A CHAT ABOUT THE BEATLES
GW: I’ve got to get this out of the way first. I found one source in a Beatles book that says you sang with Rory Storm & the Hurricanes at Butlins in Skegness when you were 14 years old. Is that right?
GB: What happened was, my next door neighbor in Skegness worked at Butlins – I think he was a waiter there or something – and he said ‘I met up with this guy called Richard Starkey, he’s a Beatnik type of good guy who plays in a band called Rory Storm & the Hurricanes and he’s was looking for a singer. I know you’re a singer Graham because I hear you singing every day, are you interested?’ ‘Absolutely’ I said ‘I’d love to work with an older bunch of guys’ so he told Ritchie (or Ringo if you will) about me but Ringo said I was too young because there was an alcohol license there and they couldn’t have kids in the room. You could perform in front of an audience where they sold alcohiol when you were fifteen but not fourteen so that was my chance of possibly meeting the future Beatle. Years later I did get to meet him though.
GW: This was actually the time when Ringo was playing in Skegness with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes when John and Paul phoned and asked him to join. You were probably just down the road when that happened.
GB: That’s right – yeah. You know The Beatles Anthology book?
GB: Well in that book, there’s a photo of Ringo outside the actual ballroom where they played. It was the Calypso Ballroom at Butlins which has gone now and I played there quite a lot as well a couple of years later; it was quite a big room.
GW: Johnny Guitar who was Rory Storm’s guitarist tells a different story in that John and Paul actually visited Skegness and asked Ringo to join. Liverpool to Skegness would have been a hell of a drive in those days.
GB: Yeah. I didn’t know this…this is all news to me. These are all little stories that come out of the woodwork from nowhere but it probably happened – it sounds very real.
GW: So you were a teenager when The Beatles first hit: what was your first experience of them?
GB: I remember being at school in the playground and saying to my friends ‘Have you seen that photograph of that band called The Beatles? They look really weird.’ and we couldn’t figure out why they looked so different but later we found out it was their hairstyle and the clothes they were wearing. They were dressed like the students in Germany - that beatnik thing at that time – but they were also different. They were not particularly handsome you know because we were used to seeing Cliff Richard and The Shadows and Billy Fury, all the pretty boys and these guys, The Beatles) looked kind of rough. The first picture I saw of them was them on a building site or something - I’m sure everyone knows the one I mean - and the first record they had out was Love Me Do which really didn’t strike me but my brother, Tony, really liked it. I said to him I thought it was alright but not that great – I preferred Buddy Holly – but then Please Please Me came out and again, saying to my friends ‘You know that song Please Please Me? and we started singing it. All of us started singing it, all these kids and it was ‘Wow! Isn’t that a great song!’ From that day onwards, I was a big Beatles fan. That was the same time as I started to get my hands working around a guitar properly.
GW: In your opinion, what do you attribute their unprecedented success to?
GB: Well initially they were not pretty boys as I said but eventually they were as everyone got a close look at them: The more you look at people, the more you fall in love with them and the more you fall in love with them the more handsome they become sort of thing. They had this rough edge and was a very working class sounding band which I had seen in the working men’s clubs when I was a kid. Their words were very honest and very simple at that time, you could relate to them and anyone could sing their songs. Their voices were not as developed as they became later when they really developed their own style. They were great impersonators of Buddy Holly, Elvis, Little Richard there was something so loveable about them as well. Very honest, available to the public as opposed to being star-like like Elvis or Cliff. You really felt like you could say ‘Do you want to come and meet my Mum and Dad?’ – just ordinary kids. Actually I remember my Mum and Dad saying ‘Oh but they can’t sing Graham’ and me saying ‘But it’s good though isn’t it!’ There was just something about their music. They were kind of Rock-Folk singers if you will because as you know they told the story of where they came from – Penny Lane and all that – so they were reporters on real life which the others weren’t.
GW: I think the Liverpool accent played a big part as well.
GB: Yeah. There wasn’t that sort of fake Cliff voice. They were stuck with that accent and they stayed with it throughout their career.
GW: George once said there were more fifth Beatles than Beatles. George Martin, Brian Epstein, Neil Aspinal, Pete Best, etc…for me there only four and the others were halves but significantly contributing halves obviously. What do you think?
GB: For me George Martin was always the fifth Beatle. He was the guy who did their arrangements, changed their music around and gave them ideas. I’m sure you know the story about Please Please Me, the way it was originally.
GW: Yeah the slower Bluesy version.
GB: Yeah and George Martin said ‘No no…we’ve got to make it a potboiler’. That’s how it became the great hit it was: full of life that song. I always thought of George of being the 5th but later on, I remember the disappointment in finding out other people were playing guitar on the records. You know it was Eric Clapton or whoever else or that Ringo wasn’t playing drums – it was Paul – and all this kind of thing but the 5th Beatle ends with George Martin because he really was a big influence on them and turned them around musically.
GW: Did you ever see them live? I guess you were too young to see them live weren’t you and they never went to Skegness.
GB: No. I saw them the first time them on the Sunday Night at the London Palladium (13th October 1963) show and everything stopped. I was working in a hotel at the time as a waiter/cleaner and I’ll never forget it. We were cleaning up for the night and the Palladium came on and we were all waiting for The Beatles and when they came on it was ‘Stop!’ and we sat down in front of the TV and I was thinking to myself ‘They’ve got to sound good…they’ve got to sound good’ because I was in love with these guys and they didn’t disappoint; it was the most amazing thing I had seen in my life. So raw and the energy from them was just incredible. They sang their little hearts out those guys – they really did.
GW: The following morning of course is when the papers described it as Beatlemania.
GB: Yeah I remember that! She Loves You Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! and all that! All those terrible headlines in the Daily Mirror and The Sun. Talk about making music tatty and crap sounding. They made double-entendres of everything…Please please me. They really knew how to report things badly those papers but it was a big thing. Suddenly The Beatles had arrived after that Palladium show.
GW: Well you were an adolescent schoolboy then so those double-entendres had extra meanings.
GB: It was John’s take on the Bing Crosby song, Please. (Sings) ‘Oh, please
Lend your little ear to my pleas…’ That was two different pleases…please and pleas but Please Please Me was rude.
GW: As was Day Tripper. The last time Paul was here me and a friend went to the show and when he sang the second verse…
GB: I bet I know what he did!
GW: Yes, he sang the original naughty line from the second verse – She’s a prick teaser.
GB: Yeah that was their original idea but they had to clean it up for the BBC. It was pretty bloody obvious what they were getting at anyway.
GW: Cynthia never knew Norwegian Wood was about an affair John had either.
GB: Really? I think that was a true story as well about him setting something in the house on fire – I’m not sure. He got back at her because she let him down and seem miniscule and a tiny person – go and sleep in the bath – and his get back at her was him burning the house. I have no idea how much of the house burned but that’s the line.
GW: But those were the days weren’t they? The days when you couldn’t say anything outrageous – when Benny Hill was really raunchy!
GB: Oh yes - absolutely. Whether it’s true or not I don’t know but it’s a good story.
GW: A lot of people say Sgt Pepper was their peak: Did they ever peak for you?
GB: No because I was always expecting them to come out with something brand new and fresh and revive the music scene again. Every album they brought out, they would get it right every damn time and blow every band away. Original, brand new and exciting. It was a real disappointment when the last album they did was Let It Be because I thought that was the worst album they made.
GW: That’s Phil Spector though.
GB: I know. It seems so heartless and over-produced; that’s what George Martin said. He said ‘I’m a producer: Phil Spector over-produces.’ He brought in a choir and all this shit and it wasn’t the Beatles anymore, it was the Beatles with session guys almost especially The Long And Widing Road. As good a recording as that is, it’s not The Beatles too me. It’s Paul singing with a choir and orchestra.
GW: I concur with that and this goes back to the conversation we had when you were over here last time about Be My Baby. That’s where he peaked.
GB: Well there was The Rightous Brothers as well.
GB: Phil Spector was wonderful at the ideas he had but he wasn’t a Beatle person too me at all. I think it was John who brought him in wasn’t it?
GB: I think Paul didn’t get on with him very well but John, because of Phil’s reputation, he thought they would get a different sound but too me, Let It Be was a real disappointment.
GW: It’s my least played Beatles record.
GB: Me too. I love everything else including all the early albums.
GW: My most played is Abbey Road.
GB: Mine too.
GW: That end of side one in She’s So Heavy where it just stops is brilliant.
GB: Yeah the tape actually ran out! They were grooving on that very heavy riff at the end which is almost Metal-like. It’s really cool. They were jamming on that ending and they must have all thought ‘This is cool’ and the tape ran out.
GW: A lot of people have said The White Album should have been a single album. Paul’s always said he’s not interested in whether it should be or not, leave it as it is. George Martin said it should probably have been a single album and I tend to agree with him What do you think?
GB: Are you kidding? It’s one of my favorites. It was a whole bunch of little bits of songs that were not completed and then they Frankensteined them together very nicely. It goes in all different directions and too me one of the most inventive albums they did because of that. It’s just beautiful man! So well crafted.
GW: Yoko arrives at this time of course and she is often cast as the Wicked Witch…do you think she deserves that?
GB: No. I lot of that is just bullshit and mythical mumbo-jumbo. Some kind of nasty story that a lot of girl fans wanted to make up at the time. They hated her and when they finally did split up it was all on her. She might have got John going in a different direction a little bit and John might have hung out and been a Beatle a little bit longer had she not come along but I don’t think she actually split them up. They had all just grown tired of each other because they had grown up and they all had different ideas about where to go musically like happens with a lot of bands. You feel like you don’t need each other but I think the Beatles really did and it was a mistake too split up. John, Paul and George all went on to do ok and so did Ringo. Hang on…I’ve got to let the dog out…
(Brief pause while Graham let’s his dog out)
GB: Too me, the fucking world had ended when the Beatles split up. You know…you’re kidding me? Who do I look too know to give me guidance?
GW: Yeah but you were with The Bee Gees at this point…
GB: I was working with them, yes. They wrote our songs as you know.
GW: So even though you are working with another of the biggest groups in the world, it was still that devastating that they split up?
GB: Yeah! It devastated The Bee Gees too! They were their heroes and wanted to emulate them in every way. John’s voice…Barry had a bit of that…he did his John’s voice while Robin was a Roy Orbison fan and loved the high notes but they were devastated because they loved them and were friends with them. It was a big shock to the whole world because they changed everything. Not only in music but the way we dressed, the way we looked and the way we talk even.
GW: Recording techniques as well obviously.
GB: Yes. In the early days, John wanted to find to experiment and find out how sounds were made which may be why he got Phil Spector in because of all the stupid things that Phil would do with three drummers, two bass players and whatever else but anyway, John said to George Martin once ‘How do I get to sound like Lesley Gore?’ you know, from It’s My Party and George said it was two of her singing in unison and so after that John started doing a lot of his songs in unison (double tracking vocals). Hang on again…I’ve got to let the dog in now…
(Brief pause while Graham let’s his dog in)
GB: I’ve lost where we got too…what were we talking about?
GW: Well we were kind of on Yoko and the split but got sidetracked into recording techniques.
GB: Got it.
GW: There is some footage of the Apple Scruffs – the girls who used to hang around the Apple building – talking to British news crew on the day after the news broke and they blame Linda, not Yoko.
GB: Well that’s because Linda married Paul. A lot of it was jealousy from girl fans. They had to blame the demise of the Beatles on somebody and of course that would be the person who was having sex with the Beatle they loved and after they called them every name under the sun they said ‘and they’re ugly’ as if that mattered and they weren’t ugly anyway!
GW: It’s a bit daft to ask someone’s favourite Beatles song so I’ll ask you this, name a few songs that you would recommend to a Beatle virgin to listen to and also what to listen for.
GB: I love I Am The Walrus. The beginning of that is very heavy and it was so experimental; that and Strawberry Fields. With Walrus, the words are gobbledygook. They don’t mean everything but are so poetic at the same time. John could twist words around, make them sound very serious but at the same time they were throwaways. He would write the way he would speak. Earlier stuff such as I’ll Be On My Way and I’ll Follow The Sun which was a kind of later version of the same song, the acoustic sound and beautiful melodies that Paul sang. And I Love Her as well.
GW: They also did some excellent covers. I love their version of Chains.
GB: Oh yeah. Chains and Please Mr Postman. That was originally The Marvelettes. ‘Til There Was You…I don’t know to this day who played the guitar solo in that.
GW: I always assumed it was George.
GB: Well I did too but I have a feeling it’s probably Paul. Have a listen to the way Paul plays acoustic on something like Blackbird.
GW: Paul’s bass playing was very inventive for its time as well. That descending bass line through the verses of All My Loving…
GB: Yes and then the triplets on the guitar which John was doing…
GW: …which I still can’t play…
GB: It’s a tricky one to master – to keep it even. What Paul’s actually doing is like a jazz bass line but the two of them together and George’s solo on his Gretch which had a country thing going through it, just make a great Pop song. You have three nice styles making a fourth there. For anyone, who wants to find out what The Beatles were all about, I would say listen to the first albums they made. You’ll here Buddy Holly. The Everley Brother and Little Richard influences. There are so many you can choose from it’s impossible to choose one or two.
GW: That’s why I say it’s a dumb question…
GB: Well it’s not really because a lot of people do have favourite tracks but I love them all.
GW: Do you have any Beatles memorabilia?
GB: No. I don’t even have the albums I bought when I was a Beatles fan. I put my stuff in storage in someone’s garage once and it all disappeared including a box of Buddy Holly stuff that I had signed by his family when I played in Lubbock, Texas.
GB: Yeah…his brother, his Dad…Buddy’s niece was a fan of Alcatrazz and she came along to the gig which funnily enough was called Penny Lane.
GB: That was when Yngwie Malmsteen was with us and I had to explain to him who Buddy Holly was - he didn’t know! Anyway, I was busy one afternoon and the keyboard player had found out where his parents were so he went to the house and took the box collection that Paul McCartney put out and they signed it. That’s gone along with my collection of vinyl – it’s all gone. I left the States and went to Australia for a while and put this stuff in storage with our friends and it disappeared along with a couple of guitars and some other things. This person just said ‘We don’t have it anymore’. I guess they thought we weren’t coming back and sold it.
GW: That’s awful.
GB: I can’t prove it but…
GW: Let’s get back to talking about nice things. A lot of people claim to have broken records set by The Beatles , One Direction recently claimed the most top 10 Hot 100 debuts for example – whatever that means. Could there ever be another Beatles in either size or influence?
GB: Hmm…I somehow doubt it because they changed the world musically and people are still doing the same damn thing they did fifty years ago. They changed everything for everyone and when a new Beatles comes along…I don’t know when that will be. That surprise they had, I don’t know when that will be because everything is so manufactured now and the business has changed so much there is no room for the arts. All it is, is making money which it was back then as well but the art has disappeared out of music for me. I can’t imagine anything being that big to change everything again except perhaps for World War III.
GW: We shouldn’t laugh, we may not be too far off that given the current political climate.
GB: There’s none of the camaraderie either because you do recording by mail. Actually being in a room and all looking at each other eye-to-eye and having the same vibe happen when you’re recording and creating a song. Everything to me sounds like elevator music. It’s too nice, too perfect, too Auto-tuned and soulless. This isn’t the old guy talking, you know ‘Frank Sinatra’s a real singer’ which is what I used to get when I was a kid, I’m not saying that at all but the soul has gone out of music completely.
GW: So, to conclude, how do you feel about their solo careers?
GB: I love all the stuff that John, Paul and George did. Not so much Ringo because I’m a person who listens to singers and Ringo was never a singer. His records were a little bit too comedy based for me and I can’t quite take him seriously as great a guy and musician as he is.
GW: He more than likely agree with you; I don’t think he ever took himself seriously either.
GB: He still doesn’t which is cool. He was the clown in The Beatles, the one everyone loved because he was the cute little guy. He was a great drummer – still is – but the other three guys came out with some damn good music. George’s All Things Must Pass, John’s Imagine and Paul’s first album, McCartney, that knocked me out when I first heard that.
GW: It’s an astonishing legacy of music. I doubt it can be bettered.
GB: You know, for someone to come along now and change the way with think is going to take massive balls because everything is so comfortable now for the people making the money. The only time something came along different I think was Queen. When I first heard Bohemian Rhapsody I thought ‘What the hell is that?’
GW: In my opinion, there were two natural successors to The Beatles. Pre-1965, ABBA followed and post-Let It Be, Queen followed.
GB: Yeah The Carpenters as well. When I first heard Karen Carpenter’s voice and those beautiful harmonies but Queen for me.
GW: Graham, this has been great fun – thank you very much.
GB: You’re welcome. Stay in touch and we’ll see you in Japan next year.