Roger McGough reads “Blazing Fruit or The Poet as Entertainer,” and talks to critic Michael Billington about his approach to writing poetry.
McGough came to fame in the 1960s, along with Brian Patten and the late Adrian Henri, as part of the Liverpool Poets. Their seminal volume of collected poems The Mersey Sound, brought poetry out of the academies and into the coffee-houses, bars, and working men’s clubs of swinging England. As McGough said at the time:
The kids didn’t see this poetry with a capital p, they understood it as modern entertainment, as part of the pop-movement.
Associated with The Beatles, as part of the “Liverpool Explosion,” McGough went onto form the popular music, comedy and poetry group The Scaffold, with comic John Gorman, and Paul McCartney’s brother, Mike McGear, which famously led to a number 1 hit “Lily the Pink” in 1968. McGough later teamed-up with Neil Innes for GRIMMS, and since the mid-1970s has been one of Britain’s best known and best loved poets.
This is what cultural revolution looked like in the early 1960s: youngsters dancing in a cramped television studio, as smartly dressed men and women mime love songs.
From its opening line: “The weekend starts here!” Ready, Steady, Go! was one of the most revolutionary and influential programs on British TV.
Between 1963 and 1966, Ready, Steady, Go! brought pioneering performances by the biggest pop names to millions of homes across the country. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Dusty Springfield, Lulu, The Animals, Cilla Black, Gerry and The Pacemakers, The Searchers, and even Peter Cook & Dudley Moore—who later parodied the show in their film Bedazzled.
The miming eventually stopped in April 1965, after the show moved to a bigger studio and artists were asked to play live—most notably now legendary sets by The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Manfred Mann and The Walker Brothers. It gave the show an immediacy and power its rivals could only dream about, but by 1966, as the beat revolution moved on, Ready, Steady, Go! was canceled.
Ready, Steady, Go! had an unprecedented influence on shaping musical taste, and youth fashion, and in 2011, The Kinks’ Ray Davies paid homage to RSG! with a recreation of the show at the Meltdown Festival.
Save for the Kennedy assassination, coincidence has perhaps never coagulated with the same deeply improbable intensity as it did around the Manson killings.
Stranger still is the manner in which coincidence seems to knit the Tate/LaBianca murders together with both Rosemary’s Baby (a great film) and “the White Album” (a great record), as if all three were somehow of a piece—and in a sense that goes beyond the former’s being directed by Polanski, or the latter’s inspiring Manson’s derided “Helter Skelter” scenario.
Take, as a mere appetizer, the possibility that the Beatles may have stayed (and dropped acid) at 10050 Cielo Drive in the mid-sixties, something (apparently unwittingly) implied by John Lennon during a 1974 Rolling Stone interview.
And then, well, we just decided to take LSD again in California…We were on tour, in one of those houses, like Doris Day’s house or wherever it was we used to stay. And the three of us took it. Ringo, George and I… And a couple of the Byrds… Crosby and the other guy, who used to be the leader… McGuinn. I think they came round, I’m not sure, on a few trips.
Terry Melcher, of course, was Doris Day’s son, the Byrds’ producer, Manson’s almost-producer, and Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski’s predecessor at 10050 Cielo Drive.
In normal circumstances, Mother Superior could very well be accused of having jumped the gun were we to therefore conclude that the Beatles probably had sat turning their minds inside-out within the very walls that would—a few years later—have their as-yet unwritten song-titles scrawled upon them in blood (as if the killers were tracing indentations made by psychic shrapnel). Circumstances, however, are anything but normal…
In the spring of 1968—a handful of years after those mooted sojourns at Cielo Drive—the Beatles made their pilgrimage to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Valley of the Saints in Rishikesh, part of a sparkling celebrity coterie that included Mia Farrow and Mike Love. For the next couple of months, the days were mostly spent in epic bouts of Transcendental Meditation, as the Maharishi attempted to guide the most famous men in the world—who he himself described as “angels”—towards “total consciousness.” The Beatles, though, would spend much of their spare time writing songs – particularly Lennon, who found they were veritably “pouring out.”
Many of these new tunes would find their way onto the Beatles’ next LP, “the White Album.” One such was Lennon’s “Dear Prudence,” which playfully chided Prudence Farrow, Mia Farrow’s sister, for excessive metaphysical studiousness.
Mia Farrow herself had only recently completed filming Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. Her exquisite performance as Rosemary—a resident of New York’s Dakota building, impregnated with an anti-Christ by a coven of neighboring witches—surely meant she arrived in the Valley of the Saints carrying some very interesting inner baggage. Certainly her stay would leave its mark on history—most chroniclers ascribing some rumored sexual impropriety (or worse) on the part of the Maharishi towards Farrow as being the principal reason for Lennon and Harrison’s (the last remaining Beatles) acrimonious departure that August.
Lennon later claimed that, while packing his bags, he came up with the rudiments of another tune destined for “the White Album,” “Sexy Sadie,” four syllables that supplanted the original—and extremely libelous—“Maharishi.” The same four syllables would also find themselves supplanting the name of Manson Family Tate/LaBianca murderess Susan Atkins—known in the Family as “Sadie Mae Glutz” prior to Manson’s fateful encounter with “the White Album.” Before falling in with Manson, Atkins was an associate of Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan. LaVey is said to have served as an unaccredited technical adviser on Rosemary’s Baby.
Incidentally, Lennon and Harrison’s jaded view of the Maharishi was such that, when their protracted flight from Rishikesh was impeded by a series of disruptions—they were abandoned in a broken-down taxi, and Harrison soon thought he was coming down with dysentery— our ruffled angels feared they had been cursed by their unceremoniously discharged guru. (Echoes, here, of Bobby Beausoleil’s attempted escape from Kenneth Anger, legendarily curtailed by Anger’s magickal locket.)
Around the very time the Beatles were arriving in Rishikesh, meanwhile, Mike Love’s cousin and fellow Beach Boy Dennis Wilson would reportedly pick up hitchhikers (and Manson Family members) Patricia Krenwinkel and Ella Jo Bailey in Malibu.
Whether or not this actually happened (Charles Manson, for one, would later contradict this account, saying he first met Wilson at the house of a mutual friend’s) Wilson would definitely spend the following months as a sponsor and de facto member of the Family—footing the bill for their VD treatments (and much more besides), introducing Manson to industry figures like Neil Young and Terry Melcher, and so on.
Although Death Valley—in apparent contradistinction to the Valley of the Saints—sounded like an overtly hedonistic and nihilistic environment, Manson arguably presided over a commune no less spiritually preoccupied than the Maharishi’s, and Mike Love and Dennis Wilson seemed similarly as well as simultaneously attracted to their Ying/Yang gurus. But it appears positively miraculous that Wilson would be fraternizing with Manson while his cousin, on the other side of the world, would be fraternizing with the Beatles at the very time the songs were “pouring out” for “the White Album,” some of which would find themselves daubed on the walls at Cielo Drive in Sharon Tate’s blood, and two of which concerned Prudence and Mia Farrow, the latter having only just starred in a role once earmarked for Tate herself…
And that, as aficionados know only too well, ain’t even the half of it. (A little more to come from me on the topic though, shortly.)
The Beatles recorded 25 takes of “Hey Jude” at Abbey Road Studios in two nights, 29 and 30 July 1968. These were mostly rehearsals, however, as they planned to record the master track at Trident Studios to utilize their eight-track recording machine (Abbey Road was still limited to four-tracks). One take from 29 July is available on the Anthology 3 CD. The master rhythm track was recorded on 31 July at Trident. Four takes were recorded; take one was selected. The song was completed on 1 August with additional overdubs including a 36-piece orchestra for the song’s long coda, scored by George Martin. The orchestra consisted of ten violins, three violas, three cellos, two flutes, one contra bassoon, one bassoon, two clarinets, one contra bass clarinet, four trumpets, four trombones, two horns, percussion, and two string basses. While adding backing vocals, the Beatles asked the orchestra members if they would clap their hands and sing along to the refrain in the song’s coda. Most complied (for a double fee), but one declined, reportedly saying, “I’m not going to clap my hands and sing Paul McCartney’s bloody song!”
Ringo Starr almost missed his drum cue. He left for a toilet break—unnoticed by the other Beatles—and the band started recording. In 1994, McCartney said, “Ringo walked out to go to the toilet and I hadn’t noticed. The toilet was only a few yards from his drum booth, but he’d gone past my back and I still thought he was in his drum booth. I started what was the actual take, and ‘Hey Jude’ goes on for hours before the drums come in and while I was doing it I suddenly felt Ringo tiptoeing past my back rather quickly, trying to get to his drums. And just as he got to his drums, boom boom boom, his timing was absolutely impeccable.”
I like the bit about two minutes in when George Harrison is rambling on and on about something and he finally asks George Martin “You know what I mean?” but it’s obvious that even though Martin nods his head in the affirmative, that he was no idea what Harrison meant.
Imagine if there was this sort of documentation of all of their recording sessions, eh?
The famous “Hey Jude” live promo film directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg as it aired on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.
Fast-paced 1958 thriller: a jilted train driver hi-jacks his New York subway train to exact revenge upon his love rival, only to threaten the life of his ex-lover. The last 30 pages are missing. Don’t know if she survives.
Christophe Gowans is a Graphic Designer and Art Director, who once designed for the music industry (with Peter Saville Associates, Assorted Images, amongst others) and has since produced some stunning work for Blitz, Esquire, Modern Painters, Stella and The Sunday Telegraph.
Christophe is also the talent of a series of fun, collectible and original art works that re-imagine classic albums as book covers.
Alternative scientific textbook from the 60s. Californian professor Floyd achieved enormous success with this study of the moon’s influence on the menstrual cycle. Indeed, he was able to found his own college, specialising in the study of women’s fertility. The college no longer exists. It was shut down in 1972, having been razed to the ground by a mob of angry husbands.
More of Christophe’s ‘Record Books’, after the jump…
Although John Lennon is always thought of as the “arty” Beatle—which is unfair to Paul McCartney, who was actually more of an avant garde culture vulture than Lennon was—it was actually Ringo Starr who brought John Tavener’s “dramatic cantata,” The Whale to Apple Records.
Here’s how the YouTube uploader, DarcoEddie descriped the work:
The Whale is a challenging, two-part, half hour mix of esoteric, avant garde classical adventurism—a kindred spirit of 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s “Lux Aeterna” (for 16 unaccompanied voices) and Frank Zappa’s later, neo-operatic musings for 200 Motels.
The Whale is loosely based on the biblical allegory of Jonah and the Whale, although Tavener admitted that “The ‘fantasy’ grew and perhaps at times nearly ‘swallowed’ the biblical text: so the swallowing of Jonah became almost ‘literal’ in the biblical sense.”
The libretto includes the words of an encyclopaedia entry describing certain facts about the whale, and this is contrasted with themes within the music which attempt to portray the reality of the whale itself, whose existence is greater than the sum of all the facts about it.
The Whale has eight sections: I. Documentary, II. Melodrama and Pantomime, III. Invocation. IV. The Storm, V. The Swallowing, VI. The Prayer. VII. In the Belly, and VIII. The Vomiting.
The Whale premiered at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on January 24, 1968 when the composer was just 24 years old. It was recorded in July of 1970 and released as an album by Apple Records that same year.
From Tavener’s own website:
The Whale represented new territory for me. Previously I had set straight biblical texts as in Credo and Cain and Abel, but in the story of Jonah and the whale it was interspersed with a surrealist section with the opening encyclopaedic entry on whales. These occurred throughout the biblical narrative of The Whale, at the stomach and inside the belly of the whale. The Whale was dedicated to my wild Irish adopted godmother Lady Birley. It made a great impact at the inaugural concert of the London Sinfonieta with Alvar Liddell the great wartime broadcaster reading the encyclopaedic entry on Whales. Although The Whale is a far more musically radical work, I feel closer nowadays to the simple, less radical Donne Sonnets.
During Tavener’s long career he has become one of the best-loved British composers of his generation. Tavener became “Sir John” in 2000 when he was knighted for his services to music. He is the winner of an Ivor Novello Award.
Extended 1968 interview with John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The pair discuss touring (and why The Beatles stopped), their time in India, McCartney’s LSD media flap, and the then-new Apple Corps and what the group were trying to achieve with the company.
There’s a question referring to Enoch Powell’s then recent anti-immigrant “Rivers of Blood” speech (not mentioned by name here, but this is what he’s talking about) that sees the interviewer go on to ask them about racial politics in England and the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King in America.
What exactly glamor-modeling has to do with revolutionary consciousness isn’t explained - other than making it fashionably chic to the bourgeoisie. Which is ironic, for it was the perceived, pernicious influence of the bourgeoisie (and its revisionist view of capitalism) that led Chairman Mao to instigate his Cultural Revolution in May 1966. While the ad men, magazine stylists and Beatles co-opted Mao’s revolutionary sentiments, the reality for millions of Chinese was a brutal and murderous oppression.
A Beginner’s Guide to Mao Tse-tung
The little red book which contains hightlights from The thought of Mao Tse-tung is the most influential volume in the world today. It is also extremely dull and entirely unmemorable. To resolve this paradox, we, a handful of editors in authority who follow the capitalist road, thought useful to illustrate certain key passages in such a way that they are more likely to stick in the mind. The visual aid is Sharon Tate and, to give credit where credit, God knows, is due, she will soon be seen in the Twentieth Century-Fox motion picture, Valley of the Dolls.
‘Whoever wants to know a thing has no way of doing so except coming into contact with it, that is, by living (practicing) in its environment
...If you want knowledge, you must take part in the practice of reality. If you want to know the taste of a pear by eating it yourself.’ “On Practice” (July, 1937)
Although no longer an epidemic, Beatlemania, like TB, still exists; I should know, I’ve been struggling with a dose for a couple of weeks now. I’m not doing much screaming, but I am unable to listen to, read about, or even think on anything that isn’t somehow Beatle-related. (My missus has had it up to here with the goddamn Fab Four.)
The following seemingly homemade mini-documentary, on the development of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” is one of my favorite finds so far, nicely edited to give a real and rare sense of the genesis of a great work of art, from a tantalizing burst of John backstage fooling about on a melodium in 1964, through countless delicious demos and jams, to the orchestral version which, slowed down and cleverly sewn into the final mix, would help give the finished song its thrillingly queasy texture. It finishes with the famous Knole Park video. If you love the song, this is well worth twenty-six minutes of your life.
(And for the record, John, down here we’ve long since decided your tree was rather high.)
The first single I bought was “Snow Coach” by Russ Conway. It was at a school jumble sale, St. Cuthbert’s Primary, sometime in the late 1960s. I bought it because I loved winter, and Christmas, and the idea of traveling through some snow-covered landscape to the sound of jingling sleigh bells . I also knew my great Aunt liked Russ Conway, so if I didn’t like it….
I bought it together with a dog-eared copy of a Man from U.N.C.L.E. paperback (No. 3 “The Copenhagen Affair”). These were the very first things I had chosen and bought for myself, with a tanner (6d) and thrupenny bit (3d). I played the single from-time-to-time on my parents’ Dansette Record Player - its blue and white case and its BSR autochanger, which allowed you to play up to 7 singles one-after-another. My brother had a selection of The Beatles, The Stones, The Kinks, The Who, Elvis and The Move, which he played alternating one A-side with one B-side like some junior DJ. It meant I didn’t have to buy singles, as my brother bought most of the things I wanted to hear, so I could spend my pennies on books and comics and sherbert dib-dabs. It was a musical education, and though Conway was a start, the first 45rpm single I really went out and bought was John Barry’s The Theme from ‘The Persuaders’, which I played till it crackled like pan frying oil.
As this documentary shows 45rpm singles were an important part to growing up: everyone can recall buying their first single - what it looked like, its label, its cover, the signature on the inner groove - and the specific feelings these records aroused. With interviews from Norman Cook, Suzi Quatro, Holly Johnson, Noddy Holder, Richie Hawley, Paul Morley, Jimmy Webb, Jack White, Neil Sedaka, Trevor Horn, Miranda Sawyer, Brian Wilson, The Joy of the Single is a perfect piece of retro-vision, that captures the magic, pleasure and sheer bloody delight of growing-up to the sound of 45s.
The joyful hedonism of the 1960s was in part a response to the trauma to the Second World War. The same way the twenties swung after the first great conflagration. And like that decade, it was primarily the white, upwardly mobile, metropolitan, middle class that enjoyed the sex, the drugs and the rock ‘n’ roll.
London may have been swinging in 1967, but for the rest of the country not a lot changed. It would take until the 1970s for most of the country to get a hint of what London experienced. The most important changes, apart from pop music and American TV shows, were the legalization abortion and de-criminalization of homosexual acts between consenting adults - both of which set the scene for bigger and more radical changes in the 1970s.
Yet, as so many of the media are Baby Boomers, the love of all things sixties ensures TV fills its schedules with documentaries on that legendary decade. 1967: The Summer of Love is better than most, as it covers the cultural, social, and political changes that the decade brought. With contributions form Germaine Greer, Donovan, Nigel Havers, Bill Wyman, John Birt and Mary Quant, together with some excellent color archive, this documentary is a cut-above the usual retro-vision.