Tag Archives: Neil Aspinall

Jan. 12: A family outing (Pt. 1)

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.

(From the March 1969 Beatles Book)

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.

The Eastman & Eastman management contract, January 1969.

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.'”

When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide, etc. Beatles and family at Ringo’s in Summer 1969.

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.

“Who was he wearing?” (From the Get Back book)

“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.’”

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Jan. 7: Have a divorce

A wandering discussion ostensibly about the staging of a Beatles live concert prior to the full-band session on Jan. 7, 1969, was light-hearted no longer as the conversation eclipsed the half-hour mark.

The pressure of the clock and calendar is very real if this thing was going to pull together the way it’s being planned — insomuch as it’s being planned at all — and Paul makes clear to everyone else just how dire the situation is.

Start caring. Now.

Paul: If we’re going to do the show here, we’re going to have to decide today. …If we’re going to do these songs, we’re going to have to learn the chords.  … We’ve got to learn the words, certain basic things we’ve just got to do if we’re going to do it.

There’s only two ways. And that’s what I was shouting at the last meeting we had. We’re going to do it, or we’re not going to do it.  And I want a decision, because I’m not interested enough to spend my fucking days farting around here while everyone makes up their minds whether they want to do it or not.

I’ll do it. If everyone wants to, then all right. It’s just a bit soft. It’s like a school, you’ve got to be here. And I haven’t. We’ve all left school, and we don’t have to come. But it to a scene where you do have to come.

Michael Lindsay-Hogg: The first thing to get together is yourselves totally. And then we all follow with our kit bags and our cameras.

It’s not the first time this conversation Paul compared the experience to school. And as made clear in the Beatles’ biography, we know how much these four men cared for their responsibility to the classroom.

Things are right back where the discussion started out the “Get Back” introduction earlier that hour. Paul loves this band and doesn’t think anyone else has nearly the level of commitment anymore.  And he’s right.

Keeping the Beatles as a performing unit, much less determining how their live show would come off, is not a small issue here, but a minor mystery —  the band’s initial, planned timetable for a live show – does become clear in this exchange as Paul continues.

“Five days before [the show] is a week from now,” Paul says, “and that means by the time a week from now comes, all these songs we’ve got we’ve got to know perfectly. And then five days, we really, really get us to know them.”

calendarBeautiful! The early timeline is clarified and confirmed: Five days from this is Jan. 12, a week before Jan. 19. Falling within the estimate drawn from their discussion the prior day — Jan. 18-22 —   this pinpoints the original plan for concert day.

Flash forward to the rooftop, when they ended up playing just five complete songs. Do the math, and the Beatles end up on the same timeline originally proposed here.

(Turns out they already know those five songs by Jan. 7 — the just-written “Get Back,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” “I’ve Got a Feeling,” “One After 909” and “Dig a Pony.”)

A conversation between Georges Harrison and Martin about a Jackie Lomax session is held as Paul and Lindsay-Hogg’s continuing discussion on the urgency of the schedule.

As far as the director is concerned, the session’s first day  – the abbreviated gathering on Jan. 2 – was the best musical day yet. So at least to him, the entirety of the sessions so far as been a study in deterioration.

“If people aren’t interested, I lose interest,” Paul says.” We can’t blame our tours … and so on and so on.”

“The past couple of months, its been this. The [White] album was like this. The album was worse.”

“What, agony?” Lindsay-Hogg asks.

“Just the whole idea of, “Do you want to do it?’” Paul says.

“And that’s the whole joke of it. After it all came about we all phoned [Neil Aspinall] individually, saying things like, ‘Could you get them together.'” — Paul McCartney, Jan. 7, 1969

Paul relates a story of every Beatle phoning Neil Aspinall individually, with each asking the Apple Records manager and band confidant to reassemble the group.

“Instead of asking each other, we went to Neil asking what are the lads doing. You know, we should just have it out.”

It’s a damning indictment of where the band’s interpersonal communication — a reflection of their desire — stood post-White Album in late 1968, before the sessions at Twickenham would even begin.

George steps back into the conversation with a key admission and seemingly parameters for an endgame for the Beatles.

George: Like you said, ‘Well I’d like to do this, this and that. And I’d like to do this … and I’d like to do that, and I’d like to do that. And we end up doing something, again, that nobody really wants to do.

Paul: If this turns into that, it should definitely be the last for all of us. Because there just isn’t any point.

MLH: That would be sad, as an audience.

Paul: It’s stupid. But it’s even more stupid the other way. To go through it.

George: ‘Cause this time you could using for what you want to be doing: creating, instead of doldrums, which it always is.

The word struck a nerve with Lindsay-Hogg, who was keeping a diary of his recent experiences.  “‘Doldrums’ is the word I used. The doldrums have been coming like to a ship on a calm sea.”

“The Beatles have been in doldrums for at least a year,” George says.

Thus, at least to George – and no one disagrees – The Doldrums include the launch of Apple, the trip to India and the entirety of the White Album sessions, and could well stretch back into late ’67. How about Aug. 27, 1967, when Mr. Epstein died, as the genesis?

Today, Lindsay-Hogg – only seven months John’s senior — opts to step into that vacuum as manager/father figure.

“We all need you,” Lindsay-Hogg says as George cheekily accompanies him with an off-the-cuff rendition “What the World Needs Now is Love” in the background. “And it is communication. If you all can’t get it together, that’s really very sad. Maybe what we should do now is let you play a little and you all have lunch together.

“So should we leave you for a while?”

With Lindsay-Hogg gone, the group fiddles around, seemingly ready to begin the day’s work, musically. Then George steps in and steps up for himself.

“What I was saying about the songs is … 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. And slowly I can bring a couple out because I can get it more like how it should have been then.”

“It doesn’t matter what’s going wrong as long as the four of us notice it,” Paul says as George, now incredulous, sure thinks it does matter what is going wrong as he’s so often wronged.

Meeting in session. From the Get Back Book.

Meeting in session. From the Get Back Book.

“And instead of just noticing it, to turn it to put it right,” Paul finishes.

But George is done.

“We should have a divorce.”

Paul admits he’s almost done.

“Well, I said that at the last meeting. But it’s getting near it.”

A deadpan John — mostly silent in the exchange so far — injects a laugh line, asking in the context of the divorce, “Who’d have the children?”

“Dick James,” answers Paul, referring to Northern Songs’ co-owner. (The music publisher would, coincidentally, make an in-person appearance at Twickenham about 72 hours later, immediately before George left the group).

Paul gets in one final point, and directs it squarely at John. He would have liked more input beyond the well-timed zinger.

Just because it’s so silly of us at this point in our lives to crack up. It’s just so silly, because there’s no point. We’re not going to get anywhere we want to get by doing that. The only possible direction is the other way from that. But the thing is, we’re all just theoretically agreeing with it, but we’re not doing it.

You’re doing it with your thing with you and Yoko. But it’s silly to come in and [be] talking down to us, when actually your way out is not to talk — rather than talk down to us, which you’d have to do. And you wouldn’t. And remember, I think I’m talking down to you, too. … We’re sort of talking down to each other.

George wants a divorce. Paul is desperate for John to show up. Nobody wants to be there and they’re running out of time to salvage what time they’ve already spent working on their product at Twickenham.

This moment, right here on Jan. 7, would be the moment that would make the most sense for the Beatles to break up, go on hiatus, something, anything. Everyone’s tugging at the band-aid. But no one is willing to provide the last rip.

All the arguing, backbiting, rash decisions they would be so well known for in their eventual breakup wasn’t second-nature yet. So they do the only thing that really is: play music together.

“OK,” Paul continues, and picking the song most obvious to begin with. “‘I’ve Got a Feeling.’ One-two-three-four…”

And John immediately goes into “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window,” as the take quickly breaks down in laughter.

“How does it go?” John asks.

And then, astoundingly, the day’s sessions begin in full, starting with about 20 minutes (on tape) of “I’ve Got a Feeling.”

What on earth to make of all of this?

Having “compared it to a marriage a million times” (John, from 1976, as quoted in the “Anthology” book), it stands that the band’s ultimate split would be a “divorce.” George asked for it Jan. 7, 1969, and eight-plus months later John would ask for the same thing.

“I want a divorce, like my divorce from Cynthia,” John is famously quoted as saying late September 1969 in Phillip Norman’s “Shout!”  “It’s given me a great feeling of freedom.”

The Beatles were Paul’s band, by the time they were at Twickenham, after first being John’s. The Beatles weren’t George’s — as critical and brilliant he was — and thus it wasn’t his place to ask for a divorce. He could just leave — which he would a few days later — and in that way he absolutely held sway over the band’s future, engineering Billy Preston’s arrival and the shift into cozy 3 Savile Row. Conceding to George things nobody else was wed to but having him in the Beatles beat not having George in the Beatles. But there was no getting around his junior membership, in a sense.

Even in suggesting a divorce, George was immediately met with Paul basically saying, “Me too.” But since Paul wasn’t ready and John was silent on the issue, the divorce wasn’t going to happen.

It’s clear the group’s momentum and motivation as things stand on Jan. 7  is founded on nothing. It sounds as if getting anything done post-Sgt. Pepper was a miracle.  Epstein is missed, and it’s become plainly obvious. Based on their brutal descriptions of the White Album sessions, it’s amazing, in retrospect, they finished the LP, much less recorded as many songs as they did for as many months as they did.

Paul’s right — these guys are indeed “on their own at the holiday camp.” They’re four men pushing 30 who don’t know life beyond the extremes of childhood and being a Beatle.  A day earlier, in the wake of the “I’ll play if you want me to play” argument, it sounded like it was an option for the group to remain as one in name, at least. Now, even that seemed out of reach.

The Beatles reached a pivot point on Jan. 7 to commit or bust, and, against all reason based on their arguments, they chose to commit.  To what, nobody seemed to know.

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Jan. 6: Such a lovely audience? (If there’s a rock show, Pt. 2)

Having established earlier in the conversation that there will be two live shows to cap the documentary of which filming is already in progress, the band — primarily Paul — plus Yoko Ono, George Martin, Michael Lindsay Hogg and a few other insiders (probably the likes of Mal Evans, Neil Aspinall and Derek Taylor? I don’t know them as well by voice) — continue their lengthy discussion about the show, potential venues and the composition of an audience.

For a show plan first hatched more than a month earlier, things remain in total flux.

Paul latches onto Yoko’s idea of playing to an empty house, at least for one of the two proposed shows, with the second night’s performance before a conventional audience.

Hey, maybe there will be some traction here! Paul’s on board with Yoko’s ideas up front and early on (and John doesn’t seem to care, not chiming in at all during this chat), so a huge part of the battle here is over, George’s independent streak — which is about to erupt — notwithstanding. And it’s not much of a surprise, really, given Paul’s avant garde leanings.

Alas, Lindsay-Hogg punctures that idea, saying there’s no need to eschew a crowd “partly [because] the documentary is playing in silence. I know it’s not for an audience, but it’s the same thing.”

Paul replies to say that the band has ignored the camera from the moment they started filming at Twickenham a few days earlier, repeating the  “performance might be — should be — two cameras or two audiences …  two something.”

But Yoko pressed on — with Paul again agreeing —  saying the audience isn’t the draw for people watching the film at home, unless it’s something different, like “kings or queens coming to see it.”

The director keeps pressing back.

MLH: What I think is if you got in front of an empty house and played, it makes you look too … rich, in the bad sense. In other words, whats the point? This is the negative aspect of that. What’s the point in you getting up and playing for an empty house when you could be giving people happiness with whatever kind of full house we decided?

Yoko: Nobody’s going to think that. They’re going to think it’s a very poetic situation. And they know the Beatles are rich …

Voice of reason George Martin, as he did earlier in the conversation, again sides with Lindsay-Hogg on just what a waste a live performance to an empty room would be, putting it succinctly:

There’s no point in doing a live performance, it’s like going into a recording studio and doing one take.

He then repeats the point that an audience would give an extra something to the band they wouldn’t get otherwise.

Someone chimes to suggest one of the more exotic venues that had been in the mix, presumably since December,as the band hatched the live-show idea.

You’re going right back to Sabratha, [then].

Sabrathra was alluded to on the first day of filming by the director, promising a scene replete with “snake charmers, holy men … torchlit, 2,000 Arabs and friends around.”

And a beautiful, unique venue the former Roman amphitheater outside Tripoli, Libya, would have been and with such an unusual audience. It’s certainly something that would one-up recent rock films like Cream at the Albert Hall and the recently completed Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus.

Paul agrees with a remark that a bit of a focus on the audience (wherever it may be)  isn’t a bad thing — seeing the reaction of people who have seen the band before in the Beatlemania era and how they’d react to the band now, post-1966 and the end of their live era.

Yoko: Then it should be a real scene. You have to announce in the newspaper say that it’s going to be a real alive show. It’ll be a crazy scene, like everybody queuing for it and everything.

Neil? Mal? Derek? Then it should be an Albert Hall scene.

Lindsay-Hogg,  who joked earlier in the day about a Beatles show at “the Albert Hall with those quick cuts,” said a few hours later that he’s not opposed to a show at the nearly 100-year-old stage. But…

MLH: I just think it slightly smells of a few years ago. The Shea Stadiums, wherever it has been.

Yoko: Say anything, and it will slightly smell of a few years ago or slightly less than a few years ago because they topped it.

MLH: I’m not particularly supporting this idea, but it is an idea we can then say no to and go away from if we can top it. But [Sabratha] is a location which is marvelous in itself, by the sea.

The Beatles faced winter elements before

Perhaps this is just calling Ringo’s bluff.  As Paul said on Jan. 2, “I think you’ll find we’re not going abroad, because Ringo just said he doesn’t want to go abroad. And he put his foot down.”

And calling the drummer’s bluff is something the Get Back book and Let it Be Naked’s “Fly on a Wall” disc proves was done repeatedly. But for the second time this day, Paul shoots down an overseas trip, saying, “Look, it has to be in England. An outdoor scene has to be in England, because we’ve decided we’re not going  abroad.”

To someone responding that a performance under the skies couldn’t be done in wintertime England, which is “too bloody cold,” Paul doubles down, after agreeing to the sentiment.

We have decided, it’s a definite decision, that we’re not going abroad, so we should sort of rule that out. It’s not even to the two-way, should we go abroad, we like, we definitely said no to that.

So as usual these days, they’re back to Square One, crossing the seas and back in just a few minutes, only to end up again home in England — and potential venues therein as the discussion continues.

An odd postscript to the Sabratha flirtation: More than 40 after the Beatles toyed with the idea of playing at Sabratha just eight months before Khadafi led a coup to take over Libya, former Apple exec and Beatles assistant Peter Brown had his PR firm hired to improve the dictator’s image.

Tune in next post, where we resume this Jan. 6, 1969, conversation about the forthcoming show.

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