The Ivy Leaves
Early Beatles Years
To paraphrase, the poet, Philip Larkin, it all started for me with Please Please Me, The Beatles' first LP. My mum and dad bought me an electric guitar and amplifier and I was a lost cause at school, after that. With the later releases of Meet the Beatles, A Hard Day's Night, Help!, Beatles For Sale, Rubber Soul, and Revolver the die was well and truly cast, I tried to steal chords and licks from everyone I met. Trouble was everyone was way better than me. So when The Rolling Stones took up residency at a local beat club, for some reason I still can't fathom, I took up playing the blues-harp and began singing my heart out to anyone that'd listen. Luckily, a few did. The kindness of strangers again.
Like so many other British Grammar schoolboys of my generation I played in a rock band—several of them, in fact. The Persuaders. The King Bees. The Ivy leaves. I was the vocalist and harp player in the Ivys—founded by Fras Britton—when, for a time, the band was resident at the New Ricky Tick Club, in Windsor, just outside London. (The Rolling Stones having played the old Ricky Tick—above the Star & Garter pub many times the year before.) At the club, we were the support band for, amongst others: The Who. The Yardbirds, Alexis Korner, Long John Baldry, Zoot Money, Mose Allison, and the heart-pounding Goldie and The Gingerbreads. What a time it was. What fun. What larks.
While I continued 'Beatling' away in the world of London advertising, I did my level best to ignore pop music trends by developing a love of jazz singing—sat at the feet of Mark Murphy, Jon Hendricks, Marion Montgomery, and Blossom Dearie whenever they played London at Ronnie Scott's or the Bull, at Barnes Bridge. Later, I sang as a duo with the actress, Angela Bruce. Then a jazz & funk influenced band with musical talents way above my pay grade—great guys and great musicians all. And yet, through it all, I've never stopped singing and playing the songs of The Beatles—they never grow old. Always life affirming. That love is all you need. And perfect pitch. And three chords and a dream.
I was an Art Student in High Wycombe the summer the Sgt. Pepper album was released—which was mind blowing. I was an Art Student in London (the famed LCP) for three years after that. Ditto. As I happened to share a Powis Square flat with Amory Kane, a hugely talented folk-rock singer from the US, I got to meet a lot of great musicians and attend numerous recording sessions. I even sang and played on a few—not that anyone would ever know it. The Beatles broke up the year I joined the US advertising agency, JWT, at 40 Berkeley Square, London W1, as a copywriter—just up the road from The Beatles' headquarters on Savile Row. I've prayed ever since the two events weren't in any way related.
Let It Be and After
Sgt. Pepper and After
The Beatles appeared as if from out of the blue and rocked my life as a teenager. They still do. Their music lives on—as do many of the ideas they brought to light. As individuals and as a group, The Beatles pointed to so many doors—of thought as well as perception—it's taken a lifetime to ponder even just a few of them.
They were certainly the flame that lit the lamp of my own lifelong quest to find wisdom. They did it in song. They did it in action. They did it in the lives they lived and, successful or no, they never stopped trying to find new and better ways of being. Above all they taught me—as they did so many others of my generation—to search for enlightenment in questions, not answers: To be sceptical. To be cautious. To not just follow the crowd—but follow your own line of questioning and think for yourself.
ANELLO & DAVIDE | DRURY LANE | LONDON | THE SATURDAY RATION OF BEATLE BOOTS
THE PEOPLE NEWSPAPER | SUNDAY OCTOBER 20, 1963
ADELPHI | SLOUGH | THE BEATLES THIRD UK TOUR | SATURDAY 18 MAY 1963
The Beatles' third UK tour began at the Adelphi Cinema in Slough, Buckinghamshire. Also on the tour were Roy Orbison and Gerry and the Pacemakers. I went to the 6 o'clock show. Seeing and hearing Roy Orbison sing was a real treat—his voice more than a match for his records—he was superb. Gerry Marsden said how very happy he was to be in "Slug"—and got gales of laughter—and lots of support for himself and The Pacemakers during their set. But the crowd simply couldn't contain itself—the need to see and hear The Beatles was overwhelming. I remember them singing: 'I Saw Her Standing There' and 'Twist and Shout'—not much else.
I do remember George Harrison singing—probably—'Do You Want To Know A Secret?' The Beatles were presented with a silver disc for 'From Me To You'. The photo below—the actual one I ordered from the local newspaper—The Slough Observer. Enjoy.
ADELPHI | SLOUGH | 18 MAY 1963 | AWARDED A SILVER DISC FOR 'FROM ME TO YOU'
The Beatles returned to the Adelphi Cinema later that same year, on Monday 5 November 1963, during their Autumn Tour—their fourth UK tour—following their appearance at the Royal Variety Performance, in London, the night before. By which time I had my new Beatle Boots and Beatle haircut to the fore—and a lovely 'trés Mod' girlfriend, named Santa Phelan, on my arm—sitting front and centre in the orchestra stalls for the night's second house. What a night—the joy still palpable all these years later.
NME POLL WINNERS ALL-STAR CONCERT | EMPIRE POOL WEMBLEY | SUNDAY 26 APRIL 1964
The Beatles topped the New Musical Express Annual Poll a number of years running—now there's a surprise. I managed to get tickets to the 1963-64 All-Star Concert at the Empire Pool, Wembley, just outside London. A long, loud, riotous affair that just zipped by.
(But then April is the cruellest month).
The Beatles wore black suits and sang—I couldn't hear much of anything for the screaming and shouting and cheering. I don't remember much else other than being glad all over just to be there—though the Dave Clark Five weren't exactly my cup of tea. I do remember The Hollies—good and tight—great harmonies. Joe Brown always a joy. It was fun to see Gerry Marsden again—even more cheeky and assured—but looking almost staid next to the high-kicking antics of Freddie Garrity.
Other than The Beatles, of course, the concert's standouts for me were The Rolling Stones—who I'd been seeing regularly at the Ricky Tick Club, at the Star and Garter, in Windsor—and Manfred Mann—with Paul Jones brilliant on 'harp'. Most everyone in the audience showed great respect for Cliff Richard and The Shadows—but even to my addled teenage brain, it was clear that particular pop-music train had long left my station.
The only other memory—and still a little surreal—a filmed message from Elvis—I can still hear the cheer that went up—with 'The King' apologising for not being able to be there—and wishing every success to The Beatles—and all the other acts—most of whom he would have never heard of.
And even though Tom McCardle, one time manager of the Tower Ballroom, up in New Brighton, Wallasey, reckoned Joe Loss and his Orchestra were the cat's whiskers, I have no memory at all of anything he or his orchestra played—other than that they backed Kathy Kirby and Frank Ifield.
ANELLO & DAVIDE | STILL PROUD OF THEIR BEATLE BOOTS—EVEN AFTER ALL THESE YEARS
THE BEATLES YEARS | AND WHY I STILL BELIEVE IN YESTERDAY
As Mark Lewisohn reports in The Complete Beatles Chronicle—following their TV appearance on 'Sunday Night at the London Palladium'—the event that saw the beginning of ‘Beatlemania’—The Beatles were already back 'oop North—the rest of us, down in the Smoke, trying to fill the void they'd left behind.
Which might explain why it was that very, very early the next Saturday morning—19 October, 1963—I was in the queue outside Anello & Davide—Bespoke Shoemakers—'to Theatricals as well as The Gentry'—on Drury Lane, London, about to buy my Beatle Boots.
That's me—7th in line—dark-haired—hands in overcoat pocket—a Mod-cum-Merseybeat in the making—desperate not to be a mere 'Mid' or 'Mocker.' All of 15 years of age, I'd taken that morning's milk train from Slough to Paddington. 'Ticket to ride', indeed. 'Daytripper,' more like it.
I can still see The Beatles at the concert, though, and still do, and often, thanks to video of the event made for television broadcast in the US that's available on DVD and YouTube. I've tried for years to see myself in the audience at the cavernous Empire Pool—but never have. The only person I keep coming back to—a dark haired girl in the crowd—wearing a sleeveless black sweater embroided with the word—'Beatles'—convinced that I saw her standing there—that very afternoon—and that it's her that's always been the model for the character of Sandra Dudley, in The One After 9:09
NME | 1963-64 | ANNUAL POLL-WINNERS ALL-STAR CONCERT |
THE BEATLES - IN MY LIFE
I've been lucky enough to encounter a number of truly inspired teachers—in my life—but in the end The Beatles were—and always will be—the first.
Namaste, John. Namaste, George. Thanks there, Paul. Good on you, Ringo.
What an extraordinary time—even now, looking back across the cavern of years—even though John Lennon later said: "All that happened in The Sixties was…we all dressed up!"
Ah…but what fun and what joy and what wisdoms were there to be had for the asking.
John Lennon once said that when he was much younger he was always looking for someone to believe in his genius—someone who’d say ‘Yes’ to him. Then he realised that first he had to believe it himself—say ‘Yes’ to himself—after which, he never stopped believing that he and The Beatles were destined for the very top.
“Where we going to fellas?”
“To the toppermost,” the three other Beatles would chorus back.
“And which toppermost is that, fellas?”
“The toppermost of the poppermost,” The Beatles would all yell together.
So The Beatles just kept on working. Non-stop. Until they met a man—Brian Epstein—who may or may not have been standing on a flaming pie—who said ‘Yes’. Then they met a second man—George Martin—ditto the flaming pie—who also said ‘Yes’. And—still open and eager to learn—the innate talent—the genius—of both John and Paul—and later George—burst forth with an outpouring of world-shaking creativity. A matter of luck?
Yes. But work, too.
As Picasso once said when asked whether he believed in luck. “Of course…but when it arrives, it must find you working.”
And The Beatles never did stop working—to break through—then break down the barriers—in music as well as thought—right up until the very end. Then—the work of the band done—they each used the heights they’d achieved as the launching platform for their onward journeys. And with one or two of them—their inward journeys, too.
Role models? Yes. Rock ‘n’ roll models? Absolutely.
“The thing about rock ‘n’ roll…good rock ‘n’ roll…is that it is real. You recognise something in it which is true.” — John Lennon
I’ve found there are only two kinds of people in the world. Those that get rock ‘n’ roll and those that don’t—and who never have and never will—whatever their age.
It all comes down to whether or not someone can embrace the very idea of contradiction—of the seeming chaos that comes from questioning any established order of thought—in whatever field or discipline—in their ongoing search for truth.
The rock 'n' roll mind isn't deterred by such chaos—and often openly embraces it as a creative strategy—however oblique—to help solve problems or find answers. And, in time, comes to understand that contradiction isn’t the only result of two opposing forces—seemingly in eternal deadlock—but also a new pathway to new thinking—a third way—with the potential to open the door to new learning—new understanding.
Fanciful? Perhaps. But having once learned from The Beatles that living is easy with eyes closed…all I ever wanted to do, from that point on, was wake up and live…and to stay awake…and not always fall back asleep. And, instead, to journey onward and to question…continually…so that one day I might ‘arrive without travelling…’
Rehearsing a new song with my old chum Neal Bradley | Getting ready to play a village hall in North London c.1973 | These days Neal regularly plays hot jazz at Le QuecumBar in East London