Monday, July 25, 2022

Focal Point


Focal Point performs at the Cavern Club 

I read this article about the Apple Records group, Focal Point, in the Beatles Unlimited Magazine from January/February 2007 and found it to be really interesting. I thought I'd share it with all of you here on MTBFR.   I was part of the "Ditz' Column," which was written by Rene van Haarlem.

Until now, the story of the Focal Point has not been too clear, rumors that Brian Epstein chose their name is one theory, sadly the group only recorded one single and like so many bands no more was heard.  It's time for Paul Tennant to tell us the story. 

(From this point on, it is Paul Tennant speaking)

In 1960, I began playing guitar seriously, having dabbled for a year or two.  My school was very close to the old Casbah in Liverpool and my best friend at school was a guy called Dave Aspinall, brother of Neil.  We would go to the Casbah and watch The Beatles at their birth.  During the following years, I followed them around Liverpool at all the documented venues, learning how they could control an audience.  They were quite phenomenal.  Since then, I have seen many bands live:  The Stones, The Who, The Move, you name it.  I have seen them, but The Beatles were the best rock and roll band I have ever seen.  Second to none.

From 1960 to 1966 I played around Liverpool in various bands, me going one way and The Beatles going another.  I lost contact over the years with Dave Aspinall.  I then met with Dave Rhodes in a club called the Labamba in Liverpool, and we quickly became friends.  He was in a band called the Maracas, and I was with somebody else -- whose name escapes me.  We decided we should begin writing songs, which we did.  The first efforts were pretty pathetic, but we kept on going, and in the end, we felt we had some acceptable offerings.  He left his band, and I left mine, and we formed a band called Obsession.  We played around Liverpool at most of the big venues.  We were like most of the bands at that time. We played all the old classics with one or two of our original songs.  The band did not last too long, as Dave and I spent most of our time writing and chasing women.  We then formed another band called The Big Lox Blue Band, an ambitious effort really.  We had a full brass section with keyboards, bass, two guitars and drums, and Dave and I.  I spent some time at the disbanding of this band with a band called The Almost Blues, which was formed by a good friend of mine called Alan Peters, but I did not stay for long.  Dave and I carried on writing.  It got to the point where we needed to move on to the next stage, but we did not know what the next stage was.  Where do you go with your songs?  Studios and four-track machines in those days were out of our league. 

It was then in the summer of 1967 -- early May, to be exact that we decided to take a holiday in Torquay with a couple of days in London.  We hired a car and set off for the big smoke.  Purely by accident in the car on the way down the conversation got around to Paul McCartney and where he lived.  There was an article in a magazine that showed pictures of stars and their houses, and there was Paul's house with a lovely picture, saying it was around the corner from Lords. Well, as we were driving into London, we saw a sign that said "Lords Cricket Ground," so off we went looking for Paul's house.  It took us about 2 minutes to find, there are not too many houses backing onto it.  We knew which house Paul lived in due to a large amount of girls hanging about outside.  So there we sat, looking and taking it all in.  We had never seen this much grandeur.  Then all of a sudden the gates opened and a Mini shoots out and away.

Without a second thought we were on his tail, and there in the back of the car was a large sheepdog, but we couldn't see who was in the front seat.  Now I was holding onto the Mini, thought lights, round corners I never let it out of my sight, and then before you could say Jack Robinson we were at Hyde Park.  The Mini stopped and out stepped Paul -- let the dog out and waved to the drive -- Jane Asher and he was walking the dog. Well, Dave looked at me, and I looked at him, and we both looked at our other friend, Peter McKenna (a childhood friend of mine), and we all reached the same conclusion.  We would follow him and tell him about our songs.  It was just like that.  We abandoned the car and went off in hot pursuit.  We caught Paul and up we shouted to him and he turned around.  We then told him our story-- we were writing songs and didn't know what to do with them. Could he help?  Could he help?  This is an understatement.  He could have done anything at that time.  The Beatles were like gods.  After about 5 minutes of talking to each other, he said to us, "I could get you a recording contract just like that," and flicked his fingers, "But why should I?"  It was then that he proved to be a human by planting a finger up his nostril.  Dave laughed, and he laughed.  Dave then said to him in answer to his question, "Because we are good.  Our songs are good."  It was just like that.  Paul then wrote down on a piece of paper a phone number and gave it to us.  "Phone this guy and tell him I sent you," said Paul, and he was then gone, carrying on walking the dog.   The phone number was the number for Terry Doran.  

To cut a long story short, we then drove to Torquay and spent a week in the sun, met some girls, and had a ball, but we did not have the bottle to make the phone call.  Eventually, when we got back to Liverpool, Dave and I phoned Terry.  Terry listened and told us Paul had told him we were going to ring and when could we go down to London.  We arranged to meet him in a couple of days. 

The address was Curzon Street.  Dave, Peter, and I then went down on the overnight bus from Liverpool and went to the address.  Our first meeting with Terry Doran was amazing, really.  The office of Apple was tiny, just one room.  On the door there was a cardboard notice just with the word "Apple."  They were in the same building as Radio Luxembourg.  Dratleaf and Abigail Publishing occupied their next-door offices.  They both handled the Bee Gees and The Cream.  Terry was the original hippy with a haircut like Bob Dylan, and he had on a lime green suit.  We were quickly put at ease and surprised to learn he was a Liverpudlian just like us.  We told him the story, and he said, "Let's hear what you have written." Out came the guitars and we sang four of our best songs to him, just like that.  He asked us to play them again, and we did.  He said he liked our songs and would like to get an acetate done of them. 

He picked up the phone and phoned a small studio on Denmark Street called Central Sound.  We then went for some lunch and then jumped into a taxi and went along to the studio.  Dave and I put down four songs all in one take, just two guitars and both of us singing.  The results were excellent, and we were really surprised.  Terry was over the moon, saying how he liked our stuff.  We went out for dinner to Flannagan's, a restaurant on Baker Street, and then back to Terry's house in Esher.  This was quite amazing, really. On our drive back, he told us about Apple and how The Beatles were forming this company, and it was going to change the world.  Terry was in charge.  We were the first artists he had, and he was very excited.  Back at Terry's house, which was owned by John Lennon, we sat and had some drinks, and then Terry started smoking a joint.  This was all new to us, but we took to it like a duck to water.  Terry then got on the phone and started raving on about our songs to whoever was on the other end of the line.  He was really going over the top.  After he hung up, he said he was going out and taking the songs around to John's house for his opinion.  "Make yourself at home.  I'll be back later.  Do whatever you want, drinks are over there."  Well, we got as high as a kite and sat back listening to Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde album, and before you knew it Terry was back.  "John loves your songs.  He is absolutely going mad over them," said Terry.  We were again gob-smacked.  He was the greatest songwriter in the world, and he was saying he liked our songs and was raving over them!  "He wants me to play them to Brian."

It was now about midnight and Terry then got on the phone to Brian Epstein.  We could hear him telling the story to Brian, about the songs and what John had said.  "Brian wants to hear them now," said Terry.  With that, he was gone at that late hour.  Well, we all crashed and were awoken in the morning with Terry Doran making tea.  He was in a pillar-box red suit and again was going on about Brian's reaction.  "Brian agrees with John, your songs are fantastic; he loves the one called 'Miss Sinclair's Courtship.'  John likes the one called 'Except Me'."  Again to cut a long story short we were then driven to Euston Station, this time Terry was driving a black Mini.  We later found out it belonged to George Harrison.  It had blacked-out windows.  It was really the ultimate poseur's car.  He gave us a ten-pound note - a lot of money then and told us to phone him.  We got back to Liverpool and told the story to everybody.  Ultimately we were now in with the biggest clan and clique since Frank Sinatra's Rat Pack.  Terry phoned and told us he had spoken to Brian and John and they wanted to sign us to a five-year publishing deal with Apple Publishing.  Brian also suggested that we should form a band. He wanted to call us Focal Point.  At that point, Focal Point was born, named by Brian Epstein, and Terry Doran suggested he manage us.  More importantly, when were we going back down with more songs?  Terry said not to bring any guitars as he would sort something out for us.  Terry booked some more studio time, and we went down.  Again the same scene, into a studio, back to Terry's house, more conversations with The Beatles and Brian.  We borrowed guitars from The Beatles for the session, quite amazing.  This time, we stayed about a week, meeting loads of people who dropped into Terry's house.  These included Graham Nash, Mick Jagger, Jenny Boyd, Geroge Harrison, Mal Evans, Pete Shotton, and John Lennon himself.  It was pretty amazing, really.  I told John and Goerge how I used to follow them around Liverpool.  We now firmly had our feet under the table. 

Then, out of the blue, Brian Epstein dies.  We thought things would change, but nothing did.  It was pretty bad, really, because Brian was beginning to take an interest in us in a big way, and he said he wanted to get us moving just like he did with The Beatles.  We were just like "the boys" as he called The Beatles. 

Apple moved to Baker Street, and the company really started to move.  Dave and I signed long-term contracts and continued to look for musicians for our band.  We continued going back and forth from Liverpool to London.  The same each time we'd stay with Terry, get stoned, go out to dinner, out to the Speakeasy, meet people like Jonathan King, The Hollies, Marty Feldman, The Animals, Alan Price, Stevie Windwood, Keith Moon, The Walker Brothers.  Apple sent us to Vidal Sasson for hair styling and then down the Kings Road to a shop called Dandy Fashion -- where the Beatles bought all their clothes.  We were now like two little pop stars, and when we got back to Liverpool, it showed.  We found the guys we wanted in our band.  Dave Slater -- bass played with a band called The Top, Tim Well - keyboard - from the same band, and Ted Hesketh - drums from Dave's old band, The Maracas.  After they heard our story, they were all in, and quickly, we were off to London.  The other guys all signed deals with Apple.  Terry was working on getting us a recording contract. 

We were then introduced to Lionel Morton, who was with The Four Pennies.  He had been employed by Terry as a producer at Apple.  Focal Point then spent several months recording at the studios in Apple with Lionel Morton recording us.  Terry agreed that he and Lionel would manage us jointly as he was getting involved with another band that had arrived on the scene, Grapefruit. 

We would spend hours into the night putting down all our songs, and sometimes, late at night, Terry would come back with John Lennon.  Well, we would give him some sick, some real Liverpool banter.  John would love this.  He also always showed a liking for our music.  He loved some of the songs Dave and I had written.  The band moved to London and Apple got us a house in Highbury.  We were recording every day.  Whenever we needed equipment, we would take a taxi over to Abbey Road and borrow anything from The Beatles.  They had a room in Abbey Road where they would keep everything and guess who was given the key?  We would help ourselves -- there are some stories here which I will leave for another time.  Terry secured us contracts with MGM, Liberty, EMI, and Deram.  We had the choice as to whom we would sign with.  In the end, we decided on Deram, mainly because Wayne Bickerton -- the chosen producer was Liverpudlian.  A stupid decision, really.  We could have had Terry Melcher or Glyn John producing.  No disrespect to Wayne, whom I see for lunch about once or twice a year.  We were also at this time working with Jackie Lomax, as a backing band for him, rehearsing at Apple for an album Jackie was making.  We became good friends and did the album at -- though the memory is a bit smoky -- either Trident or Olympic Studios.  We had Klaus Vormann on bass, with me and Jackie on guitar, Tim on keyboards, and Ted on bass.  Glyn John was producing.  We got to meet with so many people. 

We could however see at this time the beginning of the end of Apple -- in the format, it had become.  Terry was becoming more distant, spending more time with Grapefruit.  

We recorded our single for Deram.  Four tracks were recorded, "Never Never, "Girl on a Corner," "Love You Forever," and "Sycamore Sid."  The one we all wanted out as a single was "Never Never," but the really tacky Decca committee decided on the safe bet.  "Never Never" was a really psychedelic piece of music with a Boeing 747 taking off at the beginning and end of this fantastic song.  Brian Epstein always wanted us to record "Miss Sinclair's Courtship", but we never did.  I do know Alan Price recorded it and at the last minute decided to do "Simon Smith and His Amazing Dancing Bear".

Apple and Decca put on a fantastic launch party in the West End.  It was attended by hundreds of people, with us playing the four songs.  Apple kitted the band out with all new clothes and new equipment courtesy of Vox.  We were bitterly disappointed that Terry Doran -- who was there right at the beginning never made the reception.  Lionel attended with his wife, Julie Foster, who was making quite a name for herself in the movies.  Half a Sixpence with Tommy Steele and Alfie with Michael Caine.  We felt like stars that night, with a million cameras pointed at us.  We then signed a management deal with NEMS, moved to another house in East Dulwich, and carried on recording at Apple.  We then could see the bubble definitely beginning to burst.  Mike Berry had been brought into Apple and Jack Oliver was making himself seen, and Terry was spending less and less time with us.  We would see John Lennon and George from time to time at the Baker STreet offices, also Paul and Ringo, but things were different. 

Focal Point then went on a tour up north playing with such people as Stevie Windwood, Peter Frampton, and the New Yardbirds - to become Led Zepplin, Alan Price, and Chris Farlowe.

The band then decided they had had enough of London, the record was not a success.  It sold reasonably well but not what we expected.  On June 29, 1968, I remember the date because it is my birthday, we deiced we would not go back to London until they spent more time with us.  Our road manager, a guy called Brian Rooney, phoned Paul McCartney up and was told it best to stay away for a time, as there were problems.  This we did.  We took Paul at his word and the rest as they say...

The band split up in the summer of 1969.  We had been there and done it, seen it, bought the T-shirt, and more.  I am in business with Tim and Dave Slater with Focal Point Music Publishing.  We have an extensive catalog with several other writers signed, and we hope to go on from here. Dave Rhodes is a lecturer in mental nursing up North ni Morpeth.  Ted Hesketh disappeared after a spell with the Merseybeats.  He had never been seen since.  Our road manager, Brian Rooney, went with Ringo for a while and then with Tina Turner and then Donna Summer, but I have not seen him for a long time. 

You will appreciate there are lots of things that I have had to leave out due to time and space and I feel our story could be a small book in its own right.  I have seen Terry Doran on several occasions, just to have a pint with him and talk about old times.  In the 80s when he was working as George Harrison's PA, I did go and stay at Friar Park for a few days with Terry and met George once again.  I have not seen Lionel Morton since 1987.  That is the true -- condensed version of Focal Point. 

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