beatle — later Paul would admit they treated him “a bit like a mongrel” — they didn’t set forth a path to solve it directly. The board meeting on the 12th, which was supposed to be a general business meeting, went so far beyond just an attempt to reconcile George’s walkout. The band’s very existence was in question. Again.

“It’s like George said. It doesn’t give me much satisfaction anymore,” John said on the 13th. “Because of the compromise we’d have to make to be together. The end result of the records now aren’t enough. …  When something came out like Revolver or Pepper or whatever, there was still that element of surprise that we didn’t know where it came from. But now we know exactly where it comes from, and how we arrived at that particular noise and how it could have been much better.

“The only way to get it satisfactorily for yourself is to do it on your own. And then that’s fucking hard.”

Here John again mirrors another of George’s points from January 7, when the latter said he wanted no part of performing any of his own songs at the presumptive forthcoming concert “because they just turn out shitty. They come out like a compromise.”

A fab feast, July 1969

Linda Eastman, who like Yoko was at the lunch on the 13th, responded by throwing some of John’s words back in his face. “But you were saying yesterday … you write good songs and it can’t be any better way. You don’t want just studio musicians. I mean, that’s how I look at it. You make good music together, whether you like it or not.

John admitted that he liked it. Still, he was dissatisfied with the White Album. Not his own contributions, which he remained happy with, but the sum of the parts. While Ringo said he dug it “far more than Sgt. Pepper,” John struggled to reconcile how good the White Album was and what he felt it should have been.

As difficult as the situation was, Paul was the optimist. He didn’t even see George’s absence as a problem — yet.

“See, I’m just assuming he’s coming back, you know? I’ll tell you, I’m just assuming he’s coming back.

“What if he isn’t?” John asked.

“If he isn’t, then it’s a new problem.”

****

A “new” problem implies previously existing problems, and on January 12, 1969, the Beatles definitely had other problems.

With the benefit of hindsight,  we know Yoko was right and Paul’s optimism was justified. It was easy to get George to return to the group. It took a couple painless concessions from the others, and he was back with the Beatles just a few days later — this wasn’t any protracted estrangement, just one with good retrospective drama and publicity. For context, Ringo’s resignation during the White Album sessions lasted almost twice as long.

While acknowledging the issue, why didn’t John and Paul go a step further and apply the bandages to salve George’s festering wounds? It’s unclear, as they had recognized, at least in the wake of the meeting — if not during it — their “conniving” problem.

“Our brains sort of … con him,” Paul said at lunch, calling those moments “so innocent” and “so simple.”

That kind of treatment came completely natural to John. “It might have been my game. It might have been masochistic,” he said describing his approach. “But the goal was still the same: self-preservation.”

Yet, John said he “had to fight it the last three years,” saying he overcompensated by feeling he was actually giving in to George for several years, going out of his way to work with and relinquish a territory on their records, while George was creatively on “a good ride.”

He didn’t use the word “connived,” but in later interviews George did consider the others’ actions selfish. None of this should surprise anyone who has followed the Beatles for the last half-century.

From George’s terrific 1977 interview with Crawdaddy:

There were too many limitations based upon our being together for so long. Everybody was sort of pigeonholed. It was frustrating. The problem was that John and Paul had written songs for so long it was difficult. First of all because they had such a lot of tunes and they automatically thought that theirs should be the priority, so for me I’d always have to wait through ten of their songs before they’d even listen to one of mine. … I had a little encouragement from time to time, but it was a very little. It was like they were doing me a favor. …

Paul would always help along when you’d done his ten songs, then when he got ‘round to doing one of my songs, he would help. It was silly. It was very selfish, actually.

Then there’s Yoko, who George didn’t want around the studio as a non-participant, much less as an artistic partner. He may have been insensitive to her when she entered John’s life (invoking her “bad vibes”), but he clearly felt that behavior was justified. This emerged as the red line for John. We know how the story ended, and Yoko didn’t leave John’s side while the Beatles were together. John won that part of the battle, even if she wasn’t elevated to a member of the group.  (Through tragedy she ultimately became a member of the Apple board.)

There was no punch-up on January 10, 1969, that pushed George to take a break from the Beatles, it was just, largely, the simple, sweeping con he endured for years. You could almost say George had been fobbed off and he’d been fooled, he’d been robbed and ridiculed. John and Paul recognized and acknowledged as much on the lunchroom tape.

Like it or not, in the words of Linda, the Beatles made good music together. After the meeting on January 12, 1969, it was an open question if the four of them had any mutual desire and consensus to resume doing so.

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Jan. 10: See you ’round the clubs

On the afternoon of January 10, 1969, seven days into the Get Back sessions and nearly 10 years into his tenure with the band — a term that began when he was 15 years old — George Harrison quit the Beatles.

George: I’m leaving the band now.

John Lennon: When?

George: Now.

After a cut in the Nagra tapes, which captured the exchange, George casually continued: “Get a replacement. [Place an ad] in NME and get a few people.”

While the tapes don’t capture him saying “see you ’round the clubs,” it’s too good a line to be purely apocryphal (and it’s, in fact, alluded to by others on the tapes later in the day). George then briefly shared a few words with Mal Evans and was off, his boots echoing as he departed.

Likewise, for the sake of the complete record, there is simply no indication on the tapes of what happened between the final take of “Two of Us,” and George’s departure, the immediate spark of George’s decision (if there was any). Like the Beatles themselves, the tapes were out to lunch.

Film director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, so proud of his spy microphone hours earlier, had the right instincts and was prepared for this moment, but he probably should have upgraded to a better model.

“My bug had only picked up the sounds of cutlery banging on china plates, obscuring what the muffled voices had said,” Michael wrote in his 2011 autobiography Luck and Circumstance. In his “role as documentarian,” he had asked his sound engineer to mic the flowerpot on the dining room table as George encountered the band at lunchtime. Per Michael, George concluded by saying, “See you ’round the clubs.”

George grabs his coat on his way out of the utter sty that was the studio at Twickenham, as pictured on an earlier day. (Screen capture from Beatles Anthology)

What exactly happened over lunch is a source of legitimate dispute in Beatles history. Dig in — here are varied accounts that span 50 years.

The most contemporary retelling of the events of January 10, 1969, comes from George himself, later that day, in his personal diary.

Got up went to Twickenham rehearsed until lunch time – left the Beatles – went home and in the evening did King of Fuh at Trident Studio — had chips later at Klaus and Christines went home.

George’s diary entry for January 10, 1969, as later published in the Living in the Material World book in 2011.

There wasn’t any Twitter in 1969 (although John and Yoko probably would have dominated the platform had it existed), so when George left the Beatles, it didn’t instantaneously go viral. But within days, George’s resignation was widely reported around the world — jumping off an original report by the Daily Sketch (more on their reporting to come in a subsequent post) — though he was already back with the band by the time those reports came out.

It wasn’t just that George left the Beatles. Word was out that that things got violent.

From the Daily Express, January 16, 1969:

Beatles John Lennon and George Harrison did NOT have a punch-up and Apple — their business company — is NOT on any financial rocks.

The denials came last night from the Beatles themselves.

It all began when a pop weekly reported Lennon as saying that Apple was “losing money every week” and needed tightening up.

Then came the rumour that Lennon and Harrison came to blows.

But last night, after a five-hour meeting between the four Beatles and their business associates at Apple’s Savile Row headquarters, explanations came fast.

“The so-called punch-up between John and myself? There’s no truth in it. We are still good friends.”

Ringo Starr called the story of a punch-up “a load of old rubbish.” He said: “I was there when it was supposed to have taken place — it’s quite untrue.”

A few days later, on January 21, Ringo told BBC’s David Wigg that “there’s that famous old saying, you’ll always hurt the one you love,” when he was asked if the group was still close. But he spoke without any specifics regarding George’s departure, just generic reconciliatory language.

“[W]e all love each other and we all know that,” Ringo said. “But we still sort of hurt each other, occasionally. You know… where we just misunderstand each other and we go off, and it builds up to something bigger than it ever was. Then we have to come down to it and get it over with, you know. Sort it out. And so we’re still really very close people.”

One of the Beatles’ official mouthpieces, the Beatles Book Monthly fan club magazine predictably poured cold water on the idea of a physical altercation in its March 1969 issue. In his diary feature, Mal Evans went as far to write there wasn’t any argument at all when George “stalked” out.

Matching the account on the tapes, Mal said George simply came over during lunch to “quietly” say he was going home. “There WASN’T a fight, physical or verbal,” Mal wrote. “There WEREN’T any tempers or shouting. I just couldn’t believe it when I saw the press afterwards.”

George Harrison maintained in subsequent interviews that no punches were thrown. But another George had another memory.

“They actually came to blows,” George Martin told Phillip Norman in his 2008 biography John Lennon: The Life. “You’d think it would have been with Paul, but it was John. It was all hushed up afterwards.”

Here’s where the retelling of the day’s events descends more deeply into farce.

According to a separate account from EMI engineer Dave Harries, a frazzled Martin only arrived at Twickenham that day as Harrison departed from the studio.

As related in Ken Womack’s Martin biography Sound Pictures:

I remember that George Martin had just backed across the car park in his Triumph Herald and knocked a dent in the door of George Harrison’s Mercedes and he didn’t have time to tell him he’d dented his car before George walked out in a huff and drove off.

Just hours after engaging in passionate car talk, this wasn’t George’s finest hour.

While George Martin was around to some arguable degree that morning (and at the sessions overall), there was no doubt fellow producer Glyn Johns was there on January 10. He was an active participant on the day’s tapes.

Johns, too, wrote of his recollections of that day in his 2014 autobiography Sound Man:

I have a very clear memory of sitting outside in the bleak surroundings of the soundstage at Twickenham on that cold gray afternoon with Denis [O’Dell], the line producer for the film, both of us praying that the elation of being employed for a project with the most successful artist in the world was not about to come to a grinding halt after two days.

It is not my place to discuss any detail of what happened, but it is common knowledge that George left the band and was persuaded to return a couple of days later.

While an implication is there, Glyn wouldn’t spill the beans. Although in Graeme Thompson’s 2015 George Harrison biography Behind the Locked Door, Glyn conceded there may not be too many beans to spill:

When it became apparent that there was going to be a bit of an argument those of us who weren’t in the band left the room. It was clear that it would be intrusive for us to remain. So what actually was said and and what went on I don’t know, but I do know that George left the band that day. The whole thing was very uncomfortable, and it was very embarrassing for me and others who were not in the band to be close by while this was going on — to have to watch this begin and be there in the immediate aftermath. It was very unpleasant and I felt really awkward.

The Beatles pre-enact their January 10, 1969, fistfight more than five months before it probably didn’t happen. (From the Mad Day Out photo session in 1968).

More than 50 years after the fact, what we know with absolute certainty is that George Harrison quit the Beatles the afternoon of January 10, 1969. Everything else — most prominently whether there was a physical altercation — is ultimately speculative.

It’s not just what happened that’s in question, but the why. We’ll never unearth that last straw, the specific reason George quit when and how he ultimately did on January 10. There’s just too much open to interpretation, and as long as the tapes of the day are considered complete, there is simply no smoking gun, no spark that broke George. The conversation with Dick James, the rehearsals of “Get Back” and “Two of Us” — these moments lacked an obvious trigger beyond what were usual pockets of growing frustration.

It’s worth mentioning the other three Beatles openly discussed their feelings and opinions in the wake of George’s departure on the Nagra tapes, directly addressing his growing sense of frustration as a junior member of the group. They were aware of this, and their conclusions were consistent with much of what is discussed below.  I’ll examine those specific conversations, which also touch on off-site meetings, however, in future posts when we reach those days on the blog’s timeline.

Still, by rewinding many of the same sources we examined above in this post to construct what happened, we can put together a loose reasoning as to why George left the Beatles. Notably absent from each of these recollections is the one mentioned specifically in the original flurry of news reports — George’s fury with John over the latter’s comments about Apple’s difficult financial situation. George and John even had light-hearted discussions about business earlier in the day. It seems clear the Apple finances excuse for George’s departure was a leap of faith by the media. Musical and personal differences were responsible.

Back to Mal’s Diary in the March ’69 Beatles Book Monthly:

Singing and playing together would always be fine with [George] and the last thing he was suggesting was any break-up of the Beatles. So that day, January 10, George didn’t want to stay at Twickenham rehearsing for a show he couldn’t believe in.

And what — or who — could make George an such an unbeliever? In published interviews over the subsequent decades, George was at least consistent on why he left: His famed filmed argument with Paul (“I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play“) gave him a moment of clarity.

From George’s 1980 memoir I Me Mine:

I remember Paul and I were trying to have an argument and the crew carried on filming and recording us. Anyway, after one of those first mornings I couldn’t stand it. I decided this is it! — it’s not fun any more — it’s very unhappy being in this band — it’s a lot of crap — thank you I’m leaving.

His Anthology interviews, conducted in the early 1990s and first broadcast in 1995, yielded similar memories:

They were filming us having a row. It never came to blows, but I thought, “What’s the point of this? I’m quite capable of being relatively happy on my own and I’m not able to be happy in this situation. I’m getting out of here.’

Everybody had gone through that. Ringo had left at one point. I knew John wanted out. It was a very, very difficult, stressful time, and being filmed having a row as well was terrible. I got up and I thought, ‘I’m not doing this anymore. I’m out of here.’

Paul wanted nobody playing on his songs until he decided how it should go. For me it was like: ‘What am I doing here? This is painful!”

In other words, George’s recollections were colored by the Let It Be movie. He’s just like the rest of us!

George elevated the “I’ll play” argument in a way that other recent encounters, which were also filmed but not included in the final release, did not.

“I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play. Or I won’t play at all, if you don’t want me to play. Whatever it is that will please you, I’ll do it.”

Even Paul had the self-awareness to admit his role in George’s departure, saying in the Anthology book with a hilarious parenthetical: “These things had been going down in Let It Be. George leaving because he felt he was being told what to do (I think that’s why he left).”

Ringo was more certain of the reason, going way back. He corroborated George’s accounts in 1971, telling Melody Maker:

George had to leave because he thought Paul was dominating him. [H]e was, because Michael Lindsay-Hogg liked Paul I would think more than the rest of us.

Indeed, George called for a divorce one day after the “I’ll play” argument, but a move to actually leave was delayed. This, as George continued to match Paul in productivity (or come close) during the sessions, certainly lapping a creatively spent John. But it was George’s own songs that were afterthoughts and that treatment deeply affected him.

Paul, though, was not the lone accused party.

Yoko Ono has unjustifiably been blamed for a lot of terrible things over the last half-century. Among the dramatis personae of the Get Back sessions, she was largely out of the spotlight to this point on the tapes, often speaking for John but not fighting for overall attention, certainly not as the group actually made music. And, perhaps by the filmmaker’s design, Yoko was usually off-mic. But since the White Album sessions, she was a disruptive figure to the other three Beatles. While Paul earned his share of the blame, Yoko drove George out of Twickenham, too.

“[S]uperimposed on top of that was Yoko, and there were negative vibes at that time,” George later said in interviews for Anthology. “John and Yoko were out on a limb. I don’t think he wanted much to be hanging out with us, and I think Yoko was pushing him out of the band, inasmuch as she didn’t want him hanging out with us.”

The accusation of bad vibes wasn’t something John quickly forgot. From his famously raw Lennon Remembers interview for Rolling Stone, conducted in December 1970:

George, shit, insulted her right to her face in the Apple office at the beginning, just being ‘straight-forward,’ you know that game of ‘I’m going to be up front,’ because this is what we’ve heard and Dylan and a few people said she’d got a lousy name in New York, and you give off bad vibes. That’s what George said to her! And we both sat through it. I didn’t hit him, I don’t know why.

(Emphasis added.)

George had a stubborn memory, too, to the point of remembering things that didn’t quite happen. From a 1977 interview in Crawdaddy:

There’s a scene [in Let It Be] where Paul and I are having an argument, and we’re trying to cover it up. Then the next scene I’m not there and Yoko’s just screaming, doing her screeching number. Well, that’s where I’d left.

A few years later in I Me Mine, George references “the time in the film where John and Yoko were freaking out screaming.”

There’s only one problem with George’s accounts: There is no scene in Let It Be where Yoko is performing and “freaking out screaming.” She’s hardly in the movie at all, really. But the event in question — Yoko sitting in with the other three Beatles and “doing her screeching number” is an event that did happen. (Check the very next blog post here for the details.) We don’t know what was in the original, longer rough cut of the Let It Be film, but Yoko’s jam with the Beatles appeared in the unreleased pre-Anthology documentary “The Long and Winding Road” (which George was not only aware of, but shared a copy with Eric Idle with as source material for The Rutles).

Playful punch-up: John and George at Savile Row. Footage from Peter Jackson’s Get Back.

To the surprise of absolutely nobody who has closely followed the group’s history, the combination of the four Beatles, their associates and the passage of a half century makes for a most compelling but absolutely terrible narrator. Barring the emergence of additional footage or audio, we’ll never know the trigger for George’s departure.  Maybe Yoko did do something specific to put him over the edge (the digestive biscuit episode allegedly happened later, so that wouldn’t be it). Or it could have been something John said — or didn’t say, leaving his opinions to Yoko. Maybe the “I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play” argument between George and Paul really did change everything.

Or maybe John had it all figured out for an interview he gave for Earth News in 1976 — a quote later used to great effect in Anthology:

[L]ike people do when they’re together, they start picking on each other. It was like, ‘It’s because of youyou got the tambourine wrong — that my whole life is a misery. It became petty, but the manifestations were on each other because we were the only ones we had.

George’s domestic situation at this precise moment is essential to the story yet is generally ignored. For the duration of the Twickenham sessions, he was estranged from his wife, Pattie, and involved with 20-year-old Charlotte Martin — Eric Clapton’s ex-girlfriend — who was living at Kinfauns with him for the duration of their brief affair.

After George left the Beatles on January 10, 1969, he drove back to his Esher home, ended the affair and began his reconciliation with Pattie. Oddly, those decisions didn’t reach the threshold of snacking with the Voormans’ to make his diary. It wasn’t a choice of the Beatles or Pattie, but like John suggested, perhaps George’s musical issues were amplified by his marital issues.

George wasn’t working for the Beatles anymore that afternoon, but he remained on the clock. In his first act as a temporarily liberated solo artist, George played, you know, whatever he wanted to play, and he wrote “Wah-Wah,” which later appeared on the All Things Must Pass LP and was the opener of his first solo performance, at The Concert For Bangladesh. George couldn’t have found  a more symbolic beginning to his stage debut as a solo headliner, opening with a song born from his first independent moment.

“‘Wah-Wah’ was a ‘headache’ as well as a footpedal,” George later wrote in I Me Mine.

George’s hand-written lyrics to “Wah-Wah.” (Published in I Me Mine)

“It had given me a wah-wah, like I had such a headache with that whole argument,” George told Crawdaddy in 1977.

“It was such a headache.”

Professional clashes with Paul, personnel issues with Yoko (and John), personal crises with Charlotte and Pattie — these were all reasons George left the Beatles. If Paul wasn’t so pushy, maybe it would have made dealing with Yoko and the problems at home easier. If Yoko wasn’t so ubiquitous and John withdrawn, maybe George could work more easily with Paul with one less work distraction. If George’s marriage was fine, maybe he could have slogged through the work day, more easily accepted his continued junior role and at least had an opportunity to unwind and unload in a relaxed home.

But each of those factors played off the other. He’s just like the rest of us.

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