The Beatles in 1962
“The deeper you dig,” Mark Lewisohn said, “the higher you fly.” He was introducing a preview of his new stage show about the Beatles in 1962, and talking about the methodology behind the research into the group’s history that has been his life’s work. And then he spent two hours proving his point.
Among the many amusing moments of the show is his speculation on what might have happened if Decca had made a deal with Brian Epstein and his band instead of signing Brian Poole and the Tremeloes. Since Decca immediately put the Tremeloes to work as the studio backing group for some of their other artists, it might have meant the Beatles accompanying Jimmy Savile on his 45rpm single of “Ahab the Arab”. Which, 60 years later, would not have looked great on their collective CV.
Where memories fade, he points out, documents are the key. And he has documentary evidence for lots of things, including a letter demolishing the story that Decca turned down the Beatles, showing that an offer was made and rejected by Epstein.
His shows, of which this is the second, tend to have rather odd titles. This one is called Evolver:62. It follows the success in 2019 of Hornsey Road, in which he celebrated the 50th anniversary of Abbey Road, and which I wrote about in the Guardian. The new one takes us through the calendar year of 1962, including the death in Hamburg of Stuart Sutcliffe, the approaches to Decca and EMI, the signing with the latter and the first encounters with George Martin, the replacement of Pete Best by Ringo Starr, and a week in August when something extraordinary happened every day, including Ringo’s debut with the band, Liverpool FC’s first match on their return to the old First Division under Bill Shankly, and John Lennon’s marriage to Cynthia Powell.
Lewisohn narrates the show on stage, an engaging presenter who finds clever ways to illustrate the story. Talking about how the US rights to “Love Me Do” were turned down successively by Capitol, Liberty, Laurie and Atlantic, he shows us mock-ups of what the 45s on those labels would have looked like, while pointing out that Jerry Wexler, who did the deed on Atlantic’s behalf, never had to suffer the sort of scorn that, probably unjustly, followed Decca’s Dick Rowe to the grave.
I’m not going to give much more away, because the surprises are part of the fun. Suffice it say that Lewisohn knows more than McCartney remembers about the inspiration behind “I Saw Her Standing There”. And he delighted me by discovering the first newspaper or magazine in which the Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones were mentioned in the same issue: a Melody Maker of late December 1962, when “Love Me Do” was in the charts, the American folk singer was in London to appear in Madhouse on Castle Street for the BBC, and a new R&B band were advertised as playing a gig at Sandover Hall in Richmond.
The preview I attended was full of that kind of stuff (including the postcard in the photograph above, the first known example of all four Beatles autographing a single object). Lewisohn is doing the show to finance his continuing work on the second volume of his epic trilogy, All These Years, which can legitimately be thought of as the definitive Beatles history. One of the things I like about him is that although he’s gone to enormous lengths to acquire all this information, he never seems proprietorial about it. He likes sharing his treasure, using it to enrich everyone else’s enjoyment of a story that will never be repeated. So while it’s for a worthy cause, it’s also a really entertaining couple of hours.
* Mark Lewisohn’s Evolver:62 is at the Bloomsbury Theatre in London for three shows on October 7 and 8, 2022. Tickets: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/bloomsbury-theatre-studio. Tune In, the first volume of his trilogy, is published by Little, Brown.
The Beatles’ AJ Weberman or is that an insult ?
Nicely summarised, Richard, and Mark is always an engaging, insightful presenter. As you might expect, I particularly liked the moment where he speculates (with reason) that the first BBC airplay of the Beatles’ version of “Please Mr. Postman” also marked the first time on British radio for a Motown copyright.
Richard – thanks for alerting me to this. I managed to secure the last seat for the Saturday afternoon!
David via iPhone.
I continue to be intrigued and amused by the revisionist approach to Decca having turned down the Beatles. Is there actually any record of Dick Rowe having said ‘guitar groups are on their way out’? And if not is this the first instance of pop apocrypha?
Thanks Richard for an excellent preview of the master’s work. I attended the Hornsby Road “show” in your beloved Nottingham and was enthralled by Mark’s presentation skills and the phenomenal detail with which he amazed us. After the show, I spoke with him briefly and said that I had seen the Beatles live in late November 1963. “Ah”, he instantly replied ” that must have been Darlington”. “No, it was actually Sunderland” but he was only a few miles out….superb recall.
I am unable to attend the new shows in London, so fingers crossed they are also spread further afield to spread the good word.
I assume this is the result of old-fashioned digging into archives and talking to peripheral characters and triangulating what’s found. I so admire those that do that. I’m not rowing a boat from Minnesota to the UK, so I’ll miss the live presentations, but I assume he’ll have a book with his findings including the Decca didn’t turn them down, even made an offer history changer.
If one wants to play the alternative history game, not having George Martin would have been significant I’d think. Despite their initial “who do they think they are” wariness, Martin’s combination of connections with The Goons and eventually orchestral instruments was a rare match. The former made him more able to collaborate with the stubborn sense of absurdity and the Beatles multi-headed collaboration of self-authoring geniuses than some other average pop music producer/A&R guy during the Beatles ascendence. The later wouldn’t make much difference in 62-63, but I think it helped by mid-decade after initial sucess when he was open to not making the same record that was their last hit.