THE BEATLES 1963: A Year In The Life By Dafydd Rees

It is a testament to the everlasting affection in which The Beatles are held that books like this exist, not to mention the effort that goes into their research and writing. The concept is simple: a precise and detailed account of their activities on every single day during the year of their UK breakthrough, the first year of Beatlemania, accompanied in the most part by first-hand reports from many of those who were around at the time, whether in the audience for a show, or in a support band, or who just happened to encounter them somewhere or other.

It is an extraordinary book and it will take me weeks to read it all, though I have already fast-forwarded to dates of greater than usual significance. It invites dipping but if I were to devote eight hours a day to reading it straight, from page one to page 544, I might finish it by Christmas. I am reliably informed by its editor that the word count is 309,000. Author Dafydd Rees actually delivered 477,000 and was asked to it cut back to save on print costs. 

        Even more so than the exhaustive books written by Mark Lewisohn, who evidently lent his support, Beatles 1963 is the ultimate Beatles’ nerd book but at the same time utterly gripping, at least for those of my generation who were smitten by them. If, like me, you occasionally drift back nostalgically to the summer of 1963, when ‘She Loves You’ topped the charts, when it seemed as if The Beatles were the answer to our prayers, a gift from the Gods, then this is the book for you. At the beginning of the year we didn’t know one from the other. By the end their names were carved on our hearts for ever. 

The book is also curiously moreish. I pick it up intending to spend half an hour with it, or read the entries for two or three days, and end up spending an hour or more reading the entries for a whole week. Mark Lewisohn’s books have more insight, context and comment and are written from a more scholarly perspective, but the detail that Dafydd Rees has brought to his book is mind-boggling. 

Let’s look at a random entry. I open the book at page 208, June 9. At the top is the second half of a lengthy description of the June 8 show in Newcastle, carried over from the previous page, by Heather Page, a housewife from Tyne And Wear. In a nutshell, Heather says it wasn’t a sell-out and fans weren’t screaming. But when she tried to get tickets for the Beatles’ next appearance at the same venue there were queues around the block and she couldn’t get in. 

Next up we learn that the drive from Newcastle to Blackburn took three hours, and that there were two shows at the 3,500-seater King’s Hall, their last on a 21-date UK tour with Roy Orbison. “During the second house, a group of girls got past the police cordon and rushed the stage,” writes Rees. “Eileen Tripper, a pupil at Rhyddings Secondary School, was intercepted before she could reach her favourite Beatle, John. One male teen climbed on to the ledge of the balcony. Another teen shouted ‘Up the Rolling Stones’ and was duly thumped with an umbrella by a girl nearby.”

The Blackburn Times reported: “A seething mass of fans made it to the stage at the end of the first house, but their passions had nothing on the second. Then, even a barrier of policemen failed to quench their enthusiasm, and a few succeeded in mounting the stage – almost delirious when they had actually touched a Beatle! But many more were dragged unceremoniously away, to be pitched back into the rabble.”

There’s follows an account of the show by Carole Donnelley, a solicitor’s legal assistant, who lives in Darwen. According to her, one fan jumped on stage and nicked Roy Orbison’s glasses. 

It helps the book that during 1963 The Beatles worked as if their lives depending on it. On nights off during tours they played one-nighters here there and everywhere, and when they weren’t performing they were recording, or taping shows for BBC radio or TV, or doing interviews or having their photographs taken. The only let up occurred during the second half of September when they all took a holiday, George famously visiting the USA, the first Beatle to do so, to spend time with his sister Louise, his travelling companion his elder brother Peter. Included among precise details of this trip is an account of the night George, completely unknown in the USA, played with a local band in Eldorado, Missouri. “It was like someone threw a switch in that room,” says an onlooker. “The difference was dramatic.” Louise remembers people banging their fists on tables and stamping their feet, and someone else later saying to a member of the group: “That new kid that’s trying out for your band. You’d be crazy not to take him on.”

These two extracts represent less than a quarter of a percent of the entire book. It is clear from the entries that Dafydd Rees has spent years poring through old editions local newspapers to gather his information and seeking out fans through correspondence. It’s the fans’ recollections that carry the most weight. Their memories are vivid and somehow more authentic, more personal, for their matter-of-factness. The miracle is that all these boys and girls, as they were then, remember their encounters so clearly. They are memories they will take to their graves, and they prove beyond doubt that there was far more to The Beatles than simply the music they made. Exactly what is was that caused so many of the post war generation in this country – and later the world – to accept John, Paul, George and Ringo with such passion has always been somehow inexplicable, though many have tried. Beatles 1963 might not provide the answer but it takes you there and leaves you with a sense of wonder that this really did happen. 

The book is illustrated throughout, with many photos unseen, or rarely seen, before, and all quoted contributors have supplied contemporary pictures of themselves. There is also an eight-page colour section, eight pages that seek to answer myths, and detailed source notes. RRP is £25, £18.75 on Amazon. 


BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – Only The Strong Survive

I remember... I was introduced to soul music through Geno Washington & The Ram Jam Band whose 1966 album Hand Clappin’ Foot Stomping’ Funky-Butt… Live! retains a cherished place in my diminishing LP collection, and back then I always headed for the dance floor at the sound of Stax and Motown. That album formed the basis of sets performed by The Black Sheep, the premier band in my home town of Skipton, and no one sat down as they raced nonstop through ‘Ride Your Pony’, ‘Up Tight’, ‘Hold On I’m Coming’, ‘You Don’t Know Like I Know’ and a dozen more soul classics. 
        It was somehow very cool to like soul music in those days and on the cover and accompanying artwork of Only The Strong Survive, Bruce Springsteen looks fabulously cool as he leans against a cucumber-green Pontiac GTO*, its lines as sleek, smooth and retro as the music within. Like the music, this model Pontiac was produced in the sixties, between 1963 and 1974; a classic car to frame 15 classic soul covers, a few well-known, most not so, all performed with affection and enthusiasm, a lockdown inspired left turn from Bruce’s role as leader of the E Street Band, though their horns feature prominently, alongside producer and multi-instrumentalist Ron Aniello and engineer Rob Lebret. 
        It was a labour of love for this trio, of course. Their respect for this music is evident from the attention to detail – the arrangements don’t stray much from the originals – and the depth of feeling Bruce injects into the songs. On Graham Norton’s BBC TV chat show last Friday night, looking a bit uneasy alongside an eye-catchingly underdressed Anya Taylor-Joy, star of The Queen’s Gambit, he explained how soul music was his musical education, and how it has informed his work ever since. Come to think of it, the E Street Band has always played more like a soul revue than a basic rock unit. Nowadays there’s at least ten of them, often more if you count the fluid brass section. The Black Sheep only managed six, but they did have Kevin on trumpet.

        “I remember,” the opening words of the opening title track, sung by his female backing vocalists, sets the scene for all that follows, in this case a nostalgic wander down memory lane to where music made largely within a 100-mile radius of Memphis somehow managed to combine romantic heartbreak with a pulsating beat drawn from gospel churches where praising the Lord was and remains a serious business. The more enthusiastic the congregation, the more likely they were to ascend their stairway to heaven. 
        Bruce’s covers are immaculate, as you would expect, the music uplifting, joyful, a free and easy journey into Bruce’s treasure chest of favourites. There’s no attempt to update or put his own stamp on the original recordings and the emphasis is on Bruce’s vocals. He’s joined by Sam Moore on a couple but on his own for the rest, singing like a soul veteran with a direct line to the spiritual origins of Wilson P, Eddie F, Joe T, Otis R and all the rest of those guys who ushered us on to the dance floor in the sixties.
        Of the songs with which I am most familiar, ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shone Anymore’ doesnt stray from the arrangement used by The Walker Brothers but loses the theatrics; ‘7 Rooms Of Gloom’ lacks The Four Tops’ silken vocals but adds drama; ‘What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted’ is throatier than Jimmy Ruffin but just as despairing; and ‘Someday We’ll Be Together’, the closer, is chock full of longing, just like Diana.
        Of the rest, I’m now a fan of ‘Nightshift’, the Commodores elegy for Marvin and Jackie, and ‘Do I Love You’, the Northern Soul classic originally recorded by the little-known Frank Wilson, for which Bruce has filmed an energetic video with a gospel choir. But the truth is every track is a winner on a gloriously uplifting side project from the man who simply doesn’t know how to stop.

*I am indebted to my old pal Frederic Manby for identifying the make and model of the car, though he had to consult another car expert, Phil Huff. Frederic and I worked together long, long ago and he went on to distinguish himself as the long-serving motoring correspondent for the Yorkshire Post. He, too, danced to The Black Sheep back in the day. 


DAVID ENGLISH – A Story You Won’t Read Anywhere Else

David English with England T20 cricket captain Jos Buttler

Yesterday’s celebrations following England’s win in the T20 World Cup in Melbourne were no doubt tempered by the news of the death of David English, who, uniquely, forged illustrious careers in the worlds of both music and cricket. I knew David when he was an employee, and later senior executive, of RSO Records, the label run by Robert Stigwood, the manager of Eric Clapton and The Bee Gees. 

        Later, however, he made a name for himself in cricketing circles, founding the Bunbury Cricket Club that raised vast sums for charity. He created the Bunbury Festival which offered opportunities for young cricketers. He worked at Lords for a spell. International players from all the test playing nations knew and respected David for the work he did.

        The England and Wales Cricket Board noted David’s death on their website, as follows: “In 1987, he created the annual U15s Bunbury Festival. Its impact in bringing together each year the country’s best young players has been colossal. Its graduates include Michael Vaughan, Andrew Flintoff, and Joe Root. By 2021, 1,044 Bunbury Festival players had gone on to play first-class cricket and 118 had earned international honours with England. Everyone at the ECB is saddened at the news of David’s passing.” 

        The David I used to know was a boisterous character. He acted in a few films, wrote children’s books in which cricketers became cartoon characters – Ian Buntham and Goldenhare Gower were my favourites – and he sent me one in which The Bee Gees were portrayed as furry animals. 

        He was always the life and soul of the party, forever cracking jokes, and I hope he’ll forgive me for relating this tale. 

        Each January there takes place in Cannes on the French Riviera the annual Midem Festival at which music industry business, mostly to do with song publishing and foreign licensing, is transacted, and in 1971, aged 23, I attended the event to report on it for Melody Maker. I had been told that high-class hookers from Paris come down to Cannes for the Midem week and that some were to be found in the expensive Hotel Martinez at the eastern end of La Croisette, the wide, tree-lined boulevard that separates the town from the beach and the Mediterranean beyond. So, on the second night of my week’s stay in Cannes I went to the Martinez for a late night drink to check out the action for myself. 

The Martinez bar was crowded and amongst the throng were several music industry types that I knew. One of them informed me that contributions were being sought for a kitty which would be used to engage the services of two or more girls to put on a sex show in someone’s hotel suite. Was I interested in contributing? I certainly was, so I handed over my money and waited until I was summoned.

About ten minutes later, negotiations having been satisfactorily concluded, I found myself in a spacious hotel room, waiting for the show to commence. Sufficient money had evidently been collected to secure the services of three girls, all of whom were young, slim and beautiful, two brunettes and one blonde. We sat in silence while they clambered onto a double bed, removed each other’s dresses and frolicked around in their underwear. Next, they took everything off and simulated sex, both oral and manual, but the performance was sterile, mechanical, lacking even a hint of eroticism, and some members of the audience conveyed their dissatisfaction by whistling and suggesting the girls put more effort into their work.

Eventually the guy who had arranged the show approached the girls to discuss matters. The outcome of this was that one member of the audience would be permitted to join them on the bed and they would pleasure him while we watched. It certainly wasn’t going to be me but one intrepid fellow I knew quite well, who worked for an independent record label, offered his services, stripped down to his briefs and climbed onto the bed with the girls. They soon had his underwear off but try as they might the girls were unable to stimulate him sufficiently, a situation that caused no little amusement amongst the audience which no doubt exacerbated his inability to perform. It was all slightly embarrassing. After less than ten minutes they gave up and announced that the show was over, the agreed time limit of 30 minutes having expired. As one they grabbed their clothes and headed off to the bathroom to get dressed again and we all trooped out, back down to the bar, all of us convinced the whole business had been a waste of time and money.

The name of the man who joined them on the bed? David English, of course. 



“He didn’t have personal friends,” says Dick Allen, a showbiz agent who worked with Chuck Berry for years. “I travelled all the time with him. We were not socially friendly. He did his thing and I did mine. I did not try to crawl into his life. I have nothing bad to say about him on a personal level; we were just not personally friendly. But he wasn’t personally friendly with anybody.”

        Dick Allen’s testimony is echoed throughout RJ Smith’s engrossing biography of this most secretive of men, the nearest thing we are likely to get to a definitive portrait of a musician whose records are a key foundation stone of rock’n’roll. Berry was elusive, moderately affable when it suited him but more often immensely dislikable, an individualist who never felt the need to bare his soul to anyone, not even his wife Themetta, to whom he was married for 68 years and who gave birth to his three daughters and one son, none of whom are mentioned in the acknowledgements of a book the author proudly states is ‘unauthorised’. 

        From the book we learn what made Berry the way he was, ill-tempered and arrogant, a provocateur who never gave anything away, least of all what he felt was his due in hard cash. When he died in 2017, aged 90, he had outlived almost all of his contemporaries but enough of those who encountered him remain for Smith to have researched an extraordinary life as diligently as anyone could hope. It’s full of the stories you would expect, mind-boggling tales of meanness and avarice, sexual escapades that border on perversion, and haughtiness that implies an almost suicidal tendency to provoke, and to hell with the consequences. 

        Were it not for his frequently abhorrent sexual behaviour, Berry might be judged to have taken a heroic stand against racism. He was raised in St Louis, Missouri, and although he had homes elsewhere in the US at one time or another, he never really left. He encountered white privilege everywhere he looked and determined from an early age to behave like a privileged white man himself, especially when it came to his addiction to white women, especially blondes. This got him into lots of trouble but he took it in his stride. His bullishness was who he was. 

        With the notable exception of his first jail term, ten years (commuted to three) for his part in a bungled crime spree just after he turned 18, there isn’t much about his childhood, the pre-rock’n’roll years, though we do learn he admired the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar and was fascinated by cameras. As a result, the first 150 pages or so (out of 400+) of the book devote as much time to scene setting as they do to the man himself. Which is not to say that the scene setting isn’t important or, indeed, absorbing, just that biographical details take second place to the history of American blues and R&B music, the gangster-ridden early US pop record industry, Berry's varied influences and, perhaps most important, the ugly racism in America during the fifties, how it impacted on Berry and how he reacted to it.

        Smith has a free-wheeling American style of writing that rocks along like a Chuck Berry song, and he likes sentences without verbs. This suits the subject matter if not the subject, who was always laconic in interviews and, like many present day politicians, made things up or massaged the facts, not least in his own autobiography, first published in 1987. Unlike that book, An American Life is generous with the precise details on how, in 1960, Berry was given another prison sentence, this time three years for transporting a 14-year-old native American girl over state lines for sex, not to mention numerous other legal actions brought by women who sued him on sexual grounds, right up to the hidden cameras used to film women using the bathrooms in Berry Park, the country club he established in Wentzville, Missouri. 

        It therefore comes as a bit of a relief when Smith turns his attention to the music – which he writes about well – and how it was made, and how Berry came to learn about, and then react to, the ways the profits from it were shared. We learn about Johnnie Johnson’s role in the process and Smith has interviewed numerous musicians, some long-serving, from bands hired to back Berry up on the road. All have great tales to tell. Indeed, the last third of book contains countless eye-opening accounts of Berry’s ‘difficult’ behaviour while touring, wrangles over money in which Berry invariably comes out on top, his role in promoter Richard Nader’s endless series of rock’n’roll revival shows and the behind-the-scenes shenanigans surrounding the 1987 film documentary Hail! Hail! Rock’n’Roll, in which Keith Richards suffered for his prominent role. 

        In the end, though, while Smith is generous in his endorsement of Berry’s musical accomplishments, the portrait he paints is of a solitary, self-destructive, morose and hyper-sexual satyr. For all the pleasure that Chuck Berry’s music has given us, he didn’t get – or even seem to want – much pleasure in return. 

Published in the UK by Omnibus Press and elsewhere by Hachette, Chuck Berry: An American Life is well annotated and indexed, has a rather meagre 16 pages of black and white photographs and costs £20.00. 



Marginally more accomplished that Rubber Soul and without the flamboyance of Sgt Pepper, Revolver is widely acknowledged as The Beatles’ masterpiece, an opinion with which I concur, especially after listening to this sparkling remix and the revealing ‘work in progress’ tracks on the bonus second disc included in the 2-CD package I opted for, as opposed to the £100+ 5-CD set with all sorts of extras.

        It was 1966. The Beatles took the first three months of the year off, their first real holiday since Beatlemania broke out in 1963. Taking advantage of EMI’s generous but fiscally motivated offer of unlimited studio time at Abbey Road, they recorded the songs that appeared on Revolver between April and June, then embarked on their ill-fated final world tour in July and August. They must surely have known their touring days were coming to an end, for almost all the tracks on their seventh album were unsuitable for performing on stage with the equipment that was available to them in those days. Can you imagine Ringo yelling “Backwards guitar, George!”? None of Revolver’s songs were ever performed by The Beatles before an audience, though ‘Paperback Writer’, the single recorded concurrently, appeared in their concert sets that year.

        So much for the back story, let’s begin at the beginning. The fabulous Paul McCartney bass line on ‘Taxman’ that Weller shamelessly co-opted for ‘Start’ is even more fabulous, a deep sensuous groove that matches anything Duck Dunn played with the MGs, while George’s voice and choppy guitar benefit from a thorough clean-up. Always a terrific opener, everyone’s disapproval of Mr Wilson and Mr Heath is considerably more apparent and Paul’s short, sharp guitar solo simply explodes. More importantly, however, the off-putting stereo separation on the Revolver CD I bought 25 or more years ago, wherein the vocals are skewed towards the left speaker, has been junked in favour of a far more equitable mix across the audio spectrum. In a nutshell, it brings everything up to date. 

        Stereo remix engineer/producer Giles Martin, son of George, clarifies the technicalities of this in the accompanying booklet, explaining how modern technology enabled him to separate each recorded element – instruments and vocals – and reposition them, this despite the songs having been recorded on four-track tape. He refers to it as ‘de-mixing’, applying to Revolver the same process used during the production of the recent Beatles Get Back movie to restore inaudible dialogue on film.

        And on we go. The strings on ‘Eleanor Rigby’, Paul’s weeping widow, ring out like never before. John sounds sleepier, foggier, than ever on ‘I’m Only Sleeping’, while Ringo’s cymbals glisten and the nifty little five-note bass link between verses is deeper, craftier too. George’s sitar is spikier in ‘Love You Too’, and in the accompanying booklet tabla player Anil Bhagwat assures us it really is George playing the sitar. 

        The lovely ‘Here, There And Everywhere’ sounds like it was a recorded last week, a sumptuous ode to his love for Jane that glides like a gondola, its harmonies on a par with anything on Abbey Road’s long medley. No wonder Brian Wilson was inspired. ‘Yellow Submarine’ is almost profound and certainly happier. The guitar part in ‘She Said She Said’ is crisper, John’s vocal seemingly up in the mix, more urgent, a bit frightening actually.

        Side two and Paul’s happier, the sun shining brighter as he wishes it good day. George’s lovely cascading guitar part in ‘And You Bird Can Sing’ has more bite. You can taste Paul’s tears in ‘For No One’, its horn part blowing clear and true. ‘Doctor Robert’ bounces merrily along, John’s vocal more distinct. ‘I Want To Tell You’ sounds like it was recorded for All Things Must Pass. ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’ swings like never before. Finally, ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ sounds more unsettling, John more persuasive, the shrieks more piercing, Ringo’s tom-tom remorselessly tolling the end of the beginning. 

        Remarkably, these 14 Revolver tracks last precisely 34 minutes and seven seconds, its longest track three minutes, its shortest just two. There’s no filler. Thats how it was done in those days. A superb album sounds even more superb. 

        It’s probably been said before but after listening to this new mix for three days, at home and in my car, I couldnt help but admire how on his Revolver songs Paul demonstrates a remarkable ability to switch moods, from the melancholia of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ to the romanticism of ‘Here, There...’, from the gloom of ‘For No One’ to the optimism of ‘Good Day Sunshine’ and feel-good vibe of ‘Got To Get You…’, with its Stax-like disco strut. Meanwhile, John is less quixotic but far more philosophical, pondering the meaning of life from an acid-drenched stupor, the pessimistic observer resigned to his lot (until Yoko came along to snap him out of it).

        The second CD in the package I bought opens with vibrant remixes of ‘Paperback Writer’ and its B-side, ‘Rain’, one of many contenders for the ‘Best Beatles B-side’ award, which is a whole other issue but, for the record, in a tight contest my vote would go to ‘Don’t Let Me Down’. Then there’s 13 outtakes, all of which sound somehow unfinished but are not without interest. John often tops and tails things with a quip, sometimes waspish, sometimes gleeful. The brass part on ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’ began as fuzz-tone guitar played by George, ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’ had McGuinn-like chiming guitars throughout and in ‘Taxman’ John and Paul sang the line ‘Anybody got a bit of money’ in falsetto. We hear John muck things up in ‘I’m Only Sleeping’, Paul’s melodious piano on the backing track to ‘For No One’ and ‘Yellow Submarine’ without the sound effects. 

        But of all these extras the best is the take of ‘Here, There And Everywhere’, spare and intimate, sounding a bit like a demo. “If pushed,” says Paul in the booklet notes, “‘Here, There And Everywhere is my own favourite of all my songs.”