- Published by:
- New Musical Express
- Interview by:
- Norrie Drummond
- Timeline More from year 1967
- Album This interview has been made to promote the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Mono) LP.
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On the evening of May 19, 1967, The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein hosted select journalists and broadcasters from the music and national press, in his London home. The occasion was a promotional party attended by the Beatles to launch their new LP “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band“.
Norrie Drummond, from the New Music Express, was among the invited. She briefly interviewed each Beatle, and her article, entitled “Dinner with the Beatles“, was published in the May 27 issue of the New Musical Express.
JOHN LENNON walked into the room first. Then came George Harrison and Paul McCartney, followed closely by Ringo Starr and road managers Neil Aspinall and Mal Evans. The Beatles had arrived at a small dinner party in Brian Epstein`s Belgravia home, to talk to journalists and disc jockeys for the first time in many months.
For almost a year they have been virtually incommunicado. No interviews, no public appearances, no “live” TV dates. We knew they were making an LP and that they intended to start work on another film, but that was all, apart from the occasional snatched photograph of a not particularly happy-looking Beatle.
We saw the new John Lennon look when he was filming in “How I Won The War”. We saw the change in George Harrison when he returned from India and we learned that Ringo and Paul had grown moustaches.
Their last single “Penny Lane”/ “Strawberry Fields Forever” failed to make No. 1 and the rumours and speculation started. Only last week one newspaper described them rather incongruously as “contemplative, secretive and exclusive”.
Well the Beatles are contemplative. So what? And secretive? Only when it’s required of them. As for exclusive, surely they’ve always been that.
But the Beatles most certainly have not become four mystical introverts as some people would have us imagine.
Despite their flamboyant clothes which made even Jimmy Savile look startled, the Beatles are still the same sane, straightforward people they were four years ago. Their opinions and beliefs are the same only now they understand why they believe in them.
“I’ve had a lot of time to think,” said John peering at me through his wire-rimmed specs, and only now am I beginning to realise many of the things I should have known years ago.
“I’m getting to understand my own feelings. Don’t forget that under this frilly shirt is a hundred-year-old man who’s seen and done so much — but at the same time knowing so little.”
John regards the Beatles’ new LP “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” as one of the most important steps in the group’s career.
“It had to be just right. We tried and I think succeeded in achieving what we set out to do. If we hadn’t then it wouldn’t be out now.”
Apart from his green frilly shirt John was wearing maroon trousers and round his waist was a sporran.
Why the sporran, I enquired. “A relative in Edinburgh gave it to Cynthia as a present and as there are no pockets in these trousers it comes in handy for holding my cigarettes and front door keys.”
I joined George sitting quietly on a settee nibbling on a stick of celery. He was wearing dark trousers and a maroon velvet jacket.
On the lapel was a badge from the New York Workshop of Non Violence. Their emblem is a yellow submarine withwhat looked like daffodils sprouting from it.
“Naturally I`m opposed to all forms of war,” said George seriously. “The idea of man killing man is terrible.” I asked him about his visit to India and what it had taught him.
“Firstly I think too many people here have the wrong idea about India. Everyone immediately associates India with poverty, suffering and starvation but there’s much, much more than that. There’s the spirit of the people, the beauty and goodness.
“The people there have a tremendous spiritual strength which I don’t think is found elsewhere. That’s what I’ve been trying to learn about.”
George has taken the time to find out about many religions. Not merely just to dabble in them but really to learn and know.
He believes that religion is a day-to-day experience. “You find it all around. You live it. Religion is here and now. Not something that just comes on Sundays.”
What had he been doing for the past year, I asked. Didn’t he ever get bored? “Oh I’ve never been bored, there’s so much to do, so much to find out about,” he said enthusiastically. “We’ve been writing and recording and so on.”
The LP “Sgt. Pepper” took them almost six months to make and it has received mixed reviews from the critics. Having achieved world-wide fame by singing pleasant, hummable numbers don’t they feel they may be too far ahead of the record-buyers?
George thinks not: “People are very, very aware of what’s going on around them nowadays. They think for themselves and I don’t think we can ever be accused of underestimating the intelligence of our fans.”
John agrees with him. “The people who have bought our records in the past must realise that we couldn’t go on making the same type for ever. We must change and I believe those people know this.”
Of all four Beatles Ringo, I think, is the one who has changed the least. Perhaps a little more talkative, more forthcoming. The one whose personality isn’t quite as obvious as the others and still the most reticent.
He is very contented and what’s best by the others is all right by him. What had inspired the sleeve cover of the album — a montage of familiar faces crowding round the Beatles? “We just thought we’d like to put together a lot of people we like and admire,” said Ringo.
Included in the picture are Diana Dors, Oscar Wilde, Karl Marx, Shirley Temple, Max Miller, Lawrence Of Arabia, Bob Dylan and Stuart Sutcliffe the former member of the Beatles who died in Hamburg.
I drifted over to where the now clean-shaven, and much thinner Paul was sitting sipping a glass of champagne. He greeted me in his usual charming manner and enquired after my health.
“You know,” he said “we’ve really been looking forward to this evening. We wanted to meet a few people because so many distorted stories were being printed.
“We have never thought about splitting up. We want to go on recording together. The Beatles live!” he said raising his glass in the air.
At this stage I should mention that although all four Beatles are extremely charming and courteous, they are still the masters of subtle evasion.
No one, in my experience, has perfected to such an art how to give a feasible answer to a pointed question without saying yes or no.
They’re not sure whether they’ll be making any personal appearances in the future although they’d like to; plans for their next film are scanty and they’re working on a new single which they’re not sure about.
As I said, secretive when they need to be and still very, very exclusive.
JUST a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace stands Brian Epstein’s four-storey Georgian house. On either side live doctors, business executives, architects and actors — several houses in the quiet street are up for sale.
Parked outside Epstein’s house is a Rolls-Royce but it’s not his — probably the architect’s. The car he generally uses — a white Mini — is on the other side of the street. Behind it stands a black Mini with smoked windows. It belongs to George.
The door-bell is answered by Epstein’s driver Brian, who says: “Go straight in. They’re up there somewhere.” Through the glass doors and on a shelf on the right is an antique clock — a Christmas present from Paul McCartney to Brian Epstein, who is standing beside it.
He is telling disc jockeys Jimmy Savile, Alan Freeman and Kenny Everett about the LP cover. Brian is delighted with it. Also in the room is Peter Brown, Brian’s right-hand man who resembles a 30-year-old Ernest Hemingway.
In the centre of the room is a table laden with salads, radishes, fruit, cheeses, eggs, cream, hams and loads of other goodies.
The Beatles are at the moment upstairs surrounded by a horde of photographers. Brian welcomes the other guests as they arrive while Peter Brown plies them with champagne. Brian’s secretary Joanne Newfield flutters around delightfully, making everyone feel at home and the Beatles’ press officer Tony Barrow distributes cigarettes.
Photographers start coming down the stairs then road manager Neil Aspinall — now wearing a moustache — appears with the group.
“Just one more shot on the doorstep boys,” Tony Barrow instructs the photographers.
Two minutes later the Beatles reappear minus the photographers. George and John head for the table and start eating, Paul tries to, but is cornered by two enthusiastic writers. Ringo stands smoking and talking to Jimmy Savile who’s wearing a jacket which looks like one of Fatty Arbuckle’s cast-offs.
Paul is trapped over at the window by the two scribes and begins looking round for someone to rescue him, Tony Barrow asks everyone to go upstairs to the lounge. Everyone wanders up to the spacious lounge where the LP is playing. For a couple of hours everyone chats and drinks.
Brian Epstein leaves early to head to his country cottage in Sussex. George is the first Beatle to leave — somewhat abruptly. One writer has apparently put his foot in it and upset him.
The other three slowly drift off and the evening draws to a close.