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Monday, 24 October 2011

The Beatles Go Greek Island Shopping

One of my favourite Beatles stories is the 'let's buy an island and live in a commune together' one. It was July 1967. Sgt Pepper had been unleashed on the world just a few weeks earlier. The Beatles were at the peak of their acid-dropping, weed-smoking phase and were arguably at their creative peak too.

John in particular had been harbouring a dream of living communally with the rest of the Beatles and their entourage for a while, and decided to try and make it happen. Derek Taylor described John's vision in his autobiography, 20 Years Adrift: "The four Beatles would have their network at the centre of the compound: a dome of glass and iron tracery not unlike the old Crystal Palace over the mutual creative/play area, from which arbours and avenues would lead off like spokes from a wheel to four vast and incredibly beautiful separate living units. In the outer grounds, the houses of the inner clique: Neil, Mal, Terry and Derek, complete with partners, families and friends..."

Alexis Mardas (dubbed 'Magic Alex' by John due to his fantastical claims and ideas, like making a flying saucer powered by the engines from John and George's Ferraris) had recently come onto the scene, and he found John's idea to be the perfect way to get even more involved with the Beatles and their inner circle. He persuaded John that Greece (Magic Alex's homeland) was the perfect location for the Beatles' island and a trip was planned to find a suitable location. 
Paul reminisces about the plan in his autobiography, Many Years From Now (if you don't have a copy, get one): 'Alex invited John on a boat holiday in Greece, and we were all then invited. There was some story of buying a Greek island or something. It was all so sort of abstract but the first thing we had to do is go to Greece and see if we even liked it out there. The idea was get an island where you can just do what you want, a sort of hippie commune where nobody’d interfere with your lifestyle. I suppose the main motivation for that would probably be that no one could stop you smoking. Drugs was probably the main reason for getting some island, and then all the other community things that were around then... it was drug-induced ambition, we’d just be sitting around: "Wouldn’t it be great? The lapping water, sunshine, we’d be playing. We’d get a studio there. Well, its possible these days with mobiles and..." We had lots of ideas like that. The whole Apple enterprise was the result of those ideas.'

The Beatles left for Greece in July 1967. George, Pattie, Ringo (no Maureen, as she was in the latter stages of her pregnancy at the time) and Neil Aspinall left on 22nd July, while John, Cyn, Julian, Paul, Jane, Pattie's sister Paula, Magic Alex, Mal Evans and Alistair Taylor all left on 23rd July. 

Here's some pics of the 23rd July entourage about to board their plane at Heathrow. Magic Alex is leading the pack whilst holding Julian:

John and Julian:

The Beatles chartered a luxury yacht called MV Arvi. It had 24 berths and a crew of 8 including the captain, chef and 2 stewards. They spent the first few days island hopping, swimming and tripping their tits off, which turned out to be a bit too much for Paul: "We went on the boat and sat around and took acid. It was good fun being with everyone, with trippier moments. For me the pace was a bit wearing. I probably could have done with some straight windows occasionally, I’d have enjoyed it a bit more."
George had no such reservations: "It was a great trip. John and I were on acid all the time, sitting on the front of this ship playing ukeleles. Greece was on the left, a big island on the right. The sun was shining and we sang ‘Hare Krishna’ for hours and hours."

Here's some amazing home movie footage of the Fabs while they were in Greece. I wonder how this movie got into the public domain? However it happened, I'm glad it did, as it gives us a brief, but privileged and intimate glimpse of their time in Greece:

Here are some photos of the Beatles' time in Greece. John, Paul, George and Ringo audition a couple of possible new Beatle recruits:

Something has caught their eyes here:

Paul holding a slightly concerned looking Julian. Maybe his Dad's acid antics were freaking him out:

Paul and Ringo chilling. Is Ringo holding the cine camera that the above movie was shot on? Hmmm. I wonder:

George, Jane, Julian and Paul having a boogie. That's a Greek-style boogie if I'm not greatly mistaken:

After all of that fun and merriment, the Beatles got down to serious island-buying business. They found the perfect place - an 80 acre island called Leslo. It had a small fishing village, four beaches and a large olive grove (so they could always move into the olive oil business if the tunes ever dried up). Four small neighbouring islands surrounded it and the grand plan was that each Beatle would have their own island, as Neil Aspinall (a bit dismissively) confirms: "There was talk of getting an island. I don’t know what it was all about - it was a bit silly really. The idea was that you’d have four houses with tunnels connecting them to a central dome”. John was very excited about the idea at the time: "We’re all going to live there, perhaps forever, just coming home for visits. Or it might just be six months a year. It’ll be fantastic, all on our own on this island. There’s some little huts which we’ll do up and knock together and live communally"

The Fabulous Foursome decided to buy the island there and then. They asked Alistair Taylor to tie up the deal. It cost them £90,000 and at the time it was difficult to get money out of Britain. The Beatles had to apply to the government for permission to spend £90,000 abroad, which was eventually given, but by this time they’d long since forgotten about Leslo."It came to nothing." said Ringo. "We didn’t buy the island, we came home. We were great at going on holiday with big ideas, but we never carried them out. We were also going to buy a village in England - one with rows of houses on four sides and a village green in the middle. We were going to have a side each." Paul said that they all thought "We’ve done it now. That was it for a couple of weeks. Great, wasn’t it? Now we don’t need it." He reflected that "Having been out there, I don’t think we needed to go back. Probably the best way not to buy a Greek island is to go out there for a bit. Its a good job we didn’t do it, because anyone who tried those ideas realised eventually there would always be arguments, there would always be who has to do the washing-up and whose turn is it to clean out the latrines. I don’t think any of us were thinking of that."

The Beatles landed back at Heathrow on 31 July 1967 after completing their magical mystery Greek island tour:

Paul, Jane and Julian at Heathrow:

Jane, Paul and Magic Alex in the back of a limo, leaving Heathrow. Paul is brandishing that day's copy of The Evening Standard, which carries news related to the Stones' recent drugs bust. Avoiding the Police and 'dropping out' in peace was one of the reasons that the Beatles fancied moving to a secluded island in the first place:

And so the Beatles returned to Blighty. Brian Epstein was to die a few weeks later. They were soon to start filming Magical Mystery Tour (their first taste of a critical bashing) and fractures would start to appear within the band. I think that's why this is one of my favourite Beatles stories. The band were still strong, their relationships were still firmly intact, creativity was still pouring out of them, they were still having wonderfully whimsical ideas like this one, and there was no sign of the doom on the horizon. 

Saturday, 15 October 2011

John & Bob's Limo Ride 1966

John & Bob Dylan in the back of a limo in 1966. Both artists at (or very near) their creative peaks. I wonder if they're in the back of John's Roller? Maybe. I've seen this before in black and white, but its even better in colour.

Ever wanted to be a fly on the wall while two bona fide legends shoot the shit? Then check this out!

Thursday, 13 October 2011

George's Psychedelic Mini

The Beatles had great taste in cars. The biggest petrolhead was George - his love of F1 and fast cars in general has been very well documented.
All 4 of the Beatles owned Minis which were customised by Harold Radford Coachbuilders. George's Mini started life as a 1966 Mini Cooper S (reg: LGF 695D), but once Radford had finished with it, it became a 'Radford Mini De Ville GT'.  Radford specialised in pimping up Minis with every conceivable extra (including full leather interior, rosewood veneered dash, electric windows, centre armrest and luxurious carpets) and added nice little touches like VW Beetle rear lights, hatchback style boot lids and full length Webasto suroofs. Here's the interior of a De Ville GT to give you a bit of a 'flava':

And here's one of the original Radford Mini De Ville brochures along with the options list:

George's Mini had the sideways rear VW Beetle lights, front fog lamps recessed into the bodywork, and a full length Webasto sunroof (it didn't have the fully opening boot lid as pictured in the brochure above). The interior was trimmed in black leather. Apparently, George's Mini's original colour was metallic black, but it didn't stay that way for long. As 1967 psychedelically ambled up, George decided to get his ride fixed up with a properly cosmic paint job which perfectly captured the zeitgeist.
The car was sprayed bright red and was intricately painted with mystical eastern designs which were taken from the 1966 book 'Tantra Art: its Philosophy and Physics' by Ajit Mookerjee (see Sean's sterling work in digging up the details of this book, along with a lot more, on the amazing Kenwood blog). The finished article was mindblowing.

Here's the motor outside Kinfauns circa summer 1967:

And here are some shots of John in the passenger seat whilst filming the racing scene for Magical Mystery Tour (he's wearing the non-more 1967 embroidered afghan coat from the Pepper launch photos):

George getting in or out of the Mini some time in '67:

I was lucky enough to see the car up close when I visited Goodwood in July 2009. I didn't know it was there, so imagine my drop-jawed surprise and outright glee when I walked into the 'Cartier Style et Luxe' exhibition area and saw George's VERY Mini right in front of my own eyeballs! I couldn't believe my luck. The car has been meticulously kept by Olivia since George passed away and she had agreed for it to be exhibited at Goodwood.  It's nice to know that the car is still owned by the Harrisons. It has apparently been repainted since it was originally done, but it looked exactly the same. Here are some of the many pictures I snapped at Goodwood. Compare to the pics above and you'll see that whoever repainted the car did a fantastic job:

A truly stunning piece of grade 'A' Beatles history, I'm sure you'll agree. What a beautiful car. What an amazing paint job!

In 2009, as part of the Mini's 50th birthday celebrations, BMW presented Olivia Harrison with a modern interpretation of George's Mini. The car was auctioned off, with all proceeds going to the Harrison's Material World charitable foundation. Here it is:

Nice work BMW!