THE BEATLES - Brief Biography

Some years ago I was asked to write a biography of The Beatles in less than 400 words for an encyclopedia. Here it is:

The Beatles – the most successful pop group the world has ever seen – were formed in Liverpool, England, by John Lennon (b. October 9, 1940) who recruited Paul McCartney (b. June 18, 1942) to his skiffle group the Quarrymen in 1957. Paul in turn recommended the addition of George Harrison (b. February 25, 1943). All three sang and played guitar and went through a succession of drummers until the arrival of Ringo Starr (b. Richard Starkey, July 7, 1940) in 1962, by which time McCartney had become their bass player and, with Lennon, formed the group’s songwriting nucleus. They had also by this time gained a wealth of experience performing in clubs in Hamburg and Merseyside.
         Though already popular locally, their breakthrough in the UK occurred in mid-1963 as the public became aware of them through a series of huge selling singles and albums. Extraordinary scenes of wild abandon occurred at theatres where they played that year, and in 1964 Beatlemania, as it was called, spread to the rest of the western world. The Beatles thus became the first British pop singers to achieve notable success in the USA. It’s estimated that over 200,000 were on the streets to greet them in Adelaide, Australia. 
         The volume of work that the Beatles accomplished between 1963 and 1967 ensured their subsequent fortunes. Having abandoned the futility of touring they retired to the studio to produce album after album of superb original songs that have influenced all succeeding generations of pop and rock stars. Prolific despite growing tensions within the group, they continued to record together until the end of 1969, leaving behind a body of work that remains unsurpassed, but their greatest achievement was probably the creation – now established as the norm – of the self-sufficient unit, capable of writing, producing and playing on all their own recordings. They also became, perhaps unwillingly, spokesmen for the Sixties counterculture, especially Lennon, who after his marriage to Japanese artist Yoko Ono in 1969 became a renowned peace campaigner.
         The Beatles formally disbanded in 1970 after McCartney issued a press statement saying he no longer wished to work with the other three. All four went on to have successful solo careers. Lennon, arguably the most charismatic Beatle, was assassinated in New York in 1980. Harrison died from cancer in 2001. McCartney continues to tour the world performing the group’s repertoire as, to a lesser extent, does Starr. 


LED ZEPPELIN – Tight But Loose, July, 2019

No rock group protected its rights more fiercely than Led Zeppelin. Manager Peter Grant famously declared war against anything and anyone that might seek to deprive them of income, make money off their backs or hamper their progress in any way, and if this meant something might get broken or someone get hurt then so be it. You made an enemy of the mighty Zep at your peril, at least until Grant retired from the front line. One old writer friend of mine suffers the occasional nightmare even now that involves a phone call guaranteed to sends shivers down his spine. “Hello, Peter Grant here,” he hears in that calmly intimidating voice Peter had perfected. “Me and the boys didn’t much like what you wrote in that magazine of yours. Don’t do it again.” The dial tone follows and he wakes up in a cold sweat.
         So it must have taken a bit of nerve on the part of Dave Lewis to launch his Led Zep fanzine Tight But Loose in 1978. Perhaps he wasn’t aware of the mighty Gee’s reputation, or perhaps he thought that Grant wouldn’t concern himself with a well-intentioned, supportive fanzine unlikely to sell more than a few hundred copies. Either way, he did send copies to Swan Song’s offices and, by issue four, word reached him that they liked it. That must have been a relief. By 1980 Dave had endeared himself to the group to the extent that he was made welcome at a few gigs on their final ‘Over Europe’ tour.
         All of this seems pertinent to the July issue, number 45, of TBL which comes complete with a replica of issue number three which was published in October 1979 and was largely devoted to in-depth coverage of the two shows that Led Zep performed in the open air at Knebworth on August 4 & 11 that year. So what we have is a 40-page facsimile within a 24-page ’zine, 64 pages in all, the biggest TBL ever produced.
         There were no home computers in 1978 and it shows. Issue three was banged out on a typewriter or written in longhand and though the Knebworth pictures, some of them in colour, are all reproduced clearly, there is a touch of the enthusiastic amateurishness that characterised the punk fanzines of the era, mostly notably Mark Perry’s Sniffin’ Glue which, in the light of the punks’ attitude towards the likes of Led Zep, seems deeply ironic 40 years down the line. Alongside the blow-by-blow account of the Knebworth shows, that issue also contains a four-page review of In Through The Out Door, a quiz, the results of a poll amongst fans and, at the back, some of the ‘fan community’ small ads that echo down the years to the present day. It cost 65p in those days, about 20 times cheaper than the current cover price of £12.99.

Three early TBL magazines. Issue three, included within issue 45, is on the right.
Nowadays TBL is recognised by Messrs Page, Plant and Jones as a sort of semi-official source of Led Zep information and an agency by which they can communicate with fans. To this end Dave Lewis has snagged an ‘exclusive’ interview with Jones about his current activities, which include an opera, and his thoughts on Knebworth 40 years later. “We were running through the soundcheck and I could see Bonzo out front and I thought, ‘Wait a minute, who’s playing drums?’” he recalls. “Then I turned around and it was [12-year-old] Jason – he had taken over the drum kit!”
         Elsewhere in the July issue are reports of Plant gigs, an interview with music writer David Hepworth and some retrospective thoughts on Knebworth. There’s also the usual consumers’ guides to ‘unofficial’ releases, extended in this issue to include tapes and CD bootlegs from Knebworth, of which there are many to choose from. Not quite sure what Mr Grant would have thought of that. “Hello Dave, Peter Grant here. About these bootleg records…”


CRICKET – Bats, Balls & Memories

My Lucky Cricket Ball

With the ODI World Cup in the bag and cricket in the headlines again, it seems appropriate to use Just Backdated to reminisce, not about The Who or Melody Maker for once but about the only sport I truly love. My fondness for cricket goes back to when I was old enough to hold a bat and bowl a ball. In Yorkshire, where I was raised, cricket was a religion, on a much higher level than football or rugby, at least in our house. Indeed, cricket was in my blood.

         As a young man my dad was handy with a bat and an impressive medium pace bowler. Invited to Headingley for trials with Yorkshire, his father forbade him from going. “No son of mine is earning his living with a bat and ball,” he admonished wisely, a quotation handed down to me like a mantra. So dad ended up playing for Idle CC in the ultra-competitive Bradford League. At the age of 22 he captained the Idle side that won the Priestley Cup, the league’s principal competition. By the time I was born he'd given up league cricket and was playing regularly for The Hawks CC, a wandering club that played throughout Yorkshire and beyond.
         For ten years, from the age of six to 16, dad and I attended the Scarborough Cricket Festival, occupying the same seats in the members’ stand that he and my grandfather had occupied for decades. I loved the carefree atmosphere of the Cricket Festival, the friendly way in which the matches were played, the brass band that performed in the afternoons, and the annual apple or orange bowled as likely as not by Fred Trueman after lunch during the first day of the Gentleman v Players match.
My dad’s parents lived in Scarborough, on Esplanade Road, where we stayed. Each morning during Festival week three generations of Charlesworths would drive to the North Marine Road Ground via the sea front and take our seats in time for the first ball bowled, me clutching a scorecard which I’d diligently fill in as play progressed. There were three three-day matches in those days, Gentlemen v. Players (Amateurs v Professionals), Yorkshire v. MCC and T.N. Pearces’ XI (which always included a few Test players) v. that season’s overseas touring side.
What made the whole Festival such great fun was that players past and present would stroll across the field from the pavilion to the marquees to take lunch and tea. Schoolboys like myself would lay in wait for them, and in this way I amassed an autograph book full of cricketing legends like Herbert Sutcliffe, Johnny Wardle, Norman Yardley, Maurice Leyland, Bill Edrich, Frank Tyson and Peter May, not to mention several championship-chasing Yorkshire sides from the Fifties and Sixties, led by Ray Illingworth or Brian Close. I still have that autograph book and on other pages there are the tourists, West Indians Clyde Walcott, Everton Weeks and Gary Sobers together as a trio on one page, on another the entire South African side from 1960, and on another a postcard sized picture of India, year unrecorded, with each player’s signature neatly written across their image.

Perhaps my most impressive group is the T. N. Pearce’s XI from the 73rd Festival. I had carefully cut the pictures of the players from the Scarborough evening paper, pasted them in the book and somehow got all 11 players to sign: P. E. Richardson, M. J. K. Smith, Godfrey Evans, F. S. Trueman, E. R. Dexter, Ken Barrington, Trevor Bailey, Colin Moss, Ray Illingworth, Harold Rhodes and one player whose name I can’t make out.

Top: Ted Dexter & Ken Barrington; below Godfrey Evans & Fred Trueman

At Scarborough dad turned out for a wandering side called Little Aston Stragglers who on the Sunday during festival week played an annual fixture against the West Riding Cricket Club at the Oriel, Scarborough’s ‘other’, smaller cricket ground. From the age I could hold a pencil I was recruited to score for the LA Stragglers. It broke my heart if ever I had to record a duck next to dad’s name.
         Scarborough’s South Bay skyline was dominated by the elegant Grand Hotel where many of the players stayed and where a Cricketers’ Room was set aside in which they could dine, away from prying eyes like my own. The walls of the Cricketers’ Room were adorned with photographs and prints stretching back to the beginning of the century. I was about 13 when my dad’s parents celebrated their diamond wedding in that room in 1961.
         As a member of Scarborough CC dad was entitled to drink with the players in the pavilion or marquees, and I spent hours outside these bars enjoying the cricket, sitting with my bottle (never a can!) of fizzy drink, my autograph book and scorecard to hand, daydreaming of great deeds on the pitch, admiring Godfrey Evans’ natural style behind the stumps, urging Ted Dexter on towards a quick fifty, marvelling at the way Freddie Trueman could throw a ball from the boundary edge straight into the keeper’s gloves above the bails.
         As well as the Scarborough Festival dad took me to many test and county games at Headingley and Old Trafford where he would point out the famous players of the day, and Hawks fixtures in which he took part himself. In the mid-Sixties dad went up against Brian Sellars for the Keighley & Craven seat on Yorkshire CCC Committee but lost the poll by five votes. Around that time he successfully smuggled me into the Kennington Oval Pavilion by claiming, with his collusion, that I was Yorkshire batsman Jackie Hampshire’s younger brother. There is a framed photo in our house, reproduced below, of dad with Frank Worrell, the great West Indian captain, which I treasure, not least because it reminds me there was never a trace of racism in our family. I can thank cricket for that. 

All that is long past now. The truth is that despite all this youthful enthusiasm for the game I was never much good at it. I tried, and dad even enrolled me at Headingly one summer for a course overseen by Arthur Mitchell, the stern Yorkshire coach, who wasn’t impressed by my efforts. During the years when I was on the staff of Melody Maker I lost touch with cricket, especially when I lived in New York, though I recall clearly an evening in a restaurant there with my sister who’d come to visit in the summer of 1976. For some reason we talked about cricket and were overheard by a middle-aged English couple on the next table. They joined us and we talked for hours. Like me, they were starved of cricket conversation.
         In the late Eighties, briefly, I re-assumed my cricketing life by turning out a few times for the Old Ruffians, a team made up from employees and friends of the Rough Trade record shop in Notting Hill Gate. We played in and around west London, often on a pitch that was below the elevated section of the M4 between Boston Manor and Brentford. Once we played at the Oval, when it was possible to hire a reduced form of the ground for £1,000 on a Sunday afternoon. Both teams chipped in £50 per player, and that included the scoreboard and access to the same changing rooms where the real cricketers strapped on their pads. What I remember most about the Old Ruffians games is our demon fast bowler Keith Allen who would bring his daughter Lily along, wheeling her around the boundary in a pushchair.
         Henceforth I became a spectator and, though in the Nineties I attended a few Test Matches at both Lords and the Oval, I’m nowadays glued to Sky, as I have been for the past month. I’m always happy to watch games in which I have no particular interest in who wins, just because I love to watch a great batsman play his strokes or a great bowler nip one back and catch the edge on a day when swing is in the air. I have always preferred the ebb and flow of cricket to any other sport; the diverse individual skills that contribute to an all-round team performance, an all-encompassing contest, even if it does take a bit longer than most to reach a result. 
         That aspect of cricket, the time it takes to conclude a game, used to bemuse my American friends back in the day. When I mentioned to any of them that a game between two cricketing nations went on for five days they were astounded, and when I pointed out that even after five days the game could end in a draw they thought I was taking the piss.
         Delighted though I was that England’s fabulous 50-over side won the World Cup on Sunday I thought that on the day New Zealand were the moral victors, but I temper this with the belief that England played better than any other side throughout the competition as a whole and, as a result, deserved to lift the trophy. Morgan’s cool leadership and six-hitting against Afghanistan was a joy, as were the opening platforms posted by Bairstow and Roy. Root is Mr Reliable, Buttler our sharpshooter. Archer is a stupendous find with tons of cricket ahead of him and the rest our bowling pack of Plunkett, Wood, Woakes and Rashid preyed like sharks. Then there was Stokes, no longer the hothead, whose keen eye for the way a game develops made him the key man in the side, most often with the bat but in the field too. His stupendous catch by the Oval boundary during the first game against South Africa set the tone for all that followed for me.
         And when in the middle stages of the competition England seemed to be faltering I delved beneath the stairs of our house, found my lucky cricket ball and put it within reach as I watched the TV. That’s it at the top of this post, and on the reverse is W. Walker, Keighley’, a sports shop where the Hawks CC, my dad's wandering side, bought their gear. It belonged to dad and every so often during the rest of England’s games I leaned over and grabbed it, cradling it for a few moments and wishing dad was watching the light blue England team with me.

My dad, sketched wearing the green and yellow blazer of Idle CC.