It’s January 1, and as previous years may show, it’s the day when once again I decide I should use this blog as an outlet for musings, memories, facts, fiction, views on all things musical. However, this year may (I stress may – the mind is fickle) be the start of something different. When in 1998 I retired after 31 years in the music business, I foolishly told everyone that I was going to write a book about the British music business. Little did I know a) that this would be a work without end project, and b) that retirement would quickly bring diversions, attractions and other time-filling pursuits that over time sent this plan to the back burner. As a result, over 80 interviews, a moderate amount of research and my own experiences have languished, some in draft form within the chapters of the book, most as transcripts which my loving wife typed from mini disc to a now defunct computer.
So, what I do with all this is ultimately still undecided in my brain. But, stimulated initially by having just finished my friend Mark Lewisohn’s brilliant Beatles’ Vol.1. opus, I returned to my manuscript. I decided (wisely or otherwise) that The Beatles would form its introduction. So here’s an initial extract….
Preface -The Beatles – the act nobody wanted!
“What a stupid name for a band – and now you look back and could they ever have been called anything else” (Tim Blackmore)
More words have been written about The Beatles than anyone has life left to read. But if there is one example above all other of the way in which the music business has succeeded despite itself, it is with The Beatles. Put simply, they could not get a record contract. Manager Brian Epstein was an important name to record companies. As proprietor of NEMS Record shops in Liverpool and local chairman of the Retailers’ association, the four major record companies – EMI, Decca, Pye and Philips needed his co-operation. So he was listened to wherever he went, but when it came to touting a new band which had never played live in London, rejected as well.
One of the problems was that The Beatles was a group that played and sang – something quite new to the UK. All earlier bunches of musicians were either jazz bands or skiffle groups, or were essentially a lead singer with backing musicians who occasionally, like The Shadows and The Tornados, were allowed to make an instrumental single or two themselves. There were groups aplenty in America, though there too, few played as well as singing. And anyway, in 1962 America was quite definitely another world, one still largely based on songs and songwriters, with little desire to build an international career for their new rock’n’roll artists, other than through the constantly touring cinema and ballroom package shows. Everyone lived from single to single and even the bill toppers had to make do with a twenty-minute slot. These were the days before the LP, before television became a true force, and before global success became a financial necessity.
Another problem was laziness on the part of the record companies. Or rather, they were so spoilt for choice in London they felt no need to travel further than Soho’s “2 I’s” coffee bar to seek new talent. That’s where they’d “found” Tommy Steele and Cliff Richard, the two biggest new British stars of the late fifties, and that’s where all the hopefuls gathered to join the queue. With only four companies, each with a growing number of American labels to deal with, there was a limit to the new British names needed. Also the business was in London – the companies were all there, the songs publishers were all there, and the radio station was there.
Then there was The Beatles’ demonstration tape itself. Recorded at Decca’s West Hampstead Studios on January 1, 1962 under the supervision of A&R assistant Mike Smith, the fifteen tracks embraced only three Lennon & McCartney recordings, the rest being the then ritual cover versions of American hits of the previous ten years.
Rejected by Decca, Pye and Oriole following earlier “pass” letters from the Columbia and HMV labels at EMI, Epstein resorted to his friends at retail. It was at the suggestion of Bob Boast, manager of the HMV shop in London’s Oxford Street, that Epstein substituted the 15-track tape for 78rpm discs, a service provided by the shop. The cutting engineer Jim Foy expressed an interest and, on learning that three of the songs were original, directed Brian to EMI’s publishing company, Ardmore and Beechwood, located upstairs. Ardmore & Beechwood’s General manager Sid Coleman heard the songs, realised that George Martin, head of EMI’s ‘novelty’ label Parlophone, was the one recording manager at EMI not to have passed judgement, and an appointment was made on 13 February, 1962. The rest……….eventually, is history. Love me do was first recorded at Abbey Road on June 6, 1962, though not, as is well documented, with Pete Best on drums. What is not so well documented is that George Martin was not there either, the session being conducted by his assistant Ron Richards. Only when engineer Norman Smith suggested that George be present did the relationship, and the legend, begin.