Thursday, 3 July 2014

The Beatles in Greece

The Beatles, depicted with local Greek musicians

Paul McCartney in his autobiography, Many Years From Now: 'Alex ("Magic" Alex Mardas) invited John on a boat holiday in Greece, and we were all then invited. There was some story of buying a Greek island or something. It was all so sort of abstract but the first thing we had to do is go to Greece and see if we even liked it out there. The idea was get an island where you can just do what you want, a sort of hippie commune where nobody’d interfere with your lifestyle. I suppose the main motivation for that would probably be that no one could stop you smoking. Drugs was probably the main reason for getting some island, and then all the other community things that were around then... it was drug-induced ambition, we’d just be sitting around: "Wouldn’t it be great? The lapping water, sunshine, we’d be playing. We’d get a studio there. Well, its possible these days with mobiles and..." We had lots of ideas like that. The whole Apple enterprise was the result of those ideas.'
The Beatles' yacht was held up by a storm off Crete until 25 July 1967, leaving them stuck in Athens for a few days, which they spent sightseeing.

According to NEMS employee Peter Brown, their host, ‘Magic Alex’, had struck a deal with the Greek authorities. If The Beatles were given diplomatic immunity – allowing them to carry bags containing drugs into the country – then they would pose for press photographs for the Ministry of Tourism. This was agreed to without the group’s knowledge.

Unfortunately it meant that their destinations were often broadcast on Athens Radio, causing hordes of fans and journalists to follow them around. As Alistair Taylor noted: “Once on a trip to a hill village, we came round a corner of the peaceful road only to find hundreds of photographers clicking away at us.”

Derek Taylor described John's plan in his autobiography, 20 Years Adrift: "The four Beatles would have their network at the centre of the compound: a dome of glass and iron tracery not unlike the old Crystal Palace over the mutual creative/play area, from which arbours and avenues would lead off like spokes from a wheel to four vast and incredibly beautiful separate living units. In the outer grounds, the houses of the inner clique: Neil (Aspinall), Mal (Evans), Terry (Doran) and Derek, complete with partners, families and friends..."

The Beatles left for Greece in July 1967. George Harrison, his wife Pattie, Ringo Starr (not accompanied by wife Maureen, as she was very pregnant at the time) and Neil Aspinall left on 22nd July, while John Lennon, his wife Cynthia, their son Julian, Paul McCartney and his girlfriend Jane Asher, Pattie's sister Paula, "Magic" Alex, Mal Evans and Beatles' assistant Alistair Taylor all left on 23rd July.
Arriving in Greece

The Beatles chartered a luxury yacht called MV Arvi. It had 24 berths and a crew of 8 including the captain, chef and 2 stewards. They spent the first few days island hopping, swimming and tripping their tits off, which turned out to be a bit too much for Paul: "We went on the boat and sat around and took acid. It was good fun being with everyone, with trippier moments. For me the pace was a bit wearing. I probably could have done with some straight windows occasionally, I’d have enjoyed it a bit more."
George had no such reservations: "It was a great trip. John and I were on acid all the time, sitting on the front of this ship playing ukeleles. Greece was on the left, a big island on the right. The sun was shining and we sang ‘Hare Krishna’ for hours and hours."

Ringo and his home movie camera
After a while, it has been reported that the Beatles found the perfect place - an 80 acre island called Leslo or Leso, reports vary. The island had a small fishing village, four beaches and a large olive grove. Four small neighbouring islands surrounded it and the grand plan was that each Beatle would have their own island, as Neil Aspinall (a bit dismissively) confirms: "There was talk of getting an island. I don’t know what it was all about - it was a bit silly really. The idea was that you’d have four houses with tunnels connecting them to a central dome”. John Lennon was very excited about the idea at the time: "We’re all going to live there, perhaps forever, just coming home for visits. Or it might just be six months a year. It’ll be fantastic, all on our own on this island. There’s some little huts which we’ll do up and knock together and live communally"
As far as Beatles research has been able to confirm, there is no island called Leso or Leslo in the greek waters.
Home movie footage, probably from Ringo's and Paul's movie cameras. From The Beatles Anthology.
The Beatles decided to buy the island there and then. They asked Alistair Taylor to tie up the deal. It cost them £90,000 and at the time it was difficult to get money out of Britain. The Beatles had to apply to the government for permission to spend £90,000 abroad and to buy this amount of money in US dollars, when permission was eventually given, they’d all forgotten about their Greek adventure.

"It came to nothing." said Ringo. "We didn’t buy the island, we came home. We were great at going on holiday with big ideas, but we never carried them out. We were also going to buy a village in England - one with rows of houses on four sides and a village green in the middle. We were going to have a side each."

Paul said that they all thought "We’ve done it now. That was it for a couple of weeks. Great, wasn’t it? Now we don’t need it." He reflected that "Having been out there, I don’t think we needed to go back. Probably the best way not to buy a Greek island is to go out there for a bit. Its a good job we didn’t do it, because anyone who tried those ideas realised eventually there would always be arguments, there would always be who has to do the washing-up and whose turn is it to clean out the latrines. I don’t think any of us were thinking of that."

Beatles "holiday in Greece" feature from Fab 208 magazine, 7 October 1967. 
The adventure became a profitable one, when £90,000-worth of dollars was sold back to the government the value of US dollars had risen, and The Beatles reaped a £11,400 profit on the unrealised deal.

Ringo Starr and Neil Aspinall decided to return to England from Greece on July 26th, the same day as the other Beatles went island hopping - and found the island they were going to buy. On the 29th, George Harrison, his wife Pattie and The Beatles’ assistant Mal Evans returned to England. John, Cynthia and Julian Lennon, Paul McCartney, Jane Asher, Alexis ‘Magic Alex’ Mardas and Pattie Harrison‘s sister Paula Boyd all returned to England on the 31st July.

So, which island was it? Most of Greece's islands are in private hands, and are valued between €3 million and €150 million. With Leso or Leslo not turning up in a search, some other islands do, and claim to have a Beatles connection: Currently up for sale, the 12 acres Trinity Island is said to have been host to the Beatles. The island's name in Greek is Agia Triada, or Holy Trinity. They seem to have passed on the guitar shaped Trinity Island and ended up deciding on another island, by some claimed to be either Tsougriaki or the larger Tsougria, close to Skiathos. Any Greeks here who can shed some light on which island the Beatles eventually went for?

Take a look at some amateur colour photos from the Greek visit on the Meet The Beatles For Real blog.


beatlesondvd said...

Great post! I have George and Ringo leaving for Greece on 20 July, followed two days later by John and Paul.

Gerard Tomoculus said...

Agreed - great post.

What I want to know is, how the hell did Magic Alex convince these authorities, when Greece had been taken over by a military junta in April 1967? It made them the only Fascist country in Europe!!!! They didn't play pop music on the radio, there was a complete ban of everything non-regime! So what good would photos with Beatles do when what's playing on the radio is completely Regime Music?

Éamonn Ó Catháin said...

ONLY fascist country in Europe in 1967? What about Spain and Portugal?

maxime said...

Great post, thanks very much Roger for the brillant sum-up of all datas on the topic.

I send it over to a Greek friend who came back to me with this answer, don't know if this could help but I thought it wouldn't hurt to share.

"regarding the island, i thought of "leipsoi" when i read it but I doubt it would be so cheap to buy something there. Then I was sure there was an island near Crete called something like "Io" but I could not find it on the maps.
With the price they mention it should be something very small somewhere on the map, but since there are so many small islands in greece and they do not really say anything e.g. west, east, near something etc..., unless you know the deal it is very hard to find out what island they are talking about..."

Gerard Tomoculus said...

Éamonn Ó Catháin said...
ONLY fascist country in Europe in 1967? What about Spain and Portugal?

5 July 2014 03:46

You are completely right Éamonn, my error. I was going off of someone else's information and did not check it.

But don't ignore the main point because of the bad apple. How did they do this,more specifically, what kind of pull did Magic Alex exactly have?