I was on Merseyside, during the formative years of the Beatles, 1960-64, then I came over to the US of A, in 1965. The significance of this will become apparent, later in this narrative.
In the beginning, the Beatles were rowdy and unkempt, but even then they had a special, as yet undeveloped presence. It’s hard to explain, but I’ll do my best. I remember seeing them at the Casbah, one night. There music was a mixture of skiffle, Chuck Berry/Carl Perkins Rock’n'Roll and a couple of sweet songs that Paul would sing. Because we were all just starting, there was a likeness with bands doing many of the same songs, in pretty much the same way. That was not unusual as our musical ineptness held a tight rein on our progress. It wasn’t until, maybe 1961, that I started to see the Beatles starting to develop a distinctive way of doing their music – a sound and style.
For me, it came off as a sort of arrogance that they had. Not really in a bad way, more like a sureness in themselves and in their music. We all developed this attribute to some degree or other as we went along, and as our teenaged peers recognized our newfound musical talents. But, in the Beatles there was something different. They were a special package were all the parts – the songs, their playing, their attitudes both on and off stage, and the way the dressed – all became part of the same thing.
It wasn’t until a year later that, with their increased local popularity and the appearance on the scene of Brian Epstein, the path ahead of them seemed golden. Now, remember I’m still speaking ‘golden’ in a local context: Merseyside and the outlying towns and maybe even the whole of England (they’d already done a tour with Johnny Gentle), if things went really well. When “Love Me Do” came out, this only seemed to heighten what we already expected to happen, but world domination was still way beyond anybody’s comprehension. As we all know, their records sold and they caught the attention of Great Britain, and then the whole World.
I was in New York when their music evolved to that level, and beyond. It’s a very interesting story of how I first heard some of the as yet unreleased tracks from the “Sgt. Pepper” album:
One afternoon, I got a call from Eppy, who was in New York on Business. He said that he was calling to invite me to join a small group of friends for dinner at Max’s Kansas City, a well-known steakhouse, in lower Manhattan. He asked me to come over to where he was staying, at the Park Avenue apartment of his lawyer, Nat Weiss, as he had some acetates that he wanted to play for me. So I went over to Nat Weiss’ apartment, early as instructed, to meet Eppy.
By way of explanation with regard to my casual friendship with Eppy: At first, everyone thought Brian Epstein was a joke. He was from a completely different place in the class structure. Simply put: He was brought up while we were drug up. Please excuse the Scouse vernacular – Drug as in dragged. He spoke terribly far back with a cultured air of nonchalance, which my dictionary tells me means, “having an air of easy unconcern or indifference”. He was also quite effeminate and at first we thought that this was just his “upper crustiness”, as described above. Then we sussed out that he was bent, the term ‘gay’ having no other meaning, at that time, than bountifully happy.
He was the sort of person who, if you left him alone, went away. I mean he didn’t bother any of us, for which was just as well. As we got to see him around, and his involvement with the Beatles started to bear fruit, due to his hard work, we sort of took a liking to him.
Moving right along… Upon my arrival at the upscale Manhattan apartment, we quickly caught up on the last couple of years, while smoking some hashish. Eppy, as usual, smartly attired and debonair had a drink of something or other, and offered me one. I didn’t drink anything except the occasional beer, so I made do with the Hash. After about 20 minutes of small-talk, he said that the boys would be interested in my thoughts on what he was about to play me. I said “Okay!”, having no reason to suspect that I was about to have my mind blown.
The playback setup, laughable by today’s standards, consisted of one of those sixties type record players were the lid came off and broke into two pieces with small speakers in each. Eppy put on the first acetate which was “A Day In The Life”. I have to admit that I didn’t know what I was listening to – it was beyond any musical experience that I’d ever had. Remember, I was hearing this without the benefit of any previous hype or description AND under the influence of an illegal substance. I asked him to play it for me again, so that I might somehow put ‘it’ and the Beatles…people that I knew…in the same context. Surely this was not John, Paul, George and Ringo…yes, the same ones as were in the Beatles, from dirty old, backward Liverpool? We listened to “A Day In The Life” four times. Each time I tried to make sense of it all, but I was stunned. The intensity of the music, the immense wall of sound that the wonderful orchestration introduced, the incredible musical accomplishment.
Eppy next put on “When I’m 64″ which instantly made me laugh as it was so traditionally, English Music Hall. Or maybe, in truth, because it was something I could relate to? At first, I thought that it was John singing, but Eppy said no, it was Paul. I’ve since learned that the track was VSO’d down (the tape slowed down when the vocal was recorded) so that when played back, Paul’s voice was noticeably higher in pitch. By this time I was completely confused. First off, the Beatles doing music that I had nowhere to hang my musical ‘hat’ and right after that doing a comical Music Hall style song. I didn’t think that it was weird…I was too far gone for that. I was amazed at their… I want to say progress, but it even wasn’t that… I was amazed at their music and what they had become.
The last acetate that Brian played for me was the BeeGees “New York Mining Disaster 1941″. This also was beyond the norm of the times, and played alongside the Beatles cuts that I’d already heard only seemed to add to the weirdness of the moment. It was, for me, a moment when music was changed forever.
© 2004 Christopher Huston