The Fab Four discuss Hamburg and their ’66 LP in these archive pieces from NME
Taken from NME 11/3/1966
John Lennon and I tried something unusual last week – we went to lunch. Unusual for him because he never lunches out and unusual for me because I normally eat before 3.30pm! But then journalists have to get up earlier than Beatles do.
John arrived (on time) to test the new experience and we moved away in style in the luxury of his Rolls-Royce Phantom V, surveying Mayfair from behind darkened windows that allow you to see out but no-one to see in. It’s something like travelling in an ambulance, but ambulances are rarely fitted with a TV and fridge! The phone in the back of the car hummed: “Can’t be for me,” said John, “no-one’s got the number.”
We arrived at the restaurant in Regent Street and John sent the car away, asking the driver to return in 90 minutes. Only when it had gone did we discover that the restaurant, where our table was booked for 3.15, closes at 3… “Ere, it’s John Lennon,” said a woman to her friend, but before her friend had turned round we were in the back of a taxi. The driver said he knew a nice little caff in Soho, and that sounded better than sandwiches and tea at NEMS (the Epstein Emporium), so off we went. The place was empty and the food smelt good, though sherry in the soup was the closest we could get to alcohol at that time, much to the regret of our waiter. John removed his PVC mac (“Bought it in Tahiti for 15 bob”) and the Lennon interview began…
You have often said you don’t want to be playing in a pop group when you reach 30; you are now in your 26th year. The only firm date in The Beatles’ diary seems to be the NME Poll Winners Concert on May 1. Is this the start of the retirement process?
No, we’re going to Germany, America and Japan this year. It’s an accident that we’re not working now; we should have had two weeks’ holiday after Christmas and then started on the next film, but it isn’t ready. We want to work and we’ve got plenty to do, writing songs, taping things and so on. Paul and I ought to get down to writing some songs for the new LP next week. I hope he and Jane aren’t going away or God knows when we’ll be ready to record. George thought we’d written them and were all ready – that’s why he came dashing back from his honeymoon and we hadn’t got a thing ready. We’ll have to get started, there’s been too much messing round. But I feel we’ve only just finished Rubber Soul, then I realise we did it months ago. We’re obviously not going to work harder than we want to now, but you get a bit fed up of doing nothing.
Now that you’ve got all the money you need and plenty of time on your hands, don’t you ever get the urge to do something different?
I’ve had one or two things up my sleeve, I was going to make recordings of some of my poetry. But I’m not high-powered. I just sort of stand there and let things happen to me. I should have finished a new book – it’s supposed to be out this month but I’ve only done one page! I thought, ‘Why should I break me back getting books out like records?’
Do you ever worry that the money you have won’t be enough to last your lifetime?
Yes! I get fits of worrying about that. I get visions of being one of those fools who do it all in by the time they’re 30. Then I imagine writing a series for The People saying “I was going to spend, spend, spend…” I thought about this a while back, so I put the Ferrari and the Mini up for sale. Then one of the accountants said I was all right, so I got the cars back. It’s the old story of never knowing how much money we’ve got. I’ve tried to find out, but with income tax to be deducted and the money coming in from all over the place, the sums get too complicated for me, I can’t even do my times table. If I’m spending £10,000 I say to myself: “You’ve had to earn £30,000 before tax to get that.”
What sort of people are your guests at home in Weybridge?
We entertain very few. Proby was there one night, Martin another, those are the only two we’ve specifically said, ‘Come to dinner’ to and made preparations. Normally I like people to drop round on the off chance. It cuts out all that formal entertaining business. We’ve just had Ivan and Jean down for a weekend – old friends from Liverpool – and Pete Short, the fellow who runs my supermarket, came round on Saturday.
Is the Weybridge house a permanent home?
No, it’s not. I’m dying to move into town but I’m waiting to see how Paul gets on when he goes into his townhouse. If he gets by all right, then I’ll sell the place at Weybridge. I was thinking the other night, though, it might not be easy to find a buyer. How do you sell somebody a pink, green and purple house? We’ve had purple velvet put up on the dining room walls – it sets off the old, scrubbed table we eat on. Then there’s the “funny” room upstairs. I painted that all colours, changing from one to another as I emptied each can of paint. And there’s the plants in the bath… I suppose I could have a flat in town but I don’t want to spend another £20,000 just to have somewhere to stay overnight when I’ve had too much bevvy to drive home.
What kind of TV programmes do you watch?
The Power Game is my favourite. I love that. And next to it Danger Man and The Rat Catchers – did you see that episode when that spy, the clever one, shot a nun by mistake? I love that and I was so glad it happened to the clever one.
What’s going to come out of the next recording sessions?
Literally, anything. Electronic music, jokes – the next LP is going to be very different. We wanted it so there was no space between the tracks – just continuous. But they wouldn’t wear it. Paul and I are very keen on this electronic music. You make it clinking glasses together or with bleeps from the radio, then you loop the tape to repeat the noises at intervals. Some people build up whole symphonies from it. It would have been better than the background music we had for the last film. All those silly bands. Never again!
Taken from NME 24/6/1966
I have interviewed Paul McCartney travelling in a car at speed. Battling up a crowded flight of stairs. In a smoky billiards room. On the telephone. At a recording session. Climbing up a ladder. Walking along Tottenham Court Road. In a taxi. Trapped in a room with fans breaking the door down. Even on a roof.
Bizarre situations some of them may have been, but the one that beats them all took place at BBC TV’s Top Of The Pops the other day. Paul, perched on the edge of a bath, answered my questions. I sat on a lavatory! An odd place for an interview, perhaps, but at that time the room in question happened to be just about the only quiet place in the entire TV Centre.
Girls were here, there and everywhere: mooning up and down the corridors, standing in the entrance hall, and being forced away from The Beatles’ dressing room next door. Cups of tea were brought in and Paul rested his in the washbasin.
“Fans,” he said simply, almost thinking aloud. “Funny, really. Some of them have a go at me, and John and George and Ringo. They say we don’t make enough personal appearances. If only they’d realise. I mean, they think we’ve just been loafing about the past few months. Don’t they realise we’ve been working on our next album since April? It’s a long time.
“I suppose there’s some won’t like it, but if we tried to please everyone we’d never get started. We try to be as varied as possible… on the next LP there’s a track with Ringo doin’ a children’s song, and another with electronic sounds.”
He started to finger his lip, almost without thinking, and I asked him about reports that he’d broken a tooth.
“You’re right,” he admitted candidly. “I did it not long ago when I came off a moped. Now I’ve had it capped… look.”
I looked but I couldn’t see anything. A perfect mend. Only a small scar remains on his lip as a souvenir.
“It was quite a serious accident at the time. It probably sounds daft, having a serious accident on a motorised bicycle, but I came off hard and I got knocked about a bit. My head and lip were cut and I broke the tooth. I was only doing 30, but it was dark and I hit a stone and went flyin’ through the air. It was my fault, all right. It was a nice night and I was looking at the moon!”
He sipped his tea and reached for a cigarette.
“What about all this ‘Didn’t Paul McCartney look ill on TV’, then?” he went on, referring to Mama Cass’ remarks in NME’s America Calling last week. “I haven’t been ill. Apart from the accident, I’m dead fit. I know what it was, though. When we filmed those TV clips for ‘Paperback Writer’, I’d only just bashed my tooth, an’ we’d been working a bit hard on the LP an’ I hadn’t had much sleep. That was it.
“We haven’t had much time for anything but the LP. I mean, 14 songs – all got to be written and recorded ’til you’re satisfied with them. It’s hard work, man.
“I’ve done a bit of reading, though – Frank Harris, My Life And Loves. I don’t believe half of it! He can’t ’arf boast. I also read Jean Cocteau’s Opium. Frightening. No. What am I saying? It’s not frightening at all.
“Films? Yeah, I saw Cul-De-Sac, with Donald Pleasence. Not bad, not bad. But it’s a bit drawn out towards the end. I also saw the play, Juno And The Paycock. Great!
“No, I don’t think any of us will write a play or a musical, not for a long time. People are always asking us that, but the thing is that we put all our imagination and ideas into our songs. Honestly, they take so much concentration.
“‘Paperback Writer’? Well, this came about because I love the word ‘Paperback’.”
He seemed to savour the word and rolled it around his tongue.
“Anyway, when we did the song, we wrote the words down like we were writing a letter.” He waved his arm as if writing across a sheet of paper. “We sort of started off ‘Dear Sir Or Madam’, then carried on from there. If you look at the words I think you’ll see what I mean, the way they flow like a letter. But that’s it really, there’s no story behind it and it wasn’t inspired by any real-life characters.”
Paul and the rest of the Beatles shrugged off questions about them not making No 1 first time with ‘Paperback Writer’ with a sort of “That’s showbusiness” air. They regard it as just one of those things… and as they’re up there at No 1 this week, perhaps they’re right. Paul shows more interest when you ask him about his homes. There are three now: one in St John’s Wood, London, for which he is reputed to have paid £40,000; one in Liverpool; and the newest acquisition – a farm in Scotland.
“Aye the noo,” he beamed, affecting a credible Scots accent. “It’s just a wee small place, up there at the tip of Scotland, and aye plarrn tae make the occasional trip therre for a wee spell of solitude.”
Suddenly, he dropped the Scots bit and got back to normal. “It’s not bad, though – 200 acres and a farmhouse. I can’t tell you how much it was, but it was well worth the money as far as I’m concerned. As far as the St John’s Wood house goes, I’ve furnished it in traditional style because I don’t go for this modern stuff that always looks as if it needs something doing to it. I like it to be comfortable. Those mod leather chairs… ugh. They’re too cold.” He looked suitably pained.
“Do I know anything about property? Not really. Well, I suppose I do, come to think of it. I’m being vague. But don’t think I’m a big property tycoon. I only buy places I like. I haven’t got anything abroad.”
I asked him about the mystery instrument mentioned in my NME feature last week, bought for £110 by recording manager George Martin and used by him on one track of the forthcoming album. George had amiably refused to name it until The Beatles had given the all-clear.
Paul laughed. “Why the mystery? It’s only a clavichord and it makes a nice sound. There’s no real weird stuff on this LP. Anyway, I’ve stopped regarding things as way-out anymore.”
I reminded him of an occasion when I’d told him that “Twist And Shout” was well worth releasing as a single, and he’d answered that it was too “way-out”.
He agreed. “You’re right. We thought it was at the time. Anyway, these days I’ve stopped thinking that anything is weird or different. There’ll always be people about like that Andy Warhol in the States, the bloke who makes great long films of people just sleeping. Nothin’ weird anymore. We sit down and write, or go into the recording studios, and we just see what comes up.”
He took another sip of tea.
“D’you know the longest session we ever did in the studios? It was for the Rubber Soul album, an’ it went on from five in the evening till half-past-six the next day. Yeah, it was tough, OK, but we had to do it. We do a lot of longer sessions now than we used to, because I suppose we’re far more interested in our sound.”
I asked him about The Beatles’ film situation.
“Still the same,” said Paul, flatly. “There’s nothing yet, but we don’t mind waiting. One thing is definite, in the next film we want to do all the music ourselves. It hasn’t been what we’ve wanted before, with us writing songs and others doing the score. I suppose we’ll also get down to a musical one day, but you can bet it won’t be like any other musical. We don’t want to do any of that stuff Lionel Bart was doin’ 50 years ago.”
He fingered a red carnation in his lapel (all The Beatles had them; gifts of a girl at London Airport terminal, where they’d been for cholera injections in time for their Far East tour).
“I’m learning all the time. You do, if you keep your eyes open. I find life is an education. I go to plays and I am interested in the arts, but it’s only because I keep my eyes open and I see what’s going on around me. Anyone can learn… if they look. I mean, nowadays I’m interested in the electronic music of people like Berio and Stockhausen, who’s great. It opens your eyes and ears.
“On the LP, we’ve got this track with electronic effects I worked out myself, with words from the Tibetan Book Of The Dead. We did it because I, for one, am sick of doing sounds that people can claim to have heard before. Anyway, we played it to the Stones and The Who, and they visibly sat up and were interested.
“We also played it to Cilla… who just laughed!” He himself grinned at the memory.
Before our bathroom interview, Paul, John, George and Ringo had taken part in a small press conference in another odd location: a spartan-looking changing room of the kind we used to have at school. There were no seats and the few invited journalists had to mingle with the famous four as best they could. I saw that no-one seemed to be speaking to Ringo, who stood on his own in a corner, so I struggled over and almost strangled myself on a coat rack in the process.
It was the same old Ringo: pleasant, but a little staccato with the conversation. “Yeah, life’s great,” he confirmed. “Bin workin’ hard though. Not much time to rest. When I’m free? Well, I get up about two-ish most days, and I usually go clubbing till three in the mornin’. I like that. If it’s a nice day I go over and have a swim in John’s pool. I’d get one meself, but it’s not worth it when John’s is just up the road.
“Me buildin’ business? Not bad, not bad. We’ve sold quite a few flats and my firm’s been doin’ a bit of work round at George’s and John’s places.”
“So you’ve been making a bit of money out of George and John?” I ventured brightly.
“Yeah,” said Ringo mournfully.
I bade farewell as Ringo shouted drily to an amiable-looking Mr Epstein nearby: “Alan Smith’s gonna do a fantastic, exclusive article all about me.” I hastened over to John and George in another corner.
“…it’s like any job,” George was saying. “You work hard so you can sit back when you want to. That’s what we’ve done. We’ve got ourselves into this position so we can relax a bit. No, we’re not rushing into a film. We’ll wait 10 years if we have to. Why rush?
“No, we’re not thinking of writing a script ourselves. It’s not our job. Yeah, there’s someone special I’d like to meet when we go to Germany next week – Adolf Hitler!
“Yeah, there is a good reason why we don’t do too many appearances in Britain. We’ve got to live here as well as work. If we don’t appear too often, it makes it easier for us to live out of the public eye. No, we…” The door opened and the rest of it was hidden by the noise of the hubbub outside. There’s no doubt about it: it’s still a hectic life, being a Beatle.