THE FAB FOUR
(Excerpt from upcoming The London Dialogues, by Alan Graham)
I worked at Jackson’s Tailor Shop in Liverpool, England. It was nineteen sixty-two, and I was seventeen years old. Lunch time was the most exciting part of my day. My lunch was always the same and never lost its wonderful taste — an ice cold coke in the old-fashioned glass bottle and a hot dog with onions. I would make a short walk to a narrow back street in the busy fruit market area. Most of the buildings were storage warehouses save for a single pub. One of these warehouses had been converted into a cramped basement nightclub.
Monday through Friday were dedicated to matinee performances by up-and-coming rock ‘n’ roll groups who played American rhythm and blues as well as rock ‘n’ roll music from the likes of Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, Roy Orbison, Sam Cooke, Joe Tex, and a fabulous never ending host of other greats. Included in these would-be rockers were Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Searchers, Cilla Black, and Rory Storm and the Hurricanes — all of whom would become part of the great new “Mersey Beat”. As my lunch hour ended, I had heard “Sweet Little Sixteen”, “Long Tall Sally”, “Tallahassee Lassie”, “Three Cool Cats”, “Rip It Up”, and many more.
Among all of these rockers in the making, one group stood out showing much promise. Clothed in black leather jackets, Levis, high-heeled boots with silly haircuts, these lads were cool, cheeky, and gave it their all. Very soon, this group, my favorite, would become famous, seemingly overnight. They transformed the City of Liverpool, Rock ‘N’ Roll, and the Liverpudlians themselves.
The Beatles would leave Liverpool and head for “The Smoke” (London – the Big City). I never saw them perform live again, but marvel at their meteoric rise. They were now singing their own compositions. Suddenly, the old music was left behind in the dust as a new paradigm shifted.
We all sang the new material with home-grown pride. Their first hit was “Love Me Do” followed by “Please, Please Me”. What followed was nothing less than an avalanche of creative energy not seen since the 1920’s renaissance in Paris.
When the Beatles left the City of Liverpool, my lunch time was not the same. Even though the new music raged on, for me something was missing. So, I too left following my “Fab Four” to the Smoke. I took the midnight mail train out of the Liverpool Central Station, the cheapest fare you could find. It was a six-hour journey as the train stopped to deliver mail at each city down the line.
At six a.m., I stood outside of Euston Station surveying my new surroundings and wondering where the Beatles might be. I took a tube train to Marble Arch. I picked the biggest hotel I could find and went in to ask for a job. There weren’t any, but a sweet old lady in the personnel office gave me a lead to a construction site in a beautiful rural town on the outskirts of the city. The work was grueling, yet the pay was three times more than I ever would have gotten in Liverpool.
One morning, I was digging a ditch for a gas main when two Rolls Royce Silver Clouds passed by. The fellow working with me said, “You know who that was, don’t you?” I said, “No, who?” “That was the Beatles. They live just across the street at St. George’s Hills.” St. George’s Hills was a luxurious gated community where only the very wealthy resided. It now included the world-famous Beatles. Of all the places I would land for work, it would be right where my beloved Beatles dwelled. Although, I never saw them in the flesh or did those Silver Clouds ever pass by again, it was a quiet thrill that I had followed them unknowingly to precisely where they lived.
When that job ended, it was onto the next which would be a stint working in the Helena Rubenstein Cosmetics factory. After that, I worked in a factory that produced fiber glass materials such as mannequins and retail displays. I then went to work with British Railways as a night porter. Eventually, I landed in Earl’s Court aka Bed-Sit-Land, a bustling, upscale West London borough populated by mostly single, young people. The 1860’s era terraced housing was now converted into single rooms and two-bedroom flats – hence, Bed-Sit-Land, short for bed sitter flats. Bed-Sit-Land was also a cosmopolitan tourist hub that attracted students from all across the globe.
“Michelle, ma belle, these are words that go together well, ma Michelle…” My favorite group was now world famous and their songs dominated the air waves. It was wall-to-wall Beatles music in addition to fabulous groups like the Rolling Stones, the Who, and Pink Floyd. My favorite perfume at the time, was girls. I liked them very much, and they liked me just as much. I had two girlfriends from Sweden, one from New Zealand, one from France, one from Germany, and several from Earl’s Court who just happened to be from England. The number would eventually grow to ten. I now worked as a fry cook at the local Wimpy Bar, the equivalent of the American burger joint named for the hamburger-gulping character from the Popeye cartoons.
Since the Beatles’ phenomenon, England had shed its dreary bounds. It was now awash with an explosion of music, art, and fashion – outrageous fashion, bizarre art, and super cool music. I was in paradise and I was as free as a bird. At the drop of a hat, I would hitch-hike to France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Norway, or anywhere else that took my fancy.
One summer evening, I stood in front of Earl’s Court Station watching/studying people, another one of my favorite pastimes. A strikingly beautiful girl with long brown hair and blue eyes came out of the station. She looked at me and kept on walking. I followed her asking if I could walk with her. She said, “Well, I’m going home.” So, I volunteered to escort her. “Where do you live?” I asked. “In Vasagatan” “I have never heard of Vasagartan. Is it around here?” “No,” she said, “it is in Stockholm. I am from Sweden.” She stopped and laughed at my surprise. “This could be a very long walk”, I thought to myself.
Tanya explained that she had been working in London for the summer and was about to leave hitch-hiking her way back home. That very evening, she was taking the midnight ferry from Dover to France. I volunteered to escort her all the way to Sweden. It was now she who was surprised, “You would? You would?” I would and I did.
I went directly home, packed a few things in a knapsack, and off we went. We had a wonderful adventure crossing Europe through France, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, and all the way home to Vasser Garten (Water Gardens) in Stockholm.
I stayed with her for a couple of weeks. Although she was lovely and fun to be with, Sweden was dull and so were the people. I was used to gregarious, outgoing, friendly people. The Swedes were decidedly reticent and emotionless. The night before I left, I sat in a small club, where a local guitarist played Beatles’ music, if you can believe that. He was struggling with the lyrics as he translated, “Yellow Submarine”. When it came to the part, “We all live in a yellow submarine”, the musician was having difficulty finding the word for “submarine”. Submarine as a single word is nonexistent in Swedish. He simply replaced it with “under vasser buss” (underwater bus). No matter where I went, the Beatles had been there ahead of me and had left their magic mark.
Back in London, Earl’s Court was as groovy as ever. Hordes of tourists and students came flooding into the community to see and hear the English music scene. The Liverpool accent was now a major asset. Excited American girls would sit and listen to my every word trying to mimic me as they giggled with delight. “Please come and meet my friends” was a common request. As surely as a celebrity “without portfolio”, I was the next best thing to a Beatle. “Talk like John Lennon. Talk like Paul McCartney. Can you sound like Ringo?” I spoke as I usually do in a thick Liverpool brogue, but to my audience it was as magical as hearing an English rock star. I was the only Liverpudlian (scouser) in town which set me apart from everybody else. I was a very singular fellow indeed. I was untethered to anyone or anything. I was floating in the land of milk and honey surrounded by beautiful girlfriends.
Rock ‘N’ Roll ruled the world. A massive upheaval in a once-stuffy society had now blossomed into a wild, hippie culture. Young people were very close and friendly, sharing and caring for each other in a near fantasy world. The new music kept on coming, so did the college kids. I was at a magical crossroads and each new face presented a fresh, new adventure.
American kids were friendly, generous, and intelligent. They were bringing their culture to ours. We shared each other’s customs like gleeful children. A decade earlier, it was the Americans who ruled the roost. Elvis was king of the world and English musicians mimicked American rock ‘n’ roll.
Now, the Beatles were king. They had simply taken Rock ‘N’ Roll and transformed it into a sort of early punk rock, just four kids and their instruments. The original was ladened with brass backup – sax, trombone, trumpet, and big bass drums — but now, anyone who could play guitar or a set of drums could form a band. Very soon, there were hundreds of new groups as the Mersey Beat and the English Sound set off to conquer the world.
ALL THINGS BRIGHT & BRITISH
by Alan Graham
It was nine a.m., and the little town of La Mesa was awakened by the sound of John Lennon’s voice belting out “She Loves You Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!” He was not alone: Paul, George, and Ringo were singing along with him.
The Fab Four had not aged in all these years and looked like they were ready to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show as they chatted with customers outside of “All Things Bright and Beautiful”, a little British shop.
A news crew was setting up for an interview. So the lads went inside and stood before the cameras. They were innocent, cheeky, cute, and contagiously funny as they answered questions.
A reporter asked “How do you find America?” John Lennon answered, “Turn left at Greenland.”
I suppose I should also say that although it really was not the Beatles, it might as well have been. It was a tribute band called “Britain’s Finest”. Not only did all of them look very much like the lads themselves, which was good enough for me, they sang just like them, and they actually captured the true essence of the original band.
All in black right down to the Beatles’ boots, they tapped their pointed toes to the beat as they stood singing, “Falling, yes, I am falling, and she keeps calling me back again”. I have seen many look-a-like acts over the years, and in each case, there was always something missing. The voices were good but did not look the part or looked good but sounded awful. Britain’s Finest rules. They have it all: the look. the sound, the mannerisms, and the very spirit of those four lads from Liverpool.
CONTACT INFO: (858) 598-7311 www.BeatlesTributeBand.net