Hello! Another week, another new episode of my Beatles ranking and facts podcast!
Hope you enjoy. You can find links to all the other podcast platforms on here too.
Please drop us a review, like, share if you can! Thanks.
Hello! Another week, another new episode of my Beatles ranking and facts podcast!
Hope you enjoy. You can find links to all the other podcast platforms on here too.
Please drop us a review, like, share if you can! Thanks.
Every 10 episodes of the main podcast we like to do a bonus special with a deep dive into a listener questioner.
So, after 20 episodes, here is the 2nd bonus, focusing on the concept of the ‘Black Album’ – a thought experiment basically curating a mythical 13th Beatles LP from their various solo and post-Beatles projects.
We also take a look at the aggregate album charts so far with a few other top 10s thrown in for good measure. Hope you enjoy! Back to the usual business next week.
Last night I watched ‘Man Up’ from the wonderful ‘Restoke’, a group of artists and collaborators who work with the local community to craft music, dance and spoken word performances in various unusual locations around Stoke on Trent.
This was the first year I was able to watch a performance purely as an audience member, having previously helped out with the technical crew behind the scenes, and regrettably missing last year’s performance due to baby duties!
What a year I chose to come and watch.
‘Man Up’ was pitched as “A gritty, humorous & revealing performance from the frontlines of masculinity & mental health.” (https://www.restoke.org.uk/man-up/), a strapline that is entirely accurate, but could not possibly convey the emotional heft and punch that we felt in the audience.
Almost radiating from the stage, there was a palpable energy in that room as the cast shared interpretations of their struggles with the concept of masculinity, identity and mental health.
And for what reason? Well, that was made clear early in the night: Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50. The prison and homeless population is predominantly male. These facts are the surface reality of deep, social questions that we need productions like this to ask.
The received image of masculinity is that men are not great at talking, at sharing their feelings, at ‘connecting’ with their emotions. At worse, it is almost as if we should purposefully avoid doing so. Yet I just watched a group of men from all walks of life, who started this process as strangers, literally perform their anxieties, their stories, their hopes and fears, together, to yet more strangers.
If that’s not talking about your feelings, I don’t know what is.
This was exceptional in many senses. It was an exceptional production, but it was also an exceptional opportunity for those few who chose to share and see the process through. The hope, I would think, is that focussing on these issues will help conversations happen more regularly in ‘real’ life, whatever that means to each of us.
I certainly heard a lot of stories of audience members inspired to check in with friends, family, or even colleagues who might be needing an opportunity of their own to share, to reach out, to be heard, to be helped. And although these stories came from men who had experienced the extreme edges of mental health, there are none of us immune to the possibility of finding ourselves in those same places.
Mental health, like physical health, is a scale that we can all move up and down, and if society’s preconceived notions of gender identity are causing men to not seek the help they need, then we need to challenge and change society, in whatever way we can, even if that is simply telling someone that it is okay to talk about it.
Find out more about Restoke and their work here: https://www.restoke.org.uk/
If you didn’t catch Part 1 of this blog (http://garryabbott.com/2014/05/13/access-the-beatles-part-1/) – here is part two of my attempt to share some of the lesser known album tracks by The Beatles that I think will enrich and enhance people’s appreciation for what they did for western music.
My full introduction can be found on part 1 – but just to reiterate a little: for those of you who have a good understanding of the Beatles catalogue, this blog may not be so revelatory, but hey, if you think these songs are cool already, then here’s a good excuse to revisit them!
For those of you (I guess quite a lot) who are aware of The Beatles number one records and most popular tunes, I think you may find that some of these songs will surprise you.
When I listen to these songs, I hear modern music. I hear the inspirations and experimentations that have shaped generations of artists. I hope you will too.
Note – I’m working chronologically following on from the last blog, hence numbers start at ‘6’.
6. I’m A Loser (Beatles for Sale – 1964)
I think this is the only song from ‘Beatles for Sale’ I’m going to include here. The album is great, and every song hints at the flexing of musical muscles they were building up at the time, but as a stand-out example, ‘I’m a Loser’ demonstrates the self-awareness that Lennon would go on to use (exploit?) to give his song’s meaning.
Meaning is sadly lost from a lot of modern popular music. The Beatles in part started this with a lot of songs that centred around pretty two dimensional love scenarios (She loves you, I want to hold your hand, from me to you etc…). The difference however, is that they were aware of this, and wanted to find better ways to express themselves. In this song, Lennon turns the lens on himself. It stills centre’s around a pretty banal situation (unrequited love), but shifting the focus and giving us hints of the ‘man behind the mask’ begins to introduce a depth of meaning (“although I laugh and I act like a clown, under this mask I am wearing a frown”).
Musically the song is, once again, nicely juxtaposed with the theme of the lyrics. There is obvious Bob Dylan influence here, and I fancy you can even hear Lennon trying his best to sound like him (especially in the harmonica section!). Using influences and making them your own is a huge part of a healthy creative process, as evidenced here.
7. I’ve Just Seen a Face (Help! 1965)
This is the only song I will offer from ‘Help!’ – mainly because the film and the album combined make many of them already so well known (Ticket to Ride, Hide Your Love Away, Help, Another Girl…)
‘I’ve Just Seen a Face’ is another foray into folk/country music, keeping us in theme with the last. It’s more jaunty, goes at a great pace, and goes to show that when they wanted to, The Beatles could do this style just as well as any band who were dedicated to the genre. This is another aspect that I think marked them out – they could cross genre’s with ease, almost like they were playing with them for fun. That shows understanding and talent, but more importantly, leads to catchy little numbers like this one!
Musically, I can imagine this song done as a slow ballad, a mid-tempo rock song, or even a fast thrash punk song! I reckon that’s a good clue to knowing when the foundations of your compositions are solid: when you can ‘hear it’ in different modes. Also – check out the introduction!
8. Think For Yourself (Rubber Soul, 1965)
George Harrison’s ‘Think For Yourself’ is a song of firsts. It was his fist none love song, and also the first song to feature a fuzz bass (possibly ever, but don’t quote me on that).
Here we see George Harrison start to look inwards and outwards, urging his listeners to make their own mind’s up about the lies and promises of the world, a theme that I guess took him on his spiritual journey and the study of Eastern thinking and spirituality.
The vocals are gorgeous. I can’t find a video of the harmonies isolated (though I’m sure that exists somewhere) – but just listen to the precise yet hauntingly slurring slide down the harmonic range accompanying each second line (also check out ‘If I needed someone’ on the same album for another example of this). It conveys a message, and it sounds cool. What’s not to like?
9. In My Life (Rubber Soul, 1965)
Okay, so many people may already know this song, but it’s worth putting it here even if it only reaches one person who hasn’t.
I haven’t much to say about Lennon’s melancholic masterpiece that can’t be understood just by listening to it. It’s the kind of song that brings tears to your eyes if you’ve ever lost anything that was dear to you. Lennon had his fair share of that, and even though this could be construed as a love song, I think it is primarily a lament for anything lost.
The use of the harpsichord for the solo is inspired, and shows a generosity by The Beatles in orchestration and allowing George Martin (the producer) to contribute. Without this, they couldn’t have developed like they did as their compositions transcended the need for strict format guitar solos and arrangements.
10. She Said She Said (Revolver, 1966)
As someone who grew up in the nineties and had my modern musical faith restored with the indie/Britpop resurgence that took us into the 21st Century, it is songs like ‘She Said She Said’ by the Beatles that made me wonder why it took so long to come back around. They had done it already. It was like everybody had forgotten and thought they were doing it for the first time. There is a line between rock, rock and roll, pop, and what we might recognise as ‘indie’ music today. The Beatles walked across all of them.
Musically – I think Ringo silence’s his critics in this song. As a former skiffle drummer, you can hear him ride the toms off the snare after nearly every phrase in a fusion of old and new that brings the song together. Interestingly, this is the only song not to feature McCartney: Harrison is playing bass! (I never knew that – the wonders of Wikipedia eh?)
Thanks for dropping by. More to follow at a date yet unspecified! Next week I am on holiday, so probably no blog – see you again soon!
Although I didn’t make the pilgrimage to the O2 arena to watch Monty Python bow out on stage, I was very happy to realise on Sunday that the very last show was being broadcast live on television. Despite the beeped out profanities (thanks to the broadcast going out pre-watershed), it meant that I, and presumably millions of others, got to watch the end of an era.
As far as ‘era’s’ go, it could be argued that it ended some time ago. I remember watching the 30th anniversary evening on BBC2 in 1999. As I recall it was an evening of Python episodes, interviews and documentaries. When the night finished the continuity man announced over the BBC2 logo – “That was the end of Monty Python”, a sentiment the pythons had previously made clear, having contributed only a few snippets of new footage and interviews, and I think, still not really seeing eye to eye on many ideas. (For what felt like many years, Eric Idle seemed to have banished himself to America, only ever appearing in video link ups. I always just guessed it was a tax thing).
This time, however, it felt like a much more fitting way to close the curtain on what has been for them, and us, a cultural phenomenon. It was obvious that they had chosen to come together mutually rather than just responding to expectations because of some arbitrary anniversary. It felt like watching five talented men, happy and thankful for the chance to choose the manner of their own exit, doing it in style.
I don’t really want to review the show in detail here. I think Martin Freeman put it well when in a ‘VIP lounge’ pre-show interview he said that no matter what he thought of the performance, they’ve already done it, they’ve already earned our applause and gratitude. As it happens, I think they more than earned it again with a funny, naughty and well produced finale.
Instead I want to talk more about some other sentiments that were raised by another celebrity fan in the backstage build-up: Harry Shearer, of ‘Spinal Tap’ and ‘Mr Burns from the Simpsons’ fame. He said that although the Pythons didn’t influence his kind of comedy, what they did do was show people that a group of creative people could maintain control over their own output. There is no doubt from the first moment of Python on TV when Graham Chapman says ‘Good Evening’ before sitting on a stool to the sound of a squeal, and then we cut to a drawing of a pig being crossed off a blackboard, that the BBC had taken a risk (see video below). Even more so when you listen to the stilted, baffled titters of the studio audience who don’t quite know what to make of it. Given that it took some time for Python to grow in popularity, it would have been so easy for some number obsessed executive to have deprived the world of their legacy. It hardly bears thinking about.
Of course there would have been some element of creative control over it, but the point, I think, is that they were allowed to experiment and take risks within wide boundaries, even if they were very silly risks. Without risks, culture stagnates. I imagine this is similar to when Paul McCartney was allowed to do a totally acoustic ballad in the form of ‘Yesterday’, a decision that many other producers and managers would have dismissed in favour of ‘more of the same’. Which takes me nicely onto my next point…
Harry Shearer also said that for these reasons, the Pythons and The Beatles are synonymous in his mind. Both groups inspiring his generation and beyond to stick to and stand up for their own creative vision. I agree with this entirely. For someone born in 1981 I was strangely raised on a cultural diet of The Beatles and Monty Python. This came mostly from my older brother. Quite how he discovered it all I don’t really know, as our parents lived outside of the UK for much of the ‘golden age’ of comedy and music. Either way, they were staples in my life, despite having been born not long before these cultural icons had all but disbanded, or been shot. But even from an early age, it was the sheer creativity of both these outfits that interested me. It was the reach of their influence in so many things that followed in our culture that made me excited.
As we get older and discover the world around us, finding out about the architects of our world is (or should be) a profound experience. Comedians and musicians may not have put the bricks and mortar around us, or paved the streets, but they certainly set the tone. Artists of all kind are the interior decorators of the life we are born into. They add to the ‘point’ of it all. Even if you argue that they are only a small part, they are an important and entertaining aspect that we would all miss if it wasn’t there. Unless that is, you want to live in silent, grey boxes, doing nothing ever but working, eating and procreating, never once telling or hearing a story, making something up, whistling a tune, drawing or enjoying a picture, or laughing… ever again.
There are many ways to make an impact on this world, and so many who try end up adding to the problems or creating new ones because their motives are ill founded. Artists give – even if they are sometimes rewarded for it – they create output to (generally) make the world a more enjoyable place and provoke original thought. It is this sentiment and motive embodied in exemplary examples such as the Pythons and The Beatles that I wanted to try and get at with this blog, and in my little way to say thank you, and goodbye.
This week I was delighted to watch a performance by the fledgling Potboiler Theatre group of ‘Stories from Pub Corners’ – a collection of six monologues performed in situ at the ‘Holy Inadequate’ real-ale pub in Etruria, Stoke on Trent (best pub name ever?).
I have to declare an interest here as I had written one of the monologues. I first came across the call-out for writers with ‘experience of pub stories’ to come forwards and send a draft script to be considered a few months ago. ‘That’s me’ I thought, ‘I’m a writer, and I’ve been to like, loads of pubs – I even used to live in one!’. So I applied, naturally.
As a writer you tend to often find yourself isolated. That’s not a bad thing, it’s obviously easier to write somewhere quiet without interruptions, but it does mean that getting out and collaborating when the opportunity presents itself is usually a very good idea.
This particular production started (for me) with an initial meeting with the producer/lead writer following my submission of a draft piece based on some brief character outlines. A week or so later I met the full team of actors, the director, the other writers and the musician when we came together to introduce ourselves, talk about our experiences with pubs, get some ideas flowing and workshop characters. I got to see a section of my early draft acted out, which was a first for me and a very valuable experience that I hope to have again (I’ve heard my work acted out before on radio, or even acted it myself vocally – but this was my first live, in-the-room type workshop for a visual performance of my work).
I was struck by just how well the actors brought the characters to life off the page. You are always told as a writer to ‘read it aloud’ to yourself when writing scripts especially, but even so, not being trained actors, we can never quite know what to expect when it does fall into someone else’s hands and interpretation. I was more than impressed by what I saw. These guys were really good, and seeing them in action, even with extremely early draft pieces, really helped me to go away afterwards and keep the performance in mind when writing the next draft. And to top it off – we all went to the pub after the meeting to see the space (and drink some pints).
After that it was back to the office to write a new draft for a new character outline before a further script reading (at the pub), the next week. This is where the fun, and challenge, of redrafting comes in. Originally I had written for a character in her forties, but due to the actors we had available, she had to be replaced with a younger character. So, I got given the brief of ‘Mad Lee’ – a young lad with a story to tell about the crazy night he is still recovering from, having woken up in bed with an unusual keepsake. At the script meeting, myself and the other writers read through and discussed our draft pieces. Again the value of this approach was soon obvious. Having other writers give you honest and constructive feedback in the development stages can really help you to sit back from what you’ve written and sharpen it up. It’s all too easy in any project not to see for looking. Fresh eyes and ears are very helpful indeed.
As it happened, due to what I will call prop-acquisition uncertainty, a certain central premise of my draft needed to be changed, quite dramatically! This meant I got to go away and once again rework the script. I was happy for this change. It forced me to once again go over it, consider the plot and the motivations of the character and further try to judge how the audience would react.
After that, the final-ish draft of the script made its way to the group for rehearsals (which I couldn’t attend thanks to a pretty gruelling gig schedule that weekend for my other life playing original music) – so it was only at the first performance I was able to get along to see my character come to life.
And what a life! The nature of this project is that the action takes place in a pub, amongst the audience, as if the characters are just another punter who suddenly decides to pipe up. This was often signalled by the great use of a musician who would start to play a related theme on a guitar prior to the monologue, sometimes dropping back in to add tension or comedy touches to pertinent sections and tying together the evening.
I won’t go into details of the monologues in case of any future performances, but I will say that as an audience member, it was a unique experience. Sometimes the characters were sitting right opposite me and it felt like being in intimate conversation. Sometimes they were across the room, and I felt voyeuristic, as if listening in to a particularly interesting discourse in a public space. For the last two characters, I was stood up, watching the performance though the curvature of the ornamental wood carved screens, as if framing my own director’s cut. And everyone else in and around that room was getting their own unique perspective, able not only to see the actors performance, but the reactions of the other audience members in contrast to the ‘eyes forward’ of traditional theatre.
The nerves of waiting to see my own character perform dissipated as soon as he started speaking and I recognised him (not just the actor playing him, the character himself). There he was, sitting a few feet away from me, alive, telling and owning his story independently of me, like some weird fully grown man-child I had contributed to bringing into this world for a short time: flying the coup.
Needles to say, the rest of the monologues were fantastically written and performed, and the evening was by all accounts a big success. If you hear the name ‘Potboiler Theatre’ in the future, come along. If this is anything to go by, you are sure to be in for a treat.
(Below is the poster for the performance last Monday. Keep an eye on Facebook and Twitter for any announcements of future performances or projects from the Potboiler crew!)
Something I haven’t talked about much on here is my love of the Beatles. I am a big Beatles fan. It’s not something I externalise much: I don’t buy Beatles duvet’s or plaster my walls with pictures, but I do, and have always, loved their music. They are a big influence on me.
One thing I’ve always wanted to do is point out a few tracks that aren’t so well known by none-Beatles fans. Obviously their catalogue is HUGE, but many people (I suspect) are more aware of the major singles and songs that have been covered and popularised by other bands (especially following the ‘1’ album that captured the imagination of a whole new generation some years ago featuring all the re-mastered number 1 singles).
So today’s post is going to be a few links to Youtube videos of less well know songs, and why I like them. If people like this post I will do another. I’m not particularly ranking these in any order of preference – just picking some out that I think will surprise and delight newbie and die hard Beatles fans alike. (something for everybody, see?)
Let’s get started then with the first five (I’ll do more if you like it!). I’m working chronologically due to me referring back to album lists! By the way, unless stated otherwise, presume Lennon/McCartney for writing credits.
1. Ask Me Why (Please Please Me) 1963
First up, I’m only picking one from the debut album ‘Please Please Me’ – mainly because only half of the album was written by The Beatles, and most of the others are so well known now it would defeat the point of this post!
WHY GARRY, WHY?!
Because it demonstrates (even this early on) the Beatles use of close harmony, and deviation from standard Rock ‘n’ Roll, which leads to the kind of progressive song writing that I will be featuring!
2. It Won’t Be Long (With The Beatles) 1963
Next up, the opening track of ‘With The Beatles’ (second album), and definitely not the only one from this Album to feature here!
BUT MY GOD GARRY, WHY?!
The opening! The call and response of the chorus vocals which belts straight in, bouncing across the stereo, and then smoothing out into story-verses (all underpinned by the simple yet distinctive descending guitar riff at each section break).
3. Don’t Bother Me (Harrison) (With The Beatles) 1963
From the same album, George Harrison’s first writing credit.
EXPLAIN! I DEMAND YOU EXPLAIN!
Well, George Harrison must have had a hell of a time getting heard in these early days (even in later years this same problem led to him temporarily leaving the band). But this early outing is a belter, and much opposed to the mop-top ‘whoooo!’ image of the time. It is gritty and angry, almost uncomfortably so, and this is expertly reflected in the arrangement and performance. Don’t you think?
4. Any Time At All (A Hard Day’s Night) 1964
Okay, things get a bit confusing with Album release if you’re trying to follow them through Wikipedia – so I’m sticking with UK releases, making this album #3 (feel free to correct me).
SO WHADDA YOU GO PICKED THIS ONE FOR EH?
A bit like ‘It Won’t Be Long’ – this just kicks straight in with a hook that drags you (or me, or all of us) into the song without a second to realise it. Just imagine this really heavy. There is still a skiffle/folk feel to the interlinking verses, but they just serve to lull you into the screaming chorus (and a brilliantly composed solo, hinting at the clever instrumentation that would come to define later studio work).
5.And I Love Her (A Hard Day’s Night) 1964
The next one from A Hard Day’s Night.
EXPLAIN YOURSELF YOUNG MAN!
Well, McCartney is getting into his stride writing the kind of songs here that seem to squeeze you like an emotional sponge. All the while he is singing, “I know this love of mine, will never die, and I love her” – the music is saying something else, something along the lines of “this love thing makes me want to despair for my very existence in anguished contradiction”. Which is brilliant. And then there is the arpeggio classical guitar backing and solo from Harrison, and yet another brilliant run down defining section changes. It’s a sad beauty.
I could do this all day – but the blog would be very long, and I already write blogs that are too long which don’t involve 15 minutes or so of music! I’m sure plenty of people will be familiar with these songs, but still, some won’t, and it’s nice to give the less well-known tracks an airing, even if it is on my modest little blog.
If people like this, I shall do more, five at a time, over the coming weeks. Let me know by liking, commenting or just reading the page! (which, if you’re at this point, you already have done, so well done and thank you!)
I am a writer and musician from Staffordshire UK, currently touting my first published eBook ‘The Dimension Scales and Other Stories’ which can be found in these places. Please have a little look!
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I came up to Manchester last night to watch ‘Glasshouse’: a play by Kate Tempest, performed by ‘Cardboard Citizens’ theatre company at the Z-arts centre in Hulme. In the blurb the play was described as ‘forum theatre’, which roughly means that after the performance the audience are invited to discuss the character’s choices in the narrative and then improvise alternative versions of key scenes.
My main reason for coming to see this play was because of the author. I recently watched Kate Tempest live performing her epic poem ‘Brand New Ancients’ along to music, and I was blown away. So, having the chance to see one of her plays was enough for me to get over the ‘interactive audience’ element which I admit, I was slightly dreading. I also wanted to experience a modern play. I’ve been to the theatre lots, but not to watch anything contemporary and it’s an area I’m interested in learning more about as a writer and as a cultural consumer. I also wanted to challenge my preconceived notions of modern ‘workshop’ theatre being cringe-worthy and overacted: a notion that has probably been sown via the League of Gentlemen’s ‘Legs Akimbo’ acting troupe sketches.
Thankfully, the actors were good – very good in fact. The play itself dealt with a chain of events in the lives of the three protagonists: a young woman, her mother, and her mother’s partner. I don’t want to discuss the plot here because you should go and see it, but broadly it was about a suburban family in crisis, under pressure from the world, themselves and each other, the choices they make and the consequences of their actions. It was gritty in that it dealt with verbal and physical domestic abuse, substance abuse, homelessness, helplessness, sexuality and inner city depravation. That may sound extremely miserable, but it was also funny and warm in places, mostly thanks to the characters being so well-drawn and Tempest’s effortless and accurate blending of comedy and tragedy.
We were treated to several key scenes from the chain of events, each retold and elaborated on by the main characters in turn. This meant we saw a few of the central scenes three times, each subtlety different as the narrator character represented events from their point of view. This meant that we zipped around in time, and as the characters got their turn, gaps were filled in that contextualised and added to the previous renditions. The scenes and scenery changed rapidly, with excellent use of the minimal sliding-board set, props and costumes, pushed and pulled into place by the performers as they moved through the story, adding to the sandbox-like approach to interactive theatre, keeping the transitions as kinetic and dynamic as the performance itself.
Each character introduced and intersected their version of events in soliloquy to the audience, bouncing along in Tempest’s inimitable style with elements of rhyme and prose touching at the edges and making a whole that is greater. When it was over, we were left digesting three versions of events, three outlooks and representations – let alone our own. I liked it. It was good. Go see it.
And then, after the main performance and a short break, there was the forum theatre element. Before this the director had already started to ask us questions, to gauge opinion and such like, but that was only as a show of hands, a mumble of agreement, a few nodding heads or an occasional comment – now we were being asked to actually come on stage and improvise. This was different.
Luckily for me, the audience mostly consisted of two other theatre groups, so I was content and undisturbed in my silent observation of their valiant efforts. As we re-watched key scenes from a democratically voted-for character (the daughter), anyone could shout ‘stop!’ and replace the actor in the scene. The other actors would then respond in character to the volunteer’s efforts – allowing us to see what could have, might have, maybe should have been. It was extremely interesting to watch and I can only applaud those that gave it a go. Of course it had its awkward moments, and also some extremely funny ones. But on the whole it worked as a social experiment more so than an exploration of drama. The central message was that we can make different choices to change our lives, that our reactions are not always a good reflection of ourselves and have real consequences. Many of the contributors approached the scenes by being open, honest, compassionate and respectful to the other characters, and then abandoning the conflict as soon as possible (often by just walking off set when they had said their piece). This is why I say it wasn’t an experiment in drama (well-meaning resolutions don’t make for great plays) and more like group therapy – in a good way.
It made a lot more sense when the director told us that they normally perform in prisons and hostels, where I guess many people are living through the consequences of their actions and/or the circumstances they find themselves in. But for a generally neutral audience member like myself, it was still a fascinating concept none the less.
All in all, I enjoyed it. My faith in modern theatre now has a foundation to be built upon where before I only had assumptions, and my admiration for Kate Tempest’s work has been further bolstered. In short, I have been entertained, challenged and inspired – and there’s not enough of that around at present, so it was a welcome experience. I would recommend it.
It’s on tonight again if you are in the area, and I’ve included any links I can find below for you to seek it out in other locations.