Wednesday, 12 October 2016

DEVON MAN WHO PUT THE BEATLES AND SPRINGSTEEN ON ROAD TO FAME

Back then, they were the Fab Four. Even now, The Beatles are the biggest-selling musical artists of all time. But for Tony Bramwell they will always be just John, Paul, Ringo and the mate he grew up with, George. Tony went on to work for the band's manager, Brian Epstein, and would become the Beatles' official filmmaker and chief executive of their record company, Apple, before a career as a record promoter for the likes of Bruce Springsteen.
He remains friends with The Boss and Paul and met up with Macca last weekend in California at the Desert Trip festival in California.
But as he sips coffee in a Devon pub he is a world away from all that glamour and sounds just like any other music lover as he talks of the thrill of hearing great tunes for the first time. Tony is also fully aware that he just happened to be in the right place at the right time: Liverpool in the 1960s. His story begins a decade earlier in the same city where he and George Harrison grew up about a quarter of a mile apart; Tony in the district of Hunt's Cross, the future Beatle in Speke.

"We were playmates from when he was about seven and I was about five,we played Robin Hood and cowboys and Indians. I've got a scar on my neck from being hit with an arrow. It was probably George who fired it. He used to come round to my house to play my guitar – I had one but couldn't play."
Tony Bramwell in the 1960s
Fast forward that decade: the city is alive with the sound of the Merseybeat as a string of bands is fusing rock 'n' roll and skiffle to create a distinctive genre. One of the leading figures is Gerry Marsden, later with his band The Pacemakers but then known as The Mars Bars.
"Gerry was in love with a near neighbour of mine, Pauline (Behan), and I used to carry his guitar into his gigs, which got me in for free," says Tony. "I'd lost touch with George when he was about 14. Then I saw him on a bus when I was going to see this band that had just come back from Germany. George said he was in the band, so I asked if I could carry his guitar in for him."
When John Lennon and Paul saw Tony doing that for George, they asked if he'd do the same for them.


"I suppose, yes, I was a roadie at first, but we didn't have that name then. There was just me and the van driver, Neil (Aspinall, who would become the head of Apple). As a band, they were just amazing, so different. Other people were really just doing impressions of famous American acts, and trying to look cool. But The Beatles were rock 'n' roll. They had learned their trade and they could play. They could play for hours."
Tony ditched what might have been his career – he was offered an apprenticeship with Ford at the car maker's factory in Halewood – to work for Epstein. After a period on the road he was put in charge of booking and organising tours for The Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Cilla Black and others who were all signed to Epstein's company.
"I spent a lot of time sitting around in TV studios when bands were being interviewed and performing and I was always asking questions about how this worked and what that button was for. So I learned about TV and filming."


Tony, left, strikes a rock'n'roll pose as Paul emerges from a car
 
He used those skills to become a music video pioneer, creating films of The Beatles to fulfil a worldwide demand for footage to go with their latest tunes. The pace was frenetic: ten in one day, at a cut price £750. The rewards were huge, though, with one US TV company paying £20,000 for a three-minute film. So the sideline became a big deal as Tony became head of Apple Films.
Years later that would lead to working with Oscar-winning Hollywood director Ron Howard – the man behind A Beautiful Mind and Frost/Nixon – whose documentary The Beatles: Eight Days A Week has won critical acclaim this year. He advised Howard who made several visits to Tony's home of 20 years in Totnes.
"If you are a Beatles fan the film is great, although if you are a Beatles fanatic, there is nothing much new, apart from the crystal clear picture and sound," says Tony. "They somehow managed to make the vocals clearer, reducing the screaming at Shea Stadium."

That New York gig remains his favourite of all time, although his top choice of song varies from year to year.
Tony's unique experiences with The Beatles led to a memoir, Magical Mystery Tours: My Life With The Beatles. The book carries an endorsement from Paul, which reads: "If you want to now anything about The Beatles, ask Tony Bramwell. He remembers more than I do."
Tony will be sharing those memories in a talk at Plymouth Literature Festival on Tuesday October 25. He has plenty more that he could fill that evening with. Tony was in charge of booking gigs for Epstein's Saville Theatre in London – including an unknown Jimi Hendrix's first in the UK.
After leaving Apple he worked on music for several Bond films – he secured McCartney and Wings to do the theme for Live and Let Die – and in promotion with Polydor on acts including The Osmonds, Slade, The Jam and Roxy Music. He helped Bruce Springsteen and Leonard Cohen to fame and brought posthumous recognition in Britain to the US singer and guitarist, Eva Cassidy.

"An American lawyer I knew sent me a tape of Eva and asked me if there was anything I could do with it," Tony explains. "She was just amazing, pitch perfect and had this way of deconstructing and reconstructing songs. I got Terry Wogan to play her songs on Radio 2 and it took off from there." Seventeen million sales later, Cassidy is known throughout the world.
That figure is dwarfed by The Beatles and their estimated 500-600 million sales and Tony believes that we will never hear their like again.
"I don't think they could exist in the world of crap reality TV acts," he says of the band he counted as friends. He was closest to his old playmate until George "started getting spiritual" and has one word to describe John's wife Yoko Ono: "horrible".
Last weekend he me up with Paul at the gathering dubbed "the festival of the century" that also featured The Rolling Stones, The Who and Roger Walters of Pink Floyd – acts he knows in person. As he got ready to fly out, laid-back Tony revealed that there would not be wild celebrations from him.
"I'll probably just be leaning on the bar," he said.
For details of and tickets for the Plymouth festival visit plymouthliteraturefestival.co.uk and eventbrite.co.uk


Order your copy:
Magical Mystery Tours: My Life with The Beatles by Tony Bramwell
HERE.

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