12 Jul 2020

New book highlights Beatles' sadness and tragedy

From Sunday Morning, 10:25 am on 12 July 2020

There had already been 732 published Beatles books, but that didn't deter author Craig Brown from releasing the 733rd title, 1, 2, 3, 4: The Beatles In Time, which arrives 50 years after the Fab Four split.

Brown has come up with a fresh take on The Beatles looking at some of the people who came into the band’s orbit during their rise and at the height of their fame.  

The Beatles at Wellington Airport during their New Zealand tour.

The Beatles at Wellington Airport during their New Zealand tour. Photo: Ref: 1/4-071857-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23217692

It was The Beatles’ musical variety that made them special, Brown says.

“Their particular thing, which no other group has paralleled, is the variety of music they came up with and almost on the same song, like 'A Day in the Life' or 'Something' you can hear all these different moods of happiness, sadness, melancholy, spirituality.

“And you can hear jigs, you can hear rock ‘n’ roll, you can hear ballads … other good groups like say The Who or the Rolling Stones they basically did one thing very well.”

The book looks at some of the peripheral characters in the Beatles story. One is Eric Clague.

Clague knocked down and killed John Lennon’s mother, Julia, in the 1950s. At the time of the accident he was an off-duty policeman.

Later he became a postman, says Brown.

“One of his jobs was to deliver all the fan mail to Paul McCartney’s house, which was his father’s house, and he dreaded it every time he went, every day when he went with these great sacks of mail, that they would realise that he was the person who’d killed John Lennon’s mother.”

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Photo: Supplied

When The Beatles first auditioned for a record deal in 1962 their drummer was Pete Best, but George Martin who went on to become their legendary producer was unhappy with Best’s drumming – Best was subsequently sacked.

“How could it not be painful? You go for the audition but the record company takes The Beatles on but they don’t want you basically, and then they go to Ringo Starr and then within a few months they are the most famous band in the world and multi-millionaires by the end of the decade.”

Jimmy Nicol was an unknown session drummer who filled in for Ringo Starr on tour when he fell ill in 1964.

“He became a Beatle for 10 days; went on a tour to Scandinavia and then to New Zealand and Australia and then Ringo got better, flew out to Australia and Jimmy Nicol then flew back.

“This little glimpse of fame completely went to his head and he never really recovered, and now people don’t even know if he’s alive or dead. People think they might have glimpsed him in Holland six years ago.”

There is a sadness in The Beatles' music which makes it still resonate today, Brown says.

"That’s another reason that their music lasts, there is this sadness to them. Which I don’t think you get with the Rolling Stones.

“The two main characters Lennon and McCartney had both lost their mothers, so there’s a very big link between them, and often even with the happy songs …. a song like 'Help' has a happy tune but a completely miserable lyric.

“I think there was always that pathos in their music … or 'Hey Jude' parts of it seem sad then all of a sudden it seems joyous”

The band soon became jaded and by 1966 a lot of the fun had gone out of being in the biggest band in the world, he says.

“After 1966 they struggled to enjoy themselves, you can see how happy they were in the first few years and really with this amazing fame and wealth how pretty uncomfortable they became.”