Increasingly BBC 4 seems to be the home of Popular History. (They also have a good line in dramatised versions of the lives of people from popular culture……….such as tonights dramatised version of the life of Kenny Everett).
But Love Me Do…….a documentary……telling the story of the Beatles in 1962 against the background of what was happening in the World (we were on the brink of a nuclear war over Cuban missisles) and in Britain (the mass availaability of the Birth Control Pill in August 1962) or just social conditions …slum housing in and the dream of a council house outside the Centre of City Centres…..resonates as much in Belfast as in Liverpool. Or the fact that Brian Epstein, the Beatles manager was a homosexual….much blackmailed at a time when it was illegal in Britain.
It was also good in telling the story of the Beatles in that seminal year. Returned from Hamburg in Germany, Epstein the manager in a department store (NEMS owned by his family) prided himself that he could obtain any record, no matter how obscure as requested by his customers.
So he found the record “My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean” by Tony Sheridan and the Beatles, recorded in Germany. He sets out to see the Beatles in Liverpools Cavern Club. Is impressed by the noise, music and humour of the Beatles.
Epstein fails to get the Beatles a recording contract with Decca. They had turned up late and hungover and play miserably. They do however fare better at EMI and are signed to Parlophone. But the drummer Pete Best does not impress on the recording of “Love Me Do”. He is sacked by Epstein, John Lennon and Paul McCartney………and another drummer is signed……Ringo Starr. And ironically he does not impress either. The drummer on “Love Me Do” is actually a session musician called Andy White. Ringo merely plays tambourine.
Epstein who may know little about music knows enough about business to know how the Charts works. He orders 10,000 copies of “Love Me Do” which sit in his stock room in Liverpool while the record rises to #17 in the British Charts.
And so the Beatles were established…1962.
Of course 1963 was their breakthru year. And I was ten/eleven years old when “Please Please Me”, “From Me To You” and “She Loves You” took the Pop World by storm. Indeed the Grammar School Years 11-18 (1963 to 1970) are actually the Beatles Years. And even then there is three distinct periods in Beatle Music……..the early “pop” years are my 11-14 years. I was 15 when “Sgt Peeppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” was issued in the Summer of Love (1967) and I was an A Level student at the tired fag end of Beatles creativity. Let It be……as they say.
A few nights ago, BBC4 also showed a documentary about the British Pop Invasion of USA in the early 1960s…….the Beatles, the Animals, the Rolling Stones, the Hollies, Herman’s Hermits and the rest. The teen mania at airports……the reaction of young English men to western USA…….a place they had only seen in the movies and of course to the Deep South which they had only seen on TV News.
A grainy conversation between Peter Noone (Herman in the Hermits) with Graham Nash (from fellow Manchester group the Hollies) shows up the different reaction. Peter Noone was essentially an entertainer who was skeptical about pop musicians having any influence in the world while Graham Nash was heavily involved in the politics of Pop/Rock.
It was suggested it was a difference between getting drunk…….and getting high.
Going back to the Beatles, I was just a year too young to really appreciate “Love Me Do”. Certainly in and around 1963, I was aware that they had made an earlier “unsuccessful” record and of course there wasa lot to be read about the Beatles “back story” (the Pete Best sacking) and Hamburg (but the nature of the Clubs…..drugs, women, that they had encountered in the Red Light District was airbrushed from the early 1960s narrative). They were cheeky chappies…..the Fab Four from Liverpool.
In the early-mid 1960s there were three hundred “pop” groups in Liverpool. The Merseybeats, the Fourmost, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Freddie and the Dreamers, Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas, the Swinging Blue Jeans among them. Brian Epstein managed several and they all had modest or great success.
One of the contributors tonight summed it up. Liverpool is an ordinary place. Growing up in the 1950s or living thru the Merseybeat………nobody really in that city had any real idea that Liverpool would have a world wide influence or reputation.
And curiously thats how I feel about living in the 1960s in Belfast. Or indeed the 1970s. I had no idea that in some way I was part of something………historic.