Beatles' Let It Be (33 1/3) (4 page)

BOOK: Beatles' Let It Be (33 1/3)
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John Lennon was going through the biggest change on a personal level. The previous October, he and Yoko had been busted for cannabis resin; in November, Cynthia Lennon was granted a
decree nin,
which would ultimately lead to a divorce from John, due to John’s admitted affair with Yoko. Only two weeks after, Yoko had a miscarriage. That same month, just days after the release of
The White Album,
John and Yoko released their first album together,
Two Virgins.
The recording was infamous not so much for the experimental music it contained, but for the full-frontal nude photograph of John and Yoko that was shot for the album jacket. In the end, the photo was covered except for their faces. EMI, so disturbed by the photo and anticipating the possible alienation of some of John’s young fans and their parents, refused to distribute the album. Instead, it was distributed by Chris Blackwell’s Island Records in the U.K. and by Tetragrammaton in the United States.

To add to all the personal transformations in the group, the members also had to deal with the on-going business of Apple. As has been detailed at length in many other accounts of the Beatles, Apple had gone through severe growing pains up to that point.

Apple Corps, as the entire company was called, officially began in January of 1968 and was originally located on the fourth floor at 95 Wigmore Street in London. Those offices were kept open for a short period after the business was moved to 3 Savile Road, sometime between July 15 and the autumn of 1968. The record division was launched in August of 1968.

The closing of the Apple clothing boutique in the summer of 1968 and the ongoing struggle over who would actually manage the Beatles were overshadowed at the time by more vexing and immediate concerns. They included, first and foremost, the vast amount of money the group was spending, the large tax burden it was facing and the complete and total disarray of its financial records, some of which had just been lost while being transported to Apple’s new headquarters.

Compounding the disparate concerns facing the group were the demands of various musical ventures. The Beatles had finished
The White Album
less than 10 weeks before, and in order to have it ready for sale in time for the Christmas holidays, they completed the mixing, the track selection, and the banding in one frenzied 24-hour session. The session began on October 16 at around 5 p.m. and did not end until the next day. Producer George Martin, engineers Ken Scott and John Henry Smith, and technical adviser Dave Harries joined John, Paul, and Ringo for the session. George Harrison
had left for Los Angeles on the 16th to wrap up production on the Apple debut of Jackie Lomax, a former member of the Mersey Beat band the Undertakers. As a result of the frenzied work on
The White Album,
George’s production of the Lomax album, Paul’s work producing Mary Hopkin, and John’s involvement with various creative projects with Yoko, there was virtually no time left for the group to think about exactly what they were going to do at Twickenham.

While John had expressed an interest in making an album without the overdubs and studio trickery of the past few years, which paralleled Paul’s concept of a live, back-to-basics approach, no real thought was given to which new songs the group was going to work on. As it turned out, the group would actually work through more than two complete albums’ worth of new Beatles material (
Let It Be
and
Abbey Road).
Also, the members of the group, especially George and Paul, would end up with a lot of material that they would later incorporate on solo albums.

Twickenham Film Studios,
St. Margaret’s, The Barons,
Middlesex, England

There’s a cold that comes on in the northern climates in early January. It’s a damp, penetrating cold often
made unbearable by a biting wind. A gray sameness that blurs the distinction between day and night often adds to the bleakness. It was on just such a cold, early winter morning that the Beatles found themselves on the second day of the new year, preparing not only to rehearse new songs, but to have their every waking moment filmed for the next several weeks. Having grown accustomed to playing live shows in the evening, and to recording primarily through the night, the Beatles were suddenly staring at banker’s hours.

On Thursday, January 2, 1969, at Twickenham Film Studios, the Beatles began filming what were then described as rehearsals for an upcoming televised concert. The many buildings that comprise the small complex are in a rather inconspicuous area near St. Margaret’s Church and St. Margaret’s railway station. While seemingly far from the hurly-burly of central London and located in a rather rural area, the studios are actually only 20 minutes from the middle of town and only 15 minutes from Heathrow.

Along with Pinewood, Shepperton, and Elstree, Twickenham was one of the most prestigious film studios in England at that time. In fact, partially because of
A Hard Day’s Night,
the British film scene was then at a commercial and creative peak.
A Hard Day’s Night,
along with the James Bond films and other high-profile exports, had helped British cinema to become internationally
recognized and step out of the shadow of Hollywood.

It was a time of intense activity for films being made at Twickenham. Such films, in various stages of production, included Tony Richardson’s remake of the 1936 film
Charge of the Light Brigade,
Richard Lester’s
Petulia,
Richard Attenborough’s
Oh What A Lovely War,
and
The Italian Job,
starring Michael Caine. Peter Sellers, who would join Ringo on February 3 to film
The Magic Christian,
was at Twickenham and dropped in on the Beatles on January 14, the group’s second-to-last day there.

The footage of the rehearsals that would become part of the film
Let It Be
was not initially shot with the intention of becoming a feature film. Only a small part of the filmed rehearsals were to become part of the concert television show entitled “Get Back.” Those involved with the project never intended to use the filming of the rehearsals as sound recordings, and it appears that no multi-track recording equipment was present during the filming. However, recording engineer Glyn Johns did record the group, separate from the film sound, presumably in mono, on January 7, 8, 9, 10, and, some say, 13. Those recordings have either been recorded over or lost. There is, however, a possibility that Johns prepared acetates from them. The movie’s audio sound was recorded using two Nagra mono reel-to-reel
tape recorders, each assigned to a camera, and each having the capability to record for 16 minutes at a time. To ensure that no audio would be lost, one roll of tape would begin before the previous roll would end. The audio reels were numbered and then assigned a letter, either A or B, to identify with which camera they were paired.

Michael Lindsay-Hogg was to be the director of the film. Lindsay-Hogg had worked with the Beatles before, but he was probably chosen because of his work on the Rolling Stones’
Rock And Roll Circus,
which took place at Wembley Studios only a few weeks prior to the Beatles’ filming at Twickenham, and which also included the participation of John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

Lindsay-Hogg brought cinematographer Tony Richmond (now known as Anthony Richmond) from the Stones shoot along with him to Twickenham. The two cameramen were Les Parrott and Paul Bond, who filmed the proceedings using 16mm film. Ethan Russell took still photographs of the sessions and his striking photos adorned the finished album cover and lavish booklet that were included with the initial British edition of the album. He may also have done some camera work. The sound engineers were Glyn Johns (who, incidentally, had also been involved with the
Rock And Roll Circus)
and Mal Evans. Evans and Kevin Harrington
unloaded equipment and gear out of a white van with Apple insignias on it onto the sound stage as needed.

Glyn Johns’s first time working with the Beatles occurred on April 19, 1964. Prior to the completion of
A Hard Day’s Night,
the Beatles were to star in a one-hour television special, produced and directed by Jack Good for Rediffusion Television. Although the group was scheduled to lip-synch to six songs and a medley of its five recent hits for the show, it instead ended up pre-taping new versions of the songs at independent London recording studio IBC. While no official producer was present at the session, Terry Johnson was the balance engineer and Glyn Johns was the second engineer and the tape operator.

It is hard to say how Johns came to be chosen for the “Get Back” project. There is one theory that he was chosen by George Martin to look after things. Another theory is that he was in the unique position of being a recording engineer who was also a member of the filmmakers union, allowing him to work on a film. Still another theory is that the Beatles were itching to work with Johns after hearing recordings he produced. The members of the group, especially Paul, were particularly taken by the bass sound that Johns had been achieving while working at Olympic, one of London’s premier independent studios at the time. The most likely scenario
is that Paul simply asked Johns to work with them on the project. No doubt Johns was responsible for listening to the live sound feed with Evans, while the actual Nagra sound recordings were made by the three sound technicians: sound mixer Peter Sutton, boom operator Ken Reynolds, and Roy Mingaye.

The film was later edited by Tony Lenny and Graham Gilding and blown up to 35mm for the final film print. Other crew members included assistant director Ray Freeborn and gaffer Jim Powell.

The Nagra sound recordings, which were virtually unused for any of the final recordings, as we shall see later, played a central role in the entire “Get Back”/“Let It Be” saga.

Precisely what the Beatles were to do at Twickenham, as stated before, was largely unknown. The only plan was for the group to be filmed rehearsing songs that it would play at the subsequent, loosely formulated, “concert.” The selection of songs was apparently not previously discussed.

Cameraman Les Parrott was given the impression that the film had a sizeable budget and was not made aware of the length of the shoot. However, since Ringo was due to begin working on
The Magic Christian
at the beginning of February, there was a very definite time period to the shoot. Additionally, Glyn Johns was scheduled to return to the U.S. to work with Steve Miller.

Other than a few camera tests, there was no preproduction. The film crew was scheduled to arrive at Stage 1 at 8:30 a.m., and the Beatles were to arrive at 10 a.m. Tea breaks were to be prepared for 24 people and lunch was scheduled for between 1 and 2 p.m. The schedule was much more rigid than what the Beatles were used to. For some time, the group had abandoned the tight time scheduling of Abbey Road recording blocks, which consisted of 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., and 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., in order to be able to record at any time they wanted, which more often than not meant beginning sometime in the evening and going until dawn.

Stage 1 was the largest of the sound stages at Twickenham at that time. It also included a viewing theater and was adjacent to a sound recording theatre. A table and six chairs were to be on the set, and the Beatles would have two dressing rooms at their disposal. The camera crew used two complete 16mm B. L. outfits and the sound crew had two Nagra tape recorders, two neck microphones, and one rifle microphone. The Beatles’ instruments and gear were set up around Ringo’s drum riser.

For the first time, Ringo played a modified 1968 Ludwig five-piece drum kit. He had been playing Ludwig drums since 1963. As was standard procedure for recording at that time, Ringo’s bass drum head was
removed and his snare drum was covered with a towel to dampen its sound.

John, Paul, and George all used new Fender amplifiers manufactured in 1968. John and George both used Twin Reverb amps and Paul used a Fender Bassman amp. John primarily played his Epiphone Casino guitar and George played a Gibson “Lucy” Les Paul. Paul had a Rickenbacker 400IS bass available but never used it; he primarily used his 1963 Hofner Bass. Paul’s 1961 Hofner Bass was at Twickenham, but was likely not used. It was, in fact, stolen after the Twickenham sessions.

Paul primarily played a Bluthner grand piano. Though hardly a household name, Bluthner pianos have been around for over 150 years and are known for their warm rich tone. Paul may have been familiar with them from the many recordings made at Abbey Road by Yehudi Menuhin. When Paul played piano, either John or George would play a Fender VI bass, through the Bassman amp.

Some of the other instruments and gear at the Twickenham sessions included George’s Fender Telecaster guitars and Gibson J-200 guitar, John’s Martin D-28 guitars, Paul’s D-28 guitar, a Lowrey DSO Heritage Deluxe organ, a Vox Wah-Wah pedal, and an Arbiter Fuzz Face distortion pedal.

Les Parrott recalled the filming at Twickenham Studios:

We moved into Twickenham studios where the Beatles’ road manager, Mal (Evans) had set up the gear. Whatever discussion had taken place about the style of filming, I was not party to (it). My brief on the first day was to ‘shoot the Beatles.’ The sound crew instructions were to roll/record from the moment the first Beatle appeared and to record sound all day until the last one left. We had two cameras and just about did the same thing.

The soundstage was totally bare. As the week progressed, Tony (Richmond) added more theatrical lighting. To start with, the cameras stayed out of the circle formed by the four Beatles. As the numbers rehearsed forward, we did start to move inside the group. They were never seated that close anyway.

There was one additional person seated on the floor at John’s feet every day, all day, reading newspapers: Yoko Ono. Only they weren’t newspapers as such; they were from a clipping agency which daily scoured the world’s press for any Beatles-related items, which were forwarded to Apple. This is what she was reading every day. We were never able to get a shot of her face, because her hair totally obscured it.

BOOK: Beatles' Let It Be (33 1/3)
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