Sixties City presents a wide-ranging series of articles on all aspects of the Sixties, penned by the creator of the iconic 60s music paper  Mersey Beat

And In The End - The Last Days Of The Beatles - Ken McNab interviewed by Bill Harry


Bill: The quote from the Beatles song ĎThe Endí is quite an appropriate title and also a suitable subtitle - it completes what the book is actually about. The title of a book is quite an important part of the whole. Did you have the title at the beginning, or did it come after youíd begun writing? Too many books just use a straightforward title of a Beatles song. This is a bit different, being part of the song, which also describes the bookís theme.

Ken: It just seemed the proper fit for a book like this. We all own books that take their titles from Beatle songs and itís so easy to be cynical. But itís also important to connect to potential readers and hopefully engage with them the right away. After all, the title is the first point of contact between an author and his audience. Anyway, I love the song. Not just for its ďcosmicĒ lyric, as John Lennon put it, but also for its sheer musical virtuosity. And what better way to put a full stop to their career together. Awesome.

Bill: You couldnít have known when you first decided on the title that ĎAnd In The Endí was also to be the title of the Bootleg Beatles' 2019 tour. Would this be any sort of boost to your book?

Ken: Youíre right. I didnít know that. A happy coincidence. I saw the Bootlegs 21 years on the spin in Glasgow when I was younger. A splendid time was guaranteed for all. They were great. Hopefully we can both join forces on social media and enjoy equal benefits for having the same title in our respective projects. Iíll certainly be happy to help in any small way.

Bill:
As a lifelong Beatles fan, a journalist and best-selling author, introduce yourself to the potential readers of the book mentioning your initial memories of becoming an enthusiast of the group.

Ken: I was 13 and a paper boy (remember them?). One night I was collecting my money from a house across the road and the boy, who was a bit older than me, was playing a song. I thought it sounded interesting. Asked him who it was, he said it was 'Youíve Got To Hide Your Love Away' by a band called The Beatles. And that was it. A little electrical charge went off in my head. The next day I bought the 62-66 compilation on cassette (remember them?) And I just loved it. And it just grew from there. Then I started studying the story of the band and I was hooked. I even came across the story of a young journalist called Billy Harry and just remember thinking: WOW! So it wasnít just the music. But it was that intertwining of the music and that way the Beatlesí story unfolded and kept unfolding, adding new layers with every year that passed and every song they wrote. Looking back, it seems that there was almost an elastic quality to time. And here I am still as much of a fan as I ever was,. And the reason is simpleÖthe songs make me happy. Beatle endorphins are released every time.

Bill: After publishing ĎThe Beatles in Scotlandí, did you envisage writing another Beatles book? And when you did, how did you decide which direction to take, i.e. the theme?

Ken:
Well, it was always in the back of my mind. Problem is there are so many books and some of them are really brilliant. They are the most-written-about band in history. So the question always was: Does the world need another book about The Beatles? But I used to get slightly annoyed at the amount of false trails that were emerging about their last year together. Stories would become myth and myth would become legend. So I just let my mind run the same way I did with The Beatles in Scotland and began to sketch out a possible structure. I love diary books, like Michael Palin's for example, where you can dip in and out of various chapters without losing the thread. So I quite liked the idea of a month-by-month chapter where people could read bits that perhaps they were more invested in. Such as July for Abbey Road or January for Get Back/Let It Be or even for John's bed-ins. Then it became a case of trying to come up with a narrative for each chapter while, at the same time, going to as many eye-witnesses as possible to get properly-sourced information. And I think I did that.

Bill: Once you decided to write the book, how much time did you spend on the research and what was the amount of time which passed from when you actually decided on writing the book and when you actually finished it to your satisfaction?
And In The End - The Last Days Of The Beatles - Ken McNab interviewed by Bill Harry
Ken: The whole project took about four years from start to finish. As a fan, you think you know the story pretty well but it's only when you properly pull back the curtains that so many discrepancies emerge. And that's when you're in trouble. I didn't want to be accused of a cut and paste job so I tried as far as possible to drill into the detail. Of course, there is a welter of information out there, but it's not necessarily always correct. The Beatles themselves have often disagreed over their own history, making it difficult for researchers to filter fiction from fact. So it was important to try and get first-hand accounts. I found a cameraman from the Let It Be sessions who was able to give me a decent picture of events from his own perspective without any agenda attached to it. The words would then fall into place once I was happy with the information and the overall picture. I always say the words are paramount. I completed the book first before pitching it to Birlinn/Polygon in Edinburgh more in hope than expectation. I didn't have an awful lot of confidence in it but I was pleasantly surprised by their enthusiasm and support, so that was good. But then the real work began. They suggested some modifications to tone down its "deferential" tone, to make it less fanboy and more rounded. Hopefully that comes through in the words. But I have to say the amount of fact checking was horrendous. Especially with a subject like The Beatles. I envisioned a plague of locusts descending on me in biblical retribution for getting something wrong. I haven't seen any locusts but I'm sure there are a few glitches. I'll give you one...George's famous quote that he "sagged" off Apple meetings to write 'Here Comes The Sun'. In other words it was like skipping school. But an editor thought 'sagged' should have been 'slagged'...they weren't from Liverpool. And, of course, I missed it on the final read-through. But, hey, not the worst thing in the world.

And In The End - The Last Days Of The Beatles - Ken McNab Bill: Itís a sensible structure, having each chapter covering a specific month. Did any one month prove to be more difficult to research than others?

Ken: Thank you. May and June were the toughest simply because all four of them kind of went off the grid. So, at first, it looked like nothing of significance was happening. But it's at moments like that when you turn into a rock 'n' roll detective and it's amazing what you come up with by combing through old newspapers and the Beatles magazine. And slowly I was able to build up a reasonably comprehensive picture of what they did. Truth be told, they were always busy doing something. And, of course, the activities of a certain Allen Klein ensured they were always in the new for some purpose or another. And when I read May now, it lays the groundwork for so many pivotal moments that followed further on down the road.

Bill: There is controversy over every aspect of the Beatles' career. People tend to blame Yoko for the break-up and also Allen Klein, but that is too simplistic and doesnít really answer the varied complications which led to the end of the group. Who are your particular heroes and villains, if any?

Ken: It was a very fractious period in all of their lives. They had been mushroom-grown inside a Beatle hothouse for so long. Inevitably, tensions would emerge. Especially in a band. Yoko's presence undoubtedly was an issue. There is no point in trying to sugar coat that. Ironically, George seemed more upset than Paul, who tried hard to be the diplomat in these kind of areas. But the appearance of Klein was a Beatle game-changer. Yoko was personal but Klein was business and fractured that musketeer mantra of all for one and one for all. He also pitched John and Paul in rival corners and forced them to come out swinging at each other over the future direction of Apple especially. He was like a master of whisperers from Game of Thrones, poisoning Lennon against McCartney, dripping toxins into his ear. Also, he was the exact opposite in personality from Brian Epstein. Gentile manners were traded for New York profanities and boasts that couldn't be delivered. In the end, he is the true villain of the Beatles story. And, over time, Paul's instincts proved to be true. Apple turned rotten on Kleinís watch while Lennon and McCartney also lost ownership of Northern Songs, triggering a corporate game of pass the parcel that would continue to echo down through the decades. I don't blame Yoko for splitting up the band, though obviously plenty do. Remember, they were all still in their twenties by 1969. It's only natural that that would eventually find different paths in life. You are right on the money...it's way too simplistic to just point the finger at Yoko. So many other factors. Perhaps they really were a product of their times.

Bill:
Was it due to Yoko that Johnís expressed eccentric behaviour such as having a double-bed brought into the studio for Yoko, with a mic placed about her so she could make comments about the recordings?

Ken: That is a hard one to answer simply because I think you would need to have been there to give a proper observation. From the outside, it certainly looks mad. She had the bed brought into Abbey Road after the Lennonsí car accident in Scotland. No wonder jaws dropped. And, of course, her comments about the songs were not welcomed by Paul, George and Ringo. But John was clearly baiting them, hoping for an outburst so he could say: I'm gone. Paul admitted as much during conversations recorded in January. "What could we do...she was John's bird?".
You can almost hear the sounds of egg shells cracking in Studio Two or at Twickenham in January, 1969. Perhaps they thought she was literally a passing fancy but by the start of 1969 and the wedding, the ballad of John and Yoko was here to stay. But she obviously had a major influence on him personally and professionally.

Bill: Once you decided on writing the book did you decide to find a publisher first, or did you want to get on with it and submit a synopsis later on. Did the publisher have any input on what you should actually cover in the book?

Ken: I wrote the entire thing and then contacted Birlinn/Polygon in Edinburgh who had been kind enough to publish The Beatles in Scotland. I wasn't very confident, solely from the point of view of trying to give fans of the band something different. Even though I had carried out close on fifty interviews with people who were in their orbit at that time. Thankfully, they were very supportive and very encouraging. The main observation with the initial draft that I was too "deferential" and that I should dial back on the fanboy approach. So I decided to revisit the text and make it more critical and less obsequious. And I am sure that was the better approach, which is why in some areas it is unvarnished and warts and all. The Beatles stood for truth and I've tried to follow that principle.

Bill: In your personal opinion was the split inevitable due to the length of time the group had spent together?

Ken: Seen through the prism of 50 years, the split could perhaps have been avoided. They could have taken a year out at the gruelling sessions for the White Album and regrouped maybe 18 months down the line. But Paul is a workaholic - still is- and he insisted that the show must go on. I don't think it necessarily comes down to the time they spent together. More due to the fact that they were heading in different directions personally and professionally. They had completed an incredible body of work by 1969. It's no wonder it took a toll on them all. I think they were simply fed up at being Fabs and Paul's autocratic nature in the studio clearly grated. But I'm glad it ended when it did. When you look at the cover of Abbey Road, you see The Beatles frozen in rock 'n' roll amber. Age never wearies them. Can you imagine them carrying on like the Stones and becoming their own tribute band? No thanks.

Bill: For instance, was there acrimony over a number of actions, including the fact that Paul was buying up shares for Northern Songs in secret?

Ken: Allen Klein was a deeply polarising individual, the fat controller who was brought in on a three-to-one majority against Paul's wishes and whose conduct ensured the whole thing almost came crashing off the tracks. Apple was at the heart of the business disconnect between Paul and the other three. Specifically, it pitched John and Paul in opposite corners: George and Ringo had little interest in the day-to-day machinations of Apple as a business, even though any financial ramifications from its demise would also affect them. Paul badly wanted Apple to succeed and there were signs that it could from an A&R point of view. Businesswise, though, it was a car crash happening in slow motion. The Rutles lampooned it pretty well! Running along parallel lines with the rotting Apple was the takeover fight for Northern Songs between Lennon and McCartney and Sir Lew Grade of ATV. Under normal circumstances, the battle over Northern Songs should have united Lennon and McCartney under a common flag. This was, after all, the company that oversaw their own songs in perpetuity as well as being a significant financial earner for them both. After being appointed de facto manager, Klein discovered during an audit of their finances that McCartney had been secretly buying up Northern stock - a move that shredded the agreement he had with John that they would always, always, retain an equal shareholding. Klein bided his time and then let this detail slip at an Apple board meeting between Paul and the Eastmans and Lennon and Yoko. Klein knew precisely how to push John's buttons and Lennon erupted in rage at what he saw as the ultimate betrayal by Paul. That was possibly the moment when the Lennon-McCartney partnership splintered beyond repair.

Bill: Did John cause alarm at their recording sessions due to his increased drugs use?

Ken: I don't think it's a secret that John's increasing/occasional use of heroin during this period altered his personality. Of course they took drugs but heroin was for Paul, George and Ringo a step into the dark side. I spoke to Dan Richter who was Lennon's professed "dope buddy" during this time and he provided me with some very interesting insights into John's drug use at this time. I also interviewed Ray Connolly who also touched on this delicate subject. Heroin, by its very nature, can make a user lethargic and subject to mercurial mood swings. A perfect description of John when he took the drug. You can see it in his eyes. I also believe that heroin badly blighted his songwriting skills in parts of 1969. Paul was going through a very creative and prolific period and producing masterful songs such as Let It Be, Two Of Us, Get Back, You Never Give Me Your Money as well as sketching out the Abbey Road melody. John's creative input during 1969 is, controversially perhaps, comparatively poor. And his lyrics are especially trite. Come Together is a brilliant and timeless rock song but lyrically it comes across as vacuous doggerel. Mean Mr Mustard is pretty light and Sun King might be melodically superb but words wise it's lightweight. Of course, other people have the right to say I'm talking rubbish. But I love John, the beating heart of The Beatles. And don't we all still miss him...especially today.

Bill: Did you feel that George always resented the fact that he had to battle to get any of his songs onto the Beatles records?

Ken: Cynicism was hotwired into George Harrison and it didn't take much to make him blow a fuse. By 1969 he had felt marginalised for some time within the Beatle bivouac. And all those years of pent-up frustration finally exploded when they regrouped to start work on Let It Be. Most people associate the main friction being between Lennon and McCartney but my research showed that it was, in fact, George who was the agitator-in-chief, especially when it came to John's growing disinterest for the band and his umbilical-attachment to Yoko. And he had every right to nurse a grievance. He had plenty of superb songs gathering dust in his bottom drawer, many of which would later appear as the bedrock of material for All Things Must Pass. Let's face it...Here Comes the Sun and Something shimmer with quality on Abbey Road. By the same token, Lennon and McCartney is a tough act to try and usurp. Their songs speak for themselves. And we are talking about enormous egos where John and Paul are concerned. But by 1969 the Beatles' dark horse had come up on the inside rail and had truly blossomed into a masterful songwriter. Here's a thought. Had John and Paul been able to set aside self-pride and given George more of the songs on Abbey Road that made the cut for ATMP, it would have undoubtedly been the best album of all time. I would swap any of them for Maxwell's Silver Hammer and Oh! Darling.

Bill: Was there anything you discovered that you hadnít been aware of before?

Ken: It wasnít necessarily about discovering anything new but the important elements for me were context and perspective. Half a century has passed since these events took place so you can look at them in a different way. As I mentioned earlier, it was like being a rock Ďní roll detective, having to sift through the clues of the time, piecing together the evidence and then putting the whole jigsaw back together. So it was very interesting to note how decisions taken lightly in, for example, February, had serious ramifications weeks or months later. And, of course, by talking to some of the key principals from that time, you can easily get a different impression. So much water has passed under the bridge. Of course, at the same time, it was important to offer readers something new. So a lot of interviewees, such as Barry Miles, Dan Richter, the engineer who was with John and Yoko to record Give Peace A Chance and Russ Gibbs re the Paul is Dead saga, for example, were able to throw new light amid the shade. I was especially delighted to track down one of the guys who had crept into the cover shot for the Abbey Road album. He was a painter and decorator who just happened to be working at EMI studios that day. And his recollections of sitting in the canteen having a sarnie with The Beatles was fantastic. Also, one of the promoters for the 1969 Isle of Wight festival talked in detail about the personal dynamic between John, George and Ringo and the legendary game of tennis they played with Dylan before the gig. And, interestingly, I was also able to get hold of the secret address John gave to Canadian MPs re drug policy just before he met Pierre Trudeau. Sometime you find stuff that has been gathering dust in archives and you just go: Wow!

Bill: Now that the work has been published, would that be your own end in writing about The Beatles, or would your mind entice you into creating a third?

Ken: Ha. You must be kidding. Iím happy to exit stage left. This was a lab experiment that took on a life of its own. But now that itís done, Iím delighted and very grateful to Birlinn/Polygon for having faith in me to hopefully write a book people will like. So Iíd like to say thanks on behalf of the band and myselfÖ

Bill: Are there any further comments to add about your book for the readers of this interview?

Ken: Only that I hope those who buy it enjoy it. This was a pivotal year in the life of The Beatles, their last months as a functioning group. And it also was the apex of Johnís peace campaign. Imagine a million protesters singing it outside the White House while Nixon sat inside with his hands over his ears? Amazing. George finally got the recognition he deserved and Ringo proved through his acting his incredible versatility. And one other thing re RingoÖhis drumming on Abbey Road scaled new heights. He always seems to be an easy target but he was an equal side of the same square and indispensable. Itís amazing to think how The Beatles have endured through the decades. They have become the ultimate legacy group. All Iíve tried to do is bring some new context to the events that took place. And one thing remains clear. Despite all the rancour, they were still able to leave us with the legacy of two great albums, especially Abbey Road. And in the end, they really were a band of brothers.





Mersey Beat Magazine Bill Harry attended the Liverpool College of Art with Stuart Sutcliffe and John Lennon and made the arrangements for Brian Epstein to visit The Cavern, where he saw The Beatles for the first time. Bill was a member of 'The Dissenters' and the founder and editor of 'Mersey Beat', the iconic weekly music newspaper that documented the early Sixties music scene in the Liverpool area and is possibly best known for being the first periodical to feature a local band called 'The Beatles'. He has worked as a high powered publicist, doing PR for acts such as Suzi Quatro, Free, The Arrows and Hot Chocolate and has managed press campaigns for record labels such as CBS, EMI, Polydor. Bill is the critically acclaimed author of a large number of books about The Beatles and the 60s era including 'The Beatles Who's Who', 'The Best Years of the Beatles' and the Fab Four's 'Encyclopedia' series. He has appeared on 'Good Morning America' and has received a Gold Award from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.


Article Text Bill Harry               Original Graphics SixtiesCity     Other individual owner copyrights may apply to Photographic Images

UK web hosting by Velnet Domain names | Search Engine Submission by Haabaa website directory | Submit Express | Web Hosting Shop