Tag Archives: Rock & Roll Circus

Jan. 10: A quick one, while he’s away

Their man had been gone, for nigh on a few minutes.

John Lennon played a familiar riff on his guitar, the country-western lick from the middle of The Who’s 1966 mini-rock opera “A Quick One, While He’s Away.”

Soon be home!” sang John. Paul McCartney added an aggressive harmony as John wailed the refrain.

After a brief fade in the tapes, John returned with a spontaneous scream that devolved into a wheeze, then a cough. On regaining his composure, he barked an instruction:

OK, George, take it!

Then John giggled.

George Harrison quit the Beatles after lunch on Friday, January 10, 1969, and at the end of the second week of the Get Back sessions, the Fab Four were a sub-fab three-piece — John, Paul and Ringo Starr. John’s girlfriend, Yoko Ono, was there too, a given since the previous year.

“So pissed,” John said in response to nobody, certainly meaning drunk in the British vernacular, but it registered as the Americanism, too: anger at George’s brazen and sudden departure.

Just like they did when Ringo quit during the White Album sessions less then five months earlier, and just like they did a year later when John was far gone from the group, the remaining Beatles immediately continued as a three-piece.

The music restarted behind an angry riff from John, and Paul and Ringo quickly fell into the jam. The riff was another iteration of Bobby Parker’s “Watch Your Step,” which earlier in the week was manifest in Paul’s improvised “My Imagination,” and previously formed the foundation of “I Feel Fine” and “Day Tripper.”

John taunted George again.

Soon be home!”

The band begins at ten to six: Pete Townshend, John Lennon, Yoko Ono and others at the filming of the Rock & Roll Circus.

The Beatles’ repeated riff was rough, much in the spirit of the Who, whom John watched up close a month earlier, when director Michael Lindsay-Hogg was in the same role at the scene of the crime. That was when the Who stole the show from the Rolling Stones at the latter’s own Rock & Roll Circus — an incident George himself referenced only three days before.

This quick one came grooving up slowly, with the improv running in spurts for about 20 minutes, John’s full-throated scream ending one portion of the jam. The Beatles briefly “covering” the Who, itself a terrific curio, isn’t nearly the most important takeaway.

Yoko Ono at Twickenham, January 10, 1969.

The most shocking moment filmed for a Beatles movie ended up on the cutting-room floor — perhaps it makes the final edit of the forthcoming Get Back ’21 — and came several minutes into the jam.

That’s when Yoko seized the spotlight and filled a vacuum, her voice dramatically piercing the Twickenham soundstage during what Michael later described in his autobiography as a “half an hour of anger and frustration expressed with guitars and drums.” But the most memorable instrument was Yoko’s voice.

Ringo recounted the afternoon in the 1990s for the Anthology book:

None of us realised until we went to lunch that George had gone home. When we came back he still wasn’t there, so we started jamming violently. Paul was playing his bass into the amp and John was off, and I was playing some weird drumming that I hadn’t done before. I don’t play like that as a rule. Our reaction was really, really interesting at the time. And Yoko jumped in, of course; she was there.

Emphasis mine.

Before and after

She wasn’t simply there. She was there on George’s blue cushion, and she was there on George’s microphone.  George eventually found out, too. As described in the previous post, George referred to Yoko “just screaming, doing her screeching number” in a 1977 interview, a moment he didn’t witness but later saw on film.

Yoko wailed to the band’s furious, repetitive backing in a sequence of organized chaos. It’s “Whole Lotta Yoko” blended with “Helter Skelter,” “Don’t Worry Kyoko” tied into “John John (Let’s Hope For Peace)“. Previewing her vocals from the last song in the above list, she repeatedly, violently called out John’s name.  It’s a harsh listen.

Ringo Starr “playing some weird drumming that I hadn’t done before.” From the unreleased The Long and Winding Road documentary.

Musically, the improvisation veered into slightly different corners of blues rock and it maintained the same general, rollicking intensity throughout.

Either you like Yoko or you don’t, and I’m not going to be able to persuade you either way (and I wouldn’t try to change your mind anyway). It’s reasonable, though, to describe her performance as completely in character.

Ringo indeed played a little out of his mind, and at one point, Paul abandoned the bass line to evoke feedback — John did the same with his guitar. At a couple separate moments, John returned to the “soon be home” riff from “A Quick One,” but he didn’t sing along. Throughout the entire performance, there’s no attempt by the others to join Yoko on vocals, but the remaining Beatles were a pretty good hard-rock combo when they chose to be. Even Yoko took notice of Ringo’s aggressive performance, changing her lyric to call out Ringo’s name, an unintentionally funny moment after a hypnotic repetition of John’s name. There was no full roll call, though. Yoko never shouted “Paul.”

Somebody calls out his name …

While there was frustration and anger in the wake of George’s temporary flight from the Beatles, one can sense momentary release. Paul’s project was at a standstill, but his most difficult relation had fled. John had one fewer person — and the most vocal one — balking at Yoko’s presence. Still, the Beatles lost their lead guitarist and junior songwriter. He left them, and that clearly was a big problem.

For Yoko, though, there was no frustration, only relief. At this instant, the blue cushion was hers. She went from sitting beside John to inheriting her own equal space. If George was 25 percent of the world’s greatest democracy, then she, in this moment, owned that share — the solo vocalist alongside the guitarist, bassist and drummer. In the currently available film of this sequence, from the aborted The Long and Winding Road documentary and in various Internet destinations, we see a broad smile on Yoko’s face as she sings John’s name.

Yoko’s experience from every other day with the Beatles informs how she must have approached midday January 10, 1969. From an Anthology-era interview with Newsweek:

I was just trying to sit there very quietly without disturbing them. You know, John always wanted me there and if I was not there, John might not have gone to those sessions.

This session marked her opportunity to be an artist and create a needed disturbance. The jam couldn’t have completely satisfied her creative need, but at worst, it allowed her to collaborate with John in his primary space, and scratch a specific itch.

After about 20 minutes, starting with the initial “A Quick One” sequence, the jam abruptly concluded as John searched for technical help with a microphone.

“OK, ‘I’ve Got a Feeling,'” barked John, as this incarnation of the Threetles (or the first Plastic Ono Band, for that matter) rehearsed their newest material in a fashion they’d never present onstage. The performance was jagged and angry, and just a few days after dismissing their farewell concert, the Beatles became their own version of Cream, the disintegrating power trio. Yoko did not participate in this part of the session.

Then it turned. “Everybody had a hard year,” was sung by John with such extreme gruff, it turned over into laughter. The stab at the song devolved into Paul playing the closing theme to the Beatles cartoon (for the second time that day) to close it out.

Then John yodeled.

Remember when John said he was “pissed”? The British slang was definitely the vibe. The Beatles had no care in the world and were, in this moment of relative bedlam, enjoying themselves. The full-throated “Don’t Let Me Down” was the closest they came to a sincere attempt at a song, and it wasn’t particularly sincere. The next 15 minutes on the tapes featured John and Paul trading small bites of a variety of oldies (“Til There Was You,” “C’mon Everybody” “Mack The Knife,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “On a Sunny Island”). The hilarious performance devolved into moos, baas, barks, meows and whistles.

A highlight — so to speak — from this sequence was John’s droll destruction of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” as Paul played willing accomplice.

George’s departure from the group completely stalled any momentum toward planning the Beatles’ live show as well as reasonably developing new songs in progress. Yet, John, Paul and Ringo stayed in the studio and played purely for their own amusement. This is the Beatles at Friday afternoon happy hour. Meanwhile, Michael continued to discuss how to power the show — and group — forward.

Though we’d still hear her perform with the Beatles again before the end of the day, the band’s long-term future wasn’t ever going to include Yoko Ono — the Beatles weren’t the proto-Plastic Ono Band, and it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which Paul and Ringo would have allowed it even if John insisted.  The question now, was in what form the band would progress.

***

When I first started listening to the Purple Chick A/B Road bootleg about nine years ago, diving into a hulking torrent file of the Nagra Tapes, the first track I listened to was on the January 10, 1969, set of files, one marked “A Quick One While He’s Away.” I had Beatles bootlegs on vinyl and cassette for a long time, and knew full well the general scope of the Get Back sessions, but I hadn’t listened to every possible cover song or outtake from the era. (That would be crazy!)  I didn’t know they attempted “A Quick One.”

After playing the track, I realized they never did attempt it at all. But listening to the context around the track — George’s departure from the group, which I also knew much about, but never heard on tape — convinced me to make a better effort and listen to the entirety of the tapes from the very beginning, and really study what happened. That curiosity directly led to creating this blog, weeks later.

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Jan. 7: Entertainment is almost enough

“I don’t mean [play] for Jimmy Savile kids. I mean for kids with broken legs. Really, kind of 1944 Hollywood musical, Bing Crosby kids. ” — Michael Lindsay-Hogg, Jan. 7, 1969. (Photo of Beatles with Jimmy Savile)

The conversation took a very silly twist before taking a sober turn.

A half-hour or so into Tuesday‘s wandering discussion attempting to define the framework for a live show, it was suggested that if the Beatles didn’t play for sick children, they should play at an orphanage. Or maybe it’s a show of all dedications.

“What’s the most charitable thing anyone can do?” director Michael Lindsay-Hogg asks before suggesting the band perform mass murder. “There are certain judicious murders in the history of the world which are very charitable.”

Paul then expands on his equally farcical — presumably farcical, at least  —  idea of playing at the Biafran airport amid the Nigeria-Biafra War. That is,  after they “rescue all the people.”

“Say we were doing it in an airport, you couldn’t stop all the people coming and going — they’ve all got planes to catch. So like you’d get a lot of people all the time, going for planes. … It’d be a scene.”

And so would a children’s hospital before an incapacitated captive audience. “They can’t get up and walk,” Paul says. “Except for the finale, when John walks up to the little girl. … aaah — she gets up and walks!”

Work your magic, John.

Alas, if only John can cure this process and heal the band. Lindsay-Hogg says he wants this to be better than any rock-and-roll show ever staged. And it’s not only because he wants to be proud of his product.

“You may never do another television show.”

It’s a bitter pill, but clearly Lindsay-Hogg knows the band is hanging by a thread here, just days into the Twickenham sessions. Feel free to read more into what George is playing low in the background during this part of the conversation: “I Shall Be Released” and “To Kingdom Come,” both by The Band.

“They just sound like that album in their house, in their living room,” George tells Mal as Paul and MLH go over (again) the possibility of filming the concert at Twickenham.

George then brings up a point not yet broached — will the Beatles be the only band on the bill? The last time they put on a TV special — Magical Mystery Tour, just over a year prior — The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band performed during the strip-club scene, and Traffic was filmed but left out of the final edit.


So padding out the bill wouldn’t have been that unusual a thought, especially in the light of the Rolling Stones’ recently filmed Rock & Roll Circus and its own dazzling lineup. Then again …

“Are we going to have other people or just us —  John, Paul, Jeff and Richie?” George asks. “But then, you’re getting the bit where The Who steal the show.  But …   let the best man win.”

Lindsay-Hogg believes in his boys, saying, “If anyone can hold an hour, it’s you.”

George admits he isn’t so sure, but Paul has no doubt. What he’s struggling with is getting any semblance of a fire lit under the band.

“I don’t see why any of you — talking to whoever it is not interested —  get yourself into this then,” Paul says after Ringo says something difficult to hear, but likely being “not interested” in traveling. “What’s it for? Can’t be for the money. Why are you here? I’m here ’cause I want to do a show. But I really don’t feel an awful lot of support. Is anyone here because they want to do a show?”

Lindsay-Hogg wants to do a show. Meanwhile, haven’t we already heard this conversation several times already at Twickenham these first few days?

“Mal is right,” Lindsay-Hogg says, referring to comments from the roadie moments earlier. “Entertainment is almost enough. It’s where to put the entertainment.” Lindsay-Hogg also pushes the potential multimedia package the sessions could yield: an album, a documentary and the live concert, and George acknowledges it could be a bounty.

But he adds a caveat.

“If we can get the enthusiasm and really strength to do it.”

“All the ideas like hospital, orphanage, charity is part of it,” Lindsay-Hogg says. “It should be great, great showbiz, because that’s what’s going to make people happy. …  A smile on the lips of a small boy in France or a tear in the eye of a big girl in America is what we want.”

Part of the problem here is that Lindsay-Hogg is either wildly misreading the gravity of the situation at hand  or overreaching in setting up a diversion. Certainly it’s the latter, he’s no dummy. The Beatles are in dire straits. It’s out in the open. He’s lucky to have them in the studio together in any capacity. I’m not sure there was a stage anywhere on earth — plenty were mentioned, for sure —  that would have created any greater spark than they already had within them.

History made it clear. The group traveled a few dozen stairs at 3 Savile Row to the roof, where they did create magic. But that magic wouldn’t have been any more enchanting had they staged the same show at Sabratha, Biafra, George’s house or the Twickenham soundstage. Their hearts, collectively, were in it to a specific point, and that’s what bore out on the roof.

But more on that later.

The conversation keeps going, and even gets more depressing and deflating next post.

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TMBP Extra: Lindsay-Hogg catalog

Lindsay-Hogg and Lennon

With the first significant discussion of the potential live show complete, I thought it was as good a time as any to briefly go off timeline to present what the project’s director, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, had already worked on in his career to this point. More than 30 posts in, it’s clear he’s a central character to the Let it Be/Get Back story, even if he doesn’t pick up a guitar or sing a note during the sessions.

After some stage work, the 25-year-old entered the world of music in 1965 as a director on “Ready Steady Go!

And it was his exposure working on the show that caught the eye of Brian Epstein, who drafted Lindsay-Hogg to direct promo films for “Paperback Writer” and “Rain” in 1966.

Certainly foreshadowing the relationship we’ve heard thus far on these Jan. 1969 tapes, the director describes his first meeting with the band to sketch out ideas for the two films in his 2011 autobiography, “Luck and Circumstance“:

But with The Beatles that evening, I found an idea was something to be mauled, like a piece of meat thrown into an animal cage. They’d paw at it, chuck parts of it from one to the other, chew on it a bit, spit it out, and then toss the remnant to me, on the other side of the bars.

Ultimately, the director “was told Mr. Epstein did not want anything ‘unusual, just a video of the boys performing,'” he wrote in his autobiography.

The creative relationship with The Beatles seems much different than the one he developed with the Rolling Stones, a band for which he ultimately directed dozens of videos for into the 1980s, beginning with both sides of the “Jumping Jack Flash” single in 1968.

Not much after the Stones shoots, Lindsay-Hogg was back with The Beatles, this time filming both halves of the uber-single “Hey Jude/Revolution” in September.

Here’s Lindsay-Hogg with a few words on the “Revolution” clip, in an interview published as part of the promotion of the 1+ set.

Iconic Beatles visuals, I dare say, and it showed the potential of a shoot at Twickenham. And it’s partly from the “Hey Jude” experience, in which the band is said to have enjoyed playing live before an audience — not just the songs before the camera, but impromptu performances between takes — that led Paul to hatch the Get Back idea, which began filming nearly four months to the day later.

But first, Lindsay-Hogg got the call from Mick Jagger to direct what was to become the Rock & Roll Circus, with one John Lennon contributing “Yer Blues” to the production, filmed about three weeks before The Beatles commenced rehearsals at Twickenham.

The show =was famously shelved until 1996, in part because The Who blew the Stones off the stage. The same Who, incidentally, that Lindsay-Hogg shot the “Happy Jack” promo film for two years earlier after also shooting them for “Ready Steady Go!”

This is the oeuvre the then-29-year-old son of Orson Welles (something he only recently found out was true) brings into his latest gig for The Beatles in January 1969.

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Jan. 2, 1969: Tell me why

Something I never completely got my head around is why the Get Back sessions had to happen when they did, in the beginning of the new year, 1969. And in such a disorganized state, to boot.

The timeline is stunning, really, when you look back on it, even in the context of the music industry not being what it is today, when you can go years and years between records.

Consider: On Jan. 2, 1969, the Twickenham sessions got under way. “Hey Jude” was recorded five months earlier (July 31, 1968), released four months earlier (Aug. 26, 1968) and had just finished runs at No. 1 around the world. The White Album was released SIX WEEKS earlier. Six weeks!

The members of the band couldn’t have been bored — John and Yoko were doing the concept art thing, George  and Bob Dylan were writing together only weeks earlier in late November (he’d show off “Let it Down” on this day). Paul and Linda were a little less than two months from marrying. Ringo had just appeared in “Candy” and was soon to be in “Magic Christian.” They had stuff going on!

And again, I know, the industry is different today than it was then. But even considering that, there really wasn’t that much reason for the Beatles to rush into the studio in January 1969. It’s just what they did.

Famously, the goal here was to rehearse fresh material for a film or TV special, culminating in a concert before a live audience. New material. Six weeks after they put out a double album.

But there they were, at the Twickenham sound stage on Jan. 2. Six weeks after they released the White Album (did I mention that?). And despite the rush to be there, sessions beginning in the morning like it was an office job, they still didn’t really have the the session’s raison d’être lined up. There was no agreement on a venue to actually perform the concert.

A little more than halfway through the day’s recordings, Glyn Johns and Michael Lindsay-Hogg discuss with Paul — in addition to the state of his beard — the potential venues for the culmilation concert. Legend has local clubs, African amphitheaters and the like in the mix, but from discussions on the first day of the sessions, it’s clear that it’s most likely going to be a soundstage. Twickenham itself is an option, and seemingly Paul’s preferred one (“Just as well stay here”). Another option pitched is Intertel Studio in Wembley, where the Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus was recorded a mere three weeks earlier.   The venue received raves — “It sounds like a good live studio.”

Amazingly, at that moment elsewhere at Twickenham– and sure, who knows if he was in the room at the time, out having a smoke, grabbing a bite or in the bathroom — was John Lennon. But he was never consulted (on tape, at least) about what he thought of Intertel. And he only performed “Yer Blues” there a mere three weeks earlier.

But even though it was a potential concert venue following the rehearsals there, everyone hated Twickenham.  PAs hadn’t even been set up (they were arriving later that day). John was suggesting they move into a corner of the room — Ringo was too far away. “This place sounds terrible,” Paul said.

Said Lindsay-Hogg to laughter, “I think the thing to do is just be very flexible about every aspect of the enterprise.”

As a director, Lindsay-Hogg was naturally eyeing a dramatic scene. A Tunisian open-air amphitheater was famously pitched, the Beatles to play at dawn. “Snake charmers, holy men … torchlit, 2,000 Arabs and friends around,” Lindsay-Hogg visualized.

It was never going to happen, no matter what. Paul put it straight right there on Day 1. “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.”

The stage is set at Twickenham as the opening credits roll in “Let it Be.”

Lindsay-Hogg hoped to change minds. “Let’s see what we all feel in a day or two… instead of making anything hard and fast.”

There would be no budging. “Ringo definitely doesn’t want to go abroad,” Paul said, “so that means we don’t go abroad. Maybe we go abroad next time… [but] it would be nice to find some way to do it out of doors.”

Like John wasn’t even considered when discussing a venue he played just weeks earlier, Ringo didn’t state his case in person, only via proxy. It did really sound like it was the first time the topic of concert venue was seriously discussed immediately between the director and the film’s principals, and it was after they had already began the sessions.

Thus, there they were on Jan. 2, starting 20 days of rehearsals culminating in a concert that had absolutely no parameters decided outside of the band scheduled to perform.

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