Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Chasing Their Idols

"three Beatle People, Lorna Docherty, Helen Bell and Janet Kerr, show their appreciation of the boys at Belfast ABC cinema in November 1963.

This article about Beatle fans was written by Tony Barrow and was published in the May 1998 issue of the Beatle Book Monthly. I think it has some interesting things in it, although I do think Tony sort of goes all over the place with the article. Lots of jumping around on the topic, but still neat. Included are some of the photos that went along with the article in the magazine.
Chasing their idols
It was one of the group’s rare days off during their strenuous summer concert tour of north America in 1965. The Beatles were relaxing beside a kidney-shaped outdoor pool at the back of their rented two-story bungalow in the hills above Los Angeles. Roadie Mal Evans had challenged several of the boys to see who could keep a ciggie alight in his mouth the longest while swimming to and fro across the pool. The rest of us stood round cheering them on and splashing water in their faces.
Above us in a clear deep-blue Californian sky, we heard the whirling of another low-flying helicopter, which we took to be fetching in yet another batch of television reporters to spy on the goins on by the pool. Suddenly, a shrill voice called out through the air, “Paul, I love you! Paul, you’re wonderful!” Ringo, striking one of his daft poses in a borrowed bathrobe that was a couple of sizes too big for him, turned to Paul and remarked with a straight face, “Your lips didn’t move when you said that. How did you do that?” Paul’s mouth opened wide in mock astonishment as the others laughed. Then we looked up and the truth dawned on us. A chorus of Beatles cried out simultaneously: “Fans! Fantastic!”
A teenage girl was leaning out of the helicopter, waving frantically at the Fab Four with one hand and holding in the other the type of horn-shaped loud-hailer that airborne cops used to shout through when they were in hot pursuit of runaway criminals. “There’s a bear in the air,” commented John jovially, “but it’s Beatles People up there, not the local busies!” John, Paul, George and Ringo had unanimously adopted the nickname of “Beatle people” to describe their fans. It was a catchphrase I had given them to use at a recording session for one of their first fan club Christmas records.
We found out the full story behind the flying visits later in the day. Several Los Angeles fans had rented a helicopter for a few hours and ordered the pilot to circle the Benedict Canyon area until they spotted our temporary hillside hideaway. The kids couldn’t afford one of those big jobs you see in Vietnam war action movies, so they hired a small one which would only take one of them at a time to swoop down on the Beatles.
The helicopter’s rotating blades caused lots of little ripples on the surface of the pool water as it hovered 30 or 40 feet off the ground, whilst its passengers took snaps of the boys or shouted down messages of passionate endearment. Far from being annoyed by these adventurous visitors, the Beatles were full of admiration for the girls’ ingenuity. The episode amused the boys immensely and they waved back to each of the girls in turn, shading their eyes from the blazing sun as they gazed upwards. There was no security risk because the helicopter couldn’t possibly have landed on the steeply sloping hillside.
Until the first helicopter girl arrived, the group had given first prize for enterprise and bravery to a dozen or so girls who managed to scramble up the hillside, scratching sun-tanned bare legs on the thorny bushes but ignoring the pain in their desire to reach the boys. Our guards tried to discourage their dangerous climb, but the Beatles egged them on with shouts of “come on love, you can do it!” “You’re nearly there, don’t give up now!”
The helicopter episode was one of the many marvelous demonstrations of extreme fan devotion which I witnessed during my six or so years as the Beatles’ publicist, traveling the world with them in the Beatlemania years and beyond. Another much more simple yet equally crazy example happened 18 months earlier when a British fan sent George a complete wooden door to mark his 21st birthday, saying on the accompanying card, “I bet you’ve been getting hundreds of silver keys from fans so here’s a real door to open with them!”
I used to be asked by journalist to describe the differences in fans we found in various parts of the world. In fact, they were much the same wherever we went, except for local customs – in instance, the Japanese girls waved handkerchiefs, while the audiences in continental European territories tended to shriek and scream less than the Americans and would listen more attentively to the music. European audiences had more boys in them. American audiences had more young girls, many only just into their teens.
By 1965 things got rougher, as some of the Beatles’ followers became even more determined to get closer to their idols. Abroad, particularly, we noticed that some girls were actually fighting between themselves to get better positions outside hotels and concert venues where the boys were staying or appearing. A few were prepared to do almost anything in order to get a personal souvenir. If they actually got close enough to the boys they would grab at their clothing and hair. Occasionally, some would even manage to pull buttons off or, worse, pluck out small clumps of a mop-top fringe, which was pretty painful for the Beatle concerned. Once I remember Ringo saying only semi-facetiously that he’d have to wear a Beatle wig on future tours if the trend went any further.
There was an obvious evolution in the way Beatle People reacted to the boys over the years. Merseysiders in their home city would claim that they enjoyed the best of the Beatles before the band became world-famous. Certainly, the close relationship between the group and their fans during those early days was quite unique – and decidedly heart-warming. The Beatles weren’t pop idols in 1961 and 1962, just a very popular and exciting local group, so there was plenty of physical contact with them. They dated their hometown fans and took them out to the pictures or to the pubs just like other boys.
When the Beatles played at the Cavern or one of the other city clubs, Liverpool girls could watch them from only a few feet away and the boys would look at particular fans as they sang their songs. In the Cavern, the audience sat on wooden chairs on the rows placed immediately in front of the band, or watched from benches in the alcove to one side of the small low stage. From the front row, they could actually reach out and touch the toes of a black Beatle boot or stroke the leather-clad legs of their favourite without any guards or minders yelling at them. It’s not surprising that some of those early fans of the top Liverpool bands turned into lovers and few went on to become wives – including Maureen Cox, who married Ringo, and fan club secretary Pauline Behan, who became Mrs. Gerry Marden.
The Beatles knew scores of their fans by their first names and handed out their home phone numbers willingly to the favoured few they fancied. There must be many women on Merseyside who nurture precious memories of petting intimately with Paul or snogging ravenously with George in the dark recesses of the Cavern’s many little nooks and crannies after a show was over and the place was relatively deserted.
Everything changed, or course, when the group’s recording career took off and their fame spread around the world. Once their records started selling, the group moved to London, the relationship between the Beatles and their Liverpool fans couldn’t stay the same. Sadly, for some the passionate and fanatical (that’s where the word fan comes from) adoration turned to a sort of sour jealousy when they realisd that they had to share their Beatles with millions of other fans around the world, who were prepared to give the boys just as much loyalty and devotion as any of the original Beatle followers in the Cavern.
As soon as “Please please me” hit the charts, the applications for fan club membership poured in even faster. Although Brian has been criticized for failing to make much money out of merchandising the Beatles, the truth is that, unlike most other pop group managers, he made a deliberate decision very early on to protect the boys from an overkill of exploitation and “hard-sell” marketing. He told the boys, “Your product is your music. Let’s just stick with that and not start acting like market stall traders on the strength of your popularity.” The result of his decisions was that all the Beatles’ fan clubs both in Britain and abroad were subsidized out of the group’s earnings and Epstein’s management percentage. The income from subscription fees barely covered the staff’s payroll or the cost of postage, let alone printing, office overheads and “specials” like the annual production of an exclusive Christmas record for free distribution through the fan club.
I suppose the biggest difference between the Beatles fans of the 1960’s and those of the 1990’s is the fact that today’s fans can’t see the Fab Four in live performance and therefore the type of questions they ask are not the same as those most commonly raised in the early days.
One early fan letter back in 1963 from June Davies in Yorkshire asked for information on obtaining tickets to see the Beatles in Blackpool and details of ticket prices. The answer was, “Write to or call at the theatre box office, prices vary from 4/6 (less than 25p) to 10/6 (just over 50p).
Sheila Barry of London SW1 received her 1963 Fan club Christmas record ten days before the holiday and wrote that she “never stopped playing it to all my friends.” Apart from wanting detailed information on recordings, Beatle People wanted to know what each of the boys liked and disliked, their favorite types of girl, the foods and drinks they enjoyed the most and the artists they admired. Londoner Kathy Heard wrote, “Help! Please I must have the recipe for jam butties. Can any of the Beatles come to my rescue? Ringo replied, “Take two slices of bread, butter them, add jam and munch away” (Butties and sarnies were and are the “scouse” slang words for sandwiches.)
A constantly recurring question was “Who writes the words and who does the tunes?” Nobody asks that nowadays because most people know that, although the composer credits on the record label always read “Lennon & McCartney,” both John and Paul used to write both the music and lyrics. Many of those who love the Beatles music in 1998 were born after the group disbanded in 1970, so their appreciation is based solely on the records they hear, the archive film they watch and the words they read in publications such as this. It is truly remarkable that millions of young Beatle People in the 1990s are just as loyal to John, Paul, George and Ringo as the generation that grew up with them all those years ago. Some contemporary critics may try to put this down to the general stand of pop music in the 1990s, but the real answer lies in the songs written by Lennon & McCartney (and occasionally George) which the foursome recorded.
In a record cover sleeve-note for The Beatles Hits in September 1963, I wrote, “The four numbers on this EP have been selected from the Lennon & McCartney songbook. If that description sounds a trifle pompous perhaps I may suggest your preserve this sleeve for ten years, exhume it from your collection somewhere, around the middle of 1973 and write me a very nasty letter if the pop people of the Seventies aren’t talking about at least two of these title as “early examples of modern Beat standards taken from the Lennon & McCartney Songbook.” Two of the tracks on that EP were “Please please me” and “Love me do” which are both played regularly today by Beatle People and radio DJs. Even I completely under-estimated their staying power!

1 comment:

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