Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Book review: The Beatles in Scotland

The Beatles in Scotland

I finally had the chance to read this book, which was published last fall.

Book: The Beatles in Scotland
by: Ken McNab
Publisher: Polygon – Birlinn Ltd (UK)
ISBN: 978-146-971129
Hardcover
Appx. 328 pages

Writing a book about the Beatles and the Scottish connections is a relatively thankful job, because the connections are plentyful.
One Beatle was born in Scotland (Stuart) and another spent his summer holidays there (John), a third has a farm there (Paul), The Beatles started their professional career there (Johnny Gentle & The Silver Beetles), and during the Beatlemania years (1963-1965) the Beatles played 22 concerts in Scotland. And when you also elect to write about scotsmen with one or another Beatles connection, you can also cover the rooftop concert as reported by a scottish journalist, and John Lennon’s last concert performance in Madison Square Garden, witnessed by Elton John’s scottish guitar player. So the scope of this book is a broad one.
But it all starts with John Lennon’s Scotland connections, most of all the small village of Durness, where his Edinburgh aunt had a cottage. This is where the young John Lennon spent several summer holidays, after first having travelled by train to Edinburgh and visited his aunt and his cousin, Stan Parks. Together with his cousin, the road went on to Durness. The holidays made a mark in Lennon’s mind, and he kept in touch with his cousin for as long as he lived. The chapter also explores the unfortunate pilgrim voyage John had in 1969 together with Yoko, Kyoko and Julian to show them Durness, a trip which lead to a traffic accident, which injured both Lennon and Ono, and had them hospitalised at Golspie. Meanwhile, the rest of the Beatles started recording the Abbey Road album.
Next up on the agenda is the very first tour: John, Paul, George, Stuart and Tommy Moore with Johnny Gentle as the main attraction. The quintet backed up Johnny as well as performing their own set. The next chapter is dedicated to the Scottish Beatle, Stuart Sutcliffe. His whole story is told, in fact we start it with the birth of his father, in 1905.
The next chapter is dedicated to the concerts, starting with January 2nd, 1963 and the band has it’s classic final line-up. In the same chapter, we are also treated to their appearance at the scottish TV show Round Up. The chapters takes us from one scottish concert to another, all in chronological order, until the very last performance on December 3rd 1965 in Glasgow.
At the ABC in Edinburgh, October 19th, 1964
The next chapter is also about the concerts, but this time as seen through the eyes of fans attending the shows. This is a very good read. The eye-witness reports from the Johnny Gentle tour tells of a different story than Gentle himself has written. Where Gentle recalls great receptions for the Beatles and their music, there’s only polite applauds from the eye-witnesses. So I guess you could suspect that hindsight has coloured Gentle’s memory quite a bit.
The scottish photographers get the next chapter, and they are Harry Benson (the pillow fight in Paris), Iain MacMillan (the Abbey Road cover) and Tom Murray (Mad Day Out). Unfortunately, there are no rare outtakes presented here, just the regular photos, and they are in black and white. But the stories the lensmen are telling are all entertaining.
Then there’s a chapter about fellow musicians and friends from Scotland. Donovan, Lulu, Davey Johnstone, Hamish Stuart, Jack Bruce, Andy White (!), the Cavern bouncer Wallace Booth (the Beatles wanted him as road manager, but he suggested Mal Evans), the bands The Marmalade and (White) Trash, Fionna Duncan, Lonnie Donegan, Ivor (Buster Bloodvessel) Cutler, the football player Gordon Smith, the racing driver Jackie Stewart, Gordon Waller from Peter & Gordon, the composers Gallagher & Lyle, Al Stewart, Jimmy McCullough, Campbeltown Pipe Band, all get their stories told, and most of the ones that are still alive have been interviewed for the book. And the good stories among their anecdotes are many. The final chapter is about Mull of Kintyre and Paul McCartney’s farm in that area.

The book has also some old photos we can’t remember to have seen before, from concerts, TV appearances and backstage. There’s one interesting photo missing though, we only get to hear about it: When The Beatles first meet up with Johnny Gentle, a newspaper photographer is present. A photo is taken with George holding his arms around a local girl, and the photo makes the next day’s local newspaper. As we know, there’s only one surviving photo of a Beatle from the Johnny Gentle tour, and that’s one with George on stage with Johnny. If the author had managed to dig up the newspaper photo, we would have had twice as many.

McNab has a few mistakes throughout the book, logical errors. For instance, the 15 year old Richard Park can’t have owned both Please Please Me and With The Beatles when he saw Beatles in concert in Kircaldy on the 6th of October 1963, because the latter album had yet to be released. That Lennon elected to take a short trip back home to Liverpool because of a cancelled concert in Scotland on the 2nd of January 1963 may be, but he didn’t visit both Cynthia and his seven month old son Julian, because Julian had yet to be born – he was born on the 8th of April 1963. And for Lennon to manage this quick round trip to Liverpool, the cancelled concert in Keith must have been on the 2nd, and not as stated in the book, the 3rd., because they had a concert in Elgin on the 3rd.
The A Hard Day’s Night movie was not released at Christmas 1964, it premiered on the 6th of July.
McNab also steps into the classic “Love Me Do”-trap, by claiming that Ringo is the one on drums on the album, and (the Scotsman) Andy White on the single – as we know, Ringo has said the same thing, but us nerds know that the opposite is true. Of course, the fact that the single master disappeared shortly after the release, forcing them to use the album master for subsequent re-releases of the single is a source of confusion for the ones involved. If you’re still confused, just listen to the song. If you can hear a tambourine, then you know that’s Ringo playing it, and Andy’s on the drums. If you can’t hear a tambourine, Ringo is on the drums.
McNab also confuses his readers by saying that it’s Paul’s old english sheepdog Martha who appears together with McCartney on the cover of the “Paul is Live”-album, that dog had left this world by that time. As far as I know, the dog on that cover is “Arrow”, a descendent of old Martha.

But apart from these distractions, I can warmly recommend this book, which isn’t giving us the big picture, but focuses on the little stories.


Listen to an interview with the author

2 comments:

Mat said...

Very interesting, I hope that this book will be soon translated also in italian. I think it's a necessary reading to a Beatles' fan.

Tibor said...

Thank you, well written, detailed review.