Story of the Month
MAY 2013: After THE BEATLES: the Fab Four return
by Richard Dacre
As we saw last month, the Beatles made their final appearance at the Hall in 1965, but we had not seen the last of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. They returned as spectators, of course, all famously coming to the legendary Bob Dylan concerts of 1965 and 1966. In December 1969 George and Ringo had seats for Delaney & Bonnie who were touring with Eric Clapton, and George would subsequently gig with them, though sadly not at the Hall.
In fact, the first Beatle to perform at the Hall as an individual was John. This was at an underground Christmas Party on 18 December 1968 organised by the Arts Lab: Celebration in December – A Community Benefit. John and his future wife, Yoko Ono, who had suffered a miscarriage less than a month previously, started the evening sitting by the stage listening to the other poets and musicians. Then, accompanied by a solo flute, they enclosed themselves in a white bag remaining there, barely moving, for the 30 minute spectacle they entitled Alchemical Wedding. The intention was to satirize prejudice and stereotyping – the unseen cannot be subject to unthinking judgment – and it was, in effect, the first of the couple’s bagisms which they would subsequently stage around the world.
Since 1968, John, Yoko, and the rest of the Beatles operated from their newly purchased headquarters at 3 Savile Row. It was an impromptu performance for the documentary Let It Be, played on the roof of this building in January 1969, which would prove to be the Beatles’ last live outing together. As the resulting film would all too clearly demonstrate, the band was fast disintegrating as a unit at this point, and indeed, by 1970, the Beatles had officially disbanded.
Ten years later John was killed by an assassin’s bullet at a time when rifts within the group had not fully healed. Paul, George and Ringo were able to lay some demons to rest by participating in the Anthology project in the mid-1990s, coming together to tell their own history through sound, vision and print. It was a timely collaboration, since, at the end of 2001, George succumbed to lung cancer.
George had been to the Hall on 23 September 1974 to introduce Ravi Shankar’s Music Festival from India, but his only post-Beatles headlining gig in Europe, indeed his last ever, was at the Hall on 6 April 1992. The show had the snappy title The Natural Law Party Presents George Harrison & Friends – Inspiration To The Youth of Great Britain – Election Is A Celebration - a benefit for what was effectively a short-lived world-wide political organisation based on the principles of Transcendental Meditation. George and his Hijack band were in sparkling form, and at the end of a memorable 1¾ hour set, they were joined by Ringo on drums and guitarists Joe Walsh and Gary Moore for While My Guitar Gently Weeps and an upbeat Roll Over Beethoven. George took a break during the latter, leaving Ringo on stage to jam with fellow percussionists Ray Cooper and Steve Ferrone for around five minutes. George then rejoined the band with his son Dhani to end the evening with a rousing reprise of Roll Over Beethoven.
Exactly one year after George’s death, on 29 November 2002, the Hall welcomed his family, friends and colleagues for a celebration of his life: Concert For George. Most aspects of George’s career were honoured in a show hosted by its musical director Eric Clapton. Through performance, Ravi and Anoushka Shankar paid tribute to his love of Indian culture; the Monty Python team saluted his work as a film producer; Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Jim Keltner reminded us of his time with the Traveling Wilburys; and then, as the evening drew to a close, it was the turn of the surviving Beatles to take centre stage. A resplendent Ringo was first, singing Photograph and Honey Don’t before introducing Paul to an ecstatic crowd. Paul joined the all-star house band, now augmented by Ringo on drums, to sing For You Blue and Something, the latter initially on solo ukulele, an instrument that George had done so much to popularise. Then, following a fine version of All Things Must Pass, Paul sat at the piano to accompany Eric Clapton on While My Guitar Gently Weeps and Clapton and Billy Preston on My Sweet Lord. A storming finalé saw the entire ensemble come together for Wah Wah before Joe Brown, who the Beatles had supported in the early sixties, brought the evening to a moving climax with I’ll See You In My Dreams.
Strangely, the two George Harrison events were the only post-Beatles occasions - to date - that Ringo has played the Hall. He was scheduled to be in an all-star production of Tommy with the Who, Rod Stewart, Steve Winwood, Maggie Bell, Graham Bell, Richard Harris, Ritchie Havens and The London Symphony Orchestra on 9 December 1972, in the presence of Princess Margaret, but it never happened, lost in the wake of a decade-long ban on pop concerts imposed by the Hall at the beginning of the year.
The most frequent visitor to the Hall of the former Fab Four was, and is, Paul. In April 1983 he was filmed singing Eleanor Rigby to an empty auditorium for his feature Give My Regards to Broad Street. Over twelve years would pass before his next appearance, unannounced, at an Evening of Poetry & Performance: The Return of the Forgotten, on 16 October 1995. Beat poet Allen Ginsberg sat down to recite his A Ballad of American Skeletons, and Paul provided wonderful chunky guitar accompaniment. “He showed up at 5 p.m. for the sound check, and he bought a box for his family. Got all his kids together, four of them, and his wife, and he sat through the whole evening of poetry, and we didn’t say who my accompanist was going to be. We introduced him at the end of the evening, and then the roar went up on the floor of the Albert Hall, and we knocked out the song.” Allen Ginsberg, HotWired.
Paul returned to the Hall on 15 September 1997 for Music for Montserrat, a benefit concert organised by Beatles record producer George Martin for the volcano-devastated Caribbean island. It was thirty-four years to the day since the Beatles’ Great Pop Prom as Paul recalled before setting the seal on an exceptional night. He opened with a solo version of Yesterday, and was then joined by Mark Knopfler, Phil Collins and Eric Clapton for Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight / The End. As an encore he shared verses of Hey Jude with Sting and Elton John – before being joined by the entire company - including Midge Ure, Carl Perkins, Jimmy Buffet and Jools Holland - for a rousing version of Kansas City.
Paul’s 29-year marriage to photographer and animal rights activist Linda Eastman came to an end with her death from breast cancer in 1998. On 10 April 1999, Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders organised a tribute concert, Here There and Everywhere. It was another memorable night at the Hall. In an emotional finalé, Paul joined Elvis Costello and the Pretenders for Lonesome Town and All My Loving before the entire company – Marianne Faithfull, Johnny Marr, Sinead O’Connor, George Michael and Tom Jones amongst them – converged on stage for a chaotic version of Let It Be – so chaotic that it was left off the official broadcast of the concert! Maybe lessons were learnt – Eric Clapton undertook three-weeks of rehearsals to ensure the aforementioned George Harrison tribute concert went so well for what was Paul’s next visit to the Hall.
Paul returned for a BBC charity show produced by Gary Barlow on 12 November 2009 – Children In Need Rocks the Royal Albert Hall. Once more, Paul was handed the top spot, storming through Back In the USSR and Get Back before being joined by Take That for a rousing rendition of Hey Jude - the rest of the all-star line-up filling in the chorus ‘la-las’ at the end.
Away from rock, Paul has used the Hall to premiere several of his classical works. The world premiere of Standing Stone was held here on 14 October 1997 with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Lawrence Foster - Ringo was in the audience. In addition to Standing Stone, the evening included several other Paul compositions: A Leaf from 1970 and three other premieres: Spiral (the LSO), Inebriation (Brodsky Quartet) and Stately Horn (Mark Thompson Horn Quartet). On 3 November 2006 Paul’s Ecce Cor Meum (Behold My Heart), a work for Chorus and Orchestra in Four Movements, had its first performance here, with Gavin Greenaway conducting Kate Royal and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields.
The first half of the Ecce Cor Meum concert featured several earlier works, most extracted from Paul’s fine Working Classical album from 1999. Indeed, Working Classical was nominated as Album of the Year for the inaugural Classical Brit Awards at a ceremony held at the Hall on 6 May 2000, losing out on the night to Andrea Bocelli. Paul returned to the Hall for the 2007 Classical Brit Awards (3 May) as a nominee in the same category for Ecce Cor Meum. This time he won: “If you'd told me when I was a little boy growing up in Liverpool I’d be at the Albert Hall receiving this, I wouldn't have believed you.” Between the two Classical Brits, Paul was nominated for the title award at the BBC’s The People’s Award 2000 broadcast from the Hall on 6 October, losing out to heart surgeon Professor Sir Magdi Yacoub.
Paul’s most recent visit was just last year, 29 March, 2012 (the Hall’s 141st anniversary as it happens), when he performed a blistering 28-song set with his band (Paul ‘Wix’ Wickens, Brian Ray, Rusty Anderson and Abe Loboriel Jr.) to support the Teenage Cancer Trust. Paul, who made the show possible by rearranging his international tour schedule, was introduced by Paul Weller who later guested alongside Teenage Cancer Trust patron Roger Daltrey and the Rolling Stones’s Ronnie Wood for a bristling performance of Get Back.
Together and individually, the Fab Four have been involved in some of the most memorable events in the Hall’s history. Hopefully it won’t be long before Ringo and Paul return to weave their magic once more!
Further reading: The Beatles’ London by Piet Schreuders, Mark Lewisohn, Adam Smith.