The well-known cliché amongst those of us for whom publishing books about rock was a way of life is that everyone who ever met The Beatles feels compelled to write a book about them. I must be an exception. I met John seven times, Paul eight and George once but failed to encounter Ringo at all, and the fact that I can recall all of these meetings quite distinctly must mean something or other. However, it obviously means a whole lot more to David Stark, publisher and editor of SongLink International magazine, whose long-term ongoing mission in life seems to have been to ambush The Beatles, collectively or individually, whenever and wherever possible, a bit Forrest Gumpish in some respects except that, unlike Tom Hank’s loveable but rather dim creation, David limits his encounters with defining figures of the 20th Century to Beatles only.
David’s account of all this is an enjoyable ride for fans of the group, a sort of autobiography written around his love for them and myriad bids to end up in their company, sometimes by chance, more often by good management. A fortuitous encounter with Clive Epstein, brother of Brian, during a family vacation at Torquay in 1964 gets the ball rolling, and offers David a name to drop after he’s caught interloping at the 1968 premiere of Yellow Submarine. Having successfully evaded security by entering the cinema via its roof, he gets lucky when Keith Richard tells him Mick won’t require the next seat to his, so David plops himself down behind John Lennon to watch the film. Such ingenuity warrants high praise indeed.
And so the stage is set and we’re off, with David fondly recalling each and every encounter he’s ever had with The Fabs, most of them post-split of course; watching concerts, getting backstage, at receptions and awards ceremonies, in the street, on their doorsteps, just about everywhere you can imagine apart from their bedrooms. Naturally, he’s met – and writes about – peripheral figures from the Beatles’ circle too; family, friends, management, support staff and collaborators, many of them almost as well known now as The Beatles themselves, not to mention many other successful rock musicians, though there is no mention among the book’s 182 pages of any pets, Martha the sheepdog and her successors having evidently eluded David’s relentless quest.
Some such encounters are more interesting than others. I wish he’d taped his conversations with Aunt Mimi in 1981 when he spent a weekend at Sandbanks near Poole, twice visiting the home of the eldest of the Stanley sisters into whose care young John Winston was bestowed at the tender age of four. “He did come back to see me, secretly, in disguise,” she told David after he inquired whether she’d seen John since he left the UK for America in 1971. If true, this is a genuine scoop but David – like everyone else – believes it to be wishful thinking on Mimi’s part.
Having worked in various capacities in the music business since he decided in 1974 that estate agenting wasn’t his bag, David henceforth found it much easier to meet and/or attend concerts by Paul, George & Ringo, so the second half of the book lacks the creative subterfuge of the early encounters. Meeting Paul in a professional capacity or watching him on stage aren’t anywhere near as compelling to read about as bumping into him outside a café in St John’s Wood. Still, David seems never to have missed a single London concert by Paul or Ringo, or a tribute show like the Concert For George in 2002; he regularly attends Beatle fan conventions, auction room sales of Beatles memorabilia and gatherings like Beatle-related Blue Plaque unveilings; and he plays drums in a Travelling Wilburys tribute act called The Trembling Wilburys. In short, nothing much escapes him and if the name dropping occasionally gets a bit much, well that is the title of the book after all.
Finally, I must declare an interest since it was I who introduced David to the publisher, for which I am duly thanked. Largely uncritical and steering well clear of anything remotely controversial, It’s All Too Much is a brisk read and unlikely to make it onto any list of thought-provoking or even revealing Beatle books, but as one man’s journey through life with The Beatles as his guide, mentor and deity, it does just fine.