Tuesday, 13 September 2016

HOW THE BEATLES GOT AMERICA SCREAMING



The Beatles in Washington DC, 1964

The Beatles were the first stadium rock band, before stadium rock had even been invented. “The equipment they had is what a band might use to play in a garage now,” according to producer Giles Martin (son of the late Sir George Martin) who has painstakingly remixed primitive live Beatles recordings for a new film and album. “Drop the garage in Shea Stadium with fifty thousand people screaming. That’s a Beatles concert. I doubt anybody could hear a thing, and that includes the band.”
Eight Days A Week: The Touring Years is a much vaunted big screen documentary retelling the Beatles story as a live band. Oscar-winning director Ron Howard has dug into a vast archive of footage to create a visceral impression of Beatlemania from the inside as well as out. It focuses on the period from 1963 to 1966, when The Beatles spent more time on the road than in the studio.
“There is always another crop of stars but no one has ever got close to this,” says veteran American broadcaster Larry Kane, who acted as an adviser to the movie makers.  “I got the chills watching the footage. I felt like I was right back there again.”
He notes that Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra “had their moments” but changing technology, demographics and the very mood of the times created the conditions for the Beatles to strike as no pop stars had done before. “It was a shared experience on a global scale, like a snowstorm or a hurricane the world was going through together.”
You had 7,000 people collapsing chairs as they were running along, and tripping on them, a lot of injuriesLarry Kane
As a 21-year-old reporter, Kane was invited by Beatles manager Brian Epstein to join their entourage, travelling to every stop on their 1964 and 1965 American tours. “I watched 52 concerts. I was on the plane and in their hotel suites. It was something to see because people really didn’t understand the phenomenon, they weren’t prepared. Security was very lacking. The Beatles had two roadies, and they were playing to the biggest audiences anyone had ever seen. 

 The Beatles perform for the Hotel Sahara in Las Vegas, 1964 

"The police departments weren’t going to use batons and sticks to beat up children, so they didn’t know what to do. How do you handle thousands of people storming the stage? It was just chaos all the time, and when we got to Vancouver (in August 1964) it sort of exploded. You had 7,000 people collapsing chairs as they were running along, and tripping on them, a lot of injuries. The intensity of the crowds, the craziness, it was really scary. I think that’s when they realised ‘we better start taking care of business here’. So what did they do? They hired another roadie.”
Giles Martin had the task of reconstructing the sound, using new technology to demix tracks, separate and boost individual elements, and supress the background screaming that made every Beatles live recording virtually unlistenable (the film is accompanied by a new version of The Beatles: Live at the Hollywood Bowl, their only official live album).


The band on stage at Shea Stadium, in a scene from Eight Days a Week
 
“The original idea was to let you experience what seeing the Beatles would have been like back in the Sixties, but in fact we have done way better than that, because you can actually hear them,” says Martin. “They were touring sports stadiums with 100 watt amps and all the vocals and guitars going through Tannoy speakers used to make announcements at Baseball games.”
The Beatles might as well have been playing with ear muffs on. It’s amazing they could stay in tune at allGiles Martin
By comparison, he notes, “Paul McCartney probably travels with 18 trucks now, megawatt PA system, in ear monitors, video walls, lighting rigs. The Beatles might as well have been playing with ear muffs on. It’s just purely relying on muscle memory. It’s amazing they could stay in tune at all.”
“It was very difficult to hear, especially around the stage area itself,” says Kane. “I had a way of cupping my ears behind my head with my hands to drown out the crowd noise. But the Beatles were always great, every beat, every harmony. The best show was Atlanta Fulton County, where a DJ named Paul Drew hooked up extra sound all over the stadium. In the middle of the show, I remember John going, ‘I can hear it! I can hear us!’”

If it seems peculiar that all this hysteria was being generated at concerts where no one could hear the performances, Beatlemania was clearly about more than just music. It was a period of generational change, the coming to age of the baby boom, when the young started to outnumber the old and decisively take over the reins of popular culture.
“The sex appeal of the four together was extraordinary, the music was extraordinary, and the combination was this bombastic explosion of emotion,” suggests Kane. “Every single person in that crowd thought the Beatles were singing to them, I’m convinced of that. I could see their faces, tears streaming down their cheeks. It was personal. I got letters, ‘Dear Mr Kane, will you tell Paul to meet me at the Seers Store, Minneapolis and we’ll be able to talk about our relationship.’ It was not just idolatry. It was insanity.”
Kane quickly realised the Beatles were a vehicle for significant change. “I truly believe the Beatles were great liberators of women. Growing up in high school in the 1950s, we would never have imagined that women would ever express themselves publicly like they did in 1964. I do believe the whole world was changed by the culture shock that occurred.”
John Lennon, always keen to puncture myths of the Beatles, once described their tours as being “like Fellini’s Satyricon. When we hit town, we hit it.” Kane suggests things were not as debauched as Lennon implied. “It was mad outside, and they were incubated in this bubble. John was funny, fiery, controversial. He said in public what most people would think in private so he was always on the edge.
"There was a lot of activity but I would say the level of abandon or recklessness was pretty tame by today’s standards. And remember, three of them were single, and I don’t know that John really thought he was married. I saw them with a lot of young ladies, but I wasn’t following them into bedrooms with my 40-pound tape recorder and writing about who was doing what with whom, it was just a sort of mosaic of social activity. Most of the time was spent with each other. They hung out together. They didn’t drink much. They smoked a lot, which was par for the course.  They were always very respectful to their teenage fans. They were real troupers.”



The Beatles perform at the Seattle Centre Coliseum in Seattle,1964
Kane laughingly recalls a party in Burt Lancaster’s mansion, in which the Hollywood elite came to meet the Beatles. “Sandra Dee was there, Jayne Mansfield, Dean Martin, Peggy Lipton was there with Paul, John was holding forth with a whole group of people, it was kind of wild.”
Remember, three of them were single, and I don’t know that John really thought he was married
Kane asked a beautiful young woman what she did for a living and she started screaming at the top of her voice. “The decibel level was so high she could have broken a glass. Everybody turned around, the whole room stopped. And then she whispered in my ear, ‘Larry, I’m a screamer. I star in horror movies.’ Paul McCartney looked over at me and said, ‘You’re a bad boy, Larry Kane.”

 The band on a train between Washington DC and New York in 1964, in a still from Eight Days a Week
 
“The Beatles were as young as One Direction,” Giles Martin points out. “This was a bunch of kids in their early twenties, making history. You can hear that at the Hollywood Bowl. They are not going through the motions. They launch into everything, reacting to the crowd, it’s almost like surfing the power of the audience. It was the encapsulation of every dream they ever had of becoming the toppermost of the poppermost. They had conquered the world. At the same time it was turning into a nightmare, because it wasn’t happening musically at all.”
The Beatles stopped touring in 1966, retreating to the studio for the second phase of their career, which saw them create some of the most groundbreaking masterpieces of the rock era. They only played one more concert, the famous impromptu performance on the roof of the Apple Building in 1969 that became the basis of the film and album Let It Be.



The band in 1966
“It goes to show what a great live band they were,” says Martin, who had the opportunity to remix the session for the new documentary’s uplifting ending. “It’s amazing that after a month in the studio they went on the rooftop and cut some of their finest performances. Just because they didn’t play shows doesn’t mean they weren’t playing live.
"Even at the end, it was still the days of eight track, so most of the records were cut as a band performing in a room. I remember remixing Come Together at Abbey Road and Ringo and Paul came in separately, and both said to me ‘God, I remember, we really nailed it that day.’ The thing about the Beatles is that the four together made a better sound than individually. That’s what a band does.”
The Beatles: Eight Days A Week is released on September 15



1 comment:

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